HL Deb 07 March 1913 vol 13 cc1504-7

Commons Reason for disagreeing to one of the Lords Amendments considered (according to Order).

[NOTE.—The references are to Bill (199) as first printed for the house of Lords.]

Lords Amendment.

Clause 3, page 4, line 17, after ("Act") insert ("or (f) on the publication or circulation of any newspaper or periodical having any political purpose, unless the main purpose of the newspaper or periodical is the furtherance of statutory objects within the meaning of this Act").

The Commons disagree to this Amendment:

Because they consider that the Amendment would involve an undue limitation of the powers of Trade Unions.


My Lords, the other House have agreed to the Amendments inserted in this Bill by your Lordships with a single exception. The Amendment to which they do not agree is the Amendment which your Lordships inserted in Clause 3, providing that the political objects to which the clause applies should also include the expenditure of money "on the publication or circulation of any newspaper or periodical having any political purpose, unless the main purpose of the newspaper or periodical is the furtherance of statutory objects within the meaning of this Act." I think it will be generally agreed that there is at any rate a certain plausibility, to put it no higher, about the Amendment which was carried in your Lordships' House, because the terms employed are identical with those which in the previous paragraph, paragraph (e), apply to the holding of political meetings or the distribution of political literature or political documents of any kind; and it might appear, therefore, that what applies to political literature ought to apply to newspapers.

But it is undoubtedly the view held in another place that, as a matter of fact, political literature such as pamphlets or handbills are not quite in pan material with newspapers or periodicals. I think that that may be reasonably argued, for this reason—that the interpretation which a Court of Law would put upon the main devotion of a pamphlet or political document to the purpose of a trade union as distinct from a purpose of a political kind would probably be the same as that which the ordinary observer would place upon it. But when you come to a newspaper, as I understand, the fear of the trade unions is this. They do not know how far a newspaper which, in the view of the ordinary observer, would be regarded as mainly a trade union newspaper devoted to the purposes described in this Bill as statutory—how far a Court of Law might in certain circumstances take the view that a newspaper, or a particular issue of it, was not mainly given to those statutory purposes but was engaging too deeply in politics. That element of uncertainty somewhat terrifies those who are responsible for the conduct of trade union newspapers. It may be that those fears are not entirely well founded; but at the same time I can quite conceive that some discontented member of a trade union might seek to obtain an injunction against the appearance of a newspaper on the strength of one particular number of that newspaper which appeared, or might appear, to a Court of Law to be more devoted to political issues than to those which could be described as statutory within the meaning of this Bill.

Those fears are honestly entertained, and, that being so, I venture to put it to the House whether it is worth while to sacrifice this Bill, which is of real importance both to the trade unions and to the public, for the sake of retaining a safeguard of this kind, which would probably, I venture to think, not prove to be of much material value, because as a matter of fact the newspapers in question are undoubtedly in the general sense trade union newspapers issued for the furtherance of trade union objects, and the political side of them must be regarded as, generally speaking, subsidiary and not the most prominent feature in those publications. I venture, therefore, to move that your Lordships do not insist upon this Amendment. And I do so with some confidence, because although, as I have stated, there is a superficial air of reason and equality about this particular Amendment, I do not think it is an air which will bear very close examination and which ought to impress itself on your Lordships to such an extent as to bring about the sacrifice of the measure.

Moved, That the House do not insist on the said Amendment.—(The Marquess of Crewe.)


The argument of the noble Marquess, so far as the merits of the Amendment are concerned, seemed to me to be a not very convincing one, and indeed as I listened to him I could not help feeling that he was himself not wholly convinced by his own argument. This Amendment has been a good deal misunderstood. Some people are evidently under the impression that it was framed with the object of forbidding trade unions to use their funds for the purpose of promoting the publication of political newspapers. Of course, that is not the effect of the Amendment. Again I have seen it stated that if this Amendment had remained in the Bill it would have been necessary for a trade union desiring to use its funds in connection with the publication of a political newspaper to obtain a special ballot for that purpose. That, of course, is also an entire misapprehension. All that tins Amendment did was to include the publication of a purely political newspaper amongst those objects to which a trade union would not have been entitled to apply the funds of its contributors without a special authorisation from those contributors. That, I must say, appears to me a most reasonable requirement.

I venture to recur to an illustration, which I gave when this question was under discussion on the Report stage, of the effect which will result if no words of this kind remain in the Bill. I put it to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack that without the protection of these words it would be possible for a trade union to apply its funds to the publication of a newspaper avowedly intended to promote Syndicalist doctrines, and to do that without any authority from the members of the union who might have contributed to the funds of the union with the intention that, those funds should be applied solely and entirely to what are spoken of under the Bill as statutory purposes. The noble and learned Viscount did not contradict me, and therefore I assume that the omission of this Amendment will have the result which I anticipate from it. The noble Marquess who leads the House evidently felt that we were on fairly strong ground when we appealed to the language used in the paragraph which immediately precedes this one, and in which the same expression "the main object" of the publication is to be found. There may be, as the noble Marquess contended, some slight difference between the two cases, the case contemplated by paragraph (e) and the ease contemplated by paragraph (f); but I venture to express my strong opinion that paragraph (f) as it stood in the Bill when it left your Lordships' House was a perfectly reasonable stipulation, and one which the Courts of Law need have had no difficulty in interpreting. I cannot, therefore, accept the view expressed in the Commons Reason to the effect that this Amendment involved any undue limitation of the powers of the trade unions.

But, my Lords, the appeal which the noble Marquess addressed to us was not based at all upon the merits of the Amendment itself. The noble Marquess put it to us very fairly that if we insisted upon this Amendment we should bring about the failure of the Bill so far as this session is concerned. The Bill has been met with general acceptance by those who sit upon this side of the House. We have admitted, freely that in our view legislation was necessary; and it would be to us, as it would be to noble Lords opposite, a matter of sincere regret if, after all the discussion which has taken place upon this Bill, it were to be lost upon an Amendment which may be of sonic importance but which is not in our view an Amendment of capital importance. Therefore I do not propose to ask your Lordships to insist upon your Amendment. At the same time, I cannot resume my place without saying that I think we have been somewhat unfairly treated, and that the real reason for which this Amendment has been struck out from the Bill is to be found in the reluctance of His Majesty's Government to face the pressure which has been put upon them by a certain class of their supporters in the House of Commons.

On Question, Motion agreed to.