§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Douglas Hogg)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
It would be an affectation on my part to ignore the fact that the Bill which I am presenting to the House this afternoon is one which has already been the subject of keen controversy and discussion throughout the country. Every one of us must have received, I suppose, scores of resolutions, some of them welcoming the Bill and promising enthusiastic support of its provisions; others in language of criticism, sometimes even of denunciation and abuse. None the less, I apprehend that it is my duty in presenting this Bill for the consideration of the House of Commons to explain the objects which it is designed to effect and the means which it proposes for securing those objects. It is, perhaps, all the more important that I should do this, because some, at least, of the resolutions which I have received seem to betray in their authors a complete misapprehension of the objects and effects of the Bill, so complete as to lead one almost to suspect that they may be the result of a preconceived determination to resist the Bill whatever it contains, rather than a considered disapproval of its terms.
In moving the Second Reading of the Bill, it is necessary that I should confine myself to the main principles and objects of the Measure. This is the opening stage only of what must necessarily be a long discussion on the Floor of this House in which the detailed provisions of the Bill will, rightly, be subject to careful scrutiny. I desire only in my opening remarks to say this with regard to matters of detail: that the Government believe the Bill is well and aptly drafted to secure the principles which I am proposing to enunciate, and to pass them into law; but if in the course of discussion it should appear, as well it might, that there are ambiguities or defects which we have overlooked, the Government will not only receive, but will be glad to co-operate in framing 1306 Amendments which will remove the one or clear up the other. With regard to any Amendments which are designed to defeat the main principles of the Bill, we believe that this Bill is a right, a just and a necessary Measure, and we shall resist any such Amendments to the utmost of our ability.
I have said that I should like to state this afternoon what I apprehend to be the main principles which are carried into effect by this Bill. The necessary language of definition tends, perhaps, to focus attention too much on matters of detail and to obscure the main objects which it is designed to effect. I should like to state the effect of the first five Clauses of the Bill which are perhaps the matters of most general importance in the form of four propositions. The first proposition is this, that a general strike is illegal—
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
—and no man shall be penalised for refusing to take part in it. The second proposition is this, that intimidation is illegal, and no man shall be compelled by threats to abstain from work against his will. The third proposition is this, that no man shall be compelled to subscribe to the funds of any political party unless he so-desires. The fourth and last proposition, is this, that any person entering the established Civil Service must give his undivided allegiance to the State. I have stated those four propositions, and I am proposing to ask the House to consider with me the five Clauses, which I have endeavoured to summarise, in order to ascertain whether or not those propositions accurately summarise the effect of the Clauses. If I am able to show, as I think I can, that I have accurately stated the effect of these Clauses, then I ask the House this question: Is there any Member of the House who is prepared to assert that any one of those propositions is wrong?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
If not, then, Sir, we are justified in claiming that this Bill is in fact a Bill to vindicate the authority of the State and protect the liberties of the citizen. I turn to the consideration of the successive Clauses 1307 of the Bill, and I take Clause 1, which is the Clause dealing with the general strike. The House will observe that the Clause is framed as being declaratory instead of being framed as an Amendment of the existing law. It is so framed because the last judgment which has been pronounced in the Courts by Mr. Justice Astbury about, a year ago—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is just as well that I should tell the hon. Member at the beginning that unless he is able to listen to the Debate he certainly will not be here to take part in it.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
Are we to understand, Mr. Speaker, from that remark of yours that we are not to be allowed to make interjections from this side while hon. Members on the other side are allowed to do so?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member knows that I have no objection to reasonable and Parliamentary interjections, but I cannot allow continuous interruption.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL
The Clause as framed is declaratory of the law, because it follows the last judgment given in May last by Mr. Justice Astbury, [Interruption.]
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
It decided that, in the opinion of the learned Judge, a general strike was in fact illegal. [Interruption.] It is the judgment given in the National Seaman's case about a year ago on the question whether or not a general strike was illegal or not.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser) is, I understand, to take part later in the Debate, and he will give us his views on the matter I have no doubt.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
On a point of Order. We are now on an important question of fact, to which we attach vital importance, and I want to ask the Attorney-General whether the statement he has just made is in accordance with the fact, which is that Mr. Justice Astbury never had before him the question of the general strike.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The answer to that question, which I should have hardly thought was a point of Order, is that the right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. What happened was this. There were two grounds upon either of which Mr. Justice Astbury could have granted the application. He granted it on both grounds. One ground was that there had been a non-compliance with the rules of the trade union. The other ground was that the general strike, which the branch was calling out its members to share in, was an illegal strike and therefore acting— [Interruption.]
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
No wonder you refused to give way to the hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser).
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The House, therefore, will see, as I stated just now, that this Clause is declaratory of the law as laid down in the last judgment by Mr. Justice Astbury. [Interruption.]
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
You have not been five minutes in Parliament and you do not know the courtesies of the House yet.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I am anxious to explain the provisions of the Bill to the House and I hope there will 1309 be ample opportunity for both sides to put forward any conflicting views. [Interruption.] I cannot think that it assists in the elucidation of the main purpose of the Bill to prevent one side being heard. [An HON. MEMBER: "Tell the truth," and [Interruption.] As I was saying, a strike is defined in the Bill in Clause 8, and it may be stated quite shortly as being the concerted action of a number of persons employed acting in combination to refuse to work. It is, unhappily, a necessary weapon in the armoury of trade unions. I say "unhappily," because I think it is not only on this side of the House that we are conscious that the use of the weapon very often is apt to injure persons other than those against whom it is primarily directed; but the existence of the weapon is undoubtedly a necessity. It is a necessity in order to prevent the unfair exploitation by an employer or by a body of employers—[Interruption]—of the workmen—
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
And we have been careful, therefore, to preserve the right to strike. [Interruption.] But the general strike differs, not in degree, but in character from the industrial or genuine strike. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is a general strike?"] I shall come to that if the hon. Member will only have a little patience. It has been said:There is a very broad and obvious distinction between a general strike and those particular strikes or lock-outs in various industries which have from time to time taken place and which have been painfully frequent in our industrial areas. What distinguishes a general strike from all others is this, that it is a blow, not struck by one combatant at the other, but directed, whether in intention or not, in effect by Its inevitable results at the very vitals of the community.That observation came from a very experienced statesman, Lord Oxford, in another place last year, and the distinction which Lord Oxford laid down, a distinction which has been emphasised in this House by one of his right hon. and learned followers, is that the general strike is directed, not at employers or at a body of employers but is a concerted action by a body of citizens to compel the Government and the community at large to do something which 1310 the Government and the community do not desire to do.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
It sets up a rival authority to the authority of the Government. It seeks, in the words of its authors, to substitute the dictatorship of the proletariat for the authority of Parliament. The origin of the idea is not obscure. As trade unions of employers and workmen alike increased in number and importance, it unhappily became apparent that an industrial strike on a large scale inflicted a great deal of damage and suffering upon members of the community at large who were not directly interested in the matter in dispute, and it is easy to conceive that, even if a comparatively small minority were able to capture the machinery of trade unionism—
§ Mr. W. THORNE
Rubbish! [HON. MEMBERS "Order, order!"] It is not true. Why do you not tell the truth?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
It is easy to see that, if even a compartively small minority were able to capture the machinery of trade unionism and to use it for political purposes, if they were able to bring about a general and concerted stoppage of work, they might well be able, although they were unable to convince their fellow-citizens of the justice of their political theories, yet to compel their acceptance by threats of starvation and of ruin to the community at large and of destruction to our industry and commerce. I should like to ask Members 1311 of the House to put to themselves this question: Is it, or is it not, lawful and permissible?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
If it is permissible and ought to be permissible, then hon. Members ought to vote against the Bill, but, if not, then the question arises whether or not it is not fully time to take steps to prevent such a catastrophe happening. It has been said that there is no real danger of such an event, but I would remind the House that 12 months ago to-day we found ourselves on the eve of the first general strike which has taken place in this country—[HON. MEMBERS: "Lock-out!"] I did not think that even hon. Members opposite had such short memories—on the eve of the first general strike in our history; after a general strike had been threatened for years before, that threat was translated into action on Tuesday a year ago. It has been said, too that the failure of the general strike last year is a sufficient warning and that there is no danger of its recurrence. It is true enough that a number of the more responsible leaders of the Socialist party have expressed their consciousness of the folly and wickedness of the general strike. The Leader of the Opposion has said thatthe general strike is not a weapon for raising wages or improving conditions; it is purely speculative and is dominated by the ideas of revolution.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I do not know the date, but, even if it was 15 years ago, then that shows that for at least 15 years the Leader of the Opposition has held a view which, as I shall show presently, he has repeated since the last general strike. Let me give another more recent quotation from the same right hon. Gentleman. Writing in October, 1923, the Leader of the Opposition described the general strike asthe last resort of an idiot.Writing in June, 1924, he said:The General Strike is a weapon which cannot be wielded for industrial purposes. If fought to a finish as a strike, it would ruin trade unionism.In May, 1926, after the last general strike, the Leader of the Opposition said:We are not likely to hear much more of a general strike as an effective industrial weapon. Its blow is not against the employers, but against ordinary folk in the mass.On the same day, the same right hon. Gentleman said:The weapon of the sympathetic General Strike is no good. Its tactic is out of date. It was the instrument— This is speaking since the last one, which he, at any rate, thought was a general strike:It was the instrument, not the men who handled it, that was at fault.I could add quotations from two or three other right hon. Gentlemen. The right hon. Member, who, I understand, is going to follow me in this Debate, the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes), wrote in May last year:I have never believed in the policy of a General Strike. It would be unwise ever to repeat what has been done. The whole idea"—said he in another quotation—of trying to settle anything by such a method was a delusion,and I think he has called it in another quotationan act of madness.The right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) has used language not very different, and I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) has expressed himself not 1313 less strongly. At any rate, I have, I hope, given enough quotations to show that to the moderate leader, who no doubt represents a great body of opinion in the Socialist ranks, the general strike as it was practised last year was a profound mistake, was a delusion and a madness, is bound to fail and to ruin trade unionism if it be repeated, and, as Lord Oxford said, is a blow directed against the community as a whole, or, as the Leader of the Opposition says, a blow directed not against the employer but against the mass of the common people. If one were certain that those sane views represented the views of the whole Socialist party, if one were certain that the lesson of last year had been learned and taken to heart by all of them, then indeed if might be said that there was no necessity for this Clause of the Bill. But unfortunately the language which I have quoted is far from being repeated or endorsed by numbers of the right hon. Gentleman's so-called followers. We have, for instance—again I am giving only one or two out of a number of quotations—Mr. Hicks, who, I believe, is the Chairman of the Executive Council of the Trade Unions Congress—at any rate, he is a responsible official of that body—declaring:It would appear that general strikes of a more intense and formidable character than the one recently experienced are inevitable.Mr. Hicks, at any rate, was under no such delusion as some hon. Members opposite as to what the strike last year was. The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Purcell) said this:The class struggle itself, the inexorable urge of economic forces, is going to create the conditions for other and more formidable general strikes. Next time, however, the procedure will be different; the conduct of the strike will be improved upon.I could multiply quotations from numerous other prominent members of the party opposite which have repeated the language that I have just quoted and which show that to a large section of the party opposite, so far from the general strike being put aside as a weapon which will ruin trade unionism, which is a delusion and a madness and a menace to the State, it is regarded as one which they intend to use in the years to come. If that be true, then surely with that warning, with some legal opinion inside and outside the House prepared 1314 apparently to uphold the lawfulness of the general strike—
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I do not say that I agree with that opinion—that opinion—reinforced, if I mistake not, by no less an authority than the ex-Solicitor-General in the last Socialist Administration—with such opinion prepared to advocate the lawfulness of the general strike, with a large body of Members opposite prepared to endorse and repeat it when the opportunity comes, surely it is the bounden duty of the Government, if it believes that the general strike is a wicked crime against the State, to make it clear beyond the shadow of dispute or doubt that the general strike is illegal, and that any man who takes part in it is committing a crime against the community as a whole?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
How is the problem dealt with in Clause 1 of the Bill? It would have been easy to have stated, in the language of the Leader of the Opposition or of Lord Oxford, that a strike directed against the community at large, against the great mass of the people, directed by its inevitable results, to use Lord Oxford's language, was illegal. But if we had used that definition we should have interfered with legitimate and industrial strikes, because as the House will realise, there may well be in one of the essential services an industrial strike which attains so large a scale as to amount to a menace to the life of the community.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Such a strike, as the hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser) has said, we have not stopped by this Bill. We do not, although harm may be done. We recognise that harm is done to large bodies of the community by a large scale strike, but so long as it be an industrial strike only, we have not thought it right to prohibit it. It would have been easy to declare that the sympathetic strike, that is to say, the strike of persons not directly interested 1315 in the subject-matter of the dispute, was illegal. I think I could even find some authority from some hon. Members opposite for saying that that is a foolish and wrong course. But again we have not thought it right to take that course. The sympathetic strike remains under this Bill perfectly legal, so long as it is a strike directed against the employer and not directed against the Government or the community. In order that a strike may be illegal under this Clause it has to satisfy both of two conditions. First of all it has to be a strike which is not purely industrial; secondly, it has to be one intended or calculated to coerce the Government or to intimidate the community or a substantial part thereof instead of being directed against the individual employer.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman who has risen will have ample opportunity of putting any questions later, and we shall do our best to answer questions which are put to us by the mouths of those who speak after me from the Front Bench opposite. I do not think, having regard to the length of the Bill, that it would be quite convenient to conduct a discussion by means of question and answer in the middle of a speech. As I said, a strike to be illegal must satisfy both of the conditions stated. Unless it satisfies both it is not interfered with by the Bill. If it does satisfy both conditions then by this Bill the strike is declared to be illegal. Any person who takes part in it or who instigates it is liable to penalties, and naturally, no funds can lawfully be applied to the support of a conspiracy of that kind.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Criticisms have been levelled at this Clause and I want to deal with one or two of them. First of all it has been said that the Clause does not include a general lock-out. That is a perfectly just observation.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
It is, of course, not true to suggest, as some malicious persons have gone on to suggest, that that is because the Bill is not directed against employers as well as employed. The House has only to look at later Clauses, for instance Clause 3, which deals with intimidation, or Clause 4, which deals with the political levy, to find that employers equally with workmen are included in their provisions. Nor is it true to suggest that the omission was inadvertent. There were two reasons which induced the Government to think that the inclusion of lock-outs was both useless and inept. The first reason was that this Bill is dealing with realities.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
So far as I know there never has been a suggestion of a general lock-out, using the term in the same sense as a general strike, that is to say, a lock-out directed not against the workmen but against the Government. I do not think that even the phrase has been familiar until after the publication of this Bill. Therefore the proposal to prohibit, or rather to declare that the general lock-out was illegal, would have been to deal with something which is never likely to happen. But if that had been the only reason there would have been, at any rate, no objection to putting it in. But there was the second reason, which is this: That if ever a body of employers was so foolish as to attempt to coerce the State or the Government by advocating a general lock-out of all their workmen, in my opinion the right way to deal with such a conspiracy would not be to fine the companies which were guilty £10 each, nor even to send to prison such of their directors or officials as you could prove to have been parties to the conspiracy. The right course to adopt is a course which the Government has already got power to adopt, and that would be, under the Emergency Powers Act, 1920, at once to take possession of their works and to run them until the employers come to their senses.
But apparently it has been thought to give a weapon of misrepresentation and 1317 attack that the lock-out is not dealt with by this Bill. I have given the reason why I thought and still think that Clause 1 of this Bill is not the right way to deal with a general lock-out, but if a case is made out, even to prevent misapprehension and misrepresentation, the Government would have no objection to the lock-out being included. I do not-think it improves the Bill or can improve the Bill to put in such a provision. On the other hand, it might prevent malicious people from making false representation. There is another criticism which has been levelled against the Bill. It has been said that when a workman is invited to join a strike, he will not know whether it is legal or illegal, and, therefore, that it is putting him in an unfair position. There is this amount of truth in that criticism—that so long as some strikes are legal and some are illegal, it necessarily follows that when any particular strike is proposed one has to consider on which side of the line it falls. The same difficulty, if it be a difficulty, has existed for more than 50 years, since, in the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875, it was provided that the ordinary law of conspiracy was not to apply to combinations to do acts in furtherance of trade disputes, and it became necessary for anybody invited to join such a combination to consider whether it fell inside or outside the meaning of that provision. But, in truth, the objection is a theoretic rather than a real one. Although it is not very easy, perhaps, to define in legal language what a general strike is, I do not think there is any difficulty in recognising it when one sees it.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman. There is provision made in this Bill which will go a long way to obviate and prevent any difficulty such as is suggested. It is a provision which is effected by one of the later Clauses of the Bill, namely, Clause 7, and perhaps it would be convenient to the House if I refer at once to that Clause since it is in connection with Clause 1 that Clause 7 will, most usually, at any rate, operate. In Clause 7 power is given to the Attorney-General to apply to the 1318 Courts to restrain the misapplication of the funds of any trade union in contravention of the provisions of this Act.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
That, of course, does not, as has been suggested, empower the Attorney-General to confiscate the property of any trade union or anybody else. What it does empower him to do is to bring before the Court a threatened general strike, and if he is able to satisfy the Court that such general strike is threatened, the Court can prevent the abuse of trade union funds in its support. If there were no such Clause in the Bill it would of course be possible for any member of a trade union who was dissatisfied at a proposal to use his union's funds for illegal purposes, to apply to the Court to restrain such misapplication. It has seemed to the Government, and I hope it will seem to the House, that that is not a right or proper state in which to leave the law. It is wrong for two reasons. Firstly, it is putting a very unfair burden on the individual trade unionist, and, secondly, it is unfair and wrong because the real mischief of Clause 1—[Interruption.] I hope that is the biggest slip anyone will make—
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The real mischief that is aimed at in Clause 1 is not the use of trade union funds to the detriment—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must now warn definitely the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Mackinder) and ask him to refrain from further interruptions.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I will deal with hon. Members as is required. I can only warn hon. Members whom I observe really preventing speakers getting an audience.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The second reason is because the mischief which is aimed at in Clause 1 is not a misapplication of trade union funds to the detriment of individual trade unionists, but the misuse of trade union 1319 funds for a purpose which the Clause declares to be inimical to the State, and since it is the State which is protected by Clause 1 it is right that the legal representative of the State should be the person to bring to the notice of the Court any attempt to infringe its provisions. But it is not one of the least advantages of Clause 7, although it is not the main purpose of it, that it does ensure that if a general strike be threatened, there will be an early opportunity of obtaining a judicial decision upon its legality. I can tell the House how the Clause in practice would work. A general strike is obviously not a strike which takes place without any warning. Even the most arbitrary of leaders would hardly order his men out without giving them any idea either that they were coming out or what was the quarrel in which they were asked to join. Accordingly, from the very nature of the case, there must be wide publicity before a general strike takes place. If it should appear that a general strike were really imminent it would be open to the Attorney-General of the day, and it would be his duty, to take proceedings in which he would obtain leave to serve notice of motion at the same time as he issued the writ, and within three or four days probably, or certainly within a week, the matter would be brought before the Court on proper evidence—[HON. MEMBERS: "Whose evidence?"]—on whatever evidence each side saw fit to produce—and after discussion and argument if the Judge were satisfied that a case was made out of illegality, then he would be able to restrain the misapplication of the funds. If it were a matter of doubt and it were desired to take the opinion of the Court of Appeal, it would be obviously possible in such a case to have an acceleration of the hearing. I have in my own experience known of cases where judgment has been delivered one day and has been discussed in the Court of Appeal and confirmed the next. Therefore, under the provisions of Clause7—
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Under the provisions of Clause 7 we not only have what I regard as an essential means of rendering Clause 1 effective, but we 1320 also have, as an incidental advantage, the fact that anybody will know at the very earliest opportunity in any real case of doubt, whether or not the enterprise upon which he is asked to embark is legal or not. I pass from Clause 1 and I have only a few words to say about Clause 2. It provides that no one shall be penalised for refusing to take part in an illegal strike.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
It refers not to all strikes, but to strikes which are declared by this Measure to be illegal.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
It provides that no man shall be turned out of his trade union or otherwise penalised in his trade union because he refuses to take part in a conspiracy against the State. It provides, in Sub-section (2), that any person who is penalised in breach of this provision can apply to the Court for reinstatement or compensation if he is so treated, and by Sub-section (3), which is the only retrospective part of the Measure, that particular provision is made applicable to the general strike of last year.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The hon. Member forgets that he does not think that even last year's strike was a general strike.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must warn the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Beckett). He has been constantly interrupting. If he interrupts the Debate further, I shall have to deal with him. My anxiety is that each point should be brought out in Debate. That is the proper place in which to do it, and not by these constant interruptions.
On a point of Order. Is it in order for Members in this House to suggest to you by name Members who, interrupt?
§ Mr. PALING
On a point of Order. Has it not been usual in this House, in the course of Debates of this description, when important points arise for Members to ask immediately what they mean, and has it not been usual in important Debates for the Member speaking from the Treasury Bench to give way, and is it not due to the fact that the right hon. hon. Gentleman has not observed the ordinary courtesies of Debate?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
So far, hon. Members have not been giving a chance for the ordinary procedure of the House. I am quite prepared for the ordinary question, if need be, and if the speaker for the time being gives way, but hon. Members, with their constant interjections, are themselves preventing that ordinary procedure of the House. I cannot argue the matter with hon. Members, but they may rely upon me that, if they will observe my directions, they will be given every opportunity to discover all the points in the Bill, but they are preventing the possibility of that by their present action.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is just the hon. Members who want to help me too much who make my task so difficult. The Attorney-General.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
As I was explaining, Sub-section (3) is the only retrospective provision in the Bill, and it provides that this Clause, which prevents penalisation for refusal to take part in an illegal strike, shall be retrospective, and so fulfils a pledge which was given by my right hon. Leader the Prime Minister in May last when he guaranteed thatEvery man who does his duty by the country and remains at work or returns to work during the present crisis will be protected by the State from loss of trade union benefits, superannuation allowances, or pensions. His Majesty's Government will take whatever steps are necessary, in Parliament or otherwise, for this purpose.It is in fulfilment of that pledge that we are now providing that no man is to be penalised by his trade union for refusing to take part in the recent general strike.
1322 Now I pass on Clause 3 of the Bill, the Clause which deals with intimidation, and I would like to point out that Subsection (1) of this Clause, if it stood alone, would, I think, undoubtedly be merely declaratory of the present law. Hon. Members will forgive me if I remind them of the legal history just for one moment. In 1906, by Section 2 of the Trade disputes Act of that year, it was provided that it should be lawful—hon. Members, if they follow Sub-section (1), will see how closely we follow the Language—for one or more persons acting on their own behalf or on behalf of a trade union or of an individual employer or firm in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute to attend at or near a house or place where a person resides or works or carries on business or happens to be if they so attend merely for the purpose of peacefully obtaining or communicating information or of peacefully persuading any person to work or abstain from working.That Clause merely permits peaceful communication of information and peace ful persuasion, but unhappily it has been very widely misconstrued and misunderstood in practice. During the stoppage of last year there were some thousands—I think, between 7,000 and 8,000—of prosecutions, very largely for intimidation, and in a great many of them the defence which was set up, and I have no doubt set up in good faith, was that the person thought he was justified in doing what he was doing because he belonged to a picket. In truth, this Section has never legalised anything but peaceful persuasion and peaceful communication of information. I know the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite cannot differ from that, because his own book says so, but in practice the liberty which is given by Section 2 has often been construed and quite honestly misunderstood as a licence to do anything and in any numbers so long as you are only forming part of a picket, and I think it is desirable—I hope the House will think it is desirable—not to wait till someone acts in the belief that he is empowered by law to do what he is doing, and then to prosecute and imprison him for doing it, but to make it clear, in the most definite language which we can employ, that the right of peaceful picketing is a right of peaceful persuasion only, and that peaceful persuasion does not include legal or moral intimidation.
