HL Deb 11 April 1916 vol 21 cc656-66

THE EARL OF DESART rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will inform the House of the steps that have been taken with regard to the recent industrial trouble at Glasgow, and whether any, and if so what, proceedings have been taken against any person or persons in connection therewith.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, when I put my Question on the Paper the only information I had in reference to the matters to which it refers was that there had appeared in the newspapers a number of very disquieting statements as to serious trouble in munition works on the Clyde. There had been two discussions in the House of Commons in which the character of the allegations made against certain persons employed in those works had been discussed, and we knew that as a measure of precaution certain persons had been deported from Glasgow to Edinburgh. On a perusal of what was said in the House of Commons, and putting aside altogether what statements were made in the newspapers, it seemed perfectly clear that the matter was one of great gravity, one on which Parliament should be informed, and as to which the public should know, as soon as might reasonably be, what steps the Government meant to take both with a view to dealing with the questions that had arisen and with regard to the example which might be necessary to avert danger in the future.

If the allegations could be sustained, there were obviously the following forms of possible procedure against the persons who had committed the alleged acts. There was a proceeding under the Munitions Act of 1915, which I confess I hardly could regard, if the statements were approximate to the facts, as adequate to meet the circumstances of the case, for only a pecuniary penalty—a heavy one, it is true—is involved. On such offences as were charged it seemed obvious to me that no proceedings for which the only penalty was pecuniary could possibly be adequate in view of the public interest. Then there was a proceeding under the Defence of the Realm Act Regulations. These may be, as I understand, according to the decision of the military authority, either minor offences summarily dealt with or more serious offences to be dealt with either by a Court-Martial or by a jury and in which the punishment goes up to penal servitude for life, or if the act is found to be done with the intention of assisting the enemy the death penalty may be inflicted.

I will now refer, as it is the only information we have which I consider absolutely reliable as to the acts, to the statements of responsible Ministers made in the House of Commons. I take first the speech of Dr. Addison in another place on March 28. He pointed out that in the course of the preceding week a number of strikes had been organised in some of the most important munition works in the Clyde district, and that energetic attempts to extend them were being made at that moment. Dr. Addison continued— At different times strikes have been brought about, sometimes on the most trivial grounds, by a self-appointed body known as the Clyde Workers' Committee. This committee, which, I am informed, was originally styled the Clyde Labour Withdrawal Committee, has repudiated any connection with, or allegiance to, established trade unions, and decided about a fortnight ago to embark on a policy of holding up the production of the most important munitions of war in the Clyde district, with the object, I am informed, of compelling the Government to repeal the Military Service Act and the Munitions of War Act, and to withdraw all limitations upon increases of wages and strikes, and all forms of Government control. Later on Dr. Addison said— The method adopted has been to bring out on strike workmen engaged upon the production of a particular heavy gun and gun-mountings, for which we are receiving the most urgent demands. The committee visited in succession works which are making parts of these guns. In many places they have been unsuccessful, but they have succeeded in bringing out a number of men in five different important works engaged upon the manufacture of portions of these guns. That is a very serious statement, and I think that is all I need refer to there.

The matter was also referred to in the House of Commons on March 30, and in the course of a discussion which related very much to something which had taken place in the private room of Dr. Addison between, I think, himself and some other Member, Mr. Lloyd George used these very important words when speaking of the committee to which I have referred. He said— This is purely an organisation for sedition, not merely against the Government, but against the trade unions themselves. And in answering an interrogation by an hon. Member as to whether "this man"—I do not think his name is mentioned—"absolutely became seditious," Mr. Lloyd George said— I will express no opinion, as his case may be investigated elsewhere. Undoubtedly, had he been treasonable he could not have done more harm to the State in the present position of things. We have the Army urging, begging, and praying us to send along these particular guns which are turned out in these works. I told the men that in private; I told them a good deal more in private than I could in public. They know it; they know how urgent these particular guns are. In France, now, they are asking us to send them along. What happens? These men, knowing that, pursued those guns through every component part. One shop turned out one thing—there was a strike there. Another shop turned out another thing—there was a strike there. Then a little later on Mr. Lloyd George made this remark— All this proves exactly my point. In one shop you have locks, and there is a strike; in another shop they are making gun-carriages, and so on. The thing has been pursued, and it is an absolute fact that if these men go back they will be facilitating the making of the most important gnus of the British Army. My Lords, I need not add a word to the speeches of the two Ministers. You can hardly exaggerate their gravity.

