§ [SECOND READINGS].
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord LOREBURN)
My Lords, I rise for the purpose of commending to your Lordships' favourable consideration the Second Reading of this very important Bill. I do not intend to enter upon any matter except what may be described as strictly second-reading subjects, because the Bill is one that bristles with legal difficulties and difficulties which, in my opinion, can only be satisfactorily discussed in Committee, where we can fix our attention upon the particular points and save ourselves to some extent from straying from the direct issue. Now, my Lords, the career of this Bill has been as interesting as its subject-matter, and I am perfectly aware that His Majesty's Government is likely to be castigated and fustigated in reference to transactions which took place when the Bill was introduced in the House of Commons. I prefer to begin 687 by a reference to that subject in order to clear the way.
When this Bill was introduced in the House of Commons it was not in the shape in which it is at present in regard to one clause, which I must say I think is the most important clause in the Bill. The Bill proposed, not to relieve trade unions from liability to be sued in damages, but to limit the law of agency so as to minimise the number of cases in which that liability might be imposed. My hon. and learned friend the Attorney-General opened the Bill in a speech of great vigour, in which he expressed his own very strong opinion in favour of the Bill as it stood, which he was quite entitled to do, and he said that which form of the two was to be ultimately chosen must depend upon the opinion of the House of Commons. The House of Commons was practically unanimous. I do not speak of the Opposition, of which I will speak presently—it was practically unanimous on the Ministerial side in favour of the Bill being changed to the form in which it now appears before your Lordships. I am aware that the Attorney-General was not convinced, and other colleagues of mine in the Ministry have since expressed their preference for the original form. It therefore is legitimate for me to say that from the time when this controversy first began I always have been in favour of the form of the Bill as it is now presented to your Lordships, because I believe it is a just demand which ought to be satisfied by Parliament.
I said I would refer to the history of the opposition, and that I will do without the least reproach of any kind, either direct or covert. But the history of the opposition to this Bill is somewhat interesting. This Bill is substantially the same as that which was introduced in the House of Commons in the year 1903. I was a supporter of it then, and I had some share in drawing the Bill for those friends of mine who were on the Trade Union Council. In 1903 it was defeated in a Conservative House of Commons by thirty votes. It was brought in again in 1904, and was carried by twenty-nine votes. In 1905 further argument was held in the House, the Bill was more fully understood find more discussed, and in a 688 Conservative House of Commons it was carried by a majority of 122.
Then came the general election, and the Bill of the Trade Union Congress in 1906 was carried by a majority of 350. The Government Bill passed the Second Reading without a division at all. But that did not conclude the interesting part of the career of this Bill, for I am practically right in saying that no employer of labour in the House of Commons had a word to say against it; and when the Bill came to a Third Reading Mr. Balfour recommended his Party not to divide against it, and therefore it conies up to your Lordships sealed with the unanimous approval, so far as divisions go, both on the Second Reading and the Third Reading, of the House of Commons. I respectfully commend to your Lordships' attention those facts as being full of significance, for I am not one of those who believe that our countrymen are so wanting in moral courage as to be afraid of opposing a bad Bill for electoral reasons. It was because the Bill could be justified by argument, as I am about to endeavour to justify it here, that the House of Commons came to the conclusion at which they arrived.
There was a Royal Commission preceding this Bill. It was constituted by the late Government. It consisted, I think, of five gentlemen. One of them was a representative of the employers. The late Government refused to place on that Royal Commission any representative of the workmen, and the consequence was that the workmen said, as I think they were entitled to say—This is not an impartial and fair Commission; it is not a Commission which there are all neutral members. It is a commission on which our antagonists [...] represented and we are not represented.Accordingly they refused to give any evidence or any assistance at all to that Royal Commission not with standing which the Royal Commission has reported, as I think can be maintained in support of three out[...] four of the principal parts of while this Bill is composed.
I now come to What is more important than the merits or demerits of the Govern- 689 ment or the merits of the Opposition— namely, the merits of the Bill itself; and it is upon that, and that alone, that I ask your Lordships to concur. Some-one has said you never can understand anything in human affairs unless you understand how it grew, and I believe that to be true of this controversy. Trade unions are of old standing here, certainly 200 years. Until 1824 they were largely regulated by statute. After 1824 until 1871 they were principally left to the common law; and the tender mercies of the common law were cruel towards trade unions. Trade unions were held to be unlawful associations. A man could be indicted for belonging to them. It was held that strikes were unlawful transactions, and to such an extent did this penalising of these legitimate and useful associations proceed that it was decided in the year 1805 that a man could rob a trade union and embezzle its money with impunity.
These were great and heavy disabilities, but there was one thing that they could have for their advantage. In those dark days the funds of the trade unions were not liable to attack by any suitor in any Court. In the report of the Royal Commission there is an abstruse, and, if I may say so with great respect, a fine-spun discussion of the law upon that subject as it existed before 1871. The Royal Commission think that in theory the trade unions might be sued, but in practice it was impossible to sue them. I am not concerned to enter upon the reasons why they could not be sued, but this I affirm, and no man will contradict me, that from the dawn of English history there never had been any attempt to sue a trade union in order to reach its funds to pay damages to any one who was supposed to be wronged. Whether that was a law of procedure or a law of principle, I do not enter upon the discussion. I think it was a law of principle. It is sufficient to say there never had been, and until the decision of this House in the year 1901 there never was any attempt, even an unsuccessful attempt, to make trade unions liable for damages in any action. That was, at all events, one of the advantages that they enjoyed in the years prior to 1871.
690 I see near me noble Lords who took a distinguished part in the fight which arose in those days. When I first began to take an interest in public affairs there was a great movement for the purpose of placing trade unions upon a proper and legitimate footing, among the men who had complained of this hardship, of the unfair position in which they were placed, of the absence of protection by the law to legitimate combinations, and of the liability to be pillaged in secret and persecuted in open Court for things which are now universally recognised as lawful. A Royal Commission sat in 1869, and in the end the statutes of 1871 and 1875 were passed, embodying principles of protection for trade unions. The first claim was that trade unions should be legalised, so that no longer should their funds be liable to be stolen or their members prosecuted for belonging to a union. That was accomplished in 1871 by the great Statute passed by a Liberal Government. The effect of that Act was not to incorporate trade unions, but to allow them to be registered with a sort of quasi-corporate existence, to protect their funds, and to prevent people from being prosecuted for belonging to them. That was the purpose of the Act.
But observe, from the commencement of the discussion down to the time when the Act received the Royal assent, there was not a whisper in this House or in the other, or in the public Press, or anywhere else, that there was to be any change in the old practice of the law by which trade unions were free from having their funds attacked. I wish to emphasise this point. It was never suggested, till the Act of 1871 was passed, that the immunity which trade unions had hitherto enjoyed from action was to be interfered with. If that was really the effect of the Act of 1871 it was the undesigned effect, for no one knew that it was being done. It was done by inadvertence and not by intention. In the year 1901 it was discovered for the first time by your Lordships' House, sitting judicially, that this Act of 1871 had had the effect of depriving the trade unions of the immunities which they had enjoyed in every previous period of English history. That was the decision in the celebrated Taft Yale ease. I am not presumptuous 691 enough to suggest that that is not good law. I know the immense capacity and learning of the great Judges who so held. But it was accidental and undesigned law. The result is that that Act of 1871, which was intended to protect the trade unions and to be a boon to them, became a bane to them instead.
From the year 1871 to 1901 everyone believed that the law was still such that trade unions could not be sued; and when this House came to the other decision, they overruled the Court of Appeal, which had decided in accordance with the universal belief in the legal profession, and among men of business and workmen, that trade unions could not be sued. The world went on very well between 1871 and 1901. There was a great multitude of strikes; but search the records of Parliament and the Press, and you will not find that any one suggested that the law ought to be altered, and if this new proposal which is represented as so shocking is to be stigmatised as unjust, it is at least an injustice under which since 1871 the whole world of industry sat still without one complaint being made anywhere of the unfair operation of the law.
Trade unions, like the rest of the world, believed that the law was as I have said, and so believing they built up their great funds. From the Board of Trade Labour Gazette for March, 1906, I take the following particulars for the ten years between 1895 and 1904. During that time 100 principal trade unions spent £16,060,000, of which only 14 per cent, was spent on dispute pay, the rest being all spent upon benefits of various kinds All this was done in the belief that the law was as it had been in every antecedent period of English history; and then came the decision of this House in 1901 to say that the funds, painfully collected by half-crowns, shillings, and sixpences, were exposed to liability to be taken in satisfaction of damages. That is the case for the first part of the Bill. The purpose of this Bill is to place the law in the position in which every Englishman thought it was from the Norman Conquest onward up to the year 1901; and to prevent actions from being brought which never bad been brought with success until that year. 692 I submit that there may be some better reason that a craven compliance with the majority which induced the House of Commons to accept a proposal of this kind.
Now I come to the second proposal of the Bill. In the years 1871 to 1875 picketing, among other things, had been made difficult or dangerous by the decisions of the Courts of law. A great deal of indignation has been expressed against the practice of picketing. It is an extremely disagreeable thing, I have not the slightest doubt. It is a phase in an industrial war. What it means is this—and I do not wish to minimise the discomfort of the transaction—that the men watch at the entrance of the works or at other convenient places, for the purpose of endeavouring to prevent others from going in to take their places while a strike is in progress. It cannot be done without some measure of discomfort, although it can be done—and I am glad to think that it nearly always is done—without violence or intimidation. If it is done with violence or intimidation, your Lordships will never hear me say that it ought not to be properly punished.
