§ 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."
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
When the Government of the day introduces a contentious Bill and asks the support of the House for its principles on Second Reading, there are, I suppose, three kinds of grounds upon which the Government's application may be rejected. We have had in the course of the Debate on the Second Reading of this Biil indications that all three grounds are taken. First, I suppose, it is possible, in reference to any Bill, to challenge the avowed objects of the Bill altogether, and to declare that the authors of the Bill when they describe what they aim at doing, are aiming at something which is wrong and bad. There are some Members of the House who will, I think, take up that attitude in regard to this Bill. There is a second and quite distinct line of attack and one which it is very material to mention in connection with this Bill, namely, the criticism that whatever may be the avowed objects of the Bill the method which it seeks to adopt and the language in which it seeks to express its objects, are such as to make the Bill worthy of rejection at this stage. There is a third and it seems to me a perfectly legitimate ground, in a proper case, upon which a contentious Bill may sometimes be resisted, and it is this: that even if the avowed objects of the Bill and even the methods and language of the Bill are appropriate, none the less as a matter of high policy it is much better to leave things alone.
I have not put my name to the Amendment on the Paper which has been put down by some of my Liberal friends. I 1640 have not done so because I take a view on this matter not quite the same as some of them, and for a reason which I will state in due course. But may I be allowed at once to say in the strongest and warmest terms that I repudiate altogether the suggestion that those who are honestly convinced as a matter of policy that the introduction of legislation of this sort is unwise should, therefore, on that account, be reproached as though they were doing something dishonest. I do not altogether share their views, as I will show, but I think it would be a most dangerous precedent if it were supposed that that is not, quite apart from questions of merit and form, a proper case and a perfectly good ground on which to resist a contentious Measure of this sort. The Attorney-General two days ago had a very difficult task and everybody must, at any rate, have envied his imperturbability, but I think he did much less than justice to the body of opinion, and it is a substantial body of opinion in the country, which doubts the wisdom of this legislation altogether, when he spoke as though this almost savoured of political dishonesty. If there be any out-and-out supporters of the Government in doubt about this, let me put a case or at least suggest a test.
About two years ago the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) introduced a Bill which dealt with the same topic as one of the Clauses in the Bill now before us. The Prime Minister made what everybody admitted was a very striking appeal. I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to observe that in the course of that appeal, though the Prime Minister then urged that the Bill should not be gone on with, he, in express terms, admitted that in his own view, what he called the equity of the case made by the hon. and learned Member was one of great strength. Yet although the equity of the case seemed to the Prime Minister to be strong, he, none the less—I believe according to the general and universal approval of feeling outside as well as here—made that most striking appeal that we should have peace. I ought to add—because I realise that the Prime Minister may well say that circumstances have changed—that in that same speech the right hon. Gentleman made use of this expression. He said, referring not only to associations 1641 of workmen but associations of employers:As these associations come along and become more powerful on whichever side they are, there may come a time when not only they may injure there own members—about which probably there would be a great deal of argument—but when they may directly injure the State.It is at that moment any Government should say that, whatever freedom and latitude in that field may be left to ally kind of association in this free country, nothing shall be done which shall injure the State, which is the concern of all of us and far greater than all of us or of our interests."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th March, 1925; cols. 838–9, Vol. 181.]I have ventured to say, therefore, that the ground, sometimes called the ground of expediency, is not necessarily an unworthy ground. But I wish to deal with the other two ways in which this Bill has been sought to be criticised. First of all, as to the avowed and declared objects of the Bill: The Attorney-General put the matter in this way. He said: "Here is a Bill which has four main objects. It is a Bill which proposes to enact in plain terms that intimidation is not the same thing as peaceable persuasion." He said, secondly: "Here is a Bill which will provide that no one is to be compelled to subscribe to the funds of any political party unless he so desires." He said, thirdly: "It is a Bill which will secure that any person who chooses to enter the Established Civil Service of the country must give his undivided allegiance to the State." His fourth point, in fact mentioned first, I think, was this: It is a Bill, the object of which is to declare that a general strike entered upon to coerce the Government or Parliament is unlawful. If everything was what it seemed, or what it was said to be, I think it is quite clear that the vast mass of our fellow-countrymen would find it impossible to denounce objects such as those. I find it quite impossible to assert that any one of those objects, so expressed, is an object which I think it wrong for Parliament to pursue—quite impossible.
It is a rather unfortunate thing that, just as the Labour party before the text of the Bill was known announced that they were going to resist it line by line, so before the Bill has been examined, amended, tested, improved—and if it reaches the Committee stage it will need all these things—we should have the 1642 pledge of the Labour party, that the first object of any future Labour Government will be to repeal every line of it. [Interruption.] I have not stated anything which is controverted. [Interruption.] I think my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton) has a little misunderstood me. I do not want him to do so, because he is a very fair controversialist. What I was observing was that it seems to me to be just as unfortunate to say of a Bill before you have seen its terms that you will resist it line by line as it is to say of a Bill after it is published, but before you know in what shape it will reach the Statute Book, that you are going to repeal it line by line. Frankly, I am sorry, and I am sorry for this reason. [Interruption.] I am sure that hon. Gentlemen will allow me to state my reason. This is a Bill which, alike because of its subject matter and of the terms in which it is couched, requires in quite an exceptional degree the full, candid, fair, dispassionate contribution which hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway have it in their power to give. It seems to me, therefore, that I am saying something which is quite inoffensive when I say that in the interests of the House of Commons it is a great pity that we should have a declaration at the start of these Debates, the real effect of which is that hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway do not want to make the Bill any better—
§ Sir J. SIMON
—that if it has imperfections, they do not wish to improve it, and in reference to which they declare now that, however much it may be altered and improved, the first task of any future Labour Government will be to repeal every word of it. I do not envy the lot of any party, or of any candidate, who finds it necessary at the next election to say: Although this Bill is now in a form which justifies the claims made for it as to its objects, we propose legislation to the effect that intimidation is lawful.
§ Sir J. SIMON
If the hon. Gentleman will be patient with me, he will find out. Or that a general strike in a case where 1643 it is avowedly and admittedly aimed at the compulsion of the Government or at substituting the will of an outside body for that of Parliament, is to be declared lawful. I do not envy the lot of any candidate, or any party, that really intends to advance those views.
The real truth about this Bill, as it seems to me, is that the matter to which we ought to direct attention is the method and the language in which the Government claim that they have expressed and embodied these praiseworthy intentions. I think there is a great deal to be said in criticism both of the method and the language, and though some of these points are rather Committee points than points for Second Reading, some of them are so important that probably the House will allow me very briefly to refer to them. In the first place, if I take Clause 3, the intimidation Clause, I think it is true to say that in broad outline that is a Clause declaring the law. There are some differences, though I do not think they are very important; but everybody here who remembers the events of a year ago must take pride in remembering that the feature of the general strike which impressed foreign observers beyond any question was the general orderliness of the whole operation.
That is certainly the feature which particularly impressed foreign observers, and it was not due solely to the police, or to public-spirited members of the public who lent their aid; it was due also to the counsel and guidance of trade union leaders, and it was due to the general spirit of reasonable orderliness among the men who were out themselves. We really do a very grave injury to our own national reputation if we do, not always remember that that was the feature of the general strike which particularly impressed the world at large. While that is quite true, there were exceptions, and to my way of thinking the only ground upon which it could be reasonable to legislate in the sense of Clause 3 is that many of the cases where there was undoubtedly a breach of the law were cases in which the breach occurred because the individual wholly misunderstood what was the extent of his rights. There were historical reasons for that. Again and again there were cases where there was, 1644 in fact, a most regrettable failure to keep within the law, and the people who were engaged in that which were really acts of intimidation were very often under the impression that they were not going beyond that which in times of trade disputes the practice and custom of this country allows. I think there is a good deal to be said, if on other grounds the Bill is required, for making it clear beyond question that there is not the smallest relation, rightly understood, between peaceful picketing, on the one hand, which is lawful, and intimidation, on the other, which is not.
In the same way, with regard to Clause 4, which deals with the political levy, I doubt very Much whether that Clause can be very closely debated on Second Reading. It is an extremely difficult and in some ways a very technical and expert subject. It is one of the topics upon which, in particular, the assistance and information and advice of men who are very familiar with the working of the levy would be invaluable. I was a humble member of the Government which passed the Act of 1913, and I was clear then, as I am clear now, that it was absolutely necessary to secure the political activities of trade unions. It is much too late to go back on that. The question as to the method by which you do it is always a very difficult question, but, if it had not been for some quite recent events, I should have thought that the alteration as between "contracting in" and "contracting out," although it is very complicated and very burdensome and very inconvenient in administration, is one which is calculated not to produce very much difference. If you mean that you do not want to give the trade unions what I may call the benefit of the inertia of men who are more or less indifferent, then I do not agree with you. I do not think it is unreasonable that a body like a trade union, which has decided upon having a political fund, should have what a great many other bodies, such as limited companies and all sorts of bodies, have, namely, the benefit, such as it is, of the inertia of people of no strong opinions. But if the fact is that the present method is a method which is actually compelling people to subscribe who definitely wish not to do so, and if you could alter that by the change, the thing would wear an entirely different complexion. Frankly, because I wish to 1645 be quite frank with hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway, the one thing which makes me wonder whether I have been right about this Clause is the enormous outcry which has been raised against it.
But Clauses 4 and 3 are certainly not the main subjects for Second Reading; the main subject, beyond any question, is Clause 1. I must say that while I am perfectly willing to consider a Bill which, in the plainest possible terms puts on paper what I understand Clause l to be intended to do, no one, layman or lawyer, trade unionist or anyone else, can read Clause 1 as it stands without seeing that if, indeed, this is a way of declaring the law it is one out of which a great deal of possible complication and misunderstanding may arise. A speech was made on this part of the Bill the other day by An HON. and learned Friend of mine, the Member for South Shields (Mr. Harney), and a speech was also made by the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Oliver). Although I do not know that I can go all the way with them in all their criticisms, yet their criticisms were not foolish nor without any foundation. Let me point out—and this is the thing which has most impressed me from the start—that here you have a Clause which, for the first time in our statutory history, makes provision for those trade unions which consist of associations of workmen, without making any corresponding provision for trade unions which consist of employers. That has never happened in the statutory history of this country before. The reference to trade unions, wherever you can find it in the Statute Book, applies absolutely indifferently to combinations of employers and of workmen. The last case I know of which was heard in the Law Courts in the Strand, where a difficulty arose because a trade union cannot itself be sued for damages for wrong, was a case where the trade union was a trade union of employers, and I am right, I think, when I say that down to this moment no one has ever proposed legislation on this subject without taking very good care that the two things were dealt with side by side.
It is not correct to say, as some people have said, that the word "strike" has never previously appeared in the Statute Book. It is very nearly true, but it is not quite true. As a matter of fact, if hon. Members would look at the volume 1646 of Acts for 1915, and turn to the Munitions of War Act for that year, they will find that the word "strike" appears, and that the definition of "strike" which you will find in one of the later Clauses of this Bill, is lifted in substance from the Munitions of War Act, 1915. That Act was an Emergency Act, passed solely for the period of the War, in order to secure that the production of munitions should not be stopped owing to the suspension of work in munition factories. I may be allowed to say that I was one of the Ministers principally concerned with carrying the Act, and we took the greatest possible care to secure that both in the Clause which dealt with that matter and in the definition Clause, that "strike" and "lock-out" stood on precisely level ground. Perhaps the House will allow me to quote the words. The language was this:An employer shall not declare, cause or take part in a lock-out, and a person employed shall not take part in a strike in connection with any difference to which this Part of this Act applies, unless the difference has been reported to the Board of Trade, and 21 days have elapsed since the date of the report, and the difference has not during that time been referred by the Board of Trade for settlement in accordance with this Act.In other words, it was introduced as an emergency and temporary measure in connection with the national need for producing munitions—with a method of settling disputes like that which was mentioned to the House by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott). What beats me is how any body who was drawing that Clause and who was taking from this Munitions of War Act the definition of "strike," should have left behind, in the very same Clause, the definition of "lock-out" and should not have realised that those two things ought to be dealt with on a par. It is no answer at all to say that the one case is more likely to arise than the other, even if that were true. I should have thought that even the most obvious sense of prudence, the most elementary appreciation of the psychology of the case would have caused the Government to have done this, if for no other reason. As a matter of fact, I do not agree that the Amendment which the Attorney-General says he will be willing to make is worthless.
1647 Supposing that the history of a year ago had been that the mineowners, the colliery companies, were so determined to compel the Government and Parliament and the country and the taxpayers to go on paying a subsidy, that they combined with railway companies, with transport companies, with employers of labour over a large range of vital trades, and, by deliberate prearrangement, had said, "We will stop the whole business of the industry of this country and send a message to the Prime Minister that unless he gives us that subsidy we will not go on." I am quite willing to be corrected by other people on the subject of law, but, as far as I am concerned, I should say that that would have been an illegal conspiracy. I cannot see the smallest ground upon which you can say that a general strike, a combination of a large number of wage-earners in a number of trades for the purpose of putting pressure upon the Government or the State is illegal, unless you are going for exactly the same reason to say that it is illegal for the employers to do the corresponding thing If this thing is to be done fairly—and I ask hon. Gentlemen to believe that I wish it to be done fairly—it is quite plain that this is not only an Amendment which ought to be made, but that it is an alteration in the Bill which should never have been required, because it ought to have been there from the start.
Let me take a second point. It is s point on which there has been some misunderstanding on what I may call the other side. According to my reading of this Clause, difficult and complicated as it is, it certainly is not true to say that it seeks to declare illegal the sympathetic strike as such. I do not think that, if the Clause is examined with care, that that view can possibly be reached. I can quite understand that many people may be led to think so, because its language is rather difficult to construe, but I think, as a matter of fact, I shall be confirmed by those, in all parts of the House, who are accustomed to study the language of Acts of Parliament when I say that this Clause is a Clause which does not touch the sympathetic strike any more than it touches any other strike unless it satisfies the second condition 1648 which is the condition with reference to coercing or compelling the Government and the community. I think it is only fair to say that, because I am sure there has been a great deal of misapprehension.
In the third place, may I, with great respect, call the attention of the Government and the Prime Minister to the undoubted fact that this Clause at present is couched in highly ambiguous language throughout.
