§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [22nd January], "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Which Amendment was, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words, "upon this day six months."—[Mr. S. Baldwin.]
§ Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ Sir BOYD MERRIMAN
We are accustomed to think of the principal Law Officers of the Crown in their proud position of being the protectors of the rights of the people. The Attorney-General and the Lord Advocate, supported, as I understand that they are going to be, by the Solicitor-General for England, are bringing in a Bill which I believe is designed to make lawful a general strike such as the one that happened in 1926, and to make it infinitely more difficult to show that any strike comes within the criminal law; to secure for the promoters and organisers, even of an illegal strike, complete immunity for everything that has been done up to the moment at which it is possible to obtain a declaration of the count that the strike is illegal; to ensure that whatever wrongs trade unions may commit, however much they may employ their funds to commit wrongs in the course of an illegal strike, not one penny of their funds shall be touched to make good the damage that they have caused; to declare that some of the more cowardly forms of intimidation are legal; to permit trade unionists to be coerced into subscribing to the funds of a political party with which they have no 'sympathy; to allow civil servants to divide their allegiance between the State and a trade union allied to a political party, and, finally, to allow public authorities to say that wages paid out of the ratepayers' money shall be paid only to members of partisan trade unions. I regret, if that is not too mild a word, that a Bill like this is being sponsored by the Law Officers of the Crown.
I have stated what I believe to be the effect of this Bill, and what I believe that 826 anybody who honestly studies its provisions must admit to be the effect of the Bill; but I am not going to ask the House to take it on my opinion without discussing the thing further, and I propose to discuss it further. I stated that the first thing which I believe to be true about this Bill is that it makes lawful a general strike such as happened in 1926, and makes it infinitely more difficult to prove that any strike is illegal. When the Attorney-General was speaking on Thursday, he challenged anybody who used the words "general strike" to explain in what sense he used them. I am prepared to explain in what sense I use the words. On the 30th April, 1926, the General Council of the Trade Union Congress published what they called, "Proposals for co-ordinated action of trade unions." Reading from a copy of that which appeared in the Press, may I remind the House—because sometimes memories in these matters are a little short—that first of all, under the heading of "Scope," the Trade Union Council directed that,except as hereinafter provided, the following trades and undertakings shall cease work as and when required by the General Council.Then it sets out a formidable list of trades, of which we remember the details only too well. But by way of exception from the generality of the hardship which was to he imposed upon the community, the Council graciously excepted the sanitary services, and directed, not the ordinary sources of supply, nor of course the Government, but the trade unions, to make arrangements that food should be available for the community. They were also good enough to allow that hospitals, welfare centres, and the like should be provided for. Under the heading at the end of this precious document, "Procedure," there was this direction:That the executives of all other affiliated unions were asked to report whether they were prepared to place their powers in the hands of the Trade Union Congress both as to calling a strike and as to financial assistance.As the House is aware, affiliated unions included, among others, the Civil Service unions. On the 12th May, 1926, the Chairman and the Secretary of the General Council of the Trade Union Congress, and the hon. Member for Barrow- 827 in-Furness (Mr. Bromley) issued a statement over their signatures, in which they stated:In order to resume negotiations, the General Council of the Trade Union Congress has decided to terminate "—what?—the General Strike.A strike which is thus described by its organisers is what I mean by a general strike, and I include in that any future repetition, on a similar or comparable scale, of the events of 1926. I contrast with that a sectional strike, by which I mean a strike confined to a particular trade or industry, however wide that term may be, in which an actual trade dispute is going on. I do not think that it assists to clear up matters in the least to go on using, as the hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham (Mr. Birkett) went on using all through his speech, phrases such as "the so-called General Strike," or "the mis-called General Strike." I prefer to use the plain words which were used by the organisers at the time and which have been used by millions of His Majesty's subjects ever since, including a great many occupants of the Treasury Bench. Nor does it assist to clear our minds about this business to contrast, on the one hand, revolutionary or political strikes with industrial and sympathetic strikes, as the Attorney-General did, unless all those words are defined a great deal more clearly than the Attorney-General attempted to define them, and unless you make it clear into which of the two categories you put the events of 1926, because that is the only question about which the country is in the least bit interested. The Attorney-General's only attempt so far to answer that crucial question is to say, first of all, that it is a question of fact depending on the answer to the question whether the events of 1926 were or were not in furtherance of a trade dispute. That, of course, is no answer at all, and simply evades the question.
The Attorney-General, however, gave a, more serious answer than that, and, if the House will bear with me for a moment or two in being a little technical, I shall deal with it, because I know that the statement which the Attorney-General made is causing a good deal of doubt and 828 difficulty. The Attorney-General said that this Bill legalises nothing that was illegal in 1926. I am not going to deal specifically with one special point which the Attorney-General made, that both under this Bill and under the law as it stood, anybody who was injured, or who thought himself going to be injured by a strike, could go to the Court and get an injunction against the trade union. I am not going to deal with that statement beyond saying that, in my opinion, that is not the law. But I will not stop to deal with that. I am going to deal with the main proposition, which the Attorney-General stated in these words:If the strike was illegal in 1926, such a strike will assuredly be illegal when our Bill is passed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd January, 1931; col. 389, Vol. 247.]I am bound to say that I profoundly disagree with that statement, and, like the hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham, I think it is unsound in law. But I want to try to deal with it for a few moments a little more closely. The effect of what the Attorney-General was saying is this: The right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) said in 1926 that what was done was illegal. The Attorney-General said that he was either right or he was wrong, and taunted us who agree with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said with being a little frightened that, after all, we might have been wrong. But the point was, that it was either right or wrong in 1926, and if it was right in 1926 it was right now and vice versa.
I suggest that that overlooks one absolutely vital consideration. There may be doubts, and there certainly have been doubts, and differences as to whether the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley was right or not in 1926 as the law stood, but since that date we passed the Act of 1927 to declare the law. And bear in mind, that although in one sense it was not a retrospective declaration, it was retrospective in this sense, that the effect of it was made to apply back to the time of the General Strike in 1926. There was a declaration in 1927 of what the law was, and this is a Bill to alter and amend that declaration of the law. I venture to assert that when the law has been, by one Act of Parliament, declared to be, at a given date, one thing, and 829 then that declaration has afterwards been altered, so that it is made to read that the law is another thing, you cannot say that the law still is and will be whatever it happened to be before either Act was passed. You are substituting for a repealed declaration another declaration which is intended to have a different operation and effect, but, in order to get at the meaning of the second declaration, you cannot ignore the existence of the first. If I may read a very short passage from a well-known judgment, you cannot ignore the existence of the repealed Statute. You cannot say that the moment an Act of Parliament is partly repealed you cannot look at the repealed part for any purpose, but that the repealed part must be regarded as if it had never been enacted. You cannot tell what is the effect of the repealing Statute without looking at the meaning of the Statute which it has repealed. You must look at the facts which were existing at the time the Act passed to see what it means, including the fact that at the time this Bill is passed there is on the Statute Book a declaration of law which this Bill is intended to alter. A much simpler way —[HON. MEMBERS:" Hear, hear !"]— After all, this was a very serious statement of the Attorney-General, and I have the right, I think, to ask the House to indulge me for a moment in trying, as best I can, to explain why I think that statement was fundamentally wrong.
Now let us test it in a much more simple way. Surely the simple way to test this question, in which we are all interested, is to make two alternative assumptions. The first assumption is that the 1927 Act was in force in April, 1926. Supposing that had been so, does anyone in this House doubt that the General Strike in May, 1926, would have been illegal? Hon. Members who say that that Act goes so much further can hardly dispute that at least it went as far as that. Let us next assume that the Act of 1927, having already been passed before April, 1926, had by then been amended in the terms of this Bill. The Attorney-General will not tell us whether the General Strike, which happened in May, 1926—not some imaginary strike, but the General Strike of May, 1926—would or would not have been illegal under this Bill. I, therefore, am going once more to ask to be allowed 830 to state my view, and to attempt to justify it. In my opinion, if that had been the state of the facts in April, 1926, namely, that our Bill had already been passed, and had already been amended in the terms of this Bill, it would have been extremely difficult, it not absolutely impossible, to get a declaration from the court that the General Strike was illegal. Just reflect how that really works out. The court would have had to ask itself whether the General Strike—not some imaginary strike—had as its primary object—I am going to read the words of the Bill:an object other than that of furthering purposes connected with the employment or non-employment, or the terms of the employment, or with the conditions of labour, of any person (whether or not employed in the trade or industry in which the strike or lock-out takes place).At the very outset, when you are dealing with this Clause, you are met with all the difficulties which are involved in deciding whose motives it is that are to determine the character of the strike, and the degree to which those motives are in any way connected, remotely or closely, with anything that can be called a trade dispute. If I may use the language of which the Attorney-General himself has made use, and which we all understand, the test is wholly subjective. There is no objective test at all. It is clear, is it not, that different motives or objects may he operating in a thing like a general strike, according as you look at what I venture to call the operations branch of the general staff at Trade Union Congress headquarters, or of political leaders, or of the strikers themselves in one industry or another. This diversity of motives is nowhere more clearly recognised than in the little book to which the Attorney-General contributed, published by Liberal headquarters, which my right hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) used with such devastating effect the other night. I want to quote one passage which exactly illustrates what I am saying. It is on page 148, in a paragraph headed "The Character of the General Strike of 1926." The paragraph begins:The character of this event is oversimplified by any description of its motives as political or as industrial.What becomes of his proposition number I in the light of that sentence? Indus- 831 trial, sympathetic on the one hand; political, revolutionary on the other. But that description, he says, is over-simplified when we are considering the event of 1926. Then he goes on to speak of some imaginary defendant who is charged with some crime or wrong:Was he animated by a desire to afford help, assistance or encouragement to the miners by means of a very extensive sympathetic strike, or was his motive to produce such a political situation that Mr. Baldwin's Government would be compelled either to grant a further subsidy or to tender its resignation and make way for a Government which would give the miners what they wanted? It is believed that some of the active procurers of the strike were animated by the former, and some by the latter, motive.I want to know whether that is still believed by the Attorney-General? If so, how are you going to settle which or whose motive or object was the primary object of the 1926 strike? I am going to put this, if I may, for a moment in a frivolous way, but it illustrates the point I am trying to make. Let us take, for the sake of example, Mr. Pugh and Mr. Citrine, and let us suppose Mr. Pugh had one object and Mr. Citrine the other. How are you going to settle the order of priority? Are you going to settle it on the basis that one was chairman and the other secretary, or, in the last resort, by the alphabetical order of their names? I apologise for being frivolous. The illustration may be frivolous, but the point is sound, and it shows the folly of pinning yourself to what is solely a subjective test.So far as the criminal law is concerned, you must provide certain plain, objective tests."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd January, 1931; col. 406. Vol. 247.]Does the Attorney-General recognise those words? They are from his speech on Thursday, when he was talking about the crime of intimidation. That is exactly why in the Act of 1927 we said, "If you can show that the strike is designed to coerce the Government, well and good"; but by coupling with the word "designed" the word "calculated," we incorporated into our Statute the sound principle of law that a man must be taken to intend the ordinary consequences of his act, and we took, in effect, this plain objective test, which tan be stated in words of one syllable— 832 See what it is that the strike must do, and you can tell what sort of a strike it is." Although we did not forbid sympathetic strikes at all if their character were such as not to coerce the Government—putting it quite broadly—we did aim at hitting the general strike as distinct from the sectional strike. Were we wrong to do that? There is very excellent authority for saying that is the right thing to have done.
The Secretary of State for the Colonies, after the General Strike was over, wrote a series of articles in "Answers," in the months of January, February and March, 1927, designed, as he said, to give his version of the facts and the events leading up to the General Strike. After all, we are not going to examine into them, nor are we concerned with the historical accuracy or inaccuracy of those articles, but in the last article, on 12th March, 1927, he stated that his main object, "he should say his only object "—may I add, his primary object—was to draw one or two conclusions from these happenings and to point the moral. After pointing out that in no conceivable set of circumstances could a general strike provide a panacea for the ills or ailments of the workers of this country, and saying that that was the opinion of nine-tenths of the executive of labour in our land, he said, under the heading "Labour— the Workers' Capital":Yes, my friends, the general strike must be for ever ruled out of Labour's armoury as a weapon of attack. No attack is a good attack which causes more damage to the attacker than to the assailed". No method is a sound method which reacts like a boomerang on the men and women employing it. Therefore, I rule out the general strike from the workers' scheme of things. But while saying this I also take up the position, and lay it down as a fundamental condition, that the worker must still retain the right to withhold labour. His labour is his only capital, and if the time comes when he wants to enhance its value he must take the only means to his hand for this purpose.Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to say, and I ask the attention of the House to this passage:Am I grossly inconsistent in my argument? Why should the general strike be ruled out and the sectional strike retained as an indispensable weapon? I will tell you. A sectional strike is quite a different thing from a general strike—at all events such a general strike as we had last year. 833 In the one case there can be no question of the Constitution being threatened. It is a matter between the workers and employers in a certain industry. Such strikes have been necessary in the past and will, I have no doubt, be necessary in the future. I am afraid we have not yet gone far along the road to the Utopia where the word 'strike' is unknown.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for DOMINION AFFAIRS (Mr. J. H. Thomas)
I accept every word of that.
§ Sir B. MERRIMAN
And I agree with every word of it, because no more accurate or perfect description could be given of the contrast between a strike or a lock-out in a trade or industry, the right to which we preserved by the Act of 1927, and a general strike, which we forbade. And there could be no more complete justification for leaving the Act of 1927 unamended than the passage I have just read. We still await the answer to this question: Is it or is it not the intention of His Majesty's Government that a repetition of the General Strike of 1926 shall be legal? We are not so sure as the right hon. Gentleman was in those articles that a general strike is ruled out of the workers' scheme of things. Mr. Cook did not think so in January, 1927. Speaking at Driffield on the 28th of January, he said:Don't say Never again.' Conditions will govern men's actions.
§ Sir B. MERRIMAN
Let me finish.As there has been one general strike there will be others. There has been one Labour Government; there will be others."Conditions govern men's actions." Hon. Members have noted the antithesis between a Labour Government on the one hand and general strikes on the other. But do not let us take account only of what Mr. Cook says. After all, we are talking about the future, and at some future date there may be a leader of the Labour party who has written so strongly against general strikes for years that for any quotation from his writings which you make he is entitled to complain that he could have capped it with a stronger one; but who yet, at some fateful meeting, before some hearty chorus-singing of "The Red Flag," may be driven into saying "We are in the battle along with you. "There may even be in that future time an eminent states- 834 man like the Secretary of State for the Colonies who, after the event, writes as strongly about the vices of a general strike and what he thought about its promoters and organisers as did the right hon. Gentleman in the articles to which I have just referred; and yet neither of these two eminent gentlemen, whoever they may be, may be in a position to stop a repetition of the crime and folly of 1926.
Or there might even be an eminent Privy Counsellor such as the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, who preceded me in this Debate, who actually gloried in what was being done at the time. In the Debate on the Adjournment on the night before the General Strike came to an end, a Debate on the question of the illegality of the General Strike, the right hon. Gentleman, after saying that he did not want, any absolution from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley, and after saying that he knew all about what the General Strike was, because he had been more than 500 miles round the country during the week-end and knew the gravity of the situation, added this:My principal object in rising was to make it perfectly clear that as far as we are concerned there is no responsibility we shirk, there is no cover under which we wish to hide. We do not admit that anybody who has ceased work had not the right to cease work and we do not admit that the millers are wrong, or that the trade unionists are wrong. Let this proposition be perfectly clearly understood, in order that the House may realise what is the proposition it has to face.'—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1926; col. 874; Vol. 195.]We want to ensure, by words about which there can be no doubt or mistake, that so far as Parliament, at any rate, can ordain it, it shall not become a chronic feature of our political life that Governments are liable to be harassed by such events as occurred in May, 1926. What is much more important is that the country is of the same mind.
We are told that we must protect the inalienable rights of a man to dispose of his labour as he will, and that one of those inalienable rights is the right to indulge in sympathetic strikes. I re-assent that there is nothing in our Act to interfere with strikes in trade or industry, and I suggest a very simple test of the Attorney-General's rather astonishing proposition that a sec- 835 tional strike can be illegal because the coercion of the Government or the possibility of the coercion of the Government amounts to an object in addition to a trade dispute. There have been 900 strikes or lock-outs since our Act, was passed. There has recently been one quite first-class one, and another quite first-class one is in progress. [HON. MEMBERS:" Lock-out!"] I said "strikes or lock-outs." Have it either way; I do not in the least mind. I will say industrial disputes. The point is this: If the Attorney-General really thinks that, let him go and test it in the Courts and see what they say about a. proposition like that. Nor is there in our Act any restriction on sympathetic strikes unless they are of such a character as to coerce the Government. [Interruption.]
But inalienable rights have their counterpart in inalienable duties. Every man and woman and child in the country has an inalienable right to use the King's highway. But do we allow people to obstruct the traffic by conducting their brawls in the highway? Of course we do not. [interruption.] It would be just as well if at some time the Attorney-General defined a little more closely than he has done exactly what are the limits of a sympathetic strike, because we on this side of the House at any rate are not only concerned with the inalienable rights of some 3,000,000 trade unionists to dispose of their labour as they will, but we are also concerned to ensure that those rights are exercised with some sympathy for the other 40,000,000 members of the community. The fact of the matter is, people who talk about what happened in 1926 as a sympathetic strike are like the ancient Greeks in thinking that you can obscure the show of evil by using a kindly or a generous name. But just as the so-called hospitable sea or the well-intentioned Fates at times could be both treacherous and malignant, so may the sympathetic strike be an outrage on the community and a blow at the vitals of the State. By binding on the brow a frontlet inscribed with the gentle word "sympathy," you do not obscure the evil design in the brain behind.
§ Sir B. MERRIMAN
Yes, the hon. Member is always very pacific when it comes to foreign affairs, but very warlike when we are talking about things at home. Just as the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War is very pacific when he is abolishing cadet battalions, but is very warlike when he is talking about a general strike.
I want to say a word or two about this precious Clause which gives immunity up to the moment at which the court declares that the strike is illegal. According to the Attorney-General's argument, the pretext for this Clause, is that it is necessary because until the court pronounces its judgment people would not learn the facts to enable them to judge whether they were taking part in an illegal strike. That in my opinion is playing with words. In our Act of 1927 we expressly said that a strike or lock-out should not be deemed to be calculated to coerce the Government unless such coercion ought to be reasonably expected as a consequence thereof. For the life of me I cannot see if a man strikes with the expectation of coercing the Government, why he should not stand the consequences.
§ Sir B. MERRIMAN
Of course, the courts have to decide, but in every other case when the court decides it operates backwards to the act on which it is decided. We are under no illusions whatever as to the origin of this Clause. When my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Spen Valley announced in this House in May, 1926, that the Act of 1906 afforded no immunity for what was going on in the General Strike, and that its promoters and organisers were liable to the uttermost farthing of their possessions, the red glow on many a countenance opposite turned to a paler shade of pink. We see in this Clause a determination to ensure that a well-organised plan like that shall never again be frustrated by such a pronouncement as that made by ray right hon. Friend. I assert that no such astounding provision as this has ever been submitted to the House of Commons. Let us examine it. We are here considering a strike so unconnected with furthering a trade dispute that even under the terms of this Bill it is deemed to be illegal; and yet such a 837 strike can be organised, promoted, and carried out with all its horrors, with all its hardships to women and children, and the rest of the community. [interruption.]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
quite understand that hon. Members feelings run high on this question, but that is no reason why this Debate should not be conducted in a dignified and orderly manner.
§ Sir B. MERRIMAN
I was saying that all these hardships might be inflicted with untold ruin upon hundreds of thousands of people in the country, and yet all that can be done with complete impunity up to the moment at which an adverse decision is pronounced by the courts, an impunity which remains for everything which has been done up to that moment. If I may illustrate that point again in my own way, there is a provision in the Criminal Law that every person who steals a horse on conviction shall be liable to penal servitude. I want to ask what would the Attorney-General say if I suggested adding to that section a proviso to the effect that "no person charged before a jury with this crime shall be liable to be convicted or punished for any act done before the moment at which the jury give their verdict." But this, I suppose, is one of the cases in which the trade unions may steal the horse, but the rest of the community may not even look over the hedge. Since a general strike, to succeed, must succeed swiftly, and it must necessarily take some time to get a declaration from the court, this Clause looks like locking the stable door after the horse has been stolen, the futility of which is proverbial. But it is a new principle of British justice to say that taking the horse before the door is locked is not stealing at all.
I would like to say a word or two about the repeal of the Section in our Act which makes trade union funds liable for wrongs committed in pursuance of an illegal strike. The immunity for wrongs committed in furtherance of a trade dispute afforded by the Act of 1906 to trade union funds, whether one agrees with it or not was at least founded upon an intelligible principle—[An HON. MEMBER: "To coerce the worker!"] It provided immunity for the funds of a trade union for actions brought against it for tort, and that proceeded upon an intelligible principle, which was that It 838 was assumed that there was something which could really be called a trade dispute, and that it was unreasonable to make liable funds which were set aside for benefits and the rest, because of some possibly quite unauthorised act on the part of a minor official. It is one thing to give immunity to trade unions in respect of acts done in furtherance of a trade dispute, and it is another thing to say that when the strike is utterly illegal, because it bears no resemblance to a trade dispute at all, you are to give immunity to the funds of a trade union for any damages caused, however great they may be, and however much the funds of the union may have been employed to commit the wrong. I apologise for dealing with this part of the subject so long, but it was inevitable that I should deal fully with these provisions.
May I now say a word of two about intimidation Intimidation is hateful in itself. It must be admitted that this Bill itself recognises that, because it rules out personal violence to a man or his family, or violence or damage to his or their property. Does anybody doubt that there are much more subtle and baser forms of intimidation than that? Does anybody, for example, justify the sort of intimidation which consists of threatening a man that, unless he submits to take part in a strike, however wrong he knows it to be, the life of his wife in the home or his children at the school will be made a hell; that his sons and daughters peacefully employed in some industry entirely unconnected with the dispute will be run out of employment unless he submits, and that he himself will never again be permitted to work at his trade alongside his old work mates. It is precisely intimidation of that kind that is legalised by this Bill. Hon. Members say that such a man is a blackleg or a scab, although he is only exercising his inalienable right to dispose of his labour as he will. You have only to say of him that he is a parasite or an outlaw, and that settles the matter. [An HON. MEMBER: "What does your Union say about it?"] My Union does not indulge in strikes. That argument does not appeal to me. If the law is not strong enough to stop intimidation like that, then it ought to be.
