HL Deb 22 January 1913 vol 13 cc383-418

*THE EARL OF DUNMORE rose to call attention to the recent decision of this House as the Final Court of Appeal respecting the immunity of trade unions from civil liability for wrongful acts; and to ask His Majesty's Government whether it is their intention to propose any alteration in the Trade Disputes Act, 1906.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in raising this question it will be necessary for me to point out, as briefly as I can, what happened in the remarkable action of Vacher and Sons v. the London Society of Compositors. The case turned on the interpretation of the Trade Disputes Act, 1906, and the question was whether or not a trade union could be sued for libel. Vacher and Sons are a firm of printers who brought an action against the London Society of Compositors for libel and conspiracy. The plaintiffs' complaint was that this society had untruly represented them in print by describing them as a firm who dealt unfairly by their workmen. In reply to this action the Society of Compositors entered no defence, but applied to have the action annulled on the ground that such action was barred by Section 4 of the Trade Disputes Act, 1906. That section provides that an action against a 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.

In this case the decision of the Courts upheld the contention of the defendants, and in the House of Lords, the final Court of Appeal, the Judges were unanimous in this decision—a decision, I might point out, based on the words of the Act and not on the supposed intentions of the Legislature. I do not intend to enter into the legal arguments involved. I merely wish to draw the attention of the House to the essential point which came up for decision in this case. That point was whether the immunity which the Trade Disputes Act undoubtedly confers on trade unions extends also to other instances or whether it is confined to cases in which a trade dispute is involved. Under the decision I have quoted it has been made quite clear that this immunity applies to all circumstances. The legal anomalies which surround the position of a trade union to-day are so great that they make it very difficult for the public to grasp the full effect of this recent decision, but when they discover that this Act has placed trade unions above the law not only in connection with trade disputes but at all times, I think they will be somewhat surprised at the apathy of His Majesty's Government.

I ask the House to consider the effect of this recent decision. A trade union cannot be sued for any tortious act. That is to say with the exception of breach of contract, any injury, any wrong for which the law ordinarily provides a remedy by an action for damages can be committed by a trade union with absolute impunity, for they are above the law. They alone of all the people in this country are allowed to slander, libel, or maliciously prosecute any one whom they may wish to injure. They may go further and compel others to commit breaches of the law. They may compel employers to unlawfully terminate contracts of employment; they can compel workmen to terminate contracts of service without giving legal notice; they can blacklist whom they like. These wrongs and many others can be committed by trade unions without rendering themselves liable to any civil process of law. It is, indeed, in their power to rum any person with absolute impunity and their victim has no civil redress. This is the position now reached, a position which is injurious to the best interests of trade unionism. I do not suggest that trade unions should have unreasonable restrictions placed upon their legitimate objects, such as the power to enforce collective bargaining. It has been recognised that the right to strike should be protected, although I think in justice the right to work should also be protected. But the powers accorded to trade unions under this recent decision have now undermined every principle of justice and equity. I venture to say that no section of the community has suffered more than members of the trade unions themselves. Large numbers of these have been dragged into wholly unnecessary and. useless strikes, which have involved them in much unnecessary suffering and privation.

The history of trade union legislation is a curious exposition of the difficult which the Legislature sometimes finds in transforming its intentions into Acts, and although I would not venture to give any opinion as to the attitude of His Majesty's Government in regard to this latest phase in trade union legislation, surely it cannot have been the intention of His Majesty's Ministers when they introduced the Trade Disputes Bill in 1906 that it should have borne the interpretation which has since been put upon it by the legal mind. This is a question I should like to put to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack—Was it in the minds of His Majesty's Ministers to grant trade unions this immunity from the ordinary process of the law as exemplified by this recent decision of the Courts at the time that they introduced the Trade Disputes Bill? That is a question which I trust the noble and learned Viscount will answer. It will at any rate help to clear up the situation for the ordinary citizen. If it is the intention of His Majesty's Government that trade unions should be placed above the law, I venture to say they are embarking upon a road of which nobody can see the end. It is impossible to conceive a state of things in which a voluntary organisation enjoying the rights of a corporation is deemed to be within the law when claiming protection for its own property but outside the law when inflicting injury on other people's property.

If we look back over the history of trade union legislation, we see that up to the year 1905 the trade unions themselves did not claim the sweeping immunities from the ordinary process of the law which were accorded to them by the Government in the following year. From the Taff Vale case, in July, 1901, down to the introduction of the Government Bill in 1906 no responsible trade union leader ever laid claim to such monstrous powers over their fellow men as have since been accorded them. Your Lordships will recollect that in the year 1905 a Bill was introduced into the House of Commons on behalf of the Trade Union Congress, and Mr. Whittaker and Mr. Wilson of the Durham Miners' Union, were selected as the official spokesmen on that occasion. I have read the speeches of these gentlemen who spoke on behalf of the trade unions, and I find that throughout their speeches they declared that the trade unions did not desire and did not aim at obtaining powers to molest their fellowmen or to do things which would be illegal for individuals to do. All that they wanted to obtain was some measure of immunity for trade union funds when individuals acting without the sanction of a trade union committee over-stepped the limit of the law. It is clear, therefore, that in 1905 the trade unions did not themselves claim the powers which have since been given them.

The attitude of the trade unions is, indeed, shown again if you look at the Bill which was introduced into the House of Commons in 1902 by Mr. Atherley-Jones, K.C.—a Bill which received the backing of many of the most experienced of the Labour leaders. That Bill purposely left trade unions responsible if it were proved that their council, or their committee, or their governing body were privy to the committing of unlawful acts. I think that Bill may be taken to embody the aims of the trade union leaders up to the year 1905, and I venture to think that it was not at the instance of the more experienced and the more sober-minded of the trade union leaders that His Majesty's Government drafted their Bill in 1906, giving the much wider immunity that that Act confers. Anyhow it is certain that immediately after the passing of that Act a different atmosphere was created. With the removal of all responsibility the internal discipline of the trade unions disappeared. The Act has led to unauthorised strikes which have not only resulted in a great loss to our trade but have also inflicted a great deal of unnecessary suffering on thousands of workmen who have been thrown out of employment. I am sure that we are all on this side of the House sympathetic towards trade unionism. I personally regard it, if rightly directed, as one of the strongest factors working for the good of the industrial classes in this country; but this Act of 1906 has undoubtedly thrown a great deal of power into the hands of the extremists. There is no doubt that under present circumstances that Act is operating against the best interests of trade unions. There is a Trade Union Bill at the present moment before Parliament. It may or it may not become law. But in considering the objects of that Bill I think the decision which has been given in the Vacher case bears directly on the issues involved, for the Act of 1906, as construed in the Vacher case, virtually declares that trade unions may do as they like to the injury of other people with complete immunity from civil liability. In such circumstances the two Questions which I have addressed to the noble and learned Viscount are Questions to which I trust we shall receive an answer.


