HL Deb 21 March 1867 vol 186 cc268-75

House in Committee on Re-commitment (according to Order).

Clause 2 (Limits of Inquiry under Act).


said, that as the Bill was one of considerable importance, he wished to obtain from the Government such explanation as it was in their power to give as to the exact scope and nature of the inquiry. An alteration had been made in this clause when the Bill was committed pro formâ, and as it now stood Assistant Commissioners, independent of the Commission, might be appointed by the Secretary of State for the Home Department to conduct the Sheffield inquiry. If he could rely upon the information that had reached him, there was no probability of the inquiry with respect to the outrages at Sheffield being undertaken by the members of the Commission, and in that case it would fall into the hands of the barristers to be appointed under this clause, over whom the Commission would have no control. In that case he thought the Sheffield inquiry should be kept quite distinct from that intrusted to the Commission. He wished to know, also, what was the interpretation placed by Her Majesty's Government on the scope of the inquiry? The noble and learned Lord (Lord St. Leonards) on the side Woolsack, while admitting that the Bill conferred powers of an arbitrary character, justified that circumstance on the ground of the necessity that existed to search into the outrages that had been committed. But the words of this clause seemed of wider scope than was thus intended, and the machinery provided was of an unusual character. The words of this clause were that the Commissioners were to— Inquire into any acts of intimidation, outrage, or wrong alleged to have been promoted, encouraged, or connived at by Trades Unions or Associations, whether of workmen or employers. These words were of a very wide nature, and might cover matters of a very different kind from what was first intended. He should be glad to know whether Her Majesty's Government had any reason to suppose that outrages had been perpetrated in consequence of association of employers? Their Lordships should bear in mind that this clause applied to the town of Sheffield generally, and the Commissioners might be called upon by those who came before them to go into many questions between employers and employed, of a very delicate character, and which might establish a very bad precedent. He would suggest that the Government were bound to define the scope of the inquiry. He wished to know also how the barristers appointed under this clause, which had been introduced in their Lordships' House, were to be paid? As the Bill came before them at first the inquiry was to be carried on by unpaid Commissioners; but if they substituted for them special Commissioners, it was evident that if men of first-rate ability were not appointed the confidence of those interested in the inquiry would be shaken, while, on the other hand, men of eminent ability would have to be liberally compensated.


explained that the Commission which had been issued defined the limits of the inquiry, which were described in the preamble of the Bill. These terms were— To inquire into and report on the organization and rules of Trades Unions and other Associations, whether of workmen or employers. And— To investigate any recent acts of intimidation, outrage, or wrong, alleged to have been promoted, encouraged, or connived at by such Trades Unions or other Associations. These words showed the extent and the limit of the inquiry, and the Bill only provided for the mode in which the inquiry should be carried on.


said, the powers of the Commission must depend upon the wording of the clause, and if the Commissioners exercised any powers which were not authorized by the clause, they would be inoperative, and he thought the scope of the inquiry was not sufficiently definite. The clause gave the Commissioners power to inquire into "any acts of intimidation, outrage, or wrong." These words were so general that they might include the crime of murder; and by a subsequent clause the Commissioners possessed what was in reality the power of giving pardon to those who had been engaged in any act of intimidation, outrage, or wrong, and whom they might feel it necessary to examine. If in the course of the inquiry before the Assistant Commissioners such acts were alleged and inquired into, would that be a valid act?


said, he did not understand his noble and learned Friend's objection to the clause.


asked why the inquiry should extend to associations of employers as well as of workmen?


pointed out that the object of the inquiry was to ascertain the state of the relations between workmen and employers, out of which the outrages arose.


