§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [2nd May], "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Which Amendment was to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day six months."—[Mr. Clynes.]
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ Mr. SPENCER
When the House finished last night, I was endeavouring to draw attention to the fact that my friends of the Liberal party had found that in the trade union movement there was a great deal of intimidation and a spirit of intolerance manifested among those who object to Liberal Members being associated with them. They have made that perfectly clear in the documents they have distributed, and it is to that fact that I want to apply myself, namely, that intimidation and intolerance are not confined at the present time to periods of excitement and periods of strife. Intolerance, bigotry, victimisation and coercion are as much rampant among those who are standing or who are supposed to be standing for freedom and liberty of the individual associated with trade unions as among any other people. In the South Wales coalfield, since the stoppage took place, at one pit, not many weeks ago, there was a strike because 80 men who had dared to join the Industrial Union would not join theirs. These men had to be coerced into joining the South Wales Miners' Federation. They did not do it willingly; they would not have done it had they been left perfectly to themselves.
I noticed in the "Observer" of last Sunday, certain observations—and here I would remind my hon. Friends above the Gangway that this is not a Labour paper but more a Conservative paper—condemning Clause 2 of this Bill, and among other things they said:Any person joins a trade union with open eyes, and any person not approving the policy of the trade union should leave 1468 it. His fellows, whether they be right or wrong, ought not to be compelled to put up with his company.That misses the point entirely. If a man is dragooned into an association to which he does not want to go, and when he gets into the organisation he is coerced to accept opinions belonging to somebody else, and then, in a moment of national emergency, he fails to approve of the policy which may be dictated by the extreme men, I ask this House and I ask my late friends above the Gangway, is there no redress for any individual in circumstances of that character?
I hope the House will pardon me if I digress for a moment to make one or two remarks about myself and what transpired not many weeks ago. I would like to preface my remarks by saying that the very people who are loudest in their demands for British justice and fair play for every foreigner on God's earth have denied it to one of their own. What is the account? It is almost like fate itself. The telephone bell rings in my office and a colleague of mine goes to the telephone—that colleague is a Member of this House and can verify every word that I say—and receives a call for me. I then went to the telephone, and I was called to a meeting several miles away at a particular pit. At that pit that very day they had had a deputation to see the manager. They wanted to start work. Seventy per cent. of them were already at work. The remaining 30 per cent. of the men wanted to go to work, but the manager said: "You have been away so long, and I am going to choose now who is going to return." To put it in common language, the men had got the wind up, and they sent for me to go, and I went.
I addressed the men, and of all men the man who moved the resolution in that meeting was a Communist, who afterwards had to apologise in the "Sunday Worker" for his action. That man moved a resolution that I should be requested next day to go with them to see the manager, not to make a new agreement but simply to get for these men the right to return to work again. I told them in the meeting plainly—I am not making any bones about it—that I was expected by them to sacrifice myself. I told them frankly that, disbelieving in the policy of Cook and the Federation, I was quite prepared to sacrifice 1469 myself. I went the next day to the colliery, at their request. [Interruption.] Hon. Members might listen to my side of it; they have had a garbled account from many a mouth, and I am telling them the truth for once. I went, and I got for these men, every one of them, the right to return to work. As I came out, the second checkweighman spoke to me, and said, "What are you doing here?" I told him. He said, "Will you come to our pit?" When I went home to my lunch I had a further deputation of three workmen, begging me to go to their pit and get them started at work. That day, I got the men, every one of them, returned to their own jobs at seven pits in the county of Nottingham, and for getting men the right to return to work at their own jobs which they had left I myself am a victimised man for doing a charitable act to my fellow-men.
What happened? I was sent for to come to London. I know what would have been said if I had not gone. It would have been said that I dared not face it. I only make this remark in passing. I was lying ill in bed and I got up. I would have seen the man who is the dictator of the Miners' Federation in hell before I would have met him, if it had not been for the fact that my absence would have been misconstrued. The time has come when men of that type have to be stood up against by somebody. I went, and they suspended me for doing my duty to my fellow men. After that, they had the council of action in Nottingham and they dragged the men out again. Some of them have never returned to work since, and upon my shoulders they are putting the blame for the last victimisation. The blame should have been put upon the men on the council of action who foolishly came and dragged the men out again. When they came, they called upon my council to deal with me—to deal with me for obeying the orders of the men whom I was paid to serve, the men who were in a majority at work, and who asked me to do it.
I want to give the House an example of the treatment which one gets from the extreme men in the movement, and of their sense of justice and fair play, and what any of us may expect once they become the dominant factor in the State. I went to that meeting of my own council. Twenty-eight men of the 1470 42 had left the council because they had gone to work and those who remained in that council chamber were no more representative of the men who were at work than many in this House would have been representative of them. They passed a resolution, which is on the minutes of the Notts Miners' Federation, suspending me until the council was re-formed, and then they would hear what I had to say. They hang me first and then hear what I have to say afterwards. The secretary who called me to the first meeting sent a letter, which is still extant, stating that I should be exonerated from all blame and that what I had done had only been in the interests of the men themselves. I put it to the chairman, the man who had assumed authority because the chairman was not there, that he should read that letter to the council, and he actually refused to read a letter which was a vindication of what I have done.
§ Mr. SUTTON
On a point of Order—[Interruption]. I want to ask you, Mr. Speaker—[Interruption]—whether the remarks of the hon. Member have anything to do with the Bill before the House?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is dealing with the Clause which refers to the question of intimidation.
§ Mr. SPENCER
I am dealing with the Clause which deals with intimidation and victimisation. In passing, let me say that the new movement with which I have become associated was not originated and organised by myself. It was born spontaneously from among the men who had been thrown out of the council chamber. But it is not alone intimidation. Here, among hon. Members above the Gangway, is vile and diabolical misrepresentation of myself. They are going about saying that the owners financed me. There is not an atom of truth in it. From the very first when we organised in Nottinghamshire, money has come in sufficient to pay our way, and we stand now, after three months, with a bank balance of £3,000. [An HON. MEMBER: "You have had £10,000 from the coalowners."] I am prepared to submit to them all the accounts of every branch that has sent in money to my Associa- 1471 tion. The only thing the Nottingham coalowners have given me, to their credit, was done openly so that all the world should know. I begged £10,000 from them in order to pay the old men who would not have had a penny of their pension had not the owners themselves been generous. That was not a bribe, nor was it done in a dark and secret corner. I told them when I asked for it that I wanted all the world to know what I was asking for, so that it should not be said afterwards that I was seeking merely a bribe from them for some service I had rendered. I do not care two straws for it. This House can believe me or not, but I will tell them that my wife and I sat at home and considered this thing. I told her what I thought to be the truth with regard to the economic facts of the industry, and what I thought was my duty to the men in the circumstances. I said, "I expect we shall have to get a fresh job," and we agreed that I should go back to the pit and work at the pit again at some job rather than poison my own mind by perverting the truth. [Interruption.] If ever a man has been victimised by his fellow men, treated evilly and wrongly, without trial, without being able to give his point of view, that man is myself. But I can look them all in the face now or at any time, because I have nothing to hide. In what I have done, I have been actuated by the highest possible motives on behalf of the men I have sought to serve. Therefore, I say that with regard to this particular Clause, it is only right that something should be done to protect these men who are seeking to serve with fidelity and loyalty their fellow men in these difficult times.
I would like to say a word to my Liberal friends. They have built up their cause upon great fundamental principles. They have a great historic past, not so much because of the men who have been associated with them as on account of the principles upon which they have built their political thesis. But if the tottering hand of dotage or the stealthy hand of deception seeks to steal the mantle of liberty in order to cover the nudity of pretence, I tell them they are going to fail. They will not win a single vote by diverting the fundamental principle of individual liberty. Once they leave that foundation in order to grapple 1472 with any pretence or expediency, from that very moment Liberalism has spent its force and power in this country. If they are going to resuscitate themselves and build up their party, it will only be by being faithful to the principles which they have enunciated and have accepted for so many years. Their triumph lies, not along the road of deserting the working men in distress; their triumph lies along the road of helping the working men when they are oppressed and tyrannised by a section that only wants to use them for their own ends, ends which are nefarious to the interests of the men and the State as well.
I want for a moment to deal with the political side of this question. The political side undoubtedly is an important one. Statements were made in this House yesterday by some hon. Members above the Gangway which, if I may respectfully say, showed that they knew little if anything about what they were talking. A great deal of the trouble we have at present, as far as politics are concerned, has sprung from two main causes. The first, and perhaps the most important, which has not been touched upon in this House, is this: that, when men belonging to the Conservative party or the Liberal party have gone to a trade union meeting, they find that at some of the branches nearly the whole of the time, if not the whole, is taken up, not with a discussion on trade union matters, not with a discussion on questions like compensation, but in discussing the question of Mussolini coming to this country, the question of the Dawes Report, the question of "Hands off Russia" and "Hands off China." I do not object to these men discussing these questions in the proper place. They have a perfect right to do so, but they have no right to use trade union meetings, which are paid for out of trade union funds, for the purpose of propagating any form of politics whatever.
Yesterday it was said that the Miners' Federation did not send in a political balance sheet because it was not a trade union, but it consisted of separate branches and separate associations. That is not true. It is the Miners' Federation that is the unit. It is the political unit of the whole of the miners' associations of this country. I must confess to the House I was amazed when my attention was drawn to the fact that 1473 not one penny piece is taken out of the political fund of the Miners' Federation to carry on the political work of that huge organisation. I put it to hon. Members above the Gangway that, if they turn to the balance sheets, they will find that to be the case. I was amazed when it was pointed out to me by men who are interested in this particular question that all this work, all these conferences, all the money that goes to run that huge organisation comes out of the trade union levy made on the Miners' Federation. I am certain there is no one on the Benches above the Gangway who can speak with knowledge, or who wants to play fair and who would say that the political side of the Miners' Federation's activities should not contribute to pay its way. I do not think there is anyone who will deny that the activities of the political side should be paid for from the political funds and the very fact that it has not been so paid for has given these men the right to protest against the way in which these things are being done. Who will rise up and deny that?
§ Mr. SPENCER
I will ask those who have interjected to examine the balance sheets. Before we have done I will bring the balance sheets to this House and prove that for year after year not one penny piece was taken out of the political fund for paying conference expenses, executive expenses and things of that character. Will anyone say—will my late colleague say—that there are no activities in the Miners' Federation of Great Britain of a political character which should be paid for in this way?
§ Mr. VARLEY
The hon. Member is addressing a question to me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] If the hon. Member wants me to reply to his question, I will do so. If his friends on the other side do not want to hear the reply, I shall resume my seat. He asked me would I deny that the Miners' Federation has no political work which ought to be paid for. My answer is that it is paid for. The hon. Member may bring balance sheets up to recent years where a proportion of the general funds was used to pay for clerical work 1474 attaching to the political side; but that has been put right some 18 months ago.
§ Mr. SPENCER
I know as well as the hon. Member knows, how far the contribution has been made. The hon. Member knows as well as I know from where the expenses of the annual conference—which is three quarters political and one quarter industrial—come. I ask him from where the expenses of perhaps 120 delegates representing various districts are taken? It is not out of the political fund. It is out of the industrial fund. The point I wish to make in that connection is that in a trade union movement where you are demanding that the Conservative and the Liberal should come in, great care should be exercised to see that these men are not called upon to make any contribution whatever towards the upkeep of the political creed of others. Absolute freedom should be given to them so far as that aspect of the question is concerned. If the House will bear with me for a little longer, I should like to give them what I think to be the solution of this question. In the first place, I do not agree with all that is in the Bill. If I may say so to the Government, there is one point with which I do not agree and which they ought to strike out.
§ Mr. SPENCER
Whether it is for the birds or not, I am endeavouring to be fair to all, irrespective of what their song may be. There is one thing in the Bill which I do not consider fair. You are asking a man not merely to contract in, but to put his notice in an envelope and put a stamp on it and send it through the post. You certainly ought not to do that. You ought to demand that the men shall sign the papers and that facilities shall be given to the organisation to collect the papers when the men have signed them. That part of the Bill ought to be struck out. I believe in every facility being given for collecting the papers after they have been signed by the men.
If I may, I should like now to give the House the benefit of my ideas upon this question. I have not for some time believed in the present method at all. It is not recently, but for some time now 1475 that I have ceased to believe in it. I wish the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) were here, because more than a year and a half ago I spoke to him about the same thing, as well as to other hon. Members. So what I am about to say now is not born out of the present Bill at all. This has been my idea with regard to political activities—that, first of all, inside the trade union movement, and inside trade union meetings, politics should be absolutely taboo. [An HON. MEMBER: "Like a Masonic Lodge!"] That only shows the perverted mind of the interruptor. What I suggest is that we should let the trade union become the collecting agency for political funds. But if the trade union became the agent for the collection of the funds, it would collect for the Conservative working man, for the Liberal working man, for the Communist working man and for the Labour working man; and when it got those funds, it would not keep them to foment political discords in its own ranks but would send them direct to some persons appointed by the Labour section, the Communist section, the Liberal section and the Conservative section respectively. Thus, at least you would get perfect equality of treatment. You would rid your trade union movement from any interference with political questions. I should like to remind some of my late friends that the best secretary the Miners' Federation ever had was a Conservative. [HON. MEMBERS: "Never!" and "Name!"] You know who it was—the right hon. Thomas Ashton was a Conservative. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] If you are going to have all the elements in the trade union movement working for the common good of those who are inside the union, it is most essential that every man inside the movement should feel that he is welcome there to make his own contribution to help on the cause. He should feel when he comes to trade union meetings that he is there to discuss questions affecting hours, wages, compensation and things which have to do with trade unions; he should not find, when he comes to these meetings, that the only questions agitating the minds of the dominant section in the trade union are things which have absolutely nothing to do with this country or with trade unionists. 1476 The sooner you get rid of that the better it is going to be for winning back some of the members to trade unionism and getting that standard of discussion and those numbers which used to characterise the trade unions in the past.
May I say this, in conclusion? I feel it in my bones that we can have what theories we like, but this country has to face this salient fact: Other nations are making more rapid strides in trade than we are. You have Czechoslovakia increasing its exports 53 per cent.; you have Italy with about 48 per cent., Germany with about 38 per cent., Belgium with about 48 per cent., France with 15 per cent, and the United States with 10 per cent., and this country's exports have expanded by 2 per cent. We used, in 1913, to do nearly 17 per cent. of the world's trade. We are doing 15 per cent. to-day, and the world's trade has expanded 5 per cent. since that time. We are therefore not keeping pace with the rest of the world, and I say to my fellow trade unionists that the watchword for all should be not "conflict within our ranks," but "co-operation between everyone of us." From directors downwards, we should all be working in union to make industry the instrument which it can become for giving each one of us the standard of life which ought to be the inalienable right of every workingman.
§ Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Broxstowe (Mr. Spencer) in the speech which he has just delivered, and in which he occupied so much time referring to the domestic affairs of his late organisation. [Interruption.] As was to be expected, he has spoken with all the enthusiasm of the new convert. He has found out just now, when the light has penetrated all, the evil associations of his past. [Interruption.] So far as those questions associated with the history of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain are concerned, I will leave him to be dealt with by responsible officials in this House. Neither he himself nor other hon. Members need expect that this issue is going to be burked. There are responsible officials of the Miners' Federation who will be able to show that the things that he has been condemning this afternoon he has been responsible for in his executive capacity. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
As I did yesterday, may I ask hon. Members not to attempt to debate by means of interjections. The only possible method is to listen and then for other points of view to be expressed.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
Having said that, I propose now to turn to the speech of the right hon. and learned Attorney-General who moved the Second Reading of the Bill. If that speech did not clear away many of the ambiguities of this Bill, it certainly demonstrated the extent to which the Bill strikes at the principle of association and at the long-established rights of trade unions. It may safely be said that the history of trade unionism in relation to Parliament has been one of widening recognition and of increasing power and influence under the sanction of the law. It is true that decisions, and very important decisions, have been given from time to time in the Law Courts which have restricted the rights, the powers and the functions of trade unions. It is of the greatest importance to remember that Parliament has always taken a wiser view, and the measures which by previous Governments it has been asked to undertake have all been designed to strengthen and broaden and protect the interests of the trade unions of this country. Therefore, I must say that it has been left to this Government to reverse the process of a hundred years by launching a direct attack upon the principle of working-class combination and common action.
This Bill, in my judgment, represents an invasion of the established rights and legal powers of trade unions, such as has never been attempted since the repeal of the Combination Laws in the year 1824. But I must point out here that the policy of the Government, and the method by which it is proceeding in this Bill, is the more remarkable having regard to the modern development in organisation both on the side of capital and of labour. What is the position to-day? We have combines, amalgamations, federations and closely organised aggregations. The proposed changes will impose disabilities on trade unions which are destructive of the very elementary right and principle of combination. In seeking to make a general strike illegal, the Government have gone much beyond the necessities of the case. The Government have, in effect, so far as the workers are con- 1478 cerned, sought to destroy that unity of purpose so essential for bargaining purposes as is known by every trade union official. Whilst that limitation and restriction is being imposed upon the trade unions, what do we find? Capital may extend its operations to unlimited bounds; but, by restricting all disputes, all legal disputes, within a trade or industry, the Government want the workers to apply the doctrine of splendid isolation in all its perfection. Mass production and large-scale organisations, with the linking up of related and kindred processes into extensive and powerful combinations, cannot justify, I say, pushing the trade unions back into an isolated and separate class or trade union position. Are we not to-day confronted with the trust, with the combine, and has not the Government itself, by its own legislation, encouraged very comprehensive and powerful amalgamations?
I want now to show the ramifications that some of our trade unions are up against. Take the case of the Transport and General Workers' Union. They have to negotiate with their employers. What do they find? They find in their combinations that they have to meet shipowners, dock-owners, road transport and coastwise traders, and directors representing dock undertakings, railways who are also dock-owners, coal-owners who are also directors of docks, steel works, and all kinds of metal work. That is not all. We find in many cases that one and the same person is met on a number of undertakings and boards in negotiations and in disputes. Take another case. There is a group composed of the electrical trade, the engineering trade, omnibus undertakings, tramway undertakings, and other forms of transport. There you have electricity supply, transport, and everything associated with the capital side. There is a very thin line drawn. It is very difficult to say where one industry or one trade stops and where the other begins. Let me give another illustration, and these illustrations have been sent to me in order that I may bring them before the House, because such organisations as the Transport and General Workers' Union really cannot understand the position they are going to occupy once this Bill becomes law. Coalowning, shipbuilding, and steel production—that is another group that they have to meet. 1479 Here is another: Port-owning and canals, armaments, and, would you believe it, H. P. Sauce, vehicle building, wagons and carriages, shipping interest, and shipbuilding. The Attorney-General yesterday told the House, and we were very much impressed by his statement:We have been careful to protect the right to strike."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May, 1927; col. 1315, Vol. 205.]Yes, but what I want to ask is, what is the position under Clause 1 of an organisation like the Transport and General Workers' Union that has to meet such combinations as those to which I have referred? Let us look at Clause 1. The Attorney-General said, and I have his words here:The sympathetic strike still remains under this Bill perfectly legal."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May, 1927; col. 1321, Vol. 205.]Then I turn to Clause 1 of the Bill and I keep in mind the position of an organisation such as the Transport and General Workers' Union. I notice that the Attorney-General dealt with the first Sub-section of Clause 1, but he never referred, so far as I was able to follow him, to the second Sub-section of the Clause, and I want to ask the House to give attention while I read a few of the words:For the purposes of the foregoing provision a trade dispute shall not be deemed to be within a trade or industry unless it is a dispute between employers and workmen, or between workmen and workmen, in that trade or industry.So far as the great combination of workers to which I have referred is concerned, this Bill does not make it clear what their position will be. Supposing, for instance, that the sauce workers came out on strike and some of the other great sections went to their assistance. So far as I can read the Bill—and I stand to be corrected by the learned Attorney-General—they would be at once outside the trade or industry, and if they were hauled before the magistrate and the strike, because of its sympathetic character, had had the effect of holding up the community or any large section of the community, in my opinion, it would then be held to be illegal under the words that I have last quoted.
Let me take another case. Supposing that the railwaymen came out on strike to resist a reduction of wages, and the 1480 other transport workers, such as the dockers and all those engaged in shipping transport or, if you like, those who are very closely related to the railway people, namely, the road transport workers, came out. What would be their position? Are we going to be told, as we were yesterday, that the sympathetic strike remains untouched? Are we going to be told, again, that the Government, in the Bill, have reserved the right to strike? Yes, you can reserve the right to strike, but you can hedge it about in other Clauses and have words that govern the working of the right that you have conceded until you have watered away absolutely the whole right and left the position worse than it would have been if there had been the direct challenge and the Government had said: "We deny the right to strike altogether." That is the position so far as the transport workers are concerned. We know now that there are gigantic undertakings owning newspapers, collieries, steel plants, shipping, transport enterprises, and they do not even stop there, for some of them are actually controlling finance and insurance. The House need only consider for a moment the number, the variety, and the extent of industrial processes in modern times, some of them now unified and co-ordinated into huge concerns, in order to appreciate the unreasonableness of the Government's one-sided restrictions.
Then I want to ask, What about the growth of employers' organisations for the purpose of carrying on their relations, not merely with their own employés direct, but carrying on, through the official representatives of the unions, all the negotiations that have to be carried on in the great transactions that come between their members and the concerns they control? No one can think of the position from this standpoint and look at the Bill and remember that the Bill must render the unions less efficient than they have been in the past for bargaining purposes, without seeing that the Bill makes not only a general strike but, as I have tried to point out, almost every, if not every sympathetic strike liable to be held illegal, whether it has taken place with breach of contract or whether notice has been properly discharged. Then the Bill further cripples the unions, because it seriously restricts and curtails the right of picketing, and, lastly, it strikes a very heavy blow at the unions by the 1481 new power, probably brought in from the United States of America, conferred by law, to permit the Attorney-General to intervene in the affairs of these unions through the decisions of the Courts.