1323 Sub-section (2) does alter the law. As long ago as 1875, under the Conspiracy and Law of Property Act of that year, it has been an offence to practise intimidation, but there have been decisions that intimidation must amount to a threat of personal violence. One Judge said:Personal violence must have been threatened,and another Judge used the expression:There must have been such conduct as would justify a magistrate in binding the intimidator over to keep the peace.In truth, and as long ago as 1906, at the time of the Royal Commission of that date, it was recognised that that definition of intimidation was far too narrow. We have moved even further since 1906, and to-day it must surely be common knowledge that the most effective threat—at any rate, a most effective threat—is not to threaten the person intimidated with personal violence or assault, but to threaten him that if he dares to continue work his family, his wife, will be ostracised, his children's lives will be made intolerable for them, and be himself will be driven out of work and hounded out on the street or into the workhouse. Threats of that kind ought not to be permissible, and this Bill is designed to render it illegal to employ them. Any picket may peacefully persuade any person to abstain from work. He can do it by an appeal to his sentiments, or by an argument addressed to his intellect, but if he is unable, either through his heart or his brain, to induce a workman to cease from work, he has no right to compel him to that to which his will does not assent by threatening his wife. Subsections (2) and (3) make that position clear.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
If there were a trade dispute and picketing by the Law Society, certainly. Sub-section (4) prevents watching and besetting a workman's house. Let me explain at once what that involves. It does not mean, of course, that no one is allowed to call upon a workman to communicate information or to persuade him to cease work. Watching and besetting, as the Courts have long ago decided, means such conduct as seriously interferes with the 1324 ordinary comfort of human existence and the ordinary enjoyment of the house beset, and such as would support an action for a nuisance at common law.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Surely no fair-minded Members of this House, to whatever political party they may belong, would desire that people who desired to work should be compelled to cease from work by conduct which renders their home life impossible and the reasonable enjoyment of their existence impossible. Watching and besetting has been so defined, and it is such conduct, and such conduct only, that this Sub-section prevents. [Interruption.] It has been said—I thought I caught an interruption—that this Clause is designed or calculated to cripple trade unions in carrying on a strike.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I hear hon. Members interject "So it is." I should be sorry to think that part of the necessary armoury of any responsible trade union was to resort to methods of terrorism and intimidation. I pass to Clause 4 of the Bill, which deals with the political levy, and again I must ask the permission of the House to remind them of the legal history. Before 1913, it was illegal, ultra vires at law—
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
—for a trade union to have other than what are called statutory objects, that is to say, objects consisting of the regulation of the relations between masters and men, or masters and masters, or workmen and workmen, imposing restrictive conditions on the conduct of trade or business, or the provision of benefits to members. Anything outside that was outside the scope of the objects. In the year 1913 as the result of a decision of which the right hon. Member for Derby is very well aware, the Act of 1913 was passed, which altered that situation and made it legal for a trade union to have objects outside the statutory objects. But it added this proviso, that if its objects were to include what the Act defined as political objects, by which is meant, speaking generally, 1325 the maintenance of the election of a candidate for Parliament or for public office, or his support when he was elected, that those political objects should not be legal unless they had been approved by a secret ballot of the trade union concerned, and in that case any member of the trade union who did not desire to subscribe to those political objects might obtain exemption by giving notice that he did not so desire. In practice there have been, I think, something like 145 registered trade unions and about 40 unregistered trade unions which have taken advantage of that provision. The receipts from that fund for the registered trade unions for 1925 were about £154,000 I think, and the unregistered figures we have not got; but if their membership is about one-third, I suppose the amount would be, roughly, about another £50,000, that is, something over £200,000 a year in all.
Speaking for myself, I have no doubt that it is true, as has been stated by representatives of trade unions in this House, that a great many of the trade unions have quite loyally and fairly administered that Act. I do not wish to suggest the contrary. But, because some do not desire to sin, is no reason why we should not restrain the sinners, and there has arisen in practice some very extraordinary discrepancies in the figures. I am speaking from memory, and, therefore, subject to correction, but I think, although there were something like 270,000 people who voted against the adoption of the political levy in the various ballots, there are only just over 100,000 who claim exemption.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
In some of the trade unions the percentage of persons claiming exemption is none; in others, it goes to as much as 83 per cent. I suppose most of us have received—I certainly have received—complaints from time to time from trade unionists who allege, at least, that they find themselves practically compelled to subscribe to the political levy, although they do not desire to do so. Anyone who took the trouble to read a series of articles by Dr. Shadwell will have found in those articles a number of instances given—in some cases sworn to on oath—of persons who had complaints 1326 of that character. There are, as I think, two contradictory objections which are raised to this Clause. It is said, on the one side, that is is wholly unnecessary, because no one who desires exemption has any difficulty in obtaining it. It is said, on the other hand, that this is unfair, because it will cripple the conduct of the trade unions. Both those positions cannot be true. It cannot be true to say that nobody is at present subscribing except those who desire to subscribe, and, in the same breath, to say that if you limit the subscriptions to those who desire to subscribe, you will seriously diminish their funds. [Interruption.] Such trade unions as loyally observe the provisions of the Act of 1913 will find that the enactment of Clause 4 will make practically no difference. On the other hand, those who use methods of intimidation, or raise difficulties against their members, will no doubt be affected, and may be seriously affected. But, after all, I can hardly suppose that the Parliamentary party which sits on the Opposition benches would desire to find themselves supported there by subscriptions extorted from people—[Interruption]—who do not desire to pay them.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
In Subsection (2) we make a provision for what is, I think, perhaps an oversight in the Act of 1913. At present, under the Act of 1913, it is illegal to apply the general funds of the unions to political purposes as they are defined, but since it is not necessary to levy the political funds separately, it is almost impossible to check transfers from the general fund to the political fund in such unions as have no separate levy. Further, there is nothing to prevent the general fund being charged to support political purposes for which its subscribers do not intend it to be used. [Interruption.]
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Subsection (2) makes the provision that the political levy shall be duly—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have several times called the hon. Member to order. I must now order him to withdraw from the House immediately.
§ Mr. JONES
I am sorry you are offended with me, but I venture to suggest—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] —I am not going until I have said what I want to say. I want to say, on a point of Order. [Interruption.] The Attorney-General has not been stating the case for the Bill, but offering an anti-Socialistic lecture. The Minister of the Crown is a liar from the top of his head to the sole of his foot.
§ Mr. COMPTON
On a point of Order. In view of the fact that in this House a question was answered by the Minister of Labour last Thursday stating that only seven complaints had been made with regard to the political levy of the trade unions in 12 months, is it fair for the right hon. Gentleman to say that contributions have been wrung from hundreds of unwilling subscribers?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is a perfectly fair point to put in Debate, but not in the form of interjection. What we come here for is a reasonable discussion, not noisy interruptions.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is not fair to prevent anybody from making a speech [An HON. MEMBER: "Let him withdraw!"] It is for the other speakers who follow to put their own, no doubt, different point of view. I cannot allow noises of that sort to prevent discussion.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
On a point of Order. Did not the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) by crying "Divide!" prevent a late Prime Minister from being heard, and are we not entitled, if we desire, to do so?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I was not in this Chair at that time, but from wherever such attempt comes, I shall deal with it, and insist on a proper hearing being given.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Is there to be one law laid down in this House, no matter who is in the Chair, for hon. and right hon. Members opposite, and one law for us?
§ Mr. W. THORNE
May I ask the Attorney-General one question? Is it not a fact that every registered trade union has to make an accurate return to the Registrar as to the number of members who subscribe to the political fund, and the amount subscribed, and the amount expended?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Not only is it a fact that every registered trade union has to make a return, but one of the provisions to which I am coming in a moment is to apply the same law to the unregistered unions.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
There seems to be some misapprehension; it may be my fault. What I was saying was that, under the existing law, every registered trade union has to make a return as to the political levy, the number of members and the amount received, and one of the provisions of this Bill is to apply the same rule to the unregistered trade unions, which at present do not have to do it. That is not the difficulty. The difficulty which Sub-section (2) deals with is this: If you get a separate levy, so that the money collected from the members goes straight into the political fund, then there is no difficulty, in the case of a registered trade union, by reason of the fact that you have got the returns about which the hon. Member asked; but if, as happens, I think, in the majority, or at any rate a large number, of registered trade unions, the money is collected as part 1329 of one fund and paid into a general fund, and transferred from one fund to the other by means of book entries and nothing else, then it very often can happen, and according to such information as I have been able to get it has happened, that it is almost impossible to check whether the right amounts are applied exclusively for political purposes, and it is almost impossible to prevent charging the general fund for the support of political expenditure.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
These points must be dealt with afterwards. No speaker can get on if all points which are disputed are to be dealt with in the course of the Debate. They must be dealt with afterwards. It is quite competent to put all these points later.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to ask if it is in order for the Attorney-General to attack the Chief Registrar, who has to undertake all this work?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I do not think anyone in the House imagined I was making any attack on the Chief Registrar, to whom I am indebted for the information on which this Clause is based.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
One is almost tempted to wonder whether or not this Clause may not be striking rather a more serious abuse than I had, suspected—when I witness the indignation which it has aroused.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Sub-seetion (3) is designed to make the necessary alterations under Trade Union Rules. Sub-section (4) is copied from the Act of 1913, and is designed to protect 1330 the trade unions which have to make alterations in their rules during the time necessary for making those alterations. Sub-section (5), as I was saying a moment ago, provides that an unregistered trade union shall be bound to make the same returns in regard to their political funds.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I pass to Clause 5, which embodies the fourth of the four propositions which I ventured to propound some little time ago. Clause 5 is the Clause dealing with the established Civil Service. The effect of it, if I may state it quite shortly, is this: In the case of the established Civil Service any trade union, by which I mean for the moment an organisation whose primary object is to influence or affect the remuneration and conditions of employment of its members, must be confined to members of the Civil Service, and must not be affiliated to any outside organisation, trade union or political party. To that rule there are three provisos. First of all, it applies only to the established Civil Service, the reason being that those who are not on the establishment, but only temporarily employed, might find a difficulty, if they were obliged to belong to an exclusively Civil Service organisation, when they sought employment outside the service of the Crown.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The second proviso is that if an established civil servant is already a member of a trade union from which he is entitled to benefits he shall be at liberty to continue his membership; since it would be obviously unfair to require him to forfeit the right to benefit from a membership which was perfectly legal at the time when he undertook it. The third is that if an established civil servant happens to have an employment outside the Civil Service in his leisure time—the sort of instance I have in my mind is that an established civil servant might, for instance, be a member of an orchestra 1331 which played in the evenings—[HON. MEMBERS: "The froth blowers."]—he will be at liberty to belong to the appropriate trade union. I would like to tell the House why it has been thought necessary to introduce these provisions. I ought to state quite frankly at once that it would be legal at this moment for His Majesty's Government, if they thought fit, to make those Regulations without this Bill at all. [An HON. MEMBER: "And get another Irish deportee lawsuit."] We have thought a decision on a point of principle of this kind ought to be taken by the House of Commons; and, further, that it ought not to be departed from until after it has received approval by the House of Commons; and, therefore, we have thought it right to embody this Clause in the Bill.
The reason why this particular Clause was thought to be necessary is to be found in the history of last May. At the outbreak of the General Strike 12 months ago there were seven Civil Service organisations which were affiliated to the Trade Union Congress. They had a total membership of a little under 130,000, out of a total of 300,000 members of the Civil Service. On the 4th of May one of those associations issued a circular to its members describing, for the information of the members, what had happened at a conference held on the previous Saturday. It appears from this circular that at that conference the general secretaries of all affiliated trade unions were called upon to answer publicly two questions—by publicly I mean openly, in the presence of the conference. The questions were whether the particular association was prepared to place its powers in the hands of the General Council of the Trade Union Congress as regards (1) calling a strike of its members, and (2) financial aid. The circular goes on to state that the three largest of the Civil Service associations represented at that conference returned an affirmative reply to both those questions.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The Association of Officers of Taxes. [HON. MEMBERS: "How many members?"] 4,000; but really the number of members is wholly irrelevant. What is relevant is the 1332 number of members of the associations which are alleged to have given an affirmative reply and they amount to over 100,000. I was going on to say that it is fair to say that one, at least, of the associations concerned has subsequently stated that it did not agree to hand over its powers, or any powers, to call out its members on strike, but only to give financial aid. What is quite certain is this, first of all that these associations were actively supporting with grants from their funds the conduct of the strike; secondly, that members of the headquarters staff of at least one of the largest was actively engaged in working at the plans of this strike and carrying it out, that other members of the union were actively engaged on the local district councils carrying on the strike, and that one at least, and I think more, of these associations sent out circulars to their members in which their members were warned not to volunteer for any duties, were instructed that if any invitation were made to them to volunteer they should consult their branch secretaries. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] and the branch secretaries were instructed that they were to act in accordance with the instructions of the Trade Union Congress. They were warned not to accept any statements which were broadcast, but to look for their information only to the "British Worker." The situation which was developed in May last was that organisations of civil servants, whose undivided allegiance the State has a right to claim, were, in fact, through their officials, actively engaged in fomenting a rebellion against the State. That, in the judgment of the Government, is an intolerable situation in which to find the established civil servant. We think that we have a right to expect that, whatever party is in power, the State should have the loyal and undivided service of those who have entered the Civil Service. They expect and receive from the State great benefits. They have a certainty of tenure. they have pensions at the end of their service and they have through the Whitley Council and through the Arbitration Agreements unrivalled opportunities of submitting their grievances. It is, of course, open to any civil servant to put forward any grievance through his Member of Parliament, and, of course, everyone of us knows that such grievances are put forward from time to time. [Interruption.] 1333 When I speak of somebody's Member of Parliament I mean the representative of his constituency. In exchange for these great advantages we think it only fair to insist that the Civil Service organisation shall be kept free from party or political associations.
Those are the five principal Clauses, and I now come to Clause 6, about which I only wish to say a few words. This Clause, in Sub-section (1), prohibits a public authority from making it a condition of employment that any person employed shall be a member of a trade union or any particular trade union. Unhappily, it has been the experience of recent years that on some public bodies, when there has been a Socialist majority, they have thought it right to use their position to compel their employés either to become members of a particular union or even in some cases to become members of a trade union which is affiliated to their particular political party. In our view, it is the duty of local authorities to consider solely economy and efficiency in their administration. Of course, if it be legal, as I think it is to-day, for such conditions to be imposed by a Socialist majority, it would be equally legal, for instance, for ratepayers to insist that their employés should belong to the ratepayers' union. [An HON. MEMBER: "They do!"] Then it is highly undesirable that they should be allowed to do that. We do not think it right or fair that the employés of public authorities should be treated as a kind of shuttlecock between contending parties and driven from trade unions on the one hand to ratepayers' societies on the other hand. We believe that the local authorities, whichever party is in the majority, should represent the community as a whole, and not one part of it. Our position in Sub-section (1) is to ensure that as far as possible.
Sub-section (2) of this Clause deals with a different matter. It is already the law, and it has been since 1875, that it is an offence for any person to break a contract of service, knowing that the natural consequence of his so doing would be to endanger human life or cause serious bodily injury or expose valuable property to the risk of destruction. In this respect the functions of a local authority have been enormously extended, and it is proposed that the employés of local authorities who have such vital functions to 1334 perform in the life of the community shall not be allowed to break their contracts of service, and if they do so wilfully, and so prevent the discharge of their public authorities' duties, they will be guilty of an offence under this Bill.
I have already dealt with Clause 7. Clause 8 excludes Northern Ireland. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I was going to say why. It is because the matters relating to the objects of this Bill are, by virtue of the Government of Ireland Act, the exclusive concern of the Parliament of Northern Ireland. I think it is highly probable that the Parliament of Northern Ireland will see the necessity and the wisdom of this course. The matters dealt with in this Bill are all the-exclusive concern of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, and therefore Northern Ireland has been excluded from the scope of this Bill. I think I have now gone through every Clause of this Bill, and I have honestly tried to state fairly and dispassionately its effect. I hope that I have shown, and I believe that I have shown, that the provisions of the Bill do, carry into effect those broad propositions with which I commenced my speech, and if that be so, what ought the attitude of the House to be towards this Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: "Chuck it out!"] I know there is in the country an extremist section of the community—[An HON. MEMBER: "Go to the country!"]which believes with a fanatical fervour that the only method of social reform is to destroy altogether the existing constitution of society and to build up another system in its place. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley has before now pointed out that a golden opportunity of achieving their ends is by a policy of peaceful penetration into trade unions, and by that means they have sought to capture the control of the trade unions so as to be able to use that machinery for bringing about a general stoppage of work and so achieve the revolution which they desire.
If the general strike succeeded it would no doubt result in the clash of armed forces to which they have been taught to look forward in order to destroy our present Constitution. Even if the general strike failed, these extremists believe that they will have advanced a step forward towards their ideals, because by shattering the fabric of the Constitution by the strain 1335 which they would put upon it, by the damage to our credit, by the injury to our commerce, by increasing unemployment, they think they will undermine our Constitution which they desire to overthrow; and, at the same time, by lowering the standard of life and by reducing many of their fellow citizens to misery and poverty, they will be creating in their breasts a fertile soil in which to sow the seed of revolution. To that section of the population the objects of this Bill are necessarily abhorrent.
They have declared their views, and we expect their uncompromising hostility, but there is represented on the benches opposite a much larger and certainly a much more moderate section of Socialist and Labour opinion. They have said in the quotations to which I have called attention that the general strike is a tragic blunder, a menace to the community and a blow against the masses of our people which spells ruin to trades unionism. [Interruption.] It is a little disappointing to find that that section of the Socialist party is not willing to join with us in declaring the unlawfulness of the policy which they regard as so foolish and so fatal. I realise that, to a large extent, they committed themselves to uncompromising hostility to this Measure before they knew what was in it, and I realise that any departure from that attitude involves the very height of moral courage. I should like to say to them in all sincerity that, if they agree with us in desiring that the general strike should be illegal—[An HON. MEMBER: "Are you addressing those remarks to Slesser?"]—if they are willing to co-operate with us; if they tell us, as they may do, that the Bill as drafted goes too far, that their experience detects faults in it which they are ready to direct their efforts to avoid; if they can satisfy us of that and are willing to co-operate with us in trying to remedy those deficiencies and to remove blunders and make the Bill effective to carry out its purpose, then I say that the Government will be only too glad to welcome such assistance. [An HON. MEMBER: "Peace in our time!"] I hear a gentleman opposite referring to a familiar quotation. Let me remind the hon. Member who quoted that saying of the Prime Minister 1336 of a passage he may have heard read yesterday morning:I laboured for peace, but when I spoke to them thereof they made themselves ready for battle.[Interruption.]
I turn for a moment to the Liberal party. I gather, from their Amendment which I see on the Paper, that the Liberal party, while, if I properly understand their Amendment, they do not dissociate themselves from those general principles which I have stated, yet do not consider the time convenient for introducing the present Bill. [Interruption.] I cannot help thinking that that is putting political expediency very high, and political honesty very low. [Interruption.] So far as the Government are concerned, we should regard ourselves as betraying the trust which has been reposed in us by the people of this country—[Interruption]—if, after the experience of last year, and in view of the threats of a repetition of that experience, we were to leave the country unprotected against such a menace. We are confident—[Interruption]—that, as the details are thrashed out and made plain in discussion in this House and in Committee, explained by speeches of the Members of this House, we shall gradually—[An HON. MEMBER: "Resign!"]—I wonder if the hon. Member who interrupted, and who, perhaps, is apt to put too high a value on by-elections, is aware that, in the one by-election that has taken place since this Measure has been before the House—[Interruption]—in a constituency which represents the most intelligent part of what some hon. Members will regard as the most intelligent section of the country, the Government have been supported by a majority of seven to one. To pass from that digression, I would say in conclusion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—it has not been my fault—that the Government believe that the Measure which we are submitting to-day is a just and necessary Measure. We believe that, as its details are made plain, it will commend itself to the judgment of fair-minded men in the country, and that they will see in it provisions which will maintain the authority of Parliament, which will vindicate the freedom of the State, and which will protect the liberty of our fellow-subjects.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words, "upon this day six months."
I extend to the right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House, necessarily at great length, our sympathy upon the unenviable and embarrassing task which he has had to undertake. I relished particularly the farcical finish of his speech—[Interruption]—in which he solemnly appealed to the Opposition to co-operate with the Government in the conduct of this ill-chosen task. The Government have chosen to begin a fight, the end of which will not be seen when this Bill has been placed upon the Statute Book. [Interruption.] Indeed, it may be said that the fight in a more acute form will then have recommenced. We may pardon a good deal of the endeavour of the right hon. Gentleman to state his case for the Government clearly; he has not had his head in the job to-day, because his heart is not in the job. He has exhibited an inevitable and understandable ignorance of our working-class organisations and the way in which they carry on their business. He has apologised elaborately for the drafting of the Measure, and for its language in almost every Clause. Instead of enumerating the principles of the Bill as expressed in its separate Clauses, he offered the House a travesty of its principles, to which I am certain a fitting answer will be afforded. Says the right hon. and learned Gentleman, as to the most important of all the Clauses of this Bill, namely, Clause 1, "It is only to declare what the law is now; it is declaratory." And he reinforces that view with the argument that, in a certain court of law, a Judge, while the strike was on, declared the general strike to be illegal. As a fact, that issue never was before the Court—
§ Mr. CLYNES
That issue was never argued before the Judge. Neither evidence nor speech of any kind was tendered in order that that issue should be adjudicated by the Judge in question; the simple point on which the law was decided was whether a particular trade union executive had authority within its rules to require its members to take part in a strike. We allege that no Court has 1338 yet declared what the law is, and that this is not merely a proceeding to declare something in a Statute which is already known to be the law. It is a new proceeding in the nature of an effort to make it almost impossible for trade unions effectively to enter into strikes, either in relation to a Government or in relation to other employers of labour. I do not shrink from any examination of anything which I may have said in relation to the general strike, nor, I am sure, would my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition if he were here. I have said that as a policy I do not believe in the use of the general strike weapon for working-class advance, or that it is wise and necessary to take that line in the hope of improving working-class conditions. But we have said something more. We have said things, not only relating to the general strike, but in relation to the lock-out which provoked it. The act of the general strike was in a sense a defensive act as much as, if not more than, an aggressive act. It was a step undertaken by two or three millions of men who not only believed that their general standards of life were shortly to be assailed, but who saw that the miners were to suffer without resistance a further reduction in wages; and, whatever one says of the general strike, this must be said, that never in working-class history in any country have we had so fine an instance of self-sacrifice and of readiness to stand by men who were being wronged as was shown by the two or three million men who downed tools in defence of the miners.
