HL Deb 30 October 1918 vol 31 cc886-913

LORD STUART OF WORTLEY rose to call attention to the recent strike of certain members of the Metropolitan Police Force, and to the statement made by the Secretary of State on October 24; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I desire to say, at the outset, that nobody could have imagined for a moment that it was not only proper but highly necessary and no more than just that a great body like the Metropolitan Police Force should participate to the full in all increases of pay or allowances which might be deemed to be equitably due as arising out of the enhancement of prices or other conditions of war; and the only points which could possibly give reason for doubt in your Lordships' minds in connection with such a matter would be whether such concessions as had been made were adequate and whether they had been made with sufficient grace and alacrity, and without an undue amount of official obstruction or procrastination.

In taking a short retrospect of this rather unhappy incident, the only grain of comfort that I can extract is that the Secretary of State in another place described it as a matter of "very grave importance." That is very far from being an exaggerated phrase. But, unfortunately, it remains almost the only indication, so far, of the existence of anything like a true and proportionate sense of that which has taken place. The Home Secretary had to exonerate Scotland Yard and his own Department, and no doubt the blame for this, I might almost say, terrible occurrence should rest either wholly on the Home Office and the Commissioner of Police on the one hand, or wholly on the strikers, or should be divided between the two. The case for the Home Office appears to be that in December, 1917, certain increases of pay and other improvements in the conditions of service were granted avowedly as arising out of the war, and no doubt they were substantial. The case for the Home Office is that then and thereafter, until the time of the strike, no representations asking for more than those concessions amounted to were received at the Home Office; and your Lordships will perhaps observe that the statement was not that they had not been received, but that they had not been received at the Home Office.

It is said, however, that in February, 1918, a letter was addressed to the Commissioners of Police by a body calling itself the Executive of the Police Union, thanking them for the concessions which had been made but practically asking for more. It may well have been that in that communication the thanks for the favours granted came in the forefront of the letter, and possibly overshadowed what came afterwards. It may have been that the subsequent request for more was read by the officials to whom it was addressed as being no more than a more or less perfunctory move on the part of an official of an outside body, who probably was an outsider to the Police Force, and bound to justify his existence and actions by always asking for more, however much might be granted. That may have been the view. Whatever was the view, I suppose we may take it that for some reason, good or bad, the communication in question was not handed over to the Home Office, and therefore the Home Secretary was within his rights in saying that during the period named no further communication was received at the Home Office. But there were not wanting speakers in the debate in another place on October 24 who said that, if not by letter, certainly by Question in the House and representations made in Parliament, indications of dissatisfaction were undoubtedly made during the earlier part of the session of 1918, and that those representations made it abundantly plain, or should have done, that the concessions given had not been sufficient in quantity. I by no means wish to say that those representations made in Parliament were just or unjust. My point is that they were made.

Then, lastly, we were told in the same debate—I do not know whether we are asked to treat it as a serious matter, but it comes from an hon. Member connected with trade union organisations very closely—that on the Tuesday in the week in which the strike commenced there was a similar letter addressed from the Police Union, and that that letter never received any answer at all. During the short time that I took part in official life, I did my best to secure that in the case of all communications addressed to the Department in which I had the honour to serve it should be an inflexible rule that an acknowledgment should be sent by return of post, so as to make it impossible that it should be said that no answer had been received.

In face of these statements and counter-statements it is rather difficult for your Lordships to know where and how to apportion the blame for what has happened. The more you exonerate the Home Office and Scotland Yard the more you must blame the strikers, and of course vice versa. I must not be taken for a moment to admit that, if you are prepared to blame the Home Office, even in a high degree, you are thereby justified in exonerating entirely those who took part in the strike. Any- how, there remains to be apportioned a very heavy responsibility for events which perforce have left a most painful impression. It is best, perhaps, to leave this question of the apportionment of the responsibility there, for there remain two matters which are quite serious enough. One is the strike itself, that it did take place, and that it should have taken place; the second is the debate, and the character of the debate, which is all we have had by way of commentary upon it since in another place.

