HC Deb 31 October 1930 vol 244 cc355-97


Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [28th October], That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—

MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN, We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Mr. Charleton.]

Question again proposed.


Everyone who heard or has read the Gracious Speech must have been affected by at least three things connected with it. The first thing to attract attention is the very frank and very grave statement with regard to the general depression in which we find the affairs of a great many people of this country, and one must also be astonished at the extraordinary veil which is drawn over the policy, if they have any policy, of His Majesty's Government to deal with that state of depression. We find, so far as we can find anything that suggests something in the nature of remedial measures, merely a general statement of the worst possible character. If the events that have already happened are any criterion of what. the Government intend to do, their chief occupation seems to have been to try to stabilise the conditions which have largely contributed to this economic depression by enabling the chief markets of the world to be closed against us, and to leave us without the smallest opportunity of retaliating upon those who refuse to deal with us in an ordinary way.

When one passes from this general and vague statement and comes to the programme of legislation we find, again, something which is astonishing, having regard to the grave statement which is made as to the depression. Exactly and in what way legislation which has for its object to: secure for the community its share in the site value of land, is going to reduce in the smallest degree the depression from which the country is suffering, I cannot understand. My recollection is that. on the last occasion when we had any legislation which had the object suggested in that sentence it caused such depression in the building trade that that trade was not able to recover in the smallest degree until with the assistance of the State after 1918 houses were built. Therefore, it seems to me to be rather a futile proceeding to try to repeat legislation some of which has already been repealed because it was an absolute and complete failure. The Gracious Speech also says that: Measures will be submitted for raising the age of compulsory school attendance. I suppose there is an extent to which if you keep people out of the industrial market you may keep some others in slightly more constant employment, but I am very doubtful how far it is true that that is the effect of dealing with a matter in that way. I am quite certain that if in order to keen these people out of the industrial market you do two things (1) take over the natural obligations of the parent to support his own child and (2) place that burden upon the children of the rest of the community, so far from alleviating depression you will tend to increase the depression which already exists. We find a much more curious suggestion in the Gracious Speech, because it is said that: Measures for amending the law relating to trade disputes and trade unions will be submitted to Parliament. I wonder whether it is thought that any Measure of that kind can be put forward as a serious contribution to the relief of our present depression. I should have thought that the less acute controversy that was raised the more likely you were to get those settled conditions which alone can be the fit surroundings in which to build up a prosperous industry. I should have thought that industrial peace was an extremely important factor. Everybody knows that whereas up to the date of the passing of the Trade Disputes Act of 1927 we had from year to year a large and increasing number of industrial days wasted in trades disputes, from the date of the passing of the Act—for some reason or other, and I think mainly because of the definite statement of the law and the obvious determination that the law should be enforced, tended to make people seek rather the lines of conciliation than of strife—we have had less time wasted in industrial disputes than in any similar period in the last 50 years. I should have thought that it was a very ill-advised proposition to interfere with that state of affairs, but one realises that there are people who from time to time remind the Front Bench opposite of some of their election statements and pledges, and I suppose that some semblance must be made of an attempt on the part of the Government to fulfil some of their pledges.

Last year this was done in a very peculiar way. If I remember rightly, instead of mentioning legislation in the Gracious Speech from the Throne the Government precluded discussion of trade disputes by introducing a. skeleton Bill before the Debate on the Address began. Vainly did this House wait the whole of last Session to see whether any flesh could be put upon the bones of the skeleton, but no attempt was made to do that. If it be the fact that to amend, or to alter as I would prefer to call it, the law as now existing in regard to trade disputes and trade unions was something vital to the industrial classes of this country. I cannot understand why during the whole of the last Session there was not a seething mass of discontent on the benches opposite. I cannot but think that most of the hon. Members opposite were very much relieved when the Government did not move the Second Reading of the Bill. [An HON. MEMBER: "Pure guesswork."] One hon. Member says that it is pure guesswork. Certainly, the House were kept guessing as to the reasons why the Government could not make an attempt to fulfil their pledges. If it was guesswork it was something for which they were responsible. There was one thing for which they were not responsible and that was that wherever one went amongst the working men or this country you found something which was a little intense, and that was an intense fear that the present Government might do something to interfere with the liberties which the working men of this country now possess.

When the Socialist party meets for its annual conference the conference serves exactly the purpose that most party con- ferences serve, in that you get an enormous amount of steam let off. The Llandudno conference was no exception to the rule. That leads me to this question, to which no satisfactory answer has yet been given: when is the Bill dealing with trade disputes and trade unions going to be introduced? I seem to have read that the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary promised the conference at Llandudno that the Bill would not only be introduced but would pass its Second Reading before Christmas. I wondered at the time whether that was a real promise or merely a method of overcoming a temporary difficulty, and I am driven rather to the second conclusion when I heard what the Prime Minister said on Tuesday last. The Prime Minister was asked very definitely as to the business which was to be done before Christmas, and he said: I should like the business between now and Christmas to he to as great an extent as possible in the nature of unemployment emergency measures, and there will be two Measures taken, not wholly exclusively to that end—the Education Bill, and the Bill relating to agriculture, the big one." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 1930; Col 23, Vol. 244.] I cannot find the Trade Disputes Bill anywhere in those two suggestions, and, therefore, it would seem that the Prime Minister either has not been informed of the pledge of one of his chief lieutenants or prefers to ignore that pledge altogether and put forward some sort of suggestion that the Government really does intend business with regard to unemployment. Perhaps we shall be informed in the course of this afternoon whether the pledge given by the Foreign Secretary was really a pledge or merely a passing statement to calm an otherwise rather inconvenient conference. If it is introduced, what is to be its nature? I read a statement the other day, which I adopt, that the man who tries to interfere or alter or subtract from any of the propositions which are laid down in the Trade Disputes Act of 1927 is treading on very dangerous and very delicate ground.


Not a bit of it.


People's ideas of delicacy differ and while of course one does not know what the promised Bill is going to contain, I should have thought that it was extremely delicate ground to interfere with a law which lays it down that a workman shall not be interfered with in his own house and in his own home—[Interruption]. At any rate, I possess that right and I want to preserve it for the working men. I am free in my own house from annoyance, and I see no reason why a working man should be subject to annoyance. But what are we going to have in the Bill? Not long ago the idea of some hon. Members opposite was that anything short of complete repeal would be so inconsistent with their election pledges that they would throw out their own Government if they did not bring in a full repeal of the Act. One has heard many statements as to what will bring the Government to the ground, and, while one did not pay much attention to some of them, yet at the same time complete repeal of the Act was one of the most important planks in the programme of the party opposite.

We have dropped repeal and now it is a Bill to amend. To amend what? Sometimes it is suggested that it is to be a Bill to amend all the sections of the Act and sometimes it is to be a Bill to amend the obnoxious sections. We have never been told what are the obnoxious sections, and one is entitled to assume that the Government have not yet been able to find out which are the obnoxious sections. It may well be because there are varying opinions on the other side of the House, that there are some people to whom one section is obnoxious and some to whom another section is obnoxious. I leave it to the Government to satisfy themselves as to what is the line of least resistance, and I have no doubt they will do so before they draw up their Bill. But let us consider the propositions of the Act of 1927. They were laid down very carefully and fully by the Attorney-General in introducing the Bill into the House of Commons. He said that the propositions were these—and no one will contradict the statement that the Act carries them out. First that— a general strike is illegal, and no man shall be penalised for refusing to take part in it. The second proposition is this, that intimidation is illegal, and no man shall be compelled by threats to abstain from work against his will"— I shall be very much surprised if any hon. Member controverts that proposition. The third proposition is this, that no man shall be compelled to subscribe to the funds of any political party unless he so desires. The fourth and last proposition is this, that any person entering the established Civil Service must give his undivided allegiance to the State."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May, 1027; col. 1306, Vol. 205.] Those are the four propositions, and it seems to me that the man who tries to subtract from any one of them is indeed treading upon very delicate ground. Is he going to say that a general strike should be made legal? Is he going to say that a general strike is illegal and that a man shall be punished for refusing to do that which is illegal? Is he going to say that it is right to intimidate one's fellow men, and that a man should be compelled by intimidation to do that which he does not want to do? Is he going to say that a man should be compelled to subscribe to a political party when he does not desire so to do? Is he going to say that a man who joins the service of the public and becomes a civil servant of this country should at the same time bind himself in allegiance to those who may in fact work contrary to the employment in which he is?