The right hon. Gentleman could not offer, in relation to this Bill, any such excuse as that it was a thing done in a hurry. It is not panic legislation; it would be more excusable if it were. It is a calculated and deliberate act of class hostility. [Interruption.] Its legal points are of very secondary, indeed, almost trumpery, importance. I shall submit to the House, as we shall submit to the country, the broader aspects of equity and fair play which are affected by its proposals. It is alleged against us that, before the Bill was introduced, and before we knew its details, we committed ourselves to uncompromising opposition to it. [Interruption.] Before the Bill was introduced, and before hon. Gentlemen opposite knew its details, they committed themselves to uncompromising 1339 6.0 p.m.
promising support of it. [Interruption.] Their spirit and purpose are motived by the idea of reducing the trade unions to impotence in their relation to employers of labour. With what I thought was a charming, though valueless, after-thought, the right hon. Gentleman intimated to the House some readiness to concede certain things when this Bill gets into Committee. It seems that, deliberately, the Cabinet decided not to put any such word as "lock-out" into the Bill. Reasons have been adduced for it. The House readily can see through those reasons. This is clearly a surrender to the rather shamefaced criticism of many-of the right hon. Gentleman's supporters. The word "lock-out" was not to be in the Bill, and certain other words were left out as well, because the right hon. Gentleman says, if in, they would be useless and inept. If, later on, there is sufficient pressure from the opposite side of the House, the right hon. Gentleman will, he says, consent to include in the Bill words which are useless and inept, having no meaning whatever. The right hon. Gentleman cannot envisage any such prospect as a lock-out on so extensive a scale as seriously to affect the life conditions of the country. Let me turn to what actually preceded the general strike, or what more accurately ought to be described, not as a general strike, but as a sympathetic strike on an extensive scale. The Government can afford, perhaps, to be loose and angular in its drafting of Measures, but it is the duty of the Opposition correctly to describe the situation. The remedy, says the right hon. Gentleman, in the event of such a lock-out would be to take possession of their works. I wish the Government had been driven by that spirit when the mine-owners locked out the men, but the lockout continued, at enormous cost to the country and its industries. Monthly, we were called upon to give the Government authority to use the power of the Regulations relating to emergencies. Within those Regulations there was express power to take over and work the mines. This is another instance of the way the mind of the Government works in relation to the respective interests of employers and employed.
I have said, therefore, that this is not the end but the beginning of the struggle 1340 into which the Government have chosen to enter, and it will be the duty of the Opposition later, when in the natural order of things it becomes a Government, no matter in what form this Bill may pass, to repeal that Act, and we make that declaration now, because such an Act would not only be unfair but would be a malignant endeavour on the part of the Government to back up organised capital in the struggles with organised labour, and it is because we regard this Bill as totally opposed to the universally accepted principles of British justice that now we declare what our intentions are when empowered in due time by the country to undertake the government of this land. This Bill is not due to the fact that there was anything like a general strike last year. The industrial troubles of 1926 are not the cause, though they are being made the occasion for this particular purpose. Eleven separate Bills have been introduced from that side of the House during the last six or seven years, all exhibiting the spirit of this Bill and aiming at the present liberties and activities of organised labour. Millions of Tory leaflets, before this Bill was introduced, have been circulated to Tory organisations and thousands of speeches have been made from Tory platforms on the lines of this Bill. I particularly ask the attention of the Prime Minister to the fact that for a long time now it has been the purpose of his considerable following to sow internal dissension in the trade unions as between their members and their leaders, to exhibit the trade unions as wasteful, money-squandering organisations, doing nothing in return commensurate with the contributions which the members pay. Everything has been done to sow dissension within the ranks of organised labour and to cultivate bad feeling between the leaders of the men and their followers. One great consideration they have always laid down is that the good that trade union service secures for the members of trade unions is never shown on the trade union balance sheets. The contributions which a man pays to his trade union are paid to prevent reductions in wages, to secure advances, to improve conditions, to allow him to raise his head a little higher in his relations with his employer, and if we were to express this form of benefit in the terms of money, millions of pounds would have 1341 to be put to the credit of the trade unions as the result of the services which we perform.
So let the right hon. Gentleman not press too severely the excuse that this Bill is due to the strike of last year. It includes many things besides industrial questions and perhaps, if not to-day a little later, the right hon. Gentleman will tell us why, when he spoke in the early part of this year at Frome and delivered a speech in which he enumerated all that was to be included in the Bill, he said nothing whatever about the political levy. May I ask the Prime Minister also to say why, when the King's Speech of this year was framed, nothing was in it about the political levy? We were going to have something in the way of legislation which would deal with the settlement of industrial disputes. A long wrangle has gone on for a considerable time, and I think the result was quite accurately and graphically expressed by one of the sager Conservative observers in a sentence in which he said that the die-hards had jumped on to the box seat of the Conservative coach and were whipping the team to death. Our view is that nothing could stop the General Strike of last year after the general lockout of the miners had begun. As something has been said about the motives of the strike, I should like to quote the Prime Minister as to what was the underlying cause of it. After the termination of the strike, the Prime Minister issued a message in which he said he realised that sympathy for the miners, which we all shared, was the dominant motive underlying the action of the trade unions. I offer that as a complete answer to what the right hon. Gentleman has said as to the cause of the General Strike. I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman has read the "Times" of this morning. I want to relate it to the suggestion to accept certain Amendments when the Bill is going through Committee. He will find in the leading article of the "Times" an enumeration of the ambiguities and the irregularities of language and the necessity for accepting considerable Amendments when the Bill is dealt with in detail, and even the suggestion that it would look better that these Amendments should come from the Government itself, than that they should be compelled to accept them from any other quarter. It is not saying much for 1342 a Bill which we are told has been drafted by the best brains in Britain that so potent a supporter of the Government as the "Times" should address itself to this Bill as it does this morning.
The truth is that the Bill is a mere shameless project to obscure the blunders of the Government of two years ago. Had they shown greater skill and wisdom when this trouble was seen to be coming on in the early part of 1925 the nation might have been saved both the national lock-out in the coal trade, and the strike that followed. They chose, in a moment of fear and panic, to give a huge subsidy of public money without terms or conditions and without seeking to enter into a bargain, which it was the duty of the Government to undertake and to settle, before giving that enormous sum of public money. Let me ask the Prime Minister particularly to recall the long years of submission on the part of trade unions to a succession of demands for reduced wages, unexampled in any way. The unions have not been the aggressors in recent years. Many trade union leaders got themselves into severe trouble with their following through advising the acceptance of reductions and the conditions of compromise which they had to arrange. Members in millions have submitted to a reduction of pay amounting to millions of pounds in the course of the year, and it was the Government policy, together with the mine-owners' lock-out, that created the belief that the standards of only one class were to be lowered, and it was those conditions which induced the strike of May last. The country has suffered, but no matter how deep and serious the suffering may be, there are rights that cannot be cancelled by a majority in this House having no authority from outside and no mandate from the country, and one right upon which we shall insist so far as we are able is the right of masses of workmen to exercise their full freedom, whether employed by the Government or no, to sell their labour or to withhold it as they may choose. The right hon. Gentleman is particularly severe upon civil servants and says, "Let them keep away from politics." I think he forgets that behind him there is a considerable number of Colonels and Majors and Admirals and Commanders. If the 1343 ordinary civil servant is to be in any way limited in the exercise and application of his political rights, I think the soldier and sailor will have something to say in due course on that question.
We do not apologise for the work of trade unions. It has been of national benefit. It has elevated numbers of people who have never supported them. Millions who ought to have made a contribution to trade unions have directly and indirectly received benefits without ever doing so. Benefits have to be shared by all, no matter how few may join together to secure them. And our main objection to the first Clause of this Bill is that it will erect a great, if not an insuperable, barrier of uncertainty and doubt in the minds of trade union leaders and executives as to when it will be legal for them to take any action. I have heard the Bill in one place aptly described as a Bill to prevent unemployment among lawyers. No matter what we say of it, we have it upon the authority of a very active and influential member of the Government, that the Bill is going through the House. It is going through! That is just like the Tory mind. That is how it works. It worked in that way in relation to Ireland. In respect to many just claims and causes, it has operated in the same manner until finally the country has been humiliated by having to surrender terms which previously it would not consider. But Lord Birkenhead, who has made an announcement, judging by the papers of this morning, said one or two more things to which I would like to draw the attention of the House. His Lordship, speaking in Manchester on Saturday, said:The Labour leaders who were parties to the general strike were guilty of the greatest, crime and treason that has ever been attempted against Parliamentary Government.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Those who favoured in that way the general strike were guilty of this act of treason against the Government.I think his Lordship must have forgotten his own high reputation as a treason-monger. If he has forgotten it, we still recall his picture, not in civilian dress at all, but in the dress of one who openly and avowedly encouraged the 1344 drilling and the training and the organising of forces to resist the troops of the King in the event of this or that particular Parliament passing a certain Act into law.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Treason! There are several colleagues of the Prime Minister who have the greatest right to talk about treason, for they know it. The Attorney-General, speaking with respect to Clause 1, used such terms as "trade" and "industry." The Bill does not define either. The right hon. Gentleman did not try to define either. Let him take the cotton, the building, the engineering, the shipbuilding industries or any one of those great groups, and tell us where one trade begins and where that same trade leaves off. Let him tell us when a considerable portion of the community is likely to be intimidated by any step which groups of workmen may take? These are the conditions in the Bill which raise in our minds the certainty of that doubt and hesitation which will always confront the officers and leaders of trade unions charged with the responsibility of advising our members.
We assert also the right of groups of workmen, regardless of their employer or occupation, to act sympathetically with each other. To deny their right so to act is virtually to destroy the first prim ciple of organisation. This Bill is an elaborate denial of everything in the present practice of organised labour. We shall, therefore, not submit to the mockery which this Bill presents. Upon what ground do the Government claim that dock workers shall not act with tramway men, or taxi-cab men act with both? Upon what ground do the Government claim the right to separate and segregate each one in a trade or industry and compel each group in that way alone to fight its battles? They do it on the ground that it is an act to coerce the Government and is, therefore, wrong. Who is to judge what is right and what is wrong? Why the Attorney-General, the representative of the Government for the time being. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The Bill, in short, means that while a group of men may cease work, if they do so they must cease everything else. They must do nothing to make their strike a success 1345 once they have entered into it. They must not be guilty of such a scandal as pouring ridicule or contempt upon the blackleg. They must not make wry faces at him, or say "Boo!" to one who deserts his class. I understand now why in the earlier stages of such a Debate as this the Home Secretary pointed out to the House that it was not legal for one person to boo another.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir William Joynson-Hicks)
§ Mr. CLYNES
The right hon. Gentleman will find it on record in one of his speeches in this House, and I am drawing attention to the fact that one of these Clauses declares that if a workman takes a step which is calculated to bring another workman into ridicule or contempt, proceedings can be taken against him. All this talk about intimidation is really very wide of what actually happens. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, there is less intimidation in the pursuit of working-class objects than exists in the pursuit of the capitalistic objects of the squirearchy and the landlords of this country. We know from our electoral experiences that there are many thousands of men who are not only afraid to pay a contribution to a union, but are afraid to have it known that they have voted for a Labour candidate. No Bill of this kind is required to deal with any condition of intimidation which may arise. The Emergency Regulations, or the existing law without those Regulations, is sufficient to deal with any such situation. On the whole, the conduct of workmen in these disputes has been not only peaceful but exemplary and has puzzled the foreign onlooker who has admitted that there is much more disturbance on a Saturday night in one of his big cities than took place altogether in the course of the long lock-out of 1926. No matter how well the workers may organise or how actively they may pursue their purposes the balance of advantage will, in the main, lie with the employers. There is no weapon so potent as the weapon of dismissal.
When the right hon. Gentleman talks of making this Bill retrospective with regard to those who may have suffered any losses or may have been penalised for not taking pars in the strike, what is he 1346 to say about those who are still suffering losses for taking part in it? Thousands of men are still out. I, personally, have had to interview many employers and appeal to them to restore men against whom they have no objection whatever, except that they took part in the general strike. If the law permits workmen to strike or allows workmen to induce others to make a strike successful, that act of pressure corresponds to the pressure which an employer can use in the exercise of the boycott. Thousands of men are punished for daring to take part in these quarrels between employer and employed, and masters and their foremen, both by means of the telephone and other means of communication, have innumerable ways at their disposal which they seek to use to exert pressure of an intimidatory kind upon those whom formerly they employed. But so fond have the Government become of the blackleg that they have provided ample damages, unnamed damages, but, I assume, ample damages, for any loss that he might stiffer.
I want to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the view that they have in his own profession. In medicine, in law, in business, or in commerce there are acts done by gentlemen corresponding to those clone by men who are dressed in fustian. Why this great solicitude for the workman renegade and for the blackleg? If a body of doctors or lawyers resolve upon a certain course of action, and their association endorses it, any desertion from the decision is at once published by a form of boycott. Offending members are put into disgrace. Their act is regarded as professionally improper, and they may even be struck off the roll to be publicly branded as guilty of an infamous act in relation to their own class. Yes, the gentlemen of England know well how strenuously to protect their interests if any protection can be afforded through associated effort, and, therefore, the workman has, in his own humble way, a right, collectively, to use an act of pressure once a majority of his own kind have decided upon a certain course of action. A blackleg has no right to join in an association, take part in a ballot, to wait for the decision of members, and then, on finding that the majority is against him, claim the right to turn his back upon his mates, and, if 1347 they express their displeasure for what he has done, claim the right to get substantial money compensation from them. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is a blackleg?"] A blackleg is one who fails to act with his mates after they have determined by ballot or by other proper means to take a certain course of action. Gentlemen in clubland, gentlemen in business and commerce and in the professions know very well what is meant by a blackleg. They can spot him in their own class and they know how to treat him. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are too polite to use the word. I should like to know if the Rules of the House permit it, in what language they describe him.
I want, in my closing observations, to deal with some two or three of the other phases of this Bill and I return for a moment to the Civil Service Clause. There are, I understand, some 300,000 persons described as civil servants. About one-half of them, including their bonuses and such allowances as they may be having, get less than £3 a week. They are described as a privileged class. They are assumed to be in the enjoyment of many conditions which others do not share. Well, I can see very little evidence of privilege in the case of men who get less than £3 a week. It is not the wage of many a scavenger employed in London. These men mostly are pursuing the ordinary tasks of manual service, and this Bill is a monstrous effort to sever one section of workers from another. These men have been loyal; they have served every Government, without discrimination, and without their conduct being called into question. They have never entered into a general strike. They have never been asked to enter into a general strike. They are not merely civil servants; they are wage earners, they are citizens, and they have a right fully to enjoy all the services of associated effort. The right hon. Gentleman's Bill would cut them away from the Trades Union Congress and from the Labour party, on the ground that they must not have any political object, or use political endeavour to bring pressure upon the Government. What right have the Government in their capacity of employer to deprive men of privileges which they are entitled to enjoy when they are employed by a private employer? 1348 The Government have no right at all, in this regard as employer to take away the rights of their employés in respect of the untrammelled use of their political authority. Therefore, we urge that these employés have a right which it is not proper for the Government to question, collectively to use their influence as voters, either through the Labour party or through the Trades Union Congress, to exert pressure upon the Government of the day.
The right hon. Gentleman was scarcely frank in his arguments relating to the local authorities who are to be put under a ban for requiring their employés to join a trade union. I hope that in this, as in other matters, the right hon. Gentleman wants to be fair. I understood him to say that is proper to make it wrong by law for any local authority to make membership of a trade union a condition of employment. Will he undertake to apply the same law to private employers of labour who lay down as a condition of employment that their men must not be in a trade union? If freedom is said to exist in the one direction, we are entitled to ask for it in another. A considerable number of employers, of the less enlightened and less reasonable kind, even now declare that they will not have men in their service who are members of trade unions. Indeed, the general strike itself revived that conduct in the case of many employers of labour. Therefore, I ask if the experience of the general strike is to be used, as it is in a Clause in this Bill, to prohibit local authorities from laying down conditions as to their servants, I ask that another Clause should be inserted that will make it impossible for any employer of labour to put a ban upon the freedom of his men to be inside a trade union, if they wish to join it.
Let me offer a few words on a Clause of this Bill which will be covered at greater length by others who will follow me. I refer to the Clause which deals with the political levy. It seems so easy, fair and reasonable to reverse an existing law; but the House is asked to forget that in 1913 this controversy was closed by an act of agreement on the part of all parties. We at that time conceded what we thought was a great deal. Our view is that when collectively a ballot has settled what shall be done, the law of 1349 majority rule should operate within a trade union as it operates within the law of the land itself. There is no organisation, institution or society of any kind which is as generous towards its dissentient members as are the trade unions. In other bodies when they have collectively settled by ballot or otherwise what shall be done, all have to conform. Although we held that view strongly in 1913, we finally submitted to, I will not say assented to, the provision that was made to permit contracting out. Now we are asked to consent to contracting in. We say that to reduce the trade unions with regard to their political income to the level of making each man initiate the payment of contribution, without the educative effect of any prior collective action—[Interruption]. I know that there are many Members in this House who would not have them educated—without the educative effect of prior organised action, would be to make a mockery of any political liberty whatever, or of the use of any funds fox political purposes.
Why were the trade unions driven into politics? They did not go freely, but they could no longer stay out. It was because of the neglect of this House, under successive Governments of Liberals and Tories, satisfactorily to deal with working class conditions. As a young trade union official, 35 years ago, I used to come to the doors of this House, as a members of deputations, appealing to Members of Parliament to concede something to us. A change has been made, and instead of being content to send men to the door to plead, we come on to the Floor of the House to try to get things done. Finally, we are a poor party. Our resources are not derived from secret channels. What we received we must reveal. We must tell where it comes from and how, and where it goes to. Are we not entitled to impose similar conditions upon others? We cannot offer peerages. We cannot fall back upon beerages, or in any way secure secretly the enormous financial resources standing to the account of rich men's parties. But we have to keep in politics, in order to keep pace with the questions of the day, and we are glad to think that Parliament, whether it likes it or not, must almost daily deal with working class conditions—housing, working hours and innumerable 1350 topics which have been made the every day subjects of Parliamentary Debate.
The offence that we really have committed since 1913 when this compromise was entered into is the offence of having grown up. At that time, the view was that this new little group of Labour Members would soon be absorbed in the other parties for it was the tradition and the law of British politics that there would only be two parties in the State. We have lived long enough to come to accept that doctrine, but it is not we who are going under. We say that no Government have a right to deny to the trade unions the opportunity to model themselves with regard to their sources of income upon the methods of other institutions. We make ample provision for the man who wishes to dissent. What is it that, commonly, he is asked to pay? It amounts to 1d. per month on the average, or ¼d. per week. This grave injustice! This act of tyranny on the part of trade unions! This denial of liberty! I hope that we give value for money. At any rate, that is attested by the vast mass of men who are ready to support, us.
The right hon. Gentleman, towards the close of his speech, alluded to the Communists, although he did not name them, as being people opposed to this Bill. My own profound conviction is that the two sections of the country who welcome it are the Communists on the one hand, and the Conservatives on the other. This Bill will play into the hands of such forces for disorder as exist in our country. It puts the workman who would want to make a boast of being a dissentient in such a position of advantage as to compel his mates to take a step which they always could take before there was any law about it at all. Contracting-in will give no right whatever. That right has always existed. It is a process for destroying anything answering to collective action for gathering working-class contributions for political purposes. We allege that this severe and, as we think, vindictive endeavour to place restraint upon working-class action in politics, will further serve the purpose of those who would want to use industrial and revolutionary action to secure changes. In full political freedom and in the most ample opportunity for gathering working-class money 1351 for Parliamentary purposes the safety of the State can better be found that in the use of a Bill of this kind.
Finally, I say in answer to the announcement that this Bill is going through that it may in some cases be obeyed—it will depend upon the spirit which its passing arouses and upon the way in which eventually it is handled—but it will command no respect whatever from millions of workers in this country. A law conceived in the spirit of this Bill cannot last for very long. Every law, if it is to be observed and respected, clearly must rest upon conditions of admitted justice, reason and fair-play as between class and class. This Bill clearly springs from class hostility and political vindictiveness. Of all the arguments which the right hon. Gentleman has used in support of the Bill, not one was more amusing than his allusion to the fact that the Bill has been submitted to the test of a by-election. Fittingly, he chose a suitable arena for a suitable verdict. The Scottish Universities have given His Majesty's Government a majority in favour of this Bill. I think we are entitled to turn away from the Universities to the arena of the actualities which are affected by this Bill. Therefore, against the Attorney-General's argument I place the figures of all the seven by-elections which have taken place in industrial divisions since the strike of last year. Beginning with Hammersmith and ending with Southwark, there have been seven by-elections industrial centres. I will give the rough figures. The result is this, that the votes cast fur the Tory candidates have been, roughly, 60,000, and for the Labour candidates 100,000. That we regard as something like the proportion in which popular opinion regards this Bill, and if government rests upon assent, then surely the Government has no mandate whatever for a Measure of this kind. It will have the effect not only of retarding, but, I say this to the Prime Minister, it will have the effect of destroying any of those tendencies which were making towards industrial peace for the year 1927. We are entitled to say that we correctly interpret popular opinion as being opposed to this Measure; further, that it will dislocate and disturb British industry and that the number of our unemployed is more likely to increase rather than lessen. Viewing it clearly 1352 as an act of the greatest injustice to the poorest sections of the community, we will offer to it the stoutest resistance we can, and should it become law, we shall do all we can to hasten the day of its repeal.
§ Mr. HARNEY
Although the Liberal party has its own Amendment on the Paper it gives whole-hearted support to the Amendment for the rejection of this Bill moved by the Labour party. It was a little ungenerous and a little unwise of the Attorney-General to taunt the Liberal party with having put down their Amendment through political expediency, but there is perhaps a difference between the political expediency which seeks to refer a matter for examination by experts and the political expediency which was shown two years ago by the Prime Minister when, almost with tears in his eyes, he appealed to his party not to do that which they are doing to-day because it was inexpedient at the moment. The attitude of the Liberal party amounts to no more than this. Trade unionism is one of our most important institutions. It permeates into our industrial and social activities and any drastic alteration made in it has never been proposed except after a full inquiry. Here we have a Bill, scrappy, superficial and, I am sorry to say, apparently biased, no inquiry whatever, no attempt to deal with the real problem about which controversy is raging at the moment. The people are not talking about the general strike. They are sick and tired of that. What they are talking about is some method by which a solution can be found to prevent these disputes. The Bill is silent upon that.
It seems to be aimed at only one thing, embarrassing all strikers in future and cutting off supplies. I do not know what was in the mind of the Attorney-General when drafting the Bill. He tells us that he did not intend it to be one-sided; but look at the Bill. No one knows better than the Attorney-General that every trade union Act of Parliament up to the moment has been directed towards freeing the trade unions from the blind grip which the Common Law placed upon them as being a restraint on trade. This is the first retrograde step, a return to that very restraint from which they have escaped by the efforts of all parties in this country. And it does not stop there.