With regard to the political levy, in 1927 hon. Members opposite spoke with 839 divided voices. We were told on the one hand that it was futile to introduce "contracting-in" instead of "contracting-out" because it would not make any difference; and, on the other hand, they said that the alteration of the law was an outrage and would paralyse trade unions. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. I am not going to deal with figures in detail: but we do not believe that it is an accident that by 1928 members claiming exemption from the political levy had increased by 588,000 as compared with 1927, and that taking 32 of the largest unions the number of exempted members rose from 78,000 odd in 1927 to very nearly 1,000,000 in 1929. Nor do we think that it is entirely an accident that, according to the Minister of Labour in answer to a question on the 2nd of December, it was stated that only 46.3 per cent. of the members in registered trade unions had agreed to pay the political levy and 56.4 per cent. had refused to contribute to the political levy. Making every sort of allowance for slackness and indifference, is it not clear beyond the possibility of doubt that there must be thousands of Liberal and Conservative trade unionists who have freed themselves from the tyranny of being obliged to contribute to political funds? Some people may think that all this in the Bill about the General Strike is only so much red bunting designed to inflame and inspire the, drooping spirits of the fighting troops, and that the primary object of this Bill is to restore the fighting funds of the Labour party—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—out of the pockets of their political opponents. [Interruption.] Hon. Members ask, why not. It is rumoured that His Majesty's Government are about to bring in a Bill which, by abolishing party motor cars at elections, will do away with the time-honoured jest of riding to the poll in an opposition car; but hon. Members opposite do not disdain themselves to return to Westminster on the pence extracted from Liberal and Conservative trade unionists. [Interruption].
To turn to another and, perhaps, less controversial subject, how can it be right for local authorities to insist that they shall only pay the ratepayers' money in wages to members of a particular trade union? Of course, I am anticipating the same question which was addressed to 840 me a moment ago, but this is not a question of technical or professional employés; it is not a question of the municipality making membership of a craft union the test of fitness for employment by them. If it were, I should have nothing whatever to say against it. But it is notorious that that is not the problem. The problem is one of sheer political favouritism on the part of certain local authorities in favour of trade unions allied to the party opposite, and it has nothing whatever to do with technical qualifications.
Quite frankly, I do not like local authorities throwing their weight about in that sort of way, and, just to illustrate that the danger is not entirely fanciful, may I call attention to something which appeared in to-day's "Daily Herald "? I have been reminded more than once, by interjections in the course of my speech, that a lock-out is going on in the cotton trade in Lancashire. The town of Nelson, apparently, has a tramway service. The trams run near a certain mill, and in that mill there are 11 people still working; and, in order to ensure that those men shall at any rate have to walk home from their work, the town council of Nelson has stopped the trams—
§ Sir B. MERRIMAN
—a few minutes before the workers come out, in order that these men shall have to walk home. It really is intolerable—[Interruption.]—that trade unionism should be mixed up with local affairs to that extent, and that is simply an illustration of the sort of thing which we aimed at in the Clause which this Measure attempts to repeal. The Secretary of State for War said. "All that we want is to ensure that municipalities have the same right to make that decision as a private employer has"; but, surely, there is all the difference in the world between a municipality and a private employer. The private employer is making the decision with his own money; the local authority is making it with public money, and what right have they to insist that public money shall only be disbursed to members of a particular trade union? The Secretary of State for War also went on to say that he would be able to understand our position in this matter when he could see 841 the Conservative party demanding measures to prevent an employer from discharging a man because he was a trade unionist. It is such a pity that even right hon. Gentlemen do not always read the Act which they are criticising. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the Section which this Bill sets out to repeal, he will find that that very provision is made in that Section—[Interruption.]
This is the Bill with which the Government, at this crisis of our fate, think it right to occupy the time of the House of Commons. When our Bill was brought in in 1927, it was criticised, apart altogether from the merits, on the ground that it was not timely or expedient. Is it timely or expedient now to induce the workers of this country once more to think of the possibilities of a general strike? Is it timely or expedient to give the public grounds to fear that they may once more be made the victims of a minority who are privileged to stand outside the law? This Bill has been brought in on the pretext that it is necessary to restore liberty to the workers. It is not liberty that is being restored; it is licence—[Interruption.]—licence to terrorise your workmates, licence to coerce your political opponents, and, above all, licence to hold up the community to ransom. The evil nature of this Bill is only surpassed by the cynicism with which it has been introduced. With or without the assistance of the Liberal party, we shall resist it with all our might, and sooner or later justice will prevail.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. Craigle Aitchison)
The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just addressed the House has demonstrated more completely than I could have imagined would be possible how utterly he has misconceived the provisions of this Bill. I assume that the hon. and learned Member has read the Bill, but I certainly should not have inferred it from the speech which he has just delivered to the House. He has made it abundantly plain that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are afraid to have this Bill examined in Committee. The attitude which I understand them to take up is that this Bill must not go for examination in Committee, and I quite understand the reason why. They are well aware that you cannot examine this 842 Bill in Committee without examining the Act of 1927, and that must be avoided at all costs.
I venture to say, and I think that the House will agree, that the attitude of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite in this matter is in very striking contrast with the attitude of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. On Thursday afternoon, the hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham (Mr. Birkett), who is unavoidably absent to-day awing to his being engaged elsewhere on public duties—he had the courtesy to send word to say that he would not be present—made it perfectly plain to the House that the party for whom he was speaking were not afraid to have this Bill examined in Committee —[HON. MEMBERS: "And amended!"] That is a very different position from the position taken up by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and to-morrow night, when they challenge the Government and go into the Lobby against the Government, they will thereby declare that they are afraid to have the Act of 1927 examined in the light of day. We understand their position.
I propose to deal quite briefly with the argument presented by the hon. and learned Member for Rusholme (Sir B. Merriman), but, before doing so, I should like to preface what I have to say in reply by making two very brief preliminary observations. The first is that I think it is a matter for profound regret that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite should have approached this question from the point of view of party prejudice. [Interruption.] As I anticipated, there has occurred one of their periodic outbursts of inane laughter. The Leader of the Opposition, speaking in this House on Thursday, said that there was nothing more important to-day than industrial peace. That is a view which I think will find assent in every part of this House. If nothing is more important for this country than industrial peace, then why in the name of common sense should this question not be fairly and impartially examined in Committee with a view to ascertaining where the justice of the matter lies? The hon. Members below the Gangway, not unmindful of the great work that was 843 done in 1906 and in 1913, are perfectly prepared to bring the matter to the test of a careful and thorough examination. [An HON. MEMBER: "Are they?"] Well, we shall see. I quite appreciate that one or two of them, owing, it may be, to rash pledges given in moments of excitement, may feel themselves under a certain obligation, but at any rate we can trust the judgment of most of them. I cannot find, in any of the speeches of hon. Members opposite, any recognition at all of the vital importance to trade unionism that the strike weapon should remain unimpaired. To listen to the hon. Members who have spoken from the Tory benches one would imagine that the history of trade unionism began in the year 1926, though no doubt they intended that it should end in the year 1927. When the Tory Government in 1927 passed their Bill of that year, they took advantage of the public situation and of the national anxiety, not merely to guard against the risks and perils of a repetition of an alleged revolutionary experiment, but to strike, as they thought, a vital blow at the lawful rights of trade unionists in this country. In passing the Act of 1927, the Tory Government were hitting below the belt.
In order to understand properly the matter which is raised in this Bill, it is necessary that the House should understand quite clearly what the Act of 1927 did, and I think I can make it quite plain what the effect of Section 1 of the Act of 1927 was. Under that Section, any strike is illegal provided that two conditions are satisfied. It is quite clear that these conditions are cumulative: both must be satisfied. In the first place, the strike must have an "object other than …a trade dispute within the trade or industry," and, in the second place, the strike must be "designed or calculated to coerce the Government."
It is a well-known rule of construction that you can test the matter in a Section of this kind by taking the weaker alternative, and the weaker alternative is "calculated to coerce." That is the sting of that Section, and I wonder if the House fully appreciates what the effect of that Section is. Where does persuasion end and coercion begin? The 844 hon. and learned Member who has just addressed the House was very emphatic as to the importance of the statutory criminal law being defined, so that there should be no element of ambiguity. I entirely agree with him in that view, but can any man pretend that Section 1 of the Act of 1927 is free from ambiguity? Where does persuasion end and coercion begin? Why, the essence of every strike is coercion. [An. HON. MEMBER: "Not against the State !"] I will deal with that. The essence of every lock-out is coercion. Every industrial dispute is a conflict of coercions.
An hon. Member interjected, "Not against the State." Suppose that we had a policy of tariffs, there would not be a single industry in the country that would not be doing its very utmost to coerce the Government, and, so far as some of them are concerned, possibly also endeavouring to corrupt the Government; the great industrial magnates of this country bring the most subtle and dangerous form of coercion to bear against the Government, are to go scot free, but under this section your working miner who strikes for a shorter day but who has at the same time the secondary purpose in his mind of trying to influence —coerce, if you will—the Government of the day into legislating on the matter, is to be prosecuted and punished as a criminal under the provisions of the Act of 1927.
It is an abuse upon which I could, were it necessary, quote to the House many expressions of opinion from sources that would carry great weight. I should like to read to the House what was said by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in 1927, when dealing with Section 1 of the Act of that year, and it is important that the House should understand it, because if the view of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs as to the effect of that Section is right, then the case for an amendment of the Act of 1927 is an unanswerable case. The right hon. Gentleman said:Take the late mining stoppage. I use the phrase which is perfectly legitimate. Here you have one of the most vital, basic industries in the country where you have a stoppage for seven months. Does anyone imagine that is not calculated to bring pressure upon the Government? Coercion 845 means pressure with a view to inducing the Government to take certain action. Of course, it would come well within those words. The magistrate might reasonably say, Here is an enormous stoppage which stops, not merely the business in an industry with a million of people engaged in it, but stops railways, stops the iron and steel trades, gradually closes down all the factories. That brings pressure upon the Government to intervene.'Then the right hon. Gentleman said:If you use that phrase you will stop, not merely sympathetic strikes, but strikes themselves."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th May, 1927; col. 1806, Vol. 205.]Similarly, the right hon. Gentleman, in a further passage of his speech, said this:Therefore, although the Attorney-General may give lip-service to the sympathetic strike"—he was referring, of course, to the then Attorney-General—these words will make not only a sympathetic strike impossible, but will make a strike in every vital industry come within the terms of the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th May, 1927; col. 1807, Vol. 205.]I venture, with all respect, to agree with what the right hon. Gentleman there said. It is no answer to say that experience since 1927 has proved that fear to be unfounded. I notice that during the weekend the Attorney-General pointed out that since 1927, when that Act was passed, there had been a very large number of strikes; but that proves nothing at all. As this House well knows, immediately after the passage of the Act of 1927 the tide began to run hard against the Tory Government, and there may very well have been considerations of policy which dictated restraint in the enforcement of the law. I do not care whether that be the position or not. The trade unionists of this country are entitled to say, if I am right in the construction of that Section, that they ought not to be at the hazard of a Section framed in the terms in which that Section stands in the Act of 1927. So much for the words" coerce the Government" in the Act of 1927.
Now take the words "any object other than … a, trade dispute." I have no hesitation in submitting to the House that these words are much too narrow. It is almost impossible, in the conditions of modern industry, to differentiate a purpose which is economic 846 from a purpose which is political. I find that, speaking in this House in 1927, the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) said this:I was a humble Member of the Government that passed the Act of 1913 and I was clear then, as I am now, that it was absolutely necessary to secure the political activities of trade unions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May, 1927; col. 1644, Vol. 205.]The right hon. and learned Gentleman, no doubt, was dealing with the matter of the political levy. Why did he say in 1927 that it was necessary to secure the political activities of trade unions? Because he knew perfectly well in 1927, and he knows perfectly well to-day, whatever he may say in the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] The right hon. and learned Gentleman does not object. He knows perfectly well that it is necessary to secure the political activities of trade unions because you cannot draw a clear dividing line between activities that are political and activities that are economic. The dividing line between political and economic is a vanishing one.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think it intelligible to say you should draw a distinction between a political strike and an industrial strike?
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
The point I am coming to is that, in defining the area of illegality, you ought not to bring anything within it merely because there happens to be a political purpose as well as an economic purpose involved. I do not know if the House appreciates to what extent matters that were formerly purely economic have now become political. Let me give one or two illustrations. You now have old age pensions. These have taken the place of superannuation allowances. You have health insurance, which has taken the place of sick benefit. In place of accident benefit, for which trade unions used to make provision for their members, you have workmen's compensation. In place of out-of-work benefit, for which again trade unions used to make provision for their members, you have unemployment insurance. As regards hours of labour, that depends now to a very large extent on statutory regulations. When you come to matters like conditions in sweated trades, you find you have statutory provision for them. I emphasise that aspect 847 of the matter, because I think it is impossible in modern conditions to draw a hard and fast dividing line between an economic and a political purpose, and the conclusion I draw from that is that, if you make legal every strike which has a political purpose in addition to an economic or purely industrial purpose, you are doing something which, having regard to the altered conditions of industry to-day, may amount to a very real and serious injustice.
In this connection one should keep in view the effect which the Act of 1927 had upon the sympathetic strike. It ignored entirely the development of modern industrial organisation. You have amalgamations of the most far-reaching kind affecting both sides of industry. On the side of labour you have a deepening sense of unity and interests and purposes, tending towards uniformity of action, and on the side of capital you have the most far-reaching inter-relation of industries. You need to be very careful so as not to cut out either the sympathetic strike or the sympathetic lock-out. If you take the capital side of modern industrial organisation, you find that you have directors moving about from company to company and from industry to industry like a stage army, taking control of policy in concerns which apparently and ostensibly. are separate and distinct but are virtually one. The Act of 1927, in our submission, left entirely out of account these features of our industrial organisation.
I would ask the House to consider what is the position under the Bill. Let the House understand exactly what is the problem that it has to try to solve. On the one hand, you want to save the ordinary strike. You also want to save the sympathetic strike. I assume that to be so. You also want to save any genuine industrial dispute, even although it may have some secondary or subsidiary purpose that you can call political, and you want to do that for the reason I have attempted to define, because the dividing line between economic and political has largely disappeared. On the other hand, you want to make it perfectly clear that what you call the revolutionary or the subversive strike is definitely ruled out. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I 848 claim that this Clause serves that purpose, if hon. Members opposite would only take the trouble to examine its provisions.
I should like to refer to the criticisms that have been levelled against Clause 1. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), on Thursday, made great play with Lord Buckmaster's letter to the "Times" of 29th December, and twitted the Attorney-General because he had not replied to what Lord Buckmaster had said. He banged the Table and made a disturbance —I mean an oratorical disturbance. I do not suggest for a moment that he was committing a breach of the peace. He came down to the House with this letter and said, "There you are. What do you make of that?" We will just look at the letter. I do not know that he quite appreciated that it is perhaps a matter of some delicacy for practising counsel to criticise the Press utterances of Judges, but as we have been twitted with not dealing with the matter, I propose to deal with it very briefly. [Interruption.] Apparently, hon. Members are now a little more inclined than they were at the beginning to examine the provisions of the Bill. I find that Lord Buckmaster said this:All general strikes are legalised save only those whose primary object is outside the area of an industrial dispute.I need scarcely say that one cannot refer to anything said by Lord Buckmaster except with the most profound respect, but with all respect we entirely dissent from that proposition. It is unwarranted by anything contained in Clause 1 of the Bill. That Clause legalises nothing. At any rate in form it legalises nothing. As I understood the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Nottingham, it was that Clause 1 defines what he called the area of illegality, and therefore, by necessary implication, it defines the area of legality. That is the argument, and that, apparently, is the argument that has commended itself to the mind of Lord Buckmaster. It seems to me, with all respect, that it is utterly unsound as a proposition to say that, if you define an area of illegality, you necessarily define an area of legality. I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley will probably agree with me that the propo- 849 sition put forward by Lord Buckmaster would be sound only if you are able to say that the effect of Section 1 of the Act of 1927 was to operate a repeal of the Common Law of Conspiracy, and, of course, the Section does nothing of the kind. Therefore, the main argument of Lord Buckmaster, with all deference to him, is not well-founded.
What is the second argument? It is this: Lord Buckmaster said:Further, if a strike has not for its primary object the coercion of a Government, this may be a secondary purpose and the means which it might normally adopt to secure its primary ends.And then observe:The result would appear to be that any general strike associated with any trade dispute would be lawful.I cannot for the life of me see how Lord Buckmaster came to that conclusion. Let us observe what is the argument. The argument, as I understand it, is that under this Bill you may have a strike with a primary purpose and also with a secondary purpose. Therefore, says Lord Buckmaster, if the primary purpose is industrial, the secondary purpose may be political or may be revolutionary, and accordingly you may get a revolutionary strike legalised by the terms of this Clause. That is a very plausible argument but it is utterly unsound. The answer is a perfectly simple one. Before I give the answer let the House understand what is the meaning of the word "primary." [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not want to define their terms. It so happens that the word "primary" has been judicially defined within the last few months in the House of Lords. I want to read what was said as to the meaning of the term. The case is a case of Moon against the London County Council, and it is reported in the "Times" Law Reports, No. 47, page 154. The question that arose in that case was as to the meaning to be attached to the words "primarily occupied and used." The words occur in the Rating Act, 1928, where the word "primarily" was used by the Government in 1928 as being the best word they could get to express their purpose. Lord Dunedin, referring to the word "primarily," said,That, I take it, is equivalent to mainly.850 And Lord Warrington said:The use of the word 'primarily' suggests a comparison in the minds of the framers of the Act between classes of purposes some of which may be regarded as main or substantial purposes and the others as secondary or subsidiary.[Interruption.] If hon. Gentlemen opposite will be good enough to give me their attention for a moment, I shall be obliged. We have therefore the highest judicial authority that the word "primary" means "main." Now supposing you had in this country a strike which was really a revolutionary strike, and really subversive of the authority of Parliament. It is perfectly obvious that in that case it would be nonsense to refer to that purpose as a secondary purpose. If you really had a revolutionary strike, of course, the purpose would be primary—[Interruption.] I wish hon. Gentlemen opposite would listen for a few minutes instead of making constant interruptions. According to the argument of Lord Buckmaster, you might have a strike under this Bill with a primary industrial purpose and a secondary revolutionary purpose. But if the strike is really revolutionary plainly the purpose would be a primary purpose.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is right, what is the purpose of having the word "primary" in at all?
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
If the hon. and learned Gentleman prefers the word used by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley which was "main" purpose, he is welcome to the word. We do not object to the word "main."
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
I should like to deal with a third point. I will deal with it very briefly if hon. Gentlemen opposite will let me continue. I mention this particularly because the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rusholme dealt with the same point. Lord Buckmaster said:During the whole of this time a universal strike might be raging which even within the terms of the Bill would be illegal, but notwithstanding that fact no person connected with it would be deemed 851 to have committed any offence in respect of such illegality. In other words, it could uninterruptedly pursue its course until the time that the dispute could be forced to a decision without any person at any time being made responsible for acts done in its furtherance.I think that the answer to that is this. Lord Buckmaster has failed to observe, and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rusholme also, that the declaration of illegality contemplated by the Bill only relates to criminal offences. It is vitally important for a proper understanding of the matter to keep that fact in view. There is no provision in this Bill which prevents an interlocutory injunction, or, as we say in Scotland, an interim interdict, being pronounced that a trade union is proceeding to do something which is illegal, either under the common law or under Statute. I cannot find any provision—
§ Sir B. MERRIMAN
Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the decision in the Court of Appeal that Section 4 of the Act of 1906 does apply to an attempt to bring an injunction against a trade union?
§ Sir J. SIMON
May I help the Lord Advocate? It is just as well to have the authority. Lord Justice Scrutton's judgment on this point, in a case which is known very well, says:In my view the word 'action' in the Trade Disputes Act, 1926, has the same meaning "—as has been given in all actions in the Chancery Division, whether for an injunction alone or accompanied with damages.The Section, however, uses the terms an action in respect of any tortious act alleged to have been committed.'Then says the Lord Justice:I cannot think these words were intended to exclude an action 'in respect of' a tortious act threatened to be committed. The words 'in respect of' seem framed with intentional width to cover all remedies asked for in relation to a. tortious act, whether committed or about to be committed. It was clearly intended that a 852 trade union should as such be free from liability for damages for tort. A request for an injunction may be dealt with by a Court's leaving the party to his remedy in damages, which, however, could not be given against a trade union. I cannot think that Parliament intended to allow injunctions to be granted in respect of acts for which, when done, no damages could be claimed.I commend that to the present Lord Advocate, and I do not know that there is any authority to the contrary.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
The right hon. and learned Gentleman appears to he under a misapprehension. I am sorry I did not examine the case. I think I am right in saying that Lord Justice Scrutton was not dealing with acts which are criminal under the common law or which are criminal against the State. In our view there is nothing in this Bill to prevent an interlocutory injunction being brought against any person guilty of criminal conspiracy either under the general laws or under the provisions of any Act which deal with trade union matters[Interruption.]
Mr. DEPUTY - SPEAKER (Mr. Dunnico)
I think there is a well understood rule that an hon. Member addressing the House is in possession unless he chooses to give way.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
What I desire to make plain is that the intention of the promoters of this Bill is that there should be no obstacle placed in the way of an interlocutory injunction against any criminal illegality. If we have not made that plain in the Bill, we are perfectly willing to make it plain. I must make it abundantly plain that there is certainly no intention on the part of the promoters of the Bill to prevent the authors of a criminal act of conspiracy or other illegality from being restrained by civil processes in the courts. I think the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) will see that the position is exactly the same under the Tory Act of 1927. I certainly give the assurance that this is a matter which we are prepared anxiously to consider. The purpose of this Clause is to secure that you should have a declaration of illegality before you make any person in any part of the country subject to a criminal prosecution in respect of participation in a trade dispute.
