HL Deb 03 July 1860 vol 159 cc1314-26

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said it was not anticipated that it would directly operate against such a strike as had lately taken place in London. It was hardly possible for any Council of Conciliation to give effect to any proposal when a strike had actually taken place, and when each party, exasperated against the other, looked simply to its own means of carrying its own object. It is not a difference between a master and a workman, but between two classes. It becomse a trial of power simply. The men attack the masters in detail; the masters act together and stop their works. The men then declare it is a masters' lockout. But should this Bill be passed, and Councils of Conciliation be established, it was hoped that the association of masters and operatives in these Councils upon minor disputes, which must arise from time to time, would produce such a good understanding between them as to prevent strikes taking place at all. When their Lordships reflected on the amount of misery and loss of capital that had resulted from strikes in this country, they might well desire to try whether they could not devise some means to prevent their occurrence in future. If they looked back through the last twenty years they would find that the pecuniary loss occasioned by strikes was not to be estimated by hun- dreds or thousands or tens of thousands of pounds, but by millions; while the amount of human suffering—of misery to the operatives and their families—could not be estimated by money. The funds of their benefit societies are misapplied, and the demands of sickness and accident left unprovided for. When a general strike took place it afflicted the working classes by a sort of moral paralysis, which rendered them powerless, so far as their working energies were concerned. Serious differences between masters and their workmen had hitherto in too many instances ended in strikes—how different might it not be if the masters and operatives could be brought together in order that they might come to a satisfactory settlement of the matters in dispute? If the relation between masters and operatives were fairly looked at, it would be seen that the operative was really a limited partner in the concern in which he was employed, but without risk in the capital expended. He drew his share of the money earned, and so partook of the profits, but without liability to make good the losses. It was obvious, therefore, that he had a direct interest in the continuance of the business, and that mutual confidence and regard between the employer and the employed were essential to the interests of both. The late strike arose out of the demand on the part of the men to receive ten hours' pay for nine hours' work, which was refused by the masters. Now, it was not pretended by the men that they could accomplish in nine hours the work that had hitherto been done in ten; but it was acknowledged that the object of the strike was to compel employers to engage a larger number of men to perform in nine hours the work which now occupied ten, the present rate of wages being maintained, and in that way it was supposed a number of men who had hitherto been unemployed would obtain employment and wages. Such a proceeding was a violation of all the laws of political economy, and if successful would remove the question of wages from the natural influences of supply and demand. It was not possible by any law to strike at strikes. It was perfectly lawful for the men to combine, and therefore to strike, but they must not conspire. Many attempts had been made to prevent the evils arising from disputes between masters and workmen, but in vain. In France the attempt had been made with greater success. Belgium has made a feeble effort. In 1806 Napoleon established councils for the adjustment of disputes between masters and their workmen. They were composed both of manufacturers and workmen, but the manufacturers had greatly the preponderance of influence. In this Conseil de Prudhommes the chair, of right, was filled by the manufacturer. There were five manufacturers to four overlookers. The chairman acted gratuitously, and his whole time was unpaid, the workmen were paid. In 1809 the Councils were somewhat differently constituted, the election to the Council was by the whole body of the manufacturers and overlookers in the town, and the president and vice-president were elected from their own body. In this country the overlookers were understood to be the mere agents of the master, but in France they were not altogether regarded in that light. In the revolution of 1848 there was of course a cry for equality. A new law was passed, placing the masters and workmen on the same footing of equality, and they together formed the Council of Conciliation. The constitution of these Councils established a singular system of cross voting. The workmen chose nine of their body, out of whom the masters selected three, who represented the workmen. The masters in turn had to choose nine of their body, of whom the workmen selected three, who represented the masters. The workmen chose a president out of the masters, and the masters a president out of the workmen, who presided for three months alternately. This scheme, under