I am sure, my Lords, you will not think it undesirable that we should give our minds for a few minutes to considering what it is that makes a strike of anything like a Police Force so very undesirable. I think a few moments may be spent in amplifying the considerations which apply to that question. Amongst ourselves in conversation we should probably dispose of it quite shortly by saying that it is not desirable that any country, least of all a highly civilised and free country like this, should be governed by a band of Prætorians, but there are a good many people who would not understand you if you disposed of it by a short argument of that kind. Nor is it quite sufficient to say that the question is disposed of merely by describing the Police as a disciplined force. Any one who has seen an armour plate rolled by free labourers will have seen how absolutely vital it is for the whole process, in order to save life and property, to depend upon each man falling into the proper place assigned to him and obeying what must be discipline bred of long experience and practice. That is not enough. It does not convey enough to the popular mind to say that the Police ought not to strike because they are a disciplined force.

Let us take the analagous case of the soldier. Why is it that you require for the soldier such exceptionally high standards of conduct in almost all things? You entrust the soldier with lethal weapons, you teach him combined action and skill in the use of his weapons and in the tactics which arise out of the combined action in which he is practised, and all these things are entrusted and imparted to him at the expense and at the instance of those by whom he is employed, and they are intended to enable him to be, should occasion arise, a terror to his country's enemies and to his country's enemies alone. We know what happens to him in case of failure of duty in the face of the enemy, and we all know what would happen—or rather we do not like to think of what would happen—in the almost unthinkable case of his deciding to turn his weapons and skill in any case against his own countrymen. For these reasons it is that we require of the soldier—I should say that outside Germany there are required of the soldier—higher standards of duty towards his country and Sovereign, of forbearance towards the weak, of chivalry towards women, and of honour in all matters for which he may be called upon to exercise responsibility. The case of the policeman is not the same only because you do not entrust him with the same lethal weapons. In all other respects I shall be prepared to say that the case of the policeman and his duty is a case a fortiori against him as compared with the soldier, because, although you do not give him the same weapons, he at least has the same organisation and the same opportunity of misusing it if he should be so disposed. Indeed, he has more opportunities of so misusing it, because it is only his own fellow-citizens against whom he is capable of getting the opportunity to misuse it. It is only those among whom he lives that he can terrorise by misusing the opportunity, and that terrorisation he can resort to by the mere act of withdrawing his services in concert. That is only another way of saying that the policeman always acts in face of the enemy. He is always in face of the civil and social enemy, against whom he has sworn, and is paid, to protect those amongst whom he lives, both rich and poor.

I said that the other grave matter with which we have to deal is the debate which took place in the other House, and I think those of your Lordships who read it will wish, as I do, that there had been fewer exonerations of the strikers, fewer searches for pretexts to blame the Government, fewer invocations of the purely doctrinaire panacea of what it called municipalisation. For many years municipalisation has been put forward with fluctuating insistence as a remedy, not only for anything unsatisfactory in the organisation of the Police, but also for all forms of discontent in the ranks of the Police themselves. One speaker argued that they ought to have civilian heads, and that promotion ought to be open from all ranks to all ranks. If you go about among the provincial Police Forces of the country I think you will find a good many under civilian chief constables, but also not a few others where the Police authorities have, probably with great wisdom, found and engaged ex-Army officers who are very admirably doing the duties entrusted to them; and I should not be surprised if you found a large number of provincial Forces of Police, which are patterns to the municipal Forces of the world, in which there has been promotion to the chief office, and it has not been from the ranks of that particular force itself.

Supposing that we propose to municipalise the Metropolitan Police Force—and this is material to our considerations to-day, because it was openly said that so to do would remove discontent not only in the Police themselves but in the ratepayers who support the Police and in the citizens who are entitled to their services I presume it is imagined that you would get a closer criticism, better opportunities of ventilating grievances, if it were all done in the arena of the County Council than if it is done as things are now. Owing to the foresight of Sir Robert Peel in 1828, the Metropolitan Police district was stretched over an area which, perhaps your Lordships do not know, extends to Bushey on the north side, Erith on the east, Staines the west, and Epsom on the south, with a very large zone of country, rapidly being filled up with residences and buildings, outside of the area of the jurisdiction of the London County Council, so that it is impossible to find—you have not got—any municipality in existence which is capable of exercising jurisdiction at the present time over that very large area which, for very good reasons, which have not in the least disappeared, Sir Robert Peel saw fit to make the area, of jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police.