1353 We have been told that lock-outs have not been put in the Bill. There is not an Act on the Statute Book dealing with trade unions during the last 150 years, in which combinations have not been treated with even-handed justice, whether they are of employers or employes. "But," it is said, "it is hard to define a lock-out." It may be; but it would be quite as easy to define lock-outs as well as strikes are defined in this Bill; and in the only Act of Parliament where strikes are mentioned lock-outs are also used in exactly corresponding terms.
But, says the Attorney-General: "This is a practical Measure. We are dealing with realities. There never could be a combination of employers who could do the mischief we are now guarding against." It only shows the jaundiced eyes through which the whole business has been viewed. There will be no lockouts or combination of employers as long as a Tory Government is in power, but let us assume that a Labour Government is in power, or a Liberal Government. I know that is almost inconceivable—and that a Labour Government or a Liberal Government brought in a scheme for the reorganisation of the coal mines. Let us assume that the coal owners entirely objected to the scheme. They might say: "We will deal with the Government; we will close our pits." Could it be said that that would not be a lock-out for the purpose of coercing the Government? If the men are to be penalised because of the consequences of their act, why are the employers to go free? I do not wonder at all that throughout the country the feeling is rampant that this Bill is a piece of petty spite. I have heard it from men who are not concerned very much with politics. It is believed to be nothing less than the ungenerous, ignoble, and unworthy crow of exultation on the part of the Government over a body of men whom they believe they have defeated.
Let us look at the main features of this Bill. Clause 1 purports to be directed against a general strike. If it did what it purports to do I for one would say that even then it would be an unnecessary and futile Measure. The Attorney-General has reminded us that in the whole history of trade unions we have never had an occurrence similar to that of last year. It lasted nine days, and it would not have lasted nine minutes if those 1354 who had rushed in could have seen their way to rush out. It would not have happened at all if the Government had not by toying with the situation converted what was mere bluff into the reality that nobody desired. They are really responsible for the calamity. I say that because I believe it to be absolutely true. The Government toyed with what was only intended to be pressure brought to bear on them to do what the miners desired, and it was the Government's fault that this country slipped into the general strike. If we use language accurately, it was a lock-out. The strike began not by the men handing in their notices but by the employers notifying their employés that they would not take them back on the same conditions.
Suppose for argument we assume that such a highly unlikely thing as a general strike occurred again. When would it occur? It would occur only when the trade union leaders believed they were strong enough to win through. When that time comes what attention will they pay to this Clause in this Bill? It would be like trying to stop a hurricane by a pair a bellows. The struggle then would not be within the law, it would not be between lawyers, it would be a struggle outside the law, and of sterner stuff. I do not think it will come, but if it did it is pure moonshine to say that this Bill would be of the slightest use; and in any event you can meet such a situation far more effectively by emergency legislation than by holding up this provocative Bill in advance. Why do you keep donning this inciting armour against an onslaught which is not likely to be made?
The curious thing is that though this Clause is avowedly aimed at the general strike—whatever that means, for I do not know. It misses that aim and hits something which the Attorney-General says it does not hit. It hits the justifiable and industrial strike. The Attorney-General, for whose ability I have the greatest respect, was careful—whether designedly or not, I do not know—not to call our attention to the exact words. This Clause never mentions a general strike from start to finish and never mentions a strike in a single industry from start to finish. It says simply that a strike, even with notice, even without breach of contract, shall be illegal and shall have the consequences 1355 of the sequestration of the funds of the union and of the unfortunate men going to gaol for a period of up to two years if it answers to two conditions. The first condition is that it has an object other than the furtherance of a trade dispute. The second condition is that it is designed to put pressure upon the Government or the community. I say that, according to my experience of the interpretation that Judges give to Acts of Parliament—and we know that Trade Union Acts have been passed with an eye to the unfavourable tendency of special juries and High Court Judges—under this very Bill, if it had been law when the coal strike or lock-out started, every one of those strikers would have been liable to gaol and the whole of their funds to sequestration. This Bill would have hit that coal strike which no one ventured to say was illegal. For six or seven months we lay under its shadow. Many things were said, but I did not hear one voice from any party, or read one article in any review, which suggested that there was anything illegal in that strike. I assert that, if this Bill, which is called a declaration of existing law, was then in force, the strike would have been illegal.
Which of the objects of the recent coal strike would have been illegal under this Bill?
§ Mr. HARNEY
I am asked a question, and I will answer it. Let us assume that this Bill was then law, and that a couple of hundred of these miners were brought, as they could have been, before a Magistrate, Judge or jury. Prosecuting counsel would have said, "My Lord, the first question here is whether these men have, in striking, any object other than improving their own labour conditions. Had they? Why, they never hoped to get any more money out of the employers. They knew the employers either would not or could not do it. What they were working for was to get the continuance of the subsidy. Is not that an object other than the improving of their own labour conditions?" The Judge would then have turned to the special jury and have said, "Gentlemen of the jury, you will not have any difficulty in answering that question." Counsel would have gone on, and have said, "The second question is, whether it was designed or calculated to 1356 coerce the Government or to intimidate a section of the community. What is meant by intimidating the Government? What is meant by coercion? It does not mean physical force; it means bringing pressure to bear upon the mind. Why, the whole object was, by emptying the people's grates, by emptying the power houses, by stopping the trains, by holding up the whole community, to raise a chorus of shouts in every constituency 'Give them the subsidy and let us get on with our work.'" The second question would thus have been answered, and these men would all have been sentenced to imprisonment.
§ Mr. HARNEY
I have not the slightest doubt that there is not a special jury in this Kingdom that would not have found against them. What is more, I cannot conceive that any man of the intelligence of the hon. and gallant Member would himself have found any other verdict. What I say, by way of illustration about the coal strike, will be applicable, if this Bill becomes law, to every strike. I mean strikes dealing with the essential public services, with the transport services, with the light or power services—in fact, every important strike. Take another illustration, that of the railway men. Suppose there is a railway strike. In that case, counsel would come again before the Court, and say, "As regards the first question, whether they had an object other than the furtherance of a trade dispute, there can be no doubt about that, because I have a book of speeches made by different leaders in which they say that this is the first step towards Socialism." It is very easy to say that and very easy to win over a tribunal that is not anxious not to be persuaded. He would go on saying, "The second question is, had the railway men intended to coerce the Government? It is unnecessary to consider that, because they were trying to do something else. They were trying to intimidate a section of the community, namely, the shareholders." At this point, the Judge might ask him whether he had got Johnson's Dictionary in order to see the meaning of the word "intimidation," and he would reply that he had something better, namely, an Act of Parliament showing what intimidation was. 1357 We have it here to-day set out and drafted by the Attorney-General that henceforth intimidation will be, not what all the rest of the English people believe it to be, but something that raises apprehension in the mind that something will be done that causes one to be held up to ridicule. It will be very hard, indeed, for defending counsel to say much to that jury, that these shareholders were not a section of the community which was intimidated because the poor devils will have begun to tremble at not getting their dividends, and that has caused them apprehension. It will be argued that it was intimidation to raise that apprehension.
This Bill is not a Bill directed against general strikes, or even against extended sympathetic strikes. It is a Bill directed against all strikes. The Attorney-General has to-day—and it is not a very usual thing with him—in endeavouring to strengthen his argument really given me a very strong one. He said that he had seen it mentioned that the great difficulty was that people would not know, when a strike started, whether it was legal or illegal. He said that there was something in that, and of course there was a great deal in it. A strike may start with only 10,000 people involved, but it may grow to one with 100,000 involved, and the consequences by this Bill alter its character. The Attorney-General went on to say that there need not be any trouble about that, as it had been dealt with by Clause 7. How? The Attorney-General, when a strike starts that does not please the Government—and in most cases it will not like it—will go to the Court for an interim injunction with the whole weight of his office. He will say, in his affidavit, that he verily believes that the purpose of this strike is to coerce the Government, that there is no need for him to argue that because the Government say so themselves, and that he verily believes that it has an ulterior object. He then asks for an interim injunction. Would it be refused? Does anyone, who has any experience or familiarity with the Courts, think it would be refused? The Attorney-General is for most purposes regarded as the mouthpiece of the Government, and, when the Government in his person comes forward and says, "Here is a strike that 1358 in our opinion is calculated to coerce us or the community and that has an object other than the furtherance of a trade dispute," the Court would grant the injunction and the strike would be hamstrung from the beginning. The Attorney-General told us to-day that that was exactly how one would know whether they were doing an illegal thing or not. The result is that when a strike starts and a poor man says that he must first find out if it is illegal, it depends upon whether the Attorney-General says that he does not like it, or that he likes it. In the former case, it is illegal and in the latter case it is legal. Did anyone ever hear of a more monstrous piece of autocratic rule than that? I always thought that striking was an allowable way of the bulk of men showing that they had a grievance. Now we are told that they dare not use this instrument in furtherance of their grievance unless, in the first instance, they satisfy the Attorney-General that they ought to do so.
If hon. Members opposite desire, as perhaps many of them do, to say that it would be a good thing if we had no strikes at all, if they think it is desirable that employers should be able to close their works to get their way and that the poor employés should not be able to do the same things for the same purpose, if they think that in negotiations the employés ought to be robbed of the one instrument they have to make their words effective, then all I can say is let them say that to the electors and take the consequences. Do not let them, through their Attorney-General, come before Parliament and say, "What we are doing is a declaration of the law." That is dishonest. It is not a declaration of the law, and the learned Solicitor-General, whom I see opposite, knows quite well that it is not a declaration of the law. What right have you to go to the country saying that you are merely declaring the law when you are not? What is the existing law? The existing law, under the Act of 1906, provides that men can strike in the primary or all the secondary industries and even break their contracts by doing so, and still the funds of the union are immune and the persons of the strikers are safe. But you might say, "That goes too far." I do not think it does.
1359 But suppose that it does; wipe out the 1906 law, and what do you find? You have common law for centuries—with a slight break between 1799 and some years afterwards, when a panicky Act of Parliament was passed—you have the common law for centuries saying, "Let any man do a thing that is lawful and it cannot be made unlawful because 10,000, 20,000 or 1,000,000 other men do the same thing." That is the common law of England and it is common justice. That is individual liberty. I have been appalled to think that it would enter into anyone's mind to say that a working man is not to be at liberty, having lawfully terminated his contract, to down tools and walk home. I would resent being denied the opportunity to do anything when I thought that I had not broken any law. I hope hon. Members will ponder over this. say that it remains for a Tory Government, the strongest in its history, in the second quarter of the enlightened twentieth century, to say that a man may give in his notice, work honestly until the end of it, leave his pit, walk home with the easy consciousness that he has done no wrong, and in a few days he can be arrested while he is peacefully attending to his allotment. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Do hon. Members opposite really think that the millions of genuine industrialists in this country are not sober, decent fellows, and that this is not a gross wrong to them? I assert this: A miner may, under this Bill, give in his notice, complete his work, walk home, and a few days later when he is engaged on his allotment he may be arrested, lugged off to the police station, and when he asks. "What have I done?" the answer is, "Oh, my poor man, you have done nothing unlawful yourself, but you are here because 10,000 others have done the same thing." "Oh," he says, "is it then that others have done something unlawful and I must suffer for it?" "Oh, no," says the magistrate or policeman, "not at all; the funny part of it is that you have done nothing unlawful, but you are to suffer because they too have done nothing unlawful." If hon. Members opposite are going to commend a Clause like that to the common sense of the community, then the only security that they have of getting votes from any party is that they throw dust in their eves. I do not believe that when this 1360 thing is understood throughout the country, namely, that men are made liable for doing a lawful act if a great number of other men do it, provided the Government do not like it—when that is known throughout the country, I do not believe that even the supporters of Tory Governments would vote for it.
Now I come to another portion of this precious Bill, the intimidation Clause. The Attorney-General started with some lugubrious words about our being all against intimidation. Of course we are; he was speaking to the converted. The learned Gentleman said, "It is necessary to prevent the thing going on that goes on now." What is the law now? It is wrong really to intimidate anyone according to the dictionary meaning of the word. That is punishable now. Under the Act of 1906 you can approach a man's house for the purpose of peaceful persuasion. I was expecting a laugh at that remark. Hon. Members may say, "Ah, peaceful persuasion! "I frankly agree that the persuasion has not always been peaceful, but I say that the fault lies not with the law but with the infirmity of human nature. In moments of strife, when passions are high, men who feel strongly will persuade forcibly. I know and everyone knows that. Here is the amusing thing about this Clause. This form of intimidation, booing of men, jeering of men, is illegal now, but it cannot be stopped because the policeman is powerless to prevent it. But the Attorney-General thinks that although the policeman cannot prevent booing, he can prevent this new intimidation, grimacing. Though he cannot catch those who jeer and use bad language, he will catch those who give a Marie Lloyd twist to the eye or a Charley Chaplin tilt to the hat. Intimidation is extended from its dictionary meaning into the regions of metaphysics.
There is one other Clause in the Bill about which I want to say something, and that is the Clause relating to the political levy. We know that the Prime Minister, two years ago, induced those who wanted to bring forward a Bill on exactly the same lines as this to desist, and he came into this House and gave us that heartrending speech about "Peace in our time, O Lord!" Why has the right hon. Gentleman changed his mind now? By intimidation. The forces 1361 behind have grown stronger and he thinks that the forces in front have grown weaker. That is the reason. The idea of the Bill is to substitute what is called contracting in for contracting out. It is said with a good deal of plausibility that it is not fair that men should be forced to contribute to the advancement of political views that they do not hold. Put in that way it is quite right. But the two terms "contracting in" and "contracting out" are not really accurately descriptive of the contrasting methods at all. Look at the matter more closely. Long before the 1913 Act trade unions had used, and properly used, the funds of their members for political purposes. Then the idea was that the unions should send to Parliament someone who understood union business to represent them, and a very right and proper thing it was. That is legal, and should be legal. If we barristers were strong enough we should have someone in this, House to represent us.
A man named Osborne obtained an injunction against the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants for using a portion of his contribution in this way. A decision was given by the Judges that appalled the whole trade union world. It was certainly contrary to what everyone thought, lawyers as well as laymen, for years. Then an Act of Parliament was passed. What does it say? It says, "Trade unions, you are authorised, if you wish, to create a political fund for political purposes, but whether you create it or not is to be determined, as everything should be determined in corporate bodies, by a majority vote, and that vote shall be given in secret, and if the result of that ballot is that there shall be a political fund, then that trade union fund is to be dealt with and administered by the executives in just the same way as the shareholders' fund is dealt with and administered by the directors." I know no reason why shareholders should not say to-morrow, as part of their memorandum of association, that there should be the creation of a political fund. If they did so, and the money that should otherwise have gone to them in dividends was retained for that political fund, who would be the persons who had the determination as to what that fund should support? The directors and the directors only.
1362 The Act of 1913 might in fairness have been left there. Trade unions are composed of a great number of men who have not much time to give to a subject of this kind. But it is said, "We will make an exception, not in favour of the executives, but in favour of the rank and file. We will say to them, 'Look here, Messrs. Minority, the vote has been taken and you are the lesser party. The corporate action of the union ought really to be determined by the voting, but in your case we will give you this advantage, that notwithstanding that you have been beaten and fairly beaten, still, if you protest by putting in a document, we will see that your protest is listened to'". Could anything be fairer? But this Bill says that, notwithstanding that a majority in secret ballot has decided that funds shall be applied as the executive think fit, before any of the money can be retained, before any of the political purposes can be carried out, the same men—the majority—who have voted for the funds and for the purposes cannot have their own money—not the minority's money at all, but their own money—used in this way unless they themselves sign another document.
I say that is unfair. I say you have no right when a man has given his consent to the use of his own money in a certain way to tell him, "We cannot use your money unless you go to the trouble of sending in a special form." The man may be a miner with his hands dirty from hard work, but you expect him to get a form and fill it in for this purpose. That is unfair, and I was astonished to find a clear-headed man like the Attorney-General using such absurd arguments in favour of the proposal. He said that those who voted for exemption and those who did not send in their notices at all, were exhaustive terms and that there was no middle party. Of course, there is the big middle party, the party of inertia, and it is unfair that the party of inertia should he thrown against the party who have come to a decision. We are told that a great deal is done by lodge secretaries to hamper men who wish to contract out. Perhaps there is. That is not unnatural. I do not know many instances where majority decisions are allowed to be interfered with very much by the minority. Take this House for 1363 instance. I do not think we who are in the minority here get very great encouragement, so that the union secretaries in hampering persons contracting out are really only doing what hon. Members here do when they are the stronger party.
Then it is said that there is intimidation. If intimidation means real intimidation, I do not think there is much of it. If intimidation means that sort of subtle ingenious remonstrance so delightfully depicted in the words of the Bill, then, I dare say there is intimidation, and I am quite sure you will never stop it. Every man claims, almost as a free gift from Heaven, the right to smile or to twist his head as he likes or to do any of the things that are to be forbidden in this Bill. Here is a Clause which, as everyone knows, will embitter the workers and create discord throughout the industrial community, and what will it gain? We hear it said that all those who now contract out are earmarked and noted by the secretaries. I think there is not much difference between noting those who contract out and noting those who refuse to contract in.
When the Bill goes into Committee I hope to deal more minutely with these matters, but speaking now with all sincerity I say it is a bad and mischievous Bill. It reverses the settled law of the land for 100 years with reference to the freedom of a man to cease his work. It hits at all strikes and not at merely general strikes. Coming at this time when the wound created last year is in process of closing up it is throwing salt in that wound to introduce this Bill. Trade unionists and working men, whatever their occupations, whatever their numbers, are human beings exactly like the rest of us. They have as much ride and as much discernment as we have and they will see in this Bill, not an honest genuine attempt to set the trade union house in order, but a malicious, vindictive, exultant, attempt by one party, which thinks the workers funds are exhausted and that they are weak, to crow in the hour of victory. Let that idea get home and, believe me, the thing that will determine trade unionist votes will not be whether they would like this change or that change in the Bill. They will say, "We regard the whole thing 1364 as kicking us when we are down. We think no more about it and we will vote against those who have been ignoble and ungenerous enough to take this advantage."
§ Sir WALTER GREAVES-LORD
The hon. and learned Member for South Shields (Mr. Harney) has given us a very interesting illustration of the way in which a member of a political party can forget the history of his own party. While he speaks of things having been the law for hundreds of years, he knows that if he searches the history of his own party he will find that the days of the Manchester School were well known in this country as the days when trade unionism was persecuted by the predecessors of the party to which the hon. and learned Gentleman belongs. He knows also that since the days when the Conservative party gave real freedom to the trade unionists of this country—
§ Mr. T. GRIFFITHS
And But my father into prison. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] You are a lot of wasters. You put men into prison.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
As I was saying, the hon. and learned Member knows that ever since the days when the Conservative Government of the day restored freedom to trade unionists, the Liberal party have been trying to pretend that they and they alone are the friends of the working class, and the result is the contempt in which the working class hold them to-day. The hon. and learned Member gave us an entirely fanciful account of some of the consequences of this Bill. He depicted prosecutions of trade unionists before judges and special juries. He depicted applications for injunctions, which might perchance get to the High Court, but which, presumably, he thought might be made before magistrates, and then he pictured a fanciful idea of his own, that this Bill would make a genuine industrial strike illegal. I challenge him—
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
What the hon. and learned Member said is within the recollection of the House. He said 1365 this Bill would make that illegal which was not illegal when done by one man, because ten thousand did it. He knows that ever since the statute of 1875 the law of the land has been clearly laid down that that which is legal when done by one man, does not become illegal when done by several or by many.
§ Mr. HARNEY
Will the hon. and learned Member pardon me, but it is desirable to have this point clear. Of course, that is so under the Act of 1875, but what I am saying is that this Bill undoes that and makes it illegal—
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
I have already challenged the hon. and learned Member—and during the Committee stage he will have full opportunity of replying to it—to show one single Clause in this Bill which makes an ordinary industrial strike illegal. I challenge him now to point out one Clause which makes that illegal when done by ten thousand, which is legal when done by ten.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
The hon. and learned Member will have opportunities of replying. I shall return to this subject, but, before doing so, I wish to refer to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes). He said this Bill was directed to fastening class hostility upon this country. He has evidently failed to appreciate entirely the purpose, intention and effect of Clause 1 of the Bill. Clause 1 only comes into operation to prevent an attack upon the community, and class hostility is the usual thing which inspires an attack upon one section or any section of the community. In other words, the prohibition in the Bill is against carrying class hostility into action, and is not an attempt to fasten class hostility upon this country. Neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the hon. and learned Member for South Shields has attempted to point out what Clause 1 does. I was able to find the other day a very clear and definite, statement of the effect of Clause 1 of the Bill. It is very short, and I propose to read it:This can be illustrated in the following way. If the National Union of Railwaymen came out on strike with the sole object of resisting a reduction of wages that would be legal, even if it were designed or calculated 1366 to coerce the Government. If the Association of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen came out solely in support of the National Union of Railway Servants that also would be legal whatever its results. If, however, the object of the National Union of Railway Servants were, for example, the nationalisation of the railways that would be illegal if it were designed or calculated to coerce the Government.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
I am quoting from a pamphlet entitled "The Trade Union Bill. A Critical Analysis," by W. H. Thompson, with a foreword by George Hicks, published by the Labour Research Department. What does that indicate? It indicates that where a struggle is an industrial struggle, even though the effect of it may be to coerce the Government, it is legal. If, on the other hand, the strike is an attempt to substitute the weapon of the strike for representation in Parliament, then it is something which is illegal, because it is contrary to the ordinary traditions of this country. So much for that part of the Bill, at any rate. There was one phrase which was used by the right hon. Member for Platting which I appreciated fully. He said that the Tories said the Bill was going through. It is the habit of our party, having put our hands to the plough, not to turn back, and having embarked on legislation which is in the cause of justice, we intend to continue until we have placed upon the Statute Book something which will free the working men of this country from the tyranny of some right hon. and hon. Members opposite. The right hon. Member for Platting went on to say that while this Bill allowed a strike to take place, it reduced that strike to complete impotence, apparently by reason of Clause 3 of the Bill. That really means this, that in order that a strike shall be effective, you shall have the right to obstruct the entrances to a workman's house, o if you do not want to do that, to continue to follow him wherever he might be, and to follow him with threats of injury either to himself, his wife, or his family. If those are the only means by which strikes can be carried out in this country, I venture to think that this country would not tolerate strikes for one moment if it were thought that intimidation was necessary 1367 in order to bring a strike to a successful conclusion.
I think a great many of those whom hon. Members opposite profess to serve in this House will be very glad indeed to be freed from the tyranny of some hon. Members opposite, who do not hesitate and have not hesitated on occasions to read out in public the names and addresses of men at work five miles away from their homes, with certainly a hope behind the reading out that some of the crowd would visit the homes of those men while they were away at work. The right hon. Member for Platting said that apparently a blackleg had no rights, and he then defined a blackleg. He said that a blackleg was a person who, having taken part in a ballot, refused to take part in the strike which was the result of that ballot. By that definition, no one of those who refused to take part in the General Strike last year was a black-leg, according to him, and yet it was those people who refused to take part in the General Strike who were intimidated, not merely under that part of this Bill which is dealt with in Clause 3, but by the type of intimidation which is dealt with in Clause 2.