That is not in the Bill.


We do not know what is in the proposed Bill. The contrary proposition is in the Act, and, if you interfere with it, you are doing something which whittles down the general proposition which says that a man in the public service shall not own allegiance to something which is contrary to the public service. So far as the earlier propositions are concerned I do not intend to waste any time upon them. I would merely point out that, apart from everything else, we are here in a very serious state of unemployment. Nobody disputes it, and everybody is thinking and thinking very seriously as to what can be done to alleviate it. I care not whether the intention of those who bring in the Bill is to legalise a general strike, or whether it is to render strikes more possible, I care not which of the two propositions it is, because I appreciate this, that there are some hon. Members opposite who, quite wrongly, have the opinion that some parts of this Act stop and prevent a strike in a legitimate trade dispute. If they have not that idea there is no necessity to intervene. I take it that some hon. Members opposite have that idea.

It does not matter which is the proposition. All that one can say is that one of the greatest authorities on strikes in this country has definitely said, with regard to such a thing as a general strike—I think he extended his language almost to every large strike—that in the end those suffer most on whose behalf it is suggested that the strike is entered into. It is quite true that in the old days you did not often hear the right hon. Gentleman who is now Secretary of State for the Dominions say that before a strike, but you always heard him say either that or something to the like effect immediately the strike was over, particularly if it was unsuccessful. In those circumstances one may realise that the truth does come out under adverse conditions. Everyone realises that any extension of trade disputes and strikes or lock-outs not only causes misery, but does interfere with the ordinary course of employment for very long periods, sometimes far longer than anyone imagined to be possible.

Then I come to the question of intimidation. Do I really understand that there is any hon. Member opposite who wants to have the right to intimidate? I notice that there is complete silence. If he does not want the right to intimidate there is not the slightest necessity to interfere with any of the Sections of the Act which prevent intimidation. Next I come to the political levy Section. I do not minimise in any way the effect of that Section. Hon. Members opposite are always in the habit of saying that they do not want to compel men to subscribe. I suppose they all say that. At least I have always noticed that there is a sharp denial if one says that they did compel men in the past. What one cannot get away from is this: I have always understood that to the magnificent management of the present Foreign Secretary was due the very strong financial position of the Socialist party.


It never was strong.


Let me put it in another way. I have always understood that it was not more lacking in strength because of the organising powers of the right hon. Gentleman who is now Foreign Secretary. That may explain, of course, why he gave that pledge and was so anxious that the Bill should be taken before Christmas, because, as I understand it, a part of the case of hon. Members opposite for altering the Section which deals with the political levy is that their funds have decreased by a very large proportion since the Act of 1927 was passed. There is only one conclusion that can be drawn from that fact. The funds have certainly decreased out of all proportion to the decrease in trade union membership, and the only inference to be drawn is that there are many people who do not want to subscribe, and therefore the funds of the Socialist party are a great deal less.

Let us ask ourselves for a moment what the law is at present. As I understand the law it is that any man who chooses to do so can subscribe to any political party to which he wishes to subscribe, but, as far as I know, no man in this country is put under the smallest compulsion to do so—[Interruption.] Art hon. Gentleman whose voice is apparently outside the House but extends into it, interrupts with the remark that it is only the lawyer who is compelled. I have been in the legal profession some 30 years and I have never found the smallest evidence of compulsion. When it does come I shall reconsider whether I can remain in the profession any longer. One thing is perfectly clear: At the present time anybody who wants to subscribe to a political party can do so. What is the necessity for the alteration of the law Those who seek to alter it can have only one desire, and that is to compel people who do not want to do so to subscribe.

There is another way of dealing with this matter. That way means that you are putting a compulsion upon the working man of this country that you would not dare to put upon any other class. One hears a great deal of "one law for the rich and another for the poor." There will be that if hon. Members alter the Trade Disputes Act. Apart from that, let us consider the one alteration which has ever been sug- gested—contracting-out instead of contracting-in. What is the effect of it? It is this: Inasmuch as a man who does not want to subscribe has to contract out, it follows, as it did follow from the law which existed before the Act of 1927, that a man who joined a trade union which had passed at some time or other a resolution in favour of a political levy, by the fact of joining the trade union became liable to pay money to one political party. It is true that he could contract out if he chose. But let us follow this out for a moment. I have noticed lately a recrudescence of suggestions of strikes to compel what is called 100 per cent. trade union membership in particular industries. I am not going to discuss the merits of that type of strike now. Hon. Members opposite apparently think that it is quite a proper form of compulsion. But this thing, I think, is clear, that almost every hon. Member opposite would support that kind of strike and compulsion. What is the effect of it? If you alter the law for contracting-in to contracting-out, directly a man goes into an industry where by reason of 100 per cent. membership he has to be a. trade union member, a condition of his earning his livelihood is that he shall, unless he contracts out and until he contracts out, be liable to subscribe to one political party.

This country has always prided itself upon the liberty of the individual either to express, or, if he chooses, not to express his political convictions in a way which is made public. The theory behind our Ballot Acts is that a man's politics are a matter for his innermost conscience, and that nobody has the right to compel him to make a declaration of his political views. Quite apart from any question of money, contracting-out, to my mind, makes a serious inroad upon the political liberty of the working classes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Non sense!"] Hon. Members say "Nonsense," but here is the position. Where there is, as there is at present, contracting-in, a man who occupies his life in industry is not under the smallest compulsion to tell anybody his opinions. I always sympathise with the man who, when he is canvassed, says, "That is my business; you get on about yours." That surely is the position now. A trade unionist to-day is under no obligation to declare himself. If he chooses to subscribe he can do so, but that is a matter for his own conscience and his own volition.

But if hon. Members opposite pass a Bill which substitutes contracting-out for contracting-in—and everybody knows that is the reason for this—and if at the same time they are able to enforce, in industry, 100 per cent. trade unionism they are then making it a condition of industry that a man should make a declaration of political faith. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, there is one way and one way only in which a man can avoid it if he does not happen to be a Socialist, and that is by paying money to something in which he does not believe. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That is an inroad upon political liberty which not only in my view, but I believe in the view of the vast majority of the working men of this country is one not to be tolerated. I look forward to the time when me may have the opportunity of discussing some such Bill upon the Floor of the House. We on this side could wish for no stronger ground on which to criticise hon. Members opposite; and if they make that the gage of battle, then the majority by which we shall be returned at the next Election will not be a small one but an overwhelming one.


We from Lancashire, especially those who represent the miners of Lancashire, are not at all surprised to hear a speech like that which we have heard from the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord). The miners of Lancashire have had trouble of various kinds from time to time and they know the hon. and learned Member as a protagonist of the employers. He has tried to tell us that there is no laudable desire for a change in the law regarding trade disputes, but I submit that the desire for a change now is just as laudable as was the desire for a change in 1927. We must remember what is supposed to have brought the Trade Disputes Act on to the Statute Book. The miners of this country were locked out. Their fellow trade unionists felt that an unfair and inhuman onslaught was being made on the miners' standard of life. They considered various ways and means in which they could help the miners. They wisely decided that, rather than see the miners' standard of life reduced any lower than it was, they would cease work in support of the miners. A few months later it was thought wise by the party then in power to take advantage of that position to introduce a Bill for the purpose of handicapping the Labour movement both industrially and politically. They said, "As it stands at present the Trade Unions Act is a help to the Labour movement. How can we so change it as to make it a handicap to that movement?" That was not very laudable.