From a passage which I saw in an evening newspaper last night—it is the only knowledge I have of it, and it was not very clear—I believe that proceedings have been instituted under the Regulations made under the Defence of the Realm Act. I have seen no actual report of proceedings beyond a reference to an application for bail, which said that three men had applied for bail on a charge under Regulation 42. As I have pointed out, there are different ways of dealing with such a case. There is the minor offence and the more serious offence, and there is a possible proceeding by Court-Martial, or, in the case of a British subject, the right of a trial by jury. Whether or not it has been decided what proceedings should be taken, I hope that the question of a prosecution for High Treason has not altogether been left out of sight by the Lord Advocate, whose duty it is to consider these matters. Sir Edward Carson, in the House of Commons, asked—the question was also put by other Members—what proceedings were to be taken, and the reply at the time was that the whole matter was under consideration and that it was intended to take such proceedings as seemed possible and desirable.

In this connection I should like to point out that there could hardly be graver allegations than those which have been made by Ministers in the House of Commons. The people concerned are British subjects; they are entrusted with responsible duties for the safety and preservation of this Realm; and not only do they fail in that duty, but by persuasion or intimidation they induce men to cease work and hinder others from working. It is a maxim that a man must be assumed to know the natural consequence of his acts. If the natural consequence of such acts is to cripple the action of our fighting forces, to weaken our national strength, and thereby to strengthen and assist our enemies, can any other epithet be applied to men who have been proved to have done this than that they are traitors to their country? I believe firmly that such men are unrepresentative of their class, and that were their action rightly understood by the mass of their fellow-countrymen it would be repudiated with horror. But it is necessary, and by stern methods sometimes, to lead people to understand what they are doing and what the consequence of their acts may be. So that I trust no possible character of proceedings was overlooked by the Lord Advocate. I do not wish for a moment to dogmatise. I have some personal experience of proceedings for High Treason, and I know well the difficulties and the technicalities. But it is conceivable that this does almost amount to a prima facie case. Of course, if the Lord Advocate and those who have an opportunity of considering the evidence—I have not seen the evidence, so cannot pretend to express an opinion—hold the view that there is no prima facie case for investigation by a jury, I should say no more. They have the evidence and know, and I do not go further on this point than to say that I hope it has been considered.

A prosecution for High Treason, which is a very solemn and impressive thing, would awaken the imagination of the workmen throughout the country, and that is really what I have in mind. I am far from suggesting that any considerable body of workmen in this country have any element of disloyalty. I believe they are as loyal as any of us in this House. But I do not think that the actual position of things has yet come home to their imaginations, and I think that nothing would bring it home more than an object-lesson of this character. I mention High Treason because I think it is the most impressive prosecution there can be. But a serious prosecution under Regulation 42 of the Defence of the Realm Act for a major offence, whether by Court-Martial or before a jury, would also serve a very useful purpose. I am quite sure that some example, and a serious example assuming that these allegations can be established, is very necessary. We all have in our minds painful recollections of strikes since the beginning of the war. We remember the strikes which checked the supply of Welsh coal required for our Fleet. We have heard constantly of small sectional strikes in munition works. I have no actual personal knowledge of them, but I think they were referred to in Parliament. The Government alone know how many there have been, and one is led to consider whether it is even their own opinion that the method of negotiation or of minor penalties is likely to produce the effect upon the workmen that is desirable. Industrial war between Labour and Capital has been considered by this generation of workmen not only as legitimate but as praiseworthy, and if you deal with the present trouble by negotiation or by some proceedings before a magistrate, there is so little difference between that and the way in which strikes were settled in the time of peace that it does not get home to the minds of the men that this conduct here is anything more than an incident in an industrial war and that it has the serious bearing of crippling the country in a war which it is waging for its existence. Therefore I think it is a matter of policy and wisdom that if you have the evidence to support a serious case you should deal with it very earnestly indeed. If that is intended—and I hope this will be the answer—I need not press the point. Great powers are entrusted to you, and my belief is that if, in the interests of winning this war, you come to Parliament it will give you literally any powers for which you ask, and give them freely and willingly.