But picketing is a thing which was legalised long ago by the law of England. It was legalised by the Act of 1859 which has since been repealed; and also it was legalised—and it is to the honour of the Conservative Government of that day that it was—by the Act of 1875. Lord Beaconsfield was the Prime Minister of that Government, and he was also the author of "Sybil," and a man with deep feelings on subjects of this kind. He sympathised with trade unions, as did Lord Cairns, one of the greatest Chancellors there has ever been in this country; and the third of the triumvirate responsible for the legislation of 1875is the noble Viscount who is here now, Lord Cross. He will remember these transactions well, for he was Home Secretary, and if he corrects me. I shall know that I am wrong. But I think he will not correct me. The second claim of the workmen was that picketing should be put upon a proper footing; and it was by intention put upon a proper footing by the Act of 1875. It was legalised for the purpose of obtaining information.
693 When the Bill was passing through the House of Commons a Member moved an Amendment for the purpose of saying that picketing should be lawful, not merely for the purpose of obtaining information, but also for the purpose of peaceful persuasion; and the noble Viscount, being then Home Secretary, rose and said in the House of Commons, as will be seen from a reference to Hansard, that it was quite unnecessary to press the Amendment because, as the Bill stood, picketing would be lawful for the purposes of peaceful persuasion. In 1896 it was decided that picketing was only lawful for the purpose of obtaining information. The noble Viscount accepted what he was told by his advisers, and most innocently led the House not to proceed with the Amendment authorising picketing for peaceful persuasion, because he was advised that it was already the law of the land and that there was no necessity for the Amendment. Can your Lordships therefore complain that we have put in a clause making picketing lawful for the purpose of peaceful persuasion? It is another reason why the House of Commons may have thought that this Bill, notwithstanding the attacks of jurists and professors, which, I believe, have been very copious on this subject, had some merits and some title to be considered.
The third claim made by the workmen between 1871 and 1875 was that the law of conspiracy should be settled and made clear. They had suffered enough from the law of conspiracy. The law of conspiracy in this country is a very unsettled and a very difficult law to ascertain, and in regard to all subjects it would be better to have it cleared up. But the workmen said, "We want to have it cleared up in regard to trade unionsalone.' I have seen criticisms in regard to this Bill to the effect that it had been brought in only for one class. But then so was the Act of 1875 brought in for one class, and the noble Viscount (Viscount Cross), Lord Beaconsfield, and Lord Cairns introduced a clause in the Bill of 1875 dealing with this law of conspiracy for one class alone. They dealt with it in this way. At that time no one took any interest in the question of civil liability, and your Lord- 694 ships will remember there never had been any attempt to make out any civil liability. It was only criminal liability that was thought of when an Amendment was being contemplated in the law of conspiracy. See what Lord Cairns, who certainly was not a revolutionary statesman, said—The principle on 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.I cannot use any more severe censure of the law of conspiracy. There was accordingly a clause inserted in the Bill that no persons in a case of trade dispute should be exposed to criminal punishment for conspiracy—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 employer and workman shall not be indictable as conspiracy if the said act committed by one person would not be punishable as a crime.Then came the new world and the new ideas, and every one seemed to have forgotten all this controversy connected with the settlements of 1871 and 1875. Decisions were given to the effect that there was a civil liability, and therefore the civil responsibility for conspiracy became very serious. This Bill proposes to place civil responsibility for conspiracy on the same footing as criminal, nothing more nor less.
There is one other clause which is somewhat novel in point of matter. It is very technical and very difficult to enter upon except in the Committee stage, but I may give an illustration of the kind of case which is it intended to meet. There was the case of a strike where some Irishmen had been induced by the employers to come over to Whitehaven for the purpose of taking the places of the men who were out on strike. These Irishmen did not know that a strike was going on, and one of the officials of the trade union met them at the station and said to them—My men, do you know what yon are coming for? You are corning to replace your comrades who are on strike. I will pay your faros back again to Ireland. Will you go back?Not wishing to injure their comrades these men went back; but the trade 695 union was held responsible and had to pay damages because it was interfering with a contract.
There was another case told to me by my friend, Mr. Shackleton, in which the hon. Member was himself concerned. It was a case in which men were working at standard wages, but the materials supplied by the employers were so bad that the men could not obtain their standard rate of wages. They struck, and other men came in answer to an advertisement which said that the standard rate of wages would be paid. The men knew nothing about the strike, but they were told that the statement about the standard rate of wages was wrong, because the materials were so bad that the standard rate of wages could not be earned. Those who advised the men were held responsible for correcting what was uncommonly like a fraud in the statement that the standard rate of wages was being paid. That is the class of case which is struck at by this fourth part of the Bill. The second, third, and fourth of the proposals I have indicated are in substance recommended by the Royal Commission, although the Royal Commission did not have the benefit of a single witness from the side of the workmen.
I have now concluded my statement of what this Bill contains, and I wish to commend it to your Lordships, not from any political view, but because I believe myself that it is a just and honest Bill. I sincerely trust that it will receive the approval of your Lordships. In regard to any dependent, ancillary matter in respect of details, in the wording or the phrasing of the Bill, I will be ready to do my best to explain and to justify its provisions when we go into Committee; but I do not believe that your Lordships will not willingly and cheerfully give the measure a Second Reading.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, if I venture to follow the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, it is certainly not because I have the temerity to try conclusions with him in regard to 696 the various questions of legal interpretation on which he has spoken, but I do desire at the outset to lay before your Lordships one or two considerations, not at all of a technical character, which you may perhaps do well to bear in mind. We all listened with the greatest interest to the history which the noble and learned Lord gave of the legislation which affects these associations. In a case of this kind it seems to me that we cannot be too particular to bear in mind the history of the question and what may be described as the trend of legislation. There can be no doubt that, as the noble and learned Lord has pointed out, the trend of recent legislation has been strongly in the direction of a more liberal recognition of the rights and privileges of trade unions. I suppose the high-water mark of such legislation was reached when, in the years 1871 and 1875, the two measures to which reference has been made were introduced, the latter by my noble friend Lord Cross. Those measures went very far indeed in the direction of the recognition of trade unions, so far, indeed, that, if I remember aright, the noble Lord received the cordial approbation and thanks of the trade unions for the great service he had rendered them.
But those two measures stopped, at least, so it seems to me very considerably short of the legislation to which you are now asked to agree. They certainly, as I understand them, did not confer on trade unions the wholesale immunities which they will enjoy under this Bill. The demand for further legislation has arisen in consequence of three well-known decisions of the courts, notably that decision of your Lordships' House which is generally referred to as the Taff Vale case. Since that decision there has been continuous pressure for further legislation. I do not think that the demand is by any means a surprising one, because it is the case—I rest myself upon the authority of Lord Dunedin's Commission—that that particular decision of the House came upon many people as a surprise.
Since 1891 Bills for the purpose of amending the law in regard to trade unions have been repeatedly introduced, and, recognising that the question had to 697 be faced, the late Government appointed a Royal Commission, over which my noble friend Lord Dunedin presided. That in itself amounted to an admission on our part that further legislation might be called for. While that Commission was sitting there came the Bills of 1904 and 1905, which were passed by appreciable majorities. Then came the general election, when throughout the whole of the country in every constituency where there is an industrial vote this question of legislation to remedy the Taff Vale decision was brought before the voters, and the Labour vote was solidly cast in favour of such a change. We have now before us the Report of Lord Dunedin's Commission, in which a number of important changes in the law are recommended. With these facts before us there can be no doubt that legislation of this kind—I do not say the legislation embodied in this Bill, but legislation for the further relief of trade unions—is inevitable, and I venture to say that if we had been sitting on the benches opposite it would have been impossible for us to have avoided dealing with the subject.
I pass now to the Bill before your Lordships. I shall not attempt to discuss its legal details. Those will be dealt with by others who will follow me, but I do venture to call your Lordships' attention to this, that the Bill is certainly not the Bill of Lord Dunedin's Commission, and that it is certainly not the Bill which was originally proposed to Parliament by His Majesty's Government. That is especially the case in regard to the provisions dealing with the immunity of trade unions' funds. The noble and learned Lord, anticipating evidently that this argument might be used, dealt with it very gracefully and airily, but I must say I thought not in an absolutely conclusive manner.
I should like to remind your Lordships of what passed in regard to the Government Bill when it was first introduced. It was explained to the House by the Attorney-General, who, comparing the merits of the Government's proposal with those of another proposal which is virtually that now before your Lordships, said—The proposition, I understand, is that, however great and ruinous the loss that may 698 be suffered by an individual, however unjustifiable the conduct of the union which may occasion that loss, even in the case of that conduct having been carried out by means of the use of the funds which are controlled by the union, yet those funds, the property of the union, are not to be made liable to redress the claim consequent on that loss. You must fairly face that proposition. I invite the House, before they put a proposition of that kind into legislative shape, seriously to consider its effect. It would be impossible to confine it to these combinations. If you place them in this position you will have to deal with claims on the part of other bodies also entitled to the consideration of Parliament who may ask that the same privilege should be extended to them. I ask the House is there not this danger attending the alternative policy to which I have referred, namely, that in your anxiety to check one injustice you may create another?The Attorney-General went on to use another argument. He said—We are a democratic country, we are a democratic Party, we are a democratic Parliament. But are you not proposing class privileges? In the old days of our law these immunities of class existed. They were the privileges of the aristocracy, and they have been abolished. Do not let us create a privilege for the proletariat. Are we sure that it is wise to remove from these unions, and particularly from the agents employed, a sense of responsibility? They are often swayed by passion, by excitement, and by natural feelings. Is it right that their agents should move about with the consciousness that whatever they do, the property of the union will not have to bear any loss? Is that feeling likely to produce caution, prudence, self-restraint, and regard for the rights and feeling of others?I apologise for reading that long extract, but it expresses so much better than I can the feelings with which I, and I cannot help thinking many others of your Lordships, regard this question of special immunities that I think it worth while to lay it before the House.