Hon. Members opposite are entitled to say that a very large number of men in this country came out in the General Strike as an exhibition of their sympathy with the miners, and those men who came out are entitled to full benefit and credit for that intention, but it is very questionable how many even of those would have come out on strike if they had heard before the General Strike some of the speeches which right hon. Members opposite have delivered after the General Strike telling them it was no use. But quite apart from those members of trade unions who came out in the General Strike, how many were there who came out because they knew that disobedience to the strike order of the General Council of the Trade Union Congress might mean the loss of the benefit to which they were entitled for their lifelong subscriptions to the trade unions of this country? It is those men, who were coerced by penalty rules of that kind to come out and take part in a conspiracy against the State, who are protected by Clause 2 of this Bill, and that Clause is 1368 a charter of freedom for every man who loves his country and is determined to do his duty by it.
The hon. and learned Member for South Shields said that, after all, intimidation was only a form of human infirmity. That is the kind of thing which is so often said on behalf of the man who has broken the laws of his country because he could not resist taking that which was not his own. It is the type of thing which would excuse every crime, and I think that, if the law of this country is going to be so weak as to say that a man who attacks his fellow man, either by threat or by violence, merely does it because of human infirmity, it is time we changed that law. Another matter of which the hon. and learned Member for South Shields spoke was this. He said that this Bill gave an unfair power to the Attorney-General, and the right hon. Member for Platting seemed to think that the Attorney-General was to be judge and advocate in his own cause, because he was the person, according to him, who was to judge. The hon. and learned Member for South Shields has a very short memory. If he would go back to the years during which we had bureaucratic restrictions in this country, within recent memory, he knows very well that one bulwark against unreasonable demands of the Executive was the Courts of this country, which took good care to interpret even the Emergency Regulations in such a way as to preserve, so far as was reasonably possible, the freedom of the citizens of this country, and I am rather ashamed that a member of my profession should get up in this House and give such a travesty of the administration of justice in this country.
I want to say a word or two further about Clause 4 of the Bill, the political fund Clause. When my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General was dealing with his Clause, the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Mackinder) said he was stating something which was untrue. The statement of my right hon. Friend was this, that unregistered trade unions made no return of their political funds. The hon. Member for Shipley said it was untrue, and, so far as he could in Parliamentary language, he indicated that in his opinion the right hon and learned Gentleman was a stranger to the truth. I have in my 1369 hand a copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT for the 12th March, 1924, when, the hon. Member will remember, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury was a right hon. Gentleman who so often adorns the Front Bench opposite, and who sits for the Central Division of Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham). I asked this question:Whether the Miners' Federation of Great Britain has made any return to the Registrar of Friendly Societies for the years ended 30th June, 1923, or 31st December, 1923; if so, when he proposes to publish the same; whether such return shows the amount contributed to or transferred to the political fund of the union; and what is the amount so contributed or transferred.The answer was as follows:The answer to the first part of the question is in the negative. The Miners' Federation, not being registered, is under no legal obligation to send returns to the Registrar. The remainder of the question does not, therefore, arise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March, 1924; col. 2361, Vol. 170.]
§ Mr. MACKINDER
I, being the general secretary of an unregistered trade union, piloted a political fund through my union, and I had to supply to the Chief Registrar a statement of income and expenditure, and if the hon. and learned Member will look at the Trade Union Act, 1913, he will see that registered and non-registered trade unions have got to make that return.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
The hon. Member is under a complete misapprehension. That answer was given by the then Financial Secretary of the Treasury.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
I will read the Act. It is quite true that it defines a trade union as:any combination, whether temporary or permanent, the principal objects of which are … statutory objects: Provided that any combination which is for the time being registered as a trade union shall be deemed to be a trade union … so long as it continues to be so registered.It also says:Any unregistered trade union may, if they think fit, at any time without registering the union apply to the Registrar of Friendly Societies for a certificate that the union is a trade union within the meaning of this Act.Unless it applies, it does not come within the Act.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
Will the hon. and learned Member pardon me? I only want to make my position clear. Before a trade union which is non-registered can have a political fund it must apply to the Registrar. I have had to do it. We wanted a political fund, but before we could get it, we had to apply to the Registrar for permission. Once we had that, and had got the ballot through, we had to conform to all the rules just as though we were registered.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
The answer that I give is this, that for some time after the Miners Federation formed a political fund they sent returns to the Registrar of Friendly Societies. They then discovered that they were under no legal obligation so to do, and from that time onwards to this day they have never sent any, and that was the reason for my question to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in 1924.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
The reason is because, in the words of the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, they were an unregistered trade union and were under no obligation to do it.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
The hon. Members opposite are quite anxious to utter suggestions that people are deliberately telling that which is untrue upon their own general views, but they reject the evidence of so learned an expert upon the law of this country as the Gentleman who was their own Financial Secretary to the Treasury; in other words, they desire to exercise the privilege of always rejecting their own leaders when their own leaders say something which is unpleasant to themselves. There is one other matter to which the right hon. Member for Platting referred. He said: "What about these enormous funds of the other political parties? You have these secret funds, why should not we? We do not inquire where the money which comes into your political party comes from." Neither do we inquire where the money which goes into the coffers of the Labour party comes from. All that we are concerned about is this, 1371 that just as the man who subscribes to a friendly society is entitled to know what is done with his money, so we say that the man who subscribes to a trade union is entitled to know whether the officials of that union use the money in accordance with its purposes or not. The hon. and learned Member for South Shields likened the trade union to a limited company, and said that if at any meeting of a company the majority of shareholders decided to vote money for any political purpose, the other shareholders would have to accept the decision. The hon. and learned Member knows quite well that that statement is entirely out of accord with the law. He knows perfectly well that, unless the articles of association of a limited company allowed subscriptions for political purposes, any use of the money of the company for political purposes could be restrained by the action of a shareholder immediately.
There is another Clause about which I want to say a word or two, and that is the Clause which deals with municipalities. I hope that the Attorney-General will be able to say something in Committee about some of these Clauses in detail, but I would like to say one word about the Clause which affects municipalities. The right hon. Member for Platting spoke as though that Clause compelled the municipal authorities of this country to take sides. I am glad to hear from him that he believes municipal authorities and all other public bodies should not take sides in matters of this kind, but, obviously, he had not read his own party's comment upon Clause 6 of the Bill, because I find the comment of his own party, in a pamphlet called "Union Smashing by Law," issued by the Trade Union Defence Committee, that Clause 6 forces an absolute neutrality upon the public authorities. Could there he anything better than that the public authorities of this country should be compelled to keep from taking sides as between trade unions and those who do not wish to belong to them, or between one union and another? We know perfectly well that attempts have been made time after time to get a municipal authority to decide in favour of one trade union as against another. Why should there not he liberty to all trade unionists, and liberty for all citizens whether trade unionists or not?
1372 I do not want to take up further time except to say this: As far as I have ever taken part in any of these discussions on trade union legislation, I have always taken the view that such legislation should apply equally to combinations of employers and to combinations of work-people. I am one of those who protested publicly when the small engineering strike appeared as though it were going to be used for the purpose of a general engineering lock-out. I said then, and I repeat now, that if that lockout had taken place, it would have been doing the same work that the extremists in the Socialist party are trying to do. So that I have a very clear view upon those matters, and, whatever small amount of interference there may be, whatever the small number of cases that may come under it, I do hope that Clause 1 will be clearly made to apply to a lock-out as well as a strike. If the lock-out is an attack upon the community, I venture to think that no Government, no matter what it is, will really want the small Clauses of this Bill to deal with it. I think if any attack were made upon the community by any body of employers, or any employers, it would be dealt with very shortly and very clearly, whoever happened to be in office. But I want to point out something else that is contrary to what has been said by the Socialist party in this country and by critics of this Bill. The Clause which deals with intimidation deals indiscriminately both with employers and employed. The effect of it is to put into the definition of intimidation in the 1875 Act the definition which is given in this Bill. In the 1875 Act I find this—it is the only place in which the word "intimidation" is used—
Every person"—that is both employer and employed, or any person—who, with a view to compel any other person to abstain from doing or to do any act which such other person has a legal right to do, or abstain from doing, wrongfully and without legal authority,(1) Uses violence to or otherwise intimidates such other person or his wife or children, or injures his property,shall, on conviction, etc. In those circumstances, as far as intimidation is concerned, there is clear equality in the case of all those who are engaged in industry. I read in some of 1373 these extraordinary pamphlets the statement that the Bill does not prevent a man being dismissed by his employer because he has voted for a Socialist. There is no necessity to do it, because at the present time that is an illegal practice. You might as well say that this Bill does not compel a man to be prosecuted for stealing his neighbour's goods. That is already provided for and need not be dealt with in this Bill. As far as any person uses methods of intimidation, he will be dealt with, because this Bill is intended to do evenhanded justice. I only want to say further, that if hon. and right hon. Members opposite think that by their sound and fury they are going to raise any considerable voting strength to their ranks because of this Bill, they are building upon a very flimsy foundation. They will find that, when the occasion comes, thousands and hundreds of thousands in their ranks will not only welcome this Bill, but will thank the Conservative Government of this day for restoring to them that freedom which hon. Members opposite treat so lightly and laugh at on every possible occasion.
§ Sir H. SLESSER
In my view, the subject matter which we have to consider this evening is so serious, that I do not propose to follow the example of the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) by going into the sort of political and, if I may say so, meretricious arguments with which he has been entertaining the House for the last quarter of an hour I think we are concerned here with something more important than the question whether his party, or my party, or any other party gains or loses by this particular Measure. The question is whether this Measure is going to benefit this country, or whether it is not. I hope, before I sit down, to be able to give reasons to satisfy the House, that though they may, in the words of Lord Birkenhead, have already decided that this Bill must go through, at any rate they will realise that in putting this Bill through they are doing a real disservice to the cause of freedom, to the cause of industrial peace and to the cause of trade unionism.
In order that the House may come to a clear idea as to the purpose or the mischief of this Bill—the phrase, I believe, used by the right hon. Gentleman—the House must first of all consider what is 1374 the present law with regard to strikes and striking in general. May I leave out for the moment the question of the general strike? I am going to deal with it and its legality, but it is a difficult and thorny question, and must be dealt with by itself. But, leaving out the question of the general strike, what is the general law upon this matter? For hundreds of years the law of this country has been that employers and employed were alike able, by giving notice under their contracts, to terminate their engagements the one with the other. That has been our whole notion of a free country—that an employer might dismiss a man, or that a man might give notice that he would after a certain date decline to serve that particular employer. No words of mine can exaggerate the importance of legislation which alters that state of affairs. Under this Bill, as I shall show, it will no longer be within the power of a workmen, except at the expense of becoming a criminal, to terminate his contract. The results of that are so serious, so absolutely destructive of the whole common law of this country—indeed, I would say of all the conservative traditions of this country—that I shall be pardoned if I overlook the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Norwood, which, amusing as they might be in times of ordinary discussion, when dealing with such serious matters as these can best be treated by being ignored.
This Bill, certainly in the case of all the strikes declared illegal, makes it a criminal offence for any workman to leave his employment even after giving notice that he wishes to leave it. That means—I have been criticised for using the phrase, but will use it again—that we are reducing these people to a state of servitude. If a man is not free to leave his employment if and when he will, he is a serf, and this Bill, with all the smooth phrases and irrelevant remarks about general strikes and the like, in every case where a strike can become illegal, after notice is given, reduces every man to a state of servitude. What is the legal position of a man after his notice has expired? He is working on a week's notice. Re gives notice that he is about to leave his employment. The week's notice expires—he cannot leave. All the other workers in his industry have given notice, and it is an illegal strike within 1375 the meaning of this Bill. What is the position? He cannot leave. The Attorney-General, no doubt, or somebody on his behalf, will deal with this point. The contract has come to an end. If one were to cast about for some definition of the position of a man who is tied to an employer, one might say adscriptus glebæ. The man has told his employer he no longer wishes to work for him, but he must, in spite of the fact that the contract has come to an end. The position of that man is that of a serf, and his legal position that of statutory servitude.
Some observations have been made about certain running comments by my hon. Friends, but when we consider the obligation which is put upon all work-people of this country that they shall be deprived of the right of terminating their employment, a right which their ancestors have possessed for hundreds of years, then I think this Bill has been received with marvellous good temper, and marvellous forbearance. But the matter does not end there. The definition is this Clause extends not only to persons who have refused to continue their employment, but even to persons who refuse to accept employment. So that not only is the unfortunate man compelled to go on working for the employer when wishing to leave him, but becomes a criminal if he refuses to accept employment under this Measure. What happens next? These innocent workmen, who may become criminals through no act of their own whatever, but through the act of some other agent, possibly 100 or 1,000 miles away—these persons, as I say, all become liable to two years' imprisonment. Thanks to the legislation promoted by the hon. and learned Member for Norwood, they may now be given cumulative sentences of imprisonment to run consecutively.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
May I correct the hon. and learned Member? That particular Act has no application to political offences.
§ Sir H. SLESSER
I allowed the hon. Member to correct me, but surely his correction is, if I may say so, a little futile? He says the Act has no application to political offences. I did not understand that to refuse to labour under this Bill would be a political offence, it 1376 would be an industrial offence. I do not think an unfortunate worker would escape on that pretext from the meshes of the hon. and learned Member's Act. The matter does not end there, however. It is not only a question of the unfortunate workman who ceases labour, there is the case of anyone who "furthers" the dispute. What does that mean? If a little fund is got up to help the wives and dependants of those people who refuse to work, who is to say whether subscribers are not furthering the strike? There are hon. Members opposite who, I am very glad to say, were sufficiently generous in mind to subscribe to the fund for assisting the wives and children of the locked-out miners during the recent dispute. They were all furthering the dispute. I am told that a very exalted person, the Prince of Wales himself, contributed. He was furthering the dispute. How could a person who was merely assisting a dispute know whether the strike was legal or illegal within the meaning of this Act? He would find himself a criminal, possibly, for merely sending 5s. to assist the wife or children of an unfortunate striker. Newspaper articles would all be criminal. They would all further the dispute.
The House will observe that there is no definition of "furthering" the dispute, and I think we may probably say that if 100,000 officials and 7,000,000 strikers may be liable under this Bill, that 30,000,000 persons may all be made criminal under the Bill on the charge of "furthering" the dispute. If one thing be more obvious than another in matters of criminal law, it is that it is a fatal mistake, unless you wish to try to bring the law into discredit, to try to impose on people criminal liabilities which the public morality of the time does not accept. If a man forges a cheque, that is an act properly punished by imprisonment; but we have passed the time when the public believed that a man should be imprisoned for merely declining to work. Under this Bill, not only is the man imprisoned, but he is given the maximum sentence, short of penal servitude, of which this country is capable. Two years imprisonment may be given to any miner, any operative, merely for refusing to work, under this Bill.
The learned Attorney-General may say "That is all very well, but this Bill 1377 applies only to a certain limited number of defined illegal strikes." He will say that it is not all strikes, but only strikes declared to be illegal which bring the penalty in their train. But the folly, or one of the many follies, of this Measure is that the Attorney-General and his advisers have hopelessly confused the instrument and the agent. The agent, we will assume, is the wicked trade union official who is trying to coerce the Government or to subvert a substantial part of the community, but the instrument is the innocent operative who has ceased work. Whether that operative is engaged in a legal or illegal strike will not depend on his own behaviour but on the behaviour of an official hundreds of miles away. Miners may go out on strike in support of and in sympathy with the railway men—go out on strike in sympathy with a dispute which is not in their own trade or industry. Some official of the Miners' Federation in London may use strong language to Mr. Baldwin and coerce him or intimidate him, or intimidate a substantial part of the community, and there upon the individual workman who has come out of the pit near Glasgow without knowing anything about what has happened, will, from the moment when that official intimidates or coerces, become a criminal, though the only act in which he will participate consists of being a member of an illegal strike. That is the only act he ever does, but he acts in a. body with others, and he ceases labour, and that very act, which may be innocent when he does it, may become illegal through the activity of another person over whom he has no control and about whom, possibly, he has never heard at all.
The learned Attorney-General, in order to get out of that obvious dilemma and bad drafting and folly in his Measure says, "Oh, but there is Clause 7, which enables the Attorney-General to apply for an injunction, and the decision of the Courts as to whether the strike is illegal or not will be a guidance to this unfortunate person who is out on strike." First of all the Attorney-General says—and I say it with every respect, in a manner which was not quite worthy of the close reasoning we expect from him—that very likely it would happen that the Attorney-General would do this. We are not concerned with what is likely or unlikely 1378 to happen, but with what this Bill produces. Be it likely or unlikely, the effect of the Attorney-General applying to the Courts—if he did apply—would merely be to get a decision in a Court of law in London that certain funds were to be sequestrated or that an injunction was to be granted. How would that information be conveyed to the unfortunate striker in a South Wales valley? How would he know that an interim injunction granted in a Court of law in London made him a illegal strike in South Wales? The Attorney-General knows perfectly-well that, in fact, these unfortunate men will be prosecuted before the magistrates, and that the question of the Court or the injunction will never arise at all.
Therefore, I say that this Bill, whatever else it does, puts every operative in this country in deadly peril, and if I am asked, speaking as a lawyer, whether I could advise any worker in this country to take part in any strike, I should say, "No, you may be striking in a strike which is authorised by this Bill, but you will never know what officials are going to do on your behalf, what use is going to be made of your cessation of labour, and I am unable to advise you that at any time you will be safe." That advice, which I should give to the workman, I should equally have to give to anybody who was helping his wife or dependant, or to anyone who in any way, to use the wonderfully vague phrase in the Bill, was "furthering" the dispute.
Now let me turn to the definition of an illegal strike itself. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Harney) has already pointed out how misleading is the phrase:It is hereby declared,making it appear simply that this was a mere declaration of some existing law. That, I think, has already been completely exploded. We know that this is no declaration of an existing law, but is, in fact, an entirely new law; but the Attorney-General, throughout his speech, has asked the House to believe, as I understood him, that this Measure was directed against a general strike, and, as I understood him, against a general strike alone. We have heard two phrases used in this Debate. Sometimes we hear of "general strike," sometimes we hear 1379 of "genuine trade dispute." I am sure the Attorney-General will not think me in any way insolent when I say that to treat that as exhaustive of the matter is to be guilty of the fallacy of the excluded middle.
There is a third alternative as well as a genuine trade dispute and a general strike, and that is a sympathetic strike, which may or may not be a strike, but certainly it is not general. In view of the ambiguity of the speeches which hon. and right hon. Gentleman opposite have delivered up and down the country, it would almost seem that their object is to confuse people to such an extent that they will not understand what this Bill means. The only hope of hon. Members opposite is that this Bill will be accepted by the country, but to describe this as a Measure dealing with a general strike is an absolute travesty of the purposes of this Bill, because it goes miles beyond a general strike. We have, for example, something like a definition of a general strike in the Emergency Powers Act, in which it is described as an action taken of such a nature and on so extensive a scale as to be calculated, by interfering with the supply of food and so on, to deprive the community of the essentials of life. This Bill goes far beyond that. Clause 1, in Sub-section (1), provides that:It is hereby declared that any strike having any object besides the furtherance of a trade dispute within the trade or industry in which the strikers are engaged is an illegal strike if it is a strike designed or calculated to coerce the Government or to intimidate the community.I agree that you have to have an intimidation of the community, but what does that mean? The keyword on which the whole meaning of whether a general strike is legal or illegal depends upon the definition of a word which is undefined. A definition of intimidation is given in Clause 3, but in Clause 1 the definition is entirely absent, and we must draw our own conclusions on this point, which is that it is the object of the Government to keep this Measure so vague and so uncertain that the Magistrates and the Judges will be able to put upon it any interpretation they like, and it will be almost impossible for any trade union to have a strike at all. May I suggest to the Attorney-General 1380 that the word "intimidate" in Clause 1 means what it says in Clause 3 where it is defined as "loss of any kind"?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent me. The definition of "intimidation" in Clause 3 is expressly confined to that Section. Intimidation is a matter which, as the hon. and learned Gentleman very well knows, apart from specialised definition has been frequently decided by the Courts.
§ Sir H. SLESSER
Intimidation was not defined in Clause 1 and it was specifically decided in Clause 3. I know it has been decided in about 30 different ways, but never in connection with intimidating the community. We have heard of a man intimidating his wife or of a wife intimidating her husband but here we have an entirely new phrase, "intimidate the community," and that is contained in Clause 1. In the absence of any definition it may well be that the Judges will look to Clause 3 although the definition is confined to that Clause, and they may define it to mean a "loss of any kind." Of course, the whole result of a strike of any kind is to deprive people of goods and therefore those words "intimidate the community" are really no safeguard at all. Every sympathetic strike in that sense may be said to "intimidate the community." Those words are a mere surplusage and when you have a sympathetic strike the Court may say that it is not to intimidate the community.
As I have already stated outside this House, and which I believe to be true not by way of rhetoric but as an actual considered fact, in the future under this Bill it will be unsafe for men to take part in any sympathetic strike whatever except at the risk of receiving two years imprisonment. Under these circumstances what happens to the argument that this Bill is confined to the general strike. If that was the object, why was it not so defined. I refuse to think that the Attorney-General and Lord Birkenhead, and all the other learned men associated with this Measure, have not between them collectively a sufficient knowledge of the law to produce a definition of a general strike. The reason is that it was never intended to apply 1381 to a general strike only, and to talk in that way is merely confusing the issue so that simple people may be led to believe that this Bill is one dealing only with a general strike. As a matter of fact this Bill deals a deadly blow at the whole process of striking. The hon. and learned Gentleman says, "I will put this right by applying it to a lock-out." It is only two years since the Attorney-General tried to destroy the Grand Jury but I succeeded in saving that ancient part of the constitution.
I believe in sticking to the old principles of the common law, and when I see a Bill which interferes to such an extent as this Bill does with a person as to prevent him taking employment if it is in a sympathetic strike, it is no consolation for me to say that employers may be put into a similar dilemma. So long as we preserve our existing industrial system, I say that the employer should have the same right to terminate his contract as the men. Consider what will happen. Take the engineering case. The Engineering Employers' Federation have a dispute with the engineers and lock them out. They are entitled to do so and they terminate their contracts. In the process they wish to put pressure on some other men and they lock out another section of workers as a sympathetic lock-out. If my definition of intimidation is right, and the community find themselves short of goods in consequence of the lock-out, then the employers are affected as well as the men. Is it really in the interests of peace or security that the Government should introduce legislation which puts all law-abiding industrialists in this country under a fear of prosecution, or persecution, or actions or suits of this kind? Surely, it defeats all the things for which the Prime Minister said he stood in the past, and can only, as has been said in this House, and as I agree, produce, at the best, a considerable amount of employment for the lawyers. There we have something of the position with regard to the sympathetic strike; but the matter does not end there. There are even cases where a dispute in your own trade may become an illegal strike under this Act. It will be noticed that, according to the definition given of a trade dispute, it is not to be deemed to be a trade dispute unless it is a dispute between employers and 1382 workmen connected with the employment or non-employment, or the terms of employment or the conditions of labour, of persons in that industry. Granted the defence in regard to intimidation, which I think is an illusory defence, in every other case such action is illegal. Take, for example, the case of men who say they will not work with another man because he has not paid a fine to the union. It may be said that that is very wrong and very wicked, but until this revolutionary Government came along, the law courts, and all the law Lords, have said that if a number of men say, for good reason or for bad, "We will break our contracts and walk out if that man is allowed to go on working," that is a perfect right which men may exercise. That is to be illegal.