I am afraid that strikes of this character are not the only dangerous forms of agitation in this country; there are others which may require very grave consideration at some time or another. We are asked, and we are bound, to make sacrifices, but I think there are sacrifices besides those of material things. There are moments in the life of a nation when people must for a time sacrifice their most cherished principles, and I am not sure that this is not the time when that must be clearly faced. It is quite clear that there is one main purpose in all our minds, and that is the attainment of our fullest power of offensive and defensive. For that, sacrifices have been made, and greater remain to be made. They must not be in vain. I have never been able to understand how anybody who knows this country can fear that its people will in future let go one iota of the liberties they have won by many a struggle in the past. The attainment of our full striking power is the immediate necessity, and if we are all called upon to sacrifice some rights or surrender some privileges dear to us and common to all in normal times we shall have shown to ourselves and to the world that a nation which can and will do this in time of stress has earned the right to greater, not less, freedom. Then this peril on our part will, please God, produce that unity and cohesion of action which will show that a true commonwealth of freedom can by its spirit, its patriotism, and its sacrifice overbear the greater powers of organisation which appertain to the forces of reaction and despotism. Fail in teaching this lesson to our people, and it may be that we fail indeed.


My Lords, as your Lordships are probably aware full statements on the causes and progress of the industrial disputes in the Clyde area were made in another place, as my noble friend has said, by my right hon. friend the Minister of Munitions and by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Munitions. Since the date of those statements I am happy to say that, as your Lordships are also aware, work has been generally resumed on the Clyde. In view of the undoubted gravity of the position and the nature of the agitation which had led to the cessation of work, the Government felt that it was essential to take action with regard to the small body of men who were misleading the large majority of loyal workers. In the circumstances, after carefully considering the recommendations of the Commissioners for Dilution on the Clyde, who had watched the Whole matter on the spot, it was decided to take action under Regulation 14 of the Defence of the Realm Regulations, which provides that— Where a person is suspected of acting, or of having acted, or of being about to act, in a manner prejudicial to the public safety or the defence of the Realm, and it appears to the competent naval or military authority that it is desirable that such person should be prohibited from residing in or entering any locality, the competent naval or military authority may, by order, prohibit him from residing in or entering any area or areas which may he specified in the order … In accordance with the powers given by that Regulation ten persons who were clearly covered by its terms were removed from the Clyde area.

I should explain that the procedure in these matters is to bring the persons suspected before the military authorities. Their case is then heard, and if in the opinion of these authorities they are not able to disprove the charges against them an order for their removal from the area concerned is made by the military authorities. Before the accused persons are actually removed they are given an opportunity of choosing the locality to which they would prefer to be removed. In the case of the persons in question they were all given this choice, and in fact were all removed to various areas in Scotland. They are, however, debarred from returning to the area covered by the exclusion order, and if they return to that area they are guilty of an offence under the Defence of the Realm Regulations.

In addition to this action, proceedings were taken against three persons under Regulation 42 of the Defence of the Realm Regulations, which provides that if any person attempts to cause mutiny, sedition, or disaffection among any of His Majesty's forces or among the civilian population, or to impede, delay, or restrict the production, repair, or transport of war material, or any other work necessary for the successful prosecution of the war, he shall be guilty of an offence against the Regulations. In this case the procedure is of a different character, and involves the certification that the offence is a munitions offence, and, further, requires an investigation by the Lord Advocate in Scotland before proceedings in the action can be taken. Thereafter, according as the offence is treated as a summary one or one to be heard by the High Court, the matter follows the normal judicial course. These three persons have been committed for trial, and, bail having been refused, are now in custody awaiting trial. In addition, proceedings were taken under the Munitions of War Act, for striking, against thirty individual strikers. Twenty-two were fined £5 each, to be deducted from wages, by the General Munitions Tribunal before which they were tried.


My Lords, I am desirous that some of the difficulties of this important matter should be fully understood south of the Tweed. I am anxious that this should be so for the credit of those connected with the Clyde, and because it is a somewhat long, intricate, and difficult story. Of course just now, on an occasion like this, one cannot go fully into it; but as I was entrusted, with a colleague, by the Ministry of Munitions in the course of October and November of last year with an Inquiry as to what was then in dispute and as this gave me a certain insight into the difficulties of the questions involved, I trust your Lordships will excuse me if I say a few words on the subject. I hope it will be kept clearly in mind that the difficulties which have recently occurred have not been caused by the organised trade unions. They have been caused by, relatively speaking, a small body of men who have been acting in contravention of the wishes and in direct rebellion against the orders of the leaders of the authorised trade unions in the district.