I repeat that the principle of combination, applied so as to be most effective to promote and maintain the economic freedom and the improved conditions of the workers of this country, is to be restricted, and, so far as the Bill is concerned, there is to be no restriction imposed upon the vast concerns and employers' organisations to which I have referred. It is quite true that we were told yesterday that the Government, if we on this side were willing, would—as an afterthought, and after there had been an expression of indignation in the Press and n the speeches delivered by some of their own supporters—be prepared, as a belated concession, so far as the lock-out was concerned, to include it within the provisions of the Bill. I want to say here that this Bill is going to take away from the trade unions, as I will show in a moment, rights which they were certainly conceded in the Act of 1906. I will give one quotation from the Attorney-General, who was in charge when that Bill passed through the House in 1906. During that Debate the then Attorney-General, the late Sir John Lawson Walton, said:The policy of the Bill was founded on the right of the workmen to strike for any reasons which in their judgment they thought to be sufficient.I have taken the trouble to get out the findings of a very important Royal Commission. This is most important, in view of the fact that, I think I am right in saying, both the 1871 Act and the 1906 Act were preceded by important Royal Commissions. The Commission which reported in 1906, which was set up in the year in which I entered Parliament, 1903, was presided over by no less a supporter of the other side of the House than the present Lord Dunedin. Here are the terms of reference of that Commission:To inquire into the subject of trade disputes and trade combinations and as to the law affecting them, and to report on the law applicable to the same and the effect of any modifications thereof.They summarised their findings, and at the risk of wearying the House, I 1482 think it just as well that those who have perhaps never seen this Report should be informed of what came from the majority of that Commission, presided over by a prominent member of the Conservative party:(1) To declare trade unions legal associations.That has not been fully put into operation.(2) To declare strikes, from whatever motives or for whatever purpose (including sympathetic or secondary strikes), apart from crime or breach of contract, legal, and to make the Act of 1875 to extend to sympathetic or secondary strikes.That is very important, and, in substance, it was incorporated in the Act of 1906, but that, in substance, is being negatived by the present Bill.(3) To declare that to persuade to strike, i.e., to desist from working, apart from procuring breach of contract, is not illegal.That, in substance, has been included in the Act of 1906, and it is virtually being negatived by Clause 3 of the present Bill. There are several other similar recommendations that I need not read to the House, because they have not been acted upon as yet, but there is one very important one:(9) To enact to the effect that an agreement or combination of two or more persons to do or procure to be done any act in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute shall not be the ground of a civil action, unless the agreement or combination is indictable as a conspiracy, notwithstanding the terms of the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875.That, in substance, was put into the Act of 1906. If we take these recommendations, those of them which have been put into legislation, so far as I, as a layman, am able to compare them with the Clauses of the present Bill, it seems to me that they justify all that I have said about the attack upon the principle of association and upon the long established rights of the trade unions, and certainly, in my opinion, the Bill goes very much beyond any attempt to prevent a repetition of the national stoppage of last year and all that was associated with the mining dispute.
The next point to which I want to call attention is the punitive and vindictive nature of the proposed changes. I think there cannot be any shadow of a doubt 1483 that the Government are seeking to punish the trade unions. What, may I ask, is the case that the Government themselves have submitted in support of the punitive and vindictive Clauses of the Bill? First, it is designed, so we are informed, to protect the community against a general strike, and, secondly, we are told that the industrial crisis of last year provides all the justification required for the Government's proposals. If we accept that position, then we accept the justification for the punitive and vindictive nature of the Bill. The learned Attorney-General made it clear some months ago where, if he could influence his colleagues, we were going to be taken. Here is a quotation from his speech delivered at Cromer on 7th January, 1927:It is essential that we should have it laid down in the Statute Book, as already pronounced in the Law Courts, that the general strike is a crime against the State, that those who indulge in it are engaged in a seditious conspiracy, and that any organisation which foments it is liable to the uttermost farthing for the losses which it involves.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
It certainly was not proved yesterday that there had been a judgment in the Law Courts. I understood that before you could claim to have judgment in your favour, an issue was submitted, evidence was taken, not on one side, but on both sides, and someone equal, or nearly as equal as possible, to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General was allowed on either side to argue the case. Was that done in this case? I claim that an issue was never submitted, evidence was never taken, and counsel were not engaged to state their ease or defend it. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. HENDERSON
The point to which I was going to call attention was in regard to this seditious conspiracy. I shall have been, next June, 44 years in the trade union movement. I have never yet seen this seditious conspiracy. It may suit His Majesty's Ministers to use this talk of seditious conspiracy, as they once used a letter which was a forgery. The last point of this quotation is, that anyone who foments this seditious conspiracy is liable to the uttermost farthing for 1484 the loss which it involves. I have no objection to that being applied when there is a seditious conspiracy such as is provided for in this Bill. But, as I repeat, I have never seen it. I have never seen it attempted. All that the last national stoppage was—[Laughter]—I will repeat it—all that the last national stoppage was, was an attempt to show sympathy for the great body of men whose standards of life were already too low. I want to say again, that this Bill is punitive in its character. It is the Government's way of punishing the organised workers for the events of last year. The Government are treating the trade unionists of this country as if they alone were responsible for last year's crisis. I am not going to accept that position. What about the mineowners? Are they dealt with in this Bill? What about the Government themselves? Did not the Government, by their vacillation and uncertainty, encourage the mineowners in their monstrously unfair and unjust attack upon the miners' standard of life, and upon the working conditions in the coalfields of our country? The Government, it seems to me, were responsible, because they handled the Report of their own Royal Commission in such a way as to force the question of wages right into the very forefront of the negotiations. The mineowners were responsible in the crisis by demanding worse working conditions before getting down, as the Report recommended, to the reorganisation of their great industry.
If the events of last year had to be reviewed in relation to this Bill, then, in my opinion, it ought to be done seriously; it ought to be done permanently, but it also ought to be done fairly and squarely. The Bill, in my opinion, represents a form of punishment inflicted by one party to a dispute against another, because it acts strictly, as I hold, within its legal rights. These obnoxious proposals are being thrust upon the organised workers, and they are thrust upon them because they did what they felt to be their duty in coming sympathetically to the assistance of those whom they thought were working in a dangerous calling for payment that was far too low. On this point, in the speech of the right hon. Member yesterday we noticed a significant and very discreet silence. 1485 Blame—yes, any amount of blame for the workers; not a word for the mineowners. Then, I claim that the Bill is vindictive in its intention, and oppressive in its operations. It imposes disability on the trade unionists in the matter of political contributions under which no critizen has to labour. It treats stoppages of work in industrial disputes as though the workers alone could be guilty. The, history of industrial trouble since 1920 shows that most of the time that has been lost has been lost because of action taken on the initiation of the employers in their respective industries.
I want to say how gently this Bill deals with the employers, organised and unorganised, and I want to give the House an illustration as to how the employers can work in these matters. The hon. Member for Broxtowe gave the employers a magnificent testimonial, and I noticed that the other side of the House cheered, as they have not cheered for many a day, anyone who has spoken on this side of the House. I am going to weary the House by giving something on the other side. It will be seen whether the character is as good as the one the hon. Member gave. It refers to a dispute in one of our Southern ports. It was a dispute about wages. The men took a ballot. We hear a great deal in these discussions about taking a ballot. They took a ballot, and, by an enormous majority, they decided not to accept the terms which the employers offered. Consequently, the men decided to leave their work. The machinery of the employers—that is, the secret machinery—at once came into operation. I remember, in the Debates of 1906, one of the most important features was the revelations about blacklisting. Well, the machinery of the employers at once got into operation, and I have here the names of 16 firms who at once committed themselves not to employ a single one of these men as long as this dispute lasted. Here is one of the letters dealing with the subject:Yours of the 29th inst. duly to hand, which records another firm to your list, and with such a cordon of employers as you have now secured to co-operate with you in this contest"—I like the word "contest"—I feel that if your local firms will only hold together and keep the men out a few weeks, the shipwrights will then have learnt 1486 a lesson which will bring them back to your terms.Here is another letter:in view of the fact that some of the shipwrights are seeking employment outside the Port, we think it advisable that all the firms"—Mark you, they all said they would not employ them—should send formal notification to the local Labour Exchange, to the effect that they are requiring shipwrights at once. The object of this is to prevent the men being sent out of the Port through the ordinary Labour Exchange agency, that is to say, at the Government expense, since the local Exchange will not be able to send men out of the Port at the Government expense, knowing that there is work for them in, the Port. The expense of sending the men away will then fall entirely upon Trade Union funds.Here is another letter:Since my last communication to you I have received promises of support"—Then follow the names of four firms. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give them!"] No, I will not give them. It is not the firm I am trying to get at; it is the system, and it is the system with which the Government in this Bill ought to be concerning themselves.Seeing that some of our men are going North looking for employment, I have also been in communication with the Secretaries of the Shipbuilding Employers' Federation, asking that the Federated firms will accord us the same support as has been promised by the Southern and East Coast firms, and I enclose for your confidential information a copy of a letter received this morning from the Secretaries, together with a copy of our reply.What is this letter?With further reference to your letter of the 6th inst., we have now heard from our Emergency Committee. If you will kindly forward us a list of the names of the men on strike, we will at once circulate these amongst the Federated firms, and request them to support you to the extent of refusing to set on any of the men concerned during the continuance of the strike.Here is another letter:I have to thank you for your letter of yesterday's date, informing me that the Emergency Committee of the Shipbuilding Employers' Federation has been good enough to request the firms in your Federation to extend their support to us in our shipwrights' strike to the extent of refusing to start men on strike at the port during the time the strike may continue.On behalf of the employers I wish to express appreciation of this action of your 1487 Committee, and their assurance that if at any time in future they are able to reciprocate your action, they will be only too willing to do so.I enclose herewith eight copies of the lists of the shipwrights at present on strike here, and shall be much obliged if you can have further copies run off so as to issue one to each of the principal firms in your Federation.The strike here has been in operation about two and a-half weeks, and a few of the men have left the port with the intention of looking for work on the Clyde. It is possible that more may endeavour to do so within the next few days, and we shall therefore be glad if this action can be taken quickly.A further letter states:We beg to enclose herewith a further copy of a letter received from the Shipbuilding Employers' Federation, from which you will see that they are taking definite action in the matter. We have heard that men are being taken on at Chatham Dockyard, and also that a Dumbarton firm are taking on some boatbuilders.With regard to the Chatham Dockyard entry, this matter has our close attention, and we think will clear itself in a satisfactory way to us.We have wired the Secretary of the Federated Employers in relation to the Dumbarton firm, and no doubt if they are federated, the entry there will not be a large one if the men are retained at all.May I ask the learned Attorney-General how he proposes to deal with this determination to hold up certain members of the community. Is not this a very bad form of intimidation? Is not this something in the nature of a boycott? If we are to have our rights taken away, what is to be done? These secret and subterranean operations can go on, and we do not get to know anything about them probably for years. If that was possible under the 1906 Act, what is going to be possible in future? Does anyone in this House know what is to be possible under the Bill? I proposed to say something with regard to the political levy. I think, however, that opportunities will come, especially on the Committee stage, for dealing with any separate Clause, and I hope then to say what I want to say.
I do, however, wish to make one final point. I am sorry that the Prime Minister is not in his place, because I would have liked to have addressed this point especially to him. The Prime Minister, I understand, has sent a note of apology for his absence. I was not 1488 remarking on his absence in any complaining spirit, but was rather regretting that he was not present, because I wanted to make this point. The point is that it is an abuse of power for the Government to propose such a serious reversal of the law without warrant or authority from the people. There is no justification that I can find in any development of trade unionism for the restrictive and oppressive purposes of this Bill. It cannot be maintained that there exists any serious grievance for which the Government proposals would provide an effective remedy. If grievances do exist, if the law requires to be revised, I claim—and I have precedent on my side—that the case should have been the subject of a full and searching investigation. No public inquiry has been held into the operations of the existing law. In this respect the Government is departing from and acting contrary to every precedent. I said before, and I repeat, that the 1871 and 1906 Acts in each case followed but did not precede the Reports of important Royal Commissions. It may safely be said that every major change in trade union law has been made only after exhaustive inquiry and investigation of alleged abuses, or the necessary remedy for any proved disabilities imposed by the Courts of Law on trade unions.
I make another point in this connection. It cannot be said that this Bill is in response to any national demand. Moreover, we claim that the Government has no mandate from the country. This issue was never before the country at the General Election. I would also remind right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that the Government is a minority Government, that it is in a minority of something like 1,000,000 of the electorate. If there is no national demand, if there is no mandate to the Government that is proposing to make such a serious reversal of the law as affecting great masses of our producers, it seems to me that the Government are placing themselves in a position that will merit very serious condemnation. Surely it must be an abuse of power to use an accidental majority, which was secured for entirely different purposes, to pass a Measure, the object of which is to destroy the unity, the solidarity and the utility of our great trade unions. I was 1489 going to ask the Prime Minister whether he was prepared to punish that great section of people who by their industry, sobriety, patience, endurance and loyalty to the nation in its darkest hour, those men and women who by their skill, intelligence and devotion, have made this land the workshop of the world.
The right hon. Gentleman may refuse to listen to all appeals. He may use his majority to force this Bill upon the Statute Book. I have been long enough in this House to have seen the same party in power before. I have heard similar appeals made to them when they were using their majority after the South African War for placing on the Statute Book questions that had never been discussed at the previous election. I venture to make the statement that nothing contributed more to that party being swept out of office in 1906 than the fact that they ignored the people, outstayed their mandate, and used their majority in the reckless way that they are attempting to do to-day. As I have seen them once swept away with ignominy, so I will see them swept away again if they follow the course upon which they have started.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Sir Laming Worthington-Evans)
In the course of yesterday and to-day we have had several speeches in opposition to this Bill, and I propose, if the House will allow me, to deal with various questions that have been raised, and in doing so I will try to answer some of the questions which the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has addressed to me. The first part of the Bill that I will deal with is Clause 1, relating to general strikes. A complaint has been made by the right hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson) and by the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) that this Bill is said to be a declaratory Bill, declaring the existing law. It is stated that there is no judgment which says that a general strike is an illegal strike. The right hon. Gentleman claimed that no judgment could have been given unless evidence had been taken and counsel had been heard in the case that came before Mr. Justice Astbury. I have looked up that case, and I propose to 1490 read a very few lines from the words of the learned Judge. These are the words:The so-called general strike called by the Trade Unions Council is illegal and contrary to law, and those persons inciting or taking part in it are not protected by the Trade Disputes Act of 1906.5.0 p.m.
The learned Attorney-General was perfectly right, surely, in saying that the learned Judge had held that the general strike was illegal; and what Clause 1 of this Bill does is to declare the existing law relating to the general strike, that it is illegal. Even though you differ from the opinion of the Judge, your difference does not make it any less a judgment. Why do the right hon. Gentlemen object? Is it that they say that the general strike was not illegal? Neither of them was very clear on that point. It is true that the late Solicitor-General, the hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser) did say yesterday that the Bill was entirely new law, so that I imagine he has now come down on the side that the general strike was not illegal. If that is his view, I confess to preferring the view of the learned Judge and the view of the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon). Neither of them has any doubt that the general strike was illegal. But if there is a doubt, as hon. Members seem to think that there is a doubt, surely it is all the more necessary to make it quite clear that a general strike is, in fact, illegal. I can understand those objecting to it who will defend a general strike on merits, but unless they are prepared to say that a general strike ought to be in the armoury of trade unionists, that they ought to be allowed to have a general strike whenever they think fit—[interruption]—they ought to be glad to have the uncertainty, if uncertainty there be, removed. It is to the interests of every member of a trade union that it should be removed. It is to the interest of the followers of hon. Gentlemen opposite that they should know that if they take part in a general strike they are taking part in an illegal strike for which they may suffer.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
It is wise that the State should warn the leaders, for in the past it has been per- 1491 haps too much the case that the followers have suffered—[Interruption]—and those who have instigated the strike have got off scot free. [Interruption.] Do the leaders of the Labour party justify the general strike or do they not? That is a question which has never yet been answered. [Interruption.]
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
Was the general strike of May last the first of many, or was it only an exceptional thing which we need not bother about? [HON. MEMBERS: "Talk about the Bill!"] The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting in his speech, appeared to be defending the general strike. At any rate, he said the general strike was a defensive rather than an aggressive action—[Interruption]—that it was taken by millions of men in defence of their standard of living. He said they had seen the miners' wages brought down and feared that their own would follow, and so they joined in, this general strike. That was a defence, an apology, for the general strike. Now that the right hon. Gentleman has returned to his place, I would ask him, Does he say that a general strike is legal? Does he defend a general strike, or does he condemn a general strike? There was no condemnation in his speech.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I would like to know whether the right hon. Gentleman can give any sort of guarantee against the recurrence of a general strike. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General yesterday quoted various Members who had condemned the general strike and some who were still apparently in favour of it. The President of the Scottish Trade Union Council, speaking the other day at Galashiels, said that in similar circumstances he was in favour of another general strike. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] He has some followers on the benches opposite. Although the right hon. Gentleman did not yesterday condemn the general strike, he was much bolder when he was writing in the 1492 "Sunday Chronicle" in October last.
He said then:The sympathetic strike of May failed to redress any industrial grievance or to right one wrong of any worker in the whole trade union movement.He went on to say:No Government, Labour, Conservative or any other, could permit its responsibility to the country as a whole to be torn from its grasp by a section of the community, however large, engaged in conflict with another section, however powerful.That, as it seems to me, was a condemnation of the general strike. [HON. MEMBERS: "And the lock-out!"] Yesterday he was speaking as if with his head turned over his shoulder, with one eye on the extremists outside, afraid to say that he condemned the general strike.
The hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds made a most remarkable speech on Clause 1 of the Bill. In case he should have misled anyone, I propose to remind the House of what he said, and to give what I think to be the reply to it. He said:Under this Bill, as I shall show, it will no longer he within the power of a workman, except at the expense of becoming a criminal, to terminate his contract.It would be, he said,a criminal offence for any workman to leave his employment even after giving notice that he wishes to leave it… The position of that man is that of a serf, and his legal position that of statutory servitude."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May, 1927; cols.1380–1, Vol. 205.]That secures the assent of, perhaps, the majority of the hon. Gentlemen on the benches opposite. We are quite sure that if it secures their assent in this House it will be repeated on every platform.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
Clause 1 refers to a strike, and the Bill defines a strike as an act of combination or a concerted act. The act the hon. and learned Gentleman was referring to was that of a single workman leaving his employment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!" "Humbug!"]
Sir L. WO RTHINGTON-EVANS
That is what the hon. and learned 1493 Gentleman said. I do not for a moment believe that he would attempt to—
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
To any ordinary man the words are that an individual is to be a serf and have the legal position of statutory servitude, because he cannot leave his employment without being a criminal—that he must continue in employment, and therefore is a serf.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
The Bill does not produce that result at all. It deals only with acts done in combination. [Interruption.]
May I point out that the hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser), in the sentence following the one which the right hon. Gentleman quoted, says that the case of the workman leaving his employment is contingent on the other workmen in the same place also giving notice.
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Fitz-Roy)
Debate in this House is the expression of views of both sides of a question. If the views of both sides cannot be expressed, the Debate will become a farce.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I have read it very carefully. I cannot dwell upon it now. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"] I give the ex-Solicitor-General this invitation. This Clause will be discussed in Committee. Let him come to this House then and explain what he meant, and if he does not adopt—[Interruption]—the construction that I have put on it, I shall be indeed happy to be corrected. [Interruption.]
§ Major COLFOX
On a point of Order. [Interruption.] May I ask whether such expressions as "deliberate misrepresenta- 1494 tion" and accusations that the right hon. Gentleman is a twister, are Parliamentary?
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I repeat that there is nothing in this Bill which affects or limits the right to strike in a trade dispute and there is nothing in this Bill which limits the right to take part in a sympathetic strike unless it is designed to coerce the Government or the community. A strike against the State is illegal, but strikes, including sympathetic strikes, against employers, are not illegal. Right hon. and hon. Members seem to be under an entire misconception with regard to the political levy. They seem to have an unwillingness to face the real facts.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting seemed to think the Bill of 1913 was a compromise which it was impious to lay hands upon, and that no Government had a right to amend the law with regard to the political levy. It is obvious there was no Parliamentary bargain, or if there was a Parliamentary bargain it was not one which the Labour party felt they were bound by, because the right hon. Gentleman himself, in another part of his speech, said they finally submitted to the Act of 1913 although they did not assent to it. Quite clearly he was at liberty to object to it, and he showed that he disagreed with the Act of 1913. It is quite clear, therefore, that we are free to deal with the matter now.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
It was not the Government, but whether we accepted it or not at that time as Members of the Opposition we are certainly 1495 not precluded 14 years after, if we find it has not worked fairly in practice, from asking the House to amend it. There were two forms of protection intended to be given by the 1913 Act. First of all before a political fund could be set up there was to be a secret ballot, and in that any member of a trade union adopting a political fund was to have the right to dissent. That was considered sufficient. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting said that after a ballot the majority should prevail, and there should be no right even to dissent.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
That is the view of the Labour party. There were ballots in a great number of unions, and although not half of the members of those unions actually voted nearly 600,000—to be accurate, 578,000—voted against the setting up of a political levy, and of those only 110,000 are now exempt by reason of having dissented. Why is there that curious difference in the number? There are two ways of looking at it. I am going to submit my view, and it is that some 600,000 took advantage of the secret ballot, but when it came to signing a form of open dissent from the trade union leaders then there were only 110,000. There is not the slightest doubt and hon. Members know it, that every sort of obstacle has been put in the way—[interruption.]
I warn the hon. Member for the Toxteth Division of Liverpool that if he continues to interrupt, I shall have to deal severely with him.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
Therefore something like 500,000 men who voted in the secret ballot against the political levy are not relieved but are forced to pay the levy.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
Another 1,500,000 took no part in the ballot, and I dare say a great many of them did not wish to contribute to the political levy. I did not count them, but I did count the half million who voted 1496 against it and who have not now been relieved from the payment of that levy. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting says that the ballot ought to be sufficient, surely the answer is that the ballot took place in many of those unions 14 years ago, and only in nine out of nearly 300 trade unions has there been a second ballot; so that all the men who now join would find themselves pledged, whether they like it or not, to the political levy.
I wish to intervene for the purpose of accuracy. The Secretary of State for War says that all the members who have joined the trade unions since the original ballot on the political levy was taken find themselves compelled to contribute to that fund. I say to him that, if he knows anything of the facts, he must know that is not true, because every member joining to-day has the same right to claim exemption.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
If I left hon. Members under the impression that I was ignoring the right to dissent, then I did not express myself very clearly, but let me explain. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting said that the Labour party's policy was that, after a ballot, the majority should rule without power to dissent. I said that would be unfair, because all those who have joined during the last 10 or 12 years, if there was no power to dissent, would be bound by the ballot which took place previously.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Does the right hon. Gentleman know of any society or organisation in which the majority rule does not operate?