853 The House must keep in view, and this point was entirely ignored by my hon. and learned Friend who has just spoken, that there is nothing at all in this Bill to interfere with the ordinary common law which would make offences against persons or property, criminal offences capable of being dealt with the courts of law. It is nonsense to suggest that if we had an illegal strike within the meaning of this Bill the hands of the authorities in this country would be tied and that no steps could be taken to prevent attacks upon persons or property, or otherwise to prevent the doing of something that would be plainly criminal according to the existing law. The purpose which the Government had in view in inserting this provision is a perfectly simple one. As the House knows, prosecutions for offences of this kind would take place before the magistrates. Magistrates, as the House knows, are drawn very largely from one class of the community. [HON. MEMBERS: "No" and "Yes!"] They are drawn, as hon. Members opposite know, very largely from the employing class. Under the provisions of this Bill proceedings might be instituted by every employer in an industrial dispute. In Scotland that situation cannot arise because there is no system of private prosecution. The Lord Advocate would be able to keep entire and complete control of the whole machinery, and there would be no injustice. But take the situation that would arise if you had a widespread strike in this country, and it fell within the provisions of this Bill. You would have prosecutions in every court in the country, and those prosecutions would be conducted at the instance of employers, before panic-stricken and muddle-headed magistrates.[Interruption.]
§ Sir B. MERRIMAN
The hon. and learned Member said that in Scotland the Lord Advocate would keep control. Is he aware that under the Act of 1927 the Attorney-General has power to prevent proceedings from going any further before the magistrates?
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
Yes, I am well aware of that, but there is a very clear distinction between the power to prevent, which is the power of intervention, and the power which is vested in 854 the Lord Advocate, which is a power which requires the sanction of the Lord Advocate before proceedings can be taken. The ground upon which this provision is based is a perfectly simple one. Of course, ignorance of the law is no excuse. On the other hand, as other legal Members of this House are aware—
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
Hon. and learned Members, of whom the right hon. Gentleman who interrupted me is not one. [Interruption.]
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but ignorance of fact may be a defence to a criminal charge. That line of defence is a very difficult one to make good. It depends upon law, which has many refinements, and it requires the most careful direction from the presiding judge. Accordingly, the view taken by the promoters of the Bill is that it is desirable that there should be some kind of Statutory protection afforded to members of trade unions who are not in a position to know the facts which constitute the illegality which falls within the ambit of the Bill. In our view, the penal method of preventing a general strike is altogether wrong. If you have a strike, an industrial situation, that is really revolutionary in character, really subversive in character, the matter would be over one way or another long before you could put your penal provisions into operation. The idea that you can control a general strike by a series or a multiplicity of prosecutions, conducted at the instance of employers, is, in our judgment, perfectly grotesque. As was said by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking in this House in 1927: "What are you going to do? Are you going to put 5,000,000 men in gaol? Is that your method? Is that your method of dealing with a great national emergency?" This House should be profoundly grateful that no 855 one was put in gaol in 1926. If the law had been put into operation—I am assuming that the strike of 1926 was illegal in character—the result would have been indefinitely to prolong the situation that arose and to have given it a character of almost unexampled gravity.
There is one further point with which I should like to deal. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in addressing the House, said, I do not quote his exact words—referring to the strike weapon in this Bill, said that it was a powerful and dangerous weapon. I do not think that hon. Members opposite realise that the maintenance of the standard of living of the working people of this country depends upon the right to strike. Hon. Members opposite talk about dangerous weapons. The working people of this country have no weapon so powerful or so dangerous as the weapon which the employers in this country possess. What is the situation? In every industrial struggle in this country you find that the working classes of this country are faced with the weapon of starvation. There is no denying that. Take the mining dispute in 6.0 p.m. 1926. Why was it that the miners had to surrender? Will hon. Members opposite say that it was because they became convinced of the justice of the mineowners' claims? There is not a single hon. Member who does not know that it was the conditions which prevailed in the mining fields during the strike of 1926 which compelled the miners to surrender; the mineowners had the weapon of starvation, and they used it. Talk about dangerous weapons! Let me give the House another fact. What do we find in every great industrial struggle in this country? We find that the trade unions and working people have not only to fight the employers, with all their resources, but they have also to fight a large, powerful financially-controlled Press, which has neither scruple nor conscience, which poisons the wells of public opinion and prevents great industrial issues being brought to the fair and honest judgment at the bar of the people. The matter does not end there. When you get a, Labour Government in this House and it passes its Measures, what do we find when they go elsewhere? We find that the constitution is loaded 856 against them. Only this last week-end some members of another place who will have to pass judgment upon this Bill, are already saying that it will be flung out by the House of Lords. They accepted the Tory Bill of 1927, but they will not accept a Measure passed by a Labour Government. I mention these things because, if this Bill is said to furnish a powerful weapon, a powerful weapon is required to deal with the situation.
I apologise to the House for having occupied so much time and I will, therefore, only deal with one further point made by the hon. and learned Member for Rusholme. May I say a word with regard to the political levy, and ask this question. Supposing the political orientation of trade unionism had been in the direction of Toryism instead of the direction in which it is at the moment I want to ask whether the contracting in provision would have been in the Act of 1927. If the orientation of trade unionism had been in the direction of Toryism should we ever have heard of the iniquity of contracting-out? Should we not have heard that by the provision in the Act of 1927, we were interfering with the domestic concerns of the trade unions. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) would have denounced it as an interference with the stability of the trade unions, and I have no doubt that he would have seen behind the proposal the sinister hand of Moscow, and, after the matter had been considered by Tory headquarters, in due season documentary evidence would have been forthcoming under the hand of Zinovieff. That proposal in the Act of 1927 was mean and shabby, but quite in keeping with the other provisions of that Measure.
We regard this Bill as an act of justice to the trade unions. The idea that you can have a statutory safeguard against revolution is a delusion, a profound delusion. The history of our own country shows us that, as well as the history of every other country in the world. The right hon. Member for Epping, with his vast historical knowledge, knows that it has proved to be a delusion both in the ancient and in the modern world. The only safeguard you can have against revolution is the safeguard which is 857 afforded by the establishment of justice for our people, and by the preservation of their lawful rights and liberties. For these reasons I urge upon the House the acceptance of this Bill as being in our view no more than an act of simple justice to the great trade union organisations of our country.
§ Sir J. SIMON
The Lord Advocate, with admirable good temper, not always under the easiest conditions, has addressed to the House a very interesting argument, and, if time warranted, there are many points with which I should be very happy to deal. A good deal of what he has been saying appears to me to be of an extremely technical character while other parts take so wide a range that it would have been equally well said about any Bill produced in any circumstances by the present Government. The judgment which will have to be formed on this Bill by public opinion will be determined really by considering a much simpler issue. I greatly admired the skill of the Attorney-General in his opening statement, and I now add to that that I admire very much indeed the ingenuity which the Lord Advocate has displayed, because neither of my hon. and learned Friends has made the slightest attempt to give the answer to this very simple issue. We may deceive ourselves or we may amuse ourselves in these Debates, but the country understands very well that the Government are challenged on a particular test as regards this Bill, and both my hon. and learned Friends have failed to deal in plain and direct terms with the one question about the Bill which chiefly interests the public. It is the main test by which in the opinion of ordinary citizens the Bill stands or falls; it is a question which has been constantly put ever since the Bill was introduced; it is a question which, unlike some other questions, really can be answered "yes" or "no," and it is a question which was put with very great force at the opening of the Debate this afternoon by the hon. and learned Member for Rushholme (Sir B. Merriman) the late Solicitor-General. I, at least, am bound to come to the conclusion, and I believe the country as a whole will come to the conclusion, that the reason why these very skilled, ingenious and learned persons evade this question is because they realise perfectly well that 858 it is impossible for the Government to give a plain answer which would satisfy the country.
I am going to take the liberty, without occupying so much of the time of the House as was necessarily taken by the Lord Advocate, of defining that question; to examine such answer as has been attempted and to invite a plainer answer before the Debate closes. May I therefore propound the question? According to the view of the Government, if the events of May, 1926, which are usually called the General Strike recur, and if this present Bill was law, would these events, in the opinion of the Government, be legal, or illegal? It is a perfectly plain question; it is a, perfectly reasonable question. There is no catch or trap about it; and it is absolutely fundamental to the judgment we ought to form on this Bill. It is no manner of good trying to fob off that question by saying, "Well, if you were to have some immense revolutionary movement in this country it would be no good searching the Statute Book to see if it contained something to block the way of the steam roller." As a matter of fact, our fellow-countrymen preserve considerable respect for the law in times of crisis and temptation, and it is no answer for another reason.
We may be a very ineffective assembly of men and women, but here we are trying to make the law. It is the only thing that we are engaged in doing, and it is no good for law-makers to say that it does not matter what laws they pass; it matters very much indeed. The Lord Advocate just now, in his concluding sentences, said that the teachings of history went to show that it was a delusion to suppose that you could safeguard yourself against revolution. The material question is not that. The material question is this—is the piece of work on which we are now engaged, this Bill, a thing which tends to encourage or tends to discourage things that ought to be resisted and condemned? Neither is it any answer to say, as the Attorney-General attempted to say, "Oh, I answer that question by saying that it would depend on the facts." My point is a perfectly reasonable point. I am not putting a fanciful or hypothetical question; I am not asking the House to imagine something of which they have no knowledge in their minds. I am putting the actual 859 case; I am putting a recent case; I am putting a case the facts of which have been burned into the public memory.
§ Sir J. SIMON
If hon. Gentlemen opposite will listen for a moment—they are always quite fair to me—they will see that the question I am putting has nothing to do with my view. The question is whether, according to the view of the Government, if this Bill had been law then and the events of May, 1926, had occurred, would those events be legal or illegal? That is the question. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I think I see the importance of the question. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, were the events of 1926 legal or not?
§ Sir J. SIMON
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. If he has not heard my view about that, I will repeat it before I have finished. The material question is really not that. We are entitled to put our question to the Government who introduced this Bill. If they have introduced the Bill and desire the country to be governed by the terms of the Bill, it is nothing but the plainest common sense to ask that they should tell us whether in their view and on that basis those events of 1926 would have been lawful or unlawful. That I may be entirely plain, let me also make it clear that I am not asking what the present Attorney-General's view would have been on the events of 1926 if there had been no subsequent legislation. I am not asking that. The point is that he is inviting the House to pass new legislation, to create a new situation by that legislation, and we are entitled to know, on that basis which we are asked now to adopt, what have you to say as to the position as it would have been in May, 1926?
The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), who interrupted very courteously, referred to the fact that when 860 the events of May, 1926, occurred, the question as to whether what happened was legal or illegal was a moot point. It was. I ventured to express a view in this House. I thought it was a time when those who did hold a view ought to stand up and state it firmly and squarely. But I have never claimed that because I stated it, it was necessarily right. But it was what I believed, and what I believe. I take some comfort from the fact that the only judicial decision, the only judicial pronouncement that has ever been made on the legality of those events, took the same view. If it comes to really great authority, there is as much difference between a really great authority in the law and other lawyers as there is between really great doctors and other doctors. If you take people of outstanding authority on questions of that sort, Sir Frederick Pollock wrote in the "Law Journal" over his own initials a view which corresponded to my own.
Let us assume that it was a moot point. The answer which the Attorney-General has sought to make seems to be no answer at all. This is what my hon. and learned Friend said. He puts it in the form of a hypothesis. He says, "Oh, if the events were illegal in 1926, then they would still be illegal when this Bill is passed. If they were legal in 1926, then they would be legal when this Bill is passed." Let us examine that statement. I would quote the actual words of the Attorney-General. He said that this Bill legalised nothing that was illegal in 1926.I am sorry to say that I cannot agree at all. His assertion seems to be to be a very bold assertion and to be a wholly fallacious answer. It would be true that that answer would be perfectly correct if what the Government were proposing was to repeal the Act of 1927. if they were to take the Statute Book and to say, "We do not want anything in the Statute Book since the days of the General Strike. Wipe it out." Of course it would be that, but if the events occurred again, then the situation would he the same as it was in 1926. I am sure the Attorney-General would agree with me.
But that is not what the Government have done. This is not a proposal to repeal everything that deals with the subject since May, 1926; this is a proposal to enact a new Statute which 861 defines the illegal strike. I find it quite impossible to understand what is meant when it is suggested that if we now set to work in a Statute to define what strikes are illegal, we do not thereby set up for the judges of this country a rule by which to judge what strikes are legal. To me it is perfectly meaningless. I am quite unable to appreciate how anyone, lawyer or layman or anyone interested in public affairs, could seriously contend that you could enact in a particular Act of Parliament that "I am going to give you a definition of an illegal strike," and afterwards say that that has not in any way laid down the boundaries of illegality, and that the judges are just as free as they were before to do what they please as though the Statute had not been passed.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
Does the right hon. Gentleman say that Clause 1 of this Bill, if it became law, would operate the repeal of the common law of conspiracy in this country?
§ Sir J. SIMON
The commonest feature of statute law in this country is that it is altering, so far as the subject matter is concerned, the common law. That is what the whole of statute law is for. If, for example, I were to enact that every kind of strike was legal, does anyone say that the common law would still apply? I am wholly unable to understand the sophistical character of this argument. I thought it was common ground that the Act of 1927, whether it was a good Act or a bad Act, laid down the boundary between legal and illegal strikes. Some people said the boundary was very confused; some said it was drawn in the wrong place; but I have never heard any sane man yet suggest that the result of that legislation was not to draw a distinction between illegal strikes and legal strikes. If I may repeat a phrase which was used in his speech by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Nottingham (Mr. Birkett)—certainly no one could have executed a, delicate task with more discretion and charm—he said, with reference to the first Clause of the Bill:What this sub-section clearly does is to define the area of illegality, and I suggest that by implication the area left undefined is legal.862 He went on then applying that to the situation as it was in May, 1926, assuming that this Bill became law. He said:It would seem to me that under this Clause such a situation would be legal."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 22nd January, 1931; cols. 430–31, Vol. 247.]I think the House and the country want to know whether the Government agree with the hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham in the statement that under this Clause the situation of May, 1926, would be legal. I am entitled to urge that that question should be considered, and I hope that it will be answered. Is that what the Government intend? Is that the result which they are prepared to follow? I see the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Dominions making notes, and I am very glad to know that he is likely to take part in the Debate later. I have always appreciated how truly unwilling he was, amongst others, to see the wild men take charge, how utterly contrary it was to the whole principles which he has tried to apply in the trade union movement. I am entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman very seriously to consider whether or not that can possibly be what the Government intend. In the meantime allow me to say that there seem to be very strong reasons for affirming that it must be.
I would call attention to two short quotations from two distinguished Members of the Government whose names are on the back of this Bill—the Prime Minister and "Mr. Secretary Henderson," the Foreign Secretary. I have always thought it to be a very great misfortune that some of the most prominent spokesmen of Labour after the General Strike was over have never found it possible roundly to declare its illegality. This is the way in which the Prime Minister expressed himself at Ormskirk on 5th March, 1927, a year after the strike. He declared that the General Strike was not entered upon for political purposes, that it was merely an extended sympathetic strike. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am interested to note how widely that view is shared, for those cheers demonstrate what I have always suspected, that hon. Members want by this Bill to legalise the general strike. Let me give the House the other quota- 863 tion—and this time, I rather think, hon. Gentlemen apposite will be a little more cautious in their cheering. The Foreign Secretary, almost at the same time—it was at Birmingham on 14th May, 1987—speaking of the General Strike said:The stoppage of last year was neither a strike against the community nor against Parliamentary institutions. It was a sympathetic protest against the action of the mine-owners.Just contrast with views like that, and the approval which they received from hon. Gentlemen opposite, the Attorney-General's declaration as to his object in this Bill. The Attorney-General, with a great air of simplifying the issue, was good enough to say:My object, is to prevent and render illegal, the political strike and to safeguard the industrial strike."—['OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd January, 1931; col. 309, Vol. 247.]But the quotations which I have just given, and the approval with which they have been received, show quite clearly that in the view of hon. Gentlemen opposite the events of May, 1926, do not deserve to be classed as political, so that the Attorney-General is really trying to legalise the General Strike. Of course, the real truth of the matter is that you cannot simplify so much. The world would be a very much easier place if you could. The fact of the matter is that the difficulty does not arise in cases which are plainly on one side of the line or on the other side of the line. The difficulty arises in cases where motives are mixed, or, what is quite as common in industrial disputes, where the object may be an object of which very large numbers of people would approve, but the means adopted are exceedingly open to question.
I turn to the words of the first Clause and I ask the House to notice that this Clause gives up altogether any test as to the means which are employed. It has nothing to say as to means. It confines itself solely to the question of objects, and we come to this phrase with which the Attorney-General made very good play, very good-humoured play at my expense, the phrase "the primary object." The Attorney-General was good enough to say, and I felt very much flattered by it, that he had selected this phraseology particularly out of respect for myself. Well, it is the first time in recent years that I have appreciated that 864 my lightest word was treated as verbally inspired by gentlemen on the bench opposite, that is by the Prime Minister and by members of the Cabinet. Had it not been that the latest addition to this House as Member for East Bristol—if I may be allowed to say so, as he and his father are both old friends of mine, his appointment as Solicitor-General is universally approved—had it not been that the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) had recently joined our counsels, why, I had almost hoped that the Prime Minister might again look to these benches for a Law Officer. As it is, I am at liberty to express my opinion in a position of pure independence. I am not called upon to recite that formula about "production for use and not for profit."
As far as the Government's Bill here in 1931 is seriously supposed to be based, in its first Clause, on some words of mine may I be permitted to point out two very simple facts. The first is this. Those words were put forward first of all by me as a suggestion for consideration during the Second Reading Debate on the previous Government's Bill. At that time, examining the Bill as it then stood, I not only took extremely strong objection to some of the language of it, but my view was shared as I happen to know by a number of hon. Gentlemen who belong to the Conservative party. The House will not mind if I point out what the differences were. At that time the Conservative Bill was open to the, as it seemed to me, flagrant fault, that for the first time in our legislative history it was actually attempting to enact something about a strike, which it was not enacting about a lockout. That had never happened before. I think myself it was a most objectionable form of Clause. Not only that but at that time, the Clause as it was printed in the Conservative Bill, would have brought in considerations of illegality if a strike passed beyond one industry, if a section, if a portion of the community was regarded as exposed to hardship. Why of course a strike on the railways of this country would put a very important section of the community to the greatest hardship. If anybody imagined that that was what the Bill was going to be for my part at least I should have thought that it was quite intolerable. Not only so, but at that date there had not been inserted what was inserted in 865 Committee, a definition which immensely extended the meaning of the phrase "a trade or industry" in the Clause.
I held, criticising the Bill to the best of my ability, that it was a most undesirable form of words and I suggested another. When the time came and we discussed the first Clause, it is right to acknowledge the fact that from these benches I moved similar words. The Attorney-General was just and generous as he always is, when he said that I had said, as I did say, that I warned everybody. I never imagined that my words could be finally adopted without close examination. They were given close examination. I may say that I found that some of the examination was rather shattering. These definitions are very much more difficult to come by than some people think, and in view of the fact that other very material changes were made in the Clause 1 confess I thought the argument against my words was very strong. I was perfectly satisfied and I believe everybody is perfectly satisfied that the words which were suggested four years ago, in fact were rather vane.
Now the Attorney-General has a most curious notion of the part he has to play when he is drafting an Act of Parliament. I thought that the senior Law Officer of the Crown had to consider, after surveying the field, what was the clearest plainest way in which he could express the purpose which his Government wished to embody in the Bill. With the Attorney-General apparently it was quite a different matter. There used to be, I suppose there still is, a game played by children at school called "Snap." You look over the card which your opponent plays, you take it up, and call "Snap" and thereupon it becomes one of your cards and you take it into your hand.
§ Sir J. SIMON
So the Attorney-General has been surveying the game of 1927, and he has picked a bit from Sir Ellis Hume-Williams, and picked a bit from me, and picked bits from other people. Then he says, "Now I have a good hand and I will proceed to play out the hand." The real truth is that the Attorney-General himself recognises that 866 the Clause which he has introduced into this Bill is too vague. He recognises it himself. But he adds a provision which as far as I know cannot be found in any other Act of Parliament on the Statute Book—a provision to this effect. He draws a line between the legal and the illegal strike. You would suppose that he would go on to say, "You must not go over to the illegal side of the line." Not a bit of it. He then goes on to enact, "Though I am going to declare that these are illegal strikes you may go on with them from day to day. You may plan them, you may organise them, you may finance them, you may carry them on merrily as you please, but no one is to be treated as though he were touching anything that is illegal at all until the High Court has declared it illegal."
I can only say that to me, and I am quite certain to the country, that is an amazing provision. Observe, that it applies to the case in which every single hon. Gentleman sitting on that Front Bench warns and advises the persons concerned that what they are doing is undoubtedly illegal. They may have the opinion of the Attorney-General in their pockets that it is a flagrant illegality. It is all the same. If the Attorney-General advised them in the terms of this Bill he would have to go on and say "Bless you, it does not make any difference. Go on and do it until the day comes when the High Court is going to pronounce judgment. Although the thing in my own Act of Parliament is treated so that it plainly is illegal, it is impossible that you should be exposed to any penalty of any sort or kind." That would be a very astounding provision whatever was the subject matter, but consider what the subject matter is. I am not going to spend time in attempting to define but everybody knows what I mean when I say that the danger of the general strike is its suddenness. I have here the actual words published in May, 1926, and I would ask the House to attend to them. I have taken them for purposes of greater accuracy from the "Daily Herald" —[Interruption.] I have no feelings on the matter. I think that the "Daily Herald," as a matter of fact, reports very accurately and this was the accurate report which it gave there. 867At midnight to-night unless the Government changes its position on the mining lock-out "—Hon. Members will notice that it is the Government—a great national stoppage of industry will begin. All forms of transport, printing (including all newspapers), the iron and steel and allied industries, together with the supply of gas and electricity for power purposes, all building other than housing and hospital work, are to stop, but the sanitary health and approved services are to continue. This decision was taken by the conference of Executives of unions affiliated to the Trades Union Congress on Saturday. Two hundred delegates were present"—I think the Prime Minister was there—representing 3,653,529 workers. There was a dissentient minority of 49,911.Everybody in the country, every man and woman, knows that the real danger of that threat to our community was due to its suddenness, and to the fact that at one and the same moment you saw picked out the key industries of the country in a way which could only be explained if it were desired to bring pressure rapidly upon the community at large. I have here the strike orders that were then issued; my friend, the late Solicitor-General quoted them. Here was a series of orders issued from headquarters, certainly against the advice and better judgment of the more moderate men. They were obeyed, but, if this thing happened again, it would be possible to add at the end of the strike orders another paragraph. I have got it here. After issuing strike orders that the trades and undertakings were to cease work and so on—picking out the eyes of the industry of the country—you might add this further clause:Under the Trade Disputes Act, 1931, whether the carrying out of these orders is legal or illegal, you are guaranteed complete immunity.[Interruption.] It is obvious to everybody that by the time such a strike had been finally declared illegal, irreparable and widespread damage might have been inflicted; and the difference is this. In 1926 the strike was entered upon in some quarters with doubts and heartsearchings as to whether or not it was justified. This is a Bill to secure that if it were attempted again, everybody should know that he has free leave and licence to do it. Let me point out a rather interesting test of that. One 868 judgment was given which did contain a judicial pronouncement as to the legality of the General Strike. It was what was called the Astbury judgment. Although that case was very hurriedly brought on, although the courts were in session and the judge was immediately available, although, as a matter of fact, it was argued only on one side, although the facts were very sketchily gone into—I think that it is fair to say that—none he less, eight days of the Strike had gone by before Mr. Justice Astbury could give that judgment; and the very reason for the judgment sometimes being questioned is that the case was not thoroughly argued out, that the pros and cons were not properly put, that the evidence was not contradicted, and that the whole thing was done in a hurry.