If there is one thing more certain than another it is that the local authorities of the outside areas would stoutly and persistently refuse to allow their police arrangements to be governed for them by the London County Council. As an alternative, what have you got at the present time? As things are, the Metropolitan Police are governed by a Commissioner. He is responsible to the Home Secretary, and therefore they are practically governed by the Home Secretary on all difficult cases. The Home Secretary is responsible for their finance, and therefore you have practical responsibility to the House of Commons, which can at any time by a breath remove the Home Secretary, or censure him and make him feel the weight of its wrath. But that is not all. Is the House of Commons inaccessible then to the Metropolitan Police? Let your Lordships remember that every member of the House of Commons, from the fact of his position and duties, is a resident in the metropolis. I took out figures some years ago, from which I discovered that this wide metropolitan district of fifteen miles from Charing Cross was represented in the House of Commons under the old Redistribution Act of 1885—it will probably be in the new House of Commons under the last Reform Bill still more striking—by a body of upwards of eighty Members, to any one of whom any policeman with a grievance as to pay, any ratepayer with a grievance as to the extravagance of the Force, or any householder complaining of insufficient protection can go and address direct his complaints and make sure that they should be pressed by Questions in the House of Commons.

Who can compare the arena of the House of Commons for its conspicuousness and the interest taken in its proceedings by the Press and by all onlookers, with that of the proceedings which take place in the London County Council? It is no disrespect to the London County Council to say that the opportunity of questions and censures and motions to control expenditure in the House of Commons are a far better example and exercise of all the advantages, rights, and privileges that you hope to seek by municipalisation than you would have if you actually had to go through the form of municipalising the Police Force itself. I think it is a thing to be regretted that in the House of Commons an ex-Cabinet Minister, himself a member of the London County Council, should practically have made it clear that he thought that all grievances would disappear if you handed over the government of the Metropolitan Police to the London County Council, that there was a great deal of seething discontent, and that, unless more things were conceded than had been conceded in the present case, we were going to have more trouble of the same kind. I impute no intentions, but I say any man will judge for himself what the probable effect of words of that kind is likely to be.

There remains only the question of the recognition of the Union of the Police. I believe Sir George Cave rather plumed himself on the fact that he had not granted recognition to the Police Union. But he has allowed the existence of the Union; and when you allow the existence of a Union, indeed bring it into existence, it is rather futile, certainly very late, to say that you do not recognise it. Mothers generally recognise their own offspring; and in this case it seems to me that recognition has come by the operation of inevitable facts. For my part I may say that I attach very little importance to the question of recognition, because in my experience—and I have had some experience of trouble as between employer and employed—recognition inures generally to the benefit of the outside agitator, the man who has managed to fasten himself upon the trade union in question, who acts as their advocate, and who stirs them up to allow him to ventilate grievances which he says are theirs. When you get into the employer's room, or into the conference, or into the arbitrator's room, you find there is a vicious circle of two opposing principles of distrust. On the one hand you have the employers' doubt whether the demands put forward really have the support of the men whom they affect; whether, in fact, the demands put forward are really demands intended to improve the condition of the men in question, and are not rather demands put forward for the purpose of creating a number of jobs for the working class as a whole. On the other hand you have the distrust—it is a very natural distrust, and one with which I have a great deal of sympathy—on the part of the men that unless they are allowed a special advocate to speak for them they are in danger of what is called victimisation. Recognition does not get rid of that kind of thing, and the man who can get rid of that kind of thing will confer a benefit upon this country with regard to future labour troubles which it is difficult to estimate.

I do not think there is anything more to be said, but I believe your Lordships should sieze every opportunity to repudiate with all the vigour you can the doctrine which seems to obtain increasing acceptance—that wherever a body of men can use their organisation to compel satisfaction of their demands, they should use their opportunity to the hilt, even where their very status and organisation are themselves matters of trust which impose upon them in honour and morals the highest degree of obligation to restraint and forebearance in the use of those opportunities. Those, who make that sort of claim are riding trade unionism into an abyss; they are holding up the democratic principle to execration, because they remind us how even the democratic principle itself is capable of being abused, how it is after all but the principle of numbers, and therefore of might, and that When used against right it is a truly German form of frightfulness and nothing better. It means in the end the negation and destruction both of order and of security, and even the ruin of liberty itself. I beg to move.