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I do not want to digress, but there is a clear case under the Company Law where the conditions are altered on amalgamation, and where there is power for the shareholders to dissent and to be paid out. The question is really extremely simple. I would like to ask if a man ought to be compelled to subscribe against his will. Is the machinery for enabling men to dissent sufficient under the law as it now stands? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes"] We 1497 think it is not, because there are 500,000 men who are now compelled to subscribe. [Interruption]. My next question is whether the new machinery is ample and effective for this purpose. What is this machinery All a man needs to do—
§ Mr. MacLAREN
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, I wish to remind him that he made an aspersion to the effect that these men were intimidated to pay the levy against their will. I think that in all fairness, the right hon. Gentleman ought to prove that aspersion and that charge. If the right hon. Gentleman has no proof of that, then in honour to himself and his party he ought to withdraw that charge.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I am not going into the details, because that has already been done. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"] It was done about two years ago when definite cases were given. There is one I remember well. It was the case of a Durham Lodge, where 28 members dissented and were paraded in front of the lodge at the end of the year, and they were made to march out of the lodge to receive their share of the political levy. Another question is: Does the alteration we are proposing in effect deprive trade unions of the subscriptions of their subscribers? This Bill is said to be an attack upon trade anions to deprive them of subscriptions Which they ought to have. There is absolutely no difficulty placed in the way of anyone who wishes to subscribe. If hon. Members will look at the Schedule they will see that all a man had to do is to sign once and for all and not every year.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
Does the Bill itself lay it down that a man shall only do it once, and, if so, which Clause is it that makes that provision? Is the Schedule governed by the Bill or is the Bill governed by the Schedule?
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
In Clause 4 it is provided thatNotice in writing in the form set out in the First Schedule to this Act of his willingness to contribute to that fund and has not withdrawn the notice in manner hereinafter provided,shall be given. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read on!"] The form in the Schedule is as follows:I HEREBY give notice that I am willing and agree, to contribute to the Political 1498 Fund of the union, and I understand that I shall, in consequence, be liable to contribute to that Fund and shall continue to be so liable unless I deliver at the head office, or some branch office, of the Union a written notice of withdrawal: I also understand that after delivering such a notice of withdrawal I shall still continue to be liable to contribute to the political fund until the next following first day of January.So that when the would-be subscriber has signed that form, all he has to do is to continue to subscribe.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I am sorry I cannot give way, because I have a lot of ground to go over. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting said that this Bill was a deliberate act of class hostility, and the hon. Member who has just sat down said it was intended to destroy the unity of trade unions and was an abuse of power. To what class is this Bill hostile? [HON. MEMBERS: "The working class."] Hon. Members say it is hostile to the working class, but is it? I wonder who suffered most by the General Strike? Was it the capitalist class? it is true the capitalist suffered in his business but at any rate he did not go short of a meal. Can you say that of the working class who, by a general strike are thrown out of work, and tens of thousands of them were thrown out of work by the last general strike and are still out of work. Therefore it is clear that it is the working class that suffers most by a general strike and not the capitalist class. It is the working classes, the poorer classes, whose savings are reduced and the cost of whose living is increased; and yet this Bill, which is intended to protect the working class against a general strike, is said to be a Bill of class hostility. It is precisely the same with the Clauses with regard to intimidation. Who is it that is intimidated? [HON. MEMBERS: "The employing class."] That is just where you are mistaken. They are not in the least intimidated, and, the more you deny rights to minorities in the trade unions, the more it is essential to protect them. [interruption.]
The right hon. Gentleman went a little further than his Leader on the question of appeal. He said that the duty of the Opposition. when it becomes a Government, no matter in what form this Bill 1499 may pass, will be to repeal the Act, I take note that the Labour party renounces all interest in amendment of this Bill. But what is the repeal that they feel obliged to support? When they go to the country they are going to say, "Return us, for we will repeal that Bill, we will remove the protection which it gives to the community—[Interruption]—against being starved into submission by a general strike." If you succeed in making the people treat you seriously, and not as mere boasters, do you think they will not do just as they did in the general strike? They will rise up and vie with each other to protect the Constitution of this country—[Interruption]—and there are some 500,000 of them who, although they voted against a political levy, have not been relieved of the liability to contribute to party funds with which they do not agree. You are going to say to them, "Change your allegiance, vote for the Labour party, in order that we may restore the political contribution—[Interruption]—and make you contribute once more to Socialist party funds." [Interruption.] There is something else that I wish to say. I do not understand the attitude of the Labour party with regard to intimidation. No one could have listened to the moving speech made by the hon. Member for Broxstowe—[Interruption]—without his blood boiling at the jeers and noises with which it was received. It was a courageous speech, and, never mind whether you agree with it or not, it was an honest speech—[Interruption]—and that interruption is the evidence of intimidation. [Interruption]. The right hon. Gentleman did not seem to condemn intimidation, he did not seem to condemn the besetting of the workman's home. This Bill does protect the workman's home from being beset.
On the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman said that there is less intimidation in pursuit of working-class objects than by the squirearchy and the landlords of the country. He said, "We know from our electoral experience that there are many thousands of men who are afraid to have it known that they had voted for the Labour candidate." I have shortened what he said, but that is the substance of it. I wonder that he thought it worth while to trot out the old bogey of the intimidation of the 1500 squire and the landlord. They are not on their defence at this moment, or I could defend them. The right hon. Gentleman brought it out as a contrast. Let us assume that in some cases and at some time there was some truth in the statement that there was intimidation by the squire and the landlord. The State has provided protection against the continuation of that form of intimidation. The ballot now is secret; intimidation is illegal; anyone who intimidates in connection with an election goes to prison, and in certain cases the election is voided. That form of intimidation has been dealt with; is it wrong now to deal with another form of intimidation—the intimidation, not by the squire, but by the trade union boss, by the local leaders of the trade union? It is they who put obstacles in the way of men when they wish to free themselves from a political levy; it is they who urge proscription on the so-called blacklegs; it is they who organise picketing; it is they who shout down and endeavour to overawe the quiet man. [Interruption.] The quiet man seldom goes to the branch of his lodge, but now he is in revolt, not against the squire, but against trade union tyranny; and this Bill will give him some protection. This Bill will restore to him his freedom and that is why all that jeering which is organised from the top is not going to save you when you get down—[Interruption]—to the country. Only one member of your party has left you in the House of Commons but thousands—[Interruption]—will leave your party when you tell them that you intend to repeal the protection we are ensuring of their freedom.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I congratulate the party opposite upon their latest advocate. He has but one saving grace—he has certainly added to the gaiety of nations. While I sat here, closed my eyes, and listened to the right hon. Gentleman, I almost visualised a change in the locality from the political arena to an arena of sawdust, only requiring the crack of the ringmaster's whip to complete the illusion. I have been a Member of this House for a good few years, and it has been my lot—I was nearly saying my misfortune—to listen year after year, particularly for the last eight or nine years, to the periodical presentation of King 1501 Charles's head by the political Mr. Dicks who are opposed to trade unionism. A new character has appeared upon the scene, and we now have Codlin and Short in the person of the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney-General. There are also advocates in another place. I notice, from the reports in the "Morning Post"—and, of course, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will agree that the "Morning Post" never lies—that two Members of another place have been making speeches on this subject. Lord Birkenhead made a statement on Saturday to this effect:We have tongues in our heads"—with respect to this Bill it would be more correct to say, "We have tongues in our cheeks"—and, if these new opponents of ours imagine that by holding 3,000, or 30,000, meetings, they are going to terrify the Unionist party, they do not know us yet.His Lordship is mistaken. We do know him—we know him, not wisely, but too well. We know him as a political Equestrian who galloped into the Lord Chancellorship, not in defence of the King's subjects, like the ancient king's champion, but in defiance of the Realm and of the King himself. There is an old saying, "Put a beggar on horseback and he will ride to the Devil" and, unless his Lordship emulates that historic personage, John Gilpin, he will find himself with the Devil before very long. Lord Londonderry also is reported as having said:False and malicious statements are being made broadcast by the Socialist party in connection with the Bill. We shall be prepared to face them and tell the truth.I do not think that what he said will be carried out by Lord Londonderry or anyone else. I have searched in vain for it in the representations of the Attorney-General on this Bill. All the arguments are being based, both by the Attorney-General and by other legal minds in this House, on the statement that this Bill is only to prevent a general strike. I want to say, as a responsible trade union leader, that we do not like strikes, and I give as my reason for that a very important one. Under normal conditions the position of a trade union leader, although somewhat varied perhaps, is a bed of roses as compared with the time of a strike, and therefore it is in our 1502 interest not to initiate or encourage strikes, but unfortunately the economic conditions under which we live give us no opportunity but to enter upon this process. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) in reply to a Member on the Liberal Benches made this statement:I have already challenged the hon. and learned Member, and during the Committee stage he will have full opportunity of replying to it. I challenge him now to point out one single Clause in this Bill which makes that illegal when done by 10,000 which is legal when done by 10."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May, 1927; col. 1371, Vol. 205.]I have no hesitation in taking this opportunity of accepting that challenge. Clause I lays down this principle: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.Dealing with that portion of the first Clause, my right hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson) attempted to put the case of the transport workers. He put part of it, but only a very small part of it. I am a responsible official of the Transport Workers' Union. Leaving that on one side for the moment, let me ask the Attorney-General what he means by trade or industry. The transport trade in itself is an industry. It comprises railways, ships, road traffic, passenger traffic, docks and harbours. We are told it is an offence to coerce the Government or to intimidate the community, but if the Government enters into disputes, and makes a political question of an industrial question, the blood should be on their own heads. When they come in and interfere, as they did, and make an industrial question like the miners' lock-out a political question, they have only themselves to thank. With regard to intimidating the community, suppose there was a railway strike. Has the right hon. Gentleman or anyone else ever known a railway strike or a mining strike, or a transport strike which did not intimidate the community? In the Transport and General Workers' Union we have sections comprising dock labourers, loading and discharging ships, road transport men, river and canal bargemen, and six or seven different trades within one industry. All these men are subscribing to one 1503 union. Let me give the right hon. Gentleman an example. Supposing the bargemen had a dispute with a barge-owner within the provisions of this extraordinary Bill—a perfectly legal dispute under the Bill. The Clause says:For the purposes of the foregoing provision a trade dispute shall not be deemed to be within a trade or industry unless it is a dispute between employers and workmen or between workmen and workmen in that trade or industry which is connected with the employment or non-employment or the terms of the employment or with the conditions of labour of persons in that trade or industry.Supposing blackleg bargemen come alongside a ship. We are compelled by the terms of this Bill to take goods from blacklegs who have put our own men out of a job. More than that, we are denied our legal right because we refuse to work with blacklegs, to the payment of strike benefit to which men in a perfectly legal dispute are entitled.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I may be dense, but if the King's English can be interpreted in any other way I do not know anything at all about the King's English. Further than that, Clause 2 legalises the black-leg. A member of a union has joined it with his eyes open, and accepted the rules and conditions that the principle of the union is to act collectively in all matters appertaining to hours, wages, and conditions of labour. The only way to get this is to negotiate with the employers. If the employers refuse to negotiate there is the weapon of the strike. We are told by this Clause that if a man defies his union, if he rats, and breaks away from them, he is to be retained as a member and to receive compensation from the funds which is denied to a man who has entered into a legitimate and legal strike. Does the right hon. Gentleman imagine that any Act you can place on the Statute Book would compel any ordinary human being to accept such a condition? I am considered one of the mildest-mannered revolutionaries, but even I, under such conditions, would absolutely refuse to obey any Act of Parliament which laid down these conditions. We have heard the minority movement denounced over and over again. The right hon. Gentleman is creating a minority movement 1504 inside the trade unions. Further than that, he is protecting the Communist minority. It may interest him if I tell him an incident which has happened. Trade unions, my own included, have taken action. They are suspending a man who had joined a minority movement, and broken the rules of the union. Even to-day that is going on. This Bill fortifies these men. One of the unfortunate effects of the Bill is the lamentable ignorance of even an elementary knowledge of the inside working of a trade union. I will tell you how the Communists are protected by the Bill. You cannot deal with them. What is sauce for the blackleg goose is ditto for the Communist gander. If you cannot expel the man who breaks his contract with the union and defies the laws which he has himself accepted, it follows that you cannot expel the Communist who does the same thing. Yet that is what the right hon. Gentleman expects us to do in this Bill.
I will not deal with the other Clauses, because they have already been dealt with, except Clause 2.
May I take this opportunity of expressing an opinion which I have held ever since this question was mooted. It contains a principle which is a complete travesty, a complete revulsion—I was going to say a complete prostitution—of all Parliamentary procedure and precedents. As I understand legislation and the law, any Bill which is placed upon the Statute Book becomes obligatory upon all His Majesty's subjects, except in cases where provision is made for contracting out or by exemption. But now there is contracting in. That is what it sets up, in principle, if it established and applied generally: Supposing an Act is placed upon the Statute Book with which I do not agree, if it is necessary for me to signify my agreement with that Act by contracting in, then if I do not agree with an Act of Parliament it naturally and logically follows that if I do not contract in under the Act I do not agree with I can defy and ignore that Act altogether. Clause 4 of the Bill reminds me of the professor's logic that "The horse chestnut was a chestnut horse." This Bill, if it becomes an Act of Parliament—and I say it quite seriously and without any attempt at a threat—will not be obeyed 1505 by those for whom it is intended. It is impossible to obey it under the conditions which are laid down. Whether the employers are included or not, it is impossible to deal with the employer in the shape of a lock-out.
May I take the opportunity of giving an idea of the ramification of the Employers' Associations. Here is a chart, this large blue print, "Vicker's Maxim"—all these organisations, all these interesting surroundings, are managed from the centre, and each is a subsidiary of the centre. Fancy any man in any of these trades daring to assert himself, and daring to say that he is being unjustly treated. The word is passed round to everyone of these places and the centre as well, and the man has got to submit or starve. All they have to do is to shut down one of these departments and transfer the job to some other department. But worse still remains behind Here we have another amalgamation. Here we have Lord Buckley, formerly head of the firm of H. Seymour Berry, radiating from this centre again. Ships, ironstone mines, coal mines, steel works, branch railways, wagon building, cement works, and every conceivable trade you can mention, is managed from that particular centre. We have here the Allied and Associated Newspapers attached—North Wales and South Wales and London and all over the country, all of them feeding the centre and being part of the machinery. As far as lock-outs and employers are concerned, it does not matter a deuce whether employers are included or not.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I want to ask the hon. Gentleman if he can explain why it is, that in this great organisation the shares are only worth about 3s now?
§ Mr. SEXTON
I suppose the legal profession has got its slice out of that. I think, that on more mature consideration, the Government will see how entirely unworkable an Act of this character will be. There can be no strike, legal or illegal, under the present Bill. As I told you before, we are in the hands of the employers. Attacks have been made on my own union, and the union of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. W. Thorne), are carrying out efforts to deal with Communists and suspending those who are not carrying out their 1506 instructions. Now the branches are saying: "If this be the treatment we are going to get through trying to cleanse our union, then let the thing go and the worst come to the worst." In my opinion, the real spirit behind this Bill, the real source of all the mischief, is the political atmosphere of the Diehards. They are really responsible for this Bill, both politically and industrially. A good many of them consider that they have safe seats. The atmosphere surrounding them is not industrial. Therefore, they think that their own particular little circle is the whole world, and they form their opinions accordingly. If I may use an historic phrase, which was used at that Box many years ago, they believe that "the flowing tide" is with them. Let them make no mistake. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has doubts about the flowing tide. It is within the recollection of this House that he built unto himself an ark of the Covenant of Peace not very long ago, and we had some hopes that something would come of it. I want to say, quite frankly here to-day—I know opinions may differ on the question—that I sincerely believe that the right hon. Gentleman honestly desires to get peace. I believe that he has built his Ark of the Covenant because he really means well. Unfortunately, he has got a mixed crew. The old original crew was all right. They came up the legitimate gangway. But the crew is now a mixture of Diehard pierhead jumpers and sucking doves, deserters from the trade union movement. My sympathy goes out to him; I feel he is utterly disappointed on the job he has to do. He has got his doves in the trade union movement. They are now being sent out on an exploring expedition to see if there is any likelihood of the subsidence of the political waters. But history will repeat itself. They will come back like others have done, not with news of the subsidence, but as dirty ragtail doves, and because in the non-subsidence of the waters they found nowhere to rest their weary wings or feet. Eventually, the right hon. Gentleman will find himself in the very unfortunate position of being stranded on the top of a, political Ararat marooned, amid the joyous acclamations of the industrial classes of this country, 1507 who will be working out their own emancipation.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
I am sure that the whole House listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, though I am not certain whether we were all able to follow him in his pictorial illustrations of the theme or the maritime metaphores he gave us at the close of his peroration. The hon. Gentleman is a veteran in the trade union movement, a man who is highly esteemed and respected, not merely in this House but in the great union to which he belongs. Men of all classes have held him in the greatest possible respect through a long period of years. I felt that he dealt with a large number of Committee points in the course of his speech rather than with the general principles of the Bill, and I hope be will forgive me if I do not proceed to take these points up, because, in effect, it would resolve itself into a series of speeches on individual Clauses which I do not think, at this stage of the discussion, should be entered into. On one general matter which he raised, I entirely agree with him, and have done so ever since this Bill was published. I think that this Bill ought to deal, not merely with strikes but with lock-outs, and that the employers should be put into exactly the same position as the workman. I am certain that I am not only expressing my own personal views, but I am stating the opinion which is held by 99 per cent. of the party to which I belong since the Bill was published. I understand and appreciate the attitude taken up by hon. Members like the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton), who has put the trade union point of view. We must all appreciate the fact that any trade union leader must naturally show hostility to this Bill. It makes modifications in privileges which have been long enjoyed by trade unions, and it proceeds to curb certain powers which they have used now for many years. Therefore, it is perfectly natural that there should be considerable opposition to the Bill from the Benches opposite. But I fail to understand the position in which the Liberal party puts itself to-day. I am sorry to speak at a time when the Liberal Benches are so empty, but, as there are not many opportunities for speaking during a De- 1508 bate of this kind, I must say what I have to say on the present occasion. The Liberal party, it must be remembered, on the question of the general strike, which is the main cause of this Bill, took up—
§ Sir R. HORNE
I am addressing myself mainly to the Liberal party now The Liberal party put itself absolutely in line with the Government in connection with the general strike, both in denouncing its inception and in voicing the general view that it was a great error and an attack upon the community. No one expressed that point of view with more accuracy of language than Lord Oxford and Asquith, and I hope the House will forgive me if, for reasons of greater accuracy, I quote the exact words which he used:The general strike attacks some of the root principles of Liberalism: the supremacy of Parliament, the freedom of the Press, the right of the individual man to carry on his own work, the protection of the elementary liberties of the whole community against an organised invasion of a self-established dictatorship. It was, in fact, a war against society.That was the view which was uttered at the time by the distinguished statesman who was then the leader of an undivided Liberal party. The right hon. Gentleman who now leads the Liberal party in this House, although his language gave some cause for anxiety to his friends in the course of the strike, declared after it was over, in unequivocal terms, that the country had had to organise itself to defeat the stranglehold of the general strike. That was the expression used by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). Of the word "stranglehold" I have a perfect recollection. Taking these two statements, it seems to me to be reasonable to suppose that the party which took that course of action in the General Strike should seek to do everything in its power now to make the possibility of a recurrence of such events entirely remote. One would have supposed that it was reasonable to expect, after all the disasters which the country suffered and the enormous waste of material wealth, that we should have had the complete support of the Liberal party in introducing this Measure. A stranglehold is a very awkward and uncomfortable thing, and I should have imagined 1509 the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs would have given his adhesion to the principles which this Bill enunciates.
There was another very distinguished member of the Liberal party who made two notable speeches, which no one who heard them in this House can ever forget. I think it would not be an exaggeration to say that of all the influences which finally led to the Trade Union Council of this country seeing the error into which they had plunged, the most potent were the two speeches delivered by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon). What did he say in those two speeches? He said that the general strike which we were then in was illegal. He said that the people who had instigated it, who had connived at it and taken part in it had deprived themselves of immunity for their acts which the Trade Disputes Act would otherwise have given them. He said, further, that any man who refused to take part in that strike, and had thus disobeyed the orders of the executive of his trade union, could not be deprived of any trade union benefits, and that his position would be defended by any Court of Law in the kingdom.
Those were the principles enunciated by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Those are the first two Clauses of this Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I do not wish to spend time by reading them. I say, those are the first two Clauses of this Bill, and I feel sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree. He may object to the definition which is given of a general strike; he may say that the Clause is badly drafted, but he is tied by his three declarations: that the kind of thing, however you define it, which we had last year was illegal; that the people who took part in that kind of thing or connived at it had no immunity under the ordinary law of the land, and that the man who refused to take part in such a thing could not be deprived of his trade union benefit. Those declarations are precisely what we mean in this Bill, whether it is badly defined in the Bill or not, and, looking at the solemn warning which the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave to the House and the country at the time, looking at the great service which he rendered in mitigating the prolongation of the strike, I say that 1510 we are entitled to ask him to support the principles of this Bill on Second Reading, which is all we ask at the present time, and to give the country the aid of his very powerful influence in putting these Clauses into such a shape as will make them agreeable to what he considers to be the proper principles to be applied.
The right hon. and learned Member went much further, and again I hope the House will forgive me if I refer to the precise language which he used. It may be that there are a number of Liberals who wish to avoid supporting this Bill upon the weak subterfuge—I can call it nothing less—that this is not the proper time to introduce such a Bill. Whatever other Members of the Liberal party may think, the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley has deprived himself of that particular kind of escape. He indicated—he more than indicated, he declared it to be his view—that the general strike had arisen not so much out of malevolence as out of a confusion in people's minds. Does not that confusion still exist? I think if the right hon. and learned Member listened to the confused noises in the House last night when reference was made to Mr. Justice Astbury's judgment—a judgment which he strongly supported—it must have been obvious to him that the confusion to-day is just as great as it was last year, and that it is as necessary to make the position plain in order that the ordinary person may understand it. If it was necessary last year for him to announce to the country what the real truth was, that explanation and that clarity are just as necessary to-day as they were then. He explained his point of view then. He said:It would be lamentable if the working classes of this country go on with this business, without understanding that they are taking part in an utterly illegal proceeding.If we do not pass this Bill, it is perfectly certain that the working classes of this country will go on without proper understanding, and they will suppose that, in fact, these lamentable proceedings are proceedings which can be justified by the Opposition in Parliament. The lamentable condition of mind of the working classes of this country in this respect was repeated by a 1511 distinguished Member who sits opposite and who solemnly asseverated, yesterday, that the general strike was not illegal at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] That opinion gets support from hon. Members above the Gangway opposite, so that it makes it all the more necessary for the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley, believing what he does, knowing full well that in law and in his opinion it was illegal, and that this Bill seeks to declare nothing more in principle than the very thing which he himself enunciated, should give his support to this Bill and help to pass it into law. I should like to make one more quotation from his speech. He said:When this disturbance is over and when Parliament resumes its normal function, it will he very necessary to appreciate that this general strike is not a strike at all.How does Parliament show its appreciation of a point of view? The only way that Parliament can do that is by making a declaration of what the law is, and it is that very declaration, supporting what was laid down by the right hon. and learned Member himself last year, that this Bill seeks to make. There are those, as we all know, who say that the time is not opportune. When would be a better time? Would it be at a time when trade is worse and when the relations between employers and workmen are worse than they are to-day. Would it not then be said that it was only adding fuel to the fire of controversy? On the other hand, if we were to wait for the time when conditions are better, would it not then be said that we were raising an old controversy and hurting the conditions of prosperity which were active and in operation? The fact is, that to people who are timid in taking decisions, it is never the time to take action. If it be said, as it was suggested in the letter of Lord Grey, that this is likely to stir up some enmity of feeling between the people who are engaged on the two sides of industry in this country, I reply that to leave conditions as they are is more likely to keep alive trouble.