My Lords, the noble Earl who has just put this Question was not in this House in 1906, and therefore could have taken no part in the interesting and remarkable debate which took place at that time. I say "interesting and remarkable" because of the principles which were then laid down by the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition as regards the function of this House. He pointed out that he did not like the Bill; that there were many points in it, and I think principles in it, to which he would take exception. But he went on to say that the function of this House was not to check the fully considered decision of the constituencies, but to interfere only when it considered that the Government of the day had not a sufficient mandate or when matters had not received the full amount of deliberation to which they were entitled. Accordingly he recommended your Lordships to pass the Trade Disputes Bill, and your Lordships did pass it without interfering with it and without question. The noble Marquess further pointed out one reason which reconciled him, or at any rate somewhat mitigated his dislike, to that course: the fact that the employers of labour in the House of Commons had not lifted up a finger—I think that was the phrase he used—against the Bill. The Bill was passed with the general assent of the House of Commons doubtless for very much the same reasons which actuated the noble Marquess in advising this House not to oppose it. I make these observations not in the slightest sense in any tone of reproach, but as a preface to what I have now to say in answer to the noble Earl who has addressed this Question to me.

The Trade Disputes Act of 1906 was, like many other measures, passed to deal with a balance of evils. There are evils whichever course you take in regard to this most difficult and disputed part of labour legislation. There are evils in leaving anybody, as the noble Earl has said, open to injury to his property or injury of other kind at the hands of a trade union and unable to sue that trade union. On the other hand there are great evils, which were vividly placed before the public at that time, in allowing the funds of hundreds of thousands of innocent persons who depend upon those funds for their sole provision for sickness, old age, and other contingencies, to be made the subject of executions and judgments in respect of the acts of those who carry on things at a distance and act without any authority, express or actual, from the persons whose funds they were affecting; and it was because of the serious consequences to those funds and because of the great hardships which the doctrine of constructive agency brought about that the agitation for the protection of trade unions arose. Like the noble Marquess himself, I have always felt critical about the remedy which was adopted. I should have preferred rather to have restricted the general principles of the law of agency, useful in other cases but inapplicable when you are dealing with the case of trade union funds. I should have rather proceeded on the footing of special restriction of the law of agency. I said so at the time. My views were not adopted by the majority of those concerned, but f was the less troubled on that account because the result would have been precisely the same. Whether you proceeded by way of restricting the law of agency or whether you said simply that a trade union was not to be sued, the result was this—that the funds of trade unions, used no doubt for the purposes referred to but used far more for making provision for the sick and aged and for those who were in need, would remain free from execution as the result of tremendous judgments like that in the famous Taff Vale case.

The noble Earl is under a misapprehension when he thinks that trade unions can put the machinery of oppression in operation with impunity. The individuals who put that machinery in operation remain just as liable as ever they did before. If some one purporting to act on behalf of a trade union libels people carrying on a business, such as in the Vacher case, or if the acts done in a case like the Tall Vale case were done again to-day, the individuals who did them would be liable to every process, civil and criminal, to which they were liable before. The only point is that the funds of the trade union could not be got at. Those who really have the major part of the interest in those funds and who may be hundreds of miles off and know nothing of the disputes out of which the matter arose, are the only people whom the Act in substance protects. The law as declared by the supreme tribunal of this country in the Vacher case seemed fairly plain from the language of the Acts It certainly was present to the minds of those who minutely discussed the Trade Disputes Bill in both Houses in 1906, and the reason why they were not disturbed by it was that they preferred that it should be so as being the minor of two great evils. They recognised that we were legislating for the protection of trade union funds and were leaving the law in the condition in which for a long time it had been believed to be—namely, that only the individuals actually taking part in doing the wrongful act were amenable to the process of the law. That belief had proved to be erroneous. In a Common Law action you could, by a process which was a little circuitous but none the less effective, get at the trade union. This House, sitting in its judicial side, decided in the Tail Vale case that that was the law of the land, and it was because of the results of that declaration of the law, opening up as it did a way of getting at the sick and benefit funds and other funds of trade unions, that an agitation arose in the country for the consideration of the question which formed ultimately the subject of the Act of 1906.

I need not say that this was thrashed out on almost every platform, and the result of the discussion was that Parliament by an overwhelming majority decided in favour of passing the Act of 1906. Therefore the noble Earl is under some misapprehension when he speaks as though the other clay there had been a revelation of a new principle suddenly burst upon the country. On the contrary, the immunity of trade unions was thoroughly discussed, and, in whatever form you passed amending legislation, was bound to result. I take the view that the operations of trade unions have been to the great benefit of the community, and that what blunders they have made and what harshness has arisen from their operations have been, on balance, outweighed by the enormous advantages which they have had in establishing a better equilibrium between Labour and Capital, and in advancing the interests of what, after all, is the largest part of the community of this country.

It is impossible to deal with the questions which the noble Earl wishes dealt with in the sense which he indicates without going back upon the principle which was adopted in 1906, adopted in the other House, and in this House on the advice of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, who pointed out his own dislike of many provisions in the Bill, but, I think very much on the grounds which I a m putting, recognised that here you had the deliberate and considered decision of the constituencies and it was not a thing beyond which Parliament could go. I ask anybody who knows the tendency of public opinion whether it is in the least probable that the constituencies have gone back on the conclusion to which they then came. It is very obvious, I think, that they have not, and that any attempt to deal with this question would fail in practice as I am bound to say it ought to fail. I am not oblivious to the fact that we are dealing here with the conflict of two principles, but, as I have pointed out, people who are injured by trade unions have the redress against individuals which was believed to be the only remedy in times gone past. That is my answer to the noble Earl's Question.


My Lords, I am quite sure your Lordships will believe it when I state that none of us sitting on this Bench desire in anything we say to call in question the beneficent work of trade unions. As far as I know I have never uttered a word in the whole course of my public life derogatory to trade unions as such. No doubt the trade unions have been guilty of excesses like every other organisation, but on the whole I should agree with the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, and I am sure we all should agree, that on the whole the equitable conduct of industry in this country would be impossible without the trade unions, and that subject to good conduct and proper management on their part they can confer nothing but benefit on the community. But having said so much, I wonder why the Lord Chancellor began his observations by the elaborate preface in which he recited, rather incompletely I thought, the attitude of my noble friend who leads the Opposition at the time of the passage of the Trade Disputes Act. What was his object? Does he desire on the part of His Majesty's Government to evade the responsibility for that Act? He seemed to think that he gained some dialectical advantage by throwing upon my noble friend the onus of a certain joint responsibility with the Government for the Trade Disputes Act. If that was not the reason, I fail to know what the noble and learned Viscount's reason was.


The reason was for the purpose of showing that the conclusion come to was a conclusion in accordance with common-sense and was concurred in by both sides.


The fact that it was concurred in by both sides stands upon record, and it could have been recited by the noble and learned Viscount in one sentence; but, on the contrary, he was at pains to show the attitude of my noble friend who sits behind me. Undoubtedly we thought that that was a. Bill which ought to pass into law because it represented in a most emphatic form the judgment of the House of Commons representing as we believed at the time the judgment of the constituencies. We did not think that if it had been possible at that time for example, to have had a referendum, on the subject, any different result would have ensued than did result according to the decision of the House of Commons. We believed that they had the people behind them, and, acting upon the well-known views which we have always expressed from this Bench as to the proper functions of your Lordships' House, my noble friend advised that no opposition should be made to the Bill. But the noble and learned Viscount and his colleagues represented the majority in the House of Commons. They have the whole responsibility. It is no good saying for a Party purpose that my noble friend, representing the great tradition of the House of Lords, recommended acquiescence in the Bill. It is no good trying to shunt part of the responsibility for the effect which an ill-conceived measure may have had upon the fortunes of the country.