My Lords, before the noble Lord speaks for His Majesty's Government, perhaps I may be allowed to say one or two words with reference to the important subject which my noble friend opposite has brought before the House. I think we must all be grateful to him for having brought it forward this evening, for it is one which has given rise to the greatest anxiety in the public mind. I will not attempt to follow what my noble friend said with regard to the apportionment of the blame for this most unfortunate episode; I am content to leave that where he left it. But I want to say a word about what seems to me to be the wider aspect of this question, for it is a one which concerns not only the Police Force and its conduct on this occasion, but the conduct of other bodies of organised people and their right to dictate terms to the public and to enforce the terms which they desire to dictate by withholding their services.

We have had a series of most regrettable affairs of this kind since the war began. We have had a strike of railway employees at a time when it was of the utmost importance that the means of locomotion should not be interfered with; we have had a strike of miners at a time when every ton of coal raised from the bowels of the earth was a matter essential to the progress of the great war in which we are engaged; we have had a strike in the shipyards at a time when our shipbuilding operations were falling lamentably into arrear; and now, as a kind of climax, we have had this strike amongst the men who are responsible for maintaining law and order in our midst. That seems to me to be a most serious occurrence. I have heard, I must say, nothing which seemed to me to be a complete defence either of this Police strike or of any of the other strikes which I mentioned just now. I do not mean to suggest for a moment by this that there may not have been a grievance on the part of the men who struck. What I take exception to is not that they should feel a grievance and assert it, but that they should resort to the means to which they actually did resort for the purpose of bringing that grievance to the public notice.

I do not think that I judge these people hardly, because those who were best able to judge them virtually admitted what I have just said. I dare say that some of your Lordships may have read the scathing words addressed by a very much respected Labour member of the House of Commons to the railway workers at Cardiff. I forget the exact date, but your Lordships will remember the event. This is what Mr. Thomas said— Before Saturday there would be a food famine in South Wales; foodstuffs were rotting at Newport— And then, addressing the strikers, he added— You have by your action destroyed the good name of your union. You have by one fell stroke destroyed all the influence railway men ever had. You have driven public opinion—which, after all, does count in these matters—never to forgive you. And coming to the Police strike I see that Sir George Cave, speaking with authority, said that in his opinion the strikers had been misled, and that by their conduct they had forfeited a public confidence which they had so long and deservedly enjoyed. He added—I hope with truth—that the majority of the men regretted their action. I think this justifies me in saying that these strikes are strikes which ought never to have taken place.

But to my mind the most serious feature in the whole thing is that in spite of all, I believe in every one of these cases the strikers have really compelled the acceptance of the terms, or the greater part of the terms, which they were out to ask. There is always a good deal of brave talk. A Minister is generally sent down to conduct negotiations, but the whole thing ends in a very thinly-disguised capitulation. I do not think that I exaggerate when I say that this description applies to what took place in connection with the Police strike. I gather from Sir George Cave's speech, that during the year 1917 these men were receiving a total wage of 47s. a week. At the end of 1917 it was increased to 69s. 9d., and a scheme was under consideration for a further revision. Would it be believed, my Lords, that on the 28th of August these men put forward a demand for an increase of pay, a further bonus of 12½ per cent., the recognition of the Police Union, and the reinstatement of one or more dismissed constables, and that because those terms were not immediately accepted, on the very next day (August 29) 22,000 of them went out on strike? That seems to me to have been a most aggressive and wholly unjustifiable proceeding. Remember that they did this in spite of the rule, which I understand exists, under which every one of these men is bound to give one month's notice before giving up his work as a constable. As usual a Minister came in. This time it was the Prime Minister, and the result was that the men's pay was increased to a sum, including rights of various kinds, equal to £4 6s. 10d. a week, which, unless I am mistaken, represents an annual emolument of about £224, and the men were allowed to join the Police Union. I rather think—my noble friend will correct me if I am wrong—that there was also a reinstatement of some of the dismissed men. I venture to say that all this really raises the great question whether we are to remain exposed to this kind of—I can only so describe it—blackmail. In war, as my noble friend truly says, this is conduct which would be equivalent to desertion and would be treated as such, but even in time of peace is it tolerable that the whole community should be held up to ransom in this way by a comparatively small body of organised men?

I hope that the House will not misunderstand me or think that I desire in any way to deny to these men, or to any other men, the right to combine, or the right to refuse further employment if they find that the conditions offered them are not sufficiently attractive. But what I wish to deny to them is the right, on the spur of the moment, to "down tools" and put the whole community to the greatest suffering or inconvenience. This is, I think, the more reasonable because of the length to which we have gone—I am not talking now so much of the Police as of other organisations—in recognising the rights of trade unions and bodies of that kind. Surely it is fair to urge that by conferring these great privileges we have acquired for ourselves a corresponding right to expect from the men a greater sense of their obligations to the public than I am afraid they very often exhibit.