As has been shown by the speeches of the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) and the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), which were quoted yesterday, and we know it also from meetings of the Trade Union Congress, 1512 where controversy has taken place upon these matters, there are elements, recognised by the trade union leaders as in their midst, which are inimical to the stability of society and are seeking for means not only to ruin the trade union movement, as we know it, but also to ruin the permanent interests of this country. So long as it is believed or allowed to be believed that a general strike is a legal operation, which can be taken by any kind of people who have the means to support and initiate it, the words of Shakespeare will apply:How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds, Makes ill deeds done.In my view, to leave things as they are is, in a measure, to condone the events of last year, and a further temptation to those who desire to see them repeated. I turn to the remark made yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Opposition at the moment; that it was not the events of last year which had brought about this legislation indicating that there have been previous Bills suggested by Conservative Members of this House. He said that this was a proof of the fact that this legislation had been intended all along. The right hon. Gentleman is generally very fair, but I think he was doing less than justice on that occasion to the Prime Minister.
It is perfectly true that Bills have been presented to this House from the back benches of this party, but the right hon. Gentleman will remember what I think is the most dramatic scene in this House since I have been a Member, the occasion when a Bill dealing with the political levy was presented by the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten). The speech of the Prime Minister on that occasion required great courage. It also showed the deep humanity of the Prime Minister when he rejected an opportunity of passing that Measure and preferred to try and deal with this question in the most peaceful method possible. [An HON. MEMBER: "He has not done it!"] His view prevailed. He asked for a condition of peace, so that the country might have an opportunity of recovering. What was the reply to the Prime Minister's appeal? The hon. Member who has just sat down said that the Prime Minister had been forced to take up this attitude by the back benchers of his own party, but 1513 the thing that forced him into this legislation, which he had adopted most reluctantly, was the General Strike.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I am dealing with the general strike of last year, and hon Members opposite will appreciate my point, which is that it was the general strike that persuaded the Prime Minister, very reluctantly, to bring in legislation of this kind in order that the country might be freed from a menace to its existence and the citizens safeguarded in their common liberties. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman who loads the Opposition at the present time went on to say that this Bill is really an attempt to render trade unions impotent. Other phrases of a much stronger character have been used in the country, but I will take the mild phrase used by the right hon. Gentleman in order to examine the truth of this charge. What are the objects of trade unions? I cannot do better than take them from the definition given of trade unions in the Act of 1913. It says that a trade union meansany combination, whether temporary or permanent, the principal objects of which are under its constitution statutory objects.And it proceeds to define what are the "statutory objects." It says the statutory objects are:the regulation of the relations between workmen and masters, or between workmen and workmen, or between masters and masters, or the imposing of restrictive conditions on the conduct of any trade or business, and also the provision of benefits to members.I want to ask in what respect is any one of these objects menaced by this Bill? There is not one, and so far from this Bill being an attack upon trade unions, so far from it being an attempt to render them impotent, it leaves trade unions with a power which no other organisation throughout the whole civilised world enjoys. [Interruption.] Is it not a fact that the Trade Disputes Act does confer on trade unions the right of complete freedom from any action brought against them, and the officials of a trade union who procure breaches of contract a freedom from liability for these offences. So far as that right is given by the Trade Disputes Act of 1906, it entirely remains to every single trade union in this country. [HON. MEM- 1514 BERS: "No!"] The only curb upon them is when they take part in a thing which is known now to be absolutely illegal—namely, a general strike. [Interruption.] There is not a word in this Bill which takes away from any trade union that immunity which it has enjoyed for all these years, unless it does a thing which it has never done before, and which I hope it will never do again—namely, enter into a general strike.
How can it be said that a Measure which leaves these powers to the trade unions can be any attack upon them, or attributes a desire on the part of the Government to render them impotent? In fact, there is nothing taken away which falls within the ordinary province of trade union operations. Reference has been made to the sympathetic strike, and I hope the House understands by this time that in no case is the sympathetic strike struck at by this Bill, unless it becomes—[An HON. MEMBER "Read the Bill."] That is my interpretation of the Bill, and, if the hon. Member can show me afterwards during the Committee stage that something else is necessary to protect a sympathetic strike, I shall be willing to support it. As I read the Bill, in the shape in which I propose to vote for it, it does nothing to interfere with a sympathetic strike unless it becomes an attack on the community or an attempt to coerce the Government.
§ Sir R. HORNE
Again there is some argument as to a particular phrase, and if the hon. Member can show me that it is going to interfere with what is a real genuine sympathetic strike, and partakes in no way of the character of a general strike, he will have my support.
§ Sir R. HORNE
There might come a day when the hon. Member might want my support. In the meantime my duty as a Member of Parliament representing my constituency is to express my views about this Bill. There are only two points in which trade unions can claim to be seriously affected. They are in connection with the two subjects of intimidation and the political levy. I do not propose to take up any time in arguing these matters, because there are many 1515 hon. Members who wish to speak. But let me say this, that so far as the Clauses with regard to intimidation are concerned I do not think any reasonable person can disagree with the general proposal of the Bill, which is to prevent such scenes of violence and terrorism as were common throughout the country during last year. We have been using for years now such phrases as "peaceful picketing" and "peaceful persuasion," but the picketing, as every hon. Member opposite is well aware and will acknowledge in a calm and quiet moment, is seldom peaceful, and in many cases the persuasion becomes of the most violent character. I do not propose to read any illustrations of it from the news of last year, but the "Daily Herald" gave accounts of what took place in many districts, and I shall be prepared to quote them in support of my view on the proper occasion. I say now without fear of contradiction that the scenes which took place last year during the course of the mining stoppage were really a complete blow at liberty and a disgrace to any civilised country. That is the kind of thing we desire to wipe out of the body politic, and is anybody going to tell me that the trade unions of this country are going to be weakened and rendered impotent because terrorism is destroyed in this country?
The other question is that of the political levy. The history of this country politically, in connection with the franchise, has been that the open vote was done away with because it was thought people were intimidated by their neighbours into giving a vote which they would not otherwise have given. The secret ballot became a defence in this respect. The truth is it is realised as fundamental to a free constitution that every man must be at liberty to vote in complete freedom for whatever kind of government he wishes. If that is destroyed nothing is left. I heard an interjection this afternoon about the power of the majority, as if a majority has any sanctity in telling a man how he is to vote. Is it the view of hon. Members opposite that a trade union by a majority can tell one of its members whether he is to vote for one candidate or another? [Interruption.] That would be recognised as an interference with the liberty 1516 of the subject, but after you have balloted in secret to set up your political levy you then take upon yourselves the power of saying whether a man is going to subscribe or not.
§ Sir R. HORNE
That is exactly the kind of interjection I was waiting for, because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson) stated in 1913 that the trade unions demanded as a right that after a ballot had taken place and the political levy had been voted by a majority then everybody was bound to contribute. Is that the theory of the Labour party today? Let us take the case in which at the present time a member of a trade union can claim exemption from this levy. We propose in place of that provision to say that he shall only be bound to pay it if he declares his wish to do so. I want to know what is the objection, what is the opposition to that? The case put forward is that it is going to hurt the funds of trade unions. It can only hurt the funds of trade unions if fewer people offer to pay than have previously asked for exemption, and if that be so obviously the contribution at the present time is an unwilling one. Is the trade union movement going to go to the country and assert that they demand the right to take unwilling contributions from their members? That is an issue on which I shall be very glad to meet anybody in the country. Time has shown—the events of last year have shown—that the period has arrived when it is necessary, in the interests of the State, that the authority of Parliament should be vindicated and the liberty of the subject reasserted. For my part, on the provisions of this Bill, I am perfectly ready to maintain the case which the Government have made. Of this I have a profound conviction—and I am not ignorant of the working-class people—that the one section of the community who will be more grateful for this legislation than any other is the great mass of the members of trade unions.
§ Mr. GEORGE THORNE
I desire to take a small part in this discussion, if only because I represent an industrial 1517 constituency and live in an industrial area, and am therefore constantly and closely in contact with the men and women whose livelihood and welfare are most concerned in the provisions of the Bill. I approach it purely from one standpoint and my words will be few because I intend to respond to the request which has been made that speakers should be short as there are many who desire to take part. I address myself to this question from one standpoint only. To me, the supreme need in the world is international peace, and I believe the supreme need of this country is industrial peace, and I have come to the conclusion that we shall never maintain international peace unless we can secure industrial peace. Holding so strong a view I look at any measure which is introduced into this House from the standpoint of how it will affect peace in industry. I try, with as open a mind as I can, to look at this Measure and to see whether or not it will tend in the direction of that peace. It is only because in my view that instead of tending to peace it will tend to strife that my feelings compel me to vote against this Measure.
I believe there are conditions affecting trade unions and trade union law which might be well and reasonably faced, and I think ought to have been faced in that way. The difficulty is that they have been faced in the wrong way. If peace is to be secured in industry we must have the right atmosphere, and I submit with confidence that the Government could not have produced a worse atmosphere than it has produced by bringing forward this Bill. Other things might have been done to secure whatever good there may be in this Bill. The Government might have approached the moderates of the Labour party. There are moderates in the Labour party. The hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) in his speech said the only persons who had any enjoyment out of the present controversy were the persons belonging to the extreme parties on either side. I do not belong to either of those extremes. I do not find pleasure in this controversy. I am only facing it because I am trying to do my duty to my constituents. What I put before the House is that the Government in a difficult and complicated 1518 situation have failed to take the course which they might have taken, and which might possibly have produced some good in the particular direction for which they have expressed a desire. There are men in the Labour party who are moderate-minded, and it is to them I largely look for peace in industry. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) is one of them, and a few days before this Bill was produced he, in an interview, uttered these very significant words:The old policy of antagonism and fighting has failed. It has been disastrous. It holds out no possibilities of getting labour its just reward. Let employers and trade unions try if co-operation will not succeed where strife has failed.I regard those as very noble words, coming from a man who holds a great place in what is called the Labour party, and I submit that he and others like him might have been met and consulted on a matter of this kind before such a Bill was produced. I believe results would have followed. I regret that that course was not adopted but there was still another method, if this Government had been guided by a sincere desire to promote peace and not merely to take the partisan view. That other method was to submit the whole matter to an impartial committee. If they had done so I am satisfied no Bill of this character would have been produced. I should like to put a point of view which has not yet been expressed as I expected to hear it expressed from men on the opposite side of the House who are not extreme partisans. I have seen it expressed, most admirably in my view, by the leading morning journal in the district where I live, and I should like to read the words which they use:We are afraid it is impossible unreservedly to endorse the Home Secretary's suggestion that the real fight upon the Trades Disputes Bill is not between the Conservative party and trade unionists but between the revolutionary tail of trade unionism and the nation. It would be a very great mistake indeed to imagine that the Bill as it now stands is obnoxious only to extremists. It is not their opposition alone which Ministers have to encounter—it is the deep-rooted suspicion, mistrust, prejudice and loyalty of innumerable workers who do honestly fear lest the efficiency of their unions should be impaired, who do think that they see in the Bill a bias against trade unionism as such, who do bitterly resent it and who will be by no means easily persuaded of their mistake.1519 Men and women of that description up and down the country will want to know a great deal more about the meaning of this Bill before they assent to it. My own view is that it has been conceived in such a spirit and presented in such a form that it is impossible to remedy it or make it a workable Measure. I have no doubt attempts will be made to do so. My expectation is that those very attempts will only show that it is impossible to alter the framework of the Bill so as to make it of any real service. There is another aspect which I should like to present to the House, and that is the Bill as viewed from the standpoint of Liberals and Liberal trade unionists. A few days ago I had the privilege of meeting the Association of Liberal Trade Unionists in the Midlands. They discussed the Bill from their standpoint. They felt that there were certain modifications which were desirable provided that they could be secured in a way which made for peace and not for strife; but, having gone into the whole matter as fully and carefully as they could, they, as Liberal trade unionists, passed a unanimous resolution urging me to vote against the Bill. Only last Saturday the executive of the National Association of Liberal Trade Unionists met in London, and issued a manifesto in opposition to the Bill. In that manifesto they used significant words which I bring to the attention of the House. If those words had been listened to, I think some benefit might have resulted, and the important thing is that this manifesto does not refer to the things of the present moment, but quotes a letter which they themselves addressed to the Prime Minister before this Bill rceived its First Reading. They say:It seems to us that the avowed object of the Government could be best secured by an agreed settlement. Nor do we think that this would be so difficult of settlement as it at first sight might appear to be. If a special committee were set up on which the trade unions were adequately represented, there would be a spirit of frank discussion and a reasonable chance of reaching agreement which would be impossible in the clash of party warfare.The clash of party warfare has come by the introduction of this Bill as a partisan Measure, and the hopes of those who stood for peace, who longed for peace and who worked for peace in industry for many long years are shattered and dissipated by what I regard as the folly of 1520 this unhappy Measure. I would it were possible, even now, to appeal to the better sense of the Government and the party opposite to realise that what the country needs is peace, and that the country cannot get peace by this Measure. We have an indicaton of it, plain to everyone who has eyes to see and ears to hear. What would have happened, if by their action they had secured the moderate section of the Labour party, in some form, to ally with them to bring about some reasonable corcordat?
What do we see. We see on the Front Bench right hon. Gentlemen, to many of whom I have always looked with hope and confidence to take their part in bringing about a settled condition of peace in industry in this country. What have the Government done? Instead of drawing them in the direction of a peaceful arrangement, they have thrown them into the arms of the extremists. Hon. Gentlemen must be very blind if they do not see that that is exactly what has happened, to the sorrow and regret of those who desire a peaceful settlement. What has happened? From all of their moderate men—from the ex-Prime Minister and from his deputy—we have had this declaration, a solemn declaration made on behalf of their whole party and from which, therefore, they cannot go back now, that in the whole course of the two years which will intervene between now and the general election, they will occupy their time, their thought, their energy and influence, to create such an agitation in this country that this Bill, if passed into law, shall be afterwards repealed.
I, for one, look upon such a future as something well-nigh appalling. I do not believe in oscillation in politics, but you will always have it if the extreme diehards rouse the extreme Communists. I want to see the common-sense, hard headed, thoughtful and large-hearted men and women coming forward and taking their part and leading in a policy of peace in industry, which is the only hope for our land. It is because what might have been done has not been done, because an opportunity offered has been thrown away, because all peaceful overtures have been refused, and because war has been declared instead of peace, that I, for one, consider this Bill is not only a political 1521 blunder, but a political crime, and intend to oppose it will all the strength of which I am capable.
§ Sir LESLIE SCOTT
I understand, though I do not share, the view expressed by the last speaker, that this Bill might have been postponed in the interests of industrial peace. I believe that view is mistaken, but all of us who realise the object with which that view is expressed must, of course, sympathise with anyone who feels it as sincerely as the hon. Member evidently does. But I wonder whether the unanimous view of the Liberal party is wholly influenced by that sheer desire to promote the cause of industrial peace? We observe the Liberal party taking the unanimous line that the Government are to be opposed. I cannot distinguish in practice between the attitude of the last speaker, and those Reds into whose arms he suggests the Government are pushing every moderate man.
I desire, in the very few remarks I shall address to the House, to make a constructive suggestion for the consideration of the Government, and I only wish to preface that suggestion by a few preliminary remarks on the main features of the Bill. I am one of those who want to see high wages in industry and an improvement in the status of every working man. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why do you not show it!"] I have done my best to show it in such opportunities as I have had. I believe that, looking forward and taking a long view, this Bill is in the interests of those who want to achieve that end. I say that because I believe that the provisions of the Bill are just. It may be that in Committee criticisms and improvements in language may be possible. I have not in my experience in this House ever seen a Bill discussed on Second Reading which was incapable of improvement in Committee. But the opposition to this Bill is the opposition of a party that was pledged, before they had seen a line of it, to oppose it line by line. That type of opposition cannot be based on the conviction that the particular proposals of the Bill, which they had not seen, are unjust.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) that it is desirable to put employers and trade unions of employers for all pur- 1522 poses on the same footing as men and trade unions of men and I hope that will be done in Committee, but I cannot help thinking that the opposition to this Bill, in so far as it was not merely an opposition, decided on beforehand for tactical purposes of party, is based on a misconception as to what the provisions really mean and really effect. It is also, I think—and I ask hon. Members opposite to ask themselves this question—based on the presumption that because it comes from the Conservative party it is put forward in the interests of employers and not of the employés. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] The answer I have received to my suggestion is in the affirmative, and I ask therefore, for that very reason—because the Opposition says in answer to my question: "Frankly we suspect it because of its source"—that as fair-minded men hon. Members should consider the provisions of the Bill on its merits—[An HON. MEMBER: "And kill it!"]—and consider its provisions before they decide to kill it.
The question of the general strike position as I see it is this. I believe all the lawyers in this country—and I hope I speak not as a lawyer but as an ordinary man—take the view, which I believe the great majority of the people in this country who are not lawyers take, namely, that if there is a general strike of the kind broadly described in Clause 1 of the Bill, it is not a thing which ought to be permitted. Whether that is by law to-day legal or illegal, seems to me quite a minor question. Lawyers, frankly, are greatly divided about it, and to the lawyers in the House I am going to say nothing except this, that they will find a very interesting discussion on the subject in an article by Mr. Goodheart, the editor of the "Law Quarterly Review," and Lecturer in Law at Cambridge, who takes the view that the general strike, as things are, is not illegal. If that be so, and it may be so—I express no opinion—it is essential that we should by law declare that that kind of strike for the future shall be illegal. Again, I find myself in agreement with the right hon. Member for Hillhead on the subject of sympathetic strikes. In my view, no sympathetic strike, as such, ought to be illegal, and under this Bill none is made illegal. It is a very proper subject for discussion in Committee, and, to be per- 1523 fectly frank, if in Committee it becomes plain that the sympathetic strike for industrial purposes is made by the Bill illegal, let us put in words to make it clear that it shall not be so.
With these few preliminary remarks, I now come to the constructive proposal which I desire to put forward for the consideration of the Government. I ask the Government to consider it when we put Amendments down on the Paper in detailed form. It is this: We, all of us, of every party and of every shade of opinion, except revolutionaries, regard the necessity for a strike as deplorable, and would like to avoid strikes and lock-outs if we can. We are all agreed that the nation and those engaged in every industry all suffer, and suffer sometimes terribly, through lock-outs or strikes, through enforced stoppages of work. The right to strike, the right to cease work must be preserved, except in the entirely exceptional case in connection with the general strike where we have to deal with it in a very special way, but, broadly speaking, the right to strike must be preserved. My view, and it is a convinced view, is that trade unions have been a great blessing to this country, as a whole—not always, for they have sometimes done much harm, but on the balance they have been a blessing and are right—and we must preserve them. But can we not preserve all the rights for which trade unions exist and for which the right to strike is necessary, without the necessity always of a strike?
My belief is that a method of conciliation by a reference of the subject-matter of a dispute to an impartial body which shall investigate and make recommendations for a settlement, and publish the true facts about the lockout or the strike, is one which may prevent many strikes. I do not for a moment suggest that we should forbid a strike altogether. All I am suggesting is a method which will bring before the public the real merits of the case, so that public opinion can be brought to bear on the merits, and bring influence to bear on the side that ought to give way. That is a method which ought to be welcomed by all parties, both in politics and industry. The dominant consideration in the minds of most 1524 people to-day is, how are we to prevent the damage to the community that follows from great strikes? The Bill makes no provision for that. I suggest most earnestly to the Government that we should consider in Committee whether that is not possible. Take one or two facts about last year. I will quote them from an article in "The Banker" of October last, by the right hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham).The average loss of working time in the 21 years ended 31st December, 1913, was 8,737,000 days, compared with 27,761,000 days in the seven years ended 31st December, 1925.That is three times as many on the average, and last year the days lost were 162,784,000.
§ Sir L. SCOTT
Obviously, almost the whole. What the nation wants is to find an alternative remedy for such disputes which shall be less costly and saner than civil war in industry, and yet will give Labour the protection that Labour must have. I believe that that was partly the object of some of those who were anxious to have a secret ballot imposed by law. That is a method which I do not believe would work. I have said so in public, and I am glad to see that it is not suggested in this Bill. But the system of conciliation that I suggest is one that has actually been tried for 20 years in Canada, under the Act passed in 1907, called the Lemieux Act, and it has succeeded in Canada very remarkably—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]. Why should not we try it here? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am very glad to hear support for it from the Opposition Benches. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about your own benches?"] Our own benches are treating me with the courtesy of not interrupting at all.