There is a letter which was published in the "Times" a few days ago from a correspondent who bears a famous name—Mr. Cyril Asquith—in which he puts, as it seems to me with complete fairness, the comment that this Clause is so difficult for plain people to understand. May I be permitted to read one short paragraph from it? It is much easier to get these things in the OFFICIAL REPORT than it is to get a back copy of the "Times." He says:The employment of elastic and undefined terms would seem to be the most serious criticism to which Clause 1 is open. It was the curse of trade union law from 1825 to 1875 (when the terms 'molestation' and 'obstruction' were made to mean anything), and is particularly to be regretted in a 'declaratory' Clause which professes to elucidate the existing law. What is 'intimidation' within Clause 1?There is a definition for Clause 3, and there is none for Clause 1. The letter goes on:And why, if it be thought necessary to definite it elaborately for the purposes of the relatively unimportant Clause 3, is it not defined in the crucial Clause 1? What is a 'single trade or industry'? And what is a 'substantial' portion of the community? Except in applications under Clause 7, the task of construing these vague expressions will, be it remembered, fall mainly on magistrates. There is no time to indict people during a general strike. It seems as little fair on the magistrates as on the accused that so little guidance as to the meaning of these terms should be afforded by the Bill.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I hope the hon. Gentleman will excuse me for saying that it is very natural to say, "It cannot be done," but it seems to me that these considerations go to show that a great deal will depend on the sincerity, the fullness, the care with which this Clause is revised, because as it stands it seems to me it is undoubtedly open in the fullest measure 1649 to criticisms of the sort to which I have called attention. I am quite free to admit that if that had been the whole position, and if the Government had simply thrown this highly controversial Bill on the Table without cause, I should not have found myself in what I confess to be the degree of difficulty and doubt in which I do find myself, but it is not really a fair account of where we stand to-day to leave it thus. It really is not, and I hope I may, without offence, put the other side. I have said in this House before, and I will venture to repeat it, that it seems to me it would have been of immense national advantage if, after the controversy of a year ago was over, it had been found possible for hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway to have made a really effective, collective repudiation of what had just happened. I have never gone out of my way to reproach them, because of their difficulties during the strike, but, as a matter of fact, how can we regard the situation to-day as though it was what it would have been if there had been a plain, definite repudiation of what then happened? [An HON. MEMBER: "We are not ashamed of it!"] There is no need to interrupt, because what I am going to say will, I am sure, be approved. Instead of that, in fact what has happened is really two things, and up to the present these are the two principal contributions which have been made by the Labour party since the strike of a, year ago to the very difficult situation with which we are now trying to deal.
First of all, we get the intermittent and spasmodic assertion, with reference to the events of 12 months ago, that there never was a general strike at all—[An HON. MEMBER: "It was not illegal!"]—I will come to that question in a moment. What is the good of spending time in a serious matter like this on a mere effort to avoid the application of a word? The Leader of the Labour party—I am extremely sorry that illness should keep him abroad—
§ Sir J. SIMON
The Leader of the Labour party, immediately that strike was over, at the end of May of last year, wrote a long and a careful review of the situation, and I extract these sentences. 1650 Said the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald):Did not everyone notice, when the general strike was declared, that the strong case of the miners was obscured rather than brought into greater prominence?And he went on:We are not likely to hear much more of a general strike as an effective industrial weapon"—
§ Sir J. SIMON
He continued:The country will not have it. Let the trade unions face the facts. There can be no victory for a general strike.
§ Sir J. SIMON
That was the language which was used by the Leader of the Labour party in an article published on 22nd May, which represented, if I may say so, his moderate view, but it so happens that on the same day he wrote another article, in the paper called "Forward," and in "Forward" this is the language used. [interruption.] The first article was in "Answers," but on the same day, in "Forward," the right hon. Gentleman writes another article, in which he equally and quite correctly uses the phrase "general strike," but I do not think he employs quite the same tone about it. He says this:The general strike of 1926"—
§ Sir J. SIMON
When the Leader of the Labour party returns, he will know, at any rate. On 22nd May, 1926, he was writing:The general strike of 1926 will be a glowing point in the history of British labour.I venture to add a quotation from a right hon. Gentleman who is sitting on the Front Bench, the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden), who had no doubt about it at all. [An HON. MEMBER: "And Carnarvon Boroughs!"] I think the point is that these are Labour leaders. Referring to the events of a year ago, he wrote this:It has demonstrated the impossibility of a successful attempt to hold up the community by a general strike.I quite agree.
§ Sir J. SIMON
No, I am quoting from "John Bull." I said I would read from another Labour leader, meaning the right hon. Member for Colne Valley, and I am anxious to do so, because I myself very largely agree with what he wrote in June, 1926, which was:It has demonstrated the impossibility of a successful attempt to hold up the community by a general strike. The general strike has this inevitable disadvantage, that it is regarded as an attempt to force the community into acquiescence, apart from the justice of the demand. This strike has raised grave issues which will demand the long and earnest consideration of the trade union movement. The respective functions of the political and industrial activities of Labour will have to be more clearly defined.I could easily quote from a number of others of the principal leaders, but I will content myself with one more. The hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. W. Thorne) during the last two days has several times rather explosively, but very good homouredly, interjected that there never was a general strike. He has several times, during the last few days, caused you, Mr. Speaker, a little momentary anxiety because of that explosive interjection. It so happens that on 24th May, 1926, he was at a meeting at Bournemouth, where he was proposing a vote of thanks to Mr. Clynes—and that was just after the event in question—and he said:He did not propose to say anything about the general strike.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I rather agree that it is a small point, and it is exactly because I want people in this House to realise that it is such a trumpery point that I regret that one of the two answers hitherto made on this subject since last year is merely this ridiculous and trumpery suggestion that we were not dealing with a general strike last May. There are some people in this House who are as unwilling to recognise a general strike when they see one as there are other people unwilling to recognise a general tariff when they see one.
There is the second ground which the Labour party has put forward, and it is a far more serious ground. In its 1652 proper place, and having regard to its technicalities, it is a very suitable subject for a Debate, but it has got very little indeed to do with the broad, national, substantial questions which lie at the back of this Bill. It is the question as to whether the events of last May, the so-called general strike, were illegal. I ventured to express the view that those events amounted to an illegal conspiracy. Some other people take a different view. I admit at once that in that matter I may be wrong, and apparently there are some people who take great pleasure in contemplating that it may be that it is not so, but what follows from that? Why, my whole argument a year ago in this House was this: "I believe this thing, when properly analysed and examined, is palpably illegal, and if that is realised, then it would not be very difficult to stop it if ever anybody tried it again," and this is met by the ridiculous effort to exploit a possible legal view that it is not illegal at all.
But if it is not illegal, what bearing has that got on Clause 1 of this Bill? It is as certain as there is a sun in heaven, that if the British people were satisfied that, as the law stands at present, it was legitimate for any number of people, employers or workpeople, to combine in order to substitute the will of some committee outside Parliament, for the House of Commons, they would insist on having the law altered. It is pathetic to see the sort of morbid interest which is taken by so many people in the subject of whether the strike of last year was illegal. I have never cared about that as a matter of narrow law. I believed then, and I said as firmly and as clearly as I could, that it was this illegality which would in the end be the salvation of the Labour party. But if people can lawfully do this as often as they like, then, I think, the case for legislation would be greatly strengthened. The fact is, that while we have the right hon. Gentleman who is now leading the Opposition, saying in week-end speeches, and repeating in this House, that there has never been a general strike at all, at the same time Mr. Cook, is asserting that there will be very soon another general strike.
In a matter where we all have the obvious duty of contributing the best we can, in order to get a proper conclusion to this miserable wrangle, I regret more 1653 than I can say that all that can be said by some people about it, is that there never was a general strike at all, and, even if there was, it was not illegal. I have said quite frankly that it has put people like myself, and, I think, many people who are not associated with any particular political party, in a considerable difficulty. I do not believe the least in the world that the future industrial development of this country is to be secured merely by passing Acts of Parliament such as this. Not a bit. I believe it to be absolutely true that the discussion in this discordant way of these controversies roused by this Bill is calculated to do harm. I wish with all my heart I could see the way in which the whole thing could have been avoided. I believe it would have been far better if the Government had introduced a year ago a one-Clause Bill saying, in quite simple terms, something of this sort, "That not with standing anything in the Trade Union Acts, it is declared that any combination, whether of employers or of persons employed, to coerce the Government or Parliament by means of simultaneous refusal to continue employment or work, is an unlawful conspiracy." I believe that would have been far better—[Interruption]—a simple declaration as soon as the matter was over.
But, after all, we must draw this distinction. The sole responsibility for introducing this Bill rests with the Government. Nothing that we could do could prevent that. They have introduced it. I must say that I do not think, things having reached the pass they have, this matter could possibly be disposed of by simply withdrawing the Bill, and saying no more about it. I believe it to be quite inevitable that we should bend all our energies to dealing with every Clause of this Bill with the single purpose of making it fulfil the declarations with which the Attorney-General opened on Monday—neither more nor less. [Interruption.] I am really a little afraid, although I have been treated very kindly, that there are some hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway, who, even now, do not understand the difference between intimidation and peaceful persuasion. At any rate—and this is the last thing I want to say—I believe that that is the duty of every Member of this House, and that we should approach this Bill in the spirit which I have tried to indicate. I wish 1654 very much that Members of all parties would do so.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman who has just concluded his speech has said perfectly truly that the responsibility for the introduction of this Bill rests upon—and must rest upon—the Government of the day.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
We accept that responsibility, and I propose to devote the few observations I shall make to replying to a statement of the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes), who told the House that, in his view, this legislation had been long conceived and long intended, and I shall try to deal, as far as I am able, with certain remarks which have been made from time to time, both in the country and in this House, that seem to imply that no Government has the authority to introduce any legislation which may amend in any direction the existing trade union law. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the Eight Hours Act?", and "You have no mandate!"]. I thank the hon. Member for reminding me of that; I will deal with that point before I sit down. For a century past there has been frequent trade union legislation, and the last important Act passed was the Act of 1906—very nearly a generation ago. That Act itself put the law—I am going to speak as a layman in this respect—in a position that few of us who took part in the 1906 Election expected to see it take. There had been, as hon. Members will remember, a Royal Commission three years before that time, and I am glad to think that two distinguished Members of that Commission, both Members of Parliament, are with us still—Lord Dunedin in another place, and the right hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) in this Chamber.
The Majority view of that Commission, as hon. Members will remember, did not propose to put the unions in the position in which they were put by the ultimate legislation, and the Bill, as originally introduced, did not do so either. But for some reason which has remained a mystery to all outside the Liberal party until this day, and is still, the Attorney-General was thrown over by his own Prime Minister within a couple of days, and the Bill took a far more extreme 1655 form than, as I say, had been expected in the country. That Bill, with which we are all familiar, put, as the right hon. Gentleman said, associations to whatever class they belonged in what a layman would call a position of irresponsibility; that is to say, they ceased to be liable in certain circumstances for wrong actions which they might commit. One would have thought that being in a position of irresponsibility of that kind, the moral responsibility became all the greater, because there were in that legislation certain seeds of trouble which developed in subsequent years.
Now there has been a great change since 1906, both in the attitude and in the ground that is covered by trade unions, and I will try in two or three words to put it in, I think, a not unfair way. The emphasis has distinctly moved in the last 20 years from industrial action to political action. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who brought it on?"] You will see presently why I am developing it in this way. I wish to show the changes. I think, at the same time, we have seen the tendency to proceed from constitutional action to direct action. In the same way, individual picketing has at times given place to mass picketing, and I think that has largely arisen, if I understood the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley aright, from a view which has been so common in this country, that under the Act of 1906, when once a strike was declared, anything that a man on strike did was legal under that Act. If I understood the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) aright, there were many instances of intimidation which were actually against the law during the last year which, he said—and I agree with him—were probably considered to be within the law by those who had committed the offence.
Side by side with the fact that over these years the Governments of the day have entrusted to the machinery of trade unions certain work in connection with social legislation, and side by side with the fact that you have many trade unions through these years of whom the public have not heard much, because they have succeeded in composing troubles in their own industries without causing trouble 1656 to people outside£side by side with those two facts, you have the fact that in some unions you have had the power gradually getting into the hands of what to-day is called the Minority Movement. [Interruption.] One of the troubles—[An HON. MEMBER: "Have you not a minority movement in your own party?"]—I think we must try to look at some of these common difficulties that face both you and us.
§ Mr. BROMLEY
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to ask a question? [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] It is quite a fair question, and I want to put it very respectfully. When the right hon. Gentleman, with his eminent position, makes a statement like that, I, as one of the General Council and a secretary of a union, would ask him, would he kindly prove to the House, or endeavour to prove, one instance in the whole trade union movement where a union is in the hands of the Minority Movement?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am not going to quote names. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"] Nor shall I withdraw. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
If he does not withdraw, how the hell will we withdraw? [Interruption.] We will never withdraw. Go on with your naming. [Interruption.] I have never said a word yet in this Debate. It is the Chief Whip who is to blame.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The intervention of the hon. Member for Barrow (Mr. Bromley) was a perfectly orderly and Parliamentary intervention. That is 1657 allowed; but these interjections of another kind are unparliamentary, and cannot be allowed to continue.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
May I ask, Mr. Speaker, when the Prime Minister makes a statement reflecting upon large organisations, some of them with half a million or a million members, which is transparently untrue, should it not be repudiated?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) appears to be forgetting the purpose for which we come here, which is to debate. People hold diametrically opposite views on many questions, and when any statement is made it is my duty to look to the best person who can answer the statement in the following speech, and I shall do so. There will be an opportunity for an answer to be given.
§ Mr. B. SMITH
Many speakers from the other side during the three days of this Debate have consistently challenged us with doing things, saying they know of certain things and refusing to name them. Surely justice demands that when unions and individuals are covered with obloquy by speakers on that side, the latter should have the honesty to give the names.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is not by interruptions but by argument that hon. Members will make their views prevail. It is the purpose for which this House exists. Hon. Members must listen to the side with which they disagree, and then it will be my endeavour to give them an opportunity to put their views. The Prime Minister.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have dealt very patiently with points of Order. I really cannot allow a continuation of them.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member must please be good enough to take my decision. I have listened to the point. I cannot continue. The Prime Minister.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member must please accept my decision. I cannot continue to enter into a number of points of Order.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That expression cannot be allowed. The hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Beckett) must withdraw the interjection he made just now.
In regard to your ruling, I can only say in reference to the statement the right hon. Member made—[HON MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"]—and the statement that I made, which you asked me to withdraw—in view of the right hon. Gentleman's refusal to withdraw, I can only say he has told lies and I will not withdraw it.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Then I shall be obliged to name the hon. Member to the House for persistently disregarding the authority of the Chair.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Churchill)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Beckett be suspended from the service of the House."
§ Question put, "That Mr. Beckett be suspended from the service of the House."