§ Sir H. SLESSER
Yes, if I am right, if it is not a trade dispute, then, if these men come out on strike because they will not work with a man who has not paid a fine to the union, as in the case of Conway and Wayne, that is not a case of conditions of employment or of hours of labour, or of employment or non-employment of any person; and if to that be added what I believe to be the test of intimidation, namely, shortage of supplies, which in itself constitutes an intimidatory act, it follows that every dispute, even in your own industry, which is not directly connected with the conditions of your own labour, is illegal within the meaning of this Act. I know the great strength of party tradition, I know the power of the party whips, I know the somewhat saxophonic rhetoric, if I may use that expression, of Lord Birkenhead, to the effect that this Bill is to go through, but I hope that even now, in spite of all that, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will be found in our Lobby on this Bill, and not supporting the Government. That is Clause 1. I must pass on. We shall have further occasion to deal with this matter.
The illegal strike not only involves in liability to long imprisonment the striker, the trade union official, or the benevolent person who wishes to help the striker, but enables anyone who does not want to strike to enforce rights against the trade union. What is a trade union? It 1383 is a club, a voluntary society. Hon. Members opposite say what a shame it is that a member of the trade union should have to come out on strike when the union tells him to do so; but they omit to say that by joining the union and subscribing to its rules he has agreed, if a strike is properly called, to cease labour with his fellows. They omit to tell us that every day employers are being put on black lists, and coerced and intimidated by employers' associations, for selling goods below market rates—a matter which is not dealt with at all in this legislation. In spite of the fact that a man has made such a contract, the Court is to step in, break the contract between him and his trade union, to treat the trade union in a way in which it would never treat a club or any other voluntary association, to reinstate the man in the union, or give him damages. Nor, so great is the appetite to wrong a trade union, have the Government even thought fit to limit the damages to the man's loss. It is an elementary rule, I thought—I am willing to be corrected if I am wrong—that in breaches of contract the damages are limited to the loss; but in this case the Court may give such sum by way of compensation or damages as the Court thinks just. There is nothing to prevent the Court handing over to this aggrieved man all the funds of the trade union, and saying to him, "Bless you, my boy, go away and prosper." It is a little thing in itself, but it indicates the vindictiveness, the unfairness, of the whole of this legislation, that, even when giving compensation in any particular case, the Government have not taken the trouble to limit the compensation or damage to any definite loss at all, but give the Court carte blanche to take all the savings, all the benefits secured to widows, secured for the purpose of sick benefit, secured for the purpose of workmen's compensation, or whatever it may be—because all these funds are merged in the union—and hand them over to a recalcitrant member. Hon. Members forget, when they talk about taking damages out of trade union funds, that those damages are taken out of the pocket which represents the whole of the subscriptions of the members of the union for all purposes—benefit as well as trade purposes and all these sums are to be at the peril 1384 of any man who can show, after a protracted lawsuit, that a particular dispute was an illegal strike.
As regards intimidation, I was at pains to try to understand the argument of the Attorney-General, but I must confess my wits failed. He appeared to admit that the Act of 1875 was, if we only understood it, a sufficient protection in law, but that in fact constables or Courts had not clearly understood it. I should have understood that argument if the legislation here proposed had proceeded merely to declare in rather simpler terms what was already the law; but, under the pretext of making the law more clear, it has in fact, in my submission, so increased the risk and peril of picketing that it has made picketing altogether impossible. The same ingenious process which has been used with regard to the general strike is employed with regard to picketing. What is it? What right has a man left to picket? He may not intimidate, which is a very fit and proper thing, and under the Act of 1875 he cannot intimidate now. I was very interested to hear the Home Secretary, speaking on the 2nd June last year, declare that the Act of 1875 went much further than most people thought, and was quite adequate to deal with any possible case that might arise. I do not rant to waste time by reading the OFFICIAL REPORT, but the right hon. Gentleman will find the Home Secretary's speech reported on that date. The Home Secretary was at pains to show how completely adequate is the Act of 1875, and quoted a Memorandum issued by the Home Office, I think with the approval of the Attorney-General, to show that the present law was in all respects quite satisfactory and adequate to deal with the situation.
What is the position under this Bill A man pickets, but if, in the process of picketing or persuading, he causes in the mind of the person concerned a reasonable apprehension of injury, which includes the apprehension of boycotting, loss of any kind, or exposure to hatred, ridicule or contempt, he is a criminal. Again I say that, if any trade unionist were to come to me and ask me, as a lawyer, my opinion as to whether it would be safe for him to take part in picketing, I should say, "No, I cannot tell whether the act which you think is 1385 perfectly innocent will not be construed by a Court as being reasonably calculated to produce apprehension of loss of any kind, or exposure to hatred, ridicule or contempt." Indeed, so badly is this Clause drafted—I suppose deliberately, because I know that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends are perfectly competent to draft a proper Clause if they want to do so—that it would have this effect, that apprehension of loss of any kind would, I suppose, include the case of a picket saying to a man, "If you do not come out on strike we shall be beaten, and your wages will be reduced." That is apprehension of loss of one kind, and, if that be a right interpretation of the law, it would mean that the whole object for which picketing takes place, namely, to warn a man that if he did not come out on strike he would suffer loss, would itself be a criminal offence, and, therefore, the very fact of picketing would itself constitute a crime. In these circumstances, how idle it is to suggest that this is a Clause for protecting people from violence or intimidation. It is a Clause to make picketing impossible for persons who desire to remain law-abiding persons. There are a number of Members below the Gangway who want to make picketing impossible. What we complain of is that they have not introduced a Bill making striking and picketing illegal but they have tried this rather underhand way—I must use the phrase—of dealing with the matter by using evasive, dangerous and doubtful language, so that no man can feel safe where he is or know what will happen to him next, and in that way try to produce the result of making trade unionism illegal.
Of the political fund I need not speak except to say that all this talk about contracting in and out is mere confusion of thought. There is no need to have fresh legislation to enable people to contract in. The Act of 1913 enables you, under Section 1, to use the machinery of the union in collecting political subscriptions because that is not a political object defined in Clause 3. Therefore an official of the union does not need special power given him to go to Tom, Dick and Harry and ask them for a shilling. What you have really done in this Clause is to repeal that existing right of trade unions. It is not a mere balance between contracting in and contracting out, it is 1386 legislation to destroy the right of trade unions to raise funds at all, and the sooner that is made clear to hon. Members opposite, that this catchword of contracting in and contracting out is merely used in order to confuse the mind, the better. You do not need a special law to subscribe to a goose club or to a colliery disaster or to enable trade unionists to subscribe to finance a Parliamentary candidate. Therefore when you pass a law that no longer shall a union, after it has conducted a ballot, be allowed to spend its collective funds on political objects, but must look round to each individual member to collect them, I say that, in fact, what you have done is to destroy the political rights of trade unions altogether.
There is another point I should like to mention. Having threatened the trade union official with imprisonment, having made the striker liable to imprisonment, having given an objecting trade unionist an indefinite title to the funds, you wind up by giving the Attorney-General power to apply for an injunction to restrain any application of the funds of the trade union. We are often told that we get our ideas from Moscow. I do not know whether I have got any ideas from Moscow, but whether I do or not, this particular idea has quite clearly come from the United States. In the United States the Attorney's injunction has been found more efficacious as a strike-breaking weapon than any other that has ever been discovered, and the reason is not far to seek. When a Law Officer of the Crown goes to the Court and says he has reason to believe that a strike has broken out, or is about to break out, calculated to intimidate a substantial part of the community—not "intended," but "calculated" to intimidate it—that is, done without the intention of the person—of course, every Law Court will readily grant such an injunction. It will be granted on affidavit. No evidence that may be cross-examined, too, will be heard on either side. The proceedings will follow the ordinary form of a motion on affidavit on both sides. It may even be that if the Attorney is in Court it will be granted ex parte for two or three days and then the other side is served with notice of motion. Could any better method be devised for killing any trade dispute at the outset? If it is subsequently discovered that a strike 1387 is a legal strike, assuming any strike can be legal under this Bill, what will happen? The Court will say, "We are very sorry. We have made a mistake. We will take the injunction off, but you must not do it again," or words to that effect. I need hardly remind the House that it is a rule of the Courts in this land that no costs are given against the Crown, so that in any case, whether they win or lose, the trade union will have to pay the costs of defending the case against the injunction. I cannot conceive a Bill which would more effectually ruin the whole of the normal activities of a trade union, more effectually put every striker in peril or more effectually make picketing illegal. I will pay the right hon. Gentleman that compliment. It has all the advantages, from the point of view of those who wish to imperil trade unionism, of uncertainty. It is only when it comes to penalties, as in the Clause dealing with intimidation, when it comes to liabilities, that it is uncertain and obscure. It is the certain progenitor of hundreds of thousands of law suits and, above all things, it is bound in the ordinary course of events to lead to enormous ill-feeling, not fomented by agitators, but legitimate ill-feeling, by persons who are being deprived of elementary human rights to use their labour as and when they will.
Finally, the Attorney-General made some observations with regard to the general strike. Had we a Bill before us dealing with the general strike only we would discuss that on its merits. This is not a Bill dealing with general strikes. It is a Bill dealing with sympathetic strikes, in many cases with strikes in one industry, for prohibiting political levies, an Act which the Prime Minister himself last year apparently thought was calculated to stave off peace. It is a Bill which will give a feeling of great triumph and satisfaction to three Members of the House, all learned Members. The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten), the hon. and learned Member for Moss-side (Mr. Hurst), and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord). If any test were needed of the sincerity of the Government in saying that this Bill was the result of the general strike, it is shown in this, that these three hon. and learned Members 1388 have been for years introducing schemes and promoting Bills to deal with one or other aspect of this problem, long before the general strike had been thought of at all. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) said, the general strike may be the occasion but it is not the cause of this legislation. It may be the causa causans, but not the causa efficiens. Just consider this. It is said this Bill is to protect us against another general strike. If all the persons in some particular industry come out on strike, I cannot see anything in this Bill to prevent them. Supposing there was a dispute in the electricity works at Croydon, and, in sympathy, men come out all over England, and electricity works and power stations are all closed down and electricity is cut off. In the first place, this Bill, since they are all disputes in one industry, concerning conditions of employment, would not touch the dispute at all, so that it shows that the intention of the Government is not even to protect the community. Personally, I think those people have a right to terminate their employment, but that is not the point. The point is that this Bill does not deal with that aspect of affairs at all. From every point of view it is not only not a Bill to prevent a general strike, it is not a Bill dealing with a general strike as such at all, nor will anyone pretend that legislation dealing with the political levy or with the Civil Service or with any of this proposed legislation has any relation to general strikes at all.
The real truth is that the Government think that in beating this drum of the general strike they have a good vote-catching proposition. The AttorneyGeneral—I am sorry to say it but I can use no other word—completely misrepresents the effect and the importance of the judgment given by Mr. Justice Astbury. He told the House it was a final judgment. It was an interlocutory judgment. He did not tell the House that counsel never appeared on behalf of the unions, and that it was never argued, and, finally, I have here the headnote of the case. I see the whole of the case turned on whether the Trade Disputes Act did or did not apply, and whether a particular member of a trade union would lose his benefit if he went on strike. The observations on the legality 1389 of general strikes were made in that connection. I have pointed out to the Government before now that nothing in the nature of a general strike is expressly permitted by the Emergency Powers Act, 1920, which defines in the first Section a general strike, or something very like it. It speaks of action taken on so extensive a scale as to be calculated to imperil the community, and says, in terms later on, that nothing in the Act shall make any strike illegal. Therefore, we need not go back to the case of King and Cooper or any archaic stuff of that sort when we are discussing the expediency of making legal or illegal a general strike. I say it does not lie in the mouth of the Government, who come here with this anti-trade union legislation to break the whole power and force of the trade union movement, to raise any such issue.
Far more important than even the trade union movement itself is the liberty of the individual citizen. I say that it should be the right of individual citizens to refuse their labour, and if the Government have power to force employés to continue their contracts after they have come to an end, it is a dangerous procedure. It is, as I said at the beginning of my speech, imposing on this country a system of industrial servitude. I do honestly believe that in this Bill to-night we are taking a step, the results of which may be catastrophic. Whatever may have been said in the past about class differences and the absence of peace in industry, this Bill will do more, in my opinion, to produce a definite class war in this country than the machinations of any number of Bolshevists or Fascists. It is the most foolish, wicked, unsuitable Measure which could possibly be devised either for protecting the individual or for protecting industry. I believe that most hon. Members opposite, if Lord Birkenhead had not already told them that this Bill must go through, would have had it in their power to prevent it going on the Statute Book and would say "We will have none of it, take it away! Give us a Bill, if you like, to stop a general strike, but we are not going to have a Measure which is going to introduce a permanent system of industrial conflict in this country which we all wish to avoid."
§ Mr. GERALD HURST
Every hon. Member who has so far spoken to-day has 1390 belonged to the profession to which I have the honour to belong, with the exception of the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes). I do not want, however, to approach this question exclusively from the point of view of a lawyer, although naturally as a lawyer this discussion holds out many temptations to me. I wish primarily to deal with the matter as the representative in Parliament of a great industrial constituency, the population of which is composed as to 90 per cent. of work-people, and as to a very large percentage of trades unionists. It is on behalf of the working-class population which sent me to Parliament, and on behalf of those trade unionists who have voted for me time after time, that I wish to support this Bill this evening. The hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser) said that I had often advocated trade union legislation long before the present Bill was brought in. I myself brought in a Bill in 1923 to repeal the Trade Disputes Act, and therefore it cannot be said that in my case, at any rate, I had no mandate from my constituents or that my constituents have afforded me no justification for the action I am taking in supporting this Bill. The reason why this Bill appeals to all law-abiding and loyal-minded trade unionists is—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question!"] I am not referring to hon. Members opposite; I am referring to my own constituents, and the reason why this Bill appeals to them is because it is consistent with what may be described as the historic trade unionism of the country. Historic trade unionism in England never has been revolutionary. The right hon. Member for Platting has pointed to the share which trade unionism played in bringing about a better condition of the working class to-day since the dark days of a century ago when undoubtedly the employers ground the faces of the poor, the days when Hood wrote "The Song of the Shirt" and Mrs. Browning wrote "The Cry of the Children."
There is no doubt that trade unionism has been one of the most powerful agencies by which the change has been brought about, but I think hon. Members apposite will agree with me that the trade unionism which has contributed so largely to that change in national life has never been revolutionary trade unionism; it 1391 has been constitutional trade unionism. Wherever trade unionism has been most successful, as, for instance, in preserving the peace of the cotton trade and bringing about good relations between employers and employed in the great staple trade of Lancashire, it can never be described as revolutionary. It has always been constitutional and has been run on constitutional lines. With regard to constitutional trade unionism, there is absolutely no provision in this Bill which strikes at that type of trade unionism in any way whatever. The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken has said that this Bill brings about industrial servitude. [An HON. MEMBER: "So it does!"] The suggestion is really idle. If any hon. Members happen to have read the letter written to the "Times" of Saturday last by a very distinguished Chancery leader, Mr. Mangham, they will see for themselves how inept it is to use the words "serfdom" and "servitude" in connection with a Bill which affects the rights of trade unionists in ordinary strikes hardly to any extent whatever. The only provision which affects trade unionists in ordinary strikes between employers and employed is in relation to picketing. Apart from that provision, there is nothing in the Bill which in the slightest degree affects the ordinary strike by employés against their employers. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about a sympathetic strike?"] With regard to sympathetic strikes or other strikes, the only way in which those strikes offend against this Bill is when they are strikes which are designed to coerce the State or intimidate the community. Those are the only conditions in which you may offend against this Bill.
I believe that the great majority of moderate Socialists and Labour men will agree with the view that nothing can justify any strike—or if you like any lock-out—the aim of which is not to better the conditions of the workers, not to enhance the power of collective bargaining but is to coerce and intimidate the community. The way in which, if you belong to a minority, you can get your way agreed to is by the peaceful persuasion of candidates for Parliament in their constituency, by obtaining a majority of votes at the election and then a majority in Parliament That is the real way by which you can bring about great political changes 1392 against the will of other classes of society. There is no Measure so radical, so revolutionary that cannot be obtained by a majority in this House. All the political aims of the Socialist party, such as nationalisation, the end of the capitalist system and any other schemes which they have in view, can be attained perfectly easily once they have obtained a majority of the votes in this country. That way, which is the way which democracy and fair play sanction, is the way by which all these aims can be attained. I cannot conceive why those who believe in democracy and Parliamentary Government can in any way tolerate a proposal that these aims should be attained not by Parliamentary action, apt by peaceful persuasion, but by what this Bill describes as coercion and intimidation. If that be so, what objection is there to Clauses which make a general strike, which is aimed at coercing and intimidating the State and the community, illegal? The only reasonable objection, if it can be described as a reasonable objection, that I have heard, is the objection put forward by the de facto leader of the Liberal party, when he said that this Bill will not stop a general strike. Nobody says that it will stop a general strike, but it makes the probability of a general strike much less likely, and it makes the conduct of a general strike much more precarious to those who engage in it.
The arguments of the hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds have been directed towards showing that the general strike is, in his opinion, not illegal. That only makes it the more important to define the matter clearly. It does not matter whether the Attorney-General, the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) and Mr. Justice Astbury are right, or whether the hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds is right. The point is, that at the present time what is the true law on the subject is obscure. The issue has never been before the House of Lords, which is the highest tribunal in the country. Surely, it is desirable that everybody should know whether a general strike on the lines of the one which took place last year is legal or illegal. It is far better that it should be declared to be illegal, if in the view of the great majority of thinking people it is opposed to the true interests of the community.
1393 The second advantage, besides clearing up the law, which this Bill gives to trade unionists is that, whereas under the existing law, we have seen case after case where poor, misguided dupes of the instigators and fomenters of mischief have suffered, this Bill brings home the guilt to those who are really responsible for excesses and atrocities such as were committed during the general strike. The third advantage which the Bill gives lies in another Clause which has been criticised by the hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds. He says that if persons join a trade union, which he likens to a club, and those persons are wrongly treated by their trade union and deprived of rights as trade unionists because they have not taken part in an illegal strike, it is deplorable that they should be able to recover damages against the trade union. He is quite wrong, if I may say so with respect, in regard to his analogy with a club, because if a member of a club is illegally treated by a club committee, if he is illegally expelled from the club, or if in any way the club committee act beyond their powers, thereby wronging the member, he has recourse to the Courts.
The distinction between a club and a trade union is that, whereas the club member who is illegally treated by the club committee under the law as it now stands has a remedy against the club, at the present time the trade unionist has no such remedy. That is a matter of very great injustice. Under Section 4, Sub-section (3), of the Act of 1871, no Court can entertain an action brought by a member of a trade union to recover benefits alleged to have been wrongly with held by that trade union. That is apt to be a source of very great injustice. I remember a case, which I have mentioned before, of a member of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners, who was penalised because he would not come out on strike in 1917 at certain engineering works at Preston. Certain men had struck against overtime, but it was essential to work overtime in order to get work done for the Army. The men who would not come out on strike were deprived of their benefits. One of these men had been a member of the trade union for 25 years. He had six sons serving in the Army and two sons-in-law, all serving in France, 1394 and he felt it to be his duty to go on working on certain guns which were required urgently by the Army in France. He was deprived of his benefit by the trade union. He became a victim of cancer, and although he had been a subscribing member for a quarter of a century he did not receive one farthing of benefit from the trade union. Unfortunately, this Bill does not do away with that provision of the Act in the case of normal strikes, but it does so in the case of illegal strikes.
I put it to hon. Members of all parties, that it is a cause of the greatest injustice that if a man refuses to take part in what the law says is an illegal strike, the trade union should punish him for acting according to the law, by depriving him of benefit, notwithstanding that he may have been a member of his trade union for very many years. It is absurd for the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) to describe as blacklegs and renegades men who refuse to take part in a strike the object of which is to coerce the State and to intimidate the community. Expressions like that do no good at all. We have to, look at the real merit and justice of the case. I have no doubt whatever that if the ordinary trade unionist appreciates what is the real object of the Bill, he will not listen for a moment to such wild denunciations as we have heard from the Opposition Benches, and from the Opposition in the country generally.
Another great advantage of the Bill lies in the Clause by which the Attorney-General can go to the Courts and obtain from the Courts, in proper cases, an injunction against the user of trade union monies for the purpose of financing illegal strikes. The hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds, if I may say so respectfully, is entirely wrong in saying that that right is given to the Attorney-General in the case of an ordinary strike. That is absolutely absurd. If he will only take the trouble to read the Clause clearly he will see that it has no reference to any strike except an illegal strike.
My interruption was due to the fact that the words "the provisions of this Act" do not apply only to Clause 1, but to any Clause.
§ Mr. HURST
If the hon. Member will be good enough to consider the other Clauses, he will see that it is quite impossible to apply funds under the heading of any other Clause of the Bill. For instance, under Clause 6, which says that it is illegal for a public authority to make it a condition of employment that a man in its service should be a trade unionist, you could not connect the application of funds with a provision of that character. I need not elaborate the point, but if the hon. Member will be good enough to consider the earlier provisions he will see that the only Clauses to which this Clause can possibly refer are the Clauses in which the application of the funds are in some circumstances necessary. There are many hon. Members who wish to speak on different aspects of this Bill and, therefore, I am not going to weary the House by saying anything about the political levy Clauses.
I want, however, to say something regarding the civil servants. I heard the other day what I think is a most admirable observation by the Chairman of the Association of Ex-service Civil Servants. He said that whereas the general public think that all Governments are bad and that the Government of the day is the worst, in the case of civil servants is their duty to think all Governments are good and the Government of the day, whatever it may be, is the best. That is the true position for a civil servant to take up, and I cannot think that any responsible leader of the Opposition will wish the civil servants to identify themselves with particular parties in the State. The glory of the English Civil Service has been that it operates regardless of the particular complexion of Government of the hour. Every Government in turn, Conservative, Liberal or Socialist, receives the loyal support of the Civil Service, and it will be an ill day for 1396 the country when the time comes for various civil servants' associations to be identified and closely affiliated with various divergent political parties. If that is the true view, what are we to say of the attitude of certain trade unions during the general strike? I hold in my hand an original document issued on the 4th May, 1926, by the Association of Officers of Taxes, which I have quoted from before. It is a document relating to the attitude of civil servants in the strike, and it says:At the session held at noon on Saturday, the general secretaries of all affiliated trade unions were called upon to give public replies to two questions put to all affiliated organisations at 12.30 that morning—Whether the association was prepared to place its powers in the hands of the General Council as regards—(a) calling a strike of its members, and (b) financial aid.After giving the reply given by this association, it says:It may be added that the Civil Service Clerical Association, the Association of Civil Servants' Sorting Assistants and the Union of Post Office Workers, gave a plain affirmative reply to both questions.That is true or it is untrue. If it is true it shows that the Civil Service Association were guilty of a dereliction of duty—
Will the hon. Member excuse me? The circular he has read says that the Civil Service Association Executive hander over their powers to the General Council. Is the hon. Member aware that that executive has no strike powers and, therefore, whatever powers they held could not include the power to strike?