Observe that I am not talking about compulsory arbitration. I do not believe that in this country compulsory arbitration is wanted by either side, and I do not believe that, with our psychology, it would work. Compulsory conciliation, by way of suspense for a short time of the right to strike is a very different proposition. May I ask the 1525 indulgence of the House while I make one or two quotations from articles written, some of them, by Members of the party opposite? Take that article from "The Banker," by the right hon. Member for Central Edinburgh, which contains the following:Some critics argue that the masses gain by this strife; but in employing an argument of that kind no knave ever sought so completely to deceive the people. On an analysis of the workers directly involved in disputes who accepted the terms specified in the period from 1910 to 1924, it is seen that in the overwhelming majority of cases there was victory for neither one side nor the other; the result was a compromise.He gives the figures, and then goes on:These figures make clear one or two facts of the greatest public importance today: (a) The community as a whole suffers terrible and, possibly, irreparable loss; (b) Neither employers nor workers win, since compromise eventually commands the field; (c) The friction adversely affects large numbers of allied trades; and (d) as we shall see, grave damage is done to all contructive effort to improve the standard of life.Let me take another. Do hon. Members opposite agree with these statements?In our case (that is Great Britain), trade unionism, being much older than in America, is more conservative, and its machinery is out of date in comparison with present-day environment and industrial evolution while the Americans have adapted themselves to the ever-changing conditions of industry. Though it may be considered heresy to say it in some quarters, it nevertheless requires to be said. British trade unionism will have to adapt itself to changed conditions. The sooner this phase of the position is recognised the better for all concerned, if we are to keep pace with changing conditions, to avoid industrial upheavals, and to give our country a chance to recover its industrial prestige.Do hon. Members opposite agree with that or not? Those are the words written to the "Liverpool Post" by the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton), who has addressed the House this afternoon, and I entirely agree with what he says, but mark what he does say. He says that trade unionism as a machine in this country is not perfect, and I would ask the Opposition to bear that in mind in considering this Bill upon its merits. Take another:The only consolation one can get from this calamity is the hope that it may teach the country a lesson. Unless something can be done to stop these industrial conflicts the doom of Britain as a commercial nation is certain. They are acts of national suicide. …Compulsory arbitration is not pos- 1526 sible until Labour is assured that it can rely on a fair hearing and a just verdict. …Meanwhile, for the protection of the community, some legal machinery ought to be set up for the impartial investigation of the facts of a dispute before it gets to the length of strike or lock-out. Public opinion"—That is the point I desire to emphasise—can exert a very powerful influence in the determination of an industrial dispute. At present it is ill-informed on the facts of a dispute. A preliminary investigation into the facts and a report on them by a court of investigation would enable public opinion to form an accurate judgment, and this would usually deter either party from causing a stoppage when the facts were obviously against them.That is the proposal that I desire to make in its essence, and the words I quote are the words of the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) in the "Daily Express" of 16th November last. Let me give another quotation:I would put a further question. While I know the strong opposition to compulsory arbitration, not only on the side of the workers themselves, but of employers as well (and any talk of compulsory arbitration by legislation would simply do harm and not good), I am equally certain that conciliation has not been given a fair chance.That is the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas). Take another. Mr. Arthur Pugh, Chairman of the General Council of the Trade Union Congress, writing in the "Express" of 19th November last, said:Another dispute of such magnitude and duration might destroy the possibility of our country recovering its former position as a great trading and industrial nation. Is there no way of avoiding a form of industrial warfare so inimical in its results, not only to those directly involved, but to the community as a whole?He goes on, further down:The adoption of reasonable methods of deciding industrial issues is necessary as much in the interests of the parties directly concerned in the conduct of industry as in those of the nation as a whole.I could go on quoting from the writings of Mr. Robert Williams and others, but I will content myself with saying that with all those statements I am in complete sympathy.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I really think the question of compulsory arbitration is beyond the scope of this Bill.
§ Sir L. SCOTT
I was saying that I do not suggest compulsory arbitration, 1527 but suggest that there is as a lacuna in this Bill which ought to be filled immediately and that we should incorporate in this Bill, as a very important contribution towards industrial peace, a system of conciliation on the broad lines of the Lemieux Act in Canada. I submit, subject to your ruling, Sir, that I am in order in asking for the Bill to be supplemented in order to make it a better Bill than it is, good as it already is. There is a very interesting fact about what took place in Canada. The Act in question was a Federal Act. The Privy Council held in 1925 that it was ineffective, ultra vires, as it is called, because it was a Federal Act and the subject ought to have been dealt with by provincial legislation. Consequently, it fell to the ground. What happened? The thing that happened was this, that the Labour party in Canada, the trade unions in Canada, asked for the reintroduction of legislation on identical lines at once in all the Provinces of Canada in order that the gap might at once be filled. My authority for saying that the anxiety was that of the Labour party in Canada is that of a very leading Canadian statesman, who was over here for the Imperial Conference, and who took a large part in the introduction of the original Bill.
What I suggest is that we should introduce in this Bill that great system of conciliation, in order that the facts may be made known through an impartial tribunal and published, so that the community at large may know the merits of the case, before a strike in essential services shall he proceeded with.
There are various Committee points which I should like to have made, but in view of the time I will leave them and content myself with saying this in conclusion. Where the proposals of a Bill are just, my experience is that opposition does not continue long after the Bill becomes law. I do not fear the opposition that we have seen to this Bill up to now, because I believe the proposals of the Bill are just, and for that reason I believe that this Bill will not retard. as the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. G. Thorne) suggested, but will promote, the cause of industrial peace.
§ Mr. ROSE
There was a placard posted on the walls of a dancing saloon in the Far West, which read: "Don't shoot the pianist. He is doing his best." I felt like that last night when the Attorney-General was propounding this remarkable Bill. I do not want my hon. Friends on this side to suppose that, because I am opposing this Bill, I propose to hold any brief for a general strike or any candle to the silly devils who promoted it, because I do not. Nor do I say that I am going to put in a plea for mass picketing, because I am not. My objection to this Bill is, perhaps with my usual recalcitrance, almost the same as my opposition to the attitude that my hon. Friends have taken up, that the Bill is based upon a policy of crude suppression, that it is utterly unconstructive, and that it is utterly useless. I do not like the attitude of my own party simply because it seems to be based upon crude denunciations and nothing else, and I realise that the right hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott) put in the only constructive proposal there has been so far.
Personally, I am not at all afraid to proclaim here what I have been asking and preaching for over 30 years. Ever since I learnt my lesson in the great engineering lock-out, I came to the conclusion that the strike was brutal and stupid, and that it got no whither, at any rate not to any place fit to go to. And when I come to look at the result of the strike, and study the history of the strike from ancient times, I think we may get some important information of what a strike is. I do not know whether anyone here remembers the story of the first strike recorded in history. It took place in a country called Egypt, which, I am given to understand, by the kind permission of the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Saklatvala), is still allowed to occupy a place on the map. It was in a brickfield and the strike occurred over straw. It lasted a long time, and was very bitterly contested. All that the brick masters got out of it was 10 plagues and a washout. The other people, the strikers, were awarded with 40 years in the wilderness, wherein they all died except, I believe, two, Joshua and Caleb—organising delegates or something of that sort. They were the only 1529 two who ever came to the milk and honey. The story of the first strike was the story of the last one, and, with unimportant modifications, all the strikes which have intervened between the first and the last and will probably be continued in the next.
The position that the Government have taken up in this matter is a sort of negation of the Prime Minister's attitude in 1925, when he prayed for peace in our time. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends think that any self-respecting Deity is going to confer the blessings of an industrial or any other sort of peace upon a contumacious generation like this, and that merely praying for peace is going to bring it about. I think one of the Apostles said that faith without works is dead. No one doubts the right hon. Gentleman's faith, but I am bound to doubt the efficacy of his works, at least judging from what has happened. The General Strike, upon which nearly all this Debate has hinged so far—
§ Mr. ROSE
I cannot imagine anybody taking the general strike as a basis for legislation. It was a senile decrepit when they wheeled it out of Eccleston Square in a bath-chair. It was dead in 24 hours, and it was nothing but a corpse when they paraded it for the rest of the week, and, to all intents and purposes, it has since been not only dead but damned. When I see a Government passing solemn legislation upon an episode like this in our industrial life, I marvel, and when I hear Members of my own party talking about that miserable fiasco as a dress rehearsal, as a precursor to something better and more conclusive which may happen some other time, I have no words. I cannot express the abounding, abiding joy it would give me to be able to tell some hon. and right hon. Members in this House, irrespective of party, exactly what I think about them. With fortitude and heroic self-abnegation, I resolutely deny myself the enjoyment of this innocent pleasure Not only am I deterred by the exercise of that gracious gift of self-restraint with which Providence has been pleased to endow me so richly, but by some consciousness of the painful inadequacy of 1530 my vocabulary. I have been contemplating approaching that historic and noble institution of philological research which is adjacent to His Majesty's Custom House—I refer to the classic academy of St. Billingsgate. I am aware, however, of the very austere limitations imposed upon our Debates, and in the circumstances I cannot say anything to those persons whom I would address except, "Come outside and hear what I will tell you there." But in the House we can only deal with the limited resources at our disposal.
It does seem to me that this Bill is not going to do anything Why introduce or pass a Measure which is going to do nothing? It is going to operate against something that cannot happen, and I do not know whether the Attorney-General has borne in mind that there are greater dangers than the general strike. In Bloomsbury there are some specimens in glass cases in the mummy department of the British Museum. How does he know there is not some latent malignity left in them? Supposing they were to come out in the middle of the night and float in their mouldy cerements into the Strand terrifying the Duke of Northumberland, and the editor of the "Morning Post"? It would be as sensible to legislate against a contingency of that kind as to legislate against any general strike, because one thing is certain—that the mass of the working men of this country will not have another one. If any hon. or right hon. Members on the other side of the House were to get about, not amongst the officials, but amongst the victims of the last, they would find that all this legislation we are passing now is aimed at a shadow. Besides, would this thing, if you pass it, even supposing you could operate it, which you never will, would it stop the general strike? It would not make it one atom more impossible than it is now, and all the Acts of Parliament you can pass will not make mass-picketing more illegal than it is to-day. You have ample law to-day to suppress any abuses of that kind, and you will have no more authority when you have passed this Bill.
Then why is this irritating Measure being brought into this House? It is absolutely impossible that it will he for the benefit of the down-trodden trade 1531 unionist who suffers from the tyranny of his officials and fellow-members. When I hear expressions of solicitude for the liberty of the British trade unionists, I feel that Parliamentary language is hopelessly inadequate. Just imagine the state of things when you have passed your Bill, supposing you pass it. What are you going to do, then? You cannot operate it. Every trade union I know to-day—and I know something about some of them, at all events; this card in my hand is my fiftieth annual contribution card, so perhaps more than any other Member of this House I can speak with a longer trade union certificate than anybody else. All the time, I have held that it was right and proper for trade unionists to be registered under the law, as most of them are to-day, and that they should conform to the conditions under which their unions were registered. We are all registered now. You are going to alter the law. What becomes of our registration? We have all to alter our rules to fit your law. Do you think we are going to do it? Do you imagine for a moment we shall do anything of the kind? We shall not do anything of the kind.
Anyhow, the great union, of which I have been a member for nearly 50 years, if my influence and my advice have anything to do with it, the Amalgamated Engineering Union will not alter its laws to suit you or anybody else. It would cost thousands of pounds to alter trade union law. You do not think it is a thing you can push through after a debate and a committee meeting or two. We have to hold preliminary meetings all over the world, and definite suggestions of those meetings have to be focussed at delegate meetings, which sometimes last four, five, and six weeks, and then there are all the trouble and all the labour. I suppose our strict duty as constitutional citizens would be, when you pass this Bill, to say, "Well, we do not like it, but as you have passed it, we will conform to it." That is where you put men whom I typify to-day, men who have always held certain views, particularly with regard to strikes and lock-outs, in the position of becoming rebels of the law, which we ought to respect, but we can- 1532 not, because you do not put it into respectable shape. When hon. Members on the other side of the House, Cabinet Ministers, great statesmen as they call them—I do not know why—prate about their solicitude for the liberties of trade unionists, it amazes me. There is one word and a short word, and I hope it is Parliamentary—cant. I am reminded of the popular ballad once written in reference to a gentleman of benign and pacific character in the East End. It goes something like this:And'e'll smash his missus too,E'll bash her black and blue,I think he does these things without a'knowing it.Because he's gentle as a doveAnd his heart is full of love,It's the funny little way he has of showing it.I suppose right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are right to dissemble their love, but I cannot see why they want to kick us downstairs. I object to this Bill because it offers no constructive alternative at all. I believe that it is directed against something that is most unlikely to happen. I believe it will be inoperative. I believe that the masses of the trade unionists of the country will disobey it if there is any attempt to operate it. May I, in conclusion, say a word to my Labour friends here? I do hope, above all things, that they will not forget the facts. In the House men of all parties are exhorting each other to face the facts, and they are all resolutely and unanimously turning their backs on them. I do not like the facts any better than any of my hon. Friends. Whether they evade them, or deny them, or hide them, they are facts. Six years ago there were between 7,000,000 and 8,000,000 organised workers in this country. At the end of 1924, according to the last official returns that we have, there were a little over 4,000,000, and everybody who knows anything about the working of trade unions knows that there must be considerably fewer than 4,000,000 workers organised to-day.
§ Mr. ROSE
I do not think so. However, suppose that we split the difference and say that there are 4,000,000 now. There are 16,000,000 wage earners and an occupied population of over 20,000,000 1533 in this island to-day. One in four of the wage and salary earners is a trade unionist. On what has the influence of trade unionism depended? Obviously not on numbers, but on the fact that it has secured, as employers all know, the best men, the healthiest men and the men of the best character and highest skill, with other industrial virtues in proportion. That is the strength of trade unionism to-day, not its numbers. Besides, numbers do not matter so much as perhaps the loss of moral force that there is. I mean that it has deteriorated. I do not think that any of my hon. Friends will deny that statement. These are facts that we have to face, and facts that the Government probably know better than we know, because they can get statistics that are not published to us. It seems to me that if the Government had gone the other way about this thing, if they had really wanted industrial peace and did not want more industrial strife, they would surely have framed this Measure with a regard to the feelings and the desires, never mind the political power, of these men who, after all, if a minority in the labour world, are at least the core and the strength of it. There is one other matter with which I want to deal, and here I quite disagree with most of my hon. Friends. There seems to be a terrible fear about the political levy, about contracting in being substituted for contracting out. It does not cause me one moment's alarm.
§ Mr. ROSE
When the Meysey-Thompson Bill was in Committee I was prepared to take it with both hands. It could not have hurt at all. Neither can this Bill. I am going to vote with my hon. Friends upon the Amendments to this Bill. Anyhow, I am not going to "rat" on my opinions. I suppose most of my hon. Friends will acquit me of any inclination in the direction of the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Spencer). There is this in it—most of us owe something, though not as much as the hon. Member for Broxtowe, to the political Labour movement, and those of us who try to keep something like a moral equilibrium know that there are things that a man cannot do with impunity and honour at the same time. I do not desire to pursue the hon. Member for Broxtowe, 1534 but I want to say to my hon. Friends here that I believe whole-heartedly, as I have preached and practised until my own brethren have hated me and called me traitor, in the doctrine of industrial arbitration. I have preached it in season and out of season, and I preach it to-night. I agree with what the hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool has said. I believe in beginning. I know that to push industrial arbitration on a nation like ours would be an absurdity, but I am sure that if voluntary arbitration were taken up by consent and loyally and honourably followed, in five years it would automatically become compulsory. That is what I believe, and I am quite capable of expressing that opinion here or anywhere else.
I condemn this Bill because it does not offer any constructive alternative, because its motive is obviously political, and partisan political at that. It does not seem to me to be right either in politics or in morals. If you had left us alone we could have corrected, as we were beginning to correct, many abuses. It is a pitiful thing to me that when sanity was beginning to grow and when the cancer was being cut out, this thing should have been sprung upon us. I do not agree with those of my hon. Friends who say that this Bill will throw us into the arms of Communism. Here is one who will not be thrown into the arms of Communism, though they can do what they like. We have to do all that we can to oppose the Bill. I hope that we shall oppose it by considered arguments and not by interruptions. When the Government have got the Bill on the Statute Book we shall probably go to them and ask "What are you going to do next?" That is when we shall begin to oppose this Measure.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
We have had a very interesting Debate. I did not hear the whole of the speech of the last speaker, and therefore I cannot deal with the various points that he raised. It has been said that this is an attack on, and will damage, trade unions. I would like to say this to the various leaders of the great trade unions, in this House and outside it, who form the Trade Unions Council: Do you think that any Government, Conservative or Liberal, can do as much harm to the trade union cause 1535 as you yourselves have done? In the general strike you practically bankrupted all the trade unions, and you did infinite damage, from which it will take the unions years to recover. You took away a great deal of the public sympathy that supported the unions up to that time. No Government and no Act of Parliament could do as much damage to the unions as was done on that occasion. I do not say that this Bill is entirely due to that, for I think that this Bill was ultimately inevitable, and I will say why. I think that the Liberal party has to some extent not gone into the proper confessional position with regard to the state of the law. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] If there is any question of preference on this side of the House I think that on the whole we Conservatives would prefer you gentlemen of the Labour party to those of the Liberal party, because most of you, if you are of English or Scottish race, have only to be scratched and one finds a thoroughly good citizen, whereas the Liberals are and have always been more or less anti-national.
It is the Liberal party that brought about the present situation. Consider the history of the 1906 Act. Up to 1899 there had been occasional actions for damages against trade unions. There was the Taff Vale decision in 1899. In regard to that decision the Conservative Government of the day thought it was unfair that trade unions should be liable for the torts or wrongs that their agents had committed, because they could not control their agents all over the country. They appointed the Dunedin Commission to investigate the position, but they went out of office before the framing of the Bill that followed upon that inquiry. The Liberal Government of the day brought in a Bill very much on the lines of the Dunedin Report, and then threw it overboard and accepted a Labour Bill, which the Labour party never expected would be accepted, and which the Liberal party never intended to become law. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] What was intended was this. Another place had kept the Liberal party out of office for over 20 years on the Home Rule issue. I think it was Thackeray who said there are only 25 Whigs in the country at one time and they feel that they ought always to 1536 be in office. To parody the words of Byron, "Hell hath no fury like a Whig out of office." They deliberately brought forward the Trade Disputes Bill of 1906 in full and perfect confidence that it would be rejected by the Second Chamber. [Interruption.] That was the intention. There is no doubt about it. It was a trick, a pure political trick. They put in that Bill a provision which will not be found in the jurisprudence of any other civilised country of the world. They put in that extraordinary Clause saying that a trade union, or their officials, might commit legal wrongs without being responsible in any Court of Law. They did great damage to the trade union movement when they gave them those extraordinary powers.
We can do no greater damage to an institution or an association of men than to give them complete irresponsibility, because immediately thereafter the most irresponsible man is apt to take the helm and proceed to rule the institution. That is exactly what happened The extremist or Communist element saw that trade unions had been given these extraordinary immunities, which had not existed in this country since the Reformation. It was what the old Church used to claim—that it was above the law of the land; we had the Reformation to correct that. With that 1906 Act we got the same principle introduced into industry, and then extremists gradually got more or less into the control of the trade unions and ultimately brought about the general strike of last year.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I will tell you the reason why. Though the unions were given that irresponsible power in 1906, the real reason why it did not carry more dire consequences than it has carried is that the mass of all classes in the community are decent, honest citizens, and even if you give them the power to commit wrongs they will not commit them. That is why not very much advantage of that power has been taken in industrial disputes. Of later years a totally different spirit has crept into the movement. The older trade unions used to have as their first rule that no politics were to be introduced into any discussion at a lodge, and a 1537 member who broke that rule was liable to be fined. That was a very sound position to take up, because I cannot imagine anything more likely to lead to a disruption of the real work of a trade union than for the members of the lodge to get into discussions on politics.
The 1906 Act also gave the power of mass picketing. That is a very bad thing, not alone for industry and the unions but also for the pickets, because it leads to strife with the police; and again and again I have seen a number of young fellows badly damaged as a result of mass picketing—young men who would not have dreamed of being with the crowd had it not been that they were encouraged by the 1906 Act. The Socialist-Communist movement, seeing that the trade unions were being relieved of all responsibility for any wrong they might commit, speedily proceeded to penetrate into their councils and endeavour to get control, and there is no doubt they have acquired a great deal of control in the unions and have begun to extract money from the trade unions' coffers for political purposes. That, however, was stopped by the Osborne Judgement. Again, in 1913, as a result of a bargain over the Ulster question, trade unionists got the 1913 Act. It was an entirely unjust proceeding to take the money of Conservative working men and apply it to other purposes. [Interruption.] It is no use to talk about majority rule. You have no more right to take a man's money for politics with which he does not agree than you have to take a man's money for a religion with which he does not agree.
§ Mr. CLYNES
Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend will allow me to put a question to him? Three or four times he has asserted that the law permits a trade union to commit legal wrongs. I would like him to explain how the law permits wrong doing, that is, a thing which is wrong in law? Is it not a fact that what the law permits is presumed to be right.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
No. The Act says that no trade union shall be liable to be sued for any tort committed. It says that there is a wrong, for a tort is a wrong. It is the legal word for wrong. The law presumes a wrong has 1538 been done, in fact, the Statute says a wrong has been done, but it says that that wrong shall have no remedy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it!"] I am just looking for the section. [Interruption.] Yes, this is a Liberal handbook.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
I must point out that there is nothing harmful or immoral in quoting from a Liberal publication.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Here is what the Act says:An action against a trade union, whether of workmen or masters, or against any members or officials thereof on behalf of themselves and all other members of the trade union in respect of any tortious act alleged to have been committed by or on behalf of the trade union shall not be entertained by any Court.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Yes, those are the exact words in the Section. That is a prima facie admission that a tort is alleged to have been committed. The law was made to say, "We do not care whether you have done a wrong or you have not done a wrong, there is not going to be a remedy." By passing legislation like that great harm was done. We gave them the same thing that the Devil gave Faust, the means of destruction and of bringing themselves into disrepute. It is far better that people should suffer for their wrongs than that they should be allowed to commit wrongs with impunity. The decent, law-abiding members of a trade union were deprived of the protection of the law. In former years, when any extreme course was suggested, gentlemen like the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) or the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) could say, "You cannot do that, you will come into conflict with the law." Now such a man has no shelter over his head. His scalp is exposed to the blows of the extremists, without the protection of any legal system. That is the ultimate thing that led to the general strike.
1539 The general strike is an old, old story. [Interruption.] In July, 1914, I was going down the Solent and a stockbroker's clerk aboard the ship told me that the general strike was coming on in September, 1914. He was busy selling, or rather his boss was selling, stocks to those who were in the know, with the intention of buying them back after the strike was proclaimed. He said it was all organised from Germany—just as the last general strike was organised from Russia. It was a very despicable thing the way in which the workers generally were rushed into the general strike. There was no consultation with them, they were just marched out, like conscripts, and most of the rank and file felt at the time that the Trade Union Congress had made perfect fools of them. At the time, no one was more frightened of the possible outcome of the general strike than the average trade union leader. He did not know what was going to happen, whether the country was going to be reduced to chaos or not. The leaders seemed to be dominated by the extremists. This Bill will help to rescue them from that position. It will restore to them their authority over their own union.