I am not going to argue the question of the Trade Disputes Act here. Undoubtedly there is something to be said for it. Neither do I intend to go through the arguments for or against it. But there is one point to winch I should like to call the noble and learned! Viscount's attention, and it is this. He spoke with reprobation of the state of things which existed before this Act passed, under which a merely technical connection between some official and the owners of the funds—that is to say, the working class at large—threw upon those funds responsibility for what the agent chose to do, a responsibility which, if that act of his was a tortious act according to the law as it then existed, involved those funds in very great liability. But, my Lords, I do not think my noble friend Lord Dunmore was speaking of any purely technical matter. What he called your Lordships' attention to was this, that even when the general policy of a trade union, conceived by the officials of the trade union undoubtedly in the interests of the trade union, inflicted a great wrong on individuals, under the law as it has been passed by His Majesty's Government the wronged individual has no remedy. It is not a technical matter at all; it is a substantial matter. The connection between the agent and the owners of the funds is not a technical connection. The policy is carried out apparently according to the wish of those by whom the agent is appointed. It is easy to see that so vast a power as that may lead to great abuse, and abuse not against the rich only but against the poor. It is quite clear that the same law which protects the acts of trade unions when operating against a rich firm would also protect them when operating against a very poor humble individual; and if it be true that the result of the Trade Disputes Act is the oppression of poor individuals, then undoubtedly my noble friend Lord Dunmore is fully justified in calling the attention of Parliament to the condition of the law.

It is evident in the face of these vast powers which Parliament has entrusted to trade unions, that we require to consider very carefully the working of this Act, and bring before Parliament from time to time any facts which may emerge as to its operation and as to its possible danger. Possibly it may hereafter be found that the method which the noble and learned Viscount himself seems to have preferred in dealing with this particular difficulty may be a better remedy than the one which the Government adopted. I am not sure that I heard him correctly, but I understood him to say that the particular way in which he would have dealt with the difficulty was not the one which was ultimately adopted by the Government in the House of Commons. It may be, as I have said, that that may be a better remedy; but whether that be so or not, I think we may say with great confidence that in view of the novel procedure and powers of this Act it deserves from time to time the very careful consideration of Parliament.


My Lords, as a matter of personal explanation I would like to reply to one or two remarks of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. First of all he suggested that there was some remedy open to the injured individual. But what is the remedy? If be brings a criminal action he can obtain no damages; he can obtain no recompense. He could also bring a civil action against the individual. But this is the position. A strong and powerful corporation, for that is what it amounts to, with vast funds at their disposal, can use their agents, who have not got one penny at their backs, to maliciously prosecute, libel, and slander anybody they like. The funds are absolutely safe, and it is not worth the while of anybody to take action against the individual agent of the trade union. I do not think the noble and learned Viscount would himself support such a contention. In fact, I think he showed throughout his speech that lie was not altogether enamoured, I will not say with the Government Act, but with the working of the Government Act as interpreted by the Courts in the Vacher case.

Then the noble and learned Viscount went on to say that the Bill of 1906 when introduced had received the full and considered opinion of the constituencies. I venture to say that the constituencies had not the remotest idea of how this Bill was going to work out, and that when they realise what the effect of this recent decision in the Vacher case amounts to there will not be that unqualified support of the Government Act of 1906. The noble and learned Viscount has informed us of two facts, first that it was in the minds of His Majesty's Ministers when they introduced their Bill in 1906 that it should bear this interpretation which has since been put upon it by the legal mind; and in answer to my second Question I understand that His Majesty's Government have no intention of altering in any way the provisions of that Act. I have to thank the noble and learned Viscount for giving me this information and for meeting my criticisms of a Government measure with that courtesy which he always extends to us on this side of the House.

*LORD CHARNWOOD also had a Notice on the Paper— To call attention to recent labour disputes, to the unfortunate results of Section 4 of the Trade Disputes Act, 1906, and to the danger attending too ready intervention by the Government in strikes, and to ask His Majesty's Government—

  1. 1. Whether they will watch any further tendency to the employment of libel or other tortious conduct as a weapon in trade disputes with a view to the amendment of the said section if necessary.
  2. 2. Whether the provisions of the Trade Disputes Act, 1906, have been found to place any obstacle in the way of the prosecution of any persons whose conduct amounts in effect to intimidation.
  3. 3. Whether, in view of the temptations to violence and intimidation which arise out of the employment of pickets, and in view of the ineffectual and sometimes harsh operation of attempts to check these abuses by the prosecution of individuals, they will consider (in connection with any measures which they may be preparing for the better settlement of trade disputes, or otherwise) the question of more satisfactory regulation by Statute of the employment of pickets, and the question of making the organisations which employ them responsible to the Courts for their action.
  4. 4. Whether, in future, the intervention of the Government in trade disputes will, so far as possible, be limited to the regular action of the Labour Department of the Board of Trade.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise partly for the purpose of pushing a little further if I can the question which has already been raised by the noble Earl opposite, and partly for the sake of raising a further question—that of the intervention of the Government and of Parliament in trade disputes. In doing so I feel sincerely that I owe your Lordships an apology because I am well aware how many noble Lords there are who are far better qualified to deal with this subject than myself. There is, however, something slightly repugnant in the task of calling in question the misdoings and occasional follies of working men's organisations as if they were the most important part of what is called labour unrest, and therefore perhaps it may be as well that some of the things I have to say should be said by a person who happens to have no interest whatever in the question of Capital or Labour, to be a very firm believer in trade unionism, and to look at the matter in many respects, as I confess I do, rather from the point of view of labour men.

Apart from one section in it, the Trade Disputes Act of 1906 was, I believe, a wise and necessary measure. The position previously was that whereas statesmen had long been agreed that strikes, generally speaking, ought to be lawful, yet no actual strike could be carried out or could even he commenced without incurring a vague but really formidable danger from the Common Law. That is a position to which I am sure none of your Lordships would wish for one moment to return, and those who now criticise the working of the Act do it with the full conviction that working men ought to be just as free to resort to strikes if they see fit as a single employer always has been free to resort to the method of lock-out. If before the Act trade unions were subject to an unjust or bad law, the natural course was to subject them to a just law. But the course which was actually taken, exempting them practically from the control of the law altogether, was one which I must say struck plain men of all Parties with considerable amazement and even shocked them.

I listened to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack with a great deal of sympathy because, as we all know and as he practically confessed, he is one of those who favoured a very different course from that which was actually taken. But I confess he astonished me very much by saying that Section 4 of the. Act of 1906 represented—I think his phrase was—the "fully considered decision of the constituencies." I do not believe for one moment that the average elector con- templated anything like the result that has ensued. Speaking as one who was a candidate for Parliament in the preceding General Election and who very often had, as all candidates had, to consider this question, I should have said without hesitation that candidates for Parliament generally had a strong feeling that trade unions were in a difficult position which ought to be remedied, but beyond that very few candidates and hardly any of the electors, excepting the leaders of trade unions, had gone into the intricacies of this extraordinarily difficult subject; and I persist in thinking, in spite of what has been said by the noble and learned Viscount and to some extent confirmed by the noble Marquess opposite, that it is an amazing thing to most people in this country that the Legislature should have said to trade unions, "You may use your powerful organisations for any purpose of wrong-doing that may hereafter present temptations to you, and if you do so your organisations shall not suffer therefor, and the injured party shall have no remedy except the unprofitable and invidious remedy of individual action against some trade union officials, none of whom are men of substance and some of whom may quite likely not be the real parties to blame."