But, my Lords, in vain did the law officer of the Crown expatiate on the superior merits of the Government proposal. Within forty-eight hours that proposal was laid aside in favour of the very proposal which, in eloquent words, the Attorney-General had himself denounced. No Parliamentary episode, I will venture to say, was ever more remarkable than the manner in which upon that occasion the Prime Minister came forward and quietly put aside those of his colleagues who had spoken in the same sense, as the Attorney-General, and expressed himself unreservedly in favour of the private Member's Bill 699 which had been put forward in lieu of the Government measure. The colleagues of the Prime Minister had stated in public that nothing would induce them —this was the expression of one of them —to toe the line, but the Prime Minister came forward and toed it for them with a vengeance. The result is that the Bill now does precisely what the Attorney-General said should not be done, viz., secures absolute immunity for the funds of the trade unions.
Unless I read the measure wrongly, things may be done under the shelter of this provision which will bring ruin, bodily suffering, and mental anguish to individuals, and occasion loss, danger, and inconvenience to the community as a whole. Do not let it be supposed that any of us desire that obstacles should be put in the way of the use of trade union funds for the purpose of promoting strikes. Still less let it be supposed that any of us desire that that portion of the trade unions' funds which has been subscribed for philanthropic purposes should be liable to confiscation in consequence of the foolish or unauthorised acts of persons connected with those unions. We would all welcome a change of the law which would have the effect of safeguarding the benefit funds of trade unions, and I would remind the House that among the recommendations of Lord Dunedin's Commission was one designed to effect that particular object. But Lord Dunedin's recommendation has been ignored, and this Bill places the whole of the funds of trade unions beyond the reach of the law, even where the conduct of the persons connected with those trade unions has been of the most atrocious description.
Let me say that I am not at all reconciled to this change in the law by the fact that His Majesty's Government have extended a similar immunity to employers of labour. That may be a salve to the Ministerial conscience, but it seems to me to be at once an illusory and a most mischievous proposal. We have heard a good dea lof these bilateral arrangements, and I confess I have no great confidence in them. In this case, at any rate, it seems to me idle to suggest that the two 700 parties are really in a position of equality, and that because you say to the employer, "You may do what the person employed is able to dc," you therefore give to the employer a fair and proper measure of protection. May we not ask what sort of an eirenicon is this which tells the two parties that they are free to fly at each other's throats and resort to what one Member of the Commission called the "arbitrament of private war?"
Then one word with regard to the question of peaceful picketing. Here, again, you have the admission by Lord Dunedin's Commission that some change in the law is desirable, but I confess that the clause on the table seems to me to be replete with dangerous possibilities. The noble and learned Lord gave us a slight dissertation on the question of peaceful picketing, and he said, if I remember aright, that peaceful picketing could not be done in a pleasant way. That is a very mild description of peaceful picketing as we are familiar with it. I would ask your Lordships' attention to what Lord Dunedin's Commission had to say upon peaceful picketing. They said—What it comes to is "his, that watching and besetting for the purpose of peaceably persuading is really a contradiction in terms. The truth is that picketing, however conducted, when it consists of watching or besetting the house, etc.—and it is to be observed that the statute places no limit to the number of persons attending for the purpose only of obtaining or communicating information or to the length of time during which such attendance may be maintained—is always and of necessity in the nature of an annoyance to the person picketed. As such, it must savour of compulsion, and it cannot be doubted that it is because it is found to compel that trade unions systematically resort to it. It is obvious how easy it must be to pass from the language of persuasion into that of abuse, and from words of abuse to threats and acts of violence. A considerable proportion of the cases of physical violence which occur during times of strike arise directly or indirectly out of picketing.That description seeing to me not quite consistent with the account given of the process of picketing by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack when he told us that in his view picketing need not be associated with the idea of violence or intimidation. With regard to the law of conspiracy I am not going to attempt to say a word. Impressed by 701 the fact that Lord Dunedin, in his Report, says that his colleagues—have found it impossible to reconcile the opinions and dicta which have been pronounced by judges and writers of authority in the matter,I shall not entangle myself in that morass.
I wish, however, to say a word about another clause in the Bill, that which deals with the definition of trade disputes. I confess that that clause seems to me to be one of a most alarming description. What does it say? It states that—The expression 'trade dispute' means any dispute which is connected with the employment or non-employment or the terms of the employment, or with the conditions of labour, of any person; and in section 3 of the last-mentioned Act, the words 'between employers and workmen' shall be repealed.That section was not in the original Bill of His Majesty's Government, and it seems to me to be of the most far-reaching description, and to extend the immunities of the Bill in the widest possible fashion, even to persons of whom it could not be truly said that they were parties to what can be properly called a trade dispute. When such a trade dispute occurs, when this entirely undefined condition of things arises, there is apparently to be a general release from what a writer on this subject has described as the "irreducible minimum of decent behaviour," which the States expects of its citizens. How is the public to become aware that this state of private war has arisen? There is no proclamation, and we may find ourselves at any moment with a trade dispute in progress, and while that dispute continues it is scarcely too much to say the law of the land remains in suspense.
This is a point which I know is regarded with the gravest concern by noble Lords connected with Ireland. Is it, or is it not, the case that under this wide definition of a trade dispute agrarian disputes in Ireland will be included? The Government say that is not their intention, but I hope when we come to discuss details that this may be established to our satisfaction. As at present advised I fail to see how agrarian disputes in Ireland, if the question of the employment or dismissal of a workman arises, can fall outside the scope of the measure.
702 I have now to ask your Lordships to join me for one moment in considering what the House of Lords should do with this remarkable Bill. It seems to me to raise in the most acute fashion a question which many of us must of late have been asking ourselves, the question to what extent this House is justified in barring the way to measures recommended by the majority of the House of Commons, but in our opinion detrimental to the public interest. I for one have always held that that question can admit of only one answer. I believe it to be the duty of your Lordships' House to arrest the progress o£ such measures whenever we believe that they have been insufficiently considered and that they are not in accord with the deliberate judgment of the country.
We claim not for this House but for the constituencies the right of passing a final decision upon such questions. I venture to remind your Lordships of the words which fell from a great leader of this House, the late Lord, Salisbury, who once described this House as an instrument for reserving on all great and vital questions a voice for the electors and the people of this country. I ask you to apply that canon. to the case before the House. I cannot help thinking that whatever our opinion may be of this Bill, we have to admit that the voice of the electors has been heard with regard to it.
Many extravagant proposals have been put forward upon the ground of an alleged mandate given by the constituencies to His Majesty's Government. I regard those claims, as a rule, with the utmost suspicion, but I think that i£ they can claim a mandate for anything they can claim a mandate for dealing with this question. If your Lordships were to refer this Bill back to the country, what would be the result? We can have no doubt as to the answer which the constituencies would give. I believe we should find the demand for a similar Bill renewed with greater intensity, and in a form embittered by the suggestion that the House of Lords was in conflict with the general desire of the working men of the country. There is another consideration which weighs with me, 703 it is that referred to by the Lord Chancellor when he dwelt upon the fact that throughout the discussions on the Bill the employers of labour in Parliament did not, so far as I know, raise a little finger to arrest its progress. That, to my mind, is a fact full of significance, which we cannot disregard. I have, therefore, come to the conclusion that the only course open to this House is to pass this Bill.
May I be allowed to push the question even further, and say that in my humble opinion it would be unwise of your Lordships either to reject this Bill or substitute for it what would virtually be a different measure, whether the original Bill of the Government or any other. I cannot conceive that His Majesty's Government could accept such a proposal at our hands. They have, if they will pardon me for saying so, already run away from their own Bill; they cannot afford to run away again. What, then, would happen if we substituted for this Bill a widely different measure? There would be an appeal to the constituencies, not upon a clean-cut issue, but upon the rival merits of two Bills, both highly technical, both probably of a kind which your Lordships on this side of the House would not regard with any great favour. I should greatly deprecate an appeal to the people of this country upon such a ground as that.
We are passing through a period when it is necessary for this House to move with very great caution. Conflicts, controversies, may be inevitable, but let us, at any rate so far as we are able, be sure that if we join issue we do so upon ground which is as favourable as possible to ourselves. In this case I believe the ground would be unfavourable to this House, and I believe the juncture is one when, even if we were to win for the moment, our victory would be fruitless in the end. I say, then, that, so far as I am concerned, I shall not vote against the Bill. I regard it as conferring excessive privileges upon the trade unions, as conferring dangerous privileges on one class and on one class only, privileges in excess of what the most trusted exponents of their views have formerly asked for, privileges fraught with danger. 704 to the community and likely to embitter the industrial life of this country, but I hold also that it is useless for us, situated as we are, to oppose this measure. If, however, we allow it to pass this House we have at any rate the right to say that we disclaim all responsibility for its provisions, and to express our hope that the common sense of employers and employed may prevent any untoward consequences from attending the reign of licence which the recklessness of His Majesty's Government is about to inaugurate.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
My Lords, I confess that I listened to the closing words of my noble friend's speech with the very deepest regret. I think it is somewhat new in the history of this House that it should be admitted that a Bill is injurious, dangerous, and unjust, and that nevertheless your Lordships are not to divide against it. I do not think that this is one of those cases in which I should challenge those with whom I have acted all my life, but I confess that I acquiesce with the greatest reluctance in the course which my noble friend has advised the House to follow. I feel that this Bill is most unjust, and that it is contrary to the spirit of English liberty.
I listened with the greatest attention to the speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, and I confess I thought his history, beginning from the Norman Conquest, was somewhat fanciful. I do not think trade unions were known, or even contemplated, in those days. There is no doubt that great oppression was used in this country to to various classes of persons, and that the spirit of freedom gradually evolved our constitution as it stands; but the notion that trade unions have been suffering from injury and oppression since the Norman Conquest is one of those little fancies of rhetoric to which I think the noble and learned Lord is not accustomed.