§ Mr. HURST
That is the true view of their legal position and, therefore, the handing over of their powers to the General Council of the Trade Union Congress was a singularly foolish and inept thing to do. But this statement which is circulated amongst civil servants is true or it is untrue. If it is true it shows the absolute unreliability of this association of civil servants. If it is untrue, it shows what a bad thing it is that a document of this sort should be officially circulated by members actually engaged at the time in performing duties as civil servants. It. is either one thing or the other. You cannot have it both ways. In either case the document throws a light on the folly and mistake of civil servants allowing themselves to be linked up with outside 1397 trade union organisations. As a matter of fact, as regards the union of Post Office servants it is true. I quoted just now from a document isued by the General Council of the Trade Union Congress during the strike. This is from the "British Worker," page 2. It is headed:Civil Servants Help. Union to give miners financial aid.It says:The Union of Post Office Workers is receiving strong support from its branches in backing up the General Council. Subscriptions are flowing in.And they did flow in. [An HON. MEMBER: "For the miners."] Some of them flowed in for the miners, but hon. Members opposite are under a misconception if they think that these subscriptions went to the miners only. As a matter of fact, if hon. Members will only look at the "Post," the official organ of the Post Office workers, they will see there the audited balance-sheet for last year, and this balance-sheet, being prepared not by trade union leaders but by chartered accountants, presumably is authentic. According to this audited report, this union of civil servants paid £5,000 to the Trade Union Congress for the purposes of the General Strike, and the heading in the balance-sheet is,Contributions to general strike paid to the Trade Union Congress.There is all the difference in the world between subscribing to funds for the benefit of the wives and children of the miners and giving £5,000 not to the miners but to the Trade Union Congress for the purpose of helping the General Strike. I suggest that this liberation of civil servants from outside revolutionary associations can only be to the benefit of civil servants and the advantage of the State.
There is one other matter on which I want to say something, and that is the Clause disabling local authorities from making it a condition of employment that their employés should belong to a particular trade union or a particular political party. I have had two cases brought to my notice recently in which the action taken by two local authorities would have been contrary to the provisions of this Bill. In 1921, a local education authority publicly advertised that all applicants for the position of teachers should belong to one particular 1398 trade union, and another trade union of teachers, not a Conservative trade union at all, I think it was the National Union of Women Teachers, sent this advertisement on to me saying how unfair it was that this local authority should limit the eligibility for teaching positions to the members of one particular trade union. In the other case, a man employed in the Pharmaceutical Department of the Manchester Infirmary sent me a copy of an advertisement issued by the Stepney local authority asking for applications for the position of dispenser, and stating that any applicant in order to be selected must belong to a trade union approved by that local authority. Some local authorities require library assistants also to satisfy the local authority that they will join some particular trade union. Really, I cannot conceive how anybody should wish to limit the choice of the State or the local authority to members of one particular party or trade union. It lies at the root of all good government.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Does the hon. Member object to a local authority insisting that its medical officer of health shall be a member of the doctors' trade union?
§ Mr. HURST
I should certainly, but there is no such a thing as a doctors' trade union. [Interruption]. I quite approve of a local authority insisting on the appointment of a fully qualified doctor. I can understand an education authority insisting on having fully qualified teachers, or a health authority insisting on having a fully qualified dispenser, but to say that nobody can apply who does not vote red or yellow goes to the root of government. I remember reading in Carlyle's "Life of Cromwell" that when an objection was taken to an appointment to high office—it was somebody who happened to be an Anabaptist, a religion looked upon as taboo—Cromwell answered:The State in making the choice of its servants takes no heed of their opinions.That is the true method in the selection of candidates. In making choice of servants a municipality should not ask whether they will join Trade Union A or Trade Union B or vote for this or that party. The idea goes to the root of all good government, and this provision in the Bill is one which 1399 ought to commend itself to everybody who looks beyond party interests and who looks to the true, interests of the State and community.
There are other points in the Bill which I think might perhaps have gone a little further. It would have been better if we could have had one consolidating Bill which would bring all trade union law within the scope of one Statute. It makes it very confusing to have to refer on questions of trade union law to many Acts of Parliament. It is a pity that that cannot be done, and I hope the time will come when the law relating to boycotting by employers and employed will also be examined and perhaps altered by Act of Parliament. One quite recognises that it is difficult enough to get any Bill through when party feeling runs high. I do believe that the present Bill is the best we can pass in existing circumstances. The Government are to be congratulated on having the honesty and courage to bring forward this Bill, and when it is placed before the judgment of history, posterity will see in it a great and courageous attempt to give the workers of the country more freedom and the country itself a larger measure of industrial peace.
§ Mr. W. BAKER
It is certainly interesting that a member of the legal profession should object to a person being compelled to belong to an organisation before he can secure employment under a local authority. There are such persons as medical practitioners, fully qualified, who are not on the register for certain breaches of medical etiquette, and I take it that the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken will be strongly in support of the medical profession in declining to permit these men to practice in these circumstances. I personally should have been much more impressed, and I am sure my colleagues would have been, by his speech had it not been for a most unfortunate omission in the opening portion of his speech. He referred to the great confidence which his constituents had shown in him as their Member, and he referred to his personal action in introducing a certain Bill into this House. I should have cared a great deal more for the hon. and learned Member's statements had he been good enough to tell us that, as a result of introducing that Bill, his 1400 constituents turned him out and he was absent from this House until the following General Election.
§ Mr. BAKER
I have no knowledge of the local circumstances, but I think that candour and fairness to us might have led the hon. and learned Gentleman to have made that additional statement. When I took part in the discussions on the Address with regard to the proposal of the Government to introduce a Trade Union Bill, I referred to the "Times" leader of 17th January, 1927, which said that the Government had been threatened that if they did not put the trade unions back in the place left by the Taff Vale judgment, the Government would be turned out. The Measure which is before the House to-night is one which bears in every line confirmation of that statement made by the "Times" leader. It was my intention to-night to deal more or less in general terms with the Bill, but having regard to the speech to which we have just listened, I propose to deal with that, but before I come to the points made in it I would like to make a few remarks with regard to the legal injunction which the Government has had to go to the United States to seek in order that it might have a weapon against the organised trade union movement. I want to make a brief quotation from a book entitled "Americanism, A World Menace." This book says:In the event of a strike taking place in his works, all the employer has to do is to go into Court, tell a sympathetic Judge how much annoyance a strike is causing him, and to recite the methods by resort to which the strikers have the most chance of winning. The Judge then makes an order prohibiting the strike itself or, if that seems unwise, prohibiting all activities which seem essential to a victory for the strikers. An offender against the injunction is packed off to prison without any preliminary nonsense about a trial by jury or a sufficiency of evidence.That quotation from a well-known book, written with regard to recent happenings in the United States, is the fullest possible confirmation of the statement made by the hon and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser). This Bill has been drawn in such a way that I very 1401 much doubt whether any right hon. Gentleman opposite can say definitely how far its provisions reach. If I may, I will quote from a speech delivered by a right hon. Gentleman sitting on the Front Bench opposite which appears to illustrate my point. I did not give the right hon. Gentleman notice of my intention to raise this matter because owing to local feeling I was compelled to deal with the matter at a public meeting yesterday, and as a result my speech was reported in a paper this morning which I have no doubt the right hon. Gentleman has read. I imagine he has read it not because I made it, but because he is a diligent reader of the journal in question. The Solicitor-General at the annual meeting, I believe, of the Bristol Central Unionist Association which was held at the ballroom of the Grand Hotel, Bristol on Thursday last, said:The Post Office workers had expressed their undying hostility to the proposals in the Bill, but one might judge of the extent to which these had been put before them by the suggestion that if the Bill became law they would not be able to take any part in politics. A more extraordinary delusion could not exist even among members of the Labour party.I will break off the quotation at this point to make this comment. I am one of the persons who would advise the persons in question as to the effect of the Bill and I think it somewhat uncalled for that it should be suggested that I have misled them. Further, I do not think there was any occasion to make the statement that the Labour party is suffering from extraordinary delusions. We are not suffering from any such delusions as far as this Bill is concerned and I imagine that time will prove that the charge may be placed elsewhere. The quotation goes on:The Bill had nothing to do with the political activities of civil servants, and there was nothing in it to prevent postmen or any member of their union being chairman of the Labour party, and he was free to engage in any political activity he chose, provided it was in the law and not subservient to the constitution or traitorous. The Bill simply said that no civil servant might belong to any trade union which was affiliated to any political party, and surely that was right.I have read speeches by the Prime Minister and by the Lord Chancellor, and I respectfully submit to the Solicitor-General that I cannot reconcile his statement with the speeches made by 1402 the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor. I go further and say that this Bill quite definitely, in Clause 5, gives the most emphatic and direct contradiction to the statement I have just read. Clause 5, as I understand it—the words I shall read are not the legal words of the Clause, but an attempt on my part to paraphrase them—says,Among the regulations as to conditions of service in His Majesty's civil establishments there shall be included regulations prohibiting established civil servants from being members or delegates …The important words there, I understand, are, "Among the Regulations as to conditions of service in His Majesty's Civil Service there shall be included" certain other Regulations. I do not blame the Solicitor-General. I assume that his advisers have not told him the whole of the story. What are the Regulations amongst which these new Regulations are to be included? I am quoting from the staff Rule Book issued to Post Office servants, and the Rule I am about to read is almost, if not absolutely, identical with the rule in all Departments. It opens:Post Office Servants and Politics.(a) Officers of the Post Office are eligible' to be placed on the Parliamentary register-and to vote at the Parliamentary elections.As I said at a meeting yesterday, we are greatly obliged to them. The quotation goes on:Nevertheless it is expected of them as public servants that they should maintain a certain reserve in political matters and not put themselves forward on one side or the other. On this subject the following regulations have been laid down: No officer shall serve on a committee having for its object to promote or prevent the return of a particular candidate to Parliament. He shall not support or oppose any particular candidate or party either by public speaking or writing.I shall make no comment. I leave it to right hon. Gentlemen on the Front opposite to reconcile their various positions, and I hope that they will take an early opportunity of making a statement which will clear up the position. I now come to the question of the right of civil servants to continue the affiliations which they are enjoying at the moment. The affiliations which the Government propose to prohibit have been enjoyed for more than 30 years, and, so far as I know, there has never 1403 been any abuse of the position. There seems to be a fundamental confusion in the minds of the Cabinet with regard to the status of the Government in its position as an employer. I submit that the Government has a dual capacity. It has its position as the Government of the country, and it has its position as the employer of cleaners, porters, postmen, sorting clerks, telegraphists, and what are known as the Whitehall civil servants. But there is no reason whatever to confuse those two functions; There is no reason why there should be any difficulty with regard to the existence of those two functions. I could go further and say that no case can he made against the participation, certainly of the rank and file of the Civil Service, in political matters, in the way that that participation has taken place in the past, which could not be urged with much greater force in the case of the men employed in the key industries of the country, especially in regard to the railwaymen and the miners.
I would like to come to the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Mr. G. Hurst). I regret extremely that I cannot speak from personal experience, because I was unfortunate enough to be ill for many months, which included the period of the general strike. Had it not been for that, I might have been able to give further testimony. But in order that there should be no doubt as to my information (I wish to say that I can state nothing inure than I am told, that I cannot vouch for the facts by personal experience and observation) but that I have prepared a careful statement which with the permission of the House I will read:In point of fact there is not and never has been any likelihood of a Civil Service strike, and if the Government does not know this it has been badly informed and advised. The only strike of civil servants on record occurred in the Post Office in 1890, before anyone had thought of affiliation with outside bodies, and before trade unionism was known in the Civil Service. That strike affected postmen and sorters at one of the largest London offices. Since Post Office Unions have enjoyed affiliation to the Trade Union Congress there has never been a strike. In the case of the Union of Post Office Workers, probably the most advanced body politically in the Civil Service, the mere proposal to form a strike fund created grave internal difficulties, and the scheme was subsequently abandoned as a practical measure, the money subscribed 1404 being returned to the individual members. The rule dealing with strike funds still appears in the Union's Rule Book, but it is headed with a statement that it 'is suspended until such time as its reinstitution shall be authorised by a ballot of the membership taken in the discretion of the Executive Council, in which a majority of two-thirds of those voting, together with a majority of the actual membership, shall be requisite.'There is no provision in the rules of any of the Civil Service societies for declaring a strike or paying, strike pay. It is clear, therefore, that affiliation with outside unions has not led to the adoption of a strike policy. On the occasion of the general strike it is true that some of the Civil Service trade unions placed their funds at the disposal of the General Council of the Trade Unions Congress, but it is perfectly clear that by so doing they did not amend or suspend their rules, and could only offer such assistance as those rules empowered them to do. The General Council were specifically informed by the Civil Service trade unions that they had no power to instruct their members to withdraw their labour, even if such a request were made. The General Council never imagined or desired that civil servants would do more than subscribe. No Civil Service organisation was at any stage of the strike called upon to take any active part in it.I very much regret having troubled the House with such a long quotation, but in view of my inability to speak from personal knowledge and having regard to the importance of the matter, I hope I shall be forgiven. Reference has been made to the fact that the Union of Post Office Workers granted £5,000 during that crisis. That is true, and the action was confirmed by the members, which is a very definite indication that the grant was in accordance with their wishes. Not only was there a grant of £5,000 but the membership voluntarily subscribed £30,000 and we are not here to apologise for that.
The question of loyalty to the State has been discussed. I was at a meeting in a Committee room of this House a few days ago when the question of loyalty came up and I understood the Members of Parliament present to agree by acclamation with the statement that they did not doubt either the efficiency or the loyalty of civil servants. I claim that my colleagues in the Civil Service have rendered the most wonderful service to the State for which too often they have received scant recognition. But the mass of the working people in this country, to whom we belong and by whose conditions our conditions are governed and controlled, have our sympathy and we claim 1405 the right to stand with them; and that division of loyalty, if division it be, is no new thing in the Civil Service. I do not know whether it does happen, but it is within the bounds of possibility, that an ardent Free Trader may have to administer the Safeguarding of Industries Act and if so, I have no doubt, he will be quite capable of doing it. Many other illustrations of that sort could be given, but if you cannot secure my loyalty and the loyalty of my fellows on the basis of good-will, you have little chance of securing it on any other grounds.
My difficulty in regard to this Measure is that the Government, when industrial action is in the air, refer us to the constitutional method. Hon. Members including I believe the hon. Member for Moss Side, ask us to turn from industrial and strike action and to take up the political weapon. But what is the position? I stand here as a man who deprecates industrial action when it can be avoided, but regrettably enough too often it cannot be avoided. I believe the best interests of this nation and of its working people can be secured through this House and the political machine. But hon. Gentlemen opposite who object to industrial action, also object to my presence here as a constitutionalist. I am not anxious to introduce the personal note, but I would briefly refer to my own individual experience as showing right hon. Members on the Treasury Bench the encouragement which they give to constitutionalists. I was in the Government service for 26 years and I was invited to stand as a Labour candidate in one of the most unlikely divisions in this country, namely, the Harborough Division of Leicestershire. I accepted the invitation and was compelled to resign my position and to lose whatever pension rights I had acquired by that 26 years' service. I was unsuccessful as I expected. I contested the Harborough Division of Leicestershire again, and again I failed. I was then invited to go to Bristol, and as the result of a short stay in Bristol, I came to this House, and I am here to-night privileged to discuss a Measure which is aimed not at me—I do not flatter myself that it is—but at a body of men who have been generous enough to make it possible for me to be here.
Because I am opposed to industrial action and because I have endeavoured to serve my fellows here, the Government 1406 say they will make it as difficult as possible for me to pursue that course. It seems to me that the Government have to face this position: Working class feelings and aspirations must have some outlet and form of expression. If you deprecate industrial action you must permit the working people to secure that expression through the House of Commons. If you decide to kill the industrial activity of the trade unions, as I understand you are endeavouring to do in this Bill, and if, by making it increasingly difficult for us to finance political candidatures, you further swell your already swollen majority, the only effect must be, either that the working people will sink into a state of apathy, which is as bad for you as for us, or that they will resort to violent measures to which so far we have given no countenance. I think I am entitled to complain that the Government have rushed in to deal with the Civil Service in this Bill without due consideration. The right of the Civil Service to take part in political activities is no new question. It has been considered by two tribunals within comparatively recent years and the findings of those tribunals do not justify the Government in taking action in the way now proposed. The MacDonnell Commission refused to judge the question and made the following recommendation—I quote from the Majority Report of the Royal Commission on the Civil Service, Chapter XI, Section 25:But the whole subject, it seems to us, is far too large, difficult and complicated to be dealt with as a minor issue in our inquiry. We recommend, therefore, that a special inquiry should be held without undue delay to consider these matters, and we think the body conducting the inquiry should include persons who have experience of conciliation and arbitration in the industrial world. The subject matter of the inquiry should include the following questions: …
- (5) Should associations of civil servants be at liberty to join with outside trade unions?
- (6) Should associations of civil servants be at liberty to affiliate themselves to political parties and promote candidatures at elections?It is our opinion that it is only after full consideration of these and cognate matters by a body constituted for the purpose that a satisfactory conclusion can be reached on this difficult and complex subject.Then there was the Blanesburgh Committee appointed by the Labour Government, which reported in 1925. That Committee 1407 quoted the opinion of the MacDonnell Commission and added:With the principle of this distinction"—that is, the distinction between subordinate civil servants and other grades—some of us agree, so far as candidature for Parliament is concerned. Some of as do not believe that the grant of this concession to the last two grades (f and g) classified above (i.e., manipulative grades and messengers, charwomen, etc.) would involve any of the dangers to the public services which they agree would be likely to follow its grant to higher grades. They recognise that, as several witnesses admitted, political interests and partisanships are no even now kept out of the service—particularly the lowe rgrades—by existing restrictions, and that such activities as political canvassing cannot in fact be prevented by regulations.I would suggest to the Government that they have two courses open to them. They can say that it is important that the Civil Service should be divorced from the rest of the community so far as political activities are concerned, or they can say that certain civil servants at least, men and women who do not occupy important executive and administrative posts, can be allowed to indulge in the ordinary citizen rights of their fellows, but if the Government decide to take the first course it is important that they should compensate the civil servants by offering them some form of franchise which has not been offered so far. The teachers are almost in a similar position to that of the Civil Service, and I would commend the case of the teachers to the attention of the Government.
§ Captain MACMILLAN
In rising to take part in this Debate, I am aware of the inherent difficulty of contributing any very new views to those which have already been expressed, and on a subject of this kind, where public opinion has been very largely canvassed and educated before, this Debate, where the Debate itself has been very widely advertised, there is danger that the opposing forces are so keen to put forward only two particular points of view that it is not easy to introduce any rather wider or more detached considerations on the matter under discussion. At the same time, I feel anxious to put forward some considerations which, I think, have not already been dealt with in the course of the Debate. The attitude which I would like to put forward is one which I feel 1408 very strongly and which I believe to be widely shared among other members of the Conservative party. Any political action, whether administrative or legislative, has a dual aspect. It has two reactions, and it must always be considered from two points of view. In the first place, there are what you do, either by administration or by Bill, the Bill itself, the Clauses of the Bill, the immediate and final results of the action that you take, and beyond that there are secondary results, of a wider and more far-reaching character, more difficult to define, but results which it is the duty of statesmanship to consider just as important as the immediate and primary results.
If we judge this Bill and its introduction from that point of view, in considering the question of the Bill itself and the terms of the Bill, I find myself bound to support the Second Reading of this Measure. I cannot see that, so far as the Clauses of the Bill and the subjects dealt with by the Bill are concerned, any reasonable man can object to its intentions. While reserving to ourselves the full right in Committee to consider whether the particular wording of any particular Clause does in fact carry out the intention which we believe to be that of its framers, while admitting that no doubt there are Clauses which can be better framed and that there are grave legal difficulties which will have to be overcome, that is the duty of the Committee stage of our proceedings. But the main intentions of the Bill, the intention to make a general strike illegal, the intention to prevent intimidation, the intention to prevent the collecting of money for political funds from those who do not wish to subscribe, seem to me to commend themselves to ordinary and reasonable consideration. But, it may be said, and it will be said, there are the secondary results. The real argument against this Bill, if I understand it aright, the argument that is presented by many Members opposite, the argument that has appealed to so wise and experienced a statesman as Lord Grey, is not that the intention of the Bill is wrong, not that the Clauses of the Bill are objectionable, but that the inevitable psychological effect upon the delicate situation of our industrial fabric in the particular circumstances of the 1409 moment is likely to be bad and is likely to be dangerous to the well-being of the community. That I take to be the argument of Lord Grey and the argument that has been put forward very widely in different circles.
That was an argument which well applied to the years 1924 and 1925, but does it equally apply to the year 1927? The brutal facts of history cannot be unsaid, and what has happened cannot be undone. The argument that in the situation in which we found ourselves nothing should be done, even to alter unjust laws or to correct an unfair or an unwise system, was an argument which could be well used in, the conditions of two years ago. It was an argument which commended itself to the Prime Minister. It was the argument that he used and by which he converted the feeling in this House, when he asked this House to reject the Bill that was introduced by the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten). The argument that he used, if I remember it aright, was this: "I concede that that Bill is justified, I concede that there is a grievance, but I ask the House in the particular circumstances of the time not to strike the first blow, not to begin an agitation which may be contrary to the cause of industrial peace." Can it be said that that argument equally applies in the conditions of this year? Can it be argued that we have altogether to disregard, not the imaginary difficulties and the imaginary harms, but the actual facts which did take place just one year ago? I do not think it would be reasonable to ask us to do so, nor do I think that any action of the Government which had led them to decide not to proceed with this Bill would have been put down to good will. I am afraid it would have been put down to weakness, and that it would have been taken, not as a generous gesture towards industrial peace, but merely as a sign of vacillation.
The right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) made to-day a spech which I could not help feeling—I hope he will not think it impertinent of me to say so—was unworthy of him. I felt that many of the intentions of this Bill were intentions which he did not regard with quite that animosity that we might have expected. The right hon. Gentleman is in rather a difficult situation. He is, one 1410 may say, almost in the position of standing on the platform and trying not to sing "The Red Flag." He has to move his lips as if he were actually saying the words of that preposterous anthem, and he no doubt salves his conscience by not making any sound. But there are many other Members who sit beside him, who, I cannot help feeling, will find some of the Clauses of some use in the future. The right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) will no doubt make, in the course of this Debate, one of his usual brilliant appeals to this House. Those who listened to the series of speeches which the right hon. Member for Derby made almost a year ago, will have learnt that his speeches in this House must always be taken as a part of the method in he peculiar game which may be going on at the moment in the intricate machinations of labour politics. At the same time, I cannot help thinking that Clause 1 would have been of some assistance to him if it had been the law, and that he would not have found it necessary to grovel to the Trade Union Congress had he known he could have appealed to the law to support the view he knew to be right.