The hon. and learned Member for Norwood says that contracting-out, as against contracting-in, cannot be justified. He knows, perhaps better than I do, because he fought my Division before the War that in 1913 the Labour movement made a bargain. They thought that a majority decision by a trade union on a ballot vote ought to decide the disposal of the union's funds, but they agreed to accept contracting-out so as to allow people, who had been defeated in the ballot vote, to take advantage of contracting-out. That understanding was reached in an endeavour to meet to some extent both extreme points of view. The hon. and learned Member says that since the Trade Disputes Act has been on the Statute Book there have been no stoppages. We have not had any wars either. But, surely it is not suggested that we have had no strikes because of the Trade Disputes Act. It is in spite of that Act, and not because of it, that there have been no strikes. The miners have never been in a position, but it is quite likely that, before long, you may find one, because there is an attempt to reduce miners' wages every month. I see no reason, however, for arguing that because of these facts no attempt ought to be made to change the Act. Our contention in the trade union movement is that. that Act was class legislation of the lowest kind, that its actuating motives were despicable and that it is most unfair to suggest that we are actuated by lower and baser motives in seeking to change the law now, than were those who brought about that change in 1927.

As regards the King's Speech in general, it has met with the fate of all King's Speeches; it has been severely criticised inside and outside the House. Portions of it please certain people and displease others. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was very pleased with the mention of electoral reform and was very anxious to know what was meant by it and whether it would benefit his party or not. His colleague the right hon Gentleman the Member for Northern Cornwall (Sir D. Maclean) was very pleased with the Speech, provided that, alongside it, he could find a policy of economy. But when my hon. Friend the Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. W. J. Brown) put a few pertinent questions to him as to the Departments in which the suggested economies should take place, the right hon. Gentleman was very chary about answering. When he was asked if he would exercise economy in dealing with the interest paid to the people who loaned money during the War—not the people who loaned their lives—he readily said "No." When he was asked would he suggest economies in the Ministry of Health there was no answer. When he was asked would he economise in reference to expenditure on unemployment there was no answer. There was no suggestion as to where these economies were to take place except at the expense of the Civil Service or at the expense of the unemployed people. The Leader of the Opposition could not accept anything in the Speech—not even the prayer at the end.

There is one aspect of the Speech which has been very much emphasised and yet not too much emphasised. That is the aspect relating to the Unemployment Insurance Fund. I was very interested in the point of view put forward by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) that it is doubtful whether it is necessary at all to have a Royal Commission. At the same time, one must be quite frank. I heard in my Division, during the Recess, complaints of what appear to be abuses, but I must, at the same time, say that, for every single complaint of people doing something which they ought not to do, I heard hundreds of complaints of others not getting what they ought to do. The answer of the right hon. Lady the Minister of Labour yesterday was very pleasing, and it was that this Commission would look into both questions—not only with regard to those who have received benefit and ought not, but those who have not received benefit and should have done so.

We are told by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs that the Fund should be made solvent. We have no objection to that, but how is he going to do it? Does he suggest reducing the amount of relief to the unemployed, or that they should take the unemployed off the Fund altogether, or does he suggest increased contributions to the Fund? If he says that those who have run through their insurance must go off the Fund, where are they going to? Surely he will not suggest that they should then get less than those on the Fund and that they ought to get it from the local rates and not from taxation. Make the Fund solvent if you can, but whatever else you may do, provide fairly adequately for those who need help and are unemployed.

My hon. Friends below the Gangway on this side take a different point of view and criticise the King's Speech because they feel that it is not full-blooded Socialism. They think the measures outlined, if enacted, will not be real, full-blooded Socialistic measures—[An HON. MEMBER: "Full-blooded Liberalism!"] What I cannot understand about my hon. Friends below the Gangway is this: Suppose a full-blooded Socialist measure was brought forward. We know that in this House both parties opposite are opposed to full-blooded Socialism. For what purpose are we going to bring in such a measure? In order to have it rejected? I do not see that that would serve a useful purpose. Is it to show to the country that the right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) is not yet a Socialist, or that the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) may soon be a Socialist, or that my hon. Friend the member for Bridgeton still is a loyal Socialist?

Does anyone suggest that this Government can get placed on the Statute Book a real full-blooded Socialist measure now, and, if they cannot, why should they bring it forward? I have never doubted the Socialism of the Prime Minister because he has not yet brought forward a full-blooded Socialist measure. I suggest that this Government will get all the Socialism possible on the Statute Book in this Parliament, but it is a limited amount. I agree that in the King's Speech there is not much sign of Socialism, but how do we know? It is purely a matter of opinion as to whether or not there is any hope of Socialism in the Speech, because we have not yet seen any of the measures. We do not yet know what will be in the Bills, and it is unfair to charge the Government, because they feel their position as a minority Government and realise that this House has a majority opposed to Socialism, with lack of faith because they do not bring forth measures which they know will be rejected.

12 n.

I will say more. Those who sent us here do not want us to do that. I dare not go back to my division and say, "We have brought in a measure of full-blooded Socialism; we knew it would be rejected, but we brought it in to get it rejected." We have to realise that, after all, this Government is not a Government elected to put Socialism on the Statute Book. We, as individual Members, believe as earnestly as does the hon. Member for Bridgeton that the only hope for the workers is Socialism, but we think it most unfair, and we do not think it helps the Socialist movement, for my hon. Friends below the Gangway constantly to suggest that some of us have ceased to be as faithful Socialists as they are. We feel that the King's Speech is an earnest effort to improve the standard of life of the poorer classes of this country, and if the measures outlined here ever get on the Statute Book in a fairly substantial form, it will mean an improvement for the working classes of the country. Therefore, our job is to bring more happiness to the unhappy and sunshine to those who live sunless lives, and I suggest to the hon. Member for Bridgeton that, with his mighty power outside and inside, he would do far more good to those whose interests he has so much at heart if he would give his full backing to this Government, so that they might get a majority, and then he could claim that full-blooded Socialist legislation which he so much desires.


I find it very difficult to follow the last speaker, the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald), because I am so much in the dark as to what his policy could be which is to bring happiness and light into the dark places. I heard him constantly and with vain repetition talking about full-blooded Socialism, and I wondered if he was not transposing the words, because I think the transposed words represent the view most people take of the matter of Socialism. I wonder what this extraordinary measure is that they could have introduced and that was going to lead to greater happiness and sunlight in sunless homes, and so on. I never expected that the people opposite would do anything but aggravate the problem of unemployment, because for a very large proportion of them it is their life's work to aggravate unemployment. None of them ever gave a working-man a job in his life, and they have often turned a working-man out of his job by a senseless and futile strike. That is pursuing their activities. They are men diligent in their business. That is part. of the occupation of quite a number of hon. Members opposite, and they do it very well. If I were at their occupation, I have no doubt that I would do it with equal zeal, but they have no knowledge of what constitutes trade or activity in getting workmen occupations.

We look at this King's Speech, and we see no remedial measures in it that are likely to affect unemployment at all. There are only two matters before this country that are of any importance at the present moment. The two sides have the same difficulty, the same problem. Taxation is one side of unemployment, and the other is unemployment itself. These hang together. You can only get employment and people busy if there is confidence, and there is very little confidence in the world just now. I think a great part of this want of confidence is due to the fact that in the centre of the world's commerce and finance there exists so large a party as that of hon. Members opposite with so little knowledge of commerce and industrial affairs except from the wage-earners' side, and whose Chancellor has definitely announced that he believes taxation is a stimulus to industry. You can get an overdose of it. You can get to the time when the camel lies down and will not rise.

How can you expect any man who has got any money to engage in any new enterprise if when it is successful the profits are taken by a Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether he be Socialist or Conservative, for the burdens that were laid on the back of the taxpayer by the last Government were extraordinarily heavy; in fact, many people think there is not so much difference between modern Governments, and there is not really, because it is the machinery of the State which has got hold of the people and exhausted them with these burdens. We politicians here are mere corks on the water for Government officials. The world-wide depression is largely due to the uneasiness and want of confidence in Britain. A man I know spoke to me of his investments which he had in all quarters of the world, hoping they would be safe here and there. But he said that in the end it all came back to Throgmorton Street, and that if there was want of confidence there the whole world smarted. The captains of industry or the men capable of developing industry are very scarce. There are very few men who are capable of starting an. enterprise and making it a success. There is always plenty of money and business, but it is almost impossible to find the men to employ the money profitably. If you discourage them so much, as modern tax-collecting Governments do, they just sit back.