I urge upon His Majesty's Government that they must take steps, not only in regard to this Police strike but in regard to all movements of the same kind, to protect the public against what I cannot help calling very grievous illusage. It seems to me reasonable to urge that the amount of protection to which the public is entitled must vary according to the nature of the service which is being performed by the persons who go out on strike. One can easily imagine a strike which might cause some trilling inconvenience but no really deep or general suffering—a strike, for instance, in any of the so-called luxury trades. But when you come to occupations upon which the public depends for the means of moving from place to place, for the fuel with which we warm our homes, for the light which enables us to get through the long hours of the winter nights, it surely is intolerable that any organisation should be in a position to pass what is, in effect, a sentence upon the rest of the community that they are to be deprived, of the fuel that they want, of the light that they need, and of their means of locomotion, in furtherance of some trade dispute; and surely the strongest case of all is this case of the Police which we are now discussing, because the one thing, after all, which we cannot do without is the maintenance of law and order. If that goes, everything goes; and I do not see how we can possibly sit down under a state of things which enables the people whose duty it is to maintain law and order to spring upon us, all of a sudden, a condition of things in which law and order will remain uncared for altogether.

I may be asked how I think this risk, which is a tremendous one, can be guarded against. I think that there are very obvious ways of dealing with it. In the first place, it will be necessary to distinguish, as I suggested a moment ago, between services which are essential and services which are less essential. In regard to the essential services, it seems to me that the one thing obviously required is to insist that the person who is dissatisfied with the conditions of his employment should not be at liberty to leave it without ample notice, and that if he fails to give that ample notice he shall be held guilty of a criminal offence and dealt with accordingly. In cases where the man serving is acquiring a right to pension or other deferred advantages, it would be perfectly reasonable to mulct him in respect of some of those advantages; and in addition to that, I hope that in all businesses, whether they concern trade or Police, or anything else, there will be set up proper machinery for the examination of these disputes and for their adjustment if possible by amicable means, before either side proceeds to extremities.

The suggestion that conduct of this kind might be made a criminal offence is not altogether a novel one. I do not know whether my noble friend who will reply has paid attention to an Act of the year 1875, called the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act. Its object is to fix upon certain kinds of workmen criminal responsibility for wilful breaches of contract. It is evidently aimed primarily at two kinds of employment—employment in the production of gas and in the distribution of water; and the Act contains a clause under which a man who by a breach of conditions deprives the inhabitants of the city or borough of their supply of gas or water, is liable to a fine of £20 or three months' imprisonment, wtih or without hard labour. That singles out specially these two particular services. But there is another clause which enacts that where the probable consequences of a withdrawal of labour are to endanger human life or to expose valuable property to destruction or serious injury, there also the man who breaks his contract shall be liable to a fine or to imprisonment. And if under this old Act it is thought necessary to prevent risk to valuable property and human life, surely that brings within the spirit of the provision the conduct of men whose duty it is to provide security for life and property, but who by their conduct suddenly take that security away.

I do not expect to have a full or complete answer to the question which I have raised tonight, but I feel very strongly that the whole of this question of breaches of contract, of an attempt to penalise and blackmail the public by abrupt cessations of labour, requires very careful examination, and hope that I shall be told that the Police strike has brought home to His Majesty's Government the need of investigating the subject very thoroughly indeed.


My Lords, it is with the greatest possible diffidence that I rise to say a few words—not in criticism; I should not venture to criticise the noble Marquess—but to try and show that I look upon this matter from a somewhat different point of view. The noble Marquess just now made me think for a moment that I was living in the old days of profound peace. Then I should have agreed with every word that fell from his lips. But we must get out of that illusory state of mind. We are still in the midst—ay, at the very acme—of the greatest war in the history of the world. And, however able the noble Marquess's remarks may have been—and they were able—we must get out of his atmosphere and more into the atmosphere of reality. So I would ask the noble Marquess what he would have done in the presence of a threatened railway strike, of a threatened coal strike, of a threatened Police strike. He may answer me by saying, "Prevention is better than cure," If he said that, I should agree with him. On that I may venture to have a word with the Government. Prevention would have been better than cure; but suppose that you have got beyond that point—and the community had got beyond that point. We were in the immediate presence of those strikes, which would have certainly paralysed and perhaps stopped those industries.