§ The house divided: Ayes, 321; Noes, 88."1661
|Division No. 104.]||AYES.||[4.55 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Conway, Sir W. Martin||Hills, Major John Walter|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Cooper, A. Duff||Hilton, Cecil|
|Albery, Irving James||Cope, Major William||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Couper, J. B.||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)|
|Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)||Courtauld, Major J. S.||Hohier, Sir Gerald Fltzroy|
|Allen, Lieut.-Col. Sir William James||Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L.||Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Craig, Capt. Rt. Hon. C. C. (Antrim)||Holt, Captain H. P.|
|Apptin, Colonel R. V. K.||Craig, Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Crawfurd, H. E.||Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W.||Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||Hopkins, J. W. W.|
|Astor, Maj. Hn. John J. (Kent, Dover)||Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Hopkinson, Sir A. (Eng. Universities)|
|Astor, Viscountess||Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Cunliffe, Sir Herbert||Hore-Belisha, Leslie|
|Atkinson, C.||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Howard-Bury, Lieut.-Colonel C. K.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Dalkeith, Earl of||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney. N.)|
|Balniel, Lord||Davidson, J. (Hertf'd, Hemel Hempst'd)||Hudson, R. S. (Cumberl'nd, Whiteh'n)|
|Banks, Reginald Mitchell||Davies, Eills (Denbigh, Denbigh)||Hume, Sir G. H.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Hume-Williams, Sir W. Ellis|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)||Hurd, Percy A.|
|Barnston, Major Sir Harry||Davies, Dr. Vernon||Hurst, Gerald B.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Hutchison, Sir Robert (Montrose)|
|Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)||Dean, Arthur Wellesley||Illfle, Sir Edward M.|
|Bellairs, Commander Cariyon W.||Drewe, C.||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Duckworth, John||Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)|
|Bennett, A. J.||Eden, Captain Anthony||Jacob, A. E|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish-||Edrnondson, Major A. J.||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert|
|Berry, Sir George||Ellis, R. G.||Jephcott, A. R.|
|Bethel, A.||England, Colonel A.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.||Joynson-Hicks, Rt. Hon. Sir William|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Everard, W. Lindsay||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)|
|Bird, E. R. (Yorks, W. R., Skipton)||Fairfax, Captain J G.||Kidd, J. (Linlithgow)|
|Bird, Sir R. B. (Wolverhampton, W.)||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Kindersley, Major G. M.|
|Blundell, F. N.||Fanshawe, Captain G. D.||King, Captain Henry Douglas|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Fenby, T. D.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Finburgh, S.||Knox, Sir Alfred|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Ford. Sir P. J.||Lamb, J. Q.|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.|
|Brass, Captain W.||Fraser, Captain Ian||Leigh, Sir John (Clapham)|
|Brassey, Sir Leonard||Frece, Sir Walter de||Lister, Cunilfle-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip|
|Briant, Frank||Ganzonl, Sir John||Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Gates, Percy||Loder, J. de V.|
|Briggs, J. Harold||Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Looker, Herbert William|
|Briscoe, Richard George||George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd||Lougher, Lewis|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Glyn Major R. G. C.||Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Goff, Sir Park||Lumley, L. R.|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Gower, Sir Robert||Lynn, Sir R. J.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen|
|Buchan, John||Grant, Sir J. A.||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. Of W.)|
|Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Alan||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Macdonald, R. (Glasgow, Cathcart)|
|Burman, J. B.||Greene, W. P. Crawford||McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus|
|Burton, Colonel H. W.||Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London)||McLean, Major A.|
|Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Grotrian H. Brent||Macmillan, Captain H.|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm|
|Caine, Gordon Hall||Gunston, Captain D. W.||McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John|
|Campbell, E. T.||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.|
|Cassels, J. D.||Hammersley, S. S.||Macquisten, F. A.|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Hanbury, C.||MacRobert, Alexander M.|
|Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel-|
|Cecil. Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Harland, A.||Makins, Brigadier-General E.|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Harris, Percy A.||Malone, Major P. B.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A (Birm, W.)||Harrison, G. J. C.||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn|
|Chapman, Sir S.||Hartington, Marquess of||Margesson, Captain D.|
|Charters, Brigadier-General J.||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.|
|Christie, J. A.||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Meller, R. J.|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Haslam, Henry C.||Merriman, F. B.|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Hawke, John Anthony||Meyer, Sir Frank|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw-|
|Cobb Sir Cyril||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)|
|Cechrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.||Mitchell. Sir W. Lane (Strtatham)|
|Cohen Major J. Brunel||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R.(Ayr)|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Herbert, S. (York, N. R-. Scar. & Wh'by)||Moore, Sir Newton J.|
|Morris, R. H.||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Chts'y||Thomson, F. C.(Aberdeen, South)|
|Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)||Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs, Stretford)||Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-|
|Murchison, Sir Kenneth||Ropner, Major L.||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Nail, Colonel Sir Joseph||Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.||Tinne, J. A.|
|Nelson, Sir Frank||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Titchfield, Major the Marquess of|
|Neville, R. J.||Salmon, Major J.||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)||Sandeman, N. Stewart||Waddington, R.|
|Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hon. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld.)||Sanders, Sir Robert A.||Wallace, Captain D. E.|
|Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert||Sanderson, Sir Frank||Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Nuttall, Ellis||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Oakley, T.||Savery, S. S.||Waterhouse, Captain Charles|
|O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton)||Shaw. Lt.-Col. A. D. McI. (Renfrew, W.)||Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Oman, Sir Charles William C.||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)|
|Owen, Major G.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Watts, Dr. T,|
|Pennefather, Sir John||Sinclair, Major Sir A. (Caithness)||Wells, S. R.|
|Penny, Frederick George||Skelton, A. N.||Wheler, Major Sir Granville C. H.|
|Perkins, Colonel E. K.||Slaney, Major P. Kenyon||White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dalrymple-|
|Perring, Sir William George||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)||Wiggins, William Martin|
|Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)||Smith-Carington, Neville W.||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)|
|Pilcher, G.||Smithers, Waldron||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Pildltch, Sir Philip||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)||Wilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)|
|Power, Sir John Cecll||Spencer, George A. (Broxtowe)||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Litchfield)|
|Preston, William||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.||Winby, Colonel L. P.|
|Price Major C. W. M.||Sprot, Sir Alexander||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Radford, E. A.||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Will'sden, E.)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Raine, W.||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Ramsden, E.||Storry-Deans, R.||Withers, John James|
|Rawson, Sir Cooper||Strauss, E. A.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Rees, Sir Beddoe||Streatfeild, Captain S. R.||Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)|
|Reid, Capt. Cunningham (Warrington)||Stuart, Crichton., Lord C.||Wood, E. (Chest'r. Stalyb'dge & Hyde)|
|Reid, D. D. (County Down)||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)||Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.).|
|Remer, J. R.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Remnant, Sir James||Tasker, R. Inigo.||Young, Rt. Hon. Hilton (Norwich)|
|Rentoul, G. S.||Thorn, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)|
|Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.||Thomas, Sir Robert John (Anglesey)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Rice, Sir Frederick||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)||Commander B. Eyres Monsell and|
|Adamson. W, M. (Staff., Cannock)||Hayes, John Henry||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bilston)||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Baker, Walter||Hirst, G. H.||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Barnes, A.||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Barr, J.||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Smillie, Robert|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Bromley, J.||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Snell, Harry|
|Buchanan, G.||Kelly, W. T.||Spoor, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Charles|
|Cape, Thomas||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Stephen, Campbell|
|Charleton, H. C.||Kirkwood, D.||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Clowes, S.||Lansbury, George||Sullivan, J.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Lawrence, Susan||Sutton, J. E.|
|Compton, Joseph||Lawson, John James||Taylor, R. A.|
|Connolly, M.||Lowth, T.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Day, Colonel Harry||Lunn, William||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Dennison, R.||Mackinder, W.||Viant, S. P.|
|Duncan, C.||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Dunnleo, H.||March, S.||Watts-Morgan. Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Maxton, James||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Gardner, J. P.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Welsh, J. C.|
|Gillett, George M.||Mosley, Oswald||Westwood, J.|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Murnin, H.||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Greenall, T.||Oliver, George Harold||Whiteley, W.|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glemorgan)||Paling, W.||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Groves, T.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Grundy, T. W.||Ponsonby, Arthur||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Potts, John S.||Windsor, Walter|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Wright, W.|
|Hardie, George D.||Robinson, W. C. (York W. H., Elland)|
|Hayday, Arthur||Sakiatvala, Shapurji||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mr. George Barker and Mr. Batey|
§ The hon. Member withdrew accordingly.
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."1662
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
In view of the Division that has just been taken on this important point upon which some of us have voted against the suspension of our colleague, I want to ask now the particular ground upon which some of us have voted, and I will ask the Prime Minister if he will, straightforwardly, 1663 provide the evidence which has caused it.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Prime Minister has been asked by the hon. Member for Barrow (Mr. Bromley) to give his reasons, and the Prime Minister must be allowed to proceed.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I am not asking about the same point; I am asking something else. I have repeatedly asked for an opportunity to take part in this Debate, and I hope I shall get it.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am sure I hope so too, but sometimes, owing to the length of the speeches and interruptions, I am debarred from calling upon as many hon. Members to speak as I should wish.
§ Mr. BROMLEY
May I put a question to you, Mr. Speaker. I quite appreciate the Prime Minister's difficulty in naming individuals, but I would like to ask him if he can name the union?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am perfectly willing to answer as well as I can the questions which the hon. Member has put, and I am only pleased that the allusion I made to the Minority Movement shows that, by the conduct of hon. Members opposite, the Minority Movement is not popular among them. I am speaking extempore, and if I remember what I have said it was that I believed that there were, in contradistinction to certain other unions, some which were under the influence of the Minority Movement or 1664 words to that effect. [An HON. MEMBER: "You said controlled!"] I am answering the hon. Member, whom I have known for many years in connection with his own union in the old railway days, and I am giving, as every speaker is entitled to do, my own opinion. I believe that what has happened—and the hon. Member will know how much truth there is in it—is that although there are unions which have not got on their executive men that you would call members of the Minority Movement, yet many of the lodges have got so much into the control of the Minority Movement that they are able at times to dictate the policy. [An HON. MEMBER: "Which one?"] If the hon. Member asks me for a name, I give this as my opinion, that from my experience of last year I should say that the policy of the Miners' Federation had come under the control of the Minority Movement. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is a lie!" and "Withdraw!"] If that be not the case, I hope someone later in the Debate will deal with that point and answer some of the points put yesterday by the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Spencer).
§ Mr. DUNCAN GRAHAM
As a member of a miners' executive and as a miners' representative, I want to ask the Prime Minister upon what authority he makes that statement? I put this question quite respectfully, and I only want the truth. Upon what authority does the Prime Minister make the statement that the Miners' Federation of Great Britain is under the authority or control of the Minority Movement? I should like the Prime Minister to tell me, and tell this House, whether the miners were engaged in a general strike last year?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I was speaking about the changes which have taken place since 1906 in the position of trade unionism vis-a-vis the community in this country. I must apologise to the House for having been rather longer than I intended. You may say that since the 1906 Bill, not necessarily on account of it, whereas previously the trade union forces—and I am using a military metaphor which I know appeals to hon. Members opposite—have moved in regiments and brigades, in recent years they have moved in armies, and it is rather difficult for many of the younger members to realise that it was not until some years 1665 after the 1906 Act that the first stoppage took place in the coal industry which covered the whole industry of the country. I am not blaming anyone at present.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
As I have often said, the conditions in the economic sphere in this country have a most remarkable resemblance to the political sphere in Europe, and just as these great massings of federations alluded to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley, and of these large bodies of employers and of men were forming themselves all over the country, so you had in Europe great armies forming themselves in every country. As in the one case, in Europe war—as we have learned from those who have spoken since the Great War—became almost inevitable, so in the industrial sphere, strife on a scale hitherto not seen or suspected became equally inevitable. We have learned in Europe what war means, and we are learning at home what a strife on that scale means. [HON. MEMBERS: "And lock-outs!"] Hon. Members are so much quicker than I; I said, "strife." The record of the Government and the record of hon. Members opposite shows, I think, that in this matter, up to now, we have been the pacifists and they are militants. I have pointed out the hanges that have taken place in the last 20 years, and, when we came into office in the Autumn of 1924, nothing was farther from our thoughts than that we should bring in a Bill affecting trade unions. [HON. MEMBERS: Oh!"] The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting stated, as I said in the first sentence I uttered—now some time ago—that we had been contemplating this, or some equivalent word, for a long time. I can assure him that in the Autumn of 1924 we had no idea of such legislation at all.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The whole Government; the greater includes the less. I do not want to say more than a word or two about a subject which has been alluded to several times, but it is a little relevant to the argument when we are accused of having meditated for 1666 a long time "this attack on trade unions."
§ The PRIME MINISTER
What is under discussion at the moment is the length of premeditation. In the spring of 1925, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) brought in a Bill to deal with the Capital Levy. [Laughter.] I mean the political levy. The other was to be the subject of another Bill, although I understand it has been temporarily dropped from the programme of the party opposite. My hon. and learned Friend brought in a Bill to deal with the political levy, and that Bill had the support of a considerable majority of the party which I lead. The Cabinet decided, however, and they were in full agreement with me, that that Bill should not proceed further, on the ground that I gave in the House of Commons, namely, that, at a difficult time of industrial relations, I was not going to be responsible for firing the first shot.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I do not know whether the hon. Member, by that interruption, is meaning to blame me or to praise me for the course I took, but at any rate I take no credit to myself for what passed. I do think, however, that the attitude of my party, in responding as it did to my appeal, shows that, in their minds at any rate, at that time, there was no less disinclination to do what I call firing the first shot than I had myself. That was in the spring of 1925. Our action produced no result, because, within three months of that date, the country was threatened with a general strike.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I cannot tax my memory to recall exactly what I said, but I think it is extremely likely that I did say that, because it was a fact. I will come to the question of a mandate in a few moments. The point was that our gesture, if I may call it so, was not 1667 responded to, and why it was that a general strike did threaten the country. I do not propose to go into that; it may have been due to a variety of reasons; but in the summer of that year—and this is ancient history now—the House will remember that that general strike was stopped and, as it happened, only postponed, by the Government, through me, changing its mind, going back on what it said, for the sake of peace—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It was what we hoped would be peace; and a very strong step was taken, because it exposed us to a charge of cowardice, to a charge of not knowing our own mind, and to a charge of wasting the resources of the country. I advised the Government to do it, however, to give democracy a chance. Democracy can only function by means of the triumph of reason, and not by force, and I had at that time sufficient faith in the democratic instincts of our people to believe that, if they had six, seven, eight or nine months in which to consider that question, they, at any rate, whatever they might think the provocation was, would not bring the country face to face with so grave a situation—and so grave a situation for the industries of the country—as a general strike.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That has nothing to do with what I was mentioning. I am quite aware that many of those who entered on the general strike believed, difficult as it may be to believe it, that by taking part in that they really were helping the miners, although anyone who thought it out must have seen that, whatever the result, it could only end in disaster for the country at large, and make it still more difficult to bring about what all or us would want to see, and that is an improvement rather than a depression in people's circumstances.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
At the time that the general strike took place—and I 1668 hope the Opposition will not all fly out at me for this; I am giving my own view again, and it will be open to those who differ from me to say so in their speeches later—I believed, rightly or wrongly—I have no proof; the only proof I have is what I pick up by talking to people, and you cannot quote that in this House—I believed at the time of the general strike that the extremists got their way; they won.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Many of the leaders had no desire to enter into that, and I think the reason that led many of them into it was a reason with which all of us will have a good deal of sympathy. They did it that the movement might not be, split—to keep a united front, It was a real sacrifice that many of them made, and they did it to preserve apparent unity at the top; but, in my view, that apparent unity at the top was followed not very long after by fissures in the foundations of the whole edifice. I think that was the reason—and I must make this point, because I have great sympathy with men who stand out and take a line of their own; I know the extreme difficulty of doing it, and I have every sympathy with the man who feels that he cannot find courage to take that step when he knows that it will mean the plunging of himself into oblivion—that was the reason why the House paid that spontaneous tribute yesterday to the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Spencer). [HON. MEMBERS: "By your party!"] The House always recognises a man. [Interruption.]