The House will remember that I said that the 1906 Act was deliberately framed without any intention that it should pass into law. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said with reference to the 1909 Budget, it was a trap set to catch the large rats, and it was large rats that fell into it. The Second Chamber would have done better to reject the Bill, because then we should not have had the general strike. It was the Nemesis of the 1906 Act which has brought about the downfall of the Liberal party arid had a great deal to do with the creation of the Labour party, because the extreme element were given the power to coerce men into joining the unions and to keep them in, whether they had wanted to join or not. I have sympathy with the hon. Member who said yesterday that trade union subscriptions provide for men of their class to come to Parliament, but I do not think it is right that any body of men should have the right to tax—for that is what it amounts to—something like 4,000,000 of their fellow citizens for political purposes. 1540 There is a great deal of money raised in that way. It is no use hon. Members opposite saying that we are the wealthy party. There are far wealthier parties than the parties on this side. The trade unions have a right to levy taxation on 4,000,000 of their fellow citizens. What use is it to them? The Labour party is the richest party, and one of the explanations of their enthusiasm for public life is that the Members of the Labour party can go anywhere about the country—I do not care whether they represent a parish council, a borough council or a county council—because the Labour party is generous enough to pay—
§ Miss WILKINSON
Has the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire a right, to say in this House something that is absolutely untrue, and which he knows is untrue?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
An hon. Member may say something which other hon. Members think is untrue, but whether the hon. Member himself considers it is untrue I have no means of knowing.
§ Miss WILKINSON
There are hon. Members sitting on these benches who have never yet had a penny out of trade union funds.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
There was the case of a member of a co-operative society some time ago who complained that a certain amount of their funds was spent in politics. He consulted me and I advised him to get an injunction against the co-operative society. Afterwards the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) was consulted and he stated that if the rules were altered in a certain way it would be competent for this co-operative society to subscribe to the Labour party. I advised that it would be best to get the injunction at once, and I got it right away. The members then refused to alter the rules so as to permit subscribing to the Labour party. They defeated the politicians. My point is that if any working man is going to have his money used for 1541 political purposes, it should be done with his deliberate consent, and not simply by the vote of any majority.
§ Mr. THURTLE
Will the hon. Member apply the same principles to the shareholders in limited liability companies when the directors adopt a policy with which the shareholders do not agree?
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Limited liability companies have no right to subscribe in that way, and any one can stop them doing it. It is perfectly well known that in the case of a limited liability company the directors have to act strictly within the charter of the company or they will be liable to be surcharged. A limited liability company has to appoint an auditor whose business it is to see that no money is spent outside the limits of the charter. There is no corresponding provision in trade union law, and that is a matter which ought to be attended to I hope it will be attended to by some future Government if not by the present Conservative Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Federation of British Industries?"] I do not know anything about them.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
Surely the hon. and learned Member is aware that the Federation of British Industries has its own Parliamentary Committee definitely dealing with political affairs.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
That may be quite true, but that does not permit the directors of a limited liability company to commit a malfeasance as regards their funds, and they have no right to do it. These are all points which require attention. The question of auditing should be looked into more closely because there is a great deal of uneasiness amongst vast masses of trade unionists that they are not getting justice in the matter of audits. I would like to point out that this Bill only deals with the powers of the Executive and that is a 1542 very different thing. When it is laid down that a limited liability company or a county council shall not do certain things, you are not then dealing with the rights of ordinary members. Under this Bill the rights of ordinary members of a trade union will be very much improved, and notwithstanding the information which has been given us that there are many hon. Members here who are not interested financially, there are others who are so interested, and my human sympathy is with them just as if I were in the same position myself. I do not expect any man to be a philosopher.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
Again I must ask the hon. Member for Silver-town not to continue his interruptions.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
With regard to the first Clause of this Bill, it is no use hon. Members trying to make our flesh creep by saying that all strikes will be stopped, because not even sympathetic strikes will be stopped. These arguments remind me of what happened when an Irishman saw a fight and he asked, "Is this a private fight, or can anyone else join in?"
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Nothing could be more foolish when a particular industry is out on strike that anybody else should have a sympathetic strike. The correct form is that which is adopted in the United States, where if some of the workers in an industry go on strike because they think they are being harshly 1543 or unjustly treated the others stay on their jobs and finance them, and that is a far wiser thing. The other point, about not compelling employers to employ only union men, I think is only fair, because taxpayers may or may not be members of a union, and it would be very unfair to pass Regulations to compel men to join unions. No one should be entitled to use public money to facilitate the carrying on of any particular institution. Among other objections, it has been stated by the hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser) that this Bill will lead trade unions into a great deal of litigation. I do not think that that is a reliable statement at all. It will lead many trade unions to be more careful in what they do, so as to avoid litigation, and, if it is going to have that effect, it simply means that they will have to be more watchful than they have been, so that the wrongs of the past will not be repeated. I maintain that the whole result of this Bill will be to strengthen the trade union movement, largely because it will keep it concentrated on the particular task for which trade unions are formed, namely, to improve working conditions and conditions as regards hours of labour. It will keep them from rushing out and spending their money on useless and idle strikes. After all, by far the best thing for a union is so to apply its money that it is in a strong financial position, when, instead of having a strike, it can go to the tyrannical or oppressive employer and say, "Look at the funds we have got; do you not think we are ready for it?" If, however, they waste their money in general strikes or in taking part in other people's quarrels, it weakens their position, so that they have no strength to conduct negotiations for the benefit of their members. I say that this Bill is going to assist the trade unions. It will have the desired effect of protecting them against a number of officials and so-called leaders who have extreme ideas; for an executive is not the institution itself, any more than a Government is the country or a county council is a county.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
Or perhaps I might say a donkey! I am perfectly certain that all rational men in the trade 1544 union movement are in favour of this Bill as a right and final deliverance, notwithstanding what the leaders may say. [Interruption.] I have had letters from members of trade unions supporting this Bill, and I have even had letters from one or two Communists saying that they have been refused exemption from payment of the political levy. This Bill, although it does not go all the length that it should—because I think the workers should be put on the same footing as all the rest of the community—does at least restore some of the liberties which were taken from the working man in the Act of 1906; and it will protect the country from savage attacks on it such as that of last year, and will restore the moral status of the workers, who will at least be within the protection of the Constitution, as they have not been since the year 1906.
§ Mr. SHORT
The speeches of the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) are usually entertaining, if not convincing, but on this occasion I cannot congratulate him on being either. I desire, at the outset of my remarks, to make some reference to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne), although he is not now in his place: I think that no man has had a more pernicious influence on the course of political and industrial events than the right hon. Gentleman. His speech to-night, like his previous utterances, has been of a most retrogressive character, and we find him, as usual, supporting every reactionary policy associated with the record of His Majesty's Government. He made some reference to the lock-out, and expressed his agreement and sympathy with the demand that has been made in some quarters for its incorporation in the provisions of this Bill. We have been told by the Attorney-General that this is not the method by which to deal with the lock-out, and that to include it would be of little value; but I must confess that the alternative proposal of the Attorney-General failed to convince me. I cannot bring myself to believe, and I doubt whether anyone on these benches can, that, even if the alternative were accepted, the present Government, or any Government constituted like it, would be likely to put into operation such a provision as the taking over of the works belonging to employers.
1545 The right hon. Gentleman made reference also to the general strike, and he was prepared to accept the interpretation of the law given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), reinforced, as he said it was, by the judgment of Mr. Justice Astbury. If that be the proper interpretation of the law, then the law as it stands is, I presume, quite ample and sufficient to deal with anything in the nature of a general strike that might occur, although the provisions of this Bill, in my judgment, are more likely to make a general strike in the future possible and probable than to prevent it. Then the right hon. Gentleman said that what we wanted was clarity. I listened to the long explanatory statement of the Attorney-General, reinforced by the speech of the Secretary of State for War, and I have yet to learn what is really meant, or what will be the final ramifications and the possible interpretations placed upon incidents that might be governed by Clause 1. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead talked about the objects of trade unions and read out what constituted, under the law, the objects of trade unions. It is of little use having objects if we have not the legal means or the power to enforce those objects, though the objects in themselves are legal; and it is clear that this Bill, if placed upon the Statute Book in its present form, will limit, harass and handicap trade unions in every possible direction. I think the opinion, valued though it may be, of the right hon. Gentleman will count for little when some of the rank and file, and, it may well be, some of our trade union officials, are taken before the Court arising out of incidents which might occur and which might be covered by the provisions of the Bill. I turn now to deal with the speech of the Secretary of State for War. He differed with my right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) because of a statement he made in connection with intimidation, but he did not accurately convey my right hon. Friend's statement. What he said was that there were thousands of supporters of the Labour party who were afraid to let anyone know they supported us because they were afraid of victimisation, and it is true. Through- 1546 out the constituency I represent there is this fear all the time, and there are men to-day who are victimised because of their political opinions.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the political levy. It is not a question whether it is right or wrong, but it is a question of the reversal of the law as it stands. I listened with some interest for the right hon. Gentleman to tell us in precise language the evidence upon which he and his Government justify a reversal of the law as laid down in the Act of 1913. He knew he was going to make his speech. But all he could do was to quote from his memory, and a very doubtful piece of evidence it was, judging from the comments that were made by men who knew on this side of the House of Commons. There is no doubt the introduction of this Bill is going to make our national life a regular cockpit of contention and conflict. I recall a speech delivered yesterday by the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Captain Macmillan), in which he questioned the psychological effect of the introduction of the Bill. There may be come very grave doubts as to the definition and meaning given to words and phrases used in the Bill, but there can be little doubt as to the ultimate effect upon the mind of the organised workers and the great masses of the working class. He seemed to think we must base the effect upon some hypothetical incidents of the future, as to what the Cabinet is likely to do in the way of legislation. We shall do nothing of the kind. People will draw their conclusions respecting this partisan legislation, this demonstration of class hostility from the record of the Government in the past. I have spoken to many intelligent men and women. They have not received the very best education. They have had an elementary board school education, but they can read with reflection, and they question the right of the Government to the title of Government. They look upon the Government as the representatives and the servants of a class. Never was it more demonstrated than during the tragic dispute of last year. Their economic position respecting wages, hours, etc., is due to their trade union effort, to their power of collective organisation and collective bargaining. They know they have been divorced from 1547 the land. They know they have no ownership of land or control of tools. You may say this Bill only deals with a general strike. You may tell them that is all wrong, that it is a false definition and a false meaning to give, but they believe that what you want to do, just as you have divorced them from the ownership of land and the means of production, is to own them body and soul. You want to make it impossible to withdraw their labour power, the only power they have to sell, the only asset associated with their economic and industrial life. We have no faith in what you will do in future so far as progress is concerned. The Prime Minister's intentions might have been good when he started, but he has lost his way in the undergrowth and jungle of conflict of ideas, of financial intrigue, of antagonism to the working class and working class interests, within his own party. This Bill is one more demonstration of the reactionary policy that the Government has hitherto followed.
It is suggested that Clause 1 deals only with the general strike, and the Attorney-General dismissed it almost in a phrase. He told us in a few words what he considered to be an illegal strike, but he did not explain a single word. He did not attempt to give a legal definition. He did not suggest one example of what might arise in our industrial life. He never attempted to explain what was a trade or industry. He never stated what was the community or a substantial portion of the community. He never told us at what point the Government would be coerced or would consider that they were coerced, but he said this in another part of his speech which I will quote: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 the 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 what side of the line it falls.Lower down he went on to explain:Although it is not very easy, perhaps, to define in legal language what a general strike is."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May; col. 1323, Vol. 205.]I doubt whether he has defined in legal language what a general strike is 1548 under the provisions of Clause 1. He made it perfectly clear who was going to decide. He made it clear that he had armed himself with a provision whereby he could prejudice—I use the word advisedly—the position of the workers. When a strike takes place and he does not know on which side of the border it falls, he can go to the Courts for an injunction. It is a very useful provision. The case will not be decided as to legality or otherwise until later, but he will get his injunction. I have no doubt, speaking with all the weight of his office and all the authority of the Crown behind him, the Judges will hesitate—I do not depreciate their impartiality—but they will rightly hesitate to give him his injunction when a man of his standing representing the Crown comes along and says:I fear there is some likelihood of coercion of the Government or intimidation of the community or a substantial part of the community.It is a very useful weapon to have. I do not know whether it is not more useful than Clause 1, if it could stand upon its own. It is a wonderful instrument to hamper, to handicap, to harass, to prevent, to limit, not merely the right to strike but the possibility of a strike being successful. Reference was made, I think by the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord), to an example given in a little pamphlet written by a very able and distinguished solicitor who stated the case of a sympathetic strike and who seemed to think that that would be quite all right. All the railways could be stopped, all the trains held up and the community intimidated and no one would be coerced. I recall the industrial dispute of, I think 1919 or 1920, and one distinguished statesman, who usually sits on my left, said it was something in the nature of an anarchic conspiracy. An anarchic conspiracy will not, I presume, be the coercion of the Government or the intimidation of the public?
Every dispute in the mining industry has been designated by the Press that influences politicians and even Governments in these days as an act to coerce the Government into purchasing and nationalising the mines. [An HON. MEMBER: "And there will be lock-outs still!"] It is useless to try to dismiss the matter by saying, "We only propose 1549 to deal with the general strike." If that be so, make the position quite clear. You should say what you mean and say it in precise language which will leave no doubt in the minds of learned Judges. The learned Judges, so far as I understand them, will not consider the intentions of Parliament. It will be useless for learned counsel to say: "This is what Parliament intended to do." It is what the learned Judge says. It is his interpretation of the Act that stands. I pass from that to say a few words about intimidation. We had one of the greatest disputes last year, and although it may have engendered bitterness and hatred it was largely free from anything in the nature of violence. There was no great measure of intimidation, and either the Common Law or the Emergency Regulations were found quite capable of dealing with the situation. The provisions of this Bill go beyond all that. If there were a case for the reform of trade union law—and this creates a revolution in its legal status—this Bill goes beyond the dictates of reason or what national safety would warrant. Trade unions and trade unionists in these days do not resort, as is suggested, to this form of violent intimidation. But under this Bill if a man walking down the street passes another with a shrug of the shoulder and gives him an apprehension of fear, of boycott, of hatred, of ridicule and contempt, he would be taken before the magistrates. It seems to me, if I may say so with due deference and respect, contrary to all sense of justice and common sense. It is a reflection upon the law and a reflection upon the profession that these words should be included. I have more regard and respect for the common sense of my fellow men. I believe that we shall be much safer if we rely upon their judgment and their common sense, their civic sense, their desire to serve the community and to observe the amenities of the community, than if we resort to this very doubtful legal phraseology. This Bill takes us back to the attitude of mind of 1824—the attitude of mind of oppression, of fear. I think it was Lord Jeffrey who said some time about the year 1825:A single master was at liberty to turn off the whole of his workmen at once—100 or 1,000 in number—if they would not accept of the wages he chose to offer. But it was made an offence for the whole of the workmen to leave that master at once if 1550 he refused to give the wages they chose to require.Further, it is stated by the historian thatDuring the whole epoch of repression whilst thousands of young men suffered for the crime of combination, there is absolutely no case on record in which an employer was punished for the same offence.Under this Bill, in the case of every man who strikes, his act is doubtful. It is useless to try to dismiss it by merely saying that this Bill deals with the general strike while, on the other hand, employers can lock-out. We should have belief, we should have faith, in any suggestion of handling the lock-out if you had handled the lock-out by the coalowners. You let that go by. There was no coercion of the Government and no intimidation of the community, though thousands of people were starving and driven from one place to another. Though all that took place, you did not think, until you had introduced this Bill, until many of your own supporters and your own journalistic friends called attention to the absence of any reference to the lock-out of suggesting that you might take over the mines and work them for the benefit of the community. I cannot conceive of any strike or any magnitude which is likely to be successful, especially in the essential services, which might not reasonably call for the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General, and in saying that I would have him believe that I cast no reflection upon his judgment or his legal advice.
As to the suggestion about the political boycott, if we are able to boycott members of our own organisation who do not claim exemption, shall we not be capable of boycotting them if they refuse to sign the form. Was there any greater absurdity? I do not claim to know a great deal about the law—I will frankly admit that I am but a learner—but my word! I should hesitate to include items of this character in a Bill for which I was responsible. This Bill revolutionises without just cause; it destroys the immunity which we obtained and enjoyed under the Act of 1906 in many respects; it gives new power to the right hon. Gentleman; it revolutionises our legal status. It is not an honest or upright attempt to remedy grievances and redress wrongs which might naturally and 1551 rightly arise out of the law itself or its administration, but it is an act calculated—I will use one of the words of Clause 1—to do injury to the working class, to restrict their power and usefulness, and to restrict their opportunity of improving their standard of life. It is an act of class hostility. It is a demonstration that there is a war of some kind going on between the classes. This spirit which we find permeating the provisions of this Bill will permeate our domestic life. In every dispute it will find its way into the homes of those involved, whether they remain at work or not. It will do nothing to uplift or improve the collective life of the nation, but it will do everything to lower and destroy it.
§ Captain FRASER
The hon. Member who has just sat down referred to the admirable speech of the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) and pointed out that the right hon. Gentleman had said that the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) had declared that, in his opinion, the strike which took place last May was illegal. "Then," said the hon. Member, "if that be so, why do we need this Bill?" He has forgotten that there is a difference of opinion about that matter, and that the hon. and learned Member who advises the Labour party is one of those who thinks that the general strike which took place last May was perfectly legal. In these circumstances, and with that difference of opinion, there is surely every argument in favour of declaring the law at the present time. The hon. Member argued, and this was perhaps his principal argument, based still upon the remarks of the right hon. Member for Hillhead, that the objects of trade unions might well have been left to them unimpaired, but that they were to have taken away from them the powers which they required to carry out and make those objects successful. If one of the powers which they require to make their objects successful is the form of intimidation which is to be prevented by this Bill, it would be as well that the hon. Member should say so. I doubt if there is any hon. Member who would say that it is necessary in order to carry out the legitimate objects of trade unions that people should be intimidated, either physically or mentally. I doubt if there 1552 is anyone who would say that it is necessary to leave it open to pickets to attend in such numbers as they may please and to cause such fear as they conceivably can, without actually injuring people physically, in order to carry out their objects and make a strike effective.
The principal matter to which I desire to call attention is one which I do not think has been referred to from quite the angle from which I am going to approach it. There seems to be a very distinct and definite difference of opinion as to whether or not a sympathetic strike is ruled out by this Bill. I want to examine precisely what Clause I conveys to me, and what I believe to be its import. Undoubtedly, in my view, as at present drafted it will prevent sympathetic strikes of a certain kind. It will prevent a sympathetic strike which is large enough to coerce the Government or to intimidate the community. Any sympathetic strike of the kind to which we have become accustomed will be as large as that. Anything in the nature of the triple alliance effort of some years ago or anything of the nature of the general strike of last year would be large enough to intimidate the community, or a substantial portion of it, and such a strike, whether it had a political object or not, would, in my opinion, come under the ban. I am not one of those who think that the Government or any Conservative speaker defending this Bill should apologise for their position. It is perfectly justifiable, and precisely what we set out to do. My reason for saying that is that a sympathetic strike of such a widespread character that it intimidates any substantial portion of the community has been shown by experience to be detrimental not merely to the community as a whole but to the men whom the strike was supposed to serve. I do not believe that there can be shown to have been any sympathetic strike in recent years in which the benefits sought to be secured by the original strikers were more rapidly secured or secured in larger amounts on account of sympathetic action. Who can show that the railwaymen have by sympathetic action ever helped the coal miners? I deny that in any efforts made to hold up the community and to bring indirect pressure to bear upon the coal-owners real good has been done to the coal miners. On the contrary, to take 1553 as an example what happened last May, the effect of the railwaymen's example was not to help the miners but to render the consumers in this country less able to return rapidly to a state of full consumption, which was to render industry in this country less capable of that quick recovery which would have meant a quicker recovery in the mines themselves. I believe it to be a fact that any sympathetic strike of the dimensions which would come under the ban of this Bill would, in effect, be aimed at the community and would be an intimidation of the community, and in these circumstances it is perfectly proper to try to deal with it in a form which will prevent any such occurrence.
There are many critics of the Bill who say, "We agree that the general strike should be prevented, but this Clause goes very much further." But there is not one of them who has suggested a Clause which will prevent a general strike and would not go so far. It would be exceedingly difficult to find any other words or any other method with which to achieve the object which the Government have declared they desired to achieve, and which the leaders of all parties have agreed should be achieved, without going as far as Clause 1. May I take an illustration from the remarks of the right hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson)? He harrowed the House with the details of the transactions of certain employers, whose names he did not mention, who had made it exceedingly difficult, apparently, for a small number of men—shipwrights—in some seaport town to find employment. One must gather that secret correspondence had passed between employers in this industry throughout the land urging that none of these men should be given employment. The question whether these employers were acting properly or wisely is not relevant to the present discussion; but I want to emphasise this point, that the remedy which lay in the hands of these men many years ago is not taken away by this Bill.
The remedy these men had many years ago they still have, and nothing in this Bill takes away the men's power to deal with such situations. Because there is trouble in one place and a certain small number of shipwrights are being badly treated in the eyes of their union, there was nothing whatever at the time, and 1554 there is nothing at the present time, to prevent a sympathetic strike. There is nothing in this Bill which will prevent a sympathetic strike in all the places where such men are employed within that particular industry. There was the remedy. This matter was previously brought up in this House, and it illustrates the kind of sympathetic strike which would be permitted if this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament. The kind of sympathetic strike which is not permitted is a strike which is of such a character that it cannot be regarded merely as a dispute within the industry concerned, but which becomes a threat to the nation of the nature of the strike from which we suffered last year.
During the last week or two, there has been much campaigning on both sides of the House throughout the country, but for my part I have entirely failed to find among the rank and file I have met anything approaching the apparent or affected irritation, or the unity, which is evidenced in this House. I do not believe that the average trade unionist regards this Bill as an infringement of his liberties. It is an infringement of liberty, and there is no point in denying that. But whose liberty? Not the liberties of the men, but of the people who have misled them in the past, and who last year brought them into such a position that they were only extricated with the utmost difficulty. There is an interesting parallel between the attitude of hon. Members above the Gangway in this campaign and other campaigns which have preceded it. Before the trouble in China came to a head, and before the general strike of last year was effected, the leaders of the Labour party took the view that in the one case the action of the Government was right, that is in the case of China, and in the other case that the general strike was wrong.
Before this particular controversy became acute, we find responsible Labour leaders, one ofter another, affirming that a general strike would not take place again. In all these three case, before the actual time came for unity to arrive, the trade union leaders were taking one definite view, the view in the case of the general strike that it was wrong, in the case of China that the Government were right, and previous to this controversy that a general strike should be prevented from recurring. In each of these three cases you can follow precisely the same 1555 thing happening—a resemblance of unity is brought about by some mysterious means outside this House, and we are told that the whole Labour party is united. It is after the event, strangely enough, that the leaders begin to remark the position they occupied before. They did it after the general strike. They have ceased now to talk about the iniquity of sending troops to China, and I predict that when this Bill becomes law, after they have talked as much as they have about it, that the more reasonable and more responsible leaders of labour will find that they are the people who will benefit by this Measure, and if and when they come to office they more than any others will need to rely upon the safeguards which this Bill affords.