We know really how this came about. Your Lordships know well how easily working men may be led to embrace some trenchant proposition, which does not express at all their real wants and of which they would themselves disapprove if they at all realised its full implication. We all know that trade union leaders were led in this connection to put forward a somewhat extravagant demand. That is natural. But what I think did strike most people as by no means natural and as not very glorious was that, first a majority of the Members of the House of Commons, then the Cabinet of the late much-respected Leader on this side, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, and then I must respectfully say your Lordships' House, should have surrendered absolutely to that demand. Perhaps I may be forgiven for expressing strongly my deep conviction that real sympathy with working men and a real solicitude for the progress of Labour do demand of us a certain amount of courage, of frankness, and of firmness in resisting upon occasion the ill-considered demands that may sometimes be formulated by Labour leaders.

Now a word as to the practical working of this Act. Quite conceivably unscrupulous persons—for there are unscrupulous men among trade unionists as among all other classes—might find the weapon of libel circulated amongst an employer's customers an exceedingly formidable weapon in a trade dispute. But I do not wish to comment further on the question of libel. I want to say a few words upon the effect of this Act with regard to violence and the threat of violence. I need not dwell at any length on the disagreeable topic of the extent or the gravity of intimidation in trade disputes. It is quite enough that I should refer your Lordships to the wise and weighty words which were addressed on that subject by the Prime Minister to a deputation of working men not many months ago. The subject is certainly a serious one. It involves to some extent the question of the law in regard to picketing, and I may be excused if I go into it in a little detail. It. is a delusion to suppose that picketing can never be necessary for a perfectly legitimate purpose, and it is a delusion also to suppose that picketing can never be in fact peaceful picketing. I believe in some instances pickets have actually been of use and of assistance to the Police in the preservation of law and order. Nevertheless it is beyond question that the practice of picketing does present very great temptations to violence and intimidation, and that those temptations are frequently yielded to. In part that is a question of the administration of the Criminal Law. There is, I believe, an impression abroad that the Act of 1906 in some way weakens the Criminal Law in dealing with cases of actual intimidation. I believe that that is a complete mistake, and I have put down a Question on that subject. It would be very useful for it to be known that that impression is erroneous. But the prosecution of individuals is in this sort of case, it seems to me, a very ineffective remedy, and it can only be made effective in proportion as you run the risk of getting into gaol a considerable number of men of a stamp which it is very undesirable you should get into gaol—men often with whose temptations I at any rate, I confess, have some sympathy.

Far the more effective remedy would be to make the organisations which employ these men responsible for their actions, and I venture upon three quite definite suggestions. In the first place, that you should prohibit by an amendment of the law the watching or besetting in any case of the house in which a working man lives—the practice of domiciliary visits which intimidate a man's wife and children; in the second place, that picketing—which I remind your Lordships at the very best is prima facie a nuisance—that the right of picketing should be restricted to accredited agents of trade unions; and, lastly; that the organisations which employ them should be made responsible in damages for the actions of those individuals. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack made reference to the fact that the trade union funds which would thus be made liable in some cases for heavy damages may be employed for sick benefit and other similar purposes. That is perfectly true. At the same time trade unionists have always insisted—in my judgment rightly insisted—that no penny of their funds should be tied down to those beneficent purposes. They have rightly insisted that they shall be free to spend their last shilling on the purposes of a strike, and while that is so it is certainly reasonable that those funds should be liable for damages in respect of any wrongful act which may occur in the course of a strike. I venture to press this point with the conviction that you will do no harm to the Labour movement by curbing the excesses which have marked recent disputes; you will do no harm to the Labour movement by purging it of what I venture to call the dirty element which to a certain extent it contains. While I have very little doubt that responsible spokesmen of Labour would be apt at first to repudiate the suggestions I have made, I also have no doubt at all that upon full consideration they will in their hearts be very glad that their protest should be over-ridden.

I pass to the question of Government intervention in trade disputes. In that connection I would like first to make clear a point which I do not think is clear in the mind of the public generally, or indeed in that of a great many men who take part in strikes. We have had during the last twelve months several strikes of hitherto unusual character. Certain working men have had a grievance—let me say at once in my conviction very often a real grievance —against their employers, and upon that has followed a strike, not only upon their part but on the part of a very much larger number of other working men who did not allege that they had any claim against their employers such as would give good ground for a strike. These latter men take part in what is known as a sympathetic strike, and probably very often seem to themselves and seem to a large part of the public to be coming in a very natural and amiable way to the support of their comrades who have.a grievance. But what is the nature of the support which they give? What does it depend upon? It will he obvious to your Lordships that the pressure of a strike upon the employer whose men have a grievance is not increased—it is, upon the contrary, greatly relieved—if there is a strike on the part of the men employed by all his competitors in business who might get orders from him; and the only possible policy of a strike of that nature, the frankly avowed policy of it, is to force the hand of the Government and of Parliament by the fear of widespread public injury. That, my Lords, took place in the great Coal Strike, and in the great Dock Strike of last year.

I am not saying this for the sake of suggesting that strikes of that character should be made unlawful. They were deliberately legalised by the Act of 1906 upon the express recommendation of the Royal Commission on Trade Disputes; and the law which in Germany and in the United States—I mean so far as federal law applies in the United States—prohibits strikes of that order does so only by prohibiting at the same time a number of other strikes of a different nature which we probably should think ought not to be interfered with. Also I ought to say that this element of conspiracy against the public welfare with a view of forcing the Government into action enters to a considerable extent into a good many strikes which are not in their origin of this sympathetic character. I am not saying for a moment that they should be made illegal, but I am saying, and I think it is quite obvious, that in view of what has happened the Government ought to be extremely shy of yielding to the clamour which always arises in the Press when there is a strike of a certain magnitude that "the Government ought to do something." During the Dock Strike it was laid down in the House of Commons upon both sides that the proper ground of Government intervention in trade disputes was not any judgment upon the merits of the dispute but the public injury that might be occasioned in the course of the dispute. That, of course, is a line which might rightly and reasonably be taken in a large number of cases. But put in that general form, as I think it was put by leading men in the House of Commons—I think by leading men on both sides—that principle conies, it seems to me, perilously near to saying to strike leaders, "You may have ever so just a case—we do not care about that; but if you can only make yourselves formidable enough, if you can threaten us with public mischief sufficiently widespread and sufficiently serious, if you can grind the faces of the poor hard enough, then you may rely upon us to come to your aid and do anything we reasonably can to help you, conceding to fear of you what we certainly should not concede to the justice of your ease."