I have only one or two more observations that I wish to make. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting said of us—and I do not think it is true—that we are trying to split his movement. I think the movement is splitting itself. The speech that we heard yesterday was symptomatic. We have only had one in the House, but for that one speech in the House there are a great many going on in the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go to the country!"] I have been asked what mandate have we for this Bill. The mandate is the events of last year. Why did we not pass a Bill immediately afterwards? I was pressed to pass a Bill during the General Strike; I was pressed to pass a Bill immediately afterwards. 1669 [An HON. MEMBER: "You were pressed by the coalowners, and you did pass one!"] I declined to do that. In either case I knew that, although it would have been perfectly easy at that moment to have forced any legislation through, the chances were that it would have been of an extreme and vindictive kind. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite always speak as though they had the sole right to represent in this House the working classes. It is, however, a fact that we have many more supporters among their ranks than they have. We have had no lack of advice in the preparation of this Bill. We have been advised to do nothing; we have been advised to repeal the Act of 1906; we have been advised to do something at another time; but we have decided on the Bill which was introduced by the Attorney-General, to lay down and to pass into law the four propositions of which he spoke. It may well be that the language can be vastly improved. We are dealing with a new situation in law—a general strike—and, therefore, there are no precedents for the language of the Bill. What I should have liked, as a layman, to have said, would have been:Clause 1.—A general strike shall be illegal.Clause 2.—Intimidation shall be illegal.But I am told that you cannot put into a Bill those words. Therefore words have to be found. I invite the co-operation of the House to find the best words which would give effect to the propositions the Attorney-General laid down, that a general strike is illegal and no man shall be penalised for refusing to take part in it, that intimidation is illegal, and no man shall be compelled to abstain from work against his will, and that no man shall be compelled to subscribe to the funds of any political party.
I believe the more the Bill is known in the country the more acceptable it will be found to be to the majority of our people, and if the party opposite choose, as they have indicated they will, to make its provisions an issue at the time when a General Election comes, we will meet you with all confidence on every platform in the country, even though your slogan be, "Let London walk."
§ Mr. T. SHAW
We have listened to two very extraordinary speeches. We have heard a right hon. and learned Gen- 1670 tleman shiver on the brink, apparently undecided which way to plunge, although he was standing on his feet speaking. He asked the House to help in, every possible way to elucidate this Bill, but he gave no help to those of us who say frankly we cannot understand it and that it is deliberately concocted in order to provide work for lawyers. The Prime Minister himself has sat down without attempting to explain how this Bill carries out the intentions of which he spoke. Not a word did he give to explain how Clause 1 covers a general strike and a general strike only. We claim that under Clause 1 almost anything can be brought before a bench of magistrates, and we know what benches of magistrates are. We know perfectly well the difference in treatment before a bench of magistrates of a trade unionist and an employer. We are not infants. Some of us have spent a lifetime in the trade union movement, and when people tell us that a trade unionist is certain of justice before either a bench of magistrates or a Judge, we have our mental reservations. We have seen decisions in the Courts, and we know exactly what chance a Labour man gets, particularly if he is what is called an advanced Labour man. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) was speaking he let himself go, and he made the statement that apparently the Labour party were in favour of making intimidation lawful. That is a monstrous misrepresentation. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that, with the law as it is, intimidation is not lawful, and all we are asking for is that this Bill should not pass, and that the ordinary law should remain in existence and intimidation remain illegal. Even to suggest that this party, for which I am speaking, is in favour of intimidation is a suggestion that is unwarranted, and ought never to have been made.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I should share the right hon. Gentleman's indignation if I made any such suggestion. [Interruption.] I am going to make plain what I said. What I said was that it was a very dangerous thing for a Labour Government to repeal an Act of Parliament which took the form of saying that intimidation was unlawful.
I took down the right hon. Gentleman's words. May I ask if these are not the words:Will the Labour party go to the country and say, 'We are going to repeal a law that says intimidation is illegal'"?
§ Mr. SHAW
I think the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten what he said. We have not. We remember his record on these things, and we pay particular attention to the language he uses, for no Member of this House can use language more precise, more lucid and more definite than the right hon. Gentleman, and so we pay him the compliment of paying particular attention to what he says, as well as the way he says it. Then, when he talks to us about the enormous outcry we make about the political levy, why should we not make an outcry if, in our opinion, the law is being reversed to our disadvantage, which I will try to demonstrate in my speech—turned round to cause us trouble, and expense, and anxiety that we have no reason at all to go through? "As a matter of fact," said the right hon. and learned Gentleman, "Clause 1 does not touch sympathetic strikes." I want to put a definite question to him as a distinguished legal man, and I want to put the same question to the Attorney-General. Take a case in which the employers in the coal industry make a demand for a savage reduction in wages. The right hon. Gentleman will remember that "savage reduction" was the term of the mineowners' own official as to the reductions that were demanded when the lock-out was entered upon. Suppose the railway men and the transport workers say "We will not carry blackleg coal. We will give our notices and terminate work." Do they come under Clause 1? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer!"] Lord Birkenhead says the Bill has been carefully considered. I take the right hon. Gentleman's hesitation to mean that it has been so carefuly considered that the principal task of the Government spokesman is to hide what he means.
Then the Prime Minister talked about the minority movement getting hold of the trade union movement. Really. Some of us who have spent a lifetime in this movement are getting tired of these bleeding hearts for our poor people. We are getting to doubt their honesty. We are getting to wonder where the trade 1672 unions can look to find this sympathy expressed in actions and not in words. We hear the words and we see the actions. The words do not correspond with the actions. We find that when the trade unionist trusts himself to the Party the right hon. Gentleman speaks for, he suffers the bitterest deception. I do not want to labour this case about the minority movement. Neither do I want to elaborate the fact that it was, according to the Prime Minister, the minority movement that determined the policy of the miners' movement. What were the miners faced with? A reduction of wages declared by the official spokesman of the employers to be savage. Did he expect the miners to give in? Did he expect the miners not to fight? Was it the business of the miners, in the opinion of the Government, to give way to any terms the mineowners offered, and if they did not give way, were they to be accused of being the prey of a violent anti-social movement? It would be easy for us, if we took the right hon. Gentleman's opinion of what trade unions ought to be, to settle all these disputes. All we should have to do would be to accept the employers' terms, whatever they are. Then we should become perfectly respectable, and we should have the pontifical blessing, both of the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley. Some of us have not been brought up that way. We do not see the justice of submitting to things like this.
Let me turn to the right hon. Gentle man who introduced the Bill. He talked in one part of his speech about misrepresentation. When we want to learn what misrepresentation is, we shall come to his party and sit at their feet. In my own Division, during the last election handbills were distributed at the Church doors, stating that the Labour party was Communist, and Communists stood for the nationalisation of women and the destruction of religion. When we want misrepresentation we know where to, come. We will come and sit at the feet of the Tory party, who are in election methods now worse than ever Americans knew how to be. I pay my tribute to any organisation that gets to the top of the tree, and in misrepresentation I know absolutely no party which can go as far as the Tory party, and I know something about electioneering not merely in this 1673 country but in others as well. When I hear how we are to have our liberties restored by a kind and beneficent Tory Government, I am not very much impressed. As a matter of fact, to put it in vulgar language, we have had some, and we know exactly what this liberty means. Liberty for the trade unionists in the mind of the Tory is liberty to play the spy and the blackleg. We are told the general strike is the reason for bringing this Bill before Parliament. What has the general strike to do with the method of collecting the political levy? Is the general strike responsible for a wrong way of collecting the political levy? That excuse is too thin for that part of the Bill. If the Government had played the game there would have been no general strike. They are responsible for the general strike. They insisted that the miners should go into negotiations beaten to begin with. No Government in the world would have dared to tell a body of employers that they must enter into negotiations, promising to give an increase of wages under the threat of notice, and right hon. Gentlemen on that bench know that that is perfectly true that they would never dream of doing with the employers what they did with the miners. The Government does not know what fair play and justice are. They laid down conditions for a beginning of negotiations that were absolutely impossible of acceptance by any self-re-specting organisation. Whatever the condition of industry, whatever the possibilities were, whatever the economic position was, no party ought to have been asked to enter into negotiations surrendering in advance, before a discussion took place, or to give up anything of the position to which they had then attained.
If I may express an opinion, the reason for this Bill is not the general strike; it is the fact that the Labour party is growing stronger. It has been the happy lot of the party opposite to consider itself the nation and the Empire; to consider itself entitled to have all the chief offices of State, administrative as well as political. There is a party that has come into being now which is challenging that position; that is laying down the condition that a dustman is as good as a duke and often more useful. It does not please the party opposite. This Bill is an attempt to cripple the party that is 1674 growing, and is not intended to give liberty to poor, oppressed people, who do not exist except in the imagination of the Members of the Front Bench opposite and the members of the Conservative party. This Bill is one of a succession of Bills. These Bills have nearly all been sponsored by lawyers. This Bill is the Government's one contribution to solve the problem of unemployment. If it becomes an Act of Parliament there will not be an unemployed lawyer in the length and breadth of the land. They will cling like leeches to trade union funds, and they will drop off when the last copper has gone. I can understand a lawyer sponsoring a Bill like this. I can understand its terms being so very difficult to understand that even the Government does not make a pretence of explaining it. They tell us frankly that the Government do not understand it themselves. When someone says: "Why do you not make this fair? Why do you not give the employers the same terms that you give to the workers? Why do you not make the lock-out illegal?" the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health says: "Please, Sir, I would like to do it, but I cannot define it." But the right hon. Gentleman says that he did not include the lock-out because to do so would be "useless and inept." I think those were his words. This is the party that asks us to be fair, to stop provocative methods, to preserve liberty. Liberty means, apparently, that you must not touch the employer, but you can hit the union with a big stick.
The right hon. Gentleman said, "It is difficult to define in terms what a general strike is, but you can tell it when you see it." What brilliance! "I cannot tell you what it is, but when you see it you will know it." We are asked to pass a Bill drawn in express terms that the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself cannot explain. Some of the Clauses of this Bill are inexplicable to any ordinary man. When the right hon. and learned Gentleman was speaking a question of detail was put to him, and he said, "The following speakers for the Government will explain these things." Then we got the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. Now, I did think that his association with military men would have given him a capacity for straight speaking; that he would have called a spade a spade, even 1675 if he had not called it a sanguinary shovel. What did he do? He carefully confined himself to making the largest number of misstatements in a given number of words that had ever been made in this House, and he never attempted to explain those Clauses that we all wanted to hear explained. He actually told us that half-a-million men were forced to pay the trade union levy against their will. If it comes to plain undisguised misrepresentation, what is that? There is a line, I think, in Holy Writ:Ananias come forth!It should be spelt f-o-u-r-t-h, because, I think, I could find one or two Members of the Government in reference to this Bill who would easily take precedence of Ananias. There is not a word of truth in the statement that half-a-million men are forced against their will to pay the political levy. What is the truth is that the cases have averaged about one per million per year. That is the fact, and the 500,000 is the fiction. Does not every trade unionist on these benches know that Tory money is never lacking for a trade unionist who will fight his trade union? I have known a man—poor, without a penny—enter into a very costly legal action against a trade union. Where did the money come from? God and the Tories knew; nobody else did. But we all knew that it was not the man's own money. This Bill will make the condition of affairs so bad that no union will be able to go on working with safety, because it will never know when it is likely to be attacked by members in the pay of another party. The right hon. Gentleman said that all new members of the unions were forced to pay on a ballot which might be 14 years old. There is no ground for this statement, not a scrap of evidence. Allegation after allegation is made, unfounded, without a scrap of evidence, and on these allegations this Bill is based. One wonders why we look upon this Bill as an attack, as being wrong, and as a disgrace to any party to produce.
We have in the Bill a great tenderness for blacklegs. I am not going to mince matters about blacklegs. The man who is fighting in a war and who goes over to the enemy because the general does not please him is shot. The football 1676 player who kicked the ball the other way because he thought the captain was a bad captain would be slung out of the team. And a man who, in the course of a game, works against the captain is a respectable person, in our opinion, in comparison with the ordinary blackleg. I have tried, as far as possible, during my life to take a fairly generous view of opponents. I hope I have never carried personal rancour into anything at all, but I cannot respect the blackleg. As I have known him, he is generally the most disreputable kind of man. He is turned away by the employer as soon as the dispute is over, and generally he will say any mortal thing in order to get a few extra shillings. That is the type of man this Bill is so very carefully safeguarding. I suppose that if we do not preserve this type of man the nation will be likely to go down into oblivion.
Will the right hon. Gentleman say that the miners who to the number of 350,000 went back to work before they had the permission of the Miners' Federation were disreputable characters?
§ Mr. SHAW
The miners to the number of 350,000 who went back to work are not in this Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: "Were they blacklegs?"] That is a matter for the miners' organisation. What I am trying to do is to preserve the liberty of an organisation to manage its own business and to keep my paws out of it, as far as I can. [Interruption.] I spoke a few moments ago about the blackleg as we look upon him. Unfortunately, there is another type of blackleg. There is the type of man who rises to a subordinate position in a movement. There have been occasions when one of these men has gone over to another cause. As soon as he has been used he has been thrown on one side. And when the hon Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Spencer) hears the cheering let him think of the Members who used to sit on the Front Bench below the Gangway opposite. Nobody is ready to shed a tear for them. These men serve their purpose. They injured the Labour movement for a short time, and then they were thrown away, and there arenone so poor to do them reverence.I want to repeat the question which I asked earlier in my speech. It is 1677 essential that we in the country should know what the Bill means. Is it a fact that this Bill was deliberately intended in cases such as I have described to prevent the railwayman and the transport man helping the miner? Is it a fact, or is it not? Unless we can get an answer, we are bound to assume that all the stories about this Bill being to prevent general strikes are humbug and delusions and that the Government have never had any intention of confining the matter to a general strike at all. Then, may I ask, what is meant by "Substantial part of the community"? The right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley wanted to know it. I want to know it. Is it, in the agricultural village, the squire and his relatives? [Interruption.] Is it, in the small manufacturing town, the one large employer? Is it anybody, whether singular or plural, who dominates a bench of Magistrates? How do you expect us with our experience to pretend that we think this Bill, which has been carefully thought out, as Lord Birkenhead in one of his sober moments said—[Interruption].
On a point of Order. Is it in order for a right hon. Gentleman to describe Lord Birkenhead in that disgraceful way? [Interruption.]
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
I have often heard the expression "That so-and-so had expressed himself in sober language," and I presume that what the right hon. Gentleman meant was that sometimes the Noble Earl expressed himself in somewhat extravagant language.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. SHAW
This Bill has been very carefully considered. Considered with what object? To bleed the trade-unions by innumerable litigations or to give the trade unions fair play? My contention is that, whether deliberately designed or 1678 not, it has been drafted in such a way as will make the trade unionists the prey of the Courts and the legal profession. There is absolutely no excuse for a Bill, which has been considered, coming to the House drafted in this way. What, for instance, should a trade union do when a member deliberately breaks its rules? Should it not expel him? Yet, without any evil intent, without knowing that it has broken any law, five, 10 or 15 years after this Bill becomes law it may be held that the strike was an illegal strike in which the man acted as a blackleg, and the Attorney-General may get an injunction that will prevent the trade union entering into action for an advance of wages. Can we trust the Attorney-General or any Attorney-General belonging to the party opposite to have the power to apply for an injunction, when trade unions are going to enter into a movement? I cannot trust the other side to give us fair play. I do not believe in them. I do not believe that they have any intention to give us fair play. I do not believe that they look upon us as a body which ought to have fair play. Consequently, I shall vote against anything that will give the Attorney-General this particular power, which has been used in America. The right hon. and learned Gentleman fetches his politics from America now. He fetches his methods and his intentions from America, as well as the peculiar kind of literature to which I have referred. What is meant byapprehension of boycot, or loss of any kind or of exposure to hatred, ridicule or contempt"?Does that mean that all a man has to do is to go to the police and say, "From a visit, or from certain words, or from the looks of a certain man, I have reason, to apprehend that I shall be made an object of ridicule."? That is all that he has to do under the wording of this Bill, and thereupon the poor trade unionist may be hauled before a Bench of Magistrates, which is hostile—[HON. MEMBERS: "Always hostile."]—often hostile, there is no question about that, and when we remember the savage sentences which are passed, we can imagine what will take place in the case of a trade dispute if a blackleg says that he has reason to apprehend that so-and-so by his looks means to turn him into an object of ridicule.