§ Mr. AMMON
I think it is time, in reply to the numerous claims which have been made from the other side of the House with regard to the obiter dicta of the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) that the general strike was illegal, that someone pointed to the fact that all the important law journals disagree entirely and absolutely with the right hon. and learned Gentleman and say that no such case as he made out can be substantiated. They take the view which the hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser) has expressed in this House. It may also be observed that if a general strike is already illegal there is no need to bring in this Bill; it can be dealt with under the law as it exists at present. If that be so, let the House be quite clear that all the misrepresentation and fear of a general strike are, after all, simply a smoke-screen behind which the Government are hiding in order to attack trade unions all along the line. If it was only the general strike, why bring in the political levy and all the other things mentioned in this Bill? Not one of them has any connection with a general strike, and it is undoubted that the intention and purpose of this Bill is to attack trade unionism. It is not often that I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes). In his speech yesterday, in his desire to observe the courtesies and amenities of this House, referring to the Attorney-General, he said,We may pardon a good deal of the endeavour of the right hon. and learned 1556 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May, 1927; col. 1343, Vol. 205.]I disagree with that entirely. I believe there is no Member on the other side of the House whose heart and head are more in this job than the Attorney-General. No one has been more vicious and vindictive in his attack on trade unionism. Again and again he has displayed a constitutional inability to argue a case fairly or even set out the facts accurately when dealing with the Labour party, Socialism and trade unionism. He has followed that line throughout. This Bill was born in spite and vindictiveness. The Attorney-General has stated in this House that he is afraid of the rising power of the Labour party, and fearful and frightened men do spiteful things. 'That expresses the mind and attitude of the Attorney-General in this particular matter. He is incapable of approaching this matter impartially or fairly. He has misquoted and misrepresented the intentions of his own Bill, and when he referred to the Act of 1913 he has either overlooked it or he has done something still worse, for a man in his position, he has shown himself incapable of becoming acquainted with the law. [Interruption.] Let hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite remember that the same right hon. and learned Gentleman led them into a mess over the question of the Irish deportees. He probably read the law in the same way then as he is reading it now; and he landed the Government of the day in for considerable damages and incidentally brought considerable grist to his own mill because he defended the case.
Not only does this Bill attack trade unions all along the line, but it will bring the law into disrepute and contempt with large masses of the people. I have taken the trouble to look up the Debate which took place when this proposition was before the House in 1906 and I find that the Solicitor-General of that day, the late Sir William Robson, pointed out that trade unionists when going before the Courts, as trade unionists, were going largely before prejudiced bodies and were not likely to receive fair consideration. I refer hon. Members to Hansard of 25th April, 1906, Column 1490, where they will find 1557 a statement by the late Solicitor-General in which he pointed out that legal people had their prejudices against trade unions and could not prevent their judgments being coloured by those prejudices. In this Bill it is going to be a thousand times worse, because in very few instances, except in regard to penalties, is the law defined. It is to be left to the lawyers to interpret it and it is to be left to the Attorney-General—in this case a prejudiced and biased person—to institute cases and he is bound to prejudice decisions in regard to them. Yesterday the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Mackinder) challenged the Attorney-General's statement with regard to the position of registered and unregistered trade unions under the Act of 1913 and pointed out that, contrary to what the Attorney-General said, unregistered trade unions when they desired to make a political fund had to seek registration and go to the Registrar-General. That is laid down in the 1913 Act and in order that it should be clear I will read that Section of the Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, the Attorney-General requires instruction. Section 4 of the Act refers to the setting up of political funds and it is as follows:(1) A ballot for the purposes of this Act shall be taken in accordance with rules of the union to be approved for the purpose whether the union is registered or not, by the Registrar of Friendly Societies, but the Registrar of Friendly Societies shall not approve any such rules unless he is satisfied that every member has an equal right, and, if reasonably possible, a fair opportunity of voting, and that the secrecy of the ballot is properly secured.(2) If the Registrar of Friendly Societies is satisfied, and certifies, that rules for the purpose of a ballot under this Act or rules made for other purposes of this Act which require approval by the Registrar, have been, approved by a mojority of members of a trade union, whether registered or not, voting for the purpose, or by a majority of delegates of such a trade union voting at a meeting called for the purpose, those rules shall have effect as rules of the union, notwithstanding that the provisions of the rules of the union as to the alteration of rules or the making of new rules have not been complied with.That is fairly definite, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman attempted to prejudice the House and prejudice opinion, by making out an entirely different view, namely, that non-registered societies do not reveal their funds and 1558 do not go to the Registrar-General for that purpose. This Act says that they must. The Union of Post Office workers to which I belong was an unregistered society, and I have here copies of the correspondence which passed between the Registrar-General and my own organisation making it necessary that we should be registered and that we should give an annual return—as we do—to the Registrar-General for that purpose. I have here a copy of the ballot paper, a certified copy of the result of the ballot, and the initialled correspondence. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has adopted the line of suppressing the facts, or only telling half truths, in a manner which does not reflect credit on himself and is not fair to the House. I come now to a matter with which I am more intimately concerned. That is Clause 5 of the Bill and in nothing was the Attorney-General more misleading than in his references to that particular Clause. He said:They (Civil Servants) 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, every one of us knows that such grievances are put forward from time to time. [Interruption.]The interruption was when I interjected that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was driving those Members out of the House, and he replied by saying—When I speak of somebody's Member of Parliament I mean the representative of his constituents. 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May, 1927; cols 1338–1339, Vol. 205.]I want to say, in the first instance, that I think there never was a greater number of misrepresentations, not to say false statements, in so few lines as there are in these lines, and I shall endeavour to show where they arise. What are the great benefits which the civil servant receives? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Platting pointed out yesterday, there are about 300,000 civil servants, and, of these, 225,000 receive less than £4 a week including bonus and 1559 all benefits, and 150,000 receive less than £3 a week, so that they are getting pretty heavy benefits at this particular time! They are pensioned at the end of their service, but, it is well to remember just now when the Industrial Court is sitting inquiring into their conditions that the Department is always careful to include pension in their remuneration, and it is always taken into the calculations when assessing that remuneration.
§ Mr. AMMON
The right hon. and learned Gentleman also says that civil servants, through the Whitley Councils, and arbitration agreements have unrivalled opportunities of submitting their grievances. I deny that absolutely. The Whitley Councils can be called together, but immediately the Department lodges an objection everything ends, and the Department, by their objection, can present a case going to arbitration. Only a week or two ago the Whitley Councils themselves asked the Prime Minister to receive a deputation in order that they might lay before him the failures and the weaknesses of the system, and the right hon. Gentleman refused to do so. The matter is still subject to correspondence. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about these "unrivalled opportunities," and he is going to cut off the only means of ventilating grievances which these organisations have through their Members in this House and through their association with the larger trade union movement outside. The extraordinary thing, however, is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman said it was open to any civil servant to put forward any grievance through his Member of Parliament. Does he know that it is contrary to regulation to do so in the Civil Service, and that it lays a man open to dismissal? I have here copies which have come to me quite recently—since the last General Election—of cases that have been reported to the Department of members of the Civil Service who have taken part in politics or in local organisations and who have approached Members of Parliament, and they have been dealt with summarily by the Department for doing that sort of thing.
1560 The right hon. Gentleman has the audacity to stand up in the House and say that they have that power. Why one of the reasons which in the first instance drew me out of the Service itself was because I refused to obey the law which prohibited me from expressing my political opinions. Because of that I had to choose either to remain in the Service or send in my resignation. No civil servant is allowed such expression within this Regulation or to have any alliance with any political party or to use any Member of Parliament. If he does it, he does it by running risks that are there under the Regulations. It is true it has been done but when this Bill is through the safeguard against victimisation for that will be removed and these people can be dealt without anybody raising a voice on their behalf either in the industrial movement or here. When I interrupted the right hon. Gentleman yesterday and told him he was driving those Members out of the House, he said he meant Members representing their constituents. He was wrong, because they could not go through their Members without running considerable danger of being dismissed. Again and again in my own position I received letters from members of my association saying that they desire to do this or that in politics and asking what their position is and I always have to tell them what are the Regulations of the Department and tell them that if they take such steps they do it at their own risk. This same thing was repeated by the Solicitor-General in a speech at Bristol on 28th April. He made the same statement, namely, that they had this right and he said that under the Bill a civil servant could be a member of a trade union and could even be chairman of his local Labour party. I have here copies of the Civil Service Regulations which prohibit any such thing and which have been enforced, particularly after a general election when defeated Tory candidates in constituencies where a Labour man was successful had written to the Department complaining about Post Office workers having taken part.
I want to ask one or two specific questions. This Clause says that an association of civil servants may not have any connection with any outside organisation which has for its object the influencing or affecting of the remuneration or con- 1561 ditions of employment of its members. What precisely does that mean? For instance, my own union is associated with an international postal organisation. They meet periodically to discuss the conditions of service in other services in the world, the condition of employment and so forth. They are mostly academic discussions, but it cannot be denied that the meetings are held with the idea of seeing whether there is anything advantageous in one service or another which could be with advantage represented at home. I think I have a right to claim the courtesy of the Attorney-General's attention in order to ash whether he is prepared to answer that question. Would that society be prohibited under the Clause?
§ Mr. AMMON
I thought the right hon. Gentleman's attention was otherwise occupied; I apologise. Would this Clause, for instance, prevent this association being allied with the Workers' Educational Association? It will be difficult indeed to draw a line and say where an association directly or indirectly affected the remuneration or conditions of work. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that it is only since trade unionists in the Post Office and the wider Civil Service have been allied to the larger and general trade union movement outside that they have had anything approaching decent conditions whatever. My mind goes back to a picture which appeared in "Punch" before that time, and where it was asked, "Why are pillar boxes painted red?" The answer given was, "Because they are blushing for the postmen's pay." They need to blush even at this day. It is only since that association with the wider movement and since we have been able to voice opinions in this House that there has been any consideration given to the claims of these people.
If this Bill is carried, it means that they will have no right of contact outside whatever, either on the industrial side or the political side, and, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman says, the regulations of the service will prevent them approaching Members of Parliament of any colour to ventilate grievances. With a Bill like this in operation and with a Government like 1562 this one, with the will to interpret it at its worst, heads of Departments and others will not be slow to give the very worst interpretation they possibly can to its language and a good deal of victimisation will take place. I have known—it was some time ago—men to be dismissed the service because they had taken part in politics and because they had openly allied themselves with one party or the other. They have done that and have been dismissed service for so doing, and they are still liable to dismissal under the regulations of the service, in spite of what the right hon. Gentleman says. The power that we have now was given to us under the régime of the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. It was given on the representation of Mr. Sidney Buxton, the then Postmaster-General. It was born out of considerable experience which they had had of the amount of time and wasted energy which took place in this House through the constant ventilation of grievances of civil servants and others. It was in 1906 that it was recognised that they should be allowed to associate with outside bodies. Postmaster-General after Postmaster-General, including some right hon. Gentlemen now on the Front Bench, have testified in this House to the loyalty of service given by all the Departments of the Civil Service. These, like other people, have divided loyalties, as we all have but civil servants have never abused that position. If you press this sort of thing you will raise such conditions as will upset that altogether. What has happened? The Leader of the Opposition has already indicated that if and when the present Opposition come into power, one of the first things they will do will be to repeal this Bill. I say that is a disastrous and bad state of affairs to have introduced into Civil Service life, because it is forcing civil servants into the position of saying that this party will treat them more fairly as against the other, which is specially legislating to keep them out of trade unions. Above all—and this is a most extraordinary thing which has never been done before—it is legislating to throw political opponents out of the House, for my hon. Friend the Member for East Bristol (Mr. W. Baker) and myself will probably have to resign our seats if this is carried, and 1563 this is the sort of thing that right hon. Gentlemen opposite flatter themselves is playing the game.
I would remind the House that attention has been called to the part that we played with regard to the general strike. We took no part in the general strike. We maintained a finer and better service than could have been done under other circumstances and for which we have received the commendation of the Department itself. By co-operation with them we were enabled to do it, but if you have chaos and ill-will, that sort of thing can never happen again. We have a right to contribute our money as we like to the maintenance and support of widows and children of miners. Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer has admitted that. At a deputation from a Civil Service organisation which came before him on the 1st March, he said people were entitled to give money out of their own pockets to relief funds. Then what is the occasion of quarrel with the civil servants? That is all they did, but this is simply an excuse for the party opposite to attack another section of the Labour party in an endeavour to beat their political opponents by unfair methods and to take advantage of their privileged position.
§ Mr. AMMON
If the hon. Member who interrupts me had listened he would have understood that I referred to myself as one of the sections whom the party opposite are trying to drive out of Parliament as representing civil servants in this House. Reference has been made, more than once or twice, to the statement of the Prime Minister some time ago when he prayed fervently that we might have peace in our time. I have been one of those who, at the risk of some misunderstanding by my friends, have always expressed my conviction that the Prime Minister was sincere with regard to that desire, but I am bound to say that we cannot believe that any longer, because what is the position? The right hon. 1564 Gentleman and his Government took definite sides with the mine-owners against the miners, and then, in order to divert attention from that, precipitated the General Strike, and they have sought by these means now to take advantage of their political opponents by unfair methods. I have been one of those who have worked in season and out of season—and nobody can deny it—in an endeavour to arrive, along proper, constitutional, ordered lines, both in the Civil Service and out of it, at a proper understanding and for a reasonable settlement and agreement of these difficulties, but I venture to say that the Government may win, and will win, a temporary victory with regard to this Bill, but they will sow such seeds of bitterness and hatred that they will not eradicate in this generation but which will grow up into a cleavage between sections of the community such as has never been known before, and men and women who have hitherto taken a different line and have tried hard to bring the two sides together will be compelled to throw in their lot with the other side and to say: "There is no honesty, no intention to do the right thing, but nothing but hatred, vindictiveness, and strife aimed at the Labour party because the working people of the country are at last coming into their own."
§ Mr. CADOGAN
It is my desire to answer the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), who has just announced that the Civil Service is a section of the Labour party, but before I do so I should like to make ore general observation. I understand that the more cautious advisers of the Government, in the first instance, were opposed to the introduction of this Bill, on the ground that it was a Measure peculiarly susceptible to the misrepresentation of the party opposite. I am glad that that consideration has never weighed at any time with the Prime Minister, for otherwise the output of legislation during the present Parliament would have been absolutely negligible. This Bill has been grossly misrepresented by the party opposite, even before it was printed, even before it was evolved from the minds of its promoters, and I have no hesitation in saying that, of all its Clauses, which are now available for proper investigation and discussion, none has been more 1565 misrepresented than Clause 5. It is for this reason, and also because I know there are a number of hon. Members opposite who are very anxious to take part in this Debate—and far be it from me to interrupt what hitherto has been a most convincing exposition of the futility and the artificiality of the opposition to this Bill—that I wish to confine my remarks mainly to Clause 5, and I have the less hesitation in taking the risk of taxing the patience of the House by discussing this Clause because for two Parliaments, one a very short one and one which, I hope, will be a very long one, I have served on the National Whitley Council, and, therefore, have had an opportunity of watching a movement in the Civil Service gaining ground which has influenced the Government, none too soon, in taking decisive action.
The hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser), the ex-Solicitor-General, earlier in the Debate intimated that those who supported the Government in their wise determination to obviate the danger of the Civil Service becoming affiliated to outside political bodies, adopted that attitude merely from base party motives. I think that is what he said, and, if so, surely it is just as legitimate to argue that those who defend affiliation of the Civil Service with outside bodies lay themselves open equally to that consideration. What more cogent argument could you have against affiliation than that you have got its supporters and opponents mutually accusing each other of playing the party game? What more valid argument could you have against affiliation than that you have got the two parties claiming the Civil Service as their peculiar protege? Let me assure the House at the outset that I should adopt the same attitude to this question whether I considered that affiliation of the Civil Service with outside bodies was likely to react favourably on the fortunes of my own party or on those of the party opposite. I am not so much concerned this evening with the history of those insidious attempts on the part of extremists to capture the Civil Service for a certain political party, or to antagonise them to the present regime or even to the Constitution itself. The Attorney-General has dealt with that particular side of the question. I am rather concerned to elicit an assurance from the Government that they intend 1566 to persevere in their intention to preserve the Civil Service from party predilections of any kind, and my task has been rendered easy in one respect.
If we could estimate the utterances of right hon. Members on the Front Bench opposite at their face value, I could only conclude that I have their unqualified support. I admit that it is not always advisable to estimate their utterances at their face value, for one very good reason, namely, that often successive utterances by the same right hon. Gentleman on the same subject are difficult to reconcile. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is not remarkable for his consistency—he is too susceptible to environment—but if words have any meaning at all, he, at any rate, should be with me in spirit to-night, if he is not with me in body. At a recent banquet of civil servants—and when I say "recent" I think it was in the last two or three years—the right hon. Gentleman went further than merely to define the whole duty of civil servants to the State. He even admonished them. These were his words on that occasion. He said:My friends"—I do not know if there is any sinister significance in his use of the personal pronoun, but I do not think so, because he went on to say:you know no Government; you only know the State.Imagine a body of men with these winged words in their ears going off and affiliating themselves with the Trade Union Congress.You know no Government; you only know the State.I could not put my case in a more succinct and comprehensive form. I think, then, I can rely without misgiving upon the support of the Leader of the Opposition, and I can rely with no misgiving upon the acquiescence of the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden), because when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, when a question was put to him on this very subject, he endorsed the sacred tradition of the Civil Service and went further and said:If any member of the Civil Service elected to transgress this rule, the tenure of his post would be determined forthwith.I may say, therefore, that his support of my case is relentless; in fact, I may say almost brutal. If I were head of 1567 a Government Department, and one of my subordinates committed an Indiscretion of this nature, I might be disposed to give him another chance, but the right hon. Member for Colne Valley would determine the delinquent's tenure of his post forthwith. In case there are any on the benches of the Liberal party who hold other views, I may remind them that Lord Oxford, when Prime Minister, expressed the view that the integrity and impartiality of the Civil Service were part of the constitutional system of Great Britain.
I admit I am faced with one difficulty. It is common knowledge that this agitation in the Civil Service has been engineered and sustained by certain extremely able propagandists, who have reduced the propaganda of the Civil Service to a fine art. I could give the House their names. I could quote their speeches and writings, and I could misquote them, and they would have no right to reply in this House, because, forsooth, through no fault of their own, they are not Members. I am one of those who consider it improper and ungenerous to steal a march on an opponent outside, by sheltering myself behind the immunities here enjoyed, when there is no chance of retaliation by those whom we attack. Hence my embarrassment. I hope to avoid this course as far as it is possible, but, in so far as it is necessary for my argument to transgress in this respect, I am quite prepared to make any of these accusations outside, so as to offer my opponents an opportunity of retaliating.
It is necessary for the purpose of my argument to state my views as to the origin of this movement in the Civil Service. Like many agitations of a similar nature, I do not believe it is possible to trace its origin to any general desire in the rank and file of the Civil Service. If a civil servant, in his individual capacity, as the Attorney-General pointed out yesterday, has any legitimate grievance—and I am quite prepared to admit civil servants have legitimate grievances—or if he has any predilection in favour of an alternative Government, he shares the rights and privileges that any citizen possesses: he possesses the franchise. Again, in his collective capacity, if he is discontented with his lot, he has the opportunity, through his accredited re- 1568 presentative either on the National Whitley Council or through the Arbitration Court to air his grievances. I do not think I can go quite as far as the Attorney-General in saying that I think the National Whitley Council is the most perfect machinery for the purpose. But if that be so, surely it cannot pass the wit of statemanship to devise some more efficacious expedient for collective bargaining within the ranks of civil servants dissociated from party politics. But to advance the proposition which the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) advanced yesterday, that it is wholesome that civil servants should be able to play off one party against another, and to say, "If you do not give us all we want, we shall reject you"—to advance such a proposition is an absolute insult to any Member in any quarter of this House. It must be patent to the feeblest-minded civil servant that it must be to the best interests of the community, and, therefore, to the Service itself, that the Civil Service should be kept immune from the devastating influences of party strife. That was the accepted doctrine formerly in the Civil Service. What brought about the change of attitude?—I do not think there was ever a change of opinion. It was the steady, persistent propaganda of extreme partisans, one of whom is an avowed Communist, who, I quite admit, holds a very remarkable sway over a numerically considerable section of the Civil Service although that section does not contain in its ranks any appreciable—
§ Mr. CADOGAN
I protest—I was a very patient listener. [An HON. MEMBER: "You interrupted every sentence!"] Perhaps I may be allowed to go on. [An 1569 HON. MEMBER: "Tell us the truth!"] I am prepared to repeat any accusation—[Interruption.] The reason this campaign has been so successful is not because it was ostensibly a party campaign. On the contrary, those who promoted it boast that it was instituted to attract men of all parties. The bait was a most attractive one. It was the bait of higher pay, shorter hours, and more generous pensions. An example of this type of angling is to be found in the manifesto issued last year by the Civil Service Clerical Association, warning its members that it was essential to prevent the defeat of the miners, because otherwise there would be a general attack upon the standard of wages, the Civil Service included. It is only natural that civil servants of the lower grade should listen to the voice of the charmer when that song is sung. It is so seductive that it must necessarily charm. But it is very regrettable to find that there are so many civil servants who have fallen victims to these blandishments.
The cry was, "You want more pay and more generous pensions. Then pin your faith to the Socialist party and all these things will be added unto you." Those who say that should bear in mind that if the Socialist programme were carried out fully there would be a vast accretion of civil servants to the already overloaded bureaucracy. Where would the funds come from to provide an increase of pay and pensions for that bureaucracy? The Post Office is the happy hunting ground for these philanthropists who would improve the conditions of the Civil Service. If Post Office officials in their infatuation had cause to reflect upon what would happen to their pay and pensions, they would realise that under nationalisation not only would there be a Post Office, but a Land Office of gargantuan proportions, if the astonishing land proposals of the Leader of the Opposition were carried out. Every clodhopper and yokel would be a State functionary. I tremble to think of the effect on the pay and pensions of civil servants. Imagine this colossal army of bureaucrats advancing upon the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and asking him to implement his promises of higher pay and more generous pensions! Surely then he would regret the feckless, reckless days when he promised all things to all men. 1570 Then he would wish affiliation to the devil and Socialists along with it. This agitation owes its origin entirely to the delusive bribe held out by the Socialist party of higher pay and pensions, even though there has been no word of explanation as to how the so-called reform could be effected.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I did not gather that the speech was being read, but the hon. Member is travelling over rather a wide field.
