HL Deb 15 May 1871 vol 206 cc778-82

House in Committee (according to Order).

Clause 1 (Penalty for threats, molestation, and obstruction).


said, this was one of the most important parts of the Bill. They had just passed through Committee that portion of the original Bill which had been entitled the Trades Unions Bill, by which it was proposed to give very considerable advantages to trades unions on points on which they had not hitherto had the protection of the law; and by the Bill now before them it was proposed to give a correlative protection to those who did not belong to trades unions. He reminded their Lordships that it was now proposed to repeal the statute of 1825, which was at present the only protection against offences of the kind dealt with by the present Bill. That statute was couched in very general terms, providing that to molest or obstruct any person going to or returning from work should be guilty of a misdemeanour, and, he believed, so far as he had learned from employers of labour, and from workmen who were not members of trades unions, they would be well content to allow their protection to rest on that statute. But when that statute was repealed there would be no protection against molestation except such protection as might be given by the present Bill. The statute of 1825 did not define what molestation was, and while the law stood on that statute it was left to magistrates and juries to say whether the molestation was or was not accomplished for illegal purposes. But by the 1st clause of this Bill some two or three kinds only of molestation were defined, the clause leaving uncovered the whole field of molestation in all other respects. The clause provided that the persistently following a person from place to place, the hiding his tools, and the watching or besetting with two or more other persons the place where he resides or works, shall be deemed molestation or obstruction. So that anyone who could devise and practised any other mode of annoyance would be able to do so without punishment, because it was expressly provided that only the particular things named in the clause, and "no other cases," should be punishable. There were other acts of molestation or obstruction quite as injurious as those particular acts named in the section; but still, not coming within the definition, there would be no offence. He should propose to leave out the words, "and in no other case." As to "picketing" or watching workshops, as the clause now stood, there must be three persons so employed in order to constitute an offence, though precisely the same result, so far as the watching was concerned, might be attained by only two persons being employed. He should propose to amend the third sub-section by substituting words in the sense he had indicated. In conclusion, he formally moved to omit the words "and in no other cases."


said, that the words "molestation" and "obstruction" had been so vaguely and uncertainly defined—black looks and rough words having been sometimes included—that it was necessary to give them a stricter interpretation. Picketing was to some extent permissible and legitimate, for unless the men entering or leaving a factory were watched, and their names taken down, they might pretend that they were on strike and draw pay on this plea from the union, and unless it was accompanied by such threats or intimidation as would reasonably prevent persons from going to or accepting work, was not illegal, and ought not to be made so. It was impossible, moreover, for less than three persons to watch works of large size with several entrances. It might be well to lay down no test of numbers with regard to watching or besetting a workman's residence, as this was a different thing to watching a factory; but he objected to the noble and learned Lord's Amendment as one which would create a new offence.


pointed out that, whether the words "and in no other case" were retained or not, the operation of the clause would be restricted to the three cases specified therein. Expressio unius exclusio alterius.


reminded the Committee that the Amendment of his noble and learned Friend would not make the mere watching or besetting illegal, the whole clause being governed by words which provided that there should be an intent to coerce. It would have been desirable to define this intent, but the Bill would leave this to the administrators of the law. It was obvious that the number of persons was no test at all. Half-a-dozen persons might carry on a watch very quietly, while one or two persons might so conduct themselves as to produce terror and intimidation.


said, he would admit that the omission or retention of the words first objected to was immaterial, but he thought that number was some test, because one person could not be supposed to exercise coercion, whereas the assemblage of three persons afforded a presumption of coercion being intended. Moreover, though the Act of George IV., which had led to considerable difficulty, was repealed, other Acts would remain in force which would cover offences not included in this Bill.


said, that if the clause were passed as it now stood it would amount to a legislative declaration that no other acts than those named in the clause should be held to be molestation or obstruction, and the consequence would be that some other form of obstruction or molestation would be thought of; and when application was made to the Legislature to correct this there would be the answer that there was a legislative declaration that nothing but the particular acts named should amount to molestation or obstruction. He denied that his Amendment would create any new offence as compared with the clause as it now stood. The only point of difference between them was as to whether it should require three or only two persons to complete the offence. He admitted that peaceable watching was not illegal, for there must be an intent to coerce. The noble Earl seemed to think that the works in question were so extensive that the entrances could not be watched by one or two persons; but they had also to consider the cases of small factories which had only one or two entrances, and could be watched by one or two persons.

After a few words from the Earl of MORLEY and Lord CHELMSFORD, the Amendment was agreed to.


then moved to leave out the sub-section 3, in order to insert— If he watch or beset the house or other place where such person resides or works or happens to be, or the approach to such house or place, or if with two or more other persons he follow such person in a disorderly manner in or through any street or road.


preferred the clause as it stood. He wished subsequently to propose an Amendment which would meet a very serious form of intimidation—namely, the attempt, by assembling before a factory, to prevent new hands from entering it. This was not at present provided for.

Amendment agreed to.


, in order to carry out the suggestion he had made, moved to insert after "works" (or carries on business").

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Further Amendments made.

The Report of the Amendments to be received To-morrow; and Bill to be printed, as amended. (No. 115).