The question is not one of technicalities; it is a very simple one indeed. It is whether one particular class of the community are, or are not, to be freed from the ordinary responsibilities of their actions in a trade dispute; and the only reason advanced for this amazing 705 proposition is the idea which was said to prevail from 1871 to 1901 that trade unions could not be sued. Personally, I think that idea was a mistaken one. My noble and learned friend said it did not matter whether it was a question of principle or a question only of procedure. He will forgive me for saying that that is exactly the reverse of what I should have suggested. If it were only a question of procedure, then there was no significance at all in the immunity of trade unions. If it were a question of principle it would be a very different thing. But it is a question of principle which is now endeavoured to be put before your Lordships for acceptance. What is that principle? My noble and learned friend said the world went on very well then, and there was no question about the liability of trade unions. In one sense that is true. It is true that there was no action brought for civil remedy. But were there no indictments, were there no proceedings against trade unionists for misbehaviour?
I remember very well when I was at the bar hearing that distinguished judge, Lord Bramwell, who was not one of those who sat on this side of the House, saying that the distinguishing characteristic of English law from its earliest period was that a man's will was as much protected by it as his body; and that if by intimidation or any other means you try to coerce a man's mind you are guilty of an unlawful act. What is it we have got to deal with here? This Bill says in terms that if a man does wrong to another in the course of a trade dispute the Courts are to have no jurisdiction. I venture to say that so disgraceful a section has never appeared in an English statute before. You admit the wrong, but you say the man who does the wrong shall have immunity because he belongs to a privileged class. Was there ever such a thing heard of in a civilised country?
It is said that a similar immunity is extended to the employer as to the employed. What does that come to? In the case of a trade dispute those who administer the law are to retire, and these two are to be given letters of licence to do as they please with one 706 another. I protest against such a principle of law being embodied in a statute, and I cannot think that people really understand what is at the bottom of this Bill. A great many of the employers were no doubt under the impression that the Bill which is now before your Lordships would never be proceeded with at all. I notice that the employers in the House of Commons only have been referred to. But what about the employers outside the House? Have they had their minds applied to this Bill? Was this particular form of legislation put by way of mandate at the General Election? I doubt it; and, even if it had been, I should very much doubt whether the full effect of it was contemplated.
By this Bill you are getting rid of one of the principles of English law. What is it that gives confidence in English law? It is that it recognises the principles of justice. The principle of law contained in this Bill is absolutely contrary to the whole spirit of the Constitution. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack referred to the manner in which trade unions had gathered together their great funds, and incidentally I must say I thought it a little remarkable that these trade unions which are to get immunity by reason of an argument ad misericordiam are able to administer such a sum as £16,000,000. Would there be any difficulty in protecting the funds of trade unions which are used for the purpose of sick benefits and so on? No one doubts that legislation directed to that object would be welcome. It is recommended by the Royal Commission. But that will not do. Why not? Because the immunity is sought for funds which are used for what is practically civil war in another form.
In my opinion, this is a most serious alteration of the whole principles on which our laws are based. You are depriving English law of what has been its boast—its equality and its impartiality. It will not be possible to say in future that all people are equal before the law. My noble and learned friend on the Woolsack spoke of jurists and professors as being persons who had denounced this legislation. Well, jurists and professors have some knowledge of the jurisprudence of which they are talking. I know that in 707 the opinion of some people ignorance is a qualification, and education a disqualification for the exercise of any rights; but, apart from those peculiar persons, I should have thought that the opinion of jurists and professors was of some importance in considering the legislation of the country. I notice that it was in no measured terms that jurists and professors pointed out the gross injustice of this Bill. No one has better disclosed the defects of the Bill than my noble friend, who has suggested that it should be read a second time. On what principle does it rest? Can anyone tell me what is the principle of this Bill?
What I cannot understand, and what nobody has yet explained, is why these particular persons—employers and employed—are to be placed outside the law. What example for such a proceeding is there in our Constitution? I seek in vain for an answer. Now, let me read the language of the Bill itself, for I confess I should have thought nothing more than this would be necessary to condemn it. Clause 4 provides that—An action against a trade union, whether of workmen or masters, or against any members or officials thereof on behalf of themselves and all other members of the trade union in respect of any tortious act alleged to have been committed by or on behalf of the trade union, shall not be entertained by any court.Language fails me to say more of that than that it speaks for itself. Anything more outrageously unjust, anything more tyrannical, I can hardly conceive. My noble and learned friend said that in dealing with this question we are not to listen to jurists or to professors. If I refer to what was apparently the most prominent thing in his mind—namely, what the Attorney-General had said, what Mr. Asquith had said, and what Mr. Haldane had said—I care not at all for their utterances as a stone to throw at the Government of which they are members, but what I say about them is that they are gentlemen of high authority, of great learning, and persons whose views on such a subject are well worth consideration. I invoke their authority to show how utterly indefensible is the Bill now before your Lordships.
The Government have adopted what has been in the first instance repudiated. I do not care about the consistency of the 708 politicians; all I ask is that the lawyers should explain why they have changed their minds. The question is whether this House ought to act in the way proposed. There is no pretence that the Bill is just and right. What it comes to is this—"We have a very large majority, and while we have it, and we hope to retain it for a long time, we will ask such a Bill as you shall not be able to undo hereafter." That is not a reason why this House should acquiesce in what your Lordships believe to be unjust. While I do not like to acquiesce in what I believe to be wrong, I do not desire to raise difficulties and make the conflict worse than it would otherwise be.
I have here for presentation a great number of petitions from persons who are certainly entitled to be heard, but I will not trouble the House with them all. One of these petitions says that the petitioners, whilst not approving of the terms of the Bill as introduced in the House of Commons by the Attorney-General, are prepared to accept its terms generally as a reasonable compromise between employer and employed. The Bill was, however, afterwards amended in such a manner that the petitioners consider that it is most unjust and detrimental to their interests as employers and to the interests of trade and commerce. That is a specimen of a great many petitions. I have petitions from the manufacturers of malleable iron and steel in the county of Lanark, from the colliery proprietors in the county of Monmouth, the owners of dry docks and ship repairers in the county of Monmouth and the adjacent counties, and the Clyde Steamship Owners' Association. The petitioners, representing important interests in England, Scotland, and Wales, describe the Bill as being likely to aggravate disputes between employer and employed, and interfere with trade and industry.
At the same time, it is suggested by most of them that they are and have been on terms of perfect amity with their dependants and workpeople, and that the effect of the Bill would be to stir up strife and destroy the harmony that has. hitherto prevailed in their industries—How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds Makes ill deeds done !709 If immunity is given to a certain class from the consequences of their acts, is it in human nature to resist the temptation? I understand that the strength of the trade unionists is 2,000,000, and that of non-unionists about 8,000,000. If the Bill passes, is it likely that these 8,000,000 will remain outside the organisations enjoying immunity? This is a Bill for the purpose of legalising tyranny, for the purpose of taking people outside the ordinary courts of law. I do not want to be a prophet of evil, but I cannot help saying that this Bill is likely to produce commercial distress, and extremely likely to produce the sort of warfare in an intense degree which it appears to be contemplated it may produce. It may be also that it will drive justice from her seat. I do not want to be a prophet of evil; I dare say that, notwithstanding such a Bill, we may recover ourselves, but I believe it will be after much suffering and much injury. It may also take us a long time to recover. I believe in my conscience that if Parliament passes the Bill they will strike a serious blow against the spirit of freedom which has hitherto reigned throughout our laws.
§ * LORD COLERIDGE
My Lords, I trust that the gloomy prophecies of the noble and learned Lord may not be realised, and at any rate I hope I may succeed in persuading your Lordships that the law in regard to the matters dealt with in this Bill is in a very unsatisfactory, unsettled, and complicated state, and that this Bill does something to remedy that defect. We surely should always be agreed that the law which workmen are called upon to obey should be clear, and that they should thoroughly understand the law which governs their actions. We have heard, in the opening of this debate, that so far back as the year 1876 Parliament stepped in and altered the law of conspiracy ill regard to trade disputes where crime was involved, and since that year workmen have been able to combine together, owing to special legislation in trade disputes, without being guilty of the crime of conspiracy so long as the acts which they committed would not be crimes if committed by one person. This Bill in the second clause simply assimilates the law as it 710 now exists with regard to criminal law to civil liability in trade disputes.
As the law, as I understand it, now stands, there is this difficulty, that if workmen combine, and if they are impelled by what the law holds to be unlawful motives, although they commit no unlawful act, they are liable in a civil action if damage ensues as the result of their conduct, although if one man did the same thing with the same motive he would not be liable. That surely is a complicated state of the law. If one man, for instance, does merely that which is lawful, whereby injury is sustained by another, the motive with which he does that is quite immaterial. You cannot, by ascribing a bad motive, make that which is lawful unlawful; but it is according to our law otherwise when the persons combine. Then their motive, their intention, can be inquired into, although they commit no unlawful act, and if their motive is held by the Court to be bad, malicious, injurious, and if damage ensues, then an action will lie at the suit of the man who is injured. Surely this is extremely perplexing to everybody.
Every trade dispute, I care not whether it be a dispute between employers or a dispute between employers and workmen, is in the nature of an industrial war. In the year 1898 employers were told by the Courts of law that if their principal object was to benefit themselves they might commercially fight their rivals; they might boycott them, they might undersell them, they might drive them from their trade, although they knew that by doing so they would injure and ruin them. That was held in the case of employers, but in the year 1901 workmen, on the other hand, were told that if they combined with an intention to injure and did injure, although they committed no other unlawful act, they were liable in damages for the injury which was sustained. That made an inquiry into motive essential. In an industrial war you hit out for yourselves, but you intend at the same time to injure your opponent, and to find out which is the predominant motive, whether to benefit yourself or to injure your opponent, is surely a very difficult matter. 711 The answer is that juries have to decide that, and when the working man is brought into court at the suit of an employer, what does he find? To judge this extremely subtle and difficult question, which requires all the skill and impartiality that a man can possess, he finds himself confronted by a jury very probably selected by his opponent from a special class, a special jury naturally with feeling towards the class to which they themselves belong. This seems to me to be a powerful argument to justify assimilating the law as to civil liability to that as to criminal liability. That is all that the Bill does in Clause 1.