There is an eminent lady who derives, nominally, an enormous income from her efforts upon the stage. She said to a. friend of mine—I have not the honour of knowing the lady myself—that she did two performances a day on the stage, and sometimes three, and that one performance and a quarter of the next was for the benefit of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; that is to say, she. worked for about seven months in the year for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The same fate must befall an eminent Scotsman in the same occupation. Now if there is one thing you would think belonged to a person more than to anybody else it is their own voice, their capacity for singing, their own personality, and yet along comes the tax-gatherer, the super-Zaccheus, who never repents as he did, in the form of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the man who has compelled so many people to hand over part of their fortune to their family so as to escape Death Duties that he may well be described as the champion creator of Prodigal Sons. How long can this last? Imagine the preposterous result the other day of a man with a very large fortune, who, after he had paid his Income Tax, Surtax and premium to preserve his estate in the event of Death Duties, instead of having an income, having a minus quantity. I really think it is time we got a Chancellor of the Exchequer and a Treasury tax-collecting body with a sense of humour, because if they had, they would have seen the absurdity of thinking that could last very long. I know a very wealthy man who tells me that he has got a very large income on paper, but by the time he has paid all his bills and premium his deficit is £30,000 a year. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh, and no doubt to all but the victim it is very funny, but, of course, this is the capital that gives employment, and it is being absorbed by the tax-collector and dissipated, but not in paying the debts of the country. What else can be expected but unemployment? It is drying up the whole source of employment. You are not only taking away the psychological impulse to develop the country, but taking away the actual cash.


Who laid down the canons of taxation?


All Governments are practically becoming the enemies of the people, and, instead of, like the sheep dog, guarding the fold, they are worrying the sheep. They are taking the best fleeces and diminishing the value of the whole flock. It can last only a comparatively short time. Shortly after the present Government came into office I predicted that the figure of unemployment would be 2,000,000, and I was told that I was talking nonsense. Nobody is going to sit down and toil if the tax-collector is to come along and appropriate the lot. What is suggested in the King's Speech? Nothing in the way of relieving the burden of taxation. The Government are under the delusion that by spending money, preferably that of other people, on more social services, they will solve the present difficulty. They have not got beyond the mental atmosphere of that celebrated character in the "Heart of Midlothian" who, whenever any question arose said, "Will siller dae it?" You cannot go on increasing burdens without bringing employment to a conclusion. You see it to some extent in the Antipodes, where now the lesson is coming home, but not quite enough, judging by the elections in New South Wales, where the workingmen have got the wages up to such a high figure that they are like the Irishman who got them up so high that he could never get them paid. There is no one to employ them.

It is said that we are going to have proposals to promote increased settlement and employment on the land and large-scale farming operations. How can you do that unless you do something to protect the farmer from the dumping of the products of slave labour, and from the dear friends of hon. Gentlemen opposite, those pleasant democrats who reside in Russia? Then there is the proposal to deal with the site value of land. The hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) is always speaking of his single tax, but it is as futile as a tax on bachelors. It has already been tried and found wanting, for it is a piece of absurdity that you can find the valuation of a particular property which varies from day to day and from hour to hour. Then the Government are going to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the question of unemployment insurance, and particularly into the allegations of abuse of its provisions. I am no believer in any of the social services, and I do not believe in extending them. The National Health Insurance, which ought to be inquired into, is one of the most manifest impostures that was ever put upon a respectable population. It is based upon compulsion and the idea that, if you have less than £5 a week, you are such a fool that you cannot look after yourself, that you have not the sense to employ your own doctor, and that. you are such a knave that you cannot be trusted to pay him.

That is the principle of National Health Insurance. If you have 10s. a week more than that, however, you are a gentleman and a wise man, whereas we know perfectly well from practical experience that there are some splendid wise men and gentlemen in receipt of 30s. and £2 a week, and some terrible fools and non-gentlemen in receipt of 30s. an hour. The cash basis has nothing to do with it, but that is the class basis of this legislation. The result is that the working-man is treated, as he is always treated by the Legislature, as being something on which to experiment, and he is forced into it. I saw in the "Daily Telegraph" not long ago a letter from a doctor who bought a country panel practice. He had 12 patients in one village. One of them applied to him for a line to enable him to draw on the Fund, but, on examining him, he did not think he was ill enough, and the referee was sent for. Within a week that doctor lost 10 of the panel patients; that is to say, he was fined £5 10s. for doing his duty. If you do not give the patients liberty to choose their doctors they will get very scant attention from the medical men. I am a lawyer, and my hon. and learned Friend for South Derby (Major Pole) is also a lawyer; supposing he and I were to have two or three thousand people paying us 10s. a year for giving them legal advice when they ask for it—well, they would get it, but it would be of very little value. We would be both busy looking for the clients who would pay us 6s. 8d.


indicated dissent.


My hon. and learned Friend would not, perhaps, but I was not born in the angelic mould. I am only speaking for common human nature. I am one of those who are a little lower than the angels, but he is apparently above them. I am not so sure, if we got him in real practice, that we would not find that on examination that his wings are made of asbestos and bat shaped. The same objection applies to unemployment benefit. Many men who contribute to that do not get any benefit and resent compulsion. A friend in the shipping world told me of seafaring men coming home who, having accumulated funds on their voyages abroad, say, "We are going to get our own money out of this, for it has been deducted from us," and take a long holiday on their own funds aided by the dole. Naturally; every one bitterly resents compulsion; when you get compulsion, you destroy the moral basis of any scheme. When the trade unions ran their own unemployment funds, they were well and faithfully administered, and the system was the pride of every member. When National Insurance was introduced, it was resisted by the trade unions. If it had been linked up with the trade union movement, and trade union men had been given the administration of it, it would have been a much more humane system. It is, however, worked by Government officials, and what can you expect from them but the usual red tape and the usual formalities?

I have often had cases of men complaining to me, not of victimisation, but of the scurvy treatment they get from the Employment Exchanges. All of us who have been employers, and those who run solicitors' offices and large businesses, know how difficult it is to get a staff of clerks who will be reasonably civil to your clients. It is very difficult unless you are there; they do not care; they draw their pay, and it is only now and again that you get a man who will keep discipline. The men in the Employment Exchange offices are case-hardened and tend to look upon the people who go there as trying to get what is not theirs.

I do not propose to deal with the question of the site value of land; the community gets its share all right. It is far too technical a subject; very few Members would understand it, and it would take me much too long to go into it. The Government propose to introduce a Measure for compulsorily raising the age of school children. That is an extra-ordinarily foolish proposal, and it is perfectly well known that it is not popular, especially in the country districts, and the mere suggestion of the pauperisation of the children by giving them money is disliked. The question is put across to this side of the House: "How long do you keep your children at school?" I have no hesitation in saying that the well-to-do classes in this country are extraordinarily foolish in the way they bring up their families. They keep their sons far too long at school. There is nothing more disastrous than the fate of a young man, the son of a wealthy parent. He is sent to a public school and then to a university, and when he comes out, sometimes indeed often after his majority, he is completely unemployable. If some wealthy relatives happen to be connected with a first-class business or a big combine company, or something of that kind, they can put him in near the top, and he never has to learn the business from the foundation. He will manage to make a show, but he will always have some poor, hard-working chap, generally a Scotsman, who does the real hard work for him. That is one of the dangers of our big combinations at the present time; there is so much nepotism. It sickens the hearts of the young fellows who do the work in these businesses, those who bear and have borne the heat and burden of the day. A great deal of the failure of our big businesses and cause of their getting into financial trouble is to some extent due to these abuses. It is not done in America. There, if a man has a son or a son-in-law he makes him begin at the bottom, and if he is not good at his job he soon pensions him off. It is cheaper for the business. The Government are proposing, against the wishes of the people—[NON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—to raise the school age compulsorily. It is an entirely wrong proposal.

I remember an old Socialist who had been a teacher for very nearly half-a-century telling me that he could count on the fingers of his hands all the boys he had known to whom it was not a waste of time to give what is miscalled "higher education." It is a sheer waste of time! Mind you, that is the case in all classes—practically all classes. The number of young men I have seen in the so-called better classes—better off classes, I would say—whose lives have been absolutely wasted by keeping them at school for too long in the hope that, by some mysterious process, they would in their association with those more intelligent than themselves absorb something! It is absolutely absurd! What we really want is to get the best for the service of the community. We need the best possible intelligence and talent from every class of the community, I do not care how poor. Talent is fairly well distributed among all classes, and we want to get the best, but we shall not get it by treating all in bulk. As an old gentleman once put it to me, "What would you think of a man who sent the whole of his sheep to the show in the hope that they would get a prize?" The owner makes a selection and sends the best, and we shall be wasting the money of the ratepayers and the taxpayers in compelling all the boys and girls to stay longer at school. And why this compulsion? Why conscription? Why not make it voluntary and say, "We will reward every boy who of his own free will goes to school and engages in secondary education"? Then we should get the best, and there would be far more money available to help them to get on, because there would be funds which otherwise will be wasted.