which great numbers of workmen were admitted, did not work well, and the consequence was that in 1853 the law was passed upon which Councils of Conciliation were now established in France. The workmen elected their own representatives in the Councils. The workman before he was entitled to vote must be twenty-five years of age, must have worked five years at his trade, and must have resided three years in the district for which he voted. A workman to be qualified to be elected a member of the Council must be thirty years of age and able to read and write, and be qualified as an elector. The masters were required to be patentés for which they were taxed. These restrictions excluded great numbers of workmen. The President and Vice-President were appointed for a term of three years by the Emperor, but he could not select from the Members of Council. They were removable at pleasure. This power may suit France, but it would not be tolerated in England. In addition to the Councils a Bureau de Conciliation was established, before whom both masters and workmen were brought. It consisted of two persons only, one a master and one a workman, being Members of the Council, and they were required to sit every day from eleven to one o'clock. In every case the matter in dispute must be brought in the first instance before the Bureau. If the Bureau did not succeed in settling the disputes, the parties then went before the Council of Conciliation, which had judicial powers, without appeal, up to 200 francs, so that it could compel the parties to come to an understanding and to enforce its award. Imperfect as this tribunal was it worked a wonderful amount of good in France. A vast number of disputes had been amicably settled in the first instance before the Bureaux and which consequently never came before the Councils at all. These tribunals, however, only operated on past transactions, and never had taken cognizance of the question of wages. The French understood strikes, however, as well as we do. Sir Joseph Paxton had stated, before a Committee of the other House, that he had to construct a work thirty miles out of Paris. There were 200 French masons employed and a number of English masons. The English masons were more expert than the French, and the French, finding that they were not obtaining the same wages, became discontented, although they got the highest wages ever earned by masons in France. Some disagreement arose in consequence; but the question being one of wages, it was not a case for the Councils, and the men without notice left the works, and compelled their employer to agree to their terms. Having called their Lordships' attention to the French law, he would briefly state what was the present state of the English law, in relation to these matters. In our Potteries the masters and workmen have been in the habit of agreeing in meeting to refer disputes. In Macclesfield there was a Council of Conciliation, but it meddled with wages and was broken up. In the reign of George II. an Act was passed by which all disputes between masters and workmen in the cotton trade were referred to justices of the peace. In the reign of George III. an Act was passed, giving the masters and men the power of referring disputes to arbitration, or to a magistrate. This Act, however, was defective in many particulars and never came into practical operation. In 1824 a Committee was appointed to inquire into the whole subject. It sat for thirty-six or thirty-seven days, and examined 122 witnesses. They recommended in their Report the establishment of courts of arbitration extending to all trades. The result of that Report and recommendation was the alteration of the combination law, and the enactment of the 5 Geo. IV., c. 96, which was still the law. It embraced disputes between masters and workmen in any trade or manufacture in Great Britain or Ireland respecting the price to be paid for work done, or in the course of being done. But the justices were not to establish a rate of wages or price of labour or workmanship at which the workman should in fnture be paid unless with the consent of both master and workman: either party may compel an arbitration. If parties so agree, the magistrate is to decide. If they disagree, the justice is to propose not less than four nor more than six persons—half masters, half workmen—each party to choose one out of his own class to decide. If they fail to do so the magistrate is to decide. In either case the decision is final. By section 13 of that Act, masters and operatives might by agreement have recourse to any other mode of arbitration they might choose, and any award made in any arbitration under such agreement could be enforced as legal. This provision he thought was just and proper and he had adopted it in the present Bill. The law, then, as it stood gave masters and workmen the option of going before a magistrate to obtain a decision upon their differences, or they could select referees, or they could adopt any other mode of arbitration they pleased. The section to which he had referred had unfortunately become a dead letter, but the existing law gave all power to adopt by agreement any form of arbitration they chose. [A noble LORD:—Then where is the necessity for this Bill?] The necessity of