§ Mr. CADOGAN
I accept your ruling, and will confine myself more rigidly to the question of Clause 5. The question of affiliation was, as everyone knows, considered by a Royal Commission in 1914, but unfortunately its findings fell on ears deafened by the clash of arms, because the Government of the day did nothing in the matter. In 1918, when it was decided to apply the recommendations of the Whitley Committee to the Civil Service, the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was recalled to the report that Mr. Bonar Law merely stated that a Departmental Committee would deal with the matter, and there the matter rested. But the propagandist did not leave it. They went on without restraint with their mischievous propaganda. In 1922 the Union of Post Office Workers gave £1,000 as an affiliation fee to the Labour party and £5,000 to be spent in contesting eight seats in general and by-elections. [Interruption.] When the Chancellor of the Exchequer a few months ago in reply to my question as to what were the intentions of the Government in this matter, informed the House what the Government proposed to do, the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) rose in his wrath and said that the Government were stirring up a nest of hornets. I do not think I have ever referred to Mr. Brown and Mr. Bowen as hornets.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
If you will not play the game with a man who is not here, play the game with a man who is here. Will you play the game at all at any time? On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, the hon. Gentleman earlier in his speech made a general charge against some Communist in the Civil Service. That charge applies to every single man, from the highest grade in the Civil Service to the lowest grade, and in spite of the repeated request the hon. Member absolutely refuses to give the name. Is that playing the game?
§ Mr. CADOGAN
I would like to know what the hon. Member for North Camber-well means by the cost to the Government? Did he mean votes?
§ Mr. CADOGAN
If the hon. Member looks at the OFFICIAL REPORT he will see the reply to the question. If by cost he means votes, he can have it. The party opposite always thinks of acts in terms of votes. It may seem incomprehensible to them, but as long as I feel sure that I am advocating what is right the individual consequences to myself are no concern whatever. I am quite well aware that there is—
§ Mr. CADOGAN
Last August there was issued a circular intimating to the Government that a resolution had been carried condemning Government action in this matter of civil servants. We all know what these emanations are worth. The result of the voting, it is true, revealed two to one against the Government action, but since the ballot papers were not issued to those members of the association who protested against the action of the association in the general 1572 strike, and who withheld their subscription in August as a consequence, the voting has not been of much use. The Committee of the Civil Service Clerical Association, by arbitrary action which Mussolini might have envied, overruled their own rules, which forbade such action, but even so 5,000 of their members voted against continued affiliation with outside political bodies. It was stated by the right hon. Member for Platting that civil servants' grievances can only be investigated and redressed by Parliamentary pressure, but surely Parliamentary pressure can be exercised without Civil Service organisations being affiliated to outside bodies? A great deal of nonsense is talked about civil servants being powerless without the help of organised labour. That is only a prejudiced opinion of highly paid officials of labour organisations. It has been said that if the political units gain control they will gain control of appointments. The doctrine of spoils to the victors is pernicious enough in local government, but in the Civil Service it would be positively catastrophic.
Of all the cases I have ever heard argued the case against Clause 5 is the weakest. As soon as the Government announced their intentions there was an outburst in the Press, and particularly in Civil Service magazines. I always think there is something artificial in premature screaming, but the similarity of the phraseology in this outburst on the part of various journals of the Civil Service leads to the conclusion that it had all come from one source. Surely we in this House must envy the situation of the civil servant, removed above political strife. With the exception of yourself, Mr. Speaker, who in your high office are removed from the contagion of party politics, everyone in this House must envy the situation of the civil servant. On a recent occasion I was challenged by Mr. Bowen to define the whole duty of a civil servant. Surely it is a simple matter to do that. He ought to be capable, he ought to serve the Government of the day faithfully and loyally, and he ought to be capable of transferring his allegiance from the outgoing Government to the incoming Government with the same agility as was displayed by the Vicar of Bray. If I may be allowed to adapt a phrase of a famous predecessor of your- 1573 self in the Chair, the civil servant in his official capacity must have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak except as the Government of the day directs.
The right hon. Member for Platting quoted the figures of recent by-elections as proof positive that the opinion of the country is against the Government's action in introducing this Measure. It is not so much on account of the advocacy of this Measure that we have lost votes, but because until recently the country was not sure whether we were going to introduce this Bill. I would like to read an extract from a letter, which is one of many, I venture to say, which hon. Members on this side are receiving:As one of your constituents and a lifelong Conservative, it is with the greatest concern that I have followed the legislation of our Government. There were two main arguments of all Conservative speakers at the last election, economy and the Socialist peril. There does not appear to have been the slightest attempt to deal with either of these things. Russian influence is seen everywhere—[Interruption.] I do not say that I agree, I am reading:Russian influence is seen everywhere in this country undermining the morale of the working classes.I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that the reason why we lost so many votes at recent elections was because our supporters were unwilling to back us, because we had not dealt with the Socialist peril. A right hon. Member on the other side announced, what I suppose he had orders from the leaders of the party to announce, that if this Bill became law he and his party, if and when they had the power to do so, would repeal it. I would ask him to remember that when the Liberal party had the opportunity they did not repeal the 1902 Education Act, though we all remember what was said about that Act at the time, and I am obliged to say that though we have had the opportunity we have not repealed the Parliament Act. I think all who have followed the political history of the past 100 years will know how to estimate at its true value that kind of declaration.
§ Mr. OLIVER
If the hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Cadogan) had been desirous of being fair to the civil servant he would have conceded to them the same right as is conceded to every 1574 other citizen of the country, the right to express their political views on all matters on which a citizen has the right to express them. If he makes a reference to one leader of the Civil Service being a member of the Communist party or a Communist, it is his duty, in fairness to civil servants themselves, to name that man, not outside this House but in the place where he has made the statement, that is, inside the House. Statements made here ought to be justified here, or not made at all. The hon. Member is in precisely the same position with respect to the Civil Service as the Government generally are in respect to the Bill. I have listened patiently to most of the speeches delivered in the last two days in the hope that we might have some clear exposition of the Clauses for the safeguarding of people who may be called upon to be judged by the Bill. The average trade unionist who may be in a trade dispute will want a clear understanding as to his rights. Although we have had the advantage of the speech delivered by the Attorney-General followed by a speech of the Secretary of State for War, I suggest that the majority of this House now is not clear as to the position of trade unions in relation to a strike whether it be a sectional or a general strike. Let me put a specific question to the Attorney-General. He has told us that this Bill is designed to make a general strike illegal. There is a very wide margin of difference between a general strike and a sectional strike and there may he many variations between. There may be one, two or three trades involved. There may be cross motives, and it will be on the more complicated issues that we shall require the legal guidance of the Attorney-General.
To put a hypothetical case, what will happen if the miners and the railway-men simultaneously make an application for an increase in wages through their respective organisations? Would that constitute an effort to coerce the Government or intimidate a large section of the community? Supposing we have another miners' dispute and the railway and transport organisations, not desiring to blackleg, refuse to handle foreign coal? How does this Bill propose to define an industrial dispute of that description? These are points on which 1575 the trade unionists of the country desire some further guidance in addition to that which has already been given in this House, and I should be very much obliged to the Attorney-General if he will give us some definition of what would happen in such cases.
Let us take the next Clause, in respect of a man refusing to take part in a trade dispute or, if he has taken part and desires to go back to work. Under the Bill he has either to be restored, if expelled from his union, back into the folds of the trade union or compensated or granted damages for loss of benefit. That may be the case of a person who himself has voted for the strike. Here we have the position that at a crucial moment in a dispute, for which the man himself may have voted, if he runs away he is to be placed in a favoured position which no other trade unionist has ever had before in this country either by Common Law or by Statute. What happens in the case of war? If at the crucial moment a soldier refuses to go over the top, and if he runs away when he ought not to run away, the penalty is death. If a man takes part in a trade dispute with his colleagues, and if he runs away he is going to have a favoured position, and the law is to be altered to meet his case. The Tory party is practically saying to these men, "You have turned traitor; you are the stuff the Tory party is made of, and we welcome you." I wonder how the Attorney-General and his colleagues in this House would act in their clubs? If men do not obey the rules, if they break the rules, they are not promoted to be grand masters in their organisations; they are generally rejected. Why in Heaven's name, should the trade unionists of this country be put in a different position to any other section of the community? This Bill, Clause by Clause, seems to have an inverse reasoning as compared with anything else we have had.
I want to say a word or two in reference to the position of the local authorities. Local authorities, under the Bill, are to be put at a disadvantage as compared, say, with private employers, if trade unionism is not to be made a condition of employment. It has been my privilege over many years to meet 1576 many employers of labour—private employers—who make it a condition of employment that the men whom they employ must be members of a trade union; because the best private employers realise that the negotiations in regard to hours of labour, wages, or the general conditions governing short time, should that occur, are all carried on by trade union officials, and many employers of labour lay it down as a condition that men shall belong to a trade union if they are to be employed by them. We find that to be the case in trades such as artificial stone, clay, elastic web and other important industries in this country. Nevertheless, in this Bill, although a private employer may, because he thinks it desirable that he should employ trade unionists only, for some reason or other the Government come along and say that, while the private employer may do this, because he believes it to be to his advantage, a democratically elected body, although they may follow precisely the same reasoning, are refused permission to do the same thing. Whether you take that clause or any other Clause which has been discussed during these last two days, you find that there is a direct hit at the trade unions, with no other than a vindictive intention to strike a blow at them, not because of the general strike, for the general strike could have been dealt with by a one-Clause Bill, without eight or nine Clauses covering political levies and matters of that kind.
My last word on the Bill is in relation to the political levy. In my own organisation we have roughly 145,000 members, and, in the last return, I think something like 240 claimed exemption. I have heard it asked in this House to-night, what is the great difference between contracting in and contracting out, if there is coercion taking place? My colleagues know full well, and the Government know full well, that a man may vote for political action, and the more active members will contribute and send in their forms, but there is always a difficulty in getting a large number who though in favour of political action—Socialist political action—it is always difficult to get these people to send in their forms. It is the indifferent ones whose coppers you wish to take away from our funds. Some 1577 of us are just as eager to obtain industrial peace, perhaps more so than some hon. Members across the way, but as the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Rose) pointed out, this Bill is not going to make industrial peace possible. It will make those people who believe in peaceful methods in industry declare war, because war will be necessary to safeguard the elementary interests of an industrial democracy.
§ Mr. D. REID
I only wish to deal with one aspect of the case. When the Attorney-General was moving the Second Reading of the Bill, some comment was made on the fact that Northern Ireland was excluded from its scope. My right hon. Friend pointed out that Northern Ireland has its own Parliament, and that labour matters were matters which, under the Act of 1920, were relegated to that Parliament. That answer, of course, was technically correct but, notwithstanding that, as the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Rose) said, we must face the facts, and for this purpose the facts are too strong for what the Legislature has done. There are two Clauses in the Bill which directly concern us in Northern Ireland. The first to which I wish to draw attention is that about the political levy. The fact is that the vast majority of trade unions in the North of Ireland have their headquarters on this side of the Channel. That means that no legislation passed by the Parliament of Northern Ireland can affect the constitution of the unions to which they belong. With regard to the general strike, that is a local matter. The Parliament of Northern Ireland can pass legislation dealing with intimidation. That also is a local matter. The question of political contributions is a matter which concerns the constitution of the unions as a whole, and the headquarters of the unions not in Northern Ireland. Further than that, the machinery does not operate. If a man wishes to get exemption and does not succeed, his remedy is to apply to the Registrar. The Registrar is in England and his jurisdiction only extends to England—that is, the Registrar of the country in which the trade union is registered. On the other hand, if a man is in Northern Ireland, there is a Registrar in Northern Ireland, but the head office of the union is not within his jurisdiction. Therefore, our trade unions are in a much 1578 more difficult position than English trade unions.
I am speaking definitely on behalf of a considerable body of trade unionists, men who are active members of their unions, and for reasons which are well-known, the vast proportion of these men are not in agreement with the political objects of the Labour party. A very large number of them have told me they want this exemption. They find it difficult to get exemption, and they have asked me and my colleagues—certainly myself—to support this Clause in this House. If there is any further supplementary legislation needed to make this matter effective in Northern Ireland, I think the trade unionists in Northern Ireland will use their influence to such an extent that any legislation that will be enacted there will probably be similar legislation.
§ Mr. REID
No! This question of the political levy is a question of common justice. The bulk of our men are either Conservatives or Liberals—they are not Socialists—and they object to contribute to a Socialist political fund. The Act of 1913, to which lion. Gentlemen opposite seem to pin their faith, was based on the one principle, which was, that a right was given to use the machinery of trade unions for the purposes of political action, but it was subject to the qualification that any man who objected should be excused contributions. The machinery for excusing a man from contribution has broken down. [Interruption.] There are many men in Northern Ireland who contribute at the present time because they are unable to get exemption. I am stating what I know to be a fact. [HON. MEMBERS: "No?"] There are many men in Northern Ireland contributing to Socialist trade unions' funds at the present time because they are not able to get exemption. What hon. Gentlemen opposite are really claiming is a vested interest in the breakdown of the machinery of the Act of 1913. Members sometimes talk about vested interests on this side of the House. What they are really claiming is a vested interest in the breakdown of the machinery of the Act of 1913. They know that the 1579 machinery of the Act of 1913 has not been sufficient to exclude the man who does not want to come in. They think that that contributes to their point of view and are unwilling to see this House change it.
The other Clause of the Act to which I wish to call attention is the Clause which limits the political activities of civil servants. Now if the right hon. Gentleman who sits on the Liberal benches—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member asked me for five minutes only, and I called him on that understanding. I must reserve the claim of the right hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh), who is to follow.
§ Mr. REID
I am very sorry. I have no intention of transgressing. The one point I wish to make is this. If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) were here now, he would see that one of the things which hampered administration in Ireland during his regime was the fact that a very large proportion of civil servants in Ireland of the lower grades were affiliated to outside organisations. I say that it is almost inevitable that those in outside organisations should be included in the Bill.
§ Mr. WALSH
Whatever may be the opinions of Members in any quarter of the House as to the desirability or the undesirability of the Bill before us, I think everyone will admit that no more important event which so vitally affects the industrial life of the nation has taken place during the last 100 years. I think myself, that if this Bill were given its proper title it might be described as a Bill for the repeal of all the trade union legislation passed since 1824. There cannot be the slightest doubt that if this Bill does become law the workers of this nation will be thrown back into a position exactly identical with that which they occupied 103 years ago, before the repeal of the Combination Laws under the Government of William Pitt. The Attorney-General, in moving the Second Reading, expressed the belief that as the details of the Bill were made plain it would commend itself to the judgment of fair-minded men in the country. If he is of that belief, it is very regrettable 1580 that he did so little to simplify that which is admittedly obscure or to make clear so much that is ambiguous. Everybody agrees that the main Clause as it affects the industrial activities of trade unions, is Clause 1. It declares any strike illegal if it is designed or calculated to coerce the Government or to intimidate the community or any substantial portion of the community. If hon. Members will pay a little attention to the matter they will sec that the Clause contains double and alternative penalties. Intention or design to coerce the Government might be completely absent, but if the effect of such action is calculated, even though it entirely fails, to coerce the Government or to intimidate any portion of the community, every person taking part in that action, not merely the leader but every person taking part, thousands and tens of thousands of people who may be separated By scores of miles from the origin of the trouble, will be liable to heavy fines and long imprisonment.
The right hon. Gentleman in the very lengthy remarks which he made yesterday did not give us any idea of the meaning of the word "community." It is a word which is very comprehensive in character. It may mean a very small community or it may mean a very large community. The true meaning of the term will be conditioned by the circumstances of the particular case. So also will be the decision of the magistrates. What is the meaning of "a substantial portion of the community?" I remember, on one occasion, reading a story of two very distinguished men, both lawyers, one a very stout, big man, six feet four inches in height, and broad in proportion, and the other being much more distinguished from the intellectual point of view. They went to a meeting and were the only two people present; but the following morning in a report of the meeting it was stated that a large and distinguished audience attended that particular meeting. When they saw each other later, the more substantial man, physically, inquired from the other how the report came into the newspaper. "It is perfectly correct," said the other. "You are large and I am distinguished." Is that the sense in which the words "substantial portion of the community" are to be interpreted? The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that upon 1581 the meaning that will be given by the Courts to these words, quite obscure, of which no definition is even attempted in the Bill, will depend the fortune and the fate of thousands upon thousands of workers. Imprisonment, fines, all kinds of penalties, will hang upon the interpretation given by the Courts to words which are very obscure. Any person taking part in a dispute, in the furtherance of any dispute, in declaring a dispute, or in instigating a dispute, if that dispute is likely to affect any substantial portion of the community, then from that very moment the strike becomes illegal. Can any hon. Member imagine any dispute of any kind that is not likely to affect "any substantial portion of the community" or to intimidate any substantial portion of the community? Quite a new interpretation is given to the term "intimidate." Any person who believes he is liable to suffer soma loss is, under this Bill, intimidated. It does not mean physical intimidation.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Member, but in fact the definition which he refers to only applies to the words in Clause 3, Sub-section (2).
§ Mr. WALSH
There is no definition in Clause 1 at all, and it is upon that. Clause that I am speaking, and as there is no definition in Clause 1, or in any other part of the Bill except in Clause 3, I submit that the only meaning that can be given to it by the Courts is the meaning conveyed in Clause 3 on the use of the term in Clause 1. What other interpretation can be given? There is only one interpretation. The very first Clause in which the word is used is Clause 1, and I submit that the Court would have no alternative except to place upon the term used in Clause 1 the only interpretation that is given to the term at all. Is "calculated to coerce the Government or to intimidate the community or any substantial portion of the community." I submit that under the wording of this Clause, no possible strike can take place that would not be brought within the scope of this Bill. When the process of collective bargaining has failed, when the workmen in their negotiations have resisted a proposed reduction by the employers as long as they possibly can, when they are driven to cease their labour as being the only means whereby 1582 they can hope to maintain their standard of life, I submit that no possible strike can take place, under the provisions of this Measure, without rendering every man, from the leaders downwards, liable to fine and imprisonment. If that be the case, then the alternative is that the man becomes a felon and a criminal or else he is condemned to industrial servitude as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser) said yesterday. It is the alter native of serfdom or criminality.
In those circumstances how futile it is to lead the House to believe that Clause 1 deals mainly with the general strike and with the prevention of the circumstances in which general strikes might recur in the future. What is a substantial portion of the community? Let me put the matter once again. The miners for over 100 years have been in the very forefront of these legal conflicts. That is not because they are cursed with a double dose of original sin; it is simply because the nature of their calling hides their grievances from the public view. The nation, the community as a whole, allows them to grovel along in secret year after year, and only when oppression has reached the boundary of human resistance is the nation made acquainted with the conditions under which the people are working. I will take a present illustration. The minimum wage of the miners was fixed by this House 15 years ago, and the legal minimum wage has never been changed from that time until now. The cost of living has gone up by 85 per cent. since 1912. There is, even now, a desire to raise that minimum wage in accordance with the greatly increased cost of living. Supposing that desire should take definite shape and become part and parcel of a real movement to raise the minimum wage to something comparable with the, great increase in the cost of living. The minimum wage is mainly fixed by county areas, and I think everyone will admit that the population of a county is a substantial portion of the community. If the miners in a county for which this minimum wage is fixed endeavour to raise their wages in accordance with the vastly increased cost of living, it is certain to affect a substantial portion of the community, and the men at once become criminals because of this Measure.
At the moment I am not talking about the Government. They affect a sub- 1583 stantial portion of the community as well as the Government. It is a double condition and there is not the slightest doubt that the Attorney-General of the time, if this Bill became law, would be entitled to proceed, and probably would proceed, to the Courts to get an interim injunction preventing the men from taking any action pending the further development of the situation. In any case, within the terms of this Bill, every one of these men who rightly struggling—if one may quote the great utterance of one of the noblest men who was ever a, Member of this House, and who in speaking of an oppressed nation referred to them as rightly struggling to be free—to raise his standard of life, takes this action, will from that very moment become a criminal under this Clause. That is to be proof of the Prime Minister's desire for peace in his time and of the Government's desire to give full scope to the legitimate activities of the trade unions!
I do not propose to carry that any further, but I say that the Clause as it stands makes it utterly impossible for any strikes of any substantial magnitude to take place at all. It does condemn the work people to one of two alternatives, either to risk criminal proceedings and take the consequences, or to be content with a state of industrial thraldom. A good deal of talk has been heard about victimisation and intimidation. I submit that the law as it stood and as it was passed by the Conservative Government of 1875—a law for which they have taken tremendous credit during the last half century—does itself adequately deal with intimidation—intimidation by workmen, not intimidation by employers. Of course, on paper, there was technical equality. In actual fact, as has been read out to-night and as hon. Members know quite well, there has never been a vestige of equality between the penalties visited on workpeople and those imposed on employers when guilty of similar conduct. Why, Section 7 of the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act deals withEvery person who uses violence or intimidates a person or his wife or children or injures his property or persistently follows him from place to place or hides his tools or clothes or other property or hinders him in the use thereof or watches or besets the house or place where such other person 1584 resides or works or carries on business or happens to be or the approaches of such house or place.The only thing that was permitted under the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875, was the process of peaceful persuasion and peacefully communicating or receiving information, and even that is now to be so hedged round as to make that one small thing for which the Tory party has taken such credit to itself since 1875 practically useless. The one thing for which the Tories were to be congratulated, and for which indeed trade unionists might very well be grateful, was the provision enabling a person peacefully to picket and to communicate or receive information, and now, under this Bill, even that small provision is to be practically destroyed.
It is said that the provision in regard to apprehension of boycott or loss of any kind or of exposure to hatred, ridicule, or contempt, is really giving the same power to the trade unions as they have hitherto enjoyed. There is not an hon. Member in this House who does not know very well that it is impossible for any person to take the quietest action imaginable, to endeavour to communicate information or to receive it, or to picket with a view of giving to the person so picketed a chance of knowing the exact circumstances of the situation, without rendering himself liable to fine or imprisonment once the person picketed or to whom the approach has been made states himself that he apprehends some loss, or boycott, or exposure to hatred ridicule or contempt. Every one of these provisions is of such a character as to make the effective exercise of the powers of trade unionism impossible and to reduce the trade unions to practical impotence. That is undoubtedly the motive of the Bill. I hate imputing motives myself. I always desire to deal fairly and to discuss in a proper spirit the provisions of any Measure that comes before this House, but there cannot be the slightest doubt that, from the first word in this Bill to the last, nothing but class hostility and antagonism to trade unionism have been the actuating motives.
Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Sir Robert Hutchison.]
Debate to be resumed To-morrow.