said, it was alleged by persons who professed to know that these outrages did not arise out of the working of trades unions, and the object of the Commission was to inquire whether that was true or not. It had been granted on the application not only of the inhabitants of Sheffield, but also on that of members of trades unions, who said they could prove that the allegations made against them were false, and that the trades unions were quite innocent. With reference to outrages having been promoted or committed by employers, an instance had been adduced in which a man was knocked down by a foreman because he admitted having attended a trades union meeting; and it was evident that the inquiry, the scope of which embraced the whole question of the relations of employers and employed, must extend to the means adopted by the masters to promote their own interests as against the men. The barristers, appointed members of the Commission, he supposed, would be paid in the same way as the Commissioners who conducted inquiries into bribery at elections; but that was a matter which exclusively rested with the Treasury.


said, he perfectly understood the historical part of the question and the pressure put upon the Government; but he had never heard a real defence of the extraordinary measures taken, nor a practical explanation of how that was to be effected by this inquiry which the ordinary processes of the law had failed to accomplish. The other day he suggested that it would be desirable to consult Sir William Erle, the Chairman of the Commission; and if Sir William Erle really approved the proposed arrangements he would bow to such authority.


said, his right hon. and learned Friend had consented to act on the Commission, and, of course, he would be guided by the powers conferred on the Commission.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 3 (Powers of Commissioners in respect of Evidence).


said, that this clause conferred extraordinary powers on the barristers, who under it could commit to prison for one calendar month persons guilty of contempt. He should not, however, take the sense of the House on the point, but he wished to move an Amendment— Every Inquiry under this Act shall be conducted in public, and due Notice shall be given of the Time and Place of holding the same, but with Power to the Person or Persons conducting the same to adjourn any Meeting as Occasion may require.


said, he did not object to the proposed Amendment.

Clause amended, and agreed to.

Clause 4 (Indemnity to Witnesses).


said, the effect of this clause was to prejudge the whole question of the connection of the trades unions with the outrages at Sheffield. It appeared to him that when a matter was to be inquired into nothing should be done which might prejudge the case on one side or the other. By this clause they permitted the man who had committed the outrage to come forward and explain how he did it, and they gave him full indemnity. This implied that they would treat the principal as an accomplice, and the trades unions as the real perpetrators of the outrage. He would move the omission of the clause.


said, the clause, he believed, represented a simple desire to arrive at the truth of a much-vexed question. The noble Lord seemed to think that the trades unions were in no way connected with outrages at Sheffield. But it certainly was remarkable that these outrages should take place in a town known to be more under the control of trades unions than any other in England, and that there had never been a case of outrage upon a workman in Sheffield unless he were in some way obnoxious to the trades unions. He did not charge these outrages upon the general body of workmen; but he believed that some small and secret executive was mainly responsible for them. He thought it would be as well to put the Bill in the fire as to strike out this clause.


thought there was danger of a great wrong being done to parties falsely accused by witnesses before the Commission of having instigated them to commit an outrage. Such a person could not be convicted of perjury, because the clause enacted that no evidence taken under this Act shall be" admissible against any person in any civil or criminal proceeding whatever."


said, the indemnity only extended so far as to the acts confessed to by the witness as having been committed by himself. It did not secure him against an action for giving false evidence or against an indictment for perjury.


thought the clause might be made clear by the insertion of a few words. He would suggest the addition of the following words at the end of the clause:— Except in the case of a witness who may be accused of having given false evidence before any person conducting an inquiry under this Act.


said, that the discussion which had taken place only proved the inconvenience of confounding the general inquiry into the working of trades unions with an inquiry into the particular outrages at Sheffield. The former question was one which ought to be entered upon in the most impartial and philosophical spirit, and it was unwise to appear to prejudge it by connecting it with the Sheffield outrages. He regarded those associations as perfectly legitimate; for workmen had a perfect right to combine with a view to raise the price of their labour, and he believed the result of a fair inquiry would be to show that their operation had been beneficial both to the labouring classes and to the interests of the country at large. The mixing up the Sheffield outrages with the general inquiry would create an impression in the minds of the working classes that the case was prejudiced; and, as the Commissioners were allowed to delegate the local investigation to others, he did not see why that investigation should not be an altogether distinct one.