If you judge this Bill from what I call the wider aspects, the secondary results, the public, in the long run, the moderate men who belong to no definite party, will not, in my opinion, declare that the Clauses of this Bill are wrong or unjust But its secondary results will depend, not so much on the Bill itself, but on the temper in which it is passed, on the programme of the policy which is pursued by the party in power which passes it through. If this Bill is to be the prelude to a general swing to the right, if it means the beginning of reactionary policy, then I am bound to admit it means the beginning of the end of this party of which I have the honour to be a member, and it moans also the end of all the members of the moderate party opposite. It means that the parties, as sometimes happens now, are captured by the extremists. But if the Conservative party proceeds with its programme, passes this Bill into law, carries on in the spirit in which it was returned to office, the spirit which has dominated its leadership during the period it has been in office; if it proceeds undisturbed with its programme; if it continues to deal with Labour questions; if it continues a broad 1411 and wise policy; if it is not unwilling to adopt a bold policy with regard to many questions of taxation, finance, social and moral questions, questions on international reform, Washington Conventions and the like; if it goes steadily on in that spirit, when the electorate have to judge whether this Bill is a revengeful Bill passed in a spirit of reaction, or whether it is a wise Bill passed with the genuine desire to put right a real wrong, then I have no doubt that the electors will decide that this Bill is justified, and that its passage into law has been wise.
Therefore, while I have no doubt that it is the duty of those who think with me in these matters to support the Second Reading of this Bill, I must also, if I may, honestly inform the Government that we do not regard this Bill as in any way a sign—we trust it is not a sign—of any attempt to set the clock back. We shall continue to support the Government in this Bill, and in its future Measures according to the line its policy takes, and only according to that line. We shall demand, and we shall press for, the general forward movement which we believe to be right. We know that the Prime Minister, in asking us to support this Bill, and in continuing the policy which, as in the past, he will in the future ask us to support, is doing so in a spirit which we believe to be of real advantage, and to the best interests of the country.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
If one part of the Attorney-General's speech this afternoon and the way in which he was followed by the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) is an indication of how carefully they have considered this Bill, I am afraid they are going to mislead the House. I gather from the Attorney-General to-day that one Clause—probably a very minor Clause—is introduced in order that there may be some control over non-registered societies' political funds. He suggested that at present there is no way of ascertaining how unregistered societies deal with their political funds. I cannot have misunderstood him, because the hon. and learned Member for Norwood followed the line laid down by the Attorney-General, agreed with it and quoted a question asked in the Labour Government. The Attorney-General 1412 ought to know the 1913 Act. If he does, why does he misquote it? Why does he say there is no control over the political funds of non-registered trade unions? I am prepared to do more than the Attorney-General did this afternoon, and that is to give way if he will give us a reason.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
What I said was that there is no provision at present for the return of political funds in the case of unregistered unions such as exists in the case of registered unions, and Chat Sub-section (5) of Clause 4 is devised for that purpose. If the hon. Gentleman will look at the Act, he will find provision for the making of returns depends not on the Act of 1913, but Section 16 of the Act of 1871, and is confined to registered trade unions.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
If the Attorney-General would understand the law as it stands—some of us know a little about the 1913 Act; we have had to administer it for a number of years—the Attorney-General would know that an unregistered trade union, if it wants to have a political fund, must become a registered trade union for the purposes of the 1913 Act. The 1913 Act said:Any unregistered trade union may, if they think fit, at any time without registering the union apply to the Registrar of Friendly Societies for a certificate that the union is a trade union within the meaning of this Act.It cannot have a political fund without application. When the trade union which is not registered has applied to have the 1913 Act applied to it, has taken a poll of its members, and procured its political fund, it must return each year to the Registrar a statement of that income The Attorney-General shakes his head. I challenge him on that. I say an unregistered trade union cannot get the right to administer a political fund until it gets permission from the Registrar, and when it gets that permission it then becomes a registered trade union for the purpose of the Trade Union Act alone. In 1914 I became the secretary of a trade union which was not registered. My friends and myself wanted a political fund. Before we got the fund, we had to apply for permission to get a poll, and then we got a registered number, and every year, as general secretary of the union, I had to make a return on the 1413 ordinary green form of all our income, all our expenditure, how it was received and how expended. Then the hon. and learned Member for Norwood said, because of a reply given by the Labour Government in which they said they could not get a return from the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, that what the Attorney-General had said must be true. The hon. and learned Member ought to know that the Miners' Federation is not a registered trade union within the meaning the Act. It is an aggregation of units, of registered trade unions, and if anybody wants to know how the miners get their money and how they spend their money all the information can be obtained by applying to the Chief Registrar. The returns of the political fund are made by the various miners' associations, not by the Miners' Federation. I suggest to the Attorney-General that he should read up the law before he replies to this Debate, either on this or the Committee stage. I think he will find that under the 1913 Act an unregistered trade union has to provide a return according to the 1871 Act.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
Well, I am capped, as they say. I hope when the Attorney General finds he is wrong he will tell the House so, and I am sure that he will find he is wrong. I wish to register my protest against this Bill. Perhaps it is difficult for hon. and right hon. Members on the other side to understand our position. The trade union movement is ours. The trade union movement has been handed down to us by the men who fought to make a trade union what it is, to give a trade union the liberty it has to lift up the wages and conditions of our people; and if in the past we have had to strike, have had to declare war, in order that we may raise the conditions of our people—well, we shall continue to do that, we shall go on. I tell the House frankly that if in my own union it becomes necessary to have a dispute we shall have the dispute first; then we shall consider whether it is legal or illegal, then we shall consider whether or not it affects a substantial portion of the community
The Attorney-General speaks as though the offences are clearly laid out and defined. I suggest that it is not so much 1414 a question of defining the offence as of knowing who the person who is going to define the offence happens to be. Would it be a magistrate? The Attorney-General and the House know that if you go to twenty benches of magistrates in this country about the same offence you will get ten different opinions as to whether it is an offence within the meaning of the Act or not—if this Bill becomes an Act. Who will define what is a substantial portion of the community is an employers' association a substantial portion of the community? The Attorney-General does not know. Of course he does not know. It is not defined in the Bill, and it is going to be left in the hands of magistrates, as I read the Bill. I can visualise the proceedings. My union may happen to have a dispute with an employer. When we are discussing what to do the executive starts considering "Shall we be acting legally or illegally?"; we start asking ourselves" Is the employers' association with whom we are is engaged in a dispute a substantial portion of the community?" Is that going to be considered a substantial portion of the community? I suggest to the party opposite they are going to make criminals of people who ought not to be made criminals.
I object to the first few lines of this Bill, which speak of extending Section 15 of the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act. To extend the Conspiracy Act to three or four million trade unionists just because a few madmen who have got on the box seat of the party opposite desire to drive them to destruction is absurd. It is going to depend upon the Magistrates whether thousands of our trade unionists are to be sent to prison. It is going to be a crime to expose anyone to hatred, malice or ridicule. I wonder if hon. Members opposite have ever been through some of the picketing hon. Members on this side have been through? If you only look at anyone it will be considered to be exposing them to hatred and ridicule. The Magistrate who tries one of these cases will say to the man who is being charged, "What did you do to this person," and he will reply, "Nothing, I only looked at him," and the Magistrate will say, "Three months."
The matter is perfectly plain, and in the administration of this Bill everything depends on the point of view of 1415 the Magistrate who is considering the case. If the Home Secretary were on picket duty, he would not be dealt with summarily but would have to go to the Assizes and would probably get two years. The whole thing is silly and stupid. It is not going to affect the question whether trade unions go on strike or not. [Interruption.] If hon. Members opposite will make their interjections intelligibly, I am prepared to answer them. I am going to fight this Bill in the country and out of the country, and I do not expect any quarter. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh, but, of course, I meant inside and outside this House. Everybody makes mistakes occasionally, and that is why there is a piece of rubber at the end of a lead pencil. Hon. Members opposite will probably make as many mistakes as we do, but the biggest mistake they ever made was when they introduced this Bill.
I have always believed in the rights and privileges of the House of Commons. I have been a trade unionist almost all my life. I was a trade unionist when I worked on a night turn at 17s. 6d. a week. I have always worked in my trade union upon constitutional lines. We have done all we could by industrial action. We have advised our people to send their representatives to the House of Commons in order to get those things constitutionally which we have not been able to get industrially. The trade-union movement is like Mrs. Partington trying to sweep the sea back. The employers' associations have been trying for a long time to kill our trade-union movement, and that is why I am in the House of Commons. I believe that some day we shall he able to get our people emancipated by constitutional means. By this Bill you may make it impossible for me to come to the House of Commons, because I cannot live on my House of Commons salary and keep two homes going.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
According to my reading of this Bill, a trade unionist will have to make his declaration every year. I would like to ask the Attorney-General if he will introduce an Amendment to make it certain that trade unionists will not have to do this every year. [Interruption.] Will hon. Members opposite 1416 point to one Clause which specifies that they do not do it year after year? It is not in the Bill; no Member in this House can show us where it is laid down in the Bill that they will not have to make their declaration every year. Hon. Members opposite know what will happen. If this be carried into operation, it will mean that it will be difficult for the ordinary man who has no private income to come to the House of Commons and express his opinions. [Interruption.] Hon Members opposite may think so, but some of us have a different idea. Some of us have got the idea that this is definitely intended to exclude men like myself. [Interruption.] The way to Hades is paved with good intentions.
If it be the intention of hon. Members opposite to leave things as they are, so far as opportunities for our men are concerned, why are they doing this? What is up with the present method? A question was asked last week by my hon. Friend the Member for Elland (Mr. Robinson) as to how many complaints were made last year of the working of the political levy. There were 13 complaints, out of millions, seven of which were justified, and one was in abeyance. Is that the justification, or is it because the Tory party, when they sent out their million forms, could not get a million people to take exception to the political fund? I have administered the political fund, as a general secretary of a trade union, and I have given equally ample opportunity to either Liberal or Tory or any other members of my trade union not to contribute to the fund. We balloted, and a majority are in favour of the political fund being established; and, while the majority are in favour, I am prepared to accept the position of the minority. That is the only way in which you can come to business anyhow.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
If we are going into questions of detail, I think the best way would be for me to take my hon. and gallant Friend into some corner within the precincts of the House, and give him a real good talking to as to how the Trade Unions Act is administered, and how it affects trade unionists. I promised that I would not take up more than a certain time, but I desire 1417 to say that I am going to contest this Bill inside the House and outside it, and I am delighted to hear that the ex-Prime Minister has declared that, when it comes to our turn to get our majority in the House of Commons, we shall be delighted to undo many of the things that this Government have done, including the present blackleg Bill.
§ Mr. SPENCER
I want to make one or two observations with regard to this Bill. In the first place, there are three parties that have to be considered in connection with this Bill. The first and most important is the nation itself; the second is the trade union; and the third is the individual inside the trade union. I am going to attempt for a short time to deal with this question from those three points of view. It is of paramount importance to the trade unions that my late hon. Friends should do all in their power to prevent the breakdown of the Constitution and to defend the fundamental principles of trade unionism. Unless they do that, within a comparatively short time, notwithstanding any intentions they may have, good or bad, they will find that it is not they who are ruling trade unionism, it is not they who are directing its policy, but it is those people who both secretly and overtly are working continuously for the destruction of trade unionism who will direct trade union policy to an end that they themselves have not contemplated.
I should like, first of all, to take the question of the general strike and, though I do not desire to follow exactly in the wake of the Attorney-General, I want to say one or two words with regard to the general strike itself and I want to give the House the utterances of one or two of the principal Members of the Labour party and of the Liberal party. The first quotation I should like to give the House is that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) because, whatever may be the opinion of the rest of the Liberal party, he at least is clear on one question, and that is that the general strike was an illegal attempt at the subversion of the State. He made it perfectly clear in a speech to his constituents that this was not an attack on trade unionism.Do I want the general strike to succeed? Or do I want it to fail? To my 1418 way of thinking at that moment it was the only question which any honest citizen could be required to answer. Well, I wanted it to fail, and so I think did the overwhelming mass of our fellow-countrymen. Everyone who understands what it would have involved if it had continued—the risk of injustice, of suffering, of violence, of resentment, of reaction—must have wanted it to end as soon as possible.Why did he want it to fail? Why did the Liberal party to which he belonged, which has been distributing leaflets, say the general strike itself was of such a character that it ought to fail? In one of their leaflets they have said, "What is the objection also to political affiliation" Everyone knows that industrial disputes are converted into political disputes. They asked a second question, "Are there any examples of this? Yes, the general strike and the coal dispute." So that in the opinion of the Liberal party the general strike was an attempt at the subversion of the State. For that reason, and because in my opinion it was bound to fail, I believe it is to the interest of every trade unionist, of every man who is anxious to see British trade unionism play the part it has played in the past of steadily raising the standard of living of the workers, to do all he possibly can to preserve it as an instrument for raising the general standard of living of those whom he seeks to serve. I am as certain of this as that I stand in this Chamber, that unless something is done on the lines of this Bill to protect trade unionism against those who are working assiduously against it, in a comparatively few years it will be the men who are behind the revolutionary movement who will be directing its policy and not the moderate men who are at the head of it at present. One of the most important things that characterised the general strike of last year and the coal strike of last year was this. [An HON. MEMBER:" It was a lock-out!"] We will call it A, lock-out. [An HON. MEMBER: "You ought to know!"] One of the things that characterised it was that men were saying one thing in private and on public platforms they were saying another. Why was that, Mr. Speaker Because to-day too many are afraid of the Red element who are seeking to dictate the policy. It is not I alone who is condemning the elements which are in the trade unions at the present time. As 1419 I said to the House, I would like to give one or two quotations of prominent and responsible Members of the Front Bench of the Labour party. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn) said:The gingerites were out deliberately to promote strife and cut down output, to render the conduct of industry impossible, and to discourage every leader who would not support their policy.I know of no stronger indictment against the Red element than that, and that comes from a responsible leader on the Front Bench of the Labour party. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) said not long ago:'If the unions do not smash the Reds, the Reds will smash the unions.I most fervently endorse that remark. I have every reason to know it, and every Member who is associated with a trade union knows perfectly well—if he is a Member of this House or if he is a leader of trade unions—that unless he is endorsing the extreme side of the policy of those who are seeking to be the leaders in the trade union and political movement, they are seeking to undermine his authority, they are seeking to oust him simply because he will not accept every jot and title of the policy which they seek to put forward. No man is an Englishman will allow that section of a trade union and political movement to dictate to him what the policy shall be and swallow it holus bolus. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon (Mr. R. MacDonald) said this in the "Forward":There is but one hope for Toryism and one danger for Socialism. Trade unionism to-day is suffering as it never suffered before because last year it was misled into battle where defeat was inevitable. We must aim at the creation of a Labour movement so well disciplined by its common sense and so well instructed by the knowledge of facts and methods that it will buckle down to its work in a businesslike way. To feed our movement on slogans and half-baked ideas on unconsidered proposals is to do it an ill-service and to produce a condition of mind which is to lead the Socialist cause into disaster for a generation.The question which I want to put after all that is this: "Who is going to save it? Who is going to save the trade union movement? Not those who coquette with Communism. The people who are going to save trade unionism are the people who are going to take a bold stand for the 1420 policy of trade unionism which has carried it to where it is at the present time. I challenge any of my hon. Friends here to-night to show that the policy of the new unionism which has been thrust upon them by men of extreme thought and extreme views has excelled or even equalled in its provision the good things for the men that have been brought about by the policy which was enunciated, put before the men and adopted by Wilson, Fenwick and leaders of that character. [Interruption.]
The general strike of last year and the coal stoppage convinced many people engaged in it of the disruptive methods of the extreme men associated with the unions. In the second place, it convinced them of the futility and danger of the general strike, and strikes of that calibre. Mr. Cramp said that there would not again be a general strike of that character. He said:He did not believe that a general industrial strike would ever be carried out effectively, because if carried to its logical conclusion they paralysed themselves as well as everybody else.That may be taken as a statement of a moderate and reliable Labour leader. I have every confidence in what Mr. Cramp intended to say and what he meant, but I want to contrast that statement with the statements which are being made by other people. Only last Sunday, we had Mr. Cook telling us that he wanted people to follow him. He said, at Hammersmith, that soon there was going to be another strike. I want to put this question to my friends here: "Who is going to lead the Labour movement?" [HON. MEMBERS: "You have no friends here!"] Very well, I do not care about that. I put it to hon. Members: "Who is likely at the present time, with the psychology that is existing among many of the working classes, to be the person to determine the policy of the future in the Labour movement? Is it Harry Pollit, is it Cook, or is it Cramp?" I say to those hon. Members: "You know as well as I know, that it is Cook and Pollit, and not Cramp, who are likely to determine the policy of the future. If that be true, is it not only reasonable that this House should adopt provisions in legislation which will guard us against the machinations of men of that type? I believe that this House in passing this Measure, especially with the provisions 1421 relating to the general strike, is doing more good to the Labour party—I do not know whether they will allow me to hold this view—than to any other political party in the State. I will tell you why. [Interruption.] I do not mean in the direction which hon. Members of the Labour party indicate.
There are men outside waiting for the day when a Labour Government will come into power, and they believe that when that day comes they can so organise disturbances in this country and so foment discord that they will be able to bring such a pressure to bear on the Government that it will have to give way. Therefore, I say that I know of no political party in this country that stands to gain more by a measure of this kind, which will deter actions of that character, than the Labour party itself. One would not mind so much if those who were seeking to foment these general strikes were really interested in the working men themselves. I will give you one illustration. It is a well-known fact, which has been more than once endorsed by the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, that these people look for a little trouble in the industrial field. They are there to foment it, the little spark is fanned into a great flame, and when it is a great flame they use it not for the purpose of advancing the interests of the men directly concerned, not for the improvement of wages and hours, but for the purpose of breaking down the capitalist system of this country. One right hon. Member on the Front Opposition Bench told me himself that during the coal strike two members of the minority movement came into the outer Lobby of this House. They wanted tickets to come in, and he said to them, "Don't you use the miners, honest but illiterate men, for some dishonest and ulterior purpose. They are out for wages and hours." The two men said, "Is your b—mentality no higher than to think we care a damn what becomes of the miners. We are not troubling about hours and wages. We are out for revolution." To the credit of the right hon. Gentleman he tore up the tickets and told them to go.
If that stood alone as one incident in relation to that sad and lamentable 1422 stoppage one might say nothing about it, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby in one of his remarkable articles in "Answers" said that in the early days of the dispute the question of revolution came up, and he relates this fact, that Cook said that the people ought to have been prepared for revolution, his mother-in-law had been buying an extra tin of salmon every week in preparation for it. When the inquiry was held and the trade union movement as a whole passed its condemnation upon the way in which the strike or the lock-out had been conducted, one of the principal members of the Miners' Executive, Mr. Davies, stated at that meeting that what they should have directed their energies to was not merely winning the strike but breaking down capitalism and bringing in a new order of society. That, I say again, is the aim and the object of those who are seeking to capture the trade union movement at the present time. Because I believe it and because I know it, I say that it is very essential that either this Government or some Other Government—it would be better if we could have an agreed Measure with regard to this, I agree—not merely in the interests of the State but in the interests of the trade unions themselves, should pass some Measure through this House which would make it almost impossible for these men to use the trade union movement for anything but legitimate and honest ends.
With regard to the particular point that as far as the movement itself was directed to the breakdown of society, and, as Mr. Davies said, to the breakdown and destruction of capitalism, I only want to ask the attention of the House to this very simple thing. Surely if the breakdown of capitalism is a very laudable and desirable thing and if it is something which, when broken down, is going to spell either the emancipation or uplifting of the workers, how we ought to rejoice when we look at to-morrow morning's papers and we find "Armstrong Whitworth, 3s. 3d.; Baldwins, 6s. 6d.; Bolckow Vaughans, 8s. 9d." We have nearly destroyed capitalists, but I ask the question, are the workers any better off? Everybody knows in this industry we so depressed capital and nearly destroyed it by strike after strike—rearing its head up a little now and again 1423 and then knocking it down with another dispute. I ask the House to turn its attention to the men in these districts and ask themselves the simple question whether this expedient has had the effect of raising the standard of life enjoyed by those in these undertakings? It has had the reverse effect, and everybody knows it. They are to-day many of them on the dole. Go to these districts which have had to suffer as the result of the foolish policy which has been pursued in the trade union movement during this last five or ten years. They are not the men who are blessing the strikes. The housewife is not the woman who is blessing the stoppage. It is in those localities and districts that you hear the wail of the woman and the curse of a, father at the disaster which has overtaken them through the folly of strikes and stoppages.
Therefore, I say again that, so far as this Bill is concerned, on the first question I admit that it is rather ambiguous. J would like to cut out of it one or two things. I think it becomes very thin indeed when it refers to the intimidation of the community or a substantial portion of the community. I can quite understand that if anyone seeks to embarrass the Government or the community, steps ought to be taken to prevent that being done, but when you begin to finesse with regard to these things, I do not think it is a good thing. Preserve to us on broad general lines the possibility of collective bargaining; preserve to us the right to strike for purely industrial things, and see to it that so far as even sympathetic strikes are concerned—directed not against the Government or the community, but towards assisting men to get a higher standard of living—see to it that you do not interfere with those sacred privileges. I believe that if you are true to that, if you amend the Bill so as to make it perfectly clear so that men in the street can understand it, I have no fear of what the general verdict of the country will be. I want to say to my friends that when they seek to engineer enthusiasm from the top it usually fails. The movement against this Bill has not sprung spontaneously from, the working man, and in so far as it has not sprung from the working man himself you can depend upon it 1424 that it is destined to fail so long as the other side are faithful to the great principles I have sought to enunciate.
I do not know when the House rises to-night, but I would have liked to have said more. I have a lot to say about intimidation. I should have thought from the leaflets sent to me by the Liberal party that it is not the Conservative party that love me but the Liberal party. Whilst the hon. and learned Member for South Shields (Mr. Harney) was condemning the Bill and denying intimidation and things of that character, I had before me a leaflet that came from some source associated with the Liberal party, and in it I found things of this character:It is unfortunately true that in some districts those who refuse to support the Labour party are subject to forms of intimidation as bad as our Liberal forefathers suffered at the hands of the dominant Tories.I cannot understand the language of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Shields when he says there is no intimidation worth mentioning. That was not the only leaflet which I received. I have received leaflet after leaflet from the Liberal party bearing testimony to the fact that there has been a great deal of intimidation so far as the men are concerned. I can quite understand feeling running high when there is a general stoppage, but no one who saw some of the crowds which gathered to intimidate men would say for one moment that it resembled anything like peaceful picketing. It was pandemonium. It was hell! I can take my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Shields to a young man who has been a Liberal for many years and who has an autographed photograph of Lord Oxford and Asquith and Lady Oxford and Asquith for the services he has rendered to the Liberal cause. That man walked a mile from the pit to his home with crowds on either side jeering and cursing him and crowds also assembled round his home to deter him. The strange thing about it all is this that the men who jeered and cursed him one day were with him the next day doing the work. It is not always conviction that keeps men away; it is often fear 1425 that deters men and that has been repeatedly shown to be true in this stoppage. In district after district men were gathered together for the purpose of going to work—
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.1426
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.