the Bill was that under the section of the existing Act there must be a fresh nomination of referees to decide upon each particular case. What the masters as well as the operatives desired was a court to which they could have recourse in all cases of dispute, and which should have jurisdiction to decide all points in controversy. The Act was absolutely a dead letter, and even those persons who had been most active in "strikes" were ignorant of the existence of a law which permitted arbitration in cases of disputes. The present Bill had been, recommended by high authorities. The Committee of 1824, which sat thirty-six days and examined 122 witnesses, reported that the practice of settling disputes by arbitration between masters and workmen had been attended with good effects, and that it was desirable that the laws which direct and regulate arbitration should be considered and made applicable to all trades. In 1856 a Committee, which sat sixteen days and examined twenty-eight witnesses, reported as follows:— From the evidence before them, your Committee cannot but arrive at the conclusion that the attention of the Legislature might with advantage be directed to the subject of this inquiry, and are of opinion that the formation of Courts of Conciliation in the country, more particularly in the large commercial and manufacturing and mining districts would be beneficial. Your Committee would suggest that such a measure might be introduced as an Amendment in the present Arbitration Act, by a reconstruction of that Act in the 10th and 13th sections, by which means both masters and operatives would be enabled, each from their own class or calling, to appoint referees, an equal number by each party, having power to elect a chairman, unconnected with either side, having a casting vote. Such a tribunal to be appointed for a certain period, and not for any particular controversy. They were further of opinion that it was desirable that the Secretary of State should have authority, on application being made to him, to license courts of this description, and that immediately on the establishment of such courts they should be invested with full powers to decide all questions of existing contracts which might be referred to them. Again, the Select Committee appointed in the present year, which sat eleven days and examined fourteen witnesses, came to— The unanimous opinion that the voluntary formation of equitable Councils of Conciliation would tend to promote a more friendly understanding between the employers and employed, to soften any irritation that might arise, and in most oases to prevent the growth of such a spirit of antagonism as too often leads to a strike. And they added,— Your Committee have considered the Bill which has been referred to them by the House, and are unanimously of opinion that if the Bill passes into a law it will promote the welfare of and good understanding between masters and operatives, and be advantageous to the country. These three Committees of the other House, after much deliberation, and after hearing many witnesses, had all come to the same conclusion, and their opinions would, he hoped, have due weight with their Lordships. In taking charge of this measure he had considered it neither as a workman's nor a master's Bill. He was actuated by no class prejudices, but regarded this simply as a great social question, and only recommended the Bill because he believed it was calculated to create an amicable feeling between masters and workmen, and to prevent those strikes which were attended with such deplorable results. The Committee who recommended and supported this Bill in the other House included amongst its Members, Sir Joseph Paxton, Sir Morton Peto, Mr. Cubitt, and other capitalists and employers of labour. Much fault had been found with the Bill in its present shape, but if their Lordships allowed it to go into Committee, he would endeavour to frame it so as to obviate all objection in point of form. The Bill would assume this form—the first step would be to go to the Crown for a licence; when the licence was obtained the Court of Conciliation was to have all the powers which now existed under the Act of George IV., with the important qualification that the Court was to have no jurisdiction unless the question in dispute was submitted to it by both parties, so that the Bill would not give any power at all to the Court of Conciliation unless both parties went before it; but after both parties had chosen to submit any question to the Court there would be power to compel them to go on, although one or the other might wish to withdraw. But the power to inforce any award which would be final, would remain with the magistrates. In imitation of the French law, he proposed that the Council should name a Committee of Conciliation before whom, in the first instance, all matters in dispute should be referred. He defied any one to show that there was any difference in principle between the law as it now stood and this Bill, in the shape in which he intended to present it to a Committee, and the House would bear in mind that it was not proposed to repeal the Act of George IV., and he, therefore, trusted their Lordships would allow it to be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.