I would ask the House to be good enough to consider for a few moments what is the position in which this Bill seeks to put Judges of the High Court. I will not pause over the difficulty that these things may happen at a week-end or during a vacation. I will suppose that the Judge is there. What is being sought under this Clause is not to get a thing decided between "A" and "B," two litigants before the Court, but to get a. declaration from the High Court Judge which is going to decide and govern the fate, it may be, of hundreds of thousands of persons. It is quite manifest that no Judge could undertake such a task without the materials being before him. I do not think that anybody acquainted with the practice of the law would suggest that it could be done by just swearing an affidavit. There was a famous Judge once who observed, "Truth will out, even in an affidavit," but, at the same time, nothing is more certain than that before the Judge could take upon himself this tremendous duty, he would require to have cross-examination, and if, as might well be the ease, there be a dispute and a difference of view, it is manifest that he mint have evidence on both sides. I regret it, but I do not know any means by which people can he stopped arguing and talking in a Court of justice. No doubt, Mr. Speaker, if you were acquainted with one, you would apply it with advantage to this House. The fact is that you must assume a case in which one side wants a strike to go on, and which really believes that it has something to say.
869 Does anybody pretend—and the Attorney-General least of all—that that sort of thing will really lead to a final declaration against all the world without many weeks having elapsed Observe the conundrum which the learned Judge is invited to solve. He will be exposed to the most bitter reproach if he decides too quickly. I was interested to notice that the Attorney-General, in his speech on Thursday, made a quotation which illustrated that very neatly. He was referring to the. American experience, and he said this:I think it is worth while to see why it is that the American policy has failed. An injunction restraining a strike or restraining the use of funds, if it is to be of the smallest use, must be granted with great promptitude. It must be granted either before the strike takes place or in the very early stages of the strike. Obviously, there is no time for delay at all. Difficult enough though it may be for a judge to ascertain the truth after an elaborate trial, after the cross-examination and confrontation of witnesses and all the elaborate machinery of a trial, its is almost impossible to ask any man to get at the truth on affidavits which are placed before him during the heat and bitterness of a labour controversy.This is the very thing which the Attorney-General is asking the Judges of the High Court to do, and he went on to quote with approval—
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL (Sir William Jowitt)
I understand that the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants the country magistrates to do it.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I will deal with that point. The quotation, I think, is accurate. He goes on to quote President Roosevelt as saying:It must be remembered that a preliminary injunction in a labour case may often settle the dispute between the parties and therefore, if improperly granted, may do irreparable wrong."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd January, 1931; cols. 392–3, Vol. 247.]I cannot conceive how anybody who considers the care, the deliberation, and the fairness with which High Court Judges do their work, can seriously put forward the proposition that a strike, an illegal strike, any sort of strike you like, however revolutionary, is to be encouraged to go on from day to day until a High Court Judge has declared that it is illegal.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL
The right hon. and learned Gentleman may 870 be under a misapprehension, but there are two wholly separate things. One is an injunction, and the other is a declaration. The Bill provides that a declaration is a pre-requisite for criminal proceedings only. The Bill does not affect at all—at least it is not intended to affect—the proceedings for an injunction, which are as open under my Bill as they are under the 1927 Act.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I should be glad to deal with that point. The point which I am really putting is this: I am saying that the hon. and learned Gentleman's Bill does announce to all and sundry that they can be exposed to no penalty until this declaration is obtained. Will the House observe what the question is that the Judge has to answer. He has to answer the question: What is the primary object of this strike? The Attorney-General gave a very amusing illustration in the course of his speech of how difficult it must be to determine that. He said:If you are trying to kill two birds with one stone, I should have thought that the second bird was an object in addition to the first."—[0FFICIAL REPORT, 22nd January, 1931; col. 398, Vol. 247.]That is granted. I wonder whether the Attorney-General, when he sees a man trying to kill two birds with one stone, can tell we which is the primary bird. If I might carry this inquiry a little nearer home, I wonder what is the primary object of those Liberal friends of mine who hesitate to vote against the Second Reading. I wish my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Nottingham were here, because I think that he would be the best man—his manners are so good—to cross-examine the leader of the party on his affidavit.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I would not mind being cross-examined as to my primary motive, if my right hon. and learned Friend is also prepared to be Cross-examined.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Sir J. SIMON
All I can say is that he would be a sanguine man who supposes that the case would be over by tomorrow morning. I want now to deal with the point which the Attorney-General interposed just now. I must not spend time on what is a technical matter, but I must confess, quite frankly, that 871 I am utterly at a loss to understand to what he refers. I should have thought that it was pretty plain that if an ordinary member of the public who was threatened with injury because of a strike or lock-out, were to attempt to serve a trade union with the idea of getting an injunction against them—I should have thought that that idea had been exploded long ago. My present view naturally defer to the authority of others, but I put my view for what it is worth—that it is a perfectly impossible conception. Whatever the Attorney-General may have meant in column 394 when he said:There are cases, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, in which that has been done.I have not the least idea. If the Attorney-General means to say that the situation would be the same under his Bill as it is under the present law, may I be permitted to suggest that he is quite mistaken. If he will turn to page 17 of the White Paper he will see at the bottom of that page Sub-section (4), which runs:The provisions of the Trade Disputes Act, 1906, shall not…apply to any act done in contemplation of or in furtherance of a strike or lock-out which is by this Act declared to be illegal.As long as that is on the Statute Book it is no doubt possible to bring an action and serve a writ on a trade union asking for an injunction on the ground that it is either contemplating or perpetrating a wrongful act. I am sure the Attorney-General knows that one of the Clauses of his Bill repeals that Subsection. If he will kindly turn to his own Bill and look at Clause 1, Sub-section (1), paragraph (c), he will find that very Sub-section is repealed. The object of that is to secure, whether the strike is legal or illegal, whether it is palpably illegal or questionably illegal, even though it is the most deliberate piece of revolutionary action that you could imagine, that in no circumstances shall it be possible for the Law Courts to entertain at the suit of an ordinary man, who says he is injured, an action brought against a trade union.
The Attorney-General may not mean that, but that is what his Bill says. I am wholly unable to understand how any 872 other view can be taken. I would warn the hon. and learned Gentleman, if I may be permitted respectfully to do so, that, if he is to alter that, he is touching the Ark of the Covenant. I am sure hon. Gentlemen opposite will confirm me when I say that the idea that the Trade Disputes Act, 1906, shall be sacrosanct and that no trade union funds shall be liable is the Ark of the Covenant. The circumstances in which the Act of 1906 was passed were perfectly right, and I defend the Act to-day, as I did in 1906 as a very young Member of the House. I am perfectly certain of this, about the Act of 1906, which was passed through this House when I was a young man, not by a majority, but by the general consent of Conservatives, Liberals and Labour men, and which passed through the House of Lords without any contest at all, that it is impossible to conceive that Parliament would have conferred that immunity upon trade union funds if they were told that 20 years later a claim was going to be made in respect of the General Strike.
I submit, therefore, that, both on technical grounds and on grounds of common sense, this first Clause of the Bill is absolutely and completely indefensible. I have not the shadow of a notion how it is suggested it is going to be cured by Amendment. Why is this Clause introduced? There is one reason which everybody ought to respect, but I know only of one. I feel convinced in my own mind that this first Clause is introduced into this Bill because an assurance was given at the Trade Union Congress and because hon. Gentlemen sitting there, like hon. Gentlemen in other Governments, have sometimes therefore to present to the House legislation which they do not very much like and do not very much want, because they desire to keep faith. They ought to be given full credit for that motive, but that is no reason why the House should not reject it.
The reason that is put forward appears to me to be a palpably absurd reason. The reason is suggested to be because trade union activity has been hampered and restricted. But has it? I have here the Ministry of Labour Gazette figures for the three years since the Bill of 1927 became law, the years 1928, 1929, and 1930. The Ministry of Labour figures for the three years since the Bill 873 of 1927 became law, the years 1928, 1929, and 1930. The Ministry of Labour figures show the number of disputes in each year, the number of workpeople involved in those disputes, whether on strike or lockout or indirectly; they give the total, and they give the aggregate in working days of all the disputes during the year. Let us see whether, in actual fact, the Act of 1927 has been curtailing, hampering, and restricting trade union activity so far as this class of matter is concerned. I take the totals and I find, in those three years together, that there were 1,148 disputes, that 860,000 workpeople were directly involved, and another 105,000 work-people indirectly involved, and that the total number of workpeople involved directly or indirectly was 965,000.I find, and every body regrets this, that the aggregate duration in working days of all disputes in progress during those three years was 14,080,000 working days.[HON. MEMBER: "How many lock-outs?"] I do not know whether hon. Gentlemen realise that this Bill, which their Government is introducing, is extending the power to lock-out just as it is extending the power to strike.
I want to put these three questions: Was one of those disputes during the last three years ever interfered with under the Act of 1927? Was there one single person participating in or furthering any of those disputes who was prosecuted or penalised in any way under the Act of 1927? Has any strike, primary or sympathetic, been stopped under the Act of 1921? I know of none. If that be so, it is manifest that the excuse and the only excuse for presenting this Bill to the House is this: Hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were in opposition pledged themselves that they would repeal the Act of 1927. They pledged themselves before they had seen it; they pledged themselves on the Amendment to the Address; they repeated the pledge the moment the Bill was introduced; and they repeated the pledge after the Bill had been amended and passed. The House will see that, if hon. Gentlemen have pledged themselves three times over that they would repeal the Act of 1927 before it began to operate, it cannot be exactly accurate to say that the reason they want to repeal it now is because of something that has happened under it.
874 They have promised to try, they are going to try, and I think their trial ought to fail.
One word as to contracting-in and contracting-out. The Attorney-General was good enough to quote me on this occasion, and I do not think his quotation was quite so happily selected. I interposed and asked him the date to be sure that he and I were on the same passage. I noticed the Lord Advocate was good enough to repeat part of the quotation. I ask the House to notice at what an exceedingly curious point the Attorney-General stopped his quotation, which is taken from the Debate of the 4th May, 1927:I was a humble Member of the Government which passed the Act of 1913, and I was clear then, as I am clear now, that it was absolutely necessary to secure the political activities of trade unions.The Lord Advocate will see on reflection that has nothing to do with the question of the objects of a political strike, but with the question of the formation of a political fund.It is much too late to go hack on that.He then quoted these words and very good-humouredly raised a good deal of approval by apparently exhibiting me in an inconsistent light.If you mean that you do not want to give the Trade Unions what I may call the benefit of the inertia of men who are more or less indifferent, then I do not agree with you. I do not think it is unreasonable that a body like a trade union, which has decided upon having a political fund, should have what a great many other bodies, such as limited companies and all sorts of bodies, have, namely, the benefit, such as it is, of the inertia of people of no strong opinions.He stopped there. Let me read the next sentence:But if the fact is that the present method is a method which is actually compelling people to subscribe who definitely wish not to do so, and if you could alter that by the change, the thing would wear an entirely different complex ion. "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May, 1927; col. 1644, Vol. 205.]The Attorney-General might have quoted that. I went on to say what was a completely candid reflection of my thought. I said in this Debate in 1927:Frankly, because I wish to be quite frank with hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway, the one thing which makes me wonder whether I have been right about this Clause "—875 whether I was right in thinking contracting-out better than contracting-in—is the enormous outcry which has been raised against it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May, 1927; col. 1645, Vol. 205.]Now I have had three years' experience. I find this agitation got up to try to reverse the law. The experience of the last three years proves these two things conclusively. The first is that contracting-in, the present law, does secure to the majority in a trade union freedom to raise a political fund. It is quite right that it should. Secondly, the experience of the last few years has proved that, in doing so, in giving trade unions the opportunity to raise a political fund, it has provided for a dissentient minority a greater degree of political freedom and independence than the older system of contracting-out. I take note, and I am glad we are all at one about it, that, whatever may have been the view of my hon. Friends three or four years ago on that particular subject, they are now unanimously agreed and think the right thing to do is not to alter that provision. It is exactly the same about the Civil Service, and Section 5 of the Act of 1927. I cannot do better than say I am grateful for the pleasant way in which the hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham put it. He made it perfectly plain that, as regards the Civil Service Clause, he and those for whom he speaks have no intention of adopting the Government's suggestion. It is exactly the same about the local authorities Clause. It could not have been put with greater fairness.
Now a word as to intimidation. It is all very well to talk in this House jeeringly about a great lawyer like Lord Buckmaster. Very few people could have made a more powerful analysis and statement of the case, and I am bound to say this about his analysis on intimidation. Is he not right when he says, in his letter, that, if you are going to seek to limit that intimidation Clause as you do,the misery that may he inflicted on a man's wife and his children by concerted and continuous insult and abuse is made lawful unless done so as to intimidate a person in his house or place of work or unless it can be said to lead to a breach of the peace, a proviso from the benefit of which children would be obviously excluded and probably most women as well.876 I do not believe the best minds of the Labour party desire for a moment to bring about such a situation.
There is one final consideration. I have endeavoured to examine some of the main features of this Bill and to express my view about them, but there is another particular consideration which I would put to the House, and, if I may, to my hon. Friends here. What possible justification is there, in this Session of Parliament, for introducing this sort of Bill on this sort of subject? We talk about "the primary object." What was the primary object for which at the last election the Labour party sought to become the Government? The right hon. Gentleman sitting there expressed it in a statement at Brighton:The Government in my judgment will be judged, and rightly judged, by their handling of the problem of unemployment.On the very day when the Attorney-General got up to move the Second Reading of this Bill the right hon. Lady who is the Minister of Labour had answered a question, only two or three minutes before, in which she had told us—I am not saying that it is anybody's fault, I am merely pointing to the fact—that the increase in the number of the unemployed since the Government came into office was 1,523,376. The numbers had more than doubled since they took office. I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs is entirely right when he said the other day of this Government—he seems to have complete licence to say what he likes of them: words do not hurt, it is only votes—that they are tackling every job except the job the people put them in to attend to.
Who is there who will pretend, at this time of day, that this complicated Bill, involving all these discussions, has the smallest relation to the question to which the Government ought to be devoting the whole of their energies? The Government, and the House of Commons too, have got upon their shoulders two enormous questions, the one domestic, the one external—unemployment and India. And this is the moment which is selected for bringing in this Bill, which I should have thought had been demonstrated, Clause by Clause, to be perfectly worthless and unacceptable. It is no secret if I say that I understand there is some slight difference of view on these 877 benches as to what the Liberal party are going to do. I myself am a supporter of humane slaughter. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Nottingham seems to prefer death by a thousand cuts. But, of course, there is no misunderstanding between us, because, as a matter of fact, the Government do quite understand that, of course, their Bill is never going to pass. If a Second Reading is given to the Bill a number of Members, including a certain number of unhappy Liberals, will be told off to go upstairs to discuss this, that and the other, and knocking out Clause after Clause; but honour will be satisfied, the Government will have fulfilled their promise to the Trade Union Congress, and no harm will be done. I do not conceive that to be my duty.
No one who speaks truly and fairly of me can possibly deny that I have shown myself active and eager to see that trade unions get their just rights. [HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] But I wish to tell hon. Gentlemen opposite, quite frankly, that if it comes to be a question between considering the interests of the community as a whole in a time of crisis and any section of interests, however great or powerful, I believe it to be the duty of every man who cares for individual freedom to be on the side of the community. A general strike is an act of war, it is a form of industrial blockade; and here we have this absurd situation, that the Foreign Secretary is going to Geneva to urge international peace and disarmament—[An HON. MEMBER: "And doing it very well!."]—and, I have no doubt, doing it very well; and we have the Home Secretary pointing out to people in Lancashire that striking is not the way to secure improved conditions.[HON. MEMBERS: "Lock-out not strike! "] And while in the international sphere and in present industrial disputes members of the Government are expressing such admirable sentiments and are using such powerful influence, at the same moment we get this Bill, riddled as it is in every Clause and in every Subsection, which I have shown to the House, as I claim conclusively, can only be intended, if not to encourage, at least to facilitate and to make possible the evils which the country resisted in May, 1926.
§ Mr. MATHERS
The Debate, in so far as it has run its course, has been, in my judgment, far too much an argument between lawyers. The niceties of their fencing speeches have certainly tickled the House and to some extent confused it, but I am going to say that, as a participant in the so-called General Strike of 1926, I have no hesitation in declaring that, just as at that time I considered my action to be morally justified so I am still of the same opinion in this House to-night. The right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) is anxious to know whether if the conditions of 1926 were to recur those events would be legal or illegal under the Bill now before the House. In my judgment, from the moral point of view the actions of 1926 could be completely justified, and I would ask that that so-called General Strike should be made legal under this Bill. I have said that I participated in that strike. It was the first strike in which my trade union had taken part. That historical event in the trade union history of this country had special significance for my trade union, because it could not be said for a moment that the Railway Clerks Association, of which I am a member, appeared to have anything whatever to gain by participating in that strike. There was no self-interest involved; indeed, I want to say for those who struck in sympathy with the miners, that it was not self-interest which actuated them. In participating in that sympathetic strike I believe they showed clearly that the trade union movement is not so materialistic as some people would try to make out, but that it has an altruistic side.
Looking back to the General Strike of 1926, in my judgment it was simply a moral protest against an intolerable wrong which was being attempted against the mining community. We heard the cry from the coal fields and we responded to that cry. It may be that we were tinged with sentiment. It may be that we had listened too keenly—I am talking as a Scotsman—to the words of Robert Burns:To mak' a happy fireside clime, For weans and wife; That's the true pathos and sublime O' human life.It may be we were too much given to sympathy with that idea; but I want to 879 say definitely that, so far as my colleagues and myself are concerned, in precipitating this sympathetic strike there was no idea of anything other than industrial action. It is true that we had in mind that those who had been responsible for the mining lock-out—for lock-out it was!—were to a considerable extent those for whom those in the different industries who took part in that sympathetic strike were working. We did believe—it was in our minds—that by bringing pressure to bear upon those who were interested in industries other than the coal industry we could cause them to see reason, cause them to give better terms to the miners than they were, apparently, prepared to do. There were, of course, other considerations forced upon us when the strike was running its course, and we had the brilliant journalistic efforts of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). The issue of the "British Gazette," in so far as we could get hold of copies of it, helped to keep us cheery while the strike was in progress.
It was a more serious thing to find the Prime Minister of this country attaching his name to a declaration which was pasted up in every quarter stating that in so far as trade union members were disloyal to their trade union obligations they would be protected by all the powers the Government of the country could wield. There are many lawyers in this House—that has been very clear during the Debate. I wonder what the strong trade union of the legal profession would have said in regard to a declaration of that particular kind. What would have been said if the medical profession had had a declaration levelled against it that it would not be allowed to deal with its members as the rules dictated after those members had taken upon themselves to obey those rules. How would the members of the medical profession have looked upon a declaration that their rules should be abrogated and that their members should be prevented from taking steps allowed under those rules. We should have heard a good deal about unprofessional conduct and something, as in the case of the Army, about conduct unworthy of an officer and a gentleman. I say that the Prime Minister of that time making such a 880 declaration was an unwarrantable interference with the domestic affairs of a trade union and I hope that by the passage of this Bill that there will be something done to redress that particular position.
The attitude adopted in the "British Gazette" caused us to revert to the events leading up to the lock-out, and I firmly believe that one of the reasons why we got such an overwhelming and spontaneous response to the sympathetic strike was that the working-class people of this country resented the misuse of power by the Government. At that time the people had been watching how the Government of this country had acted, as it was described then, as a sub-committee of the coal owners. How did the Government obtain power to put itself into that position? What means were adopted during the 1524 election to obtain the power which resulted in the return of an overwhelming number of Conservative Members to this House? Undoubtedly during the time of those events we had in this country a class Government. The workers of that time recognised that there was a class Government in power and for once the working class were as class conscious as their employers. I believe that the result of this spontaneous response to the call of a general strike was a long growing resentment about the way the country was being governed. I do not admit that that was in any way the primary object of the strike or that that was in the minds of those who launched the industrial strike. There was resentment at the time against the misuse of power by the Government and that resentment and protest was completely justified.
Did the strike embarrass and inconvenience the public? I believe it did, but I am not repentent about that because outside people had been responsible indirectly for the position in which the miners found themselves by allowing themselves to be gulled into giving such powers to a Tory Government. With regard to meeting cases of necessity and mercy, I must say that so far as my experience goes nothing was left undone by the strike committees to meet hardship. I do not think that the strike did the populace any very serious harm by compelling them to walk a little more 881 than they usually do. I do recollect being a party to refusing to give permission for the conveyance of certain foodstuffs but it was not given only when it was discovered that the foodstuff was contained in casks and came out of a brewery. We did not stop to argue during the General Strike about the food value of beer and we did not give permission for that particular commodity to be conveyed at that time. If the Conservative party would read aright what happened to them at the last, election, they would not be quite so strongly opposed to this particular Bill, because I believe that a considerable element in the placing of the Labour party in power on this side of the House was the remembered resentment against the way in which the previous Tory Government used their powers in 1926. If that election had taken place shortly after May, 1926, we should not have been in the position of having any doubt at all as to whether this Bill would get its Second Reading or get through Committee. The public memory is lamentably short, and, if the Election had taken place anywhere near May, 1926, the overwhelming resentment against the Tory Government of that time would have been so great that there would have been no doubt at all about there being a majority on this side of the House. I would give the same reminder to the Liberal party. They need not consider that they will be free from resentment if they take steps which will destroy this Bill. Again I wish to express my firm conviction that in May, 1926, the action taken by the trade unions which responded to the call of the Trade Union Congress was morally justified, and I hope that after this Bill has been dealt with by the House that those actions will be made legally permissible.