The history of the matter very shortly is this. About a year ago an agreement was entered into by all the trade unions all over the country, in England and Scotland alike, as to certain provisions and conditions which the emergency of the time rendered necessary but which contravene well-established trade union regulations. That agreement was made between the authorised trade unions and the Government. It was embodied in an Act of Parliament, and by and by was brought into force all over the country. There were difficulties on the Clyde, partly arising from the time at which it was brought into force—it was rather unfortunately and hurriedly done at the particular moment—and partly on account of the influence of previous disputes; and beyond all question the Inquiry which my colleague Mr. Macassey and I conducted showed that some of the trade unions had real grievances. Some want of judgment took place on the part of individuals, and in some cases the conditions had not been adequately considered. The provisions of the Act were very hard and fast; they were not altogether suitable in some cases to the particular industries, where unfortunate and undoubted difficulties did arise. My colleague and I made certain recommendations, nearly every one of which was accepted in an Amending Act by the Ministry of Munitions, and we thought that for a long time after that there was a fair prospect of peace and of the continuance of industry; and so far as the authorised trade unions are concerned, that agreement has been loyally fulfilled.

But more recently, some time at the end of the year, further provisions had to be made for what is known as the dilution of labour—that is, the introduction into authorised trade union works of those who are not members of the trade union. That was done by a Commission on the Clyde, in concert with the trade unions and the employers. It was in the main successful, and so far as the regular trade unions are concerned there has not been much risk of difficulty. But comparatively recently without doubt a number of strikes have been organised amongst the most important munition establishments in the Clyde district, and attempts have been made to extend those strikes to similar establishments throughout that district. As far as I can gather—I am not speaking officially, but I think I know the facts—these strikes have been incited and effected by an organisation known as the Clyde Workers' Committee, a body which was originally brought into being under the name of the Clyde Committee for the Withdrawal of Labour, and, as the name signifies, the purpose was to effect a stoppage of work and to enforce the demands of that committee, quite regardless of the special interests and difficulties of the times in which the Government were placed. I am not responsible for anything that the Government have done, but if the House will accept my testimony for what it is worth I venture respectfully to say that the Government have dealt with a difficult and intricate situation with great forbearance and judgment. If any charge is brought against the Ministry of Munitions it is that they have been too forbearing in not isolating individuals and prosecuting them for their conduct. But I, for one, if I were a member of the Government, would far rather have it said that the Government had been too forbearing than that they had gone too hotheaded into the prosecution of individuals.

Every one of these strikes which have occurred during the last few weeks has been repudiated by the executive of the society concerned—namely, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers. They have issued imperative instructions to their members in the Clyde district that the strikes are unauthorised and a breach of the society's rules; they have taken care that no strike pay shall be paid, and they have done their utmost to get the strikers to resume work without delay. I have no doubt that the noble Earl is perfectly correct when he says that the present state of things was a deliberate attempt on the part of a small minority, those whom I shall characterise as disloyal to the cause of the country, to effect as complete a stoppage in the work of the production of munitions on the Clyde as possible unless the immediate and somewhat indeterminate demands of that committee were acceded to by the Government. I have a list here of the strikes which occurred in the month of March. There was one on March 17 in one works; another on March 21; another on March 23; another on March 27—all in isolated different works—and another on March 28. It is a curious and significant fact that in every one of these cases the work upon which the particular men who were called out were engaged was the work of heavy howitzers and naval ordnance, which were specially required for our fighting forces.

I do not like to say too much about it here without fuller examination, but it is my strong belief that these strikes were brought about by a small but active and unscrupulous minority of men who are doing what they can to hamper efficient work for the provision of armaments for abroad. If that is true—and I believe it to be true—I say that the Government would have been wanting in duty had they not taken personal proceedings against the men concerned. It is actually the fact that from the completion of the labour agreement a consistent and persistent agitation has been maintained by this committee for the purpose, as I think, of hampering the objects of the Government, which I am quite sure the immense majority not only of the country at large but of the Clyde workers themselves desire to support. The result has been a certain disturbance of work, because it is very easy to make demands which seem on the surface to be reasonable but which are contrary to established practice, contrary to good discipline, and yet which it is not difficult to represent as in the interests at any rate of some of the workers. But I hope it will be clearly understood, so far as the authorised trade unions are concerned, that they have done their very best to discourage this agitation. They have made great sacrifices in the way of what is called dilution of labour, which it was difficult for them to agree to in respect of all the conditions which were demanded of them, and I, for one, hope that the action of the organised unions will be remembered to their credit when the time comes for reinstituting their rules upon the merits. I would not have interfered in this matter had it not been that I am jealously anxious for the credit of the regular labour organisations on the Clyde, which, while in the past they may have been open to criticism, in all times of difficulty, stress, and trial have done their very best to help the Government, and for that I think they are entitled to credit.