, in supporting the clause, observed, that the object was not in any way to prevent working men from entering into associations for the purpose of bargaining with the employers of labour. There was a fear that there were in the unions those who oppressed the working men, compelling them by force to join these associations; and he supported this clause because it tended to protect the free and independent working man,

Amendment agreed to.


moved at the end of clause to add— Provided also, that this Section shall not extend to indemnify from criminal Proceedings the actual Perpetrator of any Act of Outrage or other Crime; and that no Person shall be compelled to answer any Question the Answer to which might tend to criminate hint as tie actual Perpetrator of ally such Act of Outrage or Crime. This provision was inserted in the original Bill, but had been struck out in the other House; and he would point out that unless it were restored a man who might avow himself to have been the perpetrator of a crime would be indemnified, while others whom he might accuse as instigators of it would be liable to prosecution.


said, the object of the inquiry was not to bring persons to justice, but to ascertain the origin of the outrages which had been committed. The proviso having been struck out in the Commons, he was not disposed to accede to its re-introduction; and there was a precedent for giving Sat indemnity even in the case of murder, for in the prosecution against Charlotte Winsor, the mother of the murdered child, although there was reason to believe that she was a participator in the crime, was allowed to give evidence.


expressed surprise at the warmth displayed by noble Lords opposite in discussing a Bill which had no party bearing. There was no ground for imputing that the Bill unfairly prejudged the question. There was no assertion that any class had committed the Sheffield outrage; but public opinion having charged it upon trades unions, those bodies had manfully come forward, and challenged the strictest inquiry. The inquiry was one of the greatest delicacy, and to stigmatize the Bill as unfair, and that it took things for granted which ought not to be assumed, was, in his opinion, most prejudicial. Nothing could be most important to masters and workmen, and not only to them, but to the whole country, than that the truth should be ascertained, and that could be done in no other way than that which was proposed by the Bill.


said, he could not but consider the Bill unfair. The fact was it was attempted to make use of the Sheffield outrages for the purpose of inquiring into trades unions under unfavourable circumstances, and he regarded it as extremely unfortunate that the most important question affecting the working classes should be approached in a manner eminently unfair.

Amendment negatived.

On Question, That the said Clause (as amended) stand Part of the Bill? Their Lordships divided;—Contents 52; Not Contents 19: Majority 33.

Clause agreed to.

Chelmsford, L. Chancellor.) (L. Hardinge, V.
Hawarden v. L [Teller.]
Beaufort, D. Gloucester and Bristol, Bp.
Buckingham and Chandos, D.
Marlborough, D. Bagot, L.
Richmond, D. Belper, L.
Blayney, L.
Bath, M. Broderick, L. (V. Midleton.)
Exeter, M
Salisbury, M. Colonsay, L.
Westmeath, M. Colville of Culross, L. [Teller.]
Amherst, E. Delamere, L.
Bathurst, E. De Saumarez, L.
Belmore, E. Feversham, L.
Bradford, E. Hartismere, L.(L. Henniker.)
Cadogan, E.
Cardigan, E. Hay, L. (E. Kinnoul.)
Denbigh, E. Hylton, L.
Derby, E. Keane, L.
Devon, E. Redesdale, L.
Gainsborough, E. Saltoun, B.
Graham, E. (D. Montrose.) Sherborne, L.
Silehester, L. (E. Longford.)
Grey, E.
Hardwicke, E. Skelmersdale, L.
Huntingdon, E. Southampton, L.
Lucan, E. Saint Leonards, L.
Romney, E. Wharnelitfe, L.
Stanhope, E. Wynford, L.
stradbroke, E.
Airlic, E. Lichfield, E.
Clarendon, E. Minto, E.
Cowper, E.
De Grey, E. Halifax, V.
Granville, E. Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.)
Kimberley, E.
Cranworth, L. Seaton, L.
Foley, L. [Teller.] Stanley of Alderley, L.
Houghton, L. [Teller.] Sundridge, L.(D. Argyll.)
Methuen, L.
Monson, L. Vivian, L.

Amendments made.

The Report to be received To-morrow.

House adjourned at Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.