I hate weakness. The Government have been very weak on many occasions, but I always try to put myself in this position—if I had had to do it, what should I have done? Should I have done any better? And I think the noble Marquess must put that question to himself. Would he have done any better had he been in the presence of that strike? He may answer, "Yes; if what I have proposed in my speech had been carried into effect, we should have been in a better position." But should we? If the men were determined to strike, how could this Government have stopped them? I think, having got to the point of the strike, that the Government were bound to meet the men—ay, I will go further—were bound to give way to the men.




Yes; up to a certain point they were bound to give way to the men. If not, what then? How could you prevent them striking? Will the noble Earl tell me how you could prevent them striking?


I will answer you presently.


It is easy enough to say that the Government are weak. Anybody can say that. I have said that myself. They were weak, perhaps, in ever having allowed it to get so far; but, having allowed it to get so far, they were bound to patch it up as best they could because, if they had not, they would have gone further and have fared worse. If you want to get at the head and source, the fons et origo mali of these strikes, put your heel upon the head of Bolshevism. There are healthy strikes and there are unhealthy strikes. These have been unhealthy strikes. Stamp out Bolshevism, and you will have no more of these unhealthy strikes. Stamp out Bolshevism and that even more sinister power that lies behind—that is, the enemy in our midst. Get the enemy in our midst by the throat, and get Bolshevism by the throat, and you will have no more of these strikes whose end and aim and object have been to paralyse the war.

And so with the Police strike, I feel that there was something behind. I will never believe that the Police would have taken the extreme step that they took, the terrible step, unless there had been some sinister force behind that got hold of them and drove them on—the enemy in the midst and Bolshevism. Because I cannot believe that the Police would have done this thing, thereby undermining the whole safety of the community, unless they had either been got at, or unless they had a very much greater, a more intolerable, grievance than has appeared, at any rate on the face of it. That they had a grievance we all know. They say that they pressed it. The Police in these buildings have told me, and told me within the last forty-eight hours, that their grievance was well known to the Home Office, and that it had been pressed again and again; I do not say pressed in the House of Commons, though to a certain extent it was pressed there. I mean that the Home Office were well aware of the Police grievance. If they were, a great burden of responsibility and of blame lies upon the Home Office. And there I do not think the reply made by the Home Office in another place was sufficiently exhaustive; it was not sufficiently satisfactory because it was not made absolutely clear, so that he who runs may read, that those complants had not been brought before the head of the Police and before the Home Office, which ought to be one and the same thing, because those two heads are acting, or ought to be acting, in connection with each other. Therefore I hope that when the noble Viscount replies on behalf of the Home Office he will make it clear that the Home Office did all they could in the circumstances of the case to meet t he men's known grievances, and make it clear that really the men had no excuse whatever for taking the step that they did take. May we all exclaim, quis custodial custodes, what is going to be the sort of society, what is going to be the effect on those whom we trust to maintain order at the crucial point? Therefore in distributing the blame, I distribute it in three portions—the Home Office, unless it can exonerate itself; the Police, unless they can show that they had some tremendous reason for taking the course they did; and, thirdly, Bolshevism, if it was behind it, and I believe it was.

I feel that there is a great deal behind this. And I end by assuring the noble Marquess that I listened with the greatest possible interest to what he said to-day, as I have often listened, when I was a Member of the other House, from that Bar, to the many wise words he spoke in the old days. It is only because I do not think that his remedy is practicable here and now that I said what I did. If, and when, we get back to the piping times of peace and are able to take the strenuous measures which he has indicated, he will have no more fervent supporter than my bumble self in trying to arrive at a conclusion in which Capital and Labour, the governors and the governed, shall live in coordination with each other, a state in which disputes shall never get to the point of strikes, but will be settled amicably by some board able to exercise supreme and entire control over both parties to disputes, so that society may get on happily and favourably together.


My Lords, the debate has ranged, as not infrequently happens in your Lordships' House, over considerable ground, and subjects involving important principles have been dealt with. My noble friend the noble Marquess made some suggestions as to what steps might be taken, and he inquired if I was familiar with an Act of Parliament of 1875. The noble Marquess knows that my position with regard to the Home Office is not that of an Under-Secretary or an official in that Office, and he will not be surprised to hear me say that I am not familiar with the Act to which he refers. But in regard to the comments he made on the contents of that Act, and in regard to other matters that he laid before your Lordships by way of suggestions, perhaps he will allow me to say that I will faithfully report what he has said, and bring Hansard to the notice of the Secretary of State.