May I refer to what took place in the course of the Dock Strike? I do not do so in any spirit of objectionable candid friendship to the Government, because one knows well what their difficulties were, and I think in the earlier Coal Strike the whole of the country admired unreservedly the firmness and sympathy and the patience of the Prime Minister in dealing with that crisis. At the commencement of the Dock Strike we had a Report from Sir Edward Clarke, who found prima facie proof of the grievances alleged by certain men in the clocks against a few employers; and I would like to say at once how deeply I believe there were very serious grievances and evils existing in the port, particularly outside the jurisdiction of the Port Authority. That Report found certain grievances against certain employers to be proved, but it found also emphatic and complete disproof of just those allegations upon the part of the men winch alone could have given justification for a strike throughout the whole port. Well, upon these findings the President of the Board of Trade issued a manifesto to the strikers, in which he very rightly, as I conceive, proffered the good offices of the Government in securing the redress of grievances, but went on to express his emphatic opinion that the strike ought immediately to be brought to an end. No notice whatever was taken of that advice on his part. The Government still went on persisting for some time in proffering their good offices, which were rendered futile by the simple fact of the continuance of the strike. And not only the Government. Processions, first of Cabinet Ministers, then of prominent Members of both sides of the House of Commons, then of other influential persons including, I think, some right rev. Prelates, went waiting, now on the Port Authority, now on the strike committee, with a view of bringing about an accommodation which really all of them ought to have known from the first was impossible in the circumstances in which the strike was begun. What was the result? I do not think those of us who followed the history of those weeks can doubt for one moment that the result was a considerable encouragement for men to persist week after week in a struggle which from the very first moment of it had been doomed to failure. It was a cruel thing.

I do not think I need enlarge further upon the point which I have raised. I need not do more than barely allude to the somewhat questionable action of His Majesty's Government in the recent North-Eastern Railway strike, on which I ventured to say a few words to your Lordships some weeks ago. There is, I think, ample evidence of the danger that lies in encouraging the idea that the Government will be very ready to intervene if a strike assumes sufficiently terrifying proportions. I frankly say I happen to be one of those people who very much desire to see more frequent and more drastic intervention of the Legislature for the improvement of the conditions of Labour without and altogether apart from the promptings of any strike or agitation. But I believe that I speak on behalf of a good many people who are deeply interested in the progress of Labour when I say that they would welcome any assurance, which I doubt not they will receive, on the part of the Government that they are alive to the danger which I have tried to indicate, and that they are prepared on future occasions to have the nerve to refrain from useless and possibly harmful action in these matters. I apologise for detaining your Lordships so long, and I must thank you for the patience with which you have listened to the observations I have had to make.


My Lords, I think in the first place I have some justification for complaining that my noble friend, undoubtedly from no want of courtesy on his part or from want of consideration, after having placed a Notice on the Paper dealing with this question for some weeks, mostly affecting the Board of Trade, which would be represented here by the Master of the Horse, suddenly altered his Notice yesterday. And what did my noble friend do then? He practically made the whole of his attack on the Home Office, which I represent here. Not satisfied with making that alteration, as I say, only yesterday, when the Papers were circulated this morning I found that he had still further altered his Notice and made additions. I only make this complaint of my noble friend for the reason that he must know very well himself, because he has served in a Government Department, that it is very difficult, even if you are immediately connected with a Department, to answer Questions extending over a very large area—and, as your Lordships have heard, the noble Lord has raised very many questions—but when, as in this case, I am not directly connected with the Department any more than my noble friend the Master of the Horse is connected with the Board of Trade, the altering of the terms of the Notice at the last moment does create a good deal of difficulty in giving my noble friend the entire answer he would like and also in giving to your Lordships the answer which is due to you in such a case as this. But as far as possible I will endeavour to deal with the many Questions that the noble Lord has placed on the Paper, with the exception, of course, of the first part of what I may call the preamble of the Notice, and also as regards Question No. 1 which is of purely a legal and technical nature, and which I understand my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will deal with.

I will deal first with what I may call the second part of the preamble of my noble friend's Notice. He complains that the Government interferes unduly under the Conciliation Act with trade disputes. I can assure him that the Government do not in any sense officially interfere in trade disputes unless coerced by the parties to do so, except, of course—and I think the House will see that it is a necessary excep- tion—in the case of grave national danger, and I think the House will agree that the Government were right and acted very properly indeed when they intervened of their own action in the case of the Railway Strike and in the case of the Coal Strike. It is unnecessary to go at length into those two questions, but I think he would be a very brave man indeed in your Lordships' House who would dispute the necessity of those two strikes being ended at the earliest moment, and the country, I feel certain, entirely approved of the action of the Government in that matter.

Then the noble Lord alluded to the question of the Port of London. He referred to the question of the Government or of the Board of Trade interfering. As regards that, the Board of Trade and the Government are bound with respect to any official interference by the Conciliation Act, 1906, and the question which is being referred to now is dealt with under Section 2 of that Act. Noble Lords who are acquainted with that Act will be aware that all that is indicated in subsections (a) and (b) of Section 2 is that the Board of Trade should hold informal and independent inquiry into the matter; and subsections (c) and (d), the operative subsections, apply when officially the Government or the Board of Trade take action. But as regards taking action by appointing an arbitrator, it is especially provided by subsection (d) that an arbitrator can only be appointed at the request of both parties to the dispute, showing that there cannot be interference in the way of a direct forcing of arbitration unless both parties agree to arbitrate. The one party cannot force the other to arbitrate.

As regards the Port of London Authority dispute, what happened in that case? My noble friend complains that the action of the Board of Trade and of the Government was not proper in connection with that. I quite admit that he qualified his charges very often, and when complaining at the same time said that he recognised the difficulties the Government were in. I thank him for that recognition of the difficulties, which of course were great, not only in the case of the Railway Strike and of the Coal Strike but also in the case of the Port of London dispute. The Port of London Strike was a matter of grave national danger, and if it had spread would have involved the whole of the trade and industry of this country. What happened? The Government entered into negotiation and appointed Sir Edward Clarke to hold an inquiry into the matter, and after his Report was presented to the Board of Trade the Board invited the parties concerned to meet the Chief Industrial Commissioner to discuss the report with them. That obviously was the right attitude to take to try to bring a dispute of such magnitude to an end. What happened? The Port Authority refused to meet the men, who had accepted the invitation of the Board of Trade. In consequence the whole matter came to an end, and nothing more could be done. As I have already pointed out, it is impossible for the Board of Trade to take action in an official way and have an arbitration on a dispute unless both parties are agreed to that course being taken. So much for the second part of the preamble of the noble Lord's Notice.