Clause 2 deals with picketing. This is really all it comes to. The law, as it stands, says that you may peacefully picket if you do so merely for the purpose of obtaining or communicating information; but if you go further and attempt to persuade it is unlawful. Now, what is the reason of that? Is it reasonable to tell working men that they may stand outside an employer's works for the purpose of telling workmen who are about to enter that there is a strike on, but that if they go further and advise the men not to go in, they are committing a crime in the eye of the law? Surely, this is manifestly unreasonable. It is a distinction without a difference which this Bill very properly takes away.
Clause 3 has become necessary having regard to the dicta of some eminent Judges in a particular case. If these dicta remained as the exposition of the law, it would be absolutely impossible to conduct a strike in accordance with the law, because, for instance, it was suggested that to call upon men to leave work was an illegal act if any one of them was unwilling, having regard to the power over their wills of the combination, and if any one of them happened to be working under a contract, to call upon him to leave work would be illegal and actionable, even if he was willing and anxious to leave work. Surely that is an irrational state of the law. A great deal has been said about its being improper, illegal, wrong, and I do not know what, to make it harmless for a man to persuade another to break a contract. In regard to that, all I can say is that every lawyer 712 knows that that has been a disputed point; it is even now disputable. It has been a disputed point for years whether or not it is actionable for one man to persuade another to break a contract. There were two occasions, one in 1853 and one in 1881, when the Courts held that it was actionable for one man to persuade another man to break a contract, but on each of those occasions there was a Judge who differed from his colleagues; and I, perhaps, may be pardoned for saying that I have hereditary tendency to be rather convinced by the judgment of those two particular Judges than to be convinced by the judgment of the majority from which they differed. But, however that may be, it is enough to show that the point has been disputed and is highly disputable, and to make it quite clear in trade disputes that it shall not be an illegal act for one man to persuade another man to break a contract does not justify the heated accusations against this part of the Bill that have been levelled at it by opponents of this clause.
The main controversy has no doubt arisen round Clause 4. It is the clause which renders the funds of trade unions immune from action. Why is it said that this is a great novelty in legislation? Before 1871 we heard that trade unions were mere aggregations of individuals. They were clothed with no powers or rights, and they were subject to no legal liability. I do not believe, in spite of what the Commissioners say, that before 1871 you could have brought an action and attached the funds of a trade union, because a trade union was not an entity which could authorise an act, or could be the principal of any agent, and, therefore, in my humble opinion, before 1871 the funds were as immune as they would be under the provisions of this Bill. At any rate, those who passed the Act of 1871 clearly intended that the funds of trade unions should be immune. Why do I say that? I pass by the expressions in debate which were used at the time, but in the Act of 1871 a special provision was inserted permitting the trustees of the funds of trade unions to sue and be sued in respect of their property. That was to make an exception in favour of the unions in that sense, namely, that in respect of 713 their property the trustees could sue and be sued, but that provision would have been senseless if the funds of the unions could be attached for any action of tort brought against the union. And the fact that that provision was put upon the Statute-book proves to me that those who passed that Act intended in other cases that the funds of unions should be immune.
From 1871 to 1901 trade unions were supposed to enjoy immunity from actions of this character, and did enjoy it, and why in. the next thirty years all these terrible things should take place if this Bill passes I am at a loss to discover. In 1894 a Royal Commission on Labour made a Report, and in that Report, which was signed by Sir Frederick Pollock, an eminent jurist, appears the following sentence—Persons injured by the action of trade unions and their agents can only proceed against the agents personally.Therefore, it was quite clear that that Commission, and Sir Frederick Pollock among them, thought that at that time the funds of trade unions were immune from actions brought against them. Then came the fateful year of 1901. It was then held that a trade union could be sued in tort for an act done by one of its members, and that since 1883 a trade union could be sued and its funds attached by means of a representative action. This came as a complete surprise to everyone. Of course, it is the law of the land. No one doubts that; but certainly Parliament never intended it to be the law of the land, and certainly lawyers and laymen alike never thought it was the law of the land. This Bill simply puts back trade unions into the position which Parliament, lawyers, and laymen thought they occupied. That the public was not thereby endangered or damaged, that none of these prophesied consequences ensued upon this state of things, is shown by the fact that during those thirty years no effort was made in Parliament to render the funds which were then thought to be immune liable in actions of tort, which certainly would have been the first thing Parliament would have thought of if the immunity of those funds carried these terrible consequences in their train.
714 It is said that the Bill places trade unions in a perfectly privileged position. No Person if he commits or authorises a tort is rendered immune by this Bill, whether he belongs to for trade union or not, and when we talk of the funds of a trade union I do not know that those funds are any more immune than the funds of a club, or funds gathered together for political purposes at the Carlton Club and elsewhere. They are as immune, but no less immune, than the funds of trade unions under this Bill. We have heard with satisfaction that although this is said to be a tyrannical Bill, and although a wrong is said by it to be done to the community, this House is going to pass the Second Reading. I only hope that the precedent of the Education Bill will not be followed, and that your Lordships will not, while doing lip homage to the principle contained in the Bill, mutilate it out of recognition in the Committee Stage. If you do, my Lords, I submit respectfully that your action will seem to be all the more unfair because in this House there is no representative of the class of work men whose interests are so vitally affected by this legislation. I trust, therefore, that the Bill will pass into law, if not in the actual form, at any rate in substantially the same form, as that in which it is now introduced to your Lordships.
§ * LORD KELVIN
My Lords, I trust that your Lordships' House will never pass a Bill which contains such a provision as this—An action against a trade union, whether of workmen or masters … in respect of any tortious act alleged to have been committed by or on behalf of the trade union, shall not be entertained by any Court.If a tortious act is alleged against a trade union, there is to be no redress. I speak in the sense of justice and injustice, liberty and coercion. I feel for the workmen who would lose their liberty if this Bill passed into law. It seems to me a distinct duty, in the interests of right against wrong, and in the interests of liberty and justice, that your Lordships should reject this Bill.
My Lords, as I have placed a Motion on the Paper to 715 move that this Bill be read a second time this day six months, I should like to say a few words. In the interesting speeches we have heard up to now, the interests of the trade unions have been mentioned and the interests of the employers touched upon, but not a word has been said about the interests of the great majority of the workmen in this country who do not wish to belong to trade unions. They are the very large majority, and I have not heard one word dealing with their interests. My only reason for putting down the Motion which stands in my name was to enter a protest on behalf of the great majority of the manual workers of this country who are not organised in trade unions. I am not taking into account in any way how this Bill may influence disputes between masters and men. What I wish to do is to call your Lordships' attention to the treatment that in every case is meted out by trade unionists to workmen who do not belong to their unions, and to point out that this Bill will put into the hands of trade unions a most dangerous weapon of tyranny and coercion. The number of workmen who do not belong to trade unions exceeds very largely those who are members of trade unions.
I am assured by the noble Earl beside me that they are nine to one. I think it is generally known that trade unionists in nearly every case object to working with non-unionists, or, as they describe thorn, blacklegs. I do not think the contrary has ever been found to be the case, that non-unionists object to work with trade unionists. This Bill, I contend, will put this great majority of workmon—the non-unionists —at the mercy of the smaller body, or, I should rather say, at the mercy of the leaders of what I may describe as an organised minority. The non-unionists in many cases will have no option but to remain out of work or join the union. I think this is quite contrary to the principle of justice and the love of fair play which is supposed to exist in the English character. I must say I am astonished to find a measure of this description brought forward by a Government which professes strongly to advocate free trade, for I think your Lordship will agree 716 with me that this measure is protection in its very strongest form. Peaceful picketing, as it appears in the Bill and as it has been described by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, is one thing, but peaceful picketing as construed in the usual practice of strikes is quite a different thing. What the trade unionists employed in a strike may deem peaceful I think most Members of your Lordships' House and most other people would regard as acts of severe violence. I remember some years ago a person being brought before mo on a charge of cracking a man's head. He told me that it was only a peaceful blow. I think you might apply the same interpretation of peacefulness to trade unions in the case of picketing. We may be told that His Majesty's Government have a mandate from the country to bring in this Bill, and my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition has stated that the subject has been before the constituencies. But the question is, Did the constituencies fully understand what they were dealing with? If we are to believe that this is a mandate from the country, then we are to believe that everyone of that large number of workmen who have declined to join trade unions, as well as that very numerous class of our fellow-countrymen who are affected by strikes, were content that the weapon of coercion should be placed in the hands of a privileged minority to be used against them. I do not think this is possible. I cannot believe that this measure was properly understood by those whom it will affect most, and I hold that the country should have a chance of considering and expressing its opinion upon the Bill before such a drastic measure becomes law. But after what my noble Leader said in his speech, indicating what he considered should be the procedure of this House, I have no choice but to ask permission of your Lordships to withdraw my notice of Motion for the rejection of the Bill.
* LORD JAMES OK HEREFORD
My Lords, if I followed my own inclination there are reasons which would cause me to take no part in this discussion, but after the words of my noble friend, Lord Lansdowne, there would be a want of moral courage on the part of those who feel strongly on this matter if they 717 remained silent. The noble Marquess, at the conclusion of his speech, stated that this Bill would pass, but that he and his immediate followers would bear no responsibility for the passing of it. That, I submit, is an untenable position. This House must bear the responsibility of its action, whether it supports the Bill or merely does not oppose it. The noble Marquess, with the strength at his command, cannot disclaim responsibility.