Compulsion is a terribly bad thing. It may be all right in the case of small children, but in the main it is a very bad thing. I remember an eminent geologist in Johannesburg telling me that when there was an attempt to get all the young mining apprentices to study geology he refused to have anything to do with the proposal unless they came voluntarily. He said that one or two men in a class of 50 who were there under compulsion and against their will could destroy the morale of the whole class, just as one or two men can disturb the placidity of a meeting. [HON. MEMBERS: "Paddington!"] If we put compulsion on the children without the consent of their parents we shall render this whole business nugatory. The mass of mankind can express themselves best through the work of their hands, and not in words, but practically all our education, especially our secondary education, is mere word-spinning. That may fit a man to be a lawyer—if he is very good—or it may fit him to be a labour leader, because they do not do any really hard work, and to some extent they can fix their own remuneration, but we cannot all be lawyers or labour leaders, though there seems to be great competition in those vocations.

These proposals of the Government will add very materially to the burden of taxation and that, in turn, will bear on the question of unemployment. Then there is the proposal to pay poor little innocent boys and girls so much of the taxpayers' money weekly for going to school. It is like giving a child the reward of a spoonful of jam when he is taking some disagreeable medicine. It will set children against education. They will think that it must be something wrong and disagreeable. The real cause of education is promoted by enthusiasm and by children gladly taking to it, as they do take to it when they get the right kind of teacher, of whom there are not too many about. This is demoralising—keeping these children at home dependent on their parents at an age when it is very difficult to get anything like obedience. [Interruption.] Most of you do not know that. You would not approve of these proposals if you knew anything about the difficulty of rearing a family. Many people who take so keen an interest in education have not themselves had the education which is acquired by rearing a family, which is one of the most educative processes. They are just like childless relatives who come to stay with you and spend the week-end in advising you how to bring up your children! All the time they are very busy laying down rules—because all children are alike to them, like so many rabbits.

All this enthusiasm about education is indulged in by these cranks, and also to some extent by the teachers. I remember a young man asking me my advice about staying longer at school. I said to him, "What do you think?" He said, "I do not want to stay longer. It is just an excuse for the teachers to screw more fees out of us." That is at the bottom of all this scheme. At a meeting of teachers in Edinburgh it was stated that there were far too many unemployed teachers and that the only way to absorb them was to raise the school age, and to keep on raising it. Children are being merely used as cannon fodder for that particular profession. It is a case of the teachers first and the children second. I do not blame them for it; it is only the law of self-preservation. That was the origin of free education, so-called, or, rather, miscalled. The teacher did not like the idea of some poor, ragged little boy coming up to his desk every Monday and laying his 6d. on it. He did not think it was good enough. It made the teacher feel that he was dependent on the boy. So the teachers said, "We must get free education, we must pauperise you all, and we will thereby become Government officials." They call it free education, but it is not free education. Every time a working man goes into the grocers or the bakers he is contributing to the cost of that education, through the rates and taxes, and paying for it far more than he would do if he paid direct. We have made every shopkeeper join the brotherhood of Zaccheus—because they are all tax collectors. These proposals of the Government will only add to rates and taxes, and thus create further unemployment.

I see that the next item says something about the preservation of rural amenities. I hope that will be undertaken but at the same time I am a little uncertain about the taste that will be displayed because one generally finds that the views of the members of public bodies as to what are amenities and the ideas of those who really know what they are do not always run together. I do not know what the Measure of electoral reform will do, but I hope it will at least reduce the expenses of election. The more that item is reduced the better—and probably that will not make hon. Members opposite so keen about the political levy Bill.

Finally, there has been an alteration in the Prayer, but I am sure that it would require a prayer of very high horse-power to avail the Government in its present parlous position. I am very sorry for them, because some of them have been preaching all sorts of economic fallacies for the past 30 years. Now that they have got into office and power, because they are in power, they are finding out what a very difficult thing it is to carry on the Government. I have great sympathy with them, and it must be horrible to have their past and their promises brought up against them time after time. I sympathise with those hon. Members opposite who say, "For goodness sake do not remind us of our promises." It will be a very healthy thing for the country, and a very healthy state of mind if, as a result of the present Government having been in power, the people really come to understand that what the Member for Ince called full-blooded Socialism—which hon. Members opposite have been preaching for the last 30 years—should have the first two words modified slightly and transposed and that they should realise it is an impracticable policy. No country in the world can rely for its prosperity upon the Government doles but each country must rely upon itself, the industry and efforts of its own inhabitants. If we can get the psychology imposed on them that each man must stand up by himself, that it is not by Government multiplying officials and miscalled social services that either prosperity or happiness can be achieved—if as a result of the Socialist party being found out the nation can again find itself—then this Government will not have existed in vain.


.: I only intervene on this occasion in order to say how surprised I was that no reference has been made to the Trade Disputes Act by the hon. and learned Member who has just spoken.


To be quite frank, I had forgotten all about it.


I have always understood that there was a sort of friendly rivalry between the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) and the hon. Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) as to who was the father of the Trade Disputes Act of 1927. Having regard to the fact that the hon. and learned Member for Norwood introduced the subject, I fully expected to hear the views of the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire on the question. Complaint has been made that the King's Speech does not make it clear whether the Government intend to amend the Trade Disputes Act or whether they intend to repeal the Act in toto. I do not know what the Bill to be introduced will contain, or whether it is drafted at the present time, but I am sure that all hon. Members on this side of the House hope that the Government will go the whole hog, and seek to reestablish the position that existed prior to the passing of the Act of 1927. Three or four legal principles have been quoted which were enunciated by the Attorney-General at the time, and as it was stated that no member of the legal profession disputed their legal soundness, I would like to make one or two references to the statement which has been made that the general strike was illegal.

I 'am surprised that any lawyer who has made a study of this particular subject should come to this House and make that statement, because, if there is one subject upon which lawyers have differed to a greater extent than upon this particular question, I should very much like to know what it is. There has been very prolonged discussion on the question, and some of the most prominent lawyers in the country, men who are members and supporters of the Conservative party and the Liberal party, have stated that in their opinion the general strike, or a right to embark upon a general strike, was lawful at Common Law, and was not made unlawful until the Act of 1927 was passed. Perhaps hon. Members will allow me to remind them of what was the position prior to the general strike. Lord Moulton, one of the greatest jurists we have had in this country, said more than 20 years ago that a right to strike per se was lawful, and that the right of workmen to withhold their labour, if it is not exercised in a manner which is accompanied by breaches of contract or violence, is perfectly lawful. That does not mean that the right was restricted to a dispute between a workman and his own particular employer, because nearly 100 years ago it was laid down by Mr. Justice Erskine, in a famous State trial, that so long as the object of the strikers was lawful there is nothing in law to prevent working-men exercising their right to strike. In other words, even if the strikers objected to the policy of a particular Government, so long as there was no actual sedition or violence, the workmen were perfectly entitled to withhold their labour. That was the position 100 years ago, and the position in 1926.

Then we had the so-called general strike. I have never yet met a lawyer who has been prepared to define the term "general strike." The strike that took place in 1926 was on a large scale; it involved, I think, just over 2,000,000 men out of a total of 16,000,000 workers throughout the country. In so far as there is any authority on the legality of a general strike, we are again entitled to dispute the charge that a general strike is illegal at common law. A case was heard some years ago in which a judgment was delivered by a Liberal Lord Chancellor, Lord Loreburn, in which he said that a trade dispute was not necessarily restricted to the parties, for, he said, some are parties but many are interested; and he went on to point out that you might have a trade dispute in a colliery between the men working in that colliery and the colliery proprietor, but that, if the rest of the mining community, who might have no direct interest or concern in that particular dispute, but who as miners were interested in the welfare of their fellow miners, were called out in sympathetic strike action in support of the miners in that colliery, they were doing a perfectly legal act. Therefore, I think we are entitled to say that at any rate there is a large volume of legal opinion in this country which does not accept the statement of the law given by the learned Attorney-General of that time. On the contrary, some of the most famous lawyers in this country have gone a step further, and have definitely stated—I have the authority here in case anyone wishes to dispute my statement—their view that the general strike in this country prior to 1927 was perfectly lawful.