The first Question standing on the Paper is purely a technical and legal question which I must leave to my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack. As regards Questions No. 2 and 3, those affect the Home Office and I will at once proceed to deal with them. I will take them together because I think the House will see that for practical purposes they are very much mixed up and in some cases almost repeat themselves. First of all I would say, as regards the question of intimidation, that the difficulty of proving intimidation has not been altered at all by the Trade Disputes Act, 1906. Section 2 of the Act does not alter the law as regards intimidation. What has always been a difficulty in the case of intimidation is this. Under the present Act and under the old Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875, the difficulty is in procuring evidence. The reason is that the persons who are intimidated, or their friends, refuse to prosecute or give evidence where the Police themselves have not any evidence to enable them to initiate a prosecution. I believe that that reluctance is not due to the fact that the persons who ought to come forward as witnesses to institute the prosecution are afraid of immediate violence during the strike, but rather that it is due to the fear of boycotting or molestation after the strike is over; that is to say, for many weeks or perhaps months or even years afterwards those people would be pointed at as the people who had, it would be said, behaved in an unfair way and had not stood up for the interests of their fellow workers in a particular area. That, I believe, is here the difficulty comes in of getting evidence. On the other hand, there have been undoubtedly many successful prosecutions; and where they have been unsuccessful I am informed that the Police generally do not consider that it has been due to the defence having been set up of peaceful persuasion. No doubt that is what the noble Lord is aiming at. He has been thinking that under Section 2 of the Trade Disputes Act peaceful persuasion has given a free hand to intimidation, molestation, and violence. I am informed that in the opinion of the Police that is not so; and, of course, you have all the powers under the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act contained in Section 7, which was not repealed by the Act of 1906. All that the Act of 1906 did as regards Section 7 of the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act was to repeal the last part of that section and re-enact it all again, with the exception of adding these words to it, "or of peacefully persuading any person to abstain from working." That is the only alteration made in that section, which still remains with the various regulations which, for instance, allow prosecution for violence or intimidation or where persons intimidate a workman's wife and children, or injure property, or persistently follow a person about to induce him to abstain from working. I think it can fairly be said that the amending Act of 1906 as far as Section 2 is concerned, does not allow intimidation at all. It would be very difficult to prove that it does.

The noble Lord has referred to picketing. It has been held that if the pickets are too numerous it amounts to intimidation, and action can be taken by the Police. Again, the persistent following of persons to induce them to abstain from work is still an offence under the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875. Then, again, it is an offence for a picket of three or more persons in a disorderly manner to interfere with a man's work; and pickets also, as I think noble Lords are aware, are not exempt from the ordinary law such as that of trespass. My noble friend seemed to think that pickets had a perfect right to trespass, because he said it was a shameful thing that there should be domiciliary visits to a man's house and his wife and children intimidated. Any picket who goes into a workman's house for such a purpose is a trespasser; he can be dealt with under the law of trespass awl can be ejected, and the Police not only have the duty but have the obligation of protecting the workman. I cannot, therefore, understand the noble Lord when he says that strikers can go and interfere with a man in his own house.


I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I expressly and clearly said that, as far as I understood, the law against intimidation was not in any degree whatsoever within the Act of 1906. The criminal remedy against all these things is quite undiminished. My point was that a criminal prosecution of these individuals is an ineffective remedy, and that the only really effective and most merciful remedy would be to make the organisations who employ these men to do these acts liable for their actions.


I cannot understand my noble friend's interruption. He raised a cheer from the other side of the House when he pointed out that workmen were visited in their houses and that the fact was they had no protection in their own houses. I point out to him that they have protection. He might complain that the Police do not properly protect them, but that is a complaint against the Police and not against the Act or any action which the Government have taken with regard to legislation. I am within the recollection of the House when I say that the noble Lord put forward this complaint as an attack upon the action of the Government. It may be, as I say, an attack upon the Police, but that is a very different matter, and it is quite possible that the Police in every case cannot protect every workman's house.

Then as regards the ordinary law with respect to obstruction in the street, the Police have full power and have a duty to see that there shall be no obstruction, that the conduct of pickets is orderly, and that they do not cause intimidation by their numbers or by their conduct; and in the recent Port of London strike there was action taken in this matter and these regulations were very useful indeed to the Police in keeping order during that strike. If the Police have failed they have failed not because of any defect in the law but from the impossibility, whatever their numbers may be, in any great strike of being present at all places and at all times when intimidation might be likely to occur. Undoubtedly the worst form of intimidation is following workers to and from their houses and watching outside their houses. But I would ask the House, How is it possible under the present law or any law during a great strike for every house to be watched night and day by a constable and for every workman to be conducted under escort to and from his work? That seems to me perfectly impossible, and I venture to think that the noble Lord who has raised this question would not venture to contend that this Government or any Government could legislate for that kind of difficulty. All we have to depend upon is the Police, and I think in the late strikes we have seen that the Police have done their duty in the most admirable way with the greatest firmness and tact and consideration, with the result, although there may have been unfortunate incidents, that in the great majority of cases law and order have been maintained without any undue friction; and I think, speaking on behalf of the Home Office, that the Police have shown that under the existing law they are able to maintain law and order, taking it as a whole, in the most admirable way.

In his last Question on the Paper my noble friend asks whether in future the intervention of the Government in trade disputes will, so far as possible, be limited to the regular action of the Labour Department of the Board of Trade. My answer to my noble friend is a very short one indeed. The Government will act as they have acted on the principle laid down in the Question. Government intervention in trade disputes has been and is limited as far as possible to the regular action of the Labour Department of the Board of Trade.


My Lords, I think my noble friend behind me who raised this question has been treated a little cavalierly by the noble Lord who has just sat down. He seemed all through to be still suffering from the grievance he mentioned at the beginning of his reply that there had been some changes in the Notice on the Paper. I would mention that the Notice has been on the Paper for a great many weeks now.


It has been completely altered.


Although there have been some changes in it, still we all understood, or at least I understood, from the Questions originally that the noble Lord behind me was going to raise very much the points that he did raise in his speech and in his argument. I turn first to the question of the Trade Disputes Act, 1006, which was raised also by the noble Earl opposite. We have been considering tonight a most important subject, and I think it is to be regretted that more members of your Lordships' House have not been present and taken an interest in it, because in my opinion these industrial questions and disputes are the important questions of the future, far more important than our ordinary political and Party divisions, and it is very necessary that as far as we can in the comparatively calm atmosphere of this House we should endeavour to consider how they are to be dealt with. As regards the Trade Disputes Act there is this curious point, that both the noble Lords who asked the Questions and also the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack were not in this House in 1906 when the Bill came up. I am speaking entirely from recollection—I have not looked up the Debates—but the general impression left on my mind is that Lord Balfour of Burleigh and I were the only two members of this House who expressed consternation at the Bill and who said that they thought it was a very bad Bill and required amendment. I have always felt that the Bill was an extremely dangerous I one. I have never concealed that from myself, and I do not think I concealed I it from the House when the Bill came up here.

You adopted, as the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack said, one of two methods to remove a grievance, and I think he suggested himself that it was open to question whether the Bill was ideally desirable in the abstract, but that it was, perhaps, the lesser of two evils and the best way out of a difficulty. That, I think, was the only apology he was able to make for the Act. It is very easy always to raise a suggestion that it is necessary to protect the sick and benefit funds of the trade unions. That is less necessary in a sense now that we have the National Insurance Act, but it is verb easy to raise sympathy in the case of any raid on these funds. It has been pointed out, however, that the trade unions themselves have always reserved the right to use these funds for the purpose of industrial warfare. No one denies them that right. What you have said is that they shall have all the rights of combatants but suffer none of the penalties of combatants, and by this Act you have set up, I will not say a class of individuals, but an organisation which is above and outside the law. That, I venture to think and always have thought, is an extremely dangerous thing to do, and may have very far-reaching consequences.