When in March, 1869, Lord Salisbury urged this House to pass the Irish Church Disestablishment Bill he did not toll noble Lords that they were not responsible. He urged them to hoar the responsibility of taking the course which he felt they wore compelled to take; and I venture, with great respect, to point out to my noble friend that he cannot disclaim responsibility if he allows this Bill to pass in its present form. The moral courage which animates him will, I trust, cause him to feel, before this discussion is over, that he must assist in moulding the Bill into a proper shape, and that he cannot occupy a position of non-interference.
The debate this evening recalls to my memory discussions of long ago, memories of thirty-five years ago, when this conflict first arose. At that time I did my best to support trade unions. I saw something of the drafting of the Bill of 1871, and I fought strenuously in the interest of trade unions during the pro gross of the Bill of 1875 through Committee, and I have sufficient recollection of what I then thought was right to express a hope now, and to bear the responsibility of saying so, that this Bill will receive a Second Reading. There is enough in the Bill to justify this claim on solid ground. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, in his most graceful speech, referred to the provision as to peaceful picketing. I think that the protection of such picketing is but an act of justice.
I regret that for the moment my noble friend Lord Cross has left the House, for I wished to recall to his memory a scene that occurred on a warm day in August, 1875. It was on a Saturday afternoon, I recollect, when some forty of us remained true to the cause we were advocating, and pertinacious claimed 718 that peaceful picketing should be justified in the Bill we were considering. My noble friend Lord Cross was in joint charge of that Bill with the late Lord. Cranbrook, and those two Members of the House of Commons were spokesmen for the Government who had introduced the Bill. They only refused the Amendments which we moved for the insertion of the peaceful picketing provision because, on the authority of Lord Cairns, a great Lord Chancellor, they declared their positive conviction that the sanction of peaceful picketing was to be found within the Bill. That opinion has since been declared to be wrong, and the promises and Parliamentary pledges of Lord Cross and Lord Cranbrook have never been fulfilled. It is but an act of justice, therefore, that this provision, which was then promised, should now be made clear; and personally I shall vote for the Bill in order to see that injustice removed.
But your Lordships will have to discuss the fourth clause very carefully and thoroughly, for the provisions therein contained one all-important. The passage or rejection of that clause will mark an era in legislation, and there can be no absence of responsibility. I am aware that we are not yet in Committee, but I think it is advisable that we should clear the air a little. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said that the clause only declared the law as it was supposed to have been since; 1871; but originally the question had never been mooted as to whether or not trade unions should be suable. Trade unions took their place in the ranks of the public generally; there was no asking for special immunity or privilege. At that time there was no procedure to deal with a body which was not incorporated, no power to recover damages in the Court of Chancery, and therefore it was useless to proceed against the trade unions. But now the trade unions ask for a special immunity for themselves and for no other body. The Primrose League is very much in the same position as a trade union, but if they were to do wrong they would be held liable. The same law would hold good for other bodies similar in kind, but hero there is a question raised of immunity for one body only.
719 The Lord Chancellor used an argument to which a great deal of heed should be given. He said that since 1871 trade unions had not been sued until 1901, and that no harm had arisen in the interval. What does this mean as a question of legislative principle? Personally I at once bear testimony to the wisdom that has guided the counsels of trade organisations in the past. I have known many of them. There was Mr. Knight, the secretary of the most powerful union, the boiler makers' union, who for forty years so ruled his union in the cause of peace that no friction ever existed between the employers and these union men; and there are men like Mr. Abraham, of Rhondda, Mr. Richard Bell, and Mr. Shackleton. They have been wise counsellors in the checking of tortious acts, but can your Lordships legislate simply on the anticipation that there will be a supply of such men in the future? That is not the principle upon which legislation should be based. Your Lordships have to look to the future and to see that great principles should not depend on an accident, though I hope that such men as I have named will continue to guide the counsels of the trade unions.
It is urged that, as no tortious acts have been committed in the past, no tortious acts will be committed in the future. If this be so, what is the need of Clause 4? Indeed this clause is very material because it goes far beyond the question of trade disputes. It says in effect: "Simply register yourselves as a trade union; whatever wrong you may inflict, whatever destruction of property may be caused, we, the Legislature, give you our blessing to go forth and do it." While I support the Bill, therefore, I cannot refrain from pointing out that this clause is most far-reaching. I believe that every Party in the State is acutely interested in the decision to be arrived at in the passage of this clause. I appeal to my old Liberal colleagues to say whether they were in the habit of attacking the Tory Party because as the Party of ascendancy they had passed legislation to protect particular interests. I know I have aided in such attacks. We could appeal to history, and trace legislation by landowners for the protection of their interests. We used to point to the ascendancy of the Church of England pressing hard upon Nonconformists. Comparatively recently there was the maintenance of the 720 Irish Church, the Church of the minority, to denounce. I ask Liberals what are they doing this evening, and to say whether they will ever be able to use such arguments again? They are not only sharpening an old weapon, but they are turning it against themselves. For I challenge them to point in the history of our legislation to one measure of the Conservative Party so full of class interest and so full of class protection as the fourth clause of this Bill? Still more confidently do I appeal to trade unionists —whatever shade of opinions they hold, they are of the democracy—they advocate its claims—and the claim of democracy has ever been that all men should be equal before the law. It is a democratic doctrine that ought never to be lost sight of, but will not this bird of the trade union Party come home some day to roost? Will they not be told that the democratic party which claimed equality with others wore the people who had asked for immunity when their own interests were involved? I hope I shall not lose the confidence of those with whom I have worked through many past years by speaking in the sense in which I have thus spoken. But if thus it must be, so be it, for there is a worse thing than losing the confidence of one's fellowmen, and that is to lose confidence in oneself, and such would be my loss if I gave aught of support to the fourth clause of the Bill.
* EARL RUSSELL
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in introducing this Bill made a speech to which I am sure every Member of the House listened with great interest, not only because of the lucid exposition he gave but also because of the obvious sincerity which animated his utterance. The noble and learned Lord on this bench also made a speech on the Bill, and both of those speeches were Second Reading speeches to the fullest extent. They would have satisfied most of your Lordships that there was a case for some legislation.
The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack made out, I venture to think, a good case for a Bill, but it did not seem to me, and it does not now seem to me, that the noble and learned Lord made out a case for the Bill which is before your Lordships. We were told that the object of Clause 4 was to restore trade 721 unions to the actual position which they occupied before the Taff Vale decision. Those of your Lordships who are more familiar with that decision than I can pretend to be, will, I think, admit that Clause 4 introduces something which is very much larger and wider than any point covered in that decision, and gives very much wider licence to trade unions.
The noble and learned Lord spoke of the difficulties of picketing, and the obvious inconvenience to trade unions of not being able to stand outside employers' works and peacefully persuade people to work or abstain from working. That may be reasonable, but Clause 2 makes it lawful for any number of people to go to the private houses of workpeople and there wait and beset them all day in order to peacefully persuade them. I am not in favour of the clauses as they stand, and if your Lordships see fit to amend them I shall vote for their Amendment. It is, however, my intention to vote for the Second Reading.
I am unable to understand why your Lordships should not amend this Bill. There is one reason more than another which would justify Amendment, and that is that this is not the first mind of His Majesty's Government; this is not the considered mind of His Majesty's Government. The Bill which they introduced has been thrown over and another Bill taken up. The Bill now before your Lordships is not the Bill which was put forward by the Government as their Bill, and it appears to me that if ever there was a case when your Lordships might consider whether the Bill before you effected the objects which it was said to effect it is this case. I venture to think this Bill goes very much further than removing the grievances complained of, and I hope we shall see that it is limited to actually removing legitimate grievances.
* THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK
My Lords, we listened just now to a speech from the noble and learned Lord opposite whose power of i statement and eloquence are second to but few in this House, and who certainly impressed us with the earnestness of his feelings in regard to this matter. He spoke, as others have done, as a lawyer, and it is the possession by this House of 722 a number of Members like himself that constitutes one of its great qualifications for dealing with a subject like this. Lawyers on a matter of this kind disentangle for us the issues and present them in a clear form; they remind us of analogous cases, of the principles which we have to respect; but I am sure noble and learned Lords themselves would say that there are cases, of which this is one, where it is eminently desirable that not the lawyers only, but members of other professions, and even, if one may say so, the plainest layman, ought to try to form some opinion. I was reinforced in that conviction by what fell from one of the greatest legal authorities in this House, the late Lord Chancellor, when he said that this is not a technical question.
I wish to say a few words upon what seem to me the aspects of the question which go rather beyond legal considerations. One expression which the noble and learned Lord used just now was to compare the case of trade unions with the case of other bodies. He said we ought not to do for trade unions what we were not prepared to do for other bodies. That is where I feel that the argument does not really convince. It seems to me that this is a matter in which you may fairly say there is no second case. There is no second case alike in scale, in scope, in importance to the case of the claims of the organised labour of the country. The old saying runs that you cannot frame an indictment against a nation. So it seems to me you cannot treat the wage-earning classes of the country, speaking through their representatives, as one among many bodies, as one among many parties with which the law has to deal. I quite admit, of course, that that does not mean that when we come to deal with the claim of the working classes we should cast on one side all considerations of justice and give to them without scruple privileges which other classes do not possess, but I do say it requires that we should look at the matter afresh.
What I think we ought to try to do in a matter of this kind is, first, to put ourselves into the position of those who make the claim. And when I try to do that I find, briefly, something of this kind. Those in whose interest this Bill is brought forward know that, according 723 to our existing system, the matters upon which their welfare depends, upon which the subsistence of themselves and of their families depends, are determined and settled practically by struggle. That is the first point, and it is, I think, an indisputable point. That these things are settled by struggle seems to me to be perfectly plain. The second point is that they feel themselves the weaker party. It is common, I think, to speak of the overwhelming weight and force of the working classes, their possession of the franchise, and the rest. My own belief is that they habitually think of themselves as the weaker party.