I may be asked, was there not an illegal act accompanying the general strike of 1926? Were not the men called out in breach of contract, and is not a breach of contract an illegal act? If the Trade Disputes Act of 1906 were not on the Statute Book, there might be something to be said in favour of that point of view, but we are entitled to rely upon the law as it was, and as it is so far as that particular Act is concerned. In Section 3 of the Act of 1906 will be found a provision that any action procuring a breach of contract is perfectly lawful so long as it is in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute. Therefore, it is a question of fact, and, in so far as it could be shown by any of the men who were on strike in 1926 that the breaches of contract with which they were charged were procured in contemplation or furtherance of the trade dispute that existed at that time between the miners and the mineowners, then any such action was given legal protection by virtue of that provision of the Act of 1906. If, then, I am asked, Why should we object to making illegal something which may have been legal prior to the general strike of 1926, but which held up the whole community, I think the answer is that it is not consistent with good government for any party to make illegal something which may have been perfectly legal before, but which has resulted in unpleasantness or hardship to the community, without seeking to deal with it by removing the causes which compel men in our community to exercise their right to strike. I should like to quote, on that point, something that was written by a very well known constitutional lawyer in this country, in which he says: An act which is peculiarly harmful or dangerous to the State is not ipso facto unlawful. The only legal remedy, of course, is for Parliament to alter the law. Because the general strike was exceptionally dangerous to the life of the community, it does not follow that it was illegal. I suggest that the course which should have been adopted by the Conservative Government of that day, if they had been prepared to face up to their responsibilities as the Government, was, not to penalise the men who were exercising a legal right by making it impossible for them to exercise that right in the future, but to tackle the conditions that undoubtedly existed at that time in the mining industry, and so prevent the necessity for men going on strike.

The second point made by the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire was with regard to intimidation. He asked those who sit on this side of the House whether we were in favour of intimidation, whether we were in favour of allowing a workman to interfere with another workman in his house or home. The hon. and learned Member knows as well as I do that the law with regard to intimidation as it existed under the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875, as amended by the Trade Disputes Act, 1906, was sufficiently adequate to make it a punishable offence for any man to engage in picketing which resulted in his invading the home of a workman.


Have you ever seen a big picket peacefully picketing?


I have seen, perhaps, more pickets at work than the hon. and learned Member himself has, but I am dealing at the moment with the law. The hon. and learned Gentleman makes his living, as I do, in the law courts of this country, and any person who was affected as he insinuates would have no difficulty in procuring his services for an adequate fee. [Interruption.] Under the law as it existed prior to the passing of this Act, there was every protection for the man who was refusing to take part in a strike. Intimidation had been the subject of many cases in the courts. I have looked through the cases on this question with some care, and there are remarkably few concrete instances where it could be shown that a blackleg had been interfered with by his fellow workmen who were on strike without the facts justifying punishment by a court of law if the law had been broken.


Does not the hon. Gentleman know that in the cases where prosecutions took place, particularly in South Wales, the defence relied on in almost every case was that the man did not know that violence was in fact intimidation?


I am not going to discuss whether a particular workman knew what the law was, because I am afraid that the maxim that operates in such a case is far too old to be altered to-day, and that is that ignorance of the law is no excuse. I f a man does not know his rights under the law, that does not make the law bad. What I am arguing at the moment, however, is that the law was there—


Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that it does make it necessary to make the law clear? That is what we have done.


I should have had no objection, and I do not think that anyone on these benches would have had any objection, to making the law clear. What we object to is a change in the law, which is quite a different proposition. It is very interesting to come to this House and hear the charges hurled across the Floor by hon. Members opposite—charges of gross intimidation on the part of the working men of this country—when some of us, including the hon. and learned Members opposite, have been associated with cases, and have knowledge of cases, where a much more insidious form of intimidation has been and is to-day being practised by employers. There were, for instance, the cases of Ware ?. De Freville and Trollope v. London Building Trades Federation. We know what happened in those cases. You have rules passed by the association, and a member, if he breaks those rules, is sent a letter intimating that he has broken the rules, and that, if he does not make amends, no member of the association is allowed to trade with him; he is boycotted, intimidated, and in some cases actually ruined.


Amend that law, then?


I am sure that, if the hon. and learned Member will assist us to amend the law with regard to trade unions, we will assist him to amend the law with regard to employers.


Does not the hon. Gentleman know that in just that type of case the Court of Criminal Appeal has held that threats of the type he suggests are blackmail?


I am afraid that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not meeting my point. It had been decided that the associations were not responsible in any court of law for what they had done. There was a subsequent case which turned on an entirely different branch of the law and in which the association's representative was held guilty of blackmail, not because the association had penalised or boycotted a member of it, but because he had written on behalf of the association demanding a sum of money as a fine, an entirely different point and an entirely different form of intimidation.


indicated dissent.


The law books are in the Library and the hon. Gentleman will be able to get them. The third point he made was with reference to the political levy, and he waxed very eloquent about the hardships imposed upon the working man who did not desire to contribute to the political fund of his union, and the impression he gave me, and I imagine others, was that a member who did not desire to contribute had to make a public declaration in front of a mass meeting of his workmen and was thereby held up to public ridicule, hatred and contempt.


Will the hon. and learned Gentleman tell me one single word I said that suggested anything of the kind?


The hon. and learned Gentleman proceeded then to extol the advantages of the secret ballot, and I assume that it is a very fair interpretation of the position that he took up that the converse must have been that there was some publicity attending it. I have no desire to misrepresent his position. The OFFICIAL REPORT will be a sufficient check. The effect of what he said was that it was desirable to protect the workman against pressure on the part of his fellow workmen, and that the best method to adopt would be some form of secret ballot.


The hon. Gentleman completely mis-apprehends what I said. I said the principle behind the secret ballot was that a man's political faith was a matter for his innermost conscience and one which he need disclose to no one and, acting on the principle that has been accepted by this country, I said it was quite wrong to make it a condition of a man's employment, if he happened not to be a Socialist, that he should, unless he wanted to subscribe to a political faith that he did not believe in, make a declaration of political faith, namely a document which he signs for the purpose of contracting-out, which is open to every union official and, not only that, but is sometimes posted in clubs in order that other people may see it.

1.0 p.m.


I do not know whether such documents are posted up in clubs. The hon. and learned Gentleman may have greater knowledge of clubs than I have but I know something about the machinery that operates under the 1913 Act, and I should be very surprised if he could adduce any substantial evidence showing that there is anything in the nature of a practice on the part of trade union officials of publishing the declarations made by such persons. In addition, such workmen did not make any declaration of their political faith. They merely signed a document stating that they did not desire to contribute. That is as far as it went. The hon. and learned Gentleman can hardly interpret that as a declaration of political faith. Further, if any workman was penalised, machinery is contained in the Act for putting the matter right and during the years 1913–1927, according to the return of the Registrar-General, only 40 or 50 complaints were received by him, of which number 15 were found to be substantiated, making an average of one case of hardship per year in a body of men averaging perhaps 3,000,000 to 4,000,000. There is not very much evidence yet adduced in support of any grievance so far as the political fund is concerned. We on this side are not at all perturbed at the prospect of defending the Government policy. The hon. and learned Gentleman was rather satirical at the expense of the Government when he asked why they did not introduce this all important Measure 12 months ago. Why have they waited till now? I do not imagine that that is very much of a grievance. It is never too late to mend. We have had other things to do. The hon. and learned Gentleman takes a paternal interest in the Trade Disputes Act of 1927 and it will not be very long before he will be able to maintain his position on that question. We believe the Bill is a measure of justice to the workers of the country. We believe the restrictions contained in the 1927 Act may have been very applicable and very desirable a hundred years ago when the attitude of the ruling classes was one of open hostility to the trade union movement but to-day, after the trade union movement has proved itself to be a responsible section of opinion which performed invaluable service during the Great War—and to those opposite who pride themselves on their patriotism surely that ought to make some appeal—and when it is doing the work it is doing to protect and safeguard the interest of the working classes, the least we can do is to assist it by restoring the position that existed prior to the passing of the Act.