I would like to say a word or two about the political levy. Reference has been made to the way in which in certain trade unions there has been a falling off in respect of those who are paying the political levy. I am able to say from actual knowledge that certain members of my own trade union, and I know instances of the same kind in other trade unions, who, prior to the passing of the 1927 Act, filled up contracting-out forms and did not allow any part of their trade union subscription to go for political 882 purposes. After the passing of the 1927 Act, and after the attack made by the Tory party upon the principle of trade union contributions going to the Labour party, many of those members of trade unions 'who had never contributed to the political levy decided to pay in future, and they have therefore taken up an entirely different line from what is said to be the line which has been forced upon trade unions by the 1927 Act.
With regard to contracting-out and contracting-in, it seems to me that here we have an example of the vindictiveness of the 1927 Act because in many other departments in British affairs we find that it is the rule that the decision come to by a majority of the members of any association or society shall be carried into effect. Very often those who object to the majority decision are provided with some loophole or exception to meet their particular case. Minorities are given the opportunity of contracting out. What would happen if in the case of religious instruction in schools every parent had to say that he wanted his child to have religious instruction. In that case I wonder if there would be so much religious instruction or whether inertia would make certain that a very large number would not receive such instruction. I wonder how many people would be involved in that way. The same argument applies to vaccination. You do not fill up a form asking that your child shall be vaccinated. It is only when you object to vaccination that you fill up a form and ask to be excused. I think it is quite clear that the matter of contracting-out from an obligation decided upon by a majority is sound and right, and is one 'which is adopted in British life generally.
Despite the hazards through which this Bill has to go, I hope it will make it possible for workers in different industries to come to the help of each other when menaced by something that they feel they cannot rebut, and stand up to and conquer on their own, and that the opportunity for workers in different industries coming together will, as the result of this Bill passing, be restored in ample measure to the trade unions.
§ Mr. PURBRICK
I speak from experience gained during 30 years in industrial pursuits, both as an employé and 883 as an employer, during the whole of which time I was in close contact with trade unions. Though that experience was not gained in this country, but in Australia, I think that hon. Members will agree that trade unions in that country are not less militant than they are in this country, and that we have just as good a chance there as in this country of studying the merits and demerits of the situation. It is not all Members on either side of the House who have had the same opportunities of studying these associations from the inside and from the outside that I have had, and of studying these problems from both angles, and that is the reason why I rise to take a small part in this Debate.
The Government claim that they have a mandate to repeal the Act of 1927, and that that Act was the outcome of resentment and victimisation in connection with the General Strike. I contend that both of these claims are incorrect. As regards the mandate, the substance of the Bill which is now before the House was undoubtedly contained in "Labour and the Nation." In that publication there was a long programme, and most of it, like their cure for unemployment, is still waiting to be put into effect, to say nothing of being completed. Neither the Conservative party nor the Liberal party made any statement in their manifestos at the last Election with regard to a repeal of the 1927 Act, and, when one comes to analyse the figures of that Election, the votes of the Labour party for the programme contained in their manifesto did not amount to much more than one-third of the votes polled in the Election. How in these circumstances they can claim that they have a mandate for bringing in this legislation I cannot understand.
Their further claim, that the Act was passed in a spirit of resentment, is equally contrary to the fact. The hon. Member who has just spoken informed us that in his opinion, if a plebiscite had been taken immediately after the General Strike, there would have been such an enormous number of voters in favour of the General Strike that this legislation would have been passed immediately. I take an entirely opposite view. The Conservative Government of the day, with wise and moderate consideration, re- 884 fused to be led away by any such spirit of resentment or retaliation for the acts that took place during the General Strike, and they postponed taking action for many months, until all the feelings that had been engendered at that time had calmed down, and the matter could be studied in a spirit of tranquillity. The Act of 1927 as it now stands safeguards the individual, the trade unions, and the community generally, and I can see no way in which it interferes with the legitimate functions of trade unions.
In a discussion of this description, it is likely that both sides will lose sight of practical facts in considering theories. For example, a secret ballot is necessary before the establishment of a political fund. On the first day of this Debate, the Secretary of State for War and the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. Brooke) gave instances of their own unions passing the resolutions for carrying out the compulsory secret ballot to decide whether they should have political funds or otherwise. I hardly see that it was necessary for them to tell us that, because we know that a trade union could not have a political fund unless the question was submitted to a compulsory secret ballot. While we admit that it is important theoretically to have a majority, the practical question is as to how the majority for this secret ballot is obtained. Do a great many members of the union vote that there shall be a political fund? How large are the numbers of those who vote? Is there a majority of the total membership of the union in support of this political fund, and is there a majority of the total members of the union who want to subscribe to it? Under the system of contracting in, we see that there is grave doubt on that point, but I myself, with some experience of trade unions, think it is very doubtful whether anything like a majority of the members vote for the establishment of these political funds.
I know, and I am sure it is the experience of most hon. Members opposite, that, with very few exceptions, if you can get something like 10 per cent. of the members of a union, unless it is a very small union, to take an active interest in the union's affairs, it is a matter for surprise. The election of office bearers, the ordinary routine business of the union, and things such as the secret ballot, are 885 carried out by a very few enthusiastic members of the union, and, even if you admit the right of a majority of six against four to carry a resolution making the four contribute to their fund except under certain conditions, it is, to my mind, absurd to suggest that one out of 10 should be sufficient to do this; and the one out of 10 is, again, a question of fact and not of theory. It was suggested, I think, by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), that other associations and shareholders of companies have a similar right to enforce majority rule, but the enforcement of majority rule in connection with rules is quite a different thing from the collection of money from people who do not wish to pay it and are under no liability to pay it.
In any case, there is no other association that is in the same position as the trade union. The trade unions consist of members of all shades of political opinion —Liberals, Socialists, Conservatives, or what not; and, moreover, a great many members have joined their unions, not because they wished to join them, but because it is necessary that they should join them—people who have no political views whatever, but only want to live. They want the right to work, and for this reason they are forced to join their unions, but they have no desire to subscribe to any political fund. The position of trade unions is entirely different from that of any other association that might be referred to. The trade unions nowadays have obtained such power that it is compulsory in most trades that a, man should be a member of his union, because otherwise he is unable to get work. Preference for non-unionists exists in some cases, but virtually preference for trade unionists exists in practically all employment, and, as the sole reason why so many people join trade unions is their necessity for getting work, it seems to me to be ridiculous that advantage should be taken of the strength of the unions to coerce members into subscribing to political funds. It is desirable, therefore, that the rights of these minorities should be protected, and that is what the Act of 1927 does.
There is a theory that there is no compulsion, because those who are unwilling to contribute can contract out. Theoretically that is correct, but in prae- 886 tie, as hon. Members opposite know, it is sheer nonsense. They know as well as I do the difficulties that are in the way of a member of a union contracting out. They know perfectly well what peaceful persuasion means, and how peaceful persuasion can become a great deal stronger if it is not successful in reaching its object at the very outset. The question of intimidation and threats of intimidation is a very serious one, but there are other effective weapons. There is the social ostracism of the man himself; there is the pressure that can be brought to bear on his wife; and even his children sometimes have to bear their share. Hon. Members opposite who are closely associated with trade unions know perfectly well that this is the case, and for these practical reasons the theoretical safeguard of the secret ballot and similar safeguards are ineffective. It is said that you can drive a coach and four through many an Act of Parliament, but a skilful and competent trade union organiser can drive a whole railway system through these theoretical safeguards.
The crux of the whole matter, however, to my mind, is that the trade unions have changed from their original character. Theoretically they are the same, but, by their amalgamations and by their large increases of membership, they have become such huge bodies that their leaders are out of touch with their members; they are too large for the leaders to reflect the views of their individual members. They claim to think nationally. To my mind, the duties of the trade union leaders are primarily industrial—to help the men to improve their conditions, to better their wages, to redress their grievances, and, naturally, as I quite agree, to assist in any political action that may be necessary to achieve these ends; and their representatives on the benches opposite are, surely, enough to aid them in those political actions. Instead of that, however, we find that the trade union leaders are occupying themselves primarily with foisting new social theories and new industrial systems on the nation. In South Wales, some of them like syndicalism; the leaders of the engineers' unions talk about guild socialism; but the basis of all these theories is the same, namely, soviet government, and the reason why they want the legislation in regard to political funds amended is in order that they may be aided in achieving 887 this object. The trade union leaders want to control the national government, and that is why they want these funds. We do not want a soviet government in this country. The proper place for the discussion of social theories is this House, the proper people to discuss them are the Members of this House, and the duly and properly elected representatives of the people, not those who are merely the spokesmen of the trade unions.
To my mind, the test of this Bill is the question of how the powers that they have had in the past have been exercised. Great as those powers are, have they been exercised without harm to the community; have they been exercised for the benefit of the community as well as of the trade unions; and, even if they have been exercised only for the benefit of the trade unions, have they been so exercised without harm to the community? I do not think that, if this test be applied, it will be found that this Bill is justified by the facts. The General Strike, brought in by the trade union leaders, is sufficient in itself to condemn their action. It was against the community as a whole, and, therefore, on that alone they are condemned. They got political power by means of these contributions to the political fund, which, I say, were improperly, if legally, obtained. Let the trade union leaders exercise the powers that they have wisely and well before we in this House consider granting them additional powers.
§ Mr. ELLIS LLOYD
During this Debate my thoughts have been going back to the time, some years ago, when it fell to my lot for years to work among the trade unionists, who are the real subject matter of a Bill of this kind, and when I think of those men it appears to me that a good deal of the abstract legal debating which has gone on in this Chamber is extremely remote from the human facts of the problem. At one moment the working man is represented as a hooligan of so dangerous a character that we must add to the already numerous laws against intimidation to keep him in order, and the next moment he is represented as being so extremely timid that he is afraid to say, "I will not subscribe to the political levy." That Shows the extreme artificiality of this Debate.
888 The right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) has been asking time and again, Would this amending Bill legalise what occurred in 1926 Anyone who has any experience of the courts at all knows that that is just the type of question that is designed "to put the wind up" the jurymen. If the answer is in the affirmative, the middle-class gentlemen on the jury and the timid maiden aunts who may be serving on it also are expected to be frightened by what is suggested. I regard that question as of little importance, as far as the practical problem is concerned. It is of much more importance that we should direct our attention to what are likely to be the legal effects of the Act of 1927, and I would have been glad if the right hon. and learned Member had given us counsel's opinion on this aspect of the problem.
If the incidents of 1926 occurred again, would they be so illegal as to render working men subject on summary conviction to three months' imprisonment and on conviction by indictment to two years' imprisonment, probably with hard labour? If, for instance, to-day the coalowners decided to lock out the miners and reduce their wages to an even lower level than they are at now, does the Act of 1927 mean that no other trade union could come forward and, by strike action, do anything to protect miners against that further fate? I have no doubt the legal answer would be that the Act of 1927 would mean that, and that for the first time in our legal history we have given the employers of this country the legal power to take the workers section by section, defeat them, and drive them down to a lower level, and their trade union comrades dare not come to their rescue by strike action without being made criminals and put in prison. If anyone thinks that that state of things is going to add to the stability of the State, I consider that that person is pursuing a dangerous line of thought and does not know the ultimate temper of the British people.
When you are looking at the effects of a law you have to consider the economic and social circumstances in which that law is designed to work, and what are the economic and social circumstances? You have a society exist- 889 ing, as it is, on private property, divided into two sections—it is no use blinding our eyes to the facts—and there is going on between those two sections a considerable economic struggle. The employing section is enormously more powerful than the wage-earning section, and the Act of 1927 adds, to the economic power of the employers, the enormous reinforcement of legal strength. How is it possible to operate the Act of 1927? I wish the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley had devoted some of his eloquence to explaining how that Act can possibly be operated if we get a national lock-out or another national strike.
I claim that that Act in such circumstances is not worth the paper it is written on as far as preventing these things is concerned, and it has this further constitutional danger, that it from the commencement brands a movement which, if guided by common sense—and I mean the common sense of statesmen as well as of leaders—would eventually work itself out and would be a sort of safety valve for the pent-up feelings of the industrial workers, but under this Act that movement becomes at once branded with a revolutionary character, and this Act of 1927 in time of trouble is likely to bring this country nearer a revolution than any action that could possibly be taken by the trade unions themselves. As a matter of fact, it would he a revolution from its very inception. The law would have made it a revolution.
That is not the British way of dealing with constitutional crises. We are not as a nation tied to dry-as-dust legal words, and it is a fortunate thing for us that we are not. We treat these crises as they arise with common sense and good humour, and that is the reason why we got through the dangerous state of things in 1926 so calmly, so peacefully, and with so little harm done. During the 1926 stoppage I had to motor over all the strike districts of South Wales. I know that district much better than I know the House of Commons, and wherever I went everything was peaceful, everything good tempered, everything almost jolly.
Supposing the 1927 Act had been in operation, and you were getting the local leaders and the workmen themselves 890 hauled before the local benches of magistrates, because, mark this, you cannot consider only one aspect of this law. You have to consider not only the conditions under which these troubles arise, but the character of the tribunals called upon to administer your law, and what is characteristic of existing society is this: This Act of 1927, designed to beat down an industrial movement, would be administered in the main by tribunals drawn from classes other than industrial workers. Is there any man on the opposite side who will say that there is not in those classes an astounding ignorance of the working man and that there is not in those classes an outrageous prejudice against the working man? I have been in middle-class drawing rooms on many occasions, sometimes during strikes in my native area of South Wales, and I have listened to those middle classes, and the so-called upper classes occasionally, from whom, remember, the judges who deal with these things are drawn, and I am referring to the judges of all ranks.
§ Mr. LLOYD
I will develop the argument in a moment. If these men had to appear before High Court judges only there would be a different aspect, but they are not asked to appear before High Court judges only; they are asked to appear before county magistrates, many of them violent Tory opponents of trade unionism and Socialism. It is a dangerous thing to bring these affairs before courts in which the workers themselves have not got full confidence. The more you keep your industrial strikes outside the courts of this country, the better. What is the need of the Act of 1927? I submit that in times of real trial it would not be of the slightest effect. You might just as well draw a piece of parchment over the crater of Vesuvius as try to prevent a general strike or lock-out by means of the Act of 1927.
Take the lock-out. I have no doubt that actions against the workers would result in a number of them going to prison under this Act. Can you conceive of any set of circumstances in which any court in the land would send an employer to prison for locking out his men? How can it be done? The 891 employer is soundly based, first of all, on the rights of private property, the right to close his works whenever he may please, and, unless you are going to deprive him of that right and insist that he shall carry on his works whether he will or not, there is nothing that can compel him to carry on, and, if you are going to compel him to carry on, I am not so certain that that would not be the shortest cut to Socialism in our time, because someone will have to carry on these "lock-out" works. It would not be the employer himself because he would naturally say, "I have no economic object at all. I simply do not choose to work my industry. I have a right to close it and I will," and, unless you are going to attack the very fundamental basis of the rights of private property, you cannot deal with that situation, and, once you attack it, you have thrown upon your hands the responsibility of carrying on this work, and only the State then will be able to do so. I am not certain, but on those grounds I might be inclined to support the Act of 1927.
That Act has gone considerably further than dealing with a national strike, and it is because it has gone considerably further that we on these benches contend that we have overwhelming evidence that it is a vindictive Act, and that opportunity was taken not only to deal with the problem of the General Strike but to apply more and more shackles to the liberties of trade unions. It is suggested that there is no feeling in the country in favour of the amendment of the Act. An obvious proof of that is the fact that the authors of that Act are now not sitting in the seat of power but are sitting over there. I should like to mention one striking incident as to the resentment felt among the workers, not only at the Act but at the whole policy leading up to the passing of the Act. Does not the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) remember the unique experience that he had when he went to South Wales, so painful an incident that I do not intend to go into it, but one to my knowledge unique in the history of the Welsh miners. There is no man on the face of the earth more ready to respond to sympathy in time of disaster than the Welsh miner, and yet 892 on that occasion they showed their resentment at the way they had been treated—and that is the spirit of the Act of 1927—by hooting the sympathiser in the very presence of the dead. Is not that sufficient evidence of resentment? It may be that there has been a sort of calm since, but you do not expect a general strike every two or three years. A period of exhaustion is bound to follow. I hope those events will never occur again. I have no regard for that method of promoting the interests of the workers when they can by their votes command this House and mould economic and social conditions to their heart's desire. But, if that Act stands, some day or other you will have a repetition of the events of 1926 in a much more dangerous form.
Take the minor evidences of spite and vindictiveness on the part of the Tories in the Act. They thought it necessary to strengthen the law against intimidation, and in the Debate the other night the Noble Lord the Member for the Lonsdale Division (Lord Balniel) said:I should like to hear any hon. Member opposite, and I would like to hear the Prime Minister get up and dare, before this House to defend intimidation. It is fantastic to suggest that protection against intimidation is a hardship."—[OFFICIAL.REPORT, 22nd January, 1931; col. 468, Vol. 247.]There are two suggestions apparently in that. One is that we are in favour in some way or another of intimidation. That is not true. There is no man on this side of the House who will defend intimidation, and certainly not the Prime Minister. There is no man among the trade unions in the country who will defend intimidation. We do not object to protection against intimidation. The suggestion in this Act is that prior to the passing of the 1927 Act there was little or no protection against intimidation. Every lawyer knows that that again is an utterly false suggestion. It has been characteristic of the society in which we live, right down through the centuries, that the owning-classes have always displayed in their laws an astounding timidity regarding the masses, and they have passed more laws than are necessary to protect themselves. It has fallen to my lot occasionally to defend miners in the courts of South Wales, before the 1927 Act was passed, against charges of intimidation. There is ample protection against intimidation in Section 7 of the 893 Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875, but they thought it necessary in their vindictiveness even to strengthen that. There are other laws. There is the law against unlawful assembly.
Let me give a very interesting illustration with regard to the operation of that law. It applies to the events of 1926. During November of 1926 there were certain disturbances in the coalfield of South Wales. The Act of 1927 was not passed, but there was ample protection for those who wished to work against intimidation. As the result of those disturbances, we had an assize in Glamorgan which reminded me of my reading of the great assize in the South of England after the so-called labourers' revolt, the assize of Baron Alderson, the proceedings of which it would do many people in this country good to read and study carefully. We had a somewhat similar assize, and 209 people were charged with unlawful assembly. It was alleged that they had attempted to intimidate two so-called blacklegs. A man who breaks the conventions of his class, even though that class may be the working-class, must expect the condemnation of that class. I will tell you what happened. [An HON. MEMBER: "There was evidence of stone-throwing "] There was stone-throwing, and I do not defend it; I condemn it. My argument is that the law demonstrated that it was powerful enough to punish them. Let us see how far it went. Two hundred and nine persons were prosecuted. One hundred and fifteen were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment, 30 were bound over, 35 were found not guilty, one was sent to Borstal, and 20 cases were withdrawn. Is not that satisfactory to the Tories? Is not that evidence of the strength of the law before the 1927 Act was passed? [An HON. MEMBER: "Why alter it?"] I do not propose to alter it. I am prepared to allow this law against unlawful assembly to remain. I am not complaining of the law. I am only showing you that society had protected itself before the Tories came forward to give it the protection which they alleged it had not got.
Mark this. Four of the persons sentenced were women. One, aged 35, was sentenced to three months' imprisonment, one, aged 40, to four months, one, aged 29, to two months, and one, aged 46, with 894 a family of young children, to four months. Is not that very satisfactory? Do the Tories require more punishment than that, or would they like those women boiled in oil? It is sheer humbug to say that the law is not strong enough. But mark this. No greater damage was done in these disturbances than has frequently been done in University rags. I have never yet heard of University undergraduates who have caused serious bodily harm on some occasions to those whom they have ragged, to civilians and to policemen, being proceeded against under the law concerning unlawful assemblies. I have never heard of them being sent to prison, and I have rarely heard of them, being fined. It seems to me that the attitude of the Courts towards them is usually one of excuse, "Oh, it is only proud Percy's pranks." The workers watch these things. They may be silent, but they are brooding over them. The partial administration of the law is a weakness in society, and, if we are going to add to that sort of thing by passing Acts like the 1927 Act, we are not strengthening the basis of the British Constitution, but we are weakening it, and creating a situation in which revolution may come some day.
§ Mr. GRAY
After the Debate which we have had to-night one is apt to feel that a Bill of this sort is a perfect paradise for lawyers and counsellors. Those of us who have listened to the three speeches by lawyers will, I think, admit that they were admirable speeches. There was the speech of the late Solicitor-General, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Rusholme (Sir B. Merriman) from the Tory side, the speech of the Lord Advocate from the Front Bench, and the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) from below me. I am probably naturally prejudiced, but I think that, if I had to give away honours, I should give them to my right hon. and learned Friend for the wonderful speech which he has made in this House. The reflection which is left in my mind as a layman is: "God help the poor trade union secretary who has to find his way through these legal enactments and know what he can or cannot do." That is true of the Act of 1927 and—it explains very largely the attitude we are taking on these benches 895 —equally true of the Bill which the Government have brought in. I listened to the speech of an hon. Member opposite who is not at present in the House who declared most emphatically that the strike of 1926 was called because they did not like the Conservative Government. Curiously, enough, if that is an accurate explanation of that strike, it would very obviously come under the definition contained in the Bill now before the House.
I have no intention whatever of trying to make any debating or scoring points in this Debate, but I feel that some solution of the trouble in which we are involved in this Bill has to be found, a solution acceptable to the trade unions and trade union leaders, and one, I hope, which can be accepted by the representatives of the Conservatives, capitalists if you like, employers and other classes. I was very much struck by one observation which fell from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Spen Valley, namely, that the Act of 1906, following the Taff Vale dispute, was accepted in the end by all sections of this House, and passed through another place without any serious opposition. The first proposition which I want to submit to the House is that we must deal, and deal effectively, with the very difficult problem of the relation of these great organisations, both of capital and of labour, and of their relation, when they come into conflict, to the common interests of the State.
I am not directly associated with the trades unions, and perhaps for that reason I can speak with a little more impartial judgment than can some of those who have been closely associated with them. In my industry we work under a Trade Board. Often we wish we had been under a trade union. It would have been more flexible than Trade Board regulations, which carry the authority of the State and cannot be varied in any particular whatever. I have no hesitation in saying—and I think it would be assented to by hon. Friends on this side of the House—that whatever criticism we may have to make of various acts of trade unions, we should not care to accept a proposition, or to submit a proposition, that the whole organisation of 896 labour under the trade union system had been detrimental either to the workers or to the industries of this country or to the State as a whole. If, for instance, hon. Members could choose to go back upon history and that they could, as it were, wipe out the whole trade union movement, would they be prepared to do so? I am perfectly confident that they would not. I am sure that our trade union friends on the other side will be prepared to admit that, after all, trade union leaders are not gods or supermen, but that they are just ordinary citizens like the rest of us and that they are liable to make mistakes. No one on their side is going to suggest that trade unions or trade union leaders never do anything which is wrong.