I remember years ago entertaining at my own table some of the officials of a strong trade union, and I observed, not from any particular thing that they urged upon me, but from what they let drop, from their obiter dicta, that it was with them an assumption that they were, to use a common-place expression, the under dog in these controversies. They feel that they lack, as compared to those with whom when contention arises they are struggling, compactness of action. They know the ability and the powers of the great captains of industry. They feel themselves at a disadvantage there, and they feel also that they lack money resources. It is quite true that their half-crowns and their shillings run up into a large sum, but they feel, I think, that whereas in the struggle it is the abundance of others which is pinched and touched, what is pinched with them is their very life and its necessities. They feel that what can be done by employers of labour swiftly and strongly, and even secretly, can be done by themselves only slowly and cumbrously, and with difficulty. In all those ways I believe they act habitually under the sense of being the weaker party. Perhaps they think even more, and they would not be alone in thinking, that employers have in some way more coercive powers over individuals in their own class than the working classes have over their own competitors in their own class; and especially the weaker unions feel that the power of having suits directed against them, the number and strength of which it is impossible for them to forecast, and suits which may or may not be pushed home, is a constant menace to their strength and a drain 724 upon their powers; and this may be a most effective weapon in the hands of employers.
Finally, they recognise that the general trend of bias in Judges and juries Is towards the other side and adverse to their own side. It has been said, not by a working man, but by a great sociologist, that a union under existing circumstances. has to fight with a halter round its neck. We have heard it to-night very eloquently said that justice is at stake, and that we are asking for the working classes what places them in an entirely privileged position. For my own part, I have a very strong belief in the sense of justice in the working classes, and I believe that when they ask for the things they are asking here they have in their mind a clear and plain answer to that plea and challenge of justice. What I conceive their answer would be is this. They would say that in the general poise and balance of the forces of society they have that against them which can only be rectified by some such immunity as is here asked for. That conviction is, I think, not unnatural on their part, but whether you think it natural or not, I would venture to say that their feeling is insuperable; you cannot get rid of it; you cannot prevent them from having it.
If I am right in that, you are in the position of confronting those who are apprehensive about their position. Their confidence is shaken; and can anyone wonder, when we hear the history rehearsed, and how the Taff Yale decision came like a clap of thunder in a clear sky, that this attitude of apprehension has gradually increased? If you want to remedy the confidence which is shaken, there is only one real way of doing it, and that is by giving confidence on your part. I daresay most noble Lords might wish that the working classes in this matter had asked for less: we might wish that they were less apprehensive; we might desire that they should have contented themselves with the findings of the Royal Commission. More than that, it is perfectly true that if this Bill is passed, we may have some bad times to go through. It is quite true that liberty and immunity may lead to strikes, and I, for one, have heard, with the profoundest regret at this time when we are discussing this Bill, the news from the North of the dissolution of the 725 conciliation board in the coal trade, which, I think, was one of the very happiest advances ever made in the history of industry, and which has done so much or the welfare of all classes in the north of England. We may have something to go through, but nevertheless, my own feeling is this, that our best hope—I would almost say our only hope—of getting a really healthy and happy relation in those economic matters between the classes lies, not in the pressure of law which on the surface, but only on the surface, is exactly equal, not in the sort of restraints which, with working-class opinion in the condition that it is, chafe and raise suspicion, but rather in the self-government of the class itself, and, in particular, in the self-restraint and wisdom of the great unions in which their labour is organised. I believe myself with all my heart that the welfare of the working classes is bound up with their organisation. If we take our minds back to the earlier times, we cannot help realising that there has been a wonderful improvement on the whole in the character of industrial struggles. The barbarism which beset the earlier phases has, just in proportion as the class gained confidence, just in proportion as their apprehensions were relieved, disappeared from those struggles. I admit that it recurs sometimes. We all regret it. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack spoke words with regard to that which I hope will reach far: but progress has been made. By trusting the self-respect of a great class coming into power and conscious of the responsibility upon which it enters, you can, I believe, achieve much. At any rate, my own conviction is that that is the only way forward. Therefore, not merely grudgingly, not merely because I cannot help it, not merely because I think it will damage this House to resist, but willingly and readily I shall give my vote in favour of the Second Reading of this Bill.
* LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I cannot help feeling, and I think many noble Lords must feel, that to a certain extent there is an air of unreality about the proceedings in which we are engaged at the moment. We have apparently all agreed, or at any rate very nearly all agreed, that for some reason or another this Bill is to be read a 726 second time. The roads by which those who have spoken have arrived at that decision have boon rather diverse, but at any rate apparently every one who has spoken has come to the conclusion that there should be no division upon this stage of the Bill. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack confessed to the paternity of the measure with most touching pride, and, if he will allow me to say so, I do not think this measure, indefensible as I regard it to be in some of its details, could have received a more favourable or judicious introduction to this House than that which it received at the hands of the Lord Chancellor.
The noble and learned Lord warned us not to pick holes in the details of the Bill, because that would be a task which would be appropriate to a subsequent stage, but the main plea which the noble and learned Lord urged in favour of the Bill was that it met a just demand. The noble Marquess on the Front Opposition Bench agreed to a great extent with that argument, because he at any rate said that the late Government had felt that there was a case for an amendment of the law, that they had appointed a Royal Commission, and that if they had been sitting on the Benches opposite they could not have resisted a claim to deal with this subject. But the question which I want to put to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and in a lesser degree to the noble Marquess, is this. Does the Bill not go further? Does it not do more than is absolutely necessary to meet that just demand? Admitting the justice of the demand, is it not likely that we shall find, when we come to discuss some of the clauses of this Bill, that there are things which it would be extravagant to describe as just? In my opinion, they are at least capable of being a machine by which great injustice may be wrought.
I do not think that, although we pass the Second Heading of the Bill with practical unanimity, we are thereby prevented from at any rate criticising some of the proposals in the clauses and even going to the extent of amending them. All I understand by the Second Reading of a Bill is that this House admits that the present state of the law is not satisfactory. A Royal Commission has reported, and we agree that something has to be done. But I would venture 727 very briefly in outline to endeavour to indicate to your Lordships why I think that, in some respects at any rate, this Bill goes beyond the necessity or reasonableness of the case which has been made out. I maintain that this Bill in some of its provisions goes far to destroy two most important principles which we ought to guard with the most jealous care—principles which, to my mind, are at the very root of our Constitution and our freedom.
I maintain that if this Bill does not destroy, it goes far to infringe the liberty of the individual, and, beyond all question, in one of its clauses—Clause 4—it absolutely destroys the equality of all His Majesty's subjects in the eye of the law. In my opinion, there are other provisions which go far to legalise what I cannot describe in milder terms than heartless cruelty and persecution, and those things may be inflicted, in pursuance of trade disputes, on all who are not within the circle of the privileged class. I venture to suggest to your Lordships that if you once abandon the principle that an individual workman should be free to join or not to join a trade union, that he should be free to do as he pleases with his own labour, you will take a step very difficult to justify and almost impossible to retrace. It is said that strikes are an evil. So they ate. All war is evil. But, admitting that strikes are a necessity of the times, and admitting that that necessity ought to be recognised, surely they ought to be conducted with due regard to the fact that we are the citizens of a civilised State, and we ought not to be relegated to a practice of private war between employer and employed, both parties being allowed to work out their vengeance one upon the other according as their strength lies.
It has been a commonplace among the speakers to-night that what is described as peaceful picketing is not to be objected to. I doubt whether picketing is always capable of being described as peaceful, but if the Bill carried out what its promoters professed, I should not have so much objection to it. As first introduced it had a clause which specially provided that the picketing which the law sanctioned was to be done peaceably and in a reasonable manner. There were discussions in Committed as 728 to the number that might attend. If I remember rightly, the Attorney-General said he would accept the Amendment that picketing should be conducted by a reasonable number of people, at the same time saying he did not think it necessary, because if the practice was conducted in a reasonable and peaceable manner that implied that it should be done by a reasonable number. Not only was no effect given to promise, but on a subsequent day the words "peaceably and in a reasonable manner" were proposed to be left out, contrary, as I understand, to the wish of the Government and of the Attorney-General; and in the course of the speech which he as a law officer there made, nothing could be stronger than his condemnation of the very proposal which His Majesty's Government have now agreed to, and which they are now defending through the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack as a just demand.
As this Bill is introduced into your Lordships' House the expression, 'peaceful picketing,' which it is supposed to legalise, is a dishonest description of the clause as it stands—at least, it is a most misleading description. I am astounded to see put before us as a just demand a provision which legalises not exactly the breaking of a contract, but the inducing of other people to break a contract. It my humble opinion the only difference between breaking a contract oneself and inducing another person to break a contract is that the latter of the two is the meaner and more indefensible. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack referred to an incident which occurred at Whitehaven where Irish labourers were brought over in ignorance of the circumstances existing there; and there was another case where, according to the description of the Lord Chancellor, an employer had been guilty, through sharp practice, of robbing his employees, and to get rid of that difficulty the workmen had struck and others were brought in by advertisement. I have no sympathy with either of those practices; but surely some way could have been found of meeting them other than the introduction of a clause which says that it shall be no crime to induce other persons to break a contract of employment. Those words, if they are allowed to stand, will be an absolute disgrace to the Statute Book of this country.