1679 If this Bill be what it is said to be, a very carefully considered Bill, then I have not much respect for the legal gentlemen who sit on the other side. But I know them too well to assume that. The right hon. Gentleman the Attorney-General, with the expression of a cherub from an old Italian painting, hides behind a seraphic face one of the keenest brains in this country. He knows how to draft a Bill, if he wants to draft it so that the people who read it can understand it. He knows that perfectly well. I suggest that this Bill in its drafting is quite deliberate for the purpose of making the trade unions a cote of pigeons for the lawyers to pluck.
May I call attention to the position of the employers? There is nothing to prevent an employer sending his manager or foreman—these are things that occur, things that I have known to occur and not things that are guessed at, like the Minority Movement—to a workman's house to say to the workman that if he did not resume work he would never get any more work either in that place or in that town again. Nothing in this Bill touches the employer. An employer may lock-out. The Minister of Health says that he cannot tell us what a lock-out is. You may do anything you like against worker, anything against a trade union in this Bill, but you must not say "booh" to an employer. We have seen the power of the employers. We have seen them literally force this Government into increasing the hours of the miners. We have seen them literally force the Government to ask the miners to agree to a decrease in wages, before a meeting took place. We have a profound respect for the power of mammon. We may not love mammon, but he rules, nevertheless. In our opinion, he rules over there on the other side of the House, and we are very sceptical about Bills which are produced, if I may say so without offence, by his minions.
If this Measure be a Measure of Tory sportsmanship and chivalry, I regret it, because the Conservative party had a name once of being sportsmen and gentlemen. This seems to me a very sordid and mean attempt to take advantage of a political opponent. Let me tell the House from practical experience what the political levy Clause will mean to the organisation of which I was secretary 1680 before I came to London. We took a ballot, a secret ballot, and at the end of it I think there were 16 members who declined to pay the political levy. We supplied to the house of every person concerned a form, and we collected every form from the houses. There were no names published. We are a labour town because we know what the conditions were in the textile industry, when the employers and the Tories had the power to determine what the conditions should be. There has never been any attempt to publish a name. Sixteen declined to pay and 6,000 were willing to pay. We are to make these 6,000 sign a form in order that the 16 may have their liberty. What about the liberty of the 6,000? Have not they a right to liberty without signing your forms?
§ Mr. SHAW
Of course, they pay willingly. What about the liberty of our people to pay without any interference of this sort? You say to these men and women, "You must declare in a stated form your intention to pay." You deny to them the liberty of paying without a signature, in order that a mere minority may have all the convenience and the majority all the inconvenience. In my society this Bill will mean an entire alteration of the method of collecting contributions and of keeping our books. It will mean that for the sake of 16 people who do not want to pay the political levy, the probable addition to staff and the keeping of a separate set of books will cost 10 times more than the total subscriptions of the people who do not want to pay. We are given that, in the sacred name of ilberty. I believe in liberty, and it is because I want liberty for the trade unions that I take up my present position. I am not making any appeal to the Government. I am not going to appeal to them. I do not believe that they have any intention to yield to any appeals.
I believe the Bill is deliberate. I believe that its vagueness is deliberate, and that it is deliberately intended to hamper political opponents. It may not be designably so—yes, I believe it is designably so, because I cannot imagine skilled lawyers drafting a Bill like this without design. It takes a very clever man to make a thing so vague as this Bill. An ordinary everyday draftsman 1681 like myself would have written it in such a way that somebody would have understood it. It takes a very clever draftsman to draft a thing in such a way that people cannot understand it. The futility of the Measure to me is the worst part of it. I ask the party opposite, "Do you dream that in times of great excitement you can by this Bill prevent what you want to prevent? Do you believe that in grave moments, when millions of people are feeling keenly, and there is much unrest, that your Bill is going to prevent it?" This Bill is the one thing that will help to make difficulty.
The only way to prevent a general strike is by the common-sense of the people making itself felt, and the people feeling that they are getting fair play and justice. Under this Bill, our people will not believe that they are getting fair play and justice. The Bill, in my opinion, will fail. Certainly, if the miners are attacked, and if the transport men and the railwaymen want to go to their assistance, they will go to their assistance. The right of a man or a body of men to cease work in ordinary times of peace is to us sacred, and we will not permit, if we can help it, that right to be tampered with in any way. When you interfere with liberty to such an extent that you tell a man he must work for an employer—breach of contract is quite a different matter, and nobody would promote a Measure to justify breach of contract—and you tell him that whatever he feels, whether he feels that he ought to cease work or not, by giving proper notice, he must continue at work, then you are undertaking a task which even this Tory Government cannot perform. You can have your great orators in the country talking about the trumpets and the walls of Jericho; you can have your Minister of Health saying that he does not know what a lock-out is; you can have the right hon. and learned Gentleman saying that he does not know what a general strike is; you can have all the talk about liberty of action, but you cannot make men work who do not want to work. That is where I am afraid the Government have made a mistake.
I am one of those who believe that this Bill will do just the very thing that many people in this country are anxious to prevent. Instead of bringing about a better feeling and a more friendly 1682 feeling, it will exacerbate feeling. It will make men feel that they had been badly dealt with, and it will make them feel that liberties they ought to enjoy have been taken away. And all for the mere benefit of a paltry temporary political advantage. It is not worth it. If I thought that the Bill could work I would try and argue against it, but I do not believe that it can work. We have had quite enough of attacks in the trade union movement. I myself have been a member of a trade union since 11 years of age. Since 18 years of age I have been an active worker in the movement. From the age of 20 I have been an official of one kind or another, and I have some knowledge of what has gone on in the trade union world. We have had enough political attacks. We have had enough of lawyers. We have had enough attacks to meet, and we have had enough trouble and anxiety. We have had enough of the dice being loaded against us. I shall vote against anything which refuses a man the right to cease employment. I am speaking purely for myself, and I say to the Government that they can do what they like, but I shall vote against anything that takes away from a man that right. I shall vote against anything that will make the majority responsible for what the minority ought to do. In a word, I shall vote against this Bill, because I believe it is vicious in principle; it is deliberately raising a class issue; it is providing a weapon in the class struggle; it is unjust to the workers; it is unfair to trade unions, and consequently there can be no doubt about the attitude of the Labour party in the Division Lobby. We shall vote against the Bill.
There must be two regrets which the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down is feeling at this very moment. His first regret must be that all seraphic smiling faces do not conceal the same mental equipment as he attributed to the Attorney-General. The second regret which he must feel is that his party has decided that, whatever happens, this Bill is to be voted against and repealed on the first possible occasion. I understand that he is one of the people who assisted to arrive at this foolish decision of his party. If that be the case, I find it almost impossible to understand the meaning of 1683 his speech at all, because the whole purport of his observations was to deal with very pertinent, very relevant, Committee points which may arise if the Bill is given a fair discussion in this House, line by line; a discussion which cannot be successful and satisfactory unless it has brought to it the skill and the observation and the knowledge of hon. Gentlemen like the right hon. Gentleman himself, who have told us in advance that they have no intention whatsoever of assisting in that task. What we did not obtain from the right hon. Gentleman, in any moment of his speech, was any declaration of where he stood in regard to the critical objects and the principles upon which this Bill is founded. We should have been extremely pleased to have heard some such statement from someone in the position of the right hon. Gentleman, more especially when we remember that it was almost exactly a year ago to-day that he committed the whole of his party to support of the general strike. I well remember him making his speech that night; that famous occasion when, almost immediately that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) had sat down, the right hon. Gentleman got up, much to the consternation of his party and uttered these words,There is no responsibility that we do not shirk; we take full responsibility.If the right hon. Gentleman is one of those rare persons who can impose on his own party responsibility for a movement which has been, but a moment since, described as an unlawful conspiracy, I think we might at least have his views in 1927 as to whether, if he were in office, he would advise his Government to undertake that responsibility. More especially do I regret the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman, because in the Bill I find a great deal of detail to criticise, and I had hoped that when the Bill comes before Committee we might have had something in the nature of helpful criticism from the other side instead of blank negation; criticism which would assist us in rendering operative an Act of Parliament which, if it passed without assistance or without pruning, I should be in opposition to altogether.
I want to divide the few observations with which I shall trouble the House 1684 into three categories. First of all, what are the objects which the Bill seeks to attain? Secondly, how does the Bill attain those objects, including an inquiry as to whether it does really attain the objects which it seeks to attain. Thirdly, what is it necessary to do to the Bill in order to make it fulfil its intended objects, and in order to make it operate with psychological fairness, because at present I think it is lacking in that quality. I am not going to deal with the objects of the Bill in any detail. They have been admirably stated by the Attorney-General, and I do not think it is putting it too high to say that the case in favour of its objects as stated by the learned Attorney-General is absolutely irresistible. You cannot resist the case for some declaratory legislation in the very nebulous sphere of the general strike. There can be no conceivable doubt that the time is overdue for some declaratory legislation dealing with intimidation. There can be no doubt that the mass of trade unionists in this country, of Liberal and Conservative convictions, feel that it is an abuse of trade unionism to conscript their funds and then afterwards to apologise.
There is not the slightest doubt that the misappropriation of trade union funds in the furtherance of illegal objects is a matter which the whole country is right in saying must stop. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Burnley (Mr. Henderson) says that the Bill is a "definite invasion of the elementary rights of combination as they have been exercised by trade unions for nearly a century," I would like to ask him if he has really contemplated the meaning of his own words? Does he mean that for a century trade unions have been exercising, as of right, coercion of the Government; or intimidation of workmen; or dissipation of workmen's benefits; or the subsidising of one political party against the will of their members? Those are the real things against which this Bill is aimed. If the trade unions have been doing that for a century or so, then the only answer is that the Bill is a century late. If the trade unions have not been doing these things for the last century, then the Bill merely confirms trade unions in their rectitude. It confirms the policy of the moderate leaders in those trade unions 1685 which have been exercising their rights in a proper manner and it gives them a powerful weapon against those who have been exercising their rights in an unlawful direction. Is it not perfectly well known that the truth lies half way between those extremes? I often think that the leaders of the Labour party are like ostriches who hide their heads in the sand and refuse to recognise the happenings going on all around them, although they are perfectly ready to take advantage of any benefits that may accrue therefrom. I remember during the general strike the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) assuring the House that Poplar was calm with the calm of a Sunday afternoon, and I remember the previous day having been in that neighbourhood and seeing cars overturned, drivers dragged off their seats, and cars burnt in the rioting that took place there.
The hon. Member says he is the representative of Poplar, and, if that be so, then I have a bone to pick with him, because, during the general strike in Poplar the municipal authority of which the hon. Gentleman is a member actually dictated terms to firms in the neighbourhood saying that they would cut off the supply of electricity to their works unless work ceased, and the hon. Gentleman cannot deny it.
I did not realise that the hon. Gentleman ruled over two realms. In one of his realms I say that this happened with certainty, because, as he knows, I appeared in a case in which I had the pleasure of seeing him there.
I beg the hon. Member's pardon if in speaking of Poplar I was infringing his sphere, but I will say Stepney and there was there undoubted coercion of employers by threats to withdraw the electric light and those threats were made by the local authority. We have it on the sworn testimony that last year 28 motor cars were in fact overturned on one single day in the area of Poplar itself.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I do not see that this is relevant to the hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument.
I am quite ready to withdraw any suggestion against Poplar and to leave it at the general statement that the Labour party adopt the attitude of an ostrich to those who, in circumstances like the general strike, threaten the most serious kind of intimidation. We are all perfectly aware that intimidation is carried out in practically every trade dispute. During the mining dispute, for example, we remember the appalling cowardly action, which no hon. Member opposite would himself personally stand up for for a moment, which was indulged in by men acting in concert. Not only that, but the elements of coercion and intimidation seem to have penetrated into the very vitals of the party opposite, because they are practised in this House itself. We all remember the disgraceful scene which occurred this afternoon, when the Prime Minister got up, and we remember the behaviour of the party opposite towards men like Dr. Haden Guest and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Spencer). The right hon. Gentleman, the late Minister for Labour, complained that the Prime Minister did not deal with various points in Clause 1 of the Bill. He was not given a chance by hon. Members opposite. What I submit is that the leaders of the Labour party are ostriches if they do not recognise this feature of the modern aspect of the Labour movement. I believe that the foundation of the objection of hon. Members opposite to the Clause in this Bill which deals with intimidation is due to the fact that this young and growing movement does not yet know whether it can stand on its feet or not—whether it requires to support itself by the miserable crutches of intimidation and coercion.
The Labour party reminds me sometimes of a cripple who goes to Lourdes—a hypochrondriacal complaint in many cases. If they would only throw away the crutches on which they have relied so long they would be all the stronger for it. This Bill gives them the opportunity 1687 to do so. It is said that it is not necessary to have the Clause declaring the illegality of a general strike because, first, that there is no intention of having another general strike, and, in the second place, that it is illegal in any case. As far as the illegality is concerned, it is really beside the point, because if reasonable and rational people with a knowledge of the law differ on this matter, it is quite time the law was declared, and it is idle for the hon. and learned Member for South Shields (Mr. Harney) to say that you must only declare things which are beyond dispute, and must not make any declaration on anything if it is going to be contrary to somebody's judgment as to what is the law in the matter. There is no point in declaring that murder is a crime. We all know that already. You want to make a declaration on a matter on which the opinions of people differ, and I think this Bill should be declaratory, as there is so much real dispute as to whether a general strike is illegal or not.
It is also necessary because we on this side of the House, and the country as well, can be absolved from any negligence if we are doubtful in regard to what the Labour party is going to do in the matter of another general strike. Do they intend to have another general strike, or do they not? If they do not then they will have to abandon the virtual leadership of hon. Members like the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Purcell) and the chairman of the Independent Labour party, who say that it will happen again and on an intensified scale. If it is not to happen again, and they follow the advice of the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden), how nice it will be for the right hon. Gentleman to find his orations in the week-end Press confirmed expressly by an Act of Parliament. Now let me say a word or two on the Clauses in the Bill dealing with the dissipation of trade union funds. Are not these Clauses necessary? I am going to address myself more particularly to what was said by the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Bromley). The hon. and learned Member for South-East Leeds (Sir H. Slesser) said, in relation to what the Bill proposes to do in regard to trade union funds, that it takesall the savings, all the benefits secured to widows, secured for the purpose of sick 1688 benefit, secured for the purpose of workmen's compensation, and hand them over to a recalcitrant member.That is a very formidable criticism of the Bill, if it is true. But I wonder whether the hon. and learned Member realised that this is precisely what the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness has already done, and what he has gloried in doing. In a letter which he wrote to Mr. Cook, he said:Our union in assisting the miners have broken all its rules governing strikes and thrown all its hard-won conditions of service into the melting pot, It has spent all our trade protection, management, orphan, political and other benefit funds and some £150,000 of our Death and Superannuation Fund.That is what his union has done. In law that is embezzlement; and is it not the duty of any Government to ensure that the benefit funds of widows and orphans shall not be gambled with in this way in order to please a semi-lunatic like A. J. Cook. Who shall say, when the sum of human misery comes to be added up, that the sum total of misery is not augmented by such behaviour—by this plundering of his wretched victims in order to aid a maniac to carry on his campaign?