My hon. Friend has brought back the Debate to the point at which it started, but he has addressed himself in the main to the legal aspects of the subject. I conclude that there are many other Members who would like to address the House, not merely on this but other topics, and I rise to offer only a sentence or two on questions of right and questions of equity apart from questions of law as they relate to this theme. There was an understanding and an arrangement which might be termed a settlement reached by all parties in the House in 1913, and that settlement and understanding, embodied in a Bill which passed this House without opposition and without a Division on its Third Reading, worked well until we came to the year 1926. The understanding included what we imagined was a very substantial concession to our political opponents, because we agreed that even alter a body of men had collectively settled by ballot what they should do individuals who claimed on grounds of conscience that they were disinclined to make a contribution to a political fund should be able, by formally signing a form to that effect, not to pay any contribution which had been settled by the collective action of their fellow workmen. Therefore the dissentient minorities who had a right to take part in the ballot had the right, when they found themselves outvoted, to step aside from any obligation or contribution and, as is known, many thousands of workmen exercised that right without a great deal of complaint.

Then we come to the year 1926. There was what is termed a general strike. The present Leader of the Opposition who was then the Prime Minister immediately after that strike said that those men went on strike because of their sympathy with the miners who had been locked out. It is, I think, as clear as day that if there had not been what was in the nature of a general lock-out of the miners there would not have been a general strike at all. It was not a premeditated, organised or desired industrial act on the part of the men who took part in it. I have more than once, in this House and elsewhere, put this question, that if it was right for the mineowner to lock out a million comrades, how could it be wrong for two or three million men to down tools in sympathy? Happily that strike was conducted with uniform orderliness and good temper. There were lapses, there were offences and breaches of the law, in some instances rather serious breaches of the law, for which men were severely punished and some were sent to prison, but in the main people in other countries who conduct their quarrels differently from us stood amazed at the peaceful manner in which the two sides conducted that quarrel. That, I think, was a tribute to our general national good sense in these times of very real ordeal.

Following that act, clearly the party opposite made that general strike an excuse for wounding their political opponents and inflicting upon them what they thought would be a blow almost completely disabling them from gathering the necessary political funds to fight their Parliamentary battles. But let the House remember that before there was a general strike—years before there was a general strike—repeated efforts were made by the Conservative party in this House, by speech and by other organised action, to induce their leaders to pass a law which would have inflicted that disability upon their political opponents. If the general strike required legislation to restrict the industrial action of the few, why was not the Act limited to industrial acts? Why did they want to prevent organised bodies of workmen collectively using money in that way if they desired to do so. What we said then and what we have said in other places is, that the trade unions are entitled to the same condition of collective freedom and majority right and majority rule as is enjoyed by every other organisation, and by every other body in this country. Whether it be church or chapel, whether it be Tory club or Radical institute, no matter what body it may be, all these matters are settled by the majority rule of the membership, and the trade unions ask for no more than the method and practice by which this House itself settles whatever is to be the action or law of the vast majority, indeed the whole of the people in this country.

I do not know what hon. Members may think might be the condition in our country if ever again there were a general lock-out of miners or any very large body of workmen in any one of our big national industries. My own feeling is, law or no law, that if a step of that kind be taken to inflict say reductions of wages upon great bodies of men it would be immensely difficult to prevent the sympathetic action of even larger bodies of men taking sides with those of their fellow workmen who they might conceive were the victims of the unfair action either of the State or of the employers, as the ease might be.

I can only inform the Home, without touching upon any question of detail or upon how far the Bill will go, or upon what precisely might be the best phrases and the best Clauses, that we are determined to go ahead with this task on grounds of right and equity for those whom we imagine we represent, and we do so plainly for the reason that we want to establish order and to restore within the trade unions no more than the right enjoyed by every other collection of persons in this country, the right of enforcing majority rule.


I would begin by asking the Home Secretary whether I am to understand by the concluding words of his speech that the only point with which this Bill is going to deal is the enforcement of majority rule in the trade unions in the matter of the political levy.


Certainly not. I did not imply that the Bill was to be limited to that one point alone.


The whole of the right lion. Gentleman's history and story and the whole of his arguments were addressed to that one point alone. Perhaps I should not be fair if I did not say that I knew that he was anxious not to take up too much time, but after all he was asked to say what were the points with which this Bill was going to deal? He was asked with which of the four points mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend were they going to deal, and the Home Secretary did not answer and dealt only with one particular. Perhaps I should not be far off the truth if I were to assume that the Majesty's Government have now decided to deal with the political levy point, which, obviously, is the one in which the trade unions are most directly and immediately interested from the point of view of politics, and that they have not yet made up their minds whether they will tackle any of the other difficult and more delicate problems involved in the Act of 1927. That, I think, would be a fair assumption to which to come. His Majesty's Government have wobbled for a year and a half over this question and they are wobbling still. As the Home Secretary was not explicit on this point, perhaps I may deal with the arguments of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Cardiff (Mr. A. Henderson, junr.) who, I am sorry to say, has left the House. The hon. Member for South Cardiff—I do not know whether, owing to family connections, he knows more than most hon. Members about the probable policy of His Majesty's Government—left no doubt that the Bill is going to deal with three points—the general strike, the political levy and intimidation. He did try, and he is the only hon. Member opposite who has tried, to deal with the Act on its merits and to say why he objected to certain parts of it or to the Act as a whole. In the first place, his objection to the way in which the Act of 1927 deals with the general strike was that the workmen had previously had a lawful right to strike not only against their employers but against other parts of the community, that they had the right to strike in sympathy with other unions, that they had that legal right before the general strike and, therefore, ought not to have their legal right infringed. They have that legal right today. The hon. Member has forgotten that in order to make a general strike illegal under the Act it has not only to be actuated by purposes other than mere coercion of the employers but has also to be a strike: designed or calculated to coerce the Government either directly or by inflicting hardship upon the community. I say to hon. Members opposite if you want to repeal this general strike provision of the Act of 1927, you do it solely in order to enable a combination of trade unions to strike in a manner "designed or calculated to coerce the Government." That is the only reason why you could wish to do that Therefore, the whole of the hon. Member's argument on the past law on the subject falls to the ground. When lie turned to the question of intimidation, he said that intimidation always was illegal and that there was no need for the provision of the Act of 1927. In what respect do the provisions of the Act of 1927 go beyond the Act of 1875? That, the hon. Member did not tell us. Do they go beyond the Act of 1875 or do they not? If they do go beyond that Act, is there anything in the provisions of the Act of 1927 which any hon. Member opposite does not agree ought to be prohibited? If so, which of these things which are prohibited in Section 3 of the Act do hon. Members opposite think should be prohibited in the future: …. to attend at or near a house or place where a person resides or works or carries on business or happens to be, for the purpose of obtaining or communicating information or of persuading or inducing any person to work, or to abstain from working, if they so attend in such numbers or otherwise in such manlier as to be calculated to intimidate any person in that house or place, or to obstruct the approach thereto or egress there from, or to lead to a breach of the peace;" …. Which of these things do hon. Members think ought to be legal? The hon. Member, replying to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) said that it was rather absurd to talk about the principle of the secret ballot, because a workman contracting out had only to sign a declaration which was sent to the trade union officials and was not necessarily published. Does the hon. Member think that it would be a satisfactory secret ballot for the election of Members to this House of every elector was forced to sign his voting paper at the polling station? Surely, if there is a principle behind the secret ballot it is that no man, even though he be a responsible Government official in the polling station, even though he be a responsible person employed to count the votes, should know how his neighbour has voted.

Mr. BEN SMITH (Treasurer of the Household)

Nobody does.


Nobody does, but I do not think the hon. Member was here at the time when the hon. Member for South Cardiff was arguing that it was no infringement of the principle of secrecy about one's political convictions that one should sign a declaration and send it on to the trade union, because it was only the trade union official who saw it.