It is a curious thing that trade union legislation in the last 50 years—I am not sure whether it does not go further back —has been directly associated with decisions in the courts. I have an impression that the Act of 1875 had some relation to a decision of the courts affecting the Act of 1871. The Act of 1906 was brought in because a decision of the courts had gone against what had always been regarded, both by the employing and the working class, as the law of the land. In 1913 a similar thing happened. The trade unions had assumed, as a matter of course, that they could use their funds for political purposes, but the Osborne judgment was given, which decided that they could not so use their funds. There, again, we had a decision of the courts deciding against what everybody had regarded as the ordinary law of the land, and again this House passed an Act which gave liberty to trade unions to carry on that principle.
The position of the Act of 1927 was somewhat different, but before dealing with that Act I would ask the House to remember what has actually happened. We are the law makers in this House, but we never know what the laws mean. Nobody know what our laws mean until the judges of the High Court and of the Appeal Court have told us what they do mean. After listening to the very eloquent and able legal fight which we have had on the Floor of the House this afternoon, the impression which is left upon the mind of the layman is somewhat confusing. One is inclined to say: 897 "Yes, he is right." Then again, "Surely this one is right," and then again one is inclined to say: "This one is right, after all." As each learned Member stated his case that was the impression that must have been left in the minds of any ordinary Member of this House. No one knows what would have been the decision of any judge or any Appeal Court that had listened to the three legal arguments to which we listened in this Assembly to-day.
What I am going to submit to the House is not in any sense a party point. I would ask the House to consider whether there is not much more agreement in all parties in the House than we realise. It is very easy when you are making debating points to arouse perhaps cheers on one side or howls on the other, but when one has done that, there is nothing much left. I would emphasise the absolute necessity in the condition in which the country is placed of our finding a means within the next two years of avoiding anything in the nature of serious industrial strife, and I would ask the House to realise that we are down in the trough of one of the biggest depressions the world has ever known. We are looking longingly for the signs of improvement, and we believe that we can see those signs. But if every stage in progressive development is to be met with industrial strife and every upward move is to be checked, retarded, hindered by industrial strife, then the outlook is black indeed.
We are faced with a problem which must be a grave one for trade union leaders. We are faced with a change in the value of prices, and that is bound to mean certain readjustments in a number of trades. It must mean readjustment of values which may inevitably involve questions which the trade union leaders will have to negotiate with the employing classes. Far more important than any mere technical Clause that you may have in a Bill is frank good will between the employing classes and the employed. If we do not have that good will, I am afraid that whatever we do in the Bills which we pass through this House will be unsatisfactory. I would submit to the House that, on the whole, the trade union legislation of 1906, which made trade union funds immune from attack, was a very sound form of legislation.
898 Curiously enough, we are not very far divided on some of these main issues. I am not going to make any charges of vindictiveness or malice in the Conservative legislation in 1927. I am sure that no-one on the Conservative Benches will admit that in 1927 their legislation was designed definitely to injure the trade unions and definitely to interfere with their legitimate operation. I notice that there is no dissent from that proposition. I would suggest to my Labour and trade union friends that instead of charging the Tory party with malice they should accept their assumption that it was done out of kindness.
Let us capitalise what the Conservative party are putting forward to-day. They say that they have no desire whatever to handicap a trade union in any conflict with the employing classes in settlement of a purely trade dispute. What has happened, and our Labour friends must recognise it, is that just as the decisions of the Courts led to various Acts in. the past which gave added facilities to trade unions, particularly the Acts of 1906 and 1912, the strike, lock-out, stoppage, whatever you like to call it, which took place in 1926 did create an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust not merely amongst Tory politicians but amongst large masses of people who are not directly associated with trade unions. I am speaking from one's own practical experience in meeting all sorts of people. There is the sort of people you meet in a good class boardinghouse who, during the strike, told me, quite aghast, that the workers were actually going to cinemas. That person was astonished when I said that I went to the cinema. We know that there is a type of person who does apply to the workers a criterion of conduct and habit which they do not apply to their own class. I am sure that my exuberant and honourable Friend behind me does not want to regard himself as belonging to that class. Nevertheless, the trade union leaders must recognise the fact that a normal, sensible class of persons in this country were very much perturbed by the events of 1926.
We must all realise that the only effective possibilities of advance are to try to bring together, if we possibly can, all those elements of good will that are in this House. We might start on the assumption that we will reinstate the position which we gave to the trade 899 unions in 1906, by which we left their funds immune from attack. When we have done that, we are entitled to ask of the trade unions something to meet the essential need of the State. We must ask them to recognise, what is quite obvious to-day, that owing to the large amalgamations of trade unions which have taken place it is within the power of the trade unions, if they dare to exercise it, absolutely to hold up the State. As was pointed out by the hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham (Mr. Birkett), there is discrimination in certain services, and that discrimination was readily accepted by the trade unions. The workers in water, gas and electricity supply corporations may not have a lightning strike. They can have a strike if it follows as the result of the expiration of notice given within the terms of their engagement, but they are not permitted to break their contract. I should have thought that we had reached a stage, granting first the immunity of trade union funds, when both sides might have agreed on those services which are vital to the community in which the workers might agree not to withdraw their labour. That would involve the building up of other machinery than the strike weapon for settling disputes in those particular industries.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
The hon. Member is anticipating a condition of affairs where the general life of the community is held up. In common law the Attorney-General has power to intervene.
§ Mr. GRAY
I am not a lawyer, out I think I am right in my statement. I do not know how far common law can deal with a man who leaves his employment having given proper notice, and I believe I arm right in saying that if the whole of the workers in a gas company gave notice to terminate their contract there 900 is no common law which could compel those men to renew their contract.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
There happens to be a particular statute applying to workers in particular industries, and the industry the hon. Member mentions is included, dealing with a state of affairs where large masses of men leave their work with certain public consequences. That is already provided for by law.
§ Mr. GRAY
That is very interesting, and it helps me because I was afraid that I was going to get great opposition from hon. Members opposite in building up my argument. I want to put to the House what, in my judgment, is the right line of advance. It is this: that we should leave the trade unions free to develop their own disputes with the freedom they have had, and that we should secure the vital services of the community by agreeing that in those services there shall not be the right to strike.
§ Mr. GRAY
That is not what I mean. That is a breach of contract and it is quite aright as far as it goes, but it only applies to what is known as the "lightning strike." What I want to ask from the trade union movement is this, that if trade union funds are to be immune from attack there should be some safeguards for the community. We all want to safeguard the life of the community, at least I hope we all do, and the proposition I am putting forward, if it can be brought within the terms of the Bill, is that the immunity of trade union funds should stand and that the real vital services, which if stopped would necessarily hold up the community, should by agreement not be the subject of strike. That is a foundation upon which we may build a system of conciliation and by which we could apply to industrial strikes the same principles as we are attempting to apply to international affairs. It is a most remarkable thing that all sections and parties in the House and in the country should recognise the fact that for nations to settle a dispute by war is out of date and foolish. We are signing contracts and settlements to outlaw war, to make it impossible, yet we are not preparing to build up at home an industrial machine which will make a strike and lock-out impossible.
901 I am not going to say that we have reached a stage at which the workers can give up the right to strike. That is not my proposition. What I say is that we ought to be able, on the vital services of the country, to obtain security that labour will not be withdrawn, and on that basis to give full and free scope to the trade union movement and also enlarge and develop our system of conciliation. I quite realise that on a question of this sort you get violent antagonisms and strong party feeling. There is no question about which the workers of the country feel more strongly than an interference with their rights, and on the Opposition side of the House no issue arouses more feeling than this particular question. It is an issue upon which parties can be locked in an absolutely useless, futile and hopeless strike, just as the workers and employers can be engaged in an industrial dispute; and after the long-drawn-out strike is over and ended it is not only the workers and the unions who suffer but also trade and industry and the country generally. Surely the time has come when we might get a little closer together and build the foundations of our industrial life on firm and strong basis. The country is watching as to what line we shall take on this Bill. We on these benches may receive the sneers and jeers of both parties because we are taking an impartial attitude—[Interruption.] I have drawn the jeers already. I do not mind. [An HON. MEMBER: "You will after the election!"] It is not a matter to me whether I am returned to this House again; the question is that while I am here I should at least say what I think.
§ Mr. GRAY
I do not propose to vote because I will not take up the attitude that I think the Act of 1927 does not require amending. I take up that attitude because I do not accept the solution which is put forward. There is a better solution, a better way. You may make your final speeches and score points, you may get cheers from your supporters and bowls from your opponents, but after that, what is left; nothing. After the eddies and ripples of appreciation have died away, is it worth while? If we could get together on this question and arrive at some agreement, we should send a word of cheer and encouragement to 902 every industrialist in the land, a word which, translated if into confidence, would bring peace, progress and prosperity to our land.
§ Sir GERALD HURST
Recent speakers have asked one or two questions to which I shall attempt to give an answer. One speaker asked, How can the Act of 1927 operate in the event of a national strike? It seemed to him, he said, very like putting a parchment over Vesuvius and expecting the parchment to prevent the eruption of the volcano. The proof of the efficiency of a declaration that a strike is illegal was given most emphatically during the General Strike, because no sooner had that strike been declared illegal, and no sooner had trade union leaders realised that they might become personally liable for inducing breaches of contract, than the General Strike came to an end. If the hon. Member would like that point brought home to him he had better ask the Secretary of State for the Dominions what were his views after the General Strike had been declared illegal. Another hon. Member referred to the Act of 1906 and said that he thought it was a mistake to go back upon that and to make trade union funds liable in case of tort. That provision of the Act of 1906 has never been altered at all. All that the Act of 1927 does is to protect trade union funds from being frittered away by illegal strikes. There is no encroachment whatever on the immunity given to trade union funds by the Act of 1906.
What I protest against most in this Debate is the assumption of many hon. Members opposite. They say that "the workers think so-and-so," and, "We speak for the workers." What right have they to arrogate to themselves the exclusive right to speak for the workers? Most hon. Members on this side represent constituencies in which members of the working classes form an enormous majority. I do not think there is a single employer of labour in the whole of my division; my constituents are all workers and a very large number of them are trade unionists. At election after election they have realised that the Socialist view of the political levy represents an intimidation of minorities. At the last election they took the view that the Trade Unions Act of 1927 is a charter of liberty against intimidation and molesta- 903 tion, and at the same time one of the best bulwarks and shields that our country has against a recurrence of the national disaster of 1926.
What is the main object of this Bill? We know perfectly well that it is to legalise a general strike. No one can deny that all the provisions in the Bill are designed to make a general strike easy. First of all there is the use of the word "primary" in the definition of a general strike. The declaration that the primary object must be a political one to make a strike a general strike, brings about a grave state of doubt as to what would be the position of the law in the event of a recurrence of the events of 1926. Let me read two sentences from an article by the present Attorney-General, written in the days when he was a Liberal and believed in Yellow Books. It is called "Trade Unionism and the Trade Union Bill." On page 148 there is this passage:What really matters in a court of law is: What was the motive of the particular defendant who is accused of some criminal act or is alleged to have procured a breach of contract, or to have committed some other tort? Was he animated by a desire to afford 'help and assistance or encouragement' to the miners my means of a very extensive sympathetic strike, or was his motive to produce such a political situation that Mr. Baldwin's Government would be compelled either to grant. a further subsidy or to tender its resignation and make way for a Government which would give the miners what they wanted? It is believed that some of the active procurers of the strike were animated by the former, and some by the latter motive.It follows, therefore, that if the issue as to whether or not a strike is legal went before a court of law, the result would depend upon the motive primarily in the mind of the particular defendant in that particular case. The Attorney-General says quite truly in that article that in many cases the primary motive was industrial and in many cases it was political. The result would be that the first case on which a decision would be taken in the law courts would not decide the matter at all, because if the motives of half the strikes were political and of another half industrial, so far as primary motive was concerned, the decision in every case would be different. You would not get a uniform criterion as to whether the primary motive was political or industrial 904 9.0 p.m.
The second way in which the general strike is made more easy by the Bill is that the gates are opened wider for intimidation. What is the point of enabling a striker to threaten one who wishes to work with the loss of his livelihood if the motive behind this alteration in the law is not a motive to widen the gates of intimidation and to make coercion and violence easier? When hon. Members opposite say "No one on our side wishes to use intimidation," I ask, why do they wish so to alter the definition of intimidation as to make the well-known forms of intimidation open to everyone and to free them from liability in law? Thirdly, what is the point of relieving civil servants of their obligations to avoid political and revolutionary bodies, if it is not that they wish to make the lot of the civil servant more embarrassing in the case of a strike, so that the State would no longer be able to rely on his undivided allegiance?
In the fourth place, what is the point of introducing so ponderous a procedure as that which the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) has described, by which months may elapse before you get a declaration one way or the other as to whether or not a general strike is legal or illegal. The whole point of that delay is to give immunity in the meantime. One hon. Member spoke about the disadvantage resulting from the fact that the 1927 Act brands a general strike at once as illegal. It is in the interests of the community that the people should know at once whether a strike is legal or not. I cannot conceive anyone taking any view except that the aim of the first Clause of the Bill is to give greater facilities for a general strike. The results can only be to make the dangers of a general strike greater and to impose a very real peril upon the masses of the people. Some Liberals say that no principle is involved in this Bill. The hon. Member who spoke last said, "Why cannot we all come together? There is so little between us after all?" There is a great deal between us on this question of the general strike. One hon. Member spoke of how "almost jolly" it was going about during the general strike and seeing the cheerful faces of the strikers in South Wales. That is his view of a general strike. But to men who realise 905 the intense difficulties and the competition of modern industrial life, a general strike may mean the end of everything.
It goes to the very roots of our national prosperity. There is no hope of industrial progress, there is no hope of a rally in those terribly distressed necessitous areas of the industrial North—among whose representatives I happen to be—if the chance is again made easy of the recurrence of one of the greatest disasters that can befall any nation, namely, a general strike. I cannot understand how any hon. Members with any real sense of responsibility to their country or their constituents, can speak so lightly and airily of the pride and pleasure which they feel in their recollections of the General Strike. When hon. Members speak of it as unfair to describe any general strike as illegal, we must bear in mind the great sufferings of our own constituents during that strike. It is not the rich who suffer, it is the poor, and we are still paying for it in our industrial troubles, in the enormous difficulties of the day, in the burden of debt, in the loss of business which the General Strike inflicted upon the whole community.
I do not wish to speak at length because the speeches in this Debate already have been too long, and therefore I am not going to say much about the political levy or the intention to enable local authorities to impose tests upon municipal employés but I appeal to Members of the Liberal party to bear in mind all that is greatest in the Liberal tradition of the 19th century. What are they proudest of but the great warfare which the Liberal party waged for the removal of all religious and civil tests in all departments of life? Now, the Socialists, the so-called champions of freedom, wish to make it possible for municipal authorities when engaging employés to say to each one: "Do you belong to a union which subscribes to the political fund? If you do we will employ you; if you do not we will not employ you." To reintroduce tests of that sort in 1931 shows that of all reactionary and retrogressive parties the Socialist party is the worst.
I wish to say something about the Civil Service. What is the great danger? Why do we say that it is very dangerous for 906 civil servants to be affiliated with trade unions when the result of such affiliations may be their implication in a general strike. We say that it is impossible for a trade unionist in a time of national crisis to be equally loyal to the union which commands him to be disloyal to the State, and to the State which demands from him loyalty to the exclusion of his trade union. The two things are incompatible. What was the record of some of these Civil Service unions during the General Strike? Hon. Members have all heard of the "British Worker" published during the strike by the Trade Union Congress, with whom the Prime Minister was very closely allied. I suppose we can assume that everything which the "British Worker" said was true. If it was untrue, then half the leaders of the Socialist party are branded as tellers of untruths. If on the other hand it is true, and we accept it as true, let us see what the "British Worker" said on 26th May about the civil servants:
"Civil Service Help.
Unions to give miners financial aid.
The Union of Post Office Workers is receiving strong support from its branches in backing up the General Council. Subscriptions are flowing in. The annual conference of the Civil Service Clerical Association, having heard a full account of the negotiations between the General Council and the Government on the mining dispute decided by 258 to 2 to confirm the action of the, Executive in offering financial assistance to the miners. In addition the Civil Service Clerical Association has decided to institute among its members voluntarily a fund to aid the fund for the wives and children of the miners."
In actual fact the Union of Post Office Workers not only subscribed to the miners' fund but as is well known they gave £5,000 of their funds direct to the Trade Union Congress for the purposes of the General Strike. The Union of Post Office Workers have rules which in consequence of the change in law are now in suspense. This body of civil servants with all the prestige and security of being State servants have rules which, under the existing law, are suspended but if the law is changed again no doubt those rules will take effect again and by those rules a strike council can be instituted to which members are to contribute in addition to the ordinary subscriptions re- 907 quired from them. The rules also provide that instructions issued by the executive council must be obeyed by every member.
It is well known that several of the Civil Service associations instructed their members during the General Strike, on no account to offer voluntary service in any shape or form, beyond their ordinary duties—which they were legally obliged to perform—to help the State in that time of emergency. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members opposite cheer. But if they look at the matter coolly can they describe that position of affairs as satisfactory? The State at all times is entitled to support but if there is any time in its history when the State has the right to look for the undivided support of its members, surely it is at a time when its integrity is being challenged by one section of the community. The General Strike is such a time and if that be so, what State could reasonably tolerate the existence in its bosom of a body of civil servants who while enjoying all the privileges of State service at the same time owe obligations to body which is at war with the State?
That is the reason why civil servants were liberated by the Act of 1927 from the great moral and practical dilemma which would otherwise inevitably arise from their being subject to a dual loyalty and a dual allegiance. We say that the Act of 1927 represents a charter of freedom for the workers. It protects them from intimidation. It enables them to do their work without being coerced by any external body. It enables them, if they please, to dissociate themselves from subscribing to a party which they abhor and from supporting leaders whom they distrust. As far as civil servants are concerned, it enables the loyal civil servants to give their whole energy to the service of the State which they are pledged to serve and relieves them from the impossible embarrassment of being, at one and the same time, servants of the State and in allegiance with bodies which are at enmity with or in sharp antagonism with the State.
§ Mr. GORDON MACDONALD
The speech to which we have just listened is quite in accordance with the trend of the Debate which seemed now to he turning on the question of whether the 1927 Act was a good Act or otherwise.
908 The three parties here have made their positions clear. The Conservative party say that that Act put the trade unions of this country in their proper place, and that the unions must remain in that place for ever more. The Liberal party say that they are not quite satisfied with the 1927 Act and that it should have been subjected to some alteration here and there. At the same time they are not in a position to support this Bill—so they leave it to this party and the Conservative party to say whether the Bill is to have a Second Reading or not. That is not because they are satisfied with the 1927 Act because they are dissatisfied with many aspects of it. We on these benches made up our minds many years ago as regards the 1927 Act, and I cannot respond to the appeal of the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Mr. Gray) as to the noble motives of the Conservative party when they brought in that Measure. I belong to the miners, and we appreciated what was done for us in 1926; we appreciated the way other trade unions responded to our appeal for help when there was an inhuman onslaught on our wages. We think that the 1927 Act was actuated by base motives and deliberately designed to handicap the Labour movement industrially and politically. I could not find better words than are used by a barristerat-law who does not belong to the Labour party. He says:—
It was an Act to cripple, cabin and confine the legitimate activities of the organised workers and not merely to curb unique excesses. It was a dastardly abuse of Parliamentary power to exploit public panic and anger to spike the guns of political opponents.[HON. MEMBERS: "Who is the authority?"] Mr. Clement Edwards, barrister-at-law, and I expect that he will appeal to the legal luminaries in the House. He has put in the best language how we on this side feel towards the 1927 Act. It is as well to get clear in our minds what the trade union movement expect from Parliament. We claim that the law of this country ought to allow any organisation, when it thinks fit, to withdraw its labour, provided that the purposes of the withdrawal are industrial. My hon. Friend the Member for Llandaff and Barry (Mr. Lloyd) made it clear that you cannot legislate in the same way for employers as for workmen. An employer can close 909 down his works at any time if the work-people refuse to accept his conditions, and no law can be designed to deal with him. So long as you allow him to run his own industry, the very existence of private property safeguards him. If the workpeople will not accept the wages which he offers or this. hours of work which he asks them to work, he can lock out his people, and he cannot be dealt with in the same way as people would be dealt with if they were on strike.
Let us take the position in 1926 when the miners were attacked. They felt that they could not withstand the attack themselves, and they appealed to their fellow trade unionists for assistance. The unions decided, after much consideration, that the best assistance they could give would be to call out their own people if the Miners' Federation failed to get a reasonable settlement. Does anyone suggest that if such an occasion arose again, anything on the Statute Book would hinder a response to a call like that? Does anyone suggest that it is possible to have any law to prevent the workers responding to the call of another set of workers who are threatened with inhuman treatment? If ever there is a national miners' strike, the 1927 Act would bring about the very thing which it is calculated to prevent, namely, revolution. If ever the miners have to defend their low standard of life again, and they appeal to the other trade unionists to respond to their call for help, they will respond in exactly the same way as they responded before, whether the 1927 Act is on the Statute Book or not. All that we ask in this Bill is that we should go back to the position before 1927, with this difference that the Bill makes an attempt to define what is meant by a general strike. I am not going to enter into legal quibbles—I leave that to the lawyers—but we have the right to claim from this House such a law as will put us back to the position we had reached in 1926 after a century of struggle.
I have a good experience in conducting stoppages in the mining industry, and I do not think that the law in 1926 failed to deal with intimidation. Many of my friends and colleagues in Lancashire were hauled before the magistrates for intimidation, and in many cases severely punished, during the 1926 stoppage, showing that the law at that date dealing with 910 intimidation was very effective and needed no alteration. When the law was altered in 1927, it put us in the position that we dare not look at a blackleg. If a man remains at work endangering the position of those who are fighting for better conditions, which he will enjoy if they win, we dare not look at him, let alone speak to him; and we are expected to let him continue working and endangering our position. If the Conservative party expect us to accept that position, they do not know the temper of the workers of this country. We say that where a stoppage is decided upon by a two-thirds majority, it is unfair, when some of the members remain at work, that we must not speak to them and point out the danger that they are running, not only to themselves but to the rest of their colleagues.