§ Miss WILKINSON
On a point of Order. Is the hon. and gallant Member in order in describing a gentleman who cannot reply as he is not a Member of this House as (a) a semi-lunatic and (b) a maniac?
When the hon. Lady comes to reply she will I am sure come armed with full authority to answer both those epithets. Let me just deal for a moment with the question of the repeal of this Bill. When I read the threats that the first act of a Labour Government, if ever it comes into power, will be to repeal this Act, my first thought was that it was merely the arrogance of an obsolescent politician. I held that feeling until I heard the speech of the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes), who repeated it. It is a little difficult to understand how any prescient politician or party could really put a pledge like that in their programme. It is not the only pledge to repeal they have made. There is a pledge which claims priority, and that is the pledge to repeal the McKenna Duties.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I think the hon. and learned Member is getting somewhat beyond the scope of the Bill.
I wanted to explain that there are two pledges to repeal to which the party opposite is committed, whenever it does assume office, and I say that the prospect of its ever grasping power is receding into the distance in proportion as it cumbers its programme with these idle promises to repeal. The right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) has said that it would be difficult to imagine a repealing Act. I have attempted to draft something in the nature of a repealing Act myself, and I should like to see the draft of a Speech from the Throne, prepared by hon. Members opposite, in which was outlined to an illuminated public the intention of the Government to repeal this Bill if it becomes an Act. It would be something of this nature: It shall be lawful for any strike to take place which shall coerce the Government and the people of this country, and a substantial portion of it. It shall be lawful to threaten physical intimidation of a man, his wife or children, or the children of a worker in any industry. It shall be lawful to apply liberal workers' subscriptions in the support of Socialism without asking them first, and, unless they expressly refuse to have their subscriptions so utilised, it is a perfectly lawful process.
The truth of the matter, as hon. Members opposite know perfectly well, is that this Bill if it is so passed into law as to carry out the projects of the Government to the full is unrepealable, because it is based on the real wishes of the people of the country. That I believe to be the real source of their fury, and I do not believe that any Government which may come in will repeal a Bill which seeks to do what this Bill is intended to do. There is however the question—and I come now to the much more technical part of my argument—how the Bill seeks to carry out the objects it is intended to achieve. It is said that Hell's pavement is covered with good intentions. In that case I am perfectly certain that to the tesselated pavement of Hell this Bill would make an extremely good doorstep. There are numerous features in the Bill which go beyond mere draftsmanship. The Bill is drawn so wide that not only 1690 does it not catch the object it is intended to catch but it catches a wholly different lot of objects, which it was never intended to catch at all. Clause 1 in my opinion was quite fairly criticised by, and I endorse a great deal of what was said by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley. In the first place it goes far beyond a general strike, and it is really not fair to go on talking about Clause 1 as being a Clause which deals with another general strike. It deals with any strike which occurs in more than one industry, if the strike is of sufficient importance to coerce the community. Let us get rid of verbiage and recognise that the Clause as drafted deals with something very different from a General Strike. I do not say it is not a thing you want to deal with but it is not a general strike.
The second thing is that in an ill-defined emergency (as the Bill now stands), it seeks to enforce penalties for crimes on people who do nothing except remain at their work. It is a stretch of exaggeration to describe what the Bill does as industrial conscription, but there is no conceivable doubt that it goes some way in that direction, and there is a great deal in the argument of the ex-Solicitor-General which, if not strictly accurate; would be very difficult to combat on a public platform as regards what the effect of Clause 1 of the Bill really is. It either declares or creates a state of law, I do not mind which, which depends on two basic principles, namely coercion and intimidation, and it does nothing to define either of these terms or give them any meaning in law. It is one-sided. It deals only with strikes, and in my opinion that defect cannot be put right by adding the word "lock-out," because by adding that word and saying "strikes and lockouts" you do not collectively exhaust the emergencies against which the nation wants to protect itself. When the Bill comes to Committee stage I hope to submit Amendments which will be designed to remove these ambiguities from Clause 1 and make it better able to meet an emergency which we should all regret if it arose again. Let me give two examples of what are not covered by this Clause. What I conceive to be the most dangerous and vicious strike of all, such as a strike of railwaymen on a purely political object, say a refusal to carry troops to 1691 China, is not covered at all. In the second place, take a case like the case of farmers or a group of farmers, who some little time ago rather than send milk to market poured it down the drains. That is not covered.
If it was done on an extensive scale, it would be as great a menace to the community as any other dispute, but that kind of dispute is not covered by the definition either of a strike or a lock-out. In my submission these are defects which ought to be set right, if the mere wording of Clause 1 is to be made satisfactory. There is one very vital thing which has been stressed over and over again in the Debates of the last two or three days, and in regard to which Clause 1 is equally unsatisfactory. It leaves to the Magisterial Courts the duty of imposing imprisonment on a man for taking part in a dispute which may ultimately, in the course of the three or four weeks during which the matter is sauntering its easy way to the House of Lords, be declared not to be an illegal dispute at all. It is absolutely necessary that machinery of Clause 1 should be amended in such a way as to ensure, not that it shall be optional on the Attorney-General to apply to the Courts, but that it shall be compulsory for somebody to obtain an authoritative declaration relating to the legality of a dispute before any proceedings are taken.
I feel very strongly, and I hope some Members of this party will be found not to be in disagreement with my views, that while there is a case for saying that those who take part in a dispute, of the illegality of which they are certain, and who actually withhold their labour, should not come to the State and demand at the same time to be relieved from the civil liabilities of their action, yet, on the other hand, there is no case for stultifying and making nugatory the operation of the law by threatening criminal penalties against millions of people merely for remaining out of work, when you know perfectly well that there are not the Judges in the country to try them, nor the prisons to accommodate them if they are found 1692 guilty. These are some of my suggested criticisms to Clause 1 of the Bill. I think it should further be amended by making it optional to certain of the vital industries—which are going to find themselves in a position of danger if Clause 1 passes in anything like its present form—to apply to a conciliation tribunal, and to bring their disputes before such a tribunal, so that they may be certain that they are not engaged in any case on unlawful enterprises As regards Clause 2, I do not see why it should go back to prehistoric times, as it does at present. If my criticism of Clause 1 is right, namely, that it does not refer exclusively to the general strike at all, then the answer of the learned Attorney-General yesterday does not apply. If it applies to strikes other than a general strike, it may very well be that Clause 2 might be invoked by some litigant to get an academic decision on a strike which occurred about 1885.
As regards Clause 3, which deals with intimidation, the learned Attorney-General himself has pointed out the vice, of these cross-references to other Acts of Parliament, such as the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875, but his own Clause is full of them. If we are going to have a Clause which is really declaratory, a charter for pickets, let us have it in clear terms, so that at any rate they can find their whole charter within the scheme of one Act of Parliament. Concerning Clause 5, which deals with the Civil Service, there is a great deal I should like to say were it not that I have already trespassed so far on the time of the House. May I, however, refer back to the remarks of the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), who said yesterday that Clause 5 was entirely unnecessary. That is another example of the ostrich complex, if I may so call it. The hon. Member, as he told us, belongs to the Union of Post Office Workers, and I am going to quote a declaration or appeal made by that union through its official organ, "The Post," in 1920.Important and Urgent.From the Executive Council to each member.Shall we support war on Russia?Your Executive recommends decisively No.The Postal Workers will be the first to say to the Prime Minister they will not go to war.1693 [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Will hon. Members cheer this:The member of the U.P.W. will stand by the position of the Council of Action whatever it may be.And it is then declared that—Among the first to down tools if necessary will be the postal workers.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] That is from "The Post" of 21st August, 1920. It is absolutely idle to say, in the face of a declaration of that sort, made by the responsible organ of a trade union of Government workers, that there is no case to be dealt with, or that there is no case for saying that they must be separated from an affiliation which compels them to issue mandates of that kind to their members. My criticism of Clause 5 when it comes to the Committee stage will be that while taking measures to stop that kind of affiliation, it does nothing whatever to substitute anything in the place of that affiliation or to give an acceptable organisation to members of the Civil Service through which they can ventilate their grievances through the Whitley Councils.
I appeal to the Government strongly on this head. I do not believe that there is anything like genuine hostility to this Bill in the country. So far as my own constituency is concerned, I have sounded what sources were open to me to ascertain what the feeling is, and, putting it at its highest, it is not strong. The agitation is wholly imposed from the top; such a feeling of hostility and that desire is expressed on the benches opposite, but not by the rank and file in the country, who, I believe, genuinely welcome this Bill. When one considers the historic position of the trade unions in this country and the part they have played in the history of industry, when one looks back on the enormous advances they have assisted to make the standard of life of the workers during the last century; when one considers the factory legislation they have sponsored and assisted, the eradication of child labour and the evil days of the last century; when one looks back on the dark history of industry in this country, it is really amazing that the country has taken with such extraordinary equanimity an attack which after all might be construed as an assault, on the present constitution of the trade unions as a whole. That is very largely 1694 because the country accepts the face value of the Prime Minister, and accepts the word of the Government that this Bill does not do more than achieve the objects which the Attorney-General outlined.
If, in fact, in operation, it does more than that, there will be the greatest downfall for this party which it has ever sustained. There was a very prescient remark by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Rose) last night. He said in effect, "It is not this Bill you have to fear; it is what you are going to do after." If this Bill is found to cover ground anything like that which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley indicated, or ground such as I apprehend might be covered in Clause 1, it will indeed be a dangerous Bill for this party. The people of this country as a whole will reproach this party for having introduced it with the statement that it did not aim at or attempt anything like the objects which it in fact attains. Let us beware in time. The whole responsibility will be on this party, because we are not going to get any help from the other side. Let us be vigilant in regard to every item of the Bill, and scrutinise it from end to end in order that the confidence which the people are putting in us to give them a square deal shall not be found to have been misplaced when the Bill actually comes to be operated.
§ Mr. BROMLEY
The hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat did me the honour of referring to myself and to my union and to the part we took in the national strike of last year. His reference to the fact that we spent practically the whole of our money in endeavouring to save the mine workers from disaster, I take for myself, individually, and on behalf of my union, as a distinct compliment. We did not desert our corner of the battle or our comrades in distress as long as we had a shot in the locker. But the hon. Member was not quite so complimentary to this party as a whole when he made reference to the "ostrich complex," as he called it, and on another occasion, not possibly in the best of taste, he referred to certain happenings, where crutches were used for what he said were imaginary ailments. If I did not know them better, I should suggest that the Cabinet and the Government responsible 1695 for this Bill were deficient above the shoulders and that crutches to them would be absolutely useless. I do not think that, however. I think this Bill is brought forward with a mendacious purpose, with a class object, and with the definite intention or desire to smash the whole organisation, both trade unionist and political, of the working classes of this country.
Two things have been emphasised from the benches opposite during this Debate, and they are the "general strike," as it has been called, and the financing of political action by the rank-and-file of the trade unions. All other questions raised have been mere camouflage. They have only been brought in for the purpose of showing up in clearer relief these two things which have been troubling hon. Members opposite. It has been interesting to a layman to hear the quibbling of the polished legal minds of legal Members of this House on the Bill. One contradicts the other, not merely from different sides of the House, but even on the same side. It is often said: "Heaven help those who go to law." If these differences prove anything on this occasion, they prove that the Bill is not loosely drawn because of any lack of legal knowledge or intelligence on the part of the Law Officers, but for the purpose of making the instrument more brutal in smashing their political opponents. This Bill is the most cowardly thing any class in the history of this country has ever attempted in the open light of day.
I propose for a very short period to try to deal with the two salient points. In spite of all the quibbling of the right hon. and learned Gentleman for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon)—who, like the rest of his party, comes to deliver speeches and then interest passes—and in spite of the repetition of one Member after another of the words "general strike," I deny that any general strike has ever occurred. It is all very well cleverly to suggest that our leader or someone else has used in conversation, or in writing, or in speeches, the words "general strike"—and I am not at all sure that I have not occasionally dropped into using it myself because I hear it so often—but as a member of that General Council which called that strike, in common with 1696 four other colleagues who have the honour to sit on these benches, let me put one point to everyone on all sides who wants to be fair and not to use this expression for the purpose of hiding the intention of this Bill. A large number among the thousands of trade unionists who hastened to our call were not affiliated with the Trade Union Congress of Great Britain. There were many unions in Scotland that were not affiliated to our Congress, yet the whole of the members who took part in that strike were barely to-thirds of the official register of the trade unions affiliated to the British Trade Union Congress. We speak of a General Election and we mean a General. Election in every constituency in this country. Every fair-minded individual in this House will admit at once that a general strike can only be a strike that affects every union, even if it only be all the unions affiliated to the Congress. But we did not call out, by a large number, every union which was affiliated to the Congress. Therefore, in spite of all the quibbling of the legal minds in this House or outside, a general strike has never yet taken place.
There have been during this Debate many statements with regard to the action of the General Council in connection with that strike. The right hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott) spoke of it yesterday as a strike into which the Trade Unions' General Council had plunged. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said to-night that the extremists had had their way. That is perfectly true, but let us examine who extremists were. The General Council did not plunge into the national strike of 1926. We were endeavouring—though it was impossible as it turned out—to conduct the storm. If we had been able to pull it through without a strike no doubt, though only for a short while, we might have been heroes in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite. But there came a Sunday night when we were very near, in my opinion, to the possibility of a settlement and, to use an animal metaphor, I suggest that the Members of the Cabinet, with all the great brains and intelligence they are supposed to possess, were, on that particular evening, like a number of elephants stampeded by a mouse.
1697 There was a stoppage by a small number, a handful out of the millions of trade unionists, some 20 or 30 people in the "Daily Mail" office who refused to do certain work because of a certain leading article which was untrue, bitter and vindictive, and immediately the extremists among the Members of the Government who were present treated those of us who had spent weeks on day and night work, in trying to conduct the storm, in a most discourteous and unkindly way. I know all about the dignity of Cabinet Ministers, and you would hardly think it mattered how they treated Members of the House who happened to be just common trade unionists. They went away, and sent a uniformed attendant to tell us that they had gone, and that we could go as soon as we liked. Those were the extremists who got hold of the position and who caused the national strike—not the general strike—of 1926.
§ Sir FRANK MEYER
Is it not a fact that the orders for the various unions to cease work had gone out on the previous day?
§ Mr. BROMLEY
The very question asked by the hon. Member proceeds either from the crass ignorance of many people in this country or from an unfair desire to believe something which is not correct when it suits their purpose. My reply is "No!" What had been done some days previously was to prepare the organised workers in the event of a certain happening, and we should have been worse than fools had we not done so, but there was no order sent until the mouse stampeded the elephants. Let us be quite frank about this Bill. It is brought in, not for the prevention of another national strike, but if possible to kill our movement. It will not do so.