729 In my humble opinion a contract is a sacred obligation. Our commercial greatness is due largely to the fact that we regard our contracts as binding. If we recognise breaches of contract this new principle in ethics may go a great length. And is it necessary for the case? Most of these contracts are of short duration. As I understand it, the only difference that this clause would make in the conduct of a strike is this, that it would in future be lawful to induce workmen to come out at a day's notice instead of at a week or a fortnight's notice. Is that a sufficient reason for putting a declaration on our Statute Book that it is to be legal to break a contract? I give the Government every credit for desiring to check injustice, but I do say that the fourth clause of this Bill, as it stands, is creating a class privilege. Immunities of different classes have existed at varying times throughout our history. They have brought discredit on those who have been supposed to benefit by them. They have been abolished, and rightly abolished, one by one, until at the present time we can pride ourselves that every man is equal in the eye of the law. But here you are for the first time being asked by large classes of the community distinctly and by Statute to create new privileges for their benefit.
If the Bill passes as it stands the effect will be that a sense of responsibility will be withdrawn from those who have to conduct strikes. The right rev. Prelate said that in recent years strikes have been more moderately conducted than they were before. I believe that to be the case. But, unlike him, I suggest that that is the case because wrongful acts have been restrained by law, and I ask, is it right that those who have the responsibility of guiding and organising great masses of their fellow workmen should feel that no responsability rests upon them? I think you will be going far to introduce a state of warfare when strikes unfortunately arise. What we all want to do in this matter is to produce caution and self-restraint, to produce regard for the feelings of others, and I think you are going by this Bill a very long way, not to do that, but in the contrary direction, and to give license where there ought to be restraint, and to encourage law breaking where there ought to be obedience to the law. I 730 feel these considerations very strongly. I could not vote with anyone who wished to throw out this Bill on Second Heading, because I admit that there is a demand for an alteration of the law as it now stands. But, at the same time, if I admit that there is a case for some alteration of the law, I hope it will not be suggested that I admit there is a case for such a Bill in all its details as that which is on the Table.
§ * THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The Earl of CREWE)
My Lords, this debate has been largely carried on, very naturally and very properly, by noble and learned Lords who are far more competent than most of us to deal with the intricate and important legal points involved. But in view of the fact that the noble Lord who has just sat down is not, strictly speaking, a noble and learned Lord, although I think he might be so called as a term of general description, and in view also of the fact that the noble Marquess the Leader of Opposition intervened in the debate at an early stage, it is perhaps right that, in the absence of my noble friend the Leader of the House, who is unavoidably kept away to-day, I should say one or two words in support of the Second Reading of this Bill.
The noble Marquess Lord Lansdowne admitted that had he and his friends been sitting on these benches they would have felt it necessary to bring in some kind of legislation on this subject, and we, of course, were actuated by a similar feeling in view of the famous Taff Vale decision. In spite of everything that has been said in the course of this debate, I think it must be generally agreed that from the year 1871 up to 1901 there was a general impression throughout the country that trade unions could not be sued. The noble Marquess, in speaking of the funds of trade unions, seemed to indicate an opinion, although he did not actually express it, that the difficulty might be met by dividing the funds into benefit funds and strike funds. That is a view which has never been taken by the trade unions themselves, and I think it is right to say it has not been taken by them very largely on this ground, that they dread the building up of large funds to be explicitly devoted to strike purposes as a kind of war chest, because they believe, and, I 731 think, most reasonably believe, that the mere fact of the existence of a fund of that kind would make it very often difficult to avoid strikes in cases in which, under present circumstances, they might be avoided.
Two courses were open to us, holding the view we did. One was to bring in a measure which would ensure practical immunity to trade unions by causing them to form committees which could, either by passing preliminary resolutions or by acts of subsequent repudiation, save their funds from loss caused by the acts of their officers or subordinates. That, as we believe, would have secured a very practical kind of immunity to trade unions. The alternative was to do what we have done—namely, to prohibit all actions of tort against associations either of labourers or of employers. We are not in the least ashamed to say that in adopting the latter course we were very largely swayed by the fact that the trade unions as a whole preferred the latter of those alternatives. We see nothing to be ashamed of in the fact that we placed those two alternatives before Parliament and the country; and finding, as we did, that the preference of those mostly concerned was strongly indicated in favour of the latter— although we believed that in practice there was very little difference between them—we decided accordingly to change the original proposal as submitted by my hon. friend the Attorney-General, for which, as my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack has said, he—as he had a perfect right to do — expressed as a lawyer his personal preference. I repeat, we see nothing whatever to be ashamed of in that. We decline altogether to assume the white sheet of a penitent on that ground, and we believe that the discussions which have taken place in the other House on this subject, and the very fact that the alternative propositions were brought in, have been of distinct advantage in arriving at a satisfactory settlement of the whole question.
There is no need for me, at this hour of the evening, to say anything of the claims of trade unions to the consideration of this House, and of the public generally. Those claims, I think, are, generally speaking, admitted 732 by noble Lords opposite, if not quite to the same extent as by ourselves. But there are one or two points which were raised by the noble Marquess and others on which I wish to say a word. The noble Marquess seemed to think that if picketing were legalised it could not be peaceful. Surely the noble Marquess must forget that by the Act of his own Government in 1875 picketing is allowed for purposes of obtaining information, and he seems to forget also that all the provisions of that Act which prevent what is known as watching and besetting are still in force, and are not in any way interfered with by this Bill. Therefore the most disagreeable forms of picketing can no doubt be still checked. If the number of people engaged in picketing, the time at which it takes place, or the conduct of the people who carry it on—if these are of such a character as to show that not persuasion but intimidation is intended, the persons concerned will lay themselves open to the punishment which in these circumstances we all agree they ought to receive.
But it may be asked, and I think the noble Lord who has just sat down did ask, why was it that we were not content to leave the words "in a reasonable manner" in the Bill? I confess I have been strongly impressed all through by the point of view which was stated very clearly by my noble and learned friend Lord Coleridge, that in this matter trade unions know very well that when they come before a jury on a charge of this kind they cannot in the nature of the case expect to meet with a perfectly unprejudiced view. I hope I have a proper British respect for trial by jury, but nobody who has presided over the administration of Ireland for some years as I have can have an unqualified admiration for untempered trial by jury. As noble Lords opposite well know, in Ireland in troublous times, not I hope now, but in past troublous times, there were many cases in which it was exceedingly difficult to get a jury to convict. In order to get juries to convict you had either to exercise the right of challenge by the Crown to an almost ludicrous extent or the prisoner had to be taken away and tried somewhere else, where the jury, not being prejudiced in his favour, might 733 possibly be prejudiced against him. That is one of the cases where trial by jury to some extent breaks down; but it may break down in the reverse sense if a man is brought before the kind of special jury which my noble and learned friend described, formed of people of a different class from his own, and perhaps somewhat extra full of the prejudices of that class. Consequently, to leave in words such as. "in a reasonable manner," words upon which no standard meaning, so to speak, can be set, but which may be conceivably interpreted by people who think all picketing unreasonable and even wrong, would not be likely to load to a final settlement of this question, and therefore we were glad to eliminate the words from the Bill.
The noble Marquess seemed to imply that he believed it was skill possible that the provisions of this Bill might apply to agrarian difficulties in Ireland. I certainly thought that the discussions which had taken place on that subject in the other House proved that that fear was groundless. If I remember aright, Sir Edward Carson expressed himself quite satisfied, from his point of view, that there was no possibility that this Bill could apply to what are known as agrarian disputes, either in Ireland, or, for the matter of that, anywhere else. The noble Marquess made a very strong speech against the Bill, but he not only followed up his attack by a declaration that he was not going to vote against the Second Reading, but he seemed to think there was a strong case for passing the Bill without any substantial Amendment; and the grounds on which the noble Marquess based that decision were that in his belief this matter had been subjected to the deliberate judgment of the country and that the country had decided in its favour as it stands.
The noble Marquess appeared to lay down the proposition that the duty of this House is to ask itself the question in every case whether a particular measure of which it disapproves has been submitted to the deliberate judgment of the country, and, if it is able to answer that question in the affirmative, it ought to pass it. Well, my Lords, that is a proposition with which, from one point of view, everybody will agree; but we on this side of the House, I am afraid, are not 734 disposed to agree that the mere opinion of your Lordships on such a subject as that can be taken as entirely conclusive. That would be to make your Lordships judges in your own case. I can quite understand that the noble Marquess approves the arrangement. He dislikes all bilateral arrangements. That is preeminently a unilateral arrangement. It applies when noble Lords opposite are sitting over there, but it does not apply when they are sitting on these benches. I have never heard that the House has been asked, when the noble Marquess has been sitting hero, seriously to consider whether a particular subject had, in the form in which the noble Marquess asked the House to accept it, been submitted to the judgment of the country and approved by the country as a deliberate act. I am obliged, therefore, while rejoicing that the noble Marquess takes that view about this particular measure, to guard myself against its being supposed that we admit chat the mere judgment of noble Lords opposite as to whether a measure is, or is not, the deliberate judgment of the country, can be taken as justifying them in casting it aside if they arrive at an adverse decision.
I trust that in this particular instance we shall arrive at agreement not merely on the lines of the Bill, but on the Bill as it stands. We have had some very melancholy forebodings as to the prospect of labour disputes in this country if this measure is passed. I cannot help thinking that in some respects the debate has been carried on by the opponents of this Bill in a very exaggerated form. All through it seems to have been assumed that members of trade unions will escape the liability to which all the rest of His Majesty's subjects have to bow. As a matter of fact, there is nothing whatever in this Bill which prevents any individual from being prosecuted criminally or having an action brought against him if he breaks the law or if he commits a wrong against a person or persons. All through that aspect of the question seems to have been ignored, and it has been assumed that we are placing these people in an entirely separate and privileged class. What is done is to place trade unions in the position in which we always believed they were— that is to say, in the position of a body 735 or combination of people who cannot sue or be sued. There are, as we all know, bodies of people, corporations, who can sue and be sued; there are other bodies of people, clubs and the like, who cannot; and what we do is to place trade unions in the second category. But we are bound to protest against the assumption that we take trade unionists as such and confer upon them an immunity which is not enjoyed by any other class of His Majesty's subjects.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ House adjourned at Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.