With regard to the political levy, we in the mining industry are closely knit, and we do not experience tremendous difficulties with regard to signing or not signing forms. If, however, we have a ballot vote of the organisation, and by a substantial majority decide that a portion of the industrial fund shall be used for political purposes, and allow members to contract out, we think that by doing that we are safeguarding minorities. We ask that we should go back to the compromise agreed upon by our leaders in 1913. They claimed then that the majority should decide, but, in order to get a settlement, they had to accept a compromise and agreed to relieve the minority by the contracting-out system. It must be remembered that contracting-out operates in more things than one. If any parent desires his child to have a certain religious education, he is allowed a certain course. If a parent decides that a child ought not to be vaccinated, he is again allowed a certain course. We ask that the same course should be taken with regard to the political levy. Nothing that happened in 1926 justified dealing in this unfair and unreasonable way with the political levy. We support this Bill, and we speak for the trade union movement of this country, which comprises nearly half the population. [Interruption.] The trade union movement numbers well over 5,000,000, and we must include the wives and children.
§ Mr. LESLIE BOYCE
As I gather from the hon. Member, he appears to 911 submit that his side of the House represents trade unionism in this country. That is an incorrect statement, which we on this side of the House resent, and that it is incorrect is borne out by the answer recently given by the Minister of Labour that a majority of the trade unionists of this country belong to this aide of the House and not to that.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
The only trade union for which I can speak with authority is the Miners' Federation, which is the biggest trade union in the country. We have in this House 43 miner Members, and not one of them sits on that side of the House.
§ Mr. MACDONALD
It is no job of mine to account for it, but such is the fact, that we on this side represent the trade union movement to a far greater degree than the other side. The trade union movement stands behind the Government for this Bill almost to a man, and the Miners' Federation stands behind it to a man. There are those who say strikes must be conducted in a certain way. In Lancashire to-day there is a lock-out of 200,000 men, and does anyone suggest that the Act of 1927 will deal with the employers? They are immune from any legal treatment, and they always have an advantage under any Bill dealing with trade union action. We submit that the Bill safeguards the workers' interests far better than the 1927 Act did. That Act endangered them. I am afraid that under that Act, if the Miners' Federation took a stand again in 1931, or if ever we took a stand again, before we had stood long we should coerce the Government in a sense—not as effectively as the employers did in 1925 to the extent of £21,000,000, hut by taking a long stand with the miners. We ask that the trade union movement should be treated as an asset to the welfare of the nation, and that this Bill should be looked upon as an attempt to get us back where we were before the vindictive piece of legislation which the Tory Government put on the Statute Book in 1927.
§ Sir DENNIS HERBERT
The hon. Member who has just sat down has 912 claimed to represent the trade union movement, and I will willingly allow that he does represent a large section of it. In the very few words I have to say, I am not going to tackle this question as a lawyer at all. I am not a lawyer in the sense that those hon. and learned Gentlemen who have spoken hitherto are. I will try to put a short view on one or two points in this Bill, as representing the community other than the trade unionists represented by the hon. Member, and as representing a very large number of trade unionists in my own constituency and in other parts of the country—trade unionists who, from the true trade union point of view, are loyal to their union, though perhaps not politicians. I have for many years regarded trade unions not only as a necessity in our modem social structure, but as institutions which ought to be for the benefit of the community as a whole, and sympathised with and trusted by the community. Unfortunately, that is not the case, and the reason is that the trade unions, perhaps through the misdeeds of Parliament in the past, have unfortunately grown up into a wrong position, and have got beyond what is their proper sphere.
I would give trade unions, as far as their part in industry is concerned, the greatest possible power which was legitimate to give to any combination of persons in this country in order that they might uphold the rights of, and obtain good terms for, their members, and might make the workers in every industry really partners with the employers. That is my view of what trade unionism ought to be, and it is a very long way from what it is at present. I do not want to see trade unions avoid politics altogether, but I want trade unionism to be free from the chains of any political party in this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad to hear hon. Members meet that with a sense of approval, which I hope in some eases may not be entirely sarcastic, because they must know, however strong party politicians they may be, as well as any of us who have moved about among the trade unionists and the wage-earning classes, what a very large number wish the unions had nothing to do with party politics.
913 The secret of this matter is that, under modern conditions, every skilled workman in every specialised trade or industry should be a member of his trade union. You would not have men objecting to that if it were not for the relations between the unions and political parties. It is the unfairness of it and the mistaken policy of political trade union leaders which has made the sense of justice in Britain revolt against the idea that in order to have a fair opportunity of earning his living a man should be obliged to be a member of a body which is attached to any party in politics in this country. That, really, is the one question at issue in all these matters. Now how does this Bill affect that particular question? What is the great objection to the association of trade unions, as such, with one political party and taking active political action in favour of that party? It is the temptation, which one cannot expect human nature to resist, that the leaders of that body, enthusiastic members of one political party, may endeavour by the strength of those associations to affect, and ultimately to coerce, Parliament and the Government of this country. It is that which we want to stop in the interests not only of the community but of the wage-earners as a whole. It is in the interests of keeping and preserving for them an effective industrial organisation which can fulfil the duties which they ought to fulfil for the wage-earners who are their members.
From speeches from the other side we have had clear evidence that it is the object of certain trade union leaders to use the trade union movement for political purposes and in order to bring power to bear upon Parliament; and that it should be necessary for a man who is strongly and conscientiously opposed to the views of that political party to be a member of such an association in order to have a fair chance of earning his living is contrary to the most elementary system of justice and contrary to the whole of our British ideas. There can be no doubt that the object of those mainly responsible for forcing the Government to introduce this Bill is to restore to the political trade union leaders greater power of bringing pressure to bear upon Parliament.
§ Sir D. HERBERT
About a couple of hours ago an hon. Member whose name. I am sorry to say I do not know stated perfectly plainly that he considered the General Strike of 1926 to be morally right, that he supported it then and believed in it then, and had every intention of supporting any movement of the kind in the future.
§ Sir D. HERBERT
I have not mentioned the levy. I was saying nothing about the levy. I was speaking of the party political attributes of trade unionism at the present time. I had completed my argument, and I leave it at that, repeating that it is clear to my mind that this Bill will give to the political leaders of the trade union movement greater opportunities to bring about again something akin to the events of 1926. Until the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General, or someone speaking on behalf of the Government and with their authority, can answer that question which has been so repeatedly put to them, and was put to them so categorically by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), we are justified in saying that this is a Bill to destroy honest and genuine trade unionism by again linking it tighter to those who would use it for purely party political purposes.
Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON, junior
Listening to the speeches of hon. Members opposite one would imagine that the trade unionists of this country were the most disloyal section of the community. It is strange that members of the Conservative party should have the temerity to stand up in this House and rebuke members of the trade union movement for following a policy which they allege to be a challenge to the supremacy of the State, having regard to the fact that not very many years ago the leaders of their own party went about the country making speeches which preached sedition and even treason. The last speaker, in company with others, has reiterated the challenge put forward by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) as to whether Clause 1 of this Bill would legalise the strike that took 915 place in 1926. I am puzzled as to why hon. Members opposite should oppose this Bill. As I understand it, most hon. Members opposite, if not all, take the view that the strike of 1926 was illegal under the law as it then stood. If that be the case, the strike of 1926 would be illegal under the provisions of this Bill. [HON. MEMBERS "No!"] I am only expressing my own opinion. The law in substance embodied in Clause 1 of this Bill is the same as it was in 1926, and if that be so there is no need for hon. Members to worry about the position, because if there is a repetition of the 1926 strike it will be illegal under this Bill.
Hon. Members opposite are sceptical. Perhaps they will allow me to refer to the law as it stood prior to the Act of 1927. In Section 3 of the Conspiracy and Protection to Property Act of 1875 it was provided that a conspiracy in contemplation of the furtherance of a trade dispute was not to be indictable under the law of conspiracy. Under this Bill strike action—a combination—if it be for the purposes of furthering a trade dispute is to be legal. That was the effect of the Act of 1875, and that is the effect of this Bill. Hon. Members opposite can have it either way, as they like. If the strike of 1926 were legal in 1926 all that we are seeking to do is to re-establish that legal position. If the strike of 1925 were illegal it will be illegal under the provisions of this Bill. It may be suggested that the judgment of Mr. Justice Astbury definitely decided the law on this matter. I very much doubt whether, outside this House, there is one practising lawyer who would agree that the statement of law made by the learned judge was good law. I have here a statement written by one who is not, so far as I know, a member of the Labour party. He is a very well-known legal writer, Mr. Goodhart, and his statement is contained in this paragraph with reference to Mr. Justice Astbury's judgment in the National Sailors' and Firemen's Union case:We must remember that this was an off-hand judgment, given in a case where the defendants were not represented by counsel. Not a single authority was cited to support a view which would revolutionise the law relating to strikes if carried to its logical extent.Then he quotes the same legal writer that the right hon. and learned Member for 916 Spen Valley quoted, Sir Frederick Pollock:As Sir Frederick Pollock has pointed out, the comment on the illegality of the General Strike was extra judicial. It was unnecessary for the learned judge to consider this point, as the defendants were clearly acting contrary to the rules of their own union.
Mr. A. M. Good-hart. I ask my hon. and learned Friend to develop this important point. The legality of the General Strike was not in issue.
§ Mr. HOLFORD KNIGHT
Was not the issue in that case whether certain officials were justified in calling their members out on strike without the authority of the executive?
I think it was to restrain the union from doing something contrary to the trade union rules. The provision I have quoted is the only one which would affect strike action. May I again refer to Section 3 of the 1875 Act and quote to the House this provision:Nothing in this Section shall affect the law relating to riot and unlawful assembly, a breach of the peace, a sedition, or an offence against the State or the Sovereign.The late Attorney-General, Sir Douglas Hogg as he then was, described the strike of 1926 as a revolutionary strike. If that is so, why did the Government not enforce the law? Why were they guilty of the grossest ineptitude as a Government? The law was there, and it was the duty of the then Government to arrest those who were parties to unlawful conspiracy, and charge them with an offence against the State. The reason was that they knew that the law was against the point of view that they held. What did they do? They took no action. They waited until the industrial waters had become calm, and then they proceeded to churn those waters by the Bill of 1927.
As I understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley, his point was that there was a general strike in 1926, 917 and he quoted two Members of the Labour party to the effect that in their opinion that strike was sympathetic strike action on an extensive scale. The right hon. and learned Gentleman then went on to say that a sympathetic strike on an extensive scale was illegal under the Act of 1927. That provision in the Act of 1927 is to be repealed by the Bill before the House, and therefore the effect was to render legal what the right hon. and learned Gentleman called the general strike, and what he alleged the Members of the Labour party called a sympathetic strike on an extensive scale. In a very brilliant piece of sophistry the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley said the Labour Government are seeking to legalise the General Strike of 1926. I challenge any lawyer in this House to define a general strike. Apart from Mr. Justice Astbury's decision, I say that it has never been decided whether the strike of 1926 was legal or not. All we are entitled to do is to look at the law. The law of 1926 deals with "a combination for the purpose of furthering a trade dispute." That is a question of fact. If that was the case, then the strike of 1926 was perfectly legal, and, if it was not for the purpose of furthering a trade dispute, it was outside the ambit of trade union law and was illegal.
It is imposible to say to-day, and it will never be possible to say in future, whether the strike action of 1926 was legal or illegal. It is a question of fact. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I suggest that it is. If the point had gone before a Judge and jury it would have been for them to decide whether the acts complained of were calculated to further the interests of those who were engaged in the trade dispute. Therefore, I suggest that we are entitled, at any rate, to say, as against the view put forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the strike of 1926 was not declared to be illegal. We say by this Bill that the strike of 1926 was not necessarily legal or illegal, but we are establishing the law as it existed in 1926. Whether the strike of 1926 was legal or illegal depends on whether it was undertaken for the purpose of furthering a trade dispute. I think it make no difference whether the word "primary" is there or not. The word "primary" means the main or principal object. It is applied by the Courts, and I think that the hon. and 918 learned Member for Holborn (Mr. Stuart Bevan) who has been associated with me in cases dealing with trade union law, will agree that the test which the Courts would apply would be what was the real root of the action and the strike action that has been complained of? Was it for the purpose of furthering a trade dispute, or for the purpose of causing injury to the community? If the latter, it would be illegal, but the mere fact that injury was caused is irrelevant in deciding what was the motive of those on strike. We have the series of cases, of which the chief is that of the Mogul Steamship Company, and, although in all those cases injury was caused by combinations of traders, that fact was not held to make their acts illegal so long as it was shown that they were acting in furtherance of their own trade interests. The mere fact that injury results from strike action does not make such action illegal so long as it is in furtherance of a trade dispute.
The hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham (Mr. Birkett), however, said that, whether the strike of 1926 was legal or illegal, we did want something to protect us against a repetition of that in the future. I want to be quite frank and say that I have no snore liking for strikes than any Member on the opposite side of the House, but I do take the view that, rightly or wrongly, in society as it is organised to-day, the strike weapon is the most effective weapon of defence that the working men of this country have, and I would say to my hon. and learned Friend that, if we are going to ask the workers to give up or even to restrict their right to strike, it is far better for us, instead of contenting ourselves with passing crippling legislation like the Act of 1927, to say to them, "We will give you a reasonable minimum wage; we will give you reasonable hours of work; we will give you reasonable working conditions; we will give you security of employment; we will give you a share in the control of industry." I venture to say that, if an offer were made on those lines, or if industry could be reconstructed so as to provide for all those contingencies, the position might be different; but, until that happens, so long as men are engaged under a contract of service, so long as they can be dismissed at a moment's notice, so long as it is possible for an 919 employer, perfectly legally, to close his works and thereby withdraw his capital, it is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to provide that workers shall not have the same rights.
As to the question of intimidation, it has been suggested that the law relating to intimidation, as contained in the Act of 1927, is no more than sufficient to protect the interests of those who refuse to embark in strike action. I want to suggest that under that law the net is spread very widely indeed—that it is spread so widely as to make it practically impossible for any strike pickets to function without risk of being prosecuted. I suggest, for the consideration of hon. Members opposite, that the law in operation prior to 1927 was ample enough in scope to protect any of the persons whom they are anxious to protect. Their own Home Secretary, who, I take it, has the confidence of all hon. Members opposite, said this:The scope of peaceful picketing is limited, and much more closely limited than has been thought to he the case by a good many people, sometimes lawyers and sometimes not lawyers. Any person, even to-day "—that was in 1926—who attempts to prevent any person from working by using violence, or by intimidation either of him, of his wife or his children, or who injures his property, or who persistently follows a workman from place to place, or follows him with two or more persons in a disorderly manner, is guilty of an offence.He went on to say:These are offences under the 1876 Act, they are offences under the 1906 Act, and they were retained, although amplified, in the 1927 Act.And they will be contained, without amplification, in this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin), in dealing 10.0 p.m. with the political levy Clause, made an extraordinary statement. He said that hon. Members on his side of the Housefeel very strongly that the present regulations should he preserved for the separation of political funds and for the protection of the ordinary funds of a trade union. knowing quite well how, under reckless leadership, if complete freedom is given, money saved through the years may all be expended in some moment of reckless folly by some hot-headed political fanatic."— [OFFICIAL, REPORT, 22nd January, 1931; col. 422, Vol. 247.]920 With regard to the regulations preserving the separation of political funds, I am really surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, who, I believe, is a member of the Bar, and, therefore, should be in a position to understand an Act of Parliament, should have made such an extraordinary statement. He certainly cannot have read the Act of 1913, because the very essence of that Act is to provide that the political fund shall be kept separate from the general funds of a union. If the political fund is used for general purposes, or if the general fund is used for political purposes, there is nothing to prevent any dissentient member from obtaining an injunction restraining those improper payments. As regards the protection of the ordinary funds of a trade union. I have no doubt that, if the right hon. Gentleman were prepared to start a Society for the Protection of Trade Union Funds, all the employers in the country would be only too willing to join it in so far as it restricted any strike action in the future.
The Liberal party, I understand, take the view that the proposals on this point which the Bill contains should be opposed, in spite of the fact that the political levy was first introduced in the Act of 1913, for which the Liberal Government of that day was responsible. The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) stated that a question of principle was involved in contracting out as against contracting in. I would suggest to the Liberal party that, if they wish to repudiate their own Act of Parliament, and refuse to be responsible for it, they can only do so by showing, first, that the Act of 1913, providing for contracting out, was inherently wrong, or, secondly, that it has been the subject of abuses. I very much doubt, having regard to the statement of the right hon. Member for Darwen, whether even the Liberal party would be prepared to say that the Act of 1913 was inherently wrong, and, therefore, we are entitled to ask them what are the abuses that have resulted since the Act was passed. No evidence has been adduced to prove that abuses have taken place. On the contrary, all the evidence goes to show that the number of abuses has been comparatively insignificant.
921 I would remind hon. Members that the principle involved in this alteration is a principle which is consistent with the Statute law of this country. Under the Workmen's Compensation Act, employers are entitled to initiate their own schemes in place of the provisions of the Act, provided that they get the majority of their workmen to agree thereto after a ballot has been taken. But the Act then provides that any workman who does not desire to be within that scheme must contract out, not that the majority must contract in. I therefore suggest that the contracting-in principle is inconsistent with the general law of this country. Under another Section, the 1927 Act interfered with the principle that had always operated with regard to voluntary societies. Under the common law of this country a voluntary society's domestic affairs are never interfered with by the Courts. A member has no right to sue a voluntary society or a trade union, and a trade union or a voluntary society has no right to sue one of its members. Under Section 2 of the 1927 Act that position is altered, and in certain cases a member is given the right to sue a trade union.
The right hon. Member for Bewdley has said that this Bill is incapable of amendment. I believe that Conservatives in future will condemn the Tory Government for having passed the 1927 Act and will say that the work of the enlightened Disraeli was undone by a frightened Mr. Baldwin—frightened, not by the strike action of members of trade unions, but by threatened strike action on the part of members of Conservative associations throughout the country. I believe they will contrast the record of the Tory Government during the last Parliament—showing themselves bankrupt of statesmanship, allowing the country to have a six months' coal stoppage inflicted upon it, passing legislation in the interests of the mineowners, and finishing up by passing the Act of 1927—with the record of the Labour Government, which reduced the hours of miners from 8 to 7½, prevented the mineowners of this country, without calling upon the country, to suffer the hardships of a prolonged stoppage, from reducing wages, and introduced the Bill which we are now discussing, for the purpose of removing from the Statute Book the Act of 1927, which was inspired 922 by a spirit of resentment and in an atmosphere of panic, showing to the country that a Labour Government at any rate is not prepared to deprive any of the people of this country of their legal rights in order to assist any section or any class of the community.
§ Major COLVILLE
The Scripture does not tell us, but I imagine that Daniel entered the lions' den with some trepidation, and a mere layman coming into a Debate that has been conducted largely by members of the legal profession must have something of the same feeling; but passing back again to that interesting story, we learn that the lions' mouths were stopped, so I take courage. Yesterday for a few hours this House seemed to be lifted right above the strife of party politics. For a short time we seemed to be a Council of State discussing a matter on which there was a considerable measure of agreement of purpose, and the ordinary wrangles seemed to drop away from us. As a new Member, one who has not been here long, I might be allowed perhaps to say that it gave me a great impression of what the dignity of this Parliament can be. To-day we have rather dropped back to the party wrangle, and we are on a subject which naturally, I think, engenders some heat, but when heat is engendered, good sense is apt to fly away, and we do not get very much farther.
I should like, at the outset of my few remarks—and I hope my hon. Friends will not consider it presumptuous on my part—to make an appeal to the House. I have had some experience of trade unions. It is perfectly natural that men who have spent their lives in organising trade union work, men who genuinely believe in forging a weapon which, by combined action, gives them a power to enforce terms, should feel resentment about any action taken by Parliament to curb those powers, and I think we ought to make allowances for that. They believe, rightly or wrongly, that they are acting in the interests of the working man, in forging a weapon which is strong enough to dictate absolute terms even to Parliament. That is the appeal that I make to the Unionist party.
The other appeal that I make is to the trade union Members themselves. As 923 fair-minded men, let them recognise that they do not represent the majority in the country. An hon. Member to-night put the trade union membership at 5,000,000. The figures that I have, make it rather less, and they are figures from the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies. None the less, it represents only about a quarter of the actual workers of the country, when you take into consideration those who are unregistered, agricultural workers, and the rest of them, and of the whole population of the country it represents a smaller fraction. I think these hon. Members themselves will be the first to recognise that we in this House have a duty to perform to the whole community, and that we are intended to do our best to hold the balance even and to allow no section to preponderate.
We all listened with very great interest to the long and able speech of the Attorney-General and the speech to-day of the Lord Advocate for Scotland, and I am bound to say that I was reminded of two lines of our national poet, Robbie Burns, whose memory we have been celebrating in Scotland during the last few days. Robbie Burns visited the Court of Session in Edinburgh on one occasion and heard the then Lord Advocate speaking. He was impressed with his fluency, but not with the good sense of his argument, and with all respect I would like to apply to the Lord Advocate the lines he wrote, which were:But what his common sense came short He ekèd out wi' law, man.That is what took place to-day; and also last Thursday. During the speech of the Attorney-General it was very evident to those who watched him that his common sense or his sense of responsibility as a responsible officer of the Crown kept warning him all the time against what he was doing, but he managed to weave round about his argument technicalities and propositions which charmed and interested the House, but did not answer the straight question which we have been trying to get answered all along, namely, whether or not he proposed to make the strike of 1926 legal. No wonder that he found it necessary to eke it out with law, for what is the proposition that he has put before us? Surely it is this, that a minority, and a relatively small minority, of the employers and work- 924 people in this country should have a legal right by combined action to coerce the Government to interfere in a trade dispute, even if in exercising this right grievous hardship is inflicted on the community as a whole. That is how I see the proposal which is made to us in the first part of this Bill. If we want any confirmation of that, we have the reception given to the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) this afternoon. The reception of that speech left no doubt in our minds, nor in the minds of hon. Members opposite, as to the intention of the Bill. It is beyond all doubt, since that speech and its reception, that the Socialist party's intention is that this should be a Bill to make possible the utilisation of an immensely strong weapon, the combined action of all the great unions, to force the Government to interfere in a trade dispute. The man in the street is not vastly interested in the complications and details of the law, but he looks to the Government, and to the Law Officers of the Crown, to hold the balance even and to protect him from a repetition of such actions as took place in 1926. He is not concerned with how it is done; he does not give two pence for the wording of the Bill, hut he is concerned that a repetition of such a disaster should not be possible.
