HL Deb 29 July 1875 vol 226 cc163-6

House in Committee (according to Order).

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 (Amendment of law as to conspiracy in trade disputes).


said, that throughout the Royal Commission, of which he was a member, the object of all parties appeared to be that both employers and workmen should be placed on an equal footing with regard to the law of conspiracy as far as circumstances would allow. The Commission accordingly proposed such alterations in the then existing law that they believed would effect that object. This clause, however, and the other clauses of the Bill, failed to carry out the recommendations of the Commission. The clause provided that— an agreement or combination by two or more persons to do or procure to be done any act in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute between employers and workmen should not be indictable as a conspiracy if such act committed by one person would not be punishable as a crime. At present certain acts which were legal if done by only one person acting singly became illegal when they were done by large numbers. Thus, one man might advise another to break his contract and leave his employment; but if a number of persons conspired together to induce a workman to leave his employment that conspiracy was an offence. The Bill, therefore, made a considerable alteration in the law as to conspiracy as it stood under the common law.


said, the Bill did make a change in the existing law, and the clause now under consideration was in harmony with the other parts of the measure. Taken in connection with the following clauses, the Bill attempted to define what acts connected with trade disputes were criminal and what were not—therefore, it recited all acts relating to trade disputes which were intended to be treated criminally, and it set those acts out. On the other hand, it declared by this clause that an agreement by two or more persons to do what would not be a crime if done by one person was not to be punished as a. crime; but by the next clause intimidation and annoyance by violence was struck at, and it was declared that every person who with a view to compel any other person to abstain from doing or to do any act which such other person had a legal right to do or to abstain from doing should use violence or intimidation either to his person, or his wife or children, or his property, should be liable on conviction to a pecuniary penalty or to imprisonment. By this clause, then, intimidation was struck at, and combined action to carry out such intimidation would therefore be struck at. It was true that, under the existing law, if one man broke his contract that would not be a crime, while if—say 50—broke their contract that at common law might be regarded as a conspiracy. Under this Bill it would not be a conspiracy. The principle upon which the Bill was framed was that the offences in relation to trade disputes should be thoroughly known and understood, and that persons should not be subjected to the indirect and deluding action of the old law of conspiracy.

Clause amended, and agreed, to.

Clause 4 (Breach of contract by persons employed in supply of gas or water) agreed to.

Clause 5 (Breach of contract involving injury to persons or property).


expressed his opinion that sufficient power was not taken in the clause for the prevention of enormous losses to employers by breaches of contract on the part of workmen.


said, it appeared to him that his noble Friend thought the punishment awarded by the clause inadequate. It was a penalty not exceeding £20 or imprisonment not exceeding three months, with or without hard labour. On a former occasion his noble Friend mentioned a case in which a workman in charge of iron in smelting works left it while it was in a liquid state, the consequence of which was that the furnace had to be taken down, and an expense of some £2,000 was incurred by the employer. He (the Lord Chancellor) believed that a person acting as the workman described by his noble Friend had done would come within the clause, and he was confirmed in that belief by the opinion of persons more conversant with the criminal law than he was. The law would infer motive in such a case. It was quite true that a penalty of £20, or three months' imprisonment, inflicted on the offender would not compensate the employer; but it would not be possible to afford him adequate pecuniary compensation by any enactment in a Bill such as this; and, moreover, the penalty proposed by the Bill was exactly the same as that now in force under Lord Elcho's Act.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 6 and 7 agreed to, with Amendments.

Clause 8 (Reduction of penalties).


moved to strike out the clause, and insert the following in lieu thereof:— (Penalty for intimidation or annoyance by violence or otherwise.) Every person who, with a view to compel any other person to abstain from doing or to do any act which such other person has a legal right to do or abstain from doing, wrongfully and without legal authority— 1. Uses violence to or intimidates such other person or his wife or children, or injures his property; or, 2. Persistently follows such other person about from place to place; or, 3. Hides any tools, clothes, or other property owned or used by such other person, or deprives him of or hinders him in the use thereof; or, 4. Watches or besets the house or other place where such other person resides, or works, or carries on business, or happens to be, or the approach to such house or place; or, 5. Follows such other person with two or more other persons in a disorderly manner in or through any street or road, shall, on conviction thereof by a court of summary jurisdiction, or on indictment as hereinafter mentioned, be liable either to pay a penalty not exceeding twenty pounds, or to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding three months, with or without hard labour. Attending at or near the house or place where a person works or is employed, or the approach to such house or place, in order merely to obtain or communicate information and not with a view to intimidate or to deter by serious annoyance such person from doing or abstaining from doing that which he has a legal right to do or abstain from doing, shall not be deemed a watching or besetting within the meaning of this section.

Motion agreed to; Clause struck out; New Clause agreed to, and inserted in the Bill.


moved, after Clause 8, to insert the following clause:—

(Reduction of penalties). Where in any Act relating to employers or workmen a pecuniary penalty is imposed in respect of any offence under such Act, and no power is given to reduce such penalty, the justices or court having jurisdiction in respect of such offence may, if they think it just so to do, impose by way of penalty in respect of such offence any sum not less than one fourth of the penalty imposed by such Act.

Motion agreed to; clause inserted.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

The Report of the Amendments to be received on Monday next, and Bill to be printed, as amended. (No. 240.)