The other point that has emerged is that of political action. I have heard hon. and right hon. Members opposite—for some of whom I have had in the past very great respect, though I am afraid I may, with other people on this side who cannot be said to be quite wild animals on the extremists' side, have to somewhat adjust my opinion—quite freely refer to the position of the trade unions. Everyone who knows anything whatever about our position knows that there is actually freedom already for any man in any trade union to claim political exemp- 1698 tion. Speaking of my own union, our members either pay or leave it alone. If they do not pay, they are not counted in arrears, they are not victimised, nor is any benefit withheld from them. They pay it or leave it. In all the other unions there is an opportunity to any member who so desires not to contribute politically and to abstain therefrom. When there are suggestions that that freedom is absent, I assert again—and I do not like to make such assertions unless I believe them to be true—it is mere camouflage and untruthful and vindictive camouflage for the purpose of hiding the real intention of this pernicious Bill.
Why does it come forward? In the past the organised workers voted Liberal and Tory, and as long as they so voted and left the machinery of Government in the hands of the capitalist class, they managed after a struggle, perhaps, to win half-a-crown by cruel self-sacrifice from the hands of the employing classes, but with this machine of Parliament those classes could win back the 2s. 6d. in a very few weeks. Therefore, during that period the trade unionists were given some amount of freedom, but recently the organised workers have also been invading this sacred Chamber and have even for a short time held Government and will do so again. Therefore, it becomes necessary to smash the machine which would enable the workers to take a part in the control of this machine and to prevent by legal enactments the taking away of the advances made. That is, in my serious and humble view, the reason for this Bill being brought forward. We are told sometimes—and it has been suggested in this Debate—of the terrible losses of the capitalists in this country caused by the national strike and how last year was the cause of serious losses to them and did considerable damage. I say that is camouflage which is only used for the purpose of hiding the destructive and class colour of this particular Bill.
I want to quote, not from a Socialist publication, but from the "Bankers Magazine" of January last" which published a table giving 365 different stocks and shares and showing that between the 1st January, 1926, the year of the national strike, and the 31st December, 1926, these shares went up in value by £79,000,000 and the holders, therefore, were enriched by that amount. Hon. 1699 Members opposite will say this cannot possibly be and that mining shares and others were affected by the strike. Let us look at the figures—and again may I say I am quoting from the "Bankers Magazine," which is not published by this party.Iron, coal and steel shares went up during that tragic year of the national strike in value by £3,963,000; electric light and power shares went up by £1,332,000; British banking shares by £3,099,000; oil shares by £8,892,000; insurance shares by £2,850,000; shipping shares by £1,416,000; and tramway and omnibus shares by £5,560,000.No wonder the "Bankers Magazine" of January suggested that it had been a pretty good year. I am not giving my own figures but I am quoting from the "Bankers Magazine" which certainly was not printed in January last to provide me with an argument to-night. I am only trying to prove that these suggestions that British trade was ruined last year are made for the purpose of hiding the desire behind this Bill. I agree entirely—and I was very glad to hear it from the hon. Member who spoke last—that one of the points which have specially emerged is that Clause 1 aims at every strike. That is the intention of the Bill. Take this very Clause 1 where it refers to a strike which affects and intimidates the community or any substantial portion of the community. Take my own organisation. We have an agreement with the Transport Workers' Union for our members of the London Combine of Trams, Omnibuses and Tubes. It would be said under this Bill that it was not one industry, although owned by one combine. We have an agreement that if the men on the top, on the omnibuses, had to defend themselves or the men underneath on the tubes, and the traffic went to the other, we should act jointly. Under this Bill we should be terrorising or intimidating a substantial section of the community and it would be illegal. Therefore the intention is to prevent trade unionists showing that bond of human sympathy and brotherhood one to another, under the same employer if necessary. Certainly that does not deal with the national strike.
I do not want to speak extravagantly at all, but I say quite coolly to the Government and their advisers and to the whole party in the House and outside 1700 that, if after this Bill is law, lock, stock and barrel, our comrades on the surface were being smashed, as attempts will be made once this Measure is on the Statute Book to smash them piecemeal, and they have to defend themselves, I would have no scruples, whatever you do with your law. That is the intention. I am not going to encroach upon the time of the House, as some speakers who feel quite earnest on this Bill have, and I only want to touch on one or two things. I want to emphasise that Clause 1 is a definite, calculated intention to make impossible all strikes. In regard to picketing, I suggest that with the strikes that have taken place, with the hate engendered by the national strike of last year, the folly of some pickets here and there has been infinitesimal and not worth consideration, but this Bill, in Sub-section (2) of Clause 3, deals with intimidation and closes with these words:apprehension of boycott, or loss of any kind, or exposure to hatred, ridicule, or contempt.Why, we shall all be in gaol! I remember that in our railway strike in 1911, it was said by a responsible Cabinet Minister that it was an attempt to ruin the country, but there were only 170,000 men out. On that occasion I was a district officer at Manchester, and I went to Chester, where a highly respected engine man, in the first two hours of the strike, had given word to his superintendent that he would work a certain mail train. I went to see him, and he said, "I am in a cleft stick. I want to do what my union tells me, but I have given word. What should I do?" In the first place, under this Bill my visit to that man's house would land me in gaol when this becomes law. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] It is all very well for Members to say "No," but the best proof of what I say has been the vociferous cheers to every bitter thrust from that side against our trade unions and hon. Members on this side, and the absolute silence yesterday when the right hon. and learned Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott) said that trade unions had in the past been a blessing to the country. There was not a whisper then; they were all very quiet little mice then.
I would ask hon. Members opposite to remember that since we trade unionists 1701 have had the honour of becoming Members of this very great Assembly, we have been provided with a pass that allows us to travel by rail first class, and I suppose that when we are there we look almost human, and conversation goes on amongst other people, and we hear what is said about us by those people. I have heard some things said lately that, if I was not the gentleman I am, well—! However, going back to my story, I said to this old man, "You have given your pledge, and you can keep it, if you feel you can pass your fellows and know that you may be betraying some man's home" I went out, and there was a number of men waiting to see this man, and I said to them, "He is a good fellow. Do not let him believe there is the slightest desire to obstruct him. There are only a dozen of you. Form two lines, if you like, but stand clear, and give him an open space, and let one of you who works with him step out and say to him: 'Harry, are you going to take my job when my wife and kids are in the balance?' If he passes you, I shall be deceived, but let him go."
As it happened, this man was not one of the fifth day creations that this Bill attempts to defend. If hon. Members will look up the good Book, they will see that on the fifth day the Lord made "every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth," and, with all desire not to be unkind, that is what I call a man who takes the job of his fellow man, when, for high principle or sympathy with his fellows, at the command of his fellows, he puts all his past and his future and his home into the scale and stands aside and says, "I wonder whether this will go up or down." The man who attempts to deflect that scale is a blackleg of the worst kind, and this Bill is intended to protect him. As it happened, on this occasion, when that appeal was made to this man, he turned back and said, "No, my loyalty to you will be greater than my promise to the superintendent"; but had he been one of the other sort under this Bill, he could have said he was held up to ridicule, because a dozen men stood at each side of a broad roadway and gave him room to pass.
The whole Bill is drawn in order to destroy the Government's political opponents. Where has all this love of freedom been exhibited in the past by 1702 the party opposite, that a working trade unionist should not contribute a farthing a week to his political fund? Where are the hundreds and thousands of pounds, the £15,000 at a time, paid into a certain political party's funds for the purchase of a peerage? Where has it all come from? From the very workers who are not now to be allowed to contribute a farthing a week to their own political funds except under limiting conditions. I regret to have to say it, and I regret it for this reason. I am not afraid to admit that I speak my mind, sometimes to my disadvantage and discomfort in this House and outside, but there are some of us here who learned certain lessons by the national strike of last year, and I am not afraid of admitting it. There are many of my hon. Friends on these benches who disagree with me profoundly, but I am one of those who have been willing to see if it was not possible for some of those old tales to be true, and for the lion to lie down with the lamb, and who have been trying in our little way to bring about a better spirit. But this has killed it.
Many of us, who may be willing to bring a better spirit into industry and to do something to bring the two sides together, hold the view that when the dagger of the political assassin is at the throat of our fellow men there is only one side that we can take, and I say therefore, with regret, that we shall have to have our swords out, we shall have to stand in a solid phalanx against this attempt by the party opposite to cripple their political opponents and to make impossible the age-long freedom of trade unionists to fight for their fellows. This Bill is not a desire or an intention to end the possibility of a national strike, but it is a desire to make trade unionism ineffective, to lock us up, lock, stock and barrel, root and branch, and then to start to kill us piecemeal and hold the rest off by the power of the law from any sympathetic action. I am afraid that when it comes, some of us who were supposed recently to be moderate men will be the first to enter the portals of your gaols, but it will not last long. There is an old saying to this effect: "Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad." I believe that the gods, to express it in that particular 1703 sense, have begun to make mad the Tory party, and I hope it is the beginning of their disintegration as a political force.
§ Mr. DIXEY
I fail to appreciate how the Socialist party and even the leaders of trade unionism in this country can object to the Government bringing forward this Bill. I was one of those Members of this House who thought the Bill ought to have been brought forward by the Government years ago, and I was one of those present, when a private Member's Bill was introduced 2½ years ago on these lines, when we heard a marvellous speech from the Prime Minister, in which he appealed to right hon. Members opposite to come together and try to have some sort of good feeling in industry. In response to the eloquent appeal made by the Prime Minister, and out of loyalty to the party, my friends and myself agreed to forego our principles with regard to that matter, and I object to hon. and right hon. Members opposite, when they ought to know that many people on this side of the House, out of loyalty to the Government and the country, and out of a desire to show goodwill to our political opponents, agreed to give way on a Measure which we were keenly desirous of seeing put into law, should, in return for the attitude of the Prime Minister, encourage and foster in every way they could the general strike in this country a few months ago. The hon. Member for Barrow (Mr. Bromley) is always very interesting, and everyone knows he is a trade union leader of distinction, and I am pleased to know that on this occasion at all events he has no great sympathy with the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Purcell). The point of view of the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean is a point of view that this Bill is desirous of killing once and for all, and that is the idea that a general strike is a legal thing and can be foisted on this country at any time.
I am much interested to know what are the opinions of Members opposite on the general strike. I have heard hon. Members get up to-day and yesterday and say that no legislation on these lines is necessary, and that such a thing as another general strike is an impossibility. Even the hon. Member for Barrow says he is convinced, after what took place at the last general strike, that a general strike 1704 is futile, but the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean still holds that a general strike is an essential weapon for the working classes of this country, and while the opinion of Members opposite is divided on this important issue, I, for one, believe that the only way in which the Government can deal with the situation is to make it clear to the whole country that a general strike is an illegal thing, and that those who participate in it are guilty of an unlawful action. I believe that lockouts should have been included in this Bill. I believe that there is no more difficulty in defining the term "lockout" than in defining the term "strike." They are both exceedingly difficult terms to define, but I am certain that employers committing themselves to a general lockout or a sympathetic lockout are acting in just the same way as trade unionists committing themselves to a general strike or a sympathetic strike, if it is aimed against the nation.
Such a definition in this Bill would clarify the position generally throughout the country, because I believe it is essential that employers should come into this Bill equally with trade unionists, and, so far as I and friends of mine are concerned, we press on the Government the necessity of including and defining the term "lock-out" and making proper provision in this Bill against employers in the same way as against workmen. I would like to say to hon. Members opposite, in regard to this Clause 1, that I know their love of liberty and of freedom of speech. They have been so often demonstrated to us unfortunate Conservative Members of Parliament when we speak in some hon. Members' constituencies. We do not find that there is the same love of peace, justice and equity in hon. Members' constituencies in listening to the arguments of the other side as they so often express in this House, but they are trying, undoubtedly, to misrepresent the Government's position with regard to employers.
§ Mr. DIXEY
The hon. Member knows quite well that I understand more about Clause 1 than he does. It is a very unfair thing to misrepresent the objects of this Bill. We are prepared and desire 1705 to see the employers this country treated in exactly the same way as the men, and it is preposterous for hon. Members opposite to state that we stand for one class in the country. A large number of Members on this side of the House owe their votes to workers just as much as do hon. Members opposite. We are not afraid of facing our constituents on this matter, and even the constituents of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I say that I find a very keen desire on the part of trade unionists to appreciate really what is in this Bill. I believe there is no real opposition on the part of the workers against this Measure. I hope my hon. Friends opposite will not think I have been told personally, but I do believe the opposition to this Bill is engineered from the top and not from the bottom. [An HON. MEMBER: "Test that!"] Hon. Members opposite, especially miners' representatives, ought to know that there have been as good Conservative trade unionists as Socialist trade unionists. One of the past presidents of the Miners' Federation was a Conservative, I think, until he died. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who was he?"] Mr. Ashton. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is alive now!" and "He was the secretary!"] I stand corrected; I am very glad that he is still alive. I am only going on what miners have told me. I am told that Mr. Ashton did magnificent work for the trade union with which his name was associated, and it does not spoil the point of my argument. I am merely pointing out that there have been, and there are still, in the trade union movement as good trade unionists who are Conservatives as there are Socialists. As far as the Conservative party are concerned, we are only desirous of teaching our own supporters that this Government is out for fair play, and I do believe that if they embody a proper definition of lock-outs and bring the employers into this Bill, we shall justify our policy with the people of this country.
I cannot understand the view of hon. Members opposite on the political levy. They are the very people who told us that they had a tremendous hold upon their people during the general strike. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, including the hon. Member for Barrow (Mr. Bromley), got up in this House and told us what they could do with their people, and that at 1706 a single shout in the Trade Union Congress the unions would come out. Yet those same gentlemen come forward, and because the Government propose an alteration merely to contract-in, instead of contract-out, they say that we want to deprive trade unionists of representation in this House. Even at the cost of the hon. Member for Barrow losing his seat, in the interests of the working men of this country, the Government should pursue a straight course, and free these people from improper political pressure.
§ Mr. VARLEY
If the success of the contributions which have been made to this Second Reading Debate is to be measured by the public notice which has been given to them, the palm would be awarded the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Spencer), and I suppose the reception which was given to his remarks in this House was largely because of the generosity extended by this House to any man whom it supposes to be suffering an injustice. If we conceded that the whole of what he had to say was a correct recital of events during the last dispute, even then I utterly fail to find where his particular case is provided for in this Bill. The hon. Member for Broxtowe was, and is, a trade union official, and this Bill purports to give protection to members of trade unions. But even when this Bill is law, it will still be at the option of members of trade unions generally and of their executives to treat their officials in accordance with their policy at any particular time. Therefore, although what he had to say had nothing whatever to do with the Bill, in view of the cordial reception given to his remarks, I should like to put a slightly different complexion on what he had to say, because one would believe, listening to his recital, that the particular part of the country from which we jointly come, and the organisation with which we were both connected until recently, was some sort of an inquisition.
The hon. Member who has just resumed his seat learnt, with a considerable amount of surprise, that a man reputed to be a Conservative and a member of the Miners' Union was still alive It may be of interest to this House to know that from the year 1908 to the year 1923 there sat on the Liberal benches of this House a certain man who, for the whole of that period was, and still is, the financial secretary of the Nottinghamshire 1707 miners organisation, and I think that that should be the highest guarantee that the political pressure, about which we have heard many accusations, cannot be applied in the slightest degree to the Nottinghamshire Miners' Association. If any Conservative speaker could point to any Conservative organisation which has allowed a Labour Member of Parliament to act in an official capacity for that body for 18 years, I should be considerably obliged.