I should like to ask the Government what is their mandate for doing this. They have none, and I am prepared to prove it. They fought their election on a manifesto. I am not referring now to "Labour and the Nation." That was carefully laid aside before the actual fight took place, for a very good reason. "Labour and the Nation" was described by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in less responsible days as a political dog's breakfast. Wisely, the chiefs of the party laid it aside and fought on something else, they fought on this manifesto. It was signed by the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Minister of Transport and the Foreign Secretary. It is fairly long. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it all!"] Most of it must be written in the hearts of hon. Members opposite, particularly the words about unemployment. There is no need to read it all. It does not err on the side of a lack of promises or of imagination. I searched through the whole of it to find just where the man- 925 date for this action was contained. I thought it would have been in the forefront, and so did most hon. Members, I suppose, but you have to read right through it until you are nearly at the end, and the only reference you find to it is this:Amongst other Measures which the Labour Government would enact are their Factories Bill, the ratification of the Washington Convention, the Amendment of the Workmen's Compensation Acts and the Trade Union law. It would also, as promised, appoint Committees of Inquiry into the causes of depression in the cotton, iron and steel industries.That might mean anything at all, but it does not give the Government a mandate to carry out what they are doing at present. It is all very well for hon. Members to say, "I fought on it in my constituency." I have no doubt they did. A great many irresponsible things were said at the last election by various Members in various constituencies. I suppose we are all human in that respect. But what did hon. Members opposite fight on really? On their leader's manifesto. In it there is no mandate for bringing in the present Bill. Even if there had been, they would still not have had the permission of the country to bring it in. Their votes were roughly 8,000,000, ours were 8,000,000, and the Liberals 5,000,000, a clear majority against them, and a very large one. They have no mandate to bring it in, and the country is not behind them in what they are doing.
I should like to say a word about the trade unions themselves. I have some experience in connection with the iron and steel trade, and I know that the unions in that trade have a fine record behind them. There has not been a strike or a dispute of any consequence, with one exception, for 30 years. I put that down largely to the good relationships that have been maintained all the time between the representatives on both sides. It is not that one side has been foolish and the other side has been philanthropic, but because of sound business relationships between the two, and because they had good conciliation machinery and a system of basing wages upon a. sliding-scale according to the selling price of the product. That relationship has been maintained during all those years, and I am glad to pay that tribute to the particular trade union, the Iron, Steel and 926 Kindred Trades Association, over that period of years.
But there was one interruption when there was a stoppage and that was in 1926. The men did not want to come out at that time. I saw them during that time and they were puzzled and baffled, and did not like the idea, but they were brought out. When it was over, I heard that well known veteran in the trade union world, John Hodge, say at a big meeting, "Well, gentlemen, the less we say about it the better. Our hearts ran away with our heads." That is the way he gave expression to the position in 1926, when he knew quite well that in the interests of the men in the industry their leaders had done a bad thing for them in calling them out at that time. I say deliberately—and hon. Members will give me credit for sincerity, though they may not agree with me—it is only fair and right, in the interests of the men in such industries, that there should be some safeguard to prevent them from being hauled out in some dispute by hot heads in other industries.
I know the effect which that stoppage had in that industry. I was in Marseilles at the time the trouble broke out, and I went to visit a French boilerworks which was using our steel. That was only two days after the General Strike had broken out. In the office of that boilerworks there was a German representative from a big firm in Germany who had come there to let them know that Great Britain was out of the market for some time, and that he could supply them with steel. He did supply them, and, what is more, continued to do so after the strike was over and this market and other markets which were lost were exceedingly hard to regain.
I claim that it is in the interests of the men that the sympathetic strike, so called, should be examined very carefully. Sympathy is a wide term but ft may result in damage to the interests of men who have no desire to strike, and whose conditions are in no way improved by being brought out in that way. Let us take the condition of the coal industry to-day. Hon. Members may say that there is still perfect liberty for a strike in the industry. That is true. Some Members have spoken of the strike and lock-out weapon in rather light terms, but I think that it should be the last resort 927 of all weapons, because the general result is to damage industry, and I speak of the action of either side. Recently the Minister for Mines went to Scandinavia on a mission to discover the reason why we had lost a great part of the market for coal. I have his report here, and I will read one small section of it which makes it plain why the exporting coal trade of the East Coast has been so hardly hit:Before the War, Great Britain had a virtual monopoly of the coal trade with the Scandinavian countries…but during the past five or six years the British share of these, markets has sadly declined…This falling off is due to a variety of reasons, but the chief cause is undoubtedly Polish competition…Undoubtedly the stoppage of work in the British coal industry in 1926 provided Poland with the opportunity to increase her coal trade with Scandinavia; since it left coal consumers in Scandinavia with no alternative but to buy coal in the Polish market…The expectation held in some quarters that Poland's footing would be only temporary has not been realised.That was signed by the Minister himself as a result of his recent visit to Scandinavia. I again point out that the strike weapons should be the last of all weapons, and those who appear to glory in it should consider whether they are really speaking in the interests of the workers whom they represent. What about the other side of the picture? We have spoken of the strike. What about the lock-out? I wonder if hon. Members realise that this Bill, referring as it does to both sides, might produce an extraordinary situation in regard to a lockout. Suppose, for instance—one hopes and believes that such a thing would never be—but suppose that in the bad state of trade in the world generally we have disputes here, in the coal industry, for example, on the subject of hours. Let us suppose, mad though it would be, that the employers in all those industries that use coal—one can hardly think of one big industry that does not use coal—such as railways, iron and steel works and so forth, said to the coalowners: "We cannot stand for the present prices of coal. Lock your men out, and we will lock ours out. Let there be a lock-out all round and compel the Government to pass an Act lengthening the working day."[Interruption.] This Bill would make that legal. Such a thing would be cruel 928 madness, but it would be legalised madness if this Bill passes.
Let me take the question of the political levy. Unlike most of my hon. Friends, I take the view that the political levy is the real cause of this Bill, and that the question of the general strike is merely a dangerous by-product. I think it is the price which the Government were prepared to pay to the trade unions in order to get them to collect money for them from men who do not belong to the Socialist party. Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. The Prime Minister and the Attorney-General are prepared to sell Parliamentary Government in order to get party funds through the trade unions. I have had some experience of the question of contracting-in and contracting-out. Hon. Members opposite may not agree with me, hut I am entitled to express my views.
In the works with which I am connected I have had a good deal to do with welfare work. We instituted a levy for recreational purposes. At first, it was proposed to have a contracting-in levy. But when the men had to come and say: "I will pay to your welfare levy," only a comparatively small number paid in. Then the works' committee, which was made up entirely of working men, over which I presided[Laughter]—I do not know why hon. Members laugh—instituted the system of contracting-out, and to-day the great body of the men do pay the levy for welfare and recreational purposes. Therefore, I know very well that the effect of contracting-out is that you get much more money. I was in favour of the principle of contracting-out for recreational work, and I am in favour of it still for such purposes, but there is a very great difference between recreational welfare levies and the political levy—[Laughter.] If hon. Members laugh, it shows that they set little real value by political thought.
There is a very cogent reason why the principle of contracting-in should be retained in regard to the political levy. I do not think there was ever a time when the country was faced with more acute questions affecting industry than at the present time. Take the tariff question. It is absolute nonsense to pretend that all trades unionists and working men are Free Traders. I know that in the iron 929 and steel industry there are thousands of men who are very seriously concerned about the importation of foreign steel, and so long as the Government maintain their rigid attitude of Free Trade these men are naturally concerned as to what is to be done to protect their trade. Surely at a time like this every man ought to be absolutely free, untrammelled and unfettered in making his choice as to the political party to which he will subscribe. Take the Liberal party. They do not agree with us on the question of tariffs. They put forward, however, certain wide and far-reaching schemes for mobilising the resources of the country, by means of a loan, for carrying out certain schemes of national work. I do not entirely agree with them, but it is better than the inertia of the present Government. Surely, the working man must be entitled to be free to form his own opinion as to whether he will subscribe to the party which advocates those particular schemes.
I know from experience in regard to recreational and welfare levies that the working man takes the line of least resistance. He does not like to go to the office and say to the boss, or to anyone else: "I do not like your recreational club, or your boys' camp, or your football scheme, and I will not contribute." If he does not like to do that in the case of a recreational and welfare levy, is it not certain that he hates to do it when the political question comes in and he has to go to the shop steward and say: "I will not subscribe to your political fund." The proof of the pudding is in the eating of it. Hon. Members have been reminded to-day of the falling off in subscriptions to the political fund. What has happened in some trade unions? In the British Iron and Steel and Kindred Trades Association there was a membership last year of 55,000. In 1927 only 635 persons were exempt from the political levy, but last year 32,800 were exempt. No less than 32,000 men took advantage of the freedom which we gave by the Act of 1927 not to subscribe to the funds of the Socialist party. The Amalgamated Engineering Union has a membership of 221,000. In 1927, 9,800 did not subscribe, but last year 145,000 did not—a very big falling off. Some of this is due to inertia, and some of it to the fact that they do not agree with the Socialist party. There is no doubt that there is a minority 930 against the political levy when the secret ballot is taken and they are entitled to have their rights protected and to have fair play.
Then there is the question of intimidation. Intimidation is very difficult to define. I remember that during a strike in Scotland some years ago that a man who had been at work was kept awake at nights by relays of men playing the bagpipes around his house. In England there would be, I understand, no question about it; it would be considered to be intimidation, but in Scotland the man who attempted to get redress was told that it was a perfectly normal proceeding and it was a matter of surprise that he should have any objection at all to it. But we have certain safeguards against intimidation other than by physical force in the Act of 1927, and the removal of these safeguards will make it more difficult for a man to exercise a free judgment. Many men are prepared to risk physical force rather than lose their job. Intimidation may be on either side. An employer may say to a man, "If you take part in this strike, you will walk about a long time before you get another job," and a trade union leader may say, "If you do not come out, we will make it so hot for you that you will not work here." That may not be physical force, but it is intimidation none the less.
In regard to local authorities, I feel that as the ratepayers in any district do not all support one political party—and it is their money which pays municipal and local servants—it is a, monstrous thing that any council should compel trade union membership as necessary before a man can get a job with a local authority. The Act of 1927 is perfectly fair and reasonable in this respect, and I do not think that the country wants it changed. I am certain that the Government in their proposal are acting against their own better judgment. I hope the provision will he removed by the co-operation of the Liberal party and ourselves if the Bill ever reaches Committee stage.
But there seems to me to be one fundamental reason why we should oppose the Bill. Yesterday we were discussing possible changes in the Government of India. On what model is the constitution of the Government of India to be framed? It is to be framed on the 931 British model. On what model has the constitution of the Government of any of the Dominions been framed? Again on the British model. If we look at the Latin countries to-day we see a dictatorship of one kind and again we see the dictatorship of another kind in Russia but this country has through the years forged for itself a system of Parliamentary Government, and I hold that the welfare of every man, woman and child in this land is dependent on maintaining the high and supreme authority of Parliament backed by the complete franchise of all the people in the country. This Bill hands over this authority in certain circumstances to a minority which will be able to override the will of the people and for that reason I hope the House will reject it.
§ Mr. W. J. BROWN
My purpose in taking part in this Debate is threefold. I want to congratulate the Government on the introduction of this Bill. I want, secondly, to make some general observation on the Clauses of the Bill; and, thirdly, to deal in specific detail with the Clauses which affect the Civil Service. With regard to the first point I find myself in the somewhat unique position of being completely in support of the Bill which the Government has introduced, and, indeed, I think it is a remarkable circumstance that for the first time in this Parliament the whole of this side of the House, from right to left, finds itself solidly behind the Government. I comment upon that because there is a moral to be drawn from it, and the moral is that the way to secure unity in a party is not by the application of a mechanical external discipline, hut by the production of legislation which reflects the sentiment of the party. This Bill does that, and for the first time we have a completely united party behind the Bill. I congratulate the Government upon that fact, and I want personally and deeply to congratulate the Attorney-General on the magnificent show that he made yesterday in introducing the Bill. It is a joy to the heart of a back-bencher to see a Minister demonstrably and over-whelmingly on top of his job. The Attorney-General yesterday certainly was on top of his job, and he deserves all the compliments, public and private, which I have no doubt he has been paid.
932 This Bill may be defined as a Bill to undo as much as is politically practicable of the 1927 Act of the late Government. The Leader of the Opposition said that if we were to justify the Bill we must show that the 1927 Act has worked badly, that it is unjust, and that there is a general popular demand for its repeal. That is not nearly as naive as it sounds, for behind its apparent naivety there is evidently an intention on the part of the Opposition to induce the Labour party to fight the Bill on the ground that the Opposition choose. The ground upon which this party, I hope, will fight the Bill, is not the ground that the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) sketched for us. I think rather that this should be the ground: To say to the Opposition, "You object to our producing a Bill to modify your 1927 Act.. In these circumstances prove to us the necessity for the 1927 Act and the justification for retaining it on the Statute Book." When we come to look at the matter from that angle one striking fact emerges, and that is that the Leader of the Opposition said in 1924 that he was absolutely opposed to the production of such a Bill as he did later produce. I would like the House to notice the language that the right hon. Gentleman applied to it. The ground he gave for opposing the idea of such a Bill was, "I will not fire the first shot in an industrial war." I stress that quotation, because the burden of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman yesterday was that this 1927 Measure was a Bill that did no one any harm, which created no injustice, and for the repeal of which there was no popular demand. He protests too much. In 1924, at any rate, he recognised that such a Bill would not he innocuous, that it would justify the description of "the first shot in an industrial war." He can have it whichever way he likes, but he cannot have it both ways.
What happened since 1924 to justify the production of the Measure which we are trying to amend? [HON. MEMBERS: "The General Strike!"] Did the General Strike constitute a justification for the kind of Bill which the late Administration introduced in 1927? I can conceive that the fact of a general strike might justify a Bill to make general strikes illegal. [Hoy. MEMBERS: 933 "Why?"] I am not saying that it would. Whether it would or not depends on the answers to some questions which I shall put in a moment. But it might be held to justify it. But the Bill which was introduced in 1927 was not a Bill merely to make general strikes illegal. It was a Bill to do that, yes; but it was also a Bill to hamper the right of the sympathetic strike, short of the general strike. It was a Bill to deny the right of the strike altogether to certain categories of labour. It was a Bill to deny to Civil Service organisations the right of affiliation with outside bodies which they had possessed up to that time. And, finally, it was a Bill to cripple financially the political opponents of the party opposite.
Even if it could be maintained—and I shall show in a moment that it could not —that the fact of the General Strike was justification for a Bill making general strikes illegal, I affirm that it could not be and was not a justification for the kind of Bill which was actually introduced. Did it justify a Bill with the narrow object of making the General Strike itself illegal? Whether it would or not do that would depend upon the answers to the following four questions. First, was the strike itself right or wrong? Second, had the right hon. Gentleman a mandate from the country for such a Bill? Third, was there any probability that the General Strike would recur before he had an opportunity of getting such a mandate Fourth, was there any probability that the General Strike would ever recur again at any time?
§ Mr. BROWN
I submit that the right hon. Gentleman's right to bring in such a Measure as he did bring in depended on the answers to those questions. As to the question, was the strike on the merits right or wrong, I would be out of order if I tried to argue that in any detail, and I will only make this observation—that the overwhelming mass of the working population of this country passionately believe that that strike vas right. The essence of law, as American experience on Prohibition shows, is that it must have the moral assent of the bulk of the population. If it fails to do that, the law becomes an irrelevancy to the situation. Then had the right hon. Gentleman a 934 mandate for such a Bill? He himself would not pretend that he had such a mandate. Certainly that issue did not figure in the 1924 General Election, and nobody can pretend that he had a mandate for the Bill at that time. Thirdly, was there any probability that the General Strike would recur before he could get a mandate? The right hon. Gentleman must have known that the finances of the trade union movement are not such that we can run a general strike every two or three years. He must have known that it was a practical impossibility for the General Strike to recur before the opportunity of getting a mandate presented itself. Fourthly, was there any probability that the General Strike would ever recur? I want to be quite clear about that. There are gentlemen sitting on these benches who said after the 1926 Strike, "Never again!" I am not one of those who believe that a general strike can never come again. I think that it may.
§ Mr. BROWN
It is not a matter of hope, hut of estimate. I am not one of those who believe that a general strike can never come again. Whether a general strike comes again or not depends primarily on the House of Commons, General strikes do not come, as hon. Members opposite seem to imagine, because an irresponsible trade union secretary signs a strike notice. That is not the way trade unions are run. General strikes can only come—[Interruption]. I doubt whether the interest of my observation can compete with the interest of the private observations on the Front Bench opposite, but I think that it is worth making. General strikes can only come when three conditions are satisfied. The first is that there must be obvious and widespread injustice.
§ Mr. BROWN
Will the hon. Member allow me? The second condition is that there must be an obvious exercise of tyranny in such a way that the mass of the population see it clearly. The third condition is that, in the judgment of the mass of the people, there is no legal or constitutional or orthodox way out of the difficulty. When these three conditions are satisfied, you get general strikes, 935 and, if anybody wants to stop general strikes coming in the future, do not let him waste time passing Acts of Parliament. Let him tackle the social injustices which produce feelings that find their expression in strikes.
The 1927 Act, so far as it affects the right to strike, must be one of two things. It is either an attempt to limit the right of trade unions to sympathetic action short of a general strike, or it is an attempt to legislate against the general strike itself. If it is the first of these two things, it represents an attempt to cripple the legitimate functions of trade unions. If it is the second of these two things, it is about as futile as the action of King Canute. In these circumstances, the lawyers can argue as long as they like as to the precise meaning of this sentence and that, but the plain truth is that, if time produces again the conditions which make a general strike possible, this Act of Parliament or any other will not he worth the paper on which it is written. But notice this! When the 1926 General Strike took place, it was possible to maintain it as a non-political legal struggle. Leave the 1927 Act on the Statute Book, and any future large-scale strike in this country must from its very beginning be an illegal and revolutionary movement. The very existence of the 1927 Act on the Statute Book ensures the thing which you desire to avoid. My view of these Sections of the Act of 1927 is that they represent the expression of a class party operating under the influence of panic, and they remain on the Statute Book as an example of how little the Constitution really matters when it runs up against the interests of private property in this country.
As regards the political levy, our Bill proposes to substitute contracting-out for contracting-in. What has been said about it from the other side? Horrible pictures have been drawn of workmen whose convictions are really Conservative being compelled under the operation of our proposals to contribute their coppers to the funds of the Labour party. "Monstrous!" says the Opposition. "It is a denial of freedom, and we must oppose that Clause in the Bill." I ask the House to note a. curious thing which I have not heard commented on so far even by the lawyers, though they have 936 commented on most things. It is a curious circumstance that the Acts of 1927 and 1913 tell me, as a Trade Union secretary, that if I want to get a political fund in my union I must have a ballot, and prescribe that I must get a certain majority of members of my union. Now notice this, that when I have got my political fund, there is not the slightest legal restriction on the Statute Book as to the purposes to which I may apply it, and not the slightest legal protection to members if I choose to apply to to the Labour party.
It is an amazing circumstance that I have to have a ballot to get a political fund, but no ballot is necessary to affiliate the members to the Labour party. If the Conservatives were logical—which God forbid, because it would destroy their sole remaining charm—they would, first of all, admit that it is necessary for trade unions to take political action. I do not think any intelligent Conservative or Liberal would deny that there are at least some trade union objectives which can be achieved only by legislation. Therefore, they would say, "We will make it perfectly easy for you to have a political fund, but when you have got that we will see that you do not devote it to the service of any political party to the complete disregard of the political views of your members." I suggest that that would be an intelligent position. I am suggesting that the present position is completely unintelligent, because, first of all, you place every difficulty in the way of getting a political fund, and then refrain from doing the very thing you say you want to do, namely, protect the Conservative working man against his Socialist general secretary.
I want now to deal with the Clauses that touch the Civil Service which I directly represent. I would like to deal with the speeches of the hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham and of the Leader of the Opposition. The view put forward by the hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham, if I may phrase it in my own way, ran something like this—" If Section 5 of the 1927 Act is repealed, there is a danger that the Civil Service will become political. If it becomes political we shall have the spoils system creeping in. If the spoils system creeps in, the Service will cease to be impartial and become cor- 937 rupt. Therefore, oppose the repeal of Section 5."I think that is a fair summary, in my own language, of the main arguments of the hon. and learned Gentleman. I propose to answer that contention by reference to three things—the experience of other countries, the experience of this country and the logic of the situation.
I think everybody knows the meaning of "the spoils system." It is a, system under which Governmental posts are distributed as rewards for political services by the various parties as they come into power. The classic example of the spoils system is the United States of America, and, curiously enough, there the Civil Service unions are not allowed to be affiliated to outside bodies. If we turn to Europe the classic examples of the spoils system are Spain and Italy, and in those two countries civil servants are not allowed to be affiliated to outside bodies. In certain other European countries they are allowed to be affiliated—in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Esthonia, France, Germany, Holland, Czechoslovakia, Latvia and Switzerland. In all those countries civil service organisations are allowed to be affiliated to outside bodies, and in those countries the spoils system does not exist. It is a striking circumstance that this brief survey of other countries shows that where affiliation to outside bodies is permitted there is no spoils system, and where it is not permitted there is the spoils system. Therefore, the origin of the spoils system cannot be affiliation between the service organisations and outside bodies.
What is it that the spoils system and corruption derives from? I suggest there are two causes for the spoils system and corruption. One is to have a Civil Service which is not upon a permanent and pensionable basis. Wherever the spoils system creeps in it is usually because the country has not got its civil servants 938 upon a permanent and pensionable basis. I may illustrate that by reference to a story of an investigator who went to Turkey to inquire into the Turkish Civil Service. He asked the Sultan whether there was any provision for pensioning civil servants at 60 years of age. The Sultan is said to have replied that they had not. The investigator asked why, and the Sultan replied, "My dear Sir, anybody who reaches the age of 60 in our Civil Service and still stands in need of a pension must have been ill throughout his career." You get corruption where there is no security of tenure and where there is chronic underpayment. In this country we have a permanent Civil service, one which does not change with the going and the coming of Governments, but suffers more or less equally under all Governments. So long as we have a permanent Civil Service, whether the unions are affiliated to outside bodies or not is quite irrelevant to the question of the spoils system and the corruption that goes with it. Let us compare the experience here prior to 1927 with the experience since. Before 1927 we were allowed to be affiliated to outside bodies, but nobody noticed in those days that the postman who happened to have Labour sympathies did not deliver the letters properly.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.