I cannot say I am at all surprised that my noble and learned friend opposite, Lord Stuart of Wortley, should have brought this matter before your Lordships' House. He has had a considerable administrative experience, some of which, as I think he reminded us, was passed in the Home Office, and he is, if I may say so, fully qualified to speak on the subject. I can assure him that I in no way quarrel with him as to what he said in regard to the Police. The Home Secretary described the strike as deplorable. If that is the right term to use, it certainly is not too strong.


Hear, hear.


I think it is no exaggeration to say that London, and districts far beyond London, were dismayed when they learned of the Police strike. The Metropolitan Police has been for so long, not only in its organisation but in its methods, the admiration not alone of this country but the pattern and the model of foreign capitals; and it was with a feeling going far beyond surprise that we learned one morning that the men had gone on strike. The position of the Police in London has always struck me, if I may say so with great respect, as a very remarkable one. They have to deal with very large crowds of a very difficult nature; they have to deal with what I might call, polite crowds—and I am not quite certain that, in a sense, they are more easy to deal with than others. The Police are the friend of every person, rich and poor, high and low, as we have daily testimony when we see them regulating the traffic and escorting infirm and aged persons through the dangers of that traffic. The patience we have observed, in crowds and in traffic, has been, I think I voice the view of your Lordships in saying, beyond all praise; and it was indeed, if I may use the term, a shock to find that these valued and honoured servants of the State had gone out on strike.

In the course of his speech my noble friend Lord Lansdowne rather anticipated what I had to say, because I thought it would be necessary, out of the respect due to your Lordships, to give an account of those increases of pay. Of course, noble Lords who taken in interest, or are going to take or have taken a part in this debate, will no doubt have read the Secretary of State's speech carefully, but from what I have learned in the course of the afternoon there are a good many noble Lords who have not perused that speech. So that perhaps I may be forgiven if I repeat one or two figures to make the matter clearer. My noble friend who spoke last stated, indeed, that these grievances had been repeatedly put forward, but that no attention had been paid to them whatever. To take the House back for a moment, I wish to say clearly that the statement that the strike had been preceded by many applications, and that either the Commissioner of Police or the Home Office had refused to listen to them, is not correct. As Lord Lansdowne stated just now, in December of 1917 the bonuses were raised from 8s. to 12s. per week, and the bonus for children from 1s. 6d. to 2s. 6d. This was, of course, in addition to the pensionable pay, which was fixed then at 30s. and upwards. That amounted to an average of 37s. 2d., and was in addition to pension rights, which are estimated to be some 25 per cent. of the pay, and of which the constables' portion is estimated at 2 per cent. Then there was a new grant in December. The total pay and allowances, including full pension rights, was raised to 68s. 9d. instead of 47s. per week, and the rise was much appreciated. As was stated by Lord Stuart of Wortley, in February, 1918, a letter did come from a Police Union conveying thanks for what had been done and suggesting that, I think it was, pensionable pay should be put on a level with other services. Since that no application by letter or otherwise has been made to the Commissioner, and with certainty none to the Home Office, and that is the statement which I make in regard to the alleged refusal of repeated applications.

Now, this is true, my Lords, that in consequence of certain provincial arrangements for increasing pay which had been submitted to the Secretary of State and sanctioned by him—and this was stated in the House of Commons, I believe—the Commissioner was considering a scheme for increasing pay, but the Commissioner was anxious to combine with the proposal for an increase of pay a scheme for the pension of widows. This required Parliamentary sanction, and of necessity involved certain actuarial calculations as to its effects upon the Pension Fund, and this Report was expected just, about the time when the strike took place. It was a singularly unfortunate coincidence that the delay in the increase of pay, which was put about as the cause of the strike, may have been owing to the Commissioner's great desire not only to make an improvement in the men's conditions but also that it should be accompanied by the widows' pension arrangement to which I have referred.