It is perfectly true that the individuals who do these tortious acts remain liable, and it is quite irrelevant to deal with tortious acts which are criminal because criminal acts you can punish under the Criminal Law. There are, however, tortious acts which are not criminal, but which none the less inflict a great deal of pecuniary damage on other people and may inflict a great deal of pain upon them in the case of grave libels. It would be perfectly easy for a great organisation of this kind—and we owe it only to the fact that on the whole workmen have behaved very well and have not used in a wrongful manner the immense power given them that it has not occurred—it would be perfectly easy for a large organisation with a great war fund to do any amount of damage to business concerns and other people for which you would have no remedy whatever against them. They could put forward men of straw to print the libels and issue them, and unless the libels were criminal you could not touch these men of straw except by way of civil action. That would rehabilitate the personal character, no doubt, of the person libelled, but would not recompense him for any pecuniary loss he had suffered. By this Act you allow Organisations to carry on campaigns of this character with impunity, and I think that is an extremely dangerous thing. I ask your Lordships to consider what the position would be if such an organisation as the militant suffragettes were to disguise themselves as a trade union and publish their pamphlets inciting to crime and carry on the mischievous part of their work under that protection. You could punish the individuals, but you could get no injunctions against the organisation or against the persons responsible for publishing the pamphlets. That is one thing which I think your Lordships should have considered.

In dealing with these matters it is, perhaps, necessary to say that I am speaking not only as a friend of Labour but as a friend of trade unions and an admirer of the work that trade unions have done and a believer in their necessity. I think that Labour has many grievances and has still much to ask for, but I am that generally unpopular person in this matter, a candid friend. I think it well that one should not encourage people, as was very well said by Lord Charnwood, to think that they may do those things that are wrong and suffer no penalty, and that one should not put trade unions in a position that they can do wrong things without being punished for it. We have also to consider the principle of individual liberty, and that principle is a great deal infringed by the picketing provisions of the Trade Disputes Act. When that Act was in this House in 1906, I implored the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Loreburn, to modify in some way those provisions. My recollection is that I then pointed out that you made it perfectly possible under that Bill for no fewer than 1,000 men to picket the house of an individual workman. It is perfectly true that such a picket might be peaceful in the sense that they might not break the man's windows with stones or have cudgels in their hands, and might not resort to blows. But your Lordships can perfectly well realise what a workman and his family would feel if there was a raging and infuriated crowd in the road outside his house. That is what my noble friend meant when he spoke of domiciliary visits. I did not understand him to mean that the picket would go into a man's kitchen or his back garden and trample his flower beds. A workman's house is not like a mansion standing in a park. It fronts on the road, and the crowd outside would be as near to him as noble Lords opposite are to me, and their observations on his conduct during the strike, which would reach the ears of himself and family, might amount to a very considerable invasion of his rights and to very serious intimidation. Those things have been made possible by this Act.

The noble Lord asked whether consideration would be given to this question and to amendments of the Act. In Question No. 1 the noble Lord asks whether His Majesty's Government will watch any further tendency to the employment of libel or other tortious conduct as a weapon in trade disputes with a view to the amendment of the section if necessary. The noble Lord on the Front Bench said that that was a purely legal question. That is the very thing I should have said the question was not. I should have said it was a question of policy. You are not asked to amend a particular section or how to draft another section to replace it. You are asked whether you will watch conduct which arises under that section and which is justified by that section with a view to considering as a matter of political policy whether it is well that the section should be amended. The noble Marquess opposite who intervened early in this debate said that he rather objected to his side being taunted with having assented to the passage of this Bill through this House in 1906, because his Party objected in any way to being saddled with the responsibility of it. The noble Marquess enunciated the high constitutional doctrine that this House never interferes with what it believes to be the considered judgment of the constituencies. I do not think I misrepresent him in putting it in that way. I do not think this Bill before it reached this House had ever received the judgment of the constituencies at all. I do not know whether the noble Marquess is going to apply that high constitutional doctrine next week. Let us hope so. But that is a doctrine which was not applied to Mr. Lloyd George's Budget, and I think the noble Marquess and his friends can by no means absolve themselves from the responsibility of allowing the Bill to pass in the form in which it stood even though there was a large majority in favour of it in another place. They might have exercised the powers which this House then possessed to amend the Bill or delay its passage, or negotiate any reasonable Amendments, and if they thought it wise not to do so I do not think they should shelter themselves behind the high constitutional doctrine the noble Marquess referred to. I think they allowed it to pass because they were afraid of arousing the opposition of the working classes and through fear of the working class vote, because they believed that the workmen were as a whole desirous of obtaining immense powers which I think will prove to be really harmful for them.

As regards the other Questions, I think we all agree in the proposition that we wish workmen to have the weapon of the strike at their disposal when they wish to strike, and not in any way to be subject to injunction from the Courts or any other restraint in striking; but I think we ought to feel that we want to give liberty also to other people who take opposite views in the dispute. It is considered nowadays almost an improper thing—I will not say by His Majesty's Government or necessarily by a majority of the other House—to allow a black-leg workman to take work or to encourage him to work during a strike. I can understand the irritation of workmen on strike when other workmen attempt to take their places, but until we change our ideas of individual liberty in this country and change our laws on this subject the duty of the Government is to allow every individual to make up his mind, not subject to coercion, but subject only to argument as to whom he will sell his labour. I have no particular sympathy with the black-leg in any particular trade union, any more than we have in the union to which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and I belong. We all wish to keep up prices. But I think it is the first duty of the Government, while legislation remains as it is, to consider individual liberty, and I regret that there should be an impression abroad that any Government would look lightly on disturbances that might take place in the course of a strike. We know perfectly well that during any large strike there will be excesses, and the trade unions are not to be blamed for those excesses and the Government is not to be blamed for them. They are apt to take place as part of the natural irritation of the people engaged in the strike. But it is not to be supposed that those excesses are to be looked at as other than sporadic and exceptional, and I think my noble friend is to be congratulated on having raised this question to-day. It is a desirable thing that the working of this Act should be considered. I see no reason why the Government, who are in touch with the representatives of Labour, should not put their heads together and consider whether some means cannot be devised short of this absolute and dangerous immunity which is now given to labour organisations, by which the legitimate aspirations of trade unionists can be satisfied.


My Lords, I should like to support what was said by my noble friend, Lord Charnwood, particularly in so far as he dealt with pickets. There is no doubt that since this Act came into force there has been no law and order whenever a strike has broken out of any magnitude. The noble Lord on the Front Bench who answered for the Government said that the Police in every case did their best to maintain law and order. There are many cases which I could give him in which the Police have actually winked at breaches of the law. They have been in a position in which they themselves many times could have prosecuted people who were breaking the law. They have not done so, and I think we can only put this down to the head of the Home Office and the way in which the Home Office has been conducted in the last two or three years.