said, that so great was the respect which he bore for the character, abilities, and great legal attainments of his noble and learned Friend that it was with the greatest hesitation he proposed his Amendment that the Bill be read a second time that day three months; but his noble and learned Friend had failed to remove the grave objections to which the Bill was open. He (Lord Ravensworth) thought their Lordships ought to interfere as little as possible between the masters and operatives. He could hardly think the existing law was so inoperative as the noble and learned Lord represented. The Bill came before their Lordships not recommended, so far as he was aware, by any expression of public opinion, or backed by the authority of acceptance by the other House: it rested simply on the authority of a Select Committee of the House of Commons. But, although the Report of a Select Committee of the House of Commons was, no doubt, entitled to respect, there might be substantial reasons why their Lordships should hesitate before they gave implicit confidence to the recommendations of such a body. It was quite possible that the Members of the Committee might have been influenced by prejudice, and might have conducted the examination of witnesses so as to support their own views. He was confirmed in these suspicions by the singular unanimity which prevailed in this Committee and among the witnesses, and by the fact that the evidence of the only witness who went counter to the views which they entertained was quickly cut short. Parliament ought to give more consideration to this important subject before any new legislation was attempted with regard to it. He held that the present law might be modified and amended so as to meet the requirements of the case, without bringing forward a measure like the present. The great difficulty was to find a fair and impartial tribunal, and in his opinion there were insurmountable objections to the machinery proposed in the Bill. The Councils would of course, include two antagonistic elements—the representatives of the workmen would uphold one view, those of the masters another. The question was how the Chairman was to be appointed. None of the witnesses examined before the Committee appeared able to solve the problem. One suggested that the President of the Council of Conciliation—which, in his belief, would prove only a council of wrangle—should be selected by lottery. Another proposed that the masters should appoint the Chairman one day and the workmen the next; but the result of that proceeding would be simply to reverse the votes on alternate days. The witnesses generally objected to the more rational proposition of arbitration by the justices. The witnesses objected that to go before the justices would have the appearance of a criminal proceeding; but was not this sad trifling? Was there anything criminal in the existing system under which masters and the servants employed in agricultural husbandry went before a bench of magistrates or the Petty Sessions, and a more impartial tribunal could not be found. He believed that a Court of Petty Sessions would be more likely to give a satisfactory judgment than a Council of Conciliation chosen as proposed by this Bill, and presided over by a Chairman about whose selection possibly great difficulties had arisen. There were much graver objections to the Bill, which the noble and learned Lord seemed to acknowledge when he stated that he should offer some Amendments in Committee. Let their Lordships reflect upon the number of Councils of Conciliation which would be necessary. It was stated that there were not less than 400 separate branches of trade in this country, employing no less than 2,695,000 workmen, to whom the provisions of the Bill might apply. It was clear that if Councils of Conciliation were established there must be one for every separate branch of trade. A Council of Conciliation for bricklayers, for example, could not adjudicate upon the disputes of smiths or carpenters. It was a remarkable fact that the Bill came out of the Select Committee to which it was referred with three grave faults that did not exist in the original Bill. Such a fact was not calculated to create confidence either in the measure itself or in the authority of those by whom it was recommended. By the sixth clause it was proposed that for the purposes of the Act each person, being twenty-one years of age, belonging to the trade having a licence for a Council, and being an inhabitant householder or part occupier of any house, who had resided and been a master or workman in such trade within the limits of the place in which a Council of Conciliation was formed, was entitled to be registered as a voter, and qualified to be elected a member of the Council. Thus the Legislature was asked to constitute a multitude of small Parliaments, elected by the universal suffrage of all those engaged in trade, who had only to show that their names were on the registry in order to have the right to vote. The expense of these proceedings would be considerable; and how were they to be borne? There must be a clerk of registration; and how was he to be paid? The Bill contained no provisions on this point; but the witnesses examined before the Select Committee admitted that the working of the Act must be attended with considerable expense. Something was said about defraying the expense out of the rates, or, if that were objected to, throwing them upon the Consolidated Fund. The latter proposal was not likely to obtain the consent of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; nor would the magistrates in Quarter Sessions feel disposed to meet the expenses out of the county rates. That some alteration and amendment might be made in the present law on this subject he did not deny. Those defects, however, would be in no degree remedied by such a measure as the present, and would be, in his opinion, rather aggravated than cured by Councils of Conciliation chosen under the machinery of the present Bill. For these reasons he trusted that their Lordships would not agree to the second reading of the Bill; and that, in the words of a series of carefully drawn objections to the Bill, they would not pass 'a hastily prepared and ill-digested measure, which would probably be attended by disastrous consequences." The noble Lord concluded by moving that the Bill be read a second time on that day three months.

Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and insert ("this Day Three Months").


said, he would not enter into a dissertation on the details of the Bill as proposed for a second reading by his noble and learned Friend, but wished to state the reasons for the vote he should be compelled to give. His noble Friend who had just sat down had stated various objections to the machinery and provisions of the Bill, but he had, at the same time, stated that, in his judgment, the existing law, though not so wholly inoperative as represented, at all events required and was capable of, amendment. In a matter of such importance as that of obviating the mischief that arose from misunderstandings between masters and employers he thought their Lordships might be induced to give a favourable consideration to a measure that professed to effect that object, and more especially supported as it was by the high authority of his noble and learned Friend who introduced the Bill; and more especially also when the subject had received long and serious consideration, and the measure had apparently resulted from the almost unanimous recommendations of a Committee of the other House. He did not pretend to say that there were not many points in the Bill which it was necessary should receive most careful consideration in Committee. His noble and learned Friend had pointed out several provisions which he was prepared to amend in Committee; some that had arisen per incuriam, and others that had been injuriously inserted since it was introduced into the other House. Considering that the Bill was one that had gone through the examination of more than one Select Committee, the Bill appeared with a singular infelicity of expression, and therefore if their Lordships consented to give it a second reading, he thought it should be referred to a Select Committee to amend its phraseology and examine its provisions with a view to renderiug it more acceptable as a Legislative Act. Considering the high authority that supported the principle of the measure, the confessed inadequacy of the law, and the strong feeling that the representatives both on the part of masters and workmen entertained on the subject of constructing some machinery that should supply remedies and obviate defects in the existing law, he should regret to see their Lordships summarily reject the second reading of the Bill, and thereby not postpone the measure for maturer and more careful consideration, but, in point of fact, debar themselves from it altogether, and declare, moreover, that they would not deal with a matter that the House of Commons had declared was deserving of consideration, and which their Lordships did not deny. If there were a division he should be prepared to divide in favour of the second reading, but, at the same time, he wished to add his opinion that, not only with regard to minor points, but others of greater magnitude, the Bill in Committee would require the gravest consideration, and he should certainly be sorry in its present state to give it a third reading.


said, if the question were put for or against the Bill in its present shape, he should vote with the noble Baron opposite (Lord Ravensworth), because upon the admission of all parties there never was a Bill so imperfectly drawn as that which they were considering. In a Bill relating to such a delicate matter as the relations between masters and workmen the utmost correctness and nicety of expression were particularly necessary; but this Bill was admitted to be so imperfect that it was clear the noble and learned Lord had not examined it very minutely before he introduced it. This was a subject on which the working classes took a deep interest, and he would be sorry that the House should appear to treat it lightly or in a summary manner. If he had been rightly informed, however, this Bill had been before the House in three successive Sessions, but had failed to pass until the present Session, when it was read a third time, the withdrawal of the Reform Bill having given an earlier opportunity than was expected. He did not believe that the Bill could be properly considered in Committee of the Whole House, and therefore he would submit to the noble and learned Lord whether it would not be well to refer it to a Select Committee, in order, if possible, to convert it into a practical measure that would be satisfactory to all parties.


said, that if the Bill in its present shape should pass into law he should congratulate himself that he was no longer Lord Chief Justice, for a great part of that functionary's time would be occupied in hearing applications for writs of mandamus, of prohibition, and of certiorari arising out of this Bill. In fact, the Bill would not work at all, and would only make "confusion worse confounded;" but he agreed that it was not desirable to appear to treat the subject lightly, and, in assenting to the second reading, he would urge upon his noble and learned Friend the propriety of referring it to a Select Committee.


said, he would not oppose the second reading, or reference to a Select Committee, if it were at all likely to result in the production of an effective measure, and that it would not hold out false expectations that there was a chance of settling differences between men and masters. He did not think the measure was workable, and no provision was made to meet the large expenditure it would involve.


was willing to withdraw his Amendment, upon the understanding that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.


said he was willing to adopt that course.

Amendment, by leave, of the House, withdrawn. Then the original Motion agreed to. Bill read 2a accordingly; and referred to a Select Committee. And on Thursday following the Lords following were named of the Committee:—

Ld. Chancellor L. Overstone
Ld. President L. Cranworth
E. Derby L. St. Leonards
L. Ravensworth L. Wensleydale
L. Brougham and Vaux L. Belper
L. Kingsdown