Surely, that is not the point. Whether you will have a political levy or not is one thing. Having agreed that the union should take part in a political levy, an individual wishing to contract out signs a paper. Those are two very different things.


Had the hon. Member listened to the argument of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Norwood he would have seen that the point was quite simple, namely, that if you force a man, under any conditions, to sign a declaration of his political conviction, or something implying what his political convictions, at any stage or in any way, you are bound by that act to infringe the general principle which is behind the secret ballot.


Is it the suggestion of the Noble Lord that the paper signed contains a declaration of political principle?


Of course, the hon. Member may say that the declaration which is signed simply says: "I do not want to contribute to the levy."


That is all that it does say.


The hon. Member's point is, that that is all that it does say and that, of course, no trade union official and no one else would presume that such a declaration was a declaration that the trade union member in question belonged to the Liberal party or the Conservative party; nobody would draw that conclusion. That is the hon. Member's assumption. I will leave him with that happy conviction, and pass on. The upshot of the speech of the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) and the upshot of the speech of the Home Secretary and of the speech of the hon. Member for South Cardiff was this: "Do not let us trouble; it is not worth while. We are not dealing with this thing on the merits of the Act of 1927 but because of the circumstances in which the Act of 1927 was passed. We feel sore about it. We think, apart from its actual provisions, that the motive of the Act was an attempt to get back at the trades unions or the Labour party. [HON. MEMBERS: "Quite right."] For that reason, because we feel sore, now that we have power over the government of this country we are going to reverse that Act, quite apart from the merits of it." That is the driving force behind the demand for the repeal of this Act, or the modification of it. That is a very natural and very human feeling, but is it the way in which His Majesty's Government ought to approach any measure of public policy? Should they say: "Let us put the clock back and let us wipe out the thing that makes us feel sore. Do not let us trouble about the merits of the Act itself."

I should like to go rather over the head of the debate, as it were, and to ask hon. Members to consider this question from a rather different point of view. We have had two or three remarkable appeals from the back benches during the last few days in speeches by the hon. Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley), the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. O. Stanley) and the hon. Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor), appeals to think of policies which may cut across party lines, appeals that we should deal with the situation of appalling industrial depression and national danger which faces us, wipe out of our minds party prejudices and sit down irrespective of party to consider measures for national salvation; and have the courage to enforce those measures. Might I reinforce those appeals from the Front Bench. There is very little facing up to the realities of the present and the dangers of the future about a policy which merely wants to pay the other fellow out for something he may have done in the past, and, after all, the whole question of trade union policy and organisation which is involved is a problem which especially needs to be considered at the present moment in relation to the national danger without prejudice, with fresh eyes and with a determination to do what the State and the nation requires.

It is very difficult for anyone on these benches to speak about trade union organisation and policies. Hon. Members opposite always feel that we on these benches have vested interests of various kinds in land or capital which make it quite impossible for us to consider with an open mind the difficult problems of national policy which might affect some vested interest. We on these benches feel that it is sometimes difficult for hon. Members opposite to speak about trade union policy because so large a proportion of hon. Members opposite have grown up in the trade union movement, have risen as officials of these unions and have become tied up in the administrative system which they have evolved that they are unable to realise the defects and the anachronisms of the organisation to which they belong. I hope hon. Members opposite will forgive me, and will listen to me, if I suggest to them some points about trade union organisation which really have to be faced and which can never be dealt with by fiddling away at this old question of the Trade Disputes Act and the political levy. What has been the history of the trade union movement? It grew up in a period of this nation when the birth rate was steeply increasing, when there were continuous waves of new labour coming upon industry, and when, consequently, it was of supreme importance to protect the body of workers from new competition coming in from generation after generation outside. Whilst trade unionists in their origin recognised as their primary interest the duty of keeping wages up as high as possible this continuous competition of each new generation in the labour market forced them increasingly to look away a little from the problem of high wages and turn their attention to the problem of security of employment.

Hence there arose two well-marked trade union policies. One was the great old policy of "Keep the boys back," a policy which was largely responsible for successive improvements in educational administration in this country, and which in those days was a perfectly sound policy. The other great policy was to build up all that system of demarcation, the object of which was so far as possible to keep men who were in a. particular line of work and protect them from the competition of new workers from outside. Around these efforts have been built up a whole elaborate system of trade union rules, so elaborate that in a good many the trade union officials themselves do not for a moment defend the rules as economic or efficient at the present day. Just as the administrator in pre-revolutionary France, Turgot, was so tied up in his bureaucratic entanglements that he dare not pull any thread for fear that everything would come away in his hands, so in some trade unions, notably the building industry, the trade union officials would be only too glad to sweep away a great deal of this hampering tackle if they could feel that the employers would meet them and would not take an improper advantage of any concession which the workers might make.


Can the right hon. Member cite a rule to which he refers?


I do not think the hon. and learned Member should ask me to prolong my speech at this hour by going into details on a question with which everyone is familiar. If the hon. and learned Member is living under the comfortable delusion that there is no rule enforced by any trade union in any industry which injures efficient production, let him go to the building industry and ask any trade union official, let him compare the English building industry with the American building industry, and answer his own question.


On account of the allegations of the Noble Lord I made exact inquiries of the building trade and I find no such rules in existence.


The hon. and learned Member must really not make sweeping statements of that kind. No trade unionist will agree with him. If this be the position, and I do not think anyone will deny that there is a good deal of truth in it, what is the position at the present moment? You no longer have the increasing competition from the rising generation. You have a falling birth rate. The unemployment you have at the present time is not the unemployment of too much competition for the same job but unemployment due to the restrictive effect on industry of a lot of old customs, many of them customs of the management and many of them customs of the trade unions in the organisation of labour. In these days you must speed up if you are to have cheaper and more efficient production.

Surely the question that we ought to be considering is this: There has been a- kind of concordat between American employers and American trade unionists, and that concordat has broadly followed this principle—that there should be no restriction by management or trade unions on the most efficient possible employment of labour, except restrictions based upon considerations of health. The effect of that policy has certainly been that wages in the American industries concerned have risen much further and more quickly' than would have been possible if the old restrictive rules of management and trade union had remained. Does anyone doubt that if trade unions in this country generally were to meet employers in that spirit, and were to make a bargain for higher wages in return for a reconsideration of the whole nexus and system of trade union rules and administration, there is hardly an intelligent employer in the country who would not be prepared greatly to raise wages in order to get rid of hampering rules which now interfere with production? I know many employers who would be prepared to pay almost anything to get a bargain of that kind.

I quite recognise that hon. Members opposite who have passed their lives in the trade union movement know a great deal more about the question than I do, and I appreciate that their inclination would be to make a sweeping denial of everything that I have said. They would say that there is nothing like this in the trade union movement, just as some hon. Members on this side are accustomed to dismiss with the most cheerful sneer anything that any hon. Member opposite may say about agriculture or the land, on the assumption that he cannot possibly know anything about it. I would appeal to hon. Members opposite not to treat what I have said as in any sense hostile to the trade union movement or any of the rules that I have criticised. But it is true, it must be true, if all trade unions were managed by archangels it would be true, that where you get such a profound change in the whole industrial economy of the country as has taken place in the past few years, when the whole nature of the population, when the birth rate and the death rate are so fundamentally changed, it is inevitable that great and cumbrous and highly organised administrative bodies like the trade unions must in a measure lag behind the necessities and realities of the situation, just as every Government Department and the whole system of our law tends to lag behind.

I appeal to hon. Members of all parties. Why at this moment of national emergency should we waste our time over the recriminations to which all that this proposal about the Trade Disputes Act will lead? No one is prepared to discuss the thing on its merits; it is all historical grievance. The whole debate on the subject, strong as I believe our case is and glad as I should be for party reasons to fight the thing out on the Floor of the House—the whole effect of the debate would be to divert employer and trade union from the real issues of the moment and to direct them back to the happenings of four years ago which, in spite of anything that hon. Members opposite may say for debating purposes, were events which all of them believe to be put irrevocably in the past. Then why go back? The really grave and urgent problems which face you are of a truly different character, and their solution can only be hindered by fighting over again in a childish way those old battles.

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