With regard to intimidation, of which the hon. Member for Broxtowe said he was victim, there was one of his remarks with which I found myself in agreement. When he talked about the Red permeation of the trade unions, I may say I believe there is a considerable degree of truth in it. I was saying so in the early days of the dispute. I was writing in that way before the hon. Member for Broxtowe was under the hallucination that he was the saviour of our society. I was ostracised, and howled down at eight meetings out of 14. From hon. Members who, like the hon. Member for Broxtowe and myself, owe all that we have and are to the trade union movement, there is some thing rather more to be expected than that we should run away in such circumstances. It is perfectly true he was sent for from London in very much the same dramatic fashion as he made his remarks here the other night—a course with which I entirely disagreed and had the courage then to say so. It is true he was summarily dealt with. I rose in that conference and told them that he was not the servant of the Miners' Federation and that any disciplinary action belonged to the Nottingham Miners' Association, and they recognised the force of what I said. He then went back to Nottingham, and he has told this House that 28 members were excluded from that council meeting by the other 19, because they had been to work. I ask how, in a free vote, 28 men could be expelled by 19? They wanted expelling, and they voted for their own expulsion. Their expulsion was what they required, to do the dirty thing which they afterwards did. The hon. Member for Broxtowe was present at the council meeting.
§ Mr. SPENCER
May I ask the hon. Member whether it was not he who advised all the members to go down and start a new union?
§ Mr. VARLEY
I do not know whether that arises out of what I said, but it is absolute nonsense. It has no foundation in fact. I should have dealt with that in my later remarks, but I will say now that the offer which he afterwards accepted was made many weeks before to me, and that so far from his being a victimised man, the House ought to know, having heard his harrowing story of how he and his wife sat down and asked what they were to do, that at this moment he is in possession of a guarantee from his executive of £800 a year for the next 10 years. The only likely victim is, possibly, myself. I admit I have as much trouble now with the Reds, whom he and I were jointly fighting, as ever I had. It will, possibly, be my wife and I who will sit down and talk about victimisation. It is perfectly true both of us ought to know something of victimisation. There has been more victimisation practised in Nottingham shire in the last four months than in the whole history of industry. We have 321 men, some of whom by overt acts and deeds, perhaps, called attention to themselves, and perhaps are victimised in consequence. There are others in the 321, notably one, my own brother, who neither by act, word nor deed did anything to call attention to themselves. My brother, whenever he goes anywhere for a job, is confronted with the same list which confronts everyone in Nottinghamshire, and by reference to the list he is asked the first question in the English Catechism, "What is your name?" and he is victimised to-day, not because he has done anything, but because his name happens to be the same as mine.
Finally, in the month of December a meeting was arranged to be addressed by the hon. Member for Broxtowe. He went, he saw, but did not conquer. The men of that colliery then said, "Having heard Mr. Spencer, we will now hear Mr. Varley," and a man put up a notice to the effect that Mr. Varley would speak the following week. He put it upon the Tuesday, and on the Wednesday he had finished. I ventured to address the meeting, and the men then said, "Having 1709 heard both these gentlemen, we will now take the ballot as to which of these men, according to the majority, shall be our leader." Another man, greatly daring, put up a notice to that effect, and the following week he had finished. [Interruption]. These were not men who waited till the crack of doom or the official order of Mr. Cook before they went back, they were men who worked nearly the whole of the time. Their crime was not refusal to work. We had four secretaries in six weeks. The hon. Member for Broxtowe was greatly concerned about the lack of freedom of men to express their views. He cannot deny that in the past he was the great high priest of political trade unionism in Nottinghamshire. He finished his speech with a wonderful peroration asking for cooperation. In the year 1921 we had a dispute in the mining industry in Britain. After that dispute there was a good deal of disgruntlement, as now. My organisation was £173,000 in debt, many men could not get back to work, and we lost members. The hon. Member for Broxtowe was then the general secretary of our organisation and he issued an appeal. This is what the hon. Member for Broxtowe truly believed; it is not what he said in the House the other night. The late David Gilmour came down to our district attempting to do what the hon. Member for Broxtowe has since done. In response to the feverish activities of the late David Gilmour this advice was sent out by the hon. Member for Broxtowe:Do not be misled by those who seek to destroy the trade union and its usefulness. Stick to your fellow-men. Unity alone is your strength and protection. Give no heed to the wreckers who want a milk and water union. That is no good to you. You live by your power to fight.All his life he has been telling the men that they live by their power to fight, and it is only now, when some indignity has been imposed upon him, which I candidly admit was an indignity—it was after the 19 men had suspended him until the council was again fully reconstituted; he never appeared before the tribunal at all—that he gives expression to other views. We are all big men in our own conceits but, after all, we are only employés of the men. There was no single man in this country who more bitterly resented the policy which animated the Miners' Federation in the early days of 1710 this struggle; but who am I to assume that I have the right to lead a few recalcitrants away and to say that all the others are wrong? With the solitary exception of leaving the trade union, everything that the hon. Member has done I was prepared to do, inside the union. We have a right to fight for what we believe to be the right policy, but we have no right to claim that we are the concentrated essence of the thinking and that everybody else is wrong. As to this last effort, I think with the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Rose) that there are some things you cannot decently do, irrespective of what your opinions are. My experience with our organisation is much shorter than that of the hon. Member for Broxtowe, but I feel I shall always owe them a lifelong debt of gratitude; and the hon. Member must blush to think that in the eight years from 1918 to 1926 during which he has been in Parliament those unwilling contributors to the political fund whom now he wants to protect have paid in his behalf in election expenses and maintenance expenses £10,700. The men have not complained, and they are not complaining now.
§ Mr. SPENCER
May I ask one question? The hon. Member talked about £10,000, which shows the truth that he is telling, when I have drawn, as he knows, for about eight years, £250. [An HON. MEMBER: "Election expenses."] Three years' expenses as far as elections are concerned—I have not drawn one penny.
§ Mr. VARLEY
I said "paid in his behalf," not that he has drawn it. In case the hon. Member is inclined to doubt the figure the Treasurer of the Association will supply him with the exact figures as he has found them to be. I was saying that the members of the union are not complaining. The hon. Member himself has led them to believe that the value they obtained through the policy of the ballot box is the best value. If the comparison between the eight years he has been in Parliament and the short time I have been here is not a fair one, I am willing to make a comparison between us over the time that has elapsed since I came to this House in 1923. In that period there has been paid in his constituency in his behalf £2,700, and in my constituency we have conveniently car- 1711 ried on with £1,400. Whatever may have been the faults of fancied demagogues or actual demagogues, it comes with a very bad grace indeed from the hon. Member that at this late hour he should turn and rend the men who have made him. We know that the cheers he received for that utterance were not given specifically for that utterance but because he happened to be the leader of what hon. Members opposite hope will be a disintegrating influence in the Miners' Federation.
But there are still in Nottinghamshire 15,000 men who have not bowed the knee to Baal. We have not heard any exact figures, but it is perfectly true that there are more belonging to no body than belong to either of the unions. That is his field, and that is my field, and if anyone is under the delusion that the hon. Member for Broxtowe is thinking and speaking for the men of Nottinghamshire, let it be put to a simple test. Let us have a ballot conducted by one of his nominees, one of mine and one of the employés. Let us take the collective opinion of the whole of the men. If we do not obtain by 3 to 1 a vindication of the policy of the present union and the maintenance of the present state of the law, in preference to the new union and the alteration of the law, then, personally, I will go out of business and will do my best to induce my union to do the same. Mr. Speaker, I am exceedingly obliged for the opportunity which has been given to me to speak, and because I pledged myself not to exceed 15 minutes I will now demonstrate that there are still trade unionists who can keep a pledge.
§ Captain FOXCROFT
The hon. Member who has just sat down has attacked the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Spencer) because he was at one time, as he said, the great apostle of political trade unionism in Nottinghamshire. I think we might very well honour him for having at last seen the error of his ways and having had the courage to own it. He has made a great sacrifice. For all he knew he might—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Varley) replied to the 1712 hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Spencer), and it is most unfair to interrupt now.
§ Captain FOXCROFT
I am not going to delay the House long to-night, but after listening to a large number of speeches, some of which were exceedingly long, I do not wish to give an absolutely silent vote. I quite agree with the last Conservative speaker that this trade union fight is entirely different from any other trade union fight we have ever had in the past. In former days the rank and file of the trade unionists formed a determined and strong phalanx, and, to some extent, forced their leaders forward. Then it was rather the duty of the leaders to hold their men back. Now the position is entirely altered, and we find the leaders trying to flog their followers into a fury, which their followers do not feel, against this Bill. We have been listening to the booming of the big guns on the Opposition Front Bench for a long time during the last two or three days. Three days ago we repelled a very strong offensive from the left wing of the Labour party. We have listened to the Liberals, they have been sniping at our Bill. Now we are waiting the last charge of the Glasgow brigade. But the Bill still survives and it will survive, because denunciation does not kill. The Bill can only be killed by the keen blade of real criticism, and I do not think we have had very much real criticism of the Bill in the House.
For one moment I would like to leave the House of Commons—[Laughter]—I do not mean by suspension, as some hon. Members have been leaving it—I mean I want for a moment to take a look at the country. From what we see there, those who are responsible for the Bill should be very gratified for the reception it has received. All moderate men, whether they be Conservative, Liberal or Labour, have received this Bill with something like relief. I think we can also say that a very large number of non-political trade unionists have accepted it with equanimity, and I know some in my own constituency who have accepted it with enthusiasm. We know that the leader of the largest nonpolitical union in the country is supporting this Bill outside the House; and we know that the hon. Member for Broxtowe, who is the leader of one of the 1713 most up-to-date and one of the most trade-unionist unions in the country, has supported it, in spite of a great deal of difficulty, on the Floor of the House. Why is it that this Bill has received and is going to receive such an enormous amount of acceptance in the country? For one reason, and for one reason alone—because the men themselves and the vast majority of the people believe that at last men—and very often their wives, too—will be able to call their souls, and sometimes their bodies, their own. History will also be found to repeat itself. The Conservative Government is doing in 1927 what the Conservative Government did in 1895, that is, protecting the wage-earner who was then under a possible un-scrupulous employer, but to-day they are protecting him from a far more unscrupulous taskmaster who is an international political boss. It is very instructive for us to notice that, while, on the whole, the country is accepting this Bill, the Communists from Moscow to Glasgow are attacking it for all they are worth. Mr. Pollit,. who was recently speaking at a large protest meeting in the Albert Hall against this Bill—I understand that the hall was not quite half full—said that the Bill must be smashed by his party or else his party would be smashed by the Bill. I wonder in what capacity at that moment Mr. Pollit was speaking. Was he speaking as a trade unionist or was he speaking as a Communist? If he was speaking as a trade unionist, then he was quite right.[Interruption.]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must ask hon. Members not to interrupt, because these continuous interruptions make it very difficult to conduct the Debate in an intelligent manner.
§ Captain FOXCROFT
We do not know whether Mr. Pollit was speaking as a trade unionist or as a Communist, but if he was speaking as a trade unionist he was certainly wrong, and if he was speaking as a Communist he was probably right, because this Bill will curb the illicit efforts of the Communists when attacking the freedom of Englishmen and English women. The Reds are attacking this Bill at the present moment because it curbs intimidation and the enforcement of a political levy; it also curbs revolutionary effort and the ultimate 1714 objective of the Communists, which is not so much the good of the people of this country as the using of the wage-earners for the purposes of a class war. I have nothing more to say except to thank my opponents for the gentlemanly and courteous reception they have given to me. I am sure this Bill will be accepted as one of the best and most popular Bills of this generation, because it restores freedom to the wage-earner and the country in general, a freedom which was gradually being filched from their grasp by the Communists, and the advanced Socialists and their dupes.
§ Mr. TOWNEND
The last speaker has told us that denunciations will not kill this Bill and that what is required is something in the nature of criticism. I am bound to say that if we were not better informed as to our facts than the last speaker our criticisms would not be of much value. The hon. and gallant Member for Bath (Captain Foxcroft) told us that a gentleman named Swales is the political boss of the Labour party or rather of the international political party. I am afraid that, from whatever source he may have derived his information, it is not reliable—
§ Mr. TOWNEND
We have been told by the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Bromley) that a man might be liable to a charge of embezzlement of union funds, because in certain circumstances everything had been thrown into the melting pot. I wonder how a critic of this Bill would justify the Government in their action as far as it applies to the second Clause of the Bill now before us. What would be the effect of that Sub-section of the Clause which in its retrospective character enables a bench of magistrates to take over the funds of a trade union and allocate them in the shape of compensation for action which may have taken place not only last year, but as far as we are able to understand the Bill, might extend over many years. In these instances embezzlement would be but a very moderate term, and surely it comes ill from hon. Members opposite to make any charge such as that which was made by the hon. and gallant 1715 Member for Luton (Captain O'Connor) bearing in mind the easy morality with which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not only able to embezzle but to filch millions of the taxpayers' money which was intended to be used in connection with the administration of the National Health Insurance scheme.
Criticism of this Bill might very legitimately take up more than the time at my disposal, but I want to say a word or two with regard to a point raised by the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness because it indicates a wrong attitude of mind which was manifested by the last speaker. Take the question raised in the third Clause of the Bill if it eventually becomes law. It was suggested by the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness that a man simply because he happened to make a comment during a strike, might find himself before a bench of Magistrates charged with intimidation. Such a charge might arise merely through a statement. Anyone who has examined this Measure knows—and legal minds have expressed an opinion upon this point—that even without a word from anyone any man acting for a trade union under the application of this Clause is liable in any strike to penalties at the hands of a bench of Magistrates in the way which was indicated by the hon. Member for Barrow. Let me give an instance of what already applies under the present law as an indication of what might happen. During the last strike we had cases of so-called intimidation where this was the kind of evidence submitted to the bench. Three witnesses were produced, one of whom made the charge of intimidation and tried to substantiate it by saying that as the defendant happened to be passing he merely saluted him by saying "Good morning, Tom," and the reply was, "Good morning, Jim." Then that witness stood down from the witness box. The second witness said he heard a shout from the crowd, and it came from the man in the dock. That was all the evidence submitted on the occasion of the last strike which brought a man before the bench charged with intimidation. That was the only evidence submitted against this individual and had it not been for the fact that counsel had been engaged to defend this man, the chances are that 1716 he would have been fined and might have lost his job.
The Bill goes further than that. It says that if a man is under the apprehension that he will be the subject of boycotting, contempt or ridicule then, without even a word from a picket, even by a look, under this Clause a man may find himself in the dock, and inasmuch as the interpretation of the Act will lie in the hands of a Magistrate, even the look of the man concerned will be sufficient to send his late comrade to gaol for two years.
Imagine what might happen. A man who remains at work and afterwards passes along the street going home, sees a striker on the other side of the street; not a word passes between the two men and he goes home and says to his wife, "I saw Jack Jones, the picket, on the other side of the street, and he looked at me, and he looked vicious, and I am afraid when I get back to work I am going to have a warm time at his hands." Under this Bill if that man's wife went to a policeman next morning, and said her husband was apprehensive of ridicule and contempt in relation to that individual, it is quite conceivable, in view of the way the benches of magistrates are constituted, that our friend would find himself heavily fined or sent to gaol for three months. But I wish to raise a further point in regard to this Bill. It lays down that certain offences, upon indictment, render a defendant liable to two years' imprisonment. Mention has been made of intimidation time and again from the other benches. How is the operation of this Bill going to intimidate a man who has to defend himself in the dock against charges that may be made against him during a dispute?
§ It being a Quarter past Eight of the Clock, further Proceeding was postponed, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 4.