I am one of those unfortunate people who voted for the Trade Disputes Bill in the House of Commons in 1906. I voted for it because it was a Bill to take the financial liability off trade unions, but I had no idea at the time that I was going to empower mobs of men of anything from 200 to 2,000 to sweep round the works, to intimidate men in their private houses, to invade private property, which they continually do, and to put themselves entirely above the law. I consider that the answer given by the noble Lord as to the action of the Police in this matter is a most unsatisfactory one, and I can see no way of improving things except by repealing that part of the Trade Disputes Act. I would like to ask the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack why the pickets should not be limited to one man in each case. Surely one man is quite sufficient to "peacefully persuade" any workman and to inform him as to the rights of any particular dispute. That would immediately stop an enormous amount of intimidation. I have privately written to various members of the Cabinet and advocated this view, but they all fall back on the hackneyed reply, "Oh, the law of property is quite strong enough, and this Act does not interfere with it." In practice I think you will all agree—at any rate those who have had any experience of big strikes will agree—that it is an impossible thing almost to pick out a man in a crowd of two or three thousand strikers and take action against him for damaging property or for breach of the Civil Law. If the pickets were limited to one man it would be a very different state of affairs, and I hope the noble and learned Viscount will consider that point.


My Lords, I do not propose to trouble your Lordships with any lengthy observations. The question of Section 4 of the Trade Disputes Act I have already dealt with in reply to the noble Earl, Lord Dunmore. But two further points have been raised, one of them by my noble friend who has just spoken. The impression is, and it is a very extensive one, that the Trade Disputes Act in some way took away restrictions upon pickets which were of a very proper kind. In point of fact what happened was this. The Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act of 1875 enabled pickets to operate for the purpose of conveying information, but if they went beyond that it was illegal. Consequently what was called "peaceful persuasion" was legalised by a section in the Trade Disputes Act. There is no objection to peaceful persuasion if it is really peaceful persuasion. The whole question is whether it is peaceful persuasion. The point about that is not that the Trade Disputes Act is wrong in enabling pickets to attend for the purpose of peaceful persuasion.

A substantial distinction should be drawn between the action of a mob tumultuously conveying information and the action of a mob peacefully persuading. The whole point is how the thing is done, and what I want to draw your Lordships' attention to once more is this—that the Trade Disputes Act has not altered the law which makes it unlawful either to convey information or to peacefully persuade if you do it in a tumultuous or threatening fashion. If one man goes to a workman's cottage and says, "You really must not break the strike," that is one thing; but where it is done by a hundred men it is a different thing, and a reasonable state of terror spreads itself amongst those who are subject to such a domiciliary visit. Such a domiciliary visit is illegal. If people come in such numbers and in such a fashion as shows that they really are threatening and if such apprehensions are spread in the minds of the people whom they visit, then the numbers are most material in considering whether something illegal according to the law has been done. What I want to point out to your Lordships is this. The authorities have found no difficulty in prosecuting under this Act so far as the state of the law goes. They have found no embarrassment of any sort or kind arising from the Trade Disputes Act.

I am informed that the difficulty is not in the least greater than it was before. The difficulty remains precisely the same as before the passing of the Act—namely, that people will not come forward and give evidence. The law is now as it always was, and nothing in the Trade Disputes Act has materially affected it. It was always possible for one or more people to go and convey information, just as it is possible now for one or more people to go and peacefully persuade. The whole point is how they do it, and there is no difficulty greater than in prosecuting and getting witnesses to come forward and give evidence when once the illegality is done. That difficulty existed formerly, and it exists to-day. The workman himself will not come forward because he is afraid of a further visitation from those whose conduct is complained of, and consequently the position of the authorities has been a very difficult one. Administrative action has been taken by the Police of a valuable kind. They have very often been able to arrange that the real pickets should wear badges. In that case it is easier to distinguish people who are not pickets and who are not there for any legitimate purpose. I think that is a very good plan. It may be in come cases not easy to carry out, but in a great many cases it has been carried out successfully. Under the instructions of the Home Office the Police have done all they can to carry out the substance of the Act as it exists at the present time, and I hope that the beneficial result will be recognised by both sides more and more, so that the pickets will readily become distinguishable and be able to be marked out as persons whose conduct is not intended to be unlawful, and their conduct is more likely to remain lawful by reason of the fact that they are distinguished from those about them. So much for the question of picketing.

As regards the interference of the Government in strikes, the operation of interfering in any strike is a most delicate one, and I only venture to say anything to your Lordships about it because I had a good deal to do with the consideration which was given by the Government to the question at the time of the Dock Strike. At that time after a great deal of consultation we came to the conclusion that we ought to distinguish in disputes which affected what I may call the arterial life of the nation—I mean strikes relating to the railway system, to transport, to coal, and to matters that go to the very possibility of the subsistence of our people. We thought that in those cases the duty of the Government was to be specially watchful, and if they could go in at an early point and interfere by way of bringing the parties together and obtaining information they should do so. But there again I realise that you may make things worse instead of better by interfering. It is the most delicate of all situations to judge of, and I only say that when you are dealing with those things which go to the vitality of the nation any Government is very deeply responsible which does not watch in the closest fashion what is going on and intervene in any way it can.

In the case of the Dock Strike we asked a very distinguished public man, Sir Edward Clarke, to intervene and make an inquiry and furnish a report—a sort of preliminary trial of the merits of the question between the two parties concerned. We did that because we thought there was great value in the public being fully apprised of what was the real dispute between the parties. We thought that if once we could bring out the real merits of the dispute the public could express an opinion with regard to it, and that a settlement would be more likely if the public opinion of the country could lie efficiently brought to bear on the dispute. I think to a certain extent that was a useful process, and it may be that that process can be developed in the future in a more scientific fashion. The Industrial Council is considering that matter, and very shortly they will report. I hope that their report and the evidence will be laid before the public in order that the public may be informed how difficult and at the same time how important it is to judge rightly in these matters. I believe that we can do a good deal more by Courts of Inquiry than we have clone up to the present, but not in the way of stopping a strike compulsorily. I have great doubts whether public opinion in this country will ever allow you to come in and say to men, "If you continue to refuse to work you are committing a crime;" or in the same way to say to employers, "If you refuse to employ your men you are offending against the law." But I think public opinion will recognise, if a serious dispute arises connected with these arterial branches of national life, that there should be such an inquiry. I thank it is well worth considering whether what was done in practice in the Dock Strike under the provisions of the Conciliation Act should not be done in a more systematic and scientific fashion by a proper Court of Inquiry on the occasion of every trade dispute. That is a matter which is under consideration by the Industrial Council, and we shall be before long in a position to say more on the subject. Meanwhile I think I have answered the supplementary questions which have been put.


May I make two brief explanations? One is with regard to the complaint with which, rather to my astonishment I may say, the noble Lord who replied for the Government began. It is perfectly true that I have altered my Questions very considerably since the distant day when they first appeared on the Paper—partly, I think, to oblige my noble friend and his colleagues to whom I have constantly referred them. But the alterations consisted, first, in cutting out about half of the points my original Questions raised, and, secondly, in making as I thought more explicit and more intelligible the remaining Questions. May I make clear one thing with regard to the picketing of houses? Prima facie and apart from any particular enactment it was supposed to be unlawful for pickets to station themselves outside the gates of works. The particular section of the Act legalises that. But it also, as I understand it, legalises the patrolling by a picket of the streets or the stationing of a picket outside the houses in which workmen live. That seems to me to have been quite unnecessary. While I am, of course, perfectly aware of the impossibility of the Government defending everybody against every possible outrage, I make this suggestion. The course of the Police might be simplified if picketing outside the place where the workman resides was cut out of the sanction which by Statute is given to pickets, and which they would not otherwise possess.

House adjourned at half-past Six o'clock, to Monday next, a quarter before Eleven o'clock.