Since February no communication of importance reached the Commissioner or the Home Office, and to show how little ground he had for anticipating trouble of any kind the Commissioner when the strike took place was absent on holiday, I think in Ireland. The notice of strike was extremely short. On August 28 the Home Office received a letter from the Police Union which demanded three things—namely, reinstatement of a dismissed constable; complete official recognition of the Police Union; and a war bonus of 12½ per cent. These demands could not be granted, and the strike took place the next day, as Lord Lansdowne reminded us, setting aside the engagement which provides for one month's notice if the men desire to give up their engagements. There is reason to believe—at least, I know that it is the Secretary of State's view—that a number of men were misled by inaccurate statements, and that there is considerable regret at the course which has been taken. The Secretary of State also wishes to recognise the fact that the Special Constabulary rendered very conspicuous services on this occasion. There were some collisions between the strikers and special constables, which were deplorable; at the same time, he believes that the feeling of regret which I have just mentioned is shared by great numbers of the Police Force.

The pay now, as has I think been stated by Lord Lansdowne, is increased, including all pension and other allowances, from an average of £3 13s. 4d. to an average of £4 4s. 10d. I believe this is the correct figure. The Police Union cannot be recognised, but on the advice of the Commissioner police officers are allowed to join any union so long as they do not claim or attempt to claim to interfere with discipline or induce the withdrawal of services. The union to which the police officers belong, the Police and Prison Warders' Union, is not recognised as competent to put forward representations for the Police. For this purpose an elective body of the Metropolitan Police has been formed as a representative board of the Metropolitan Police. That is established within the Police Force, and all representations as to conditions of service and general welfare are to be made by this body. It is already a going concern, and when the Police and Prison Warders' Union attempt to make representations as to the conditions of pay, and so on, of the Police, they are told that such representations should be made by this representative board.

As your Lordships all know, the Commissioner of Police resigned. If I may be allowed without presumption to say so, he had rendered great services to the Police and to London. I have seen notices of him in the Press in which there is reference to "sunbaked Indian civilians." Those who have been in India know pretty well that India is a great and stern school of administration. Sir Edward Henry passed nearly thirty years of his life in the Indian Civil Service and fifteen years as Commissioner of Police, and if there was one thought that he had nearest to his heart beyond the public safety it was the welfare and the contentment of the large force of men under his control.

As regards the Motion of the noble Lord, I do not know whether he meant it as a request that Papers should be produced, or whether he put it down, as sometimes is done, in order to have the right of reply. As to the actual wording of the Motion, I have made inquiry and I do not understand that there are any Papers to lay before the House. The only Papers concerned are Proclamations in regard to Police pay and allowances, which have been already published. My answer no doubt runs, to some extent, on the lines of that of the Home Secretary in the House of Commons; at the same time, perhaps your Lordships will see that one of the reasons of my being here is to represent what the Secretary of State says.


My Lords, if I may intervene for a moment I would say that I sympathise very much with my noble friend who has answered for the Government in having to reply for a Department with which he has really no such official connection as enables him to reply completely to any question connected with the Home Office. He has not even got a room, perhaps not even a box in which to carry his Papers, and therefore if his reply is incomplete it is no fault of his, but entirely the fault of the Department which he is told off to represent in this House. But I confess I was unable to follow the figures that he gave as regards pay. I heard something of 36s.




It may be 37s., with a rise of from 8s. to 12s. That would apparently have very nearly corresponded with another figure that I heard him give—the pre-war pay of 47s., raised sometime, either this year or in 1917, to 68s. 9d., which is, of course, something between 40 per cent. and 50 per cent. increase of pay. Then there were other figures, with which I do not think I need trouble myself. The main point is that during the course of the war, from 1913 to 1918, the normal pay of the Police—I take it that it is the normal pay, and not the pay plus war bonus—has been increased from 47s. to 68s. 9d.

I am very thankful that my noble friend opposite has not asked us to come to any conclusion ourselves upon this most regrettable incident, because personally I should be excessively reluctant to set up myself as a judge as to where the blame lay for what was practically a mutiny. What outsiders find is that the Chief Commissioner resigned at once, or was relieved of his command. I do not know that it very much matters which. Evidently the Government recognised that at the moment he was no longer competent to keep command of this most important Force, and, at his age, I do not think that that is any discredit to Sir Edward Henry. At any rate, it does not detract from his meritorious career, here and in India and other parts of the British Empire, in connection with the Police.


Hear, hear.


But what I should like to have seen supplied, in response to the Motion of my noble friend opposite, is some State Paper telling the public what were the causes of this strike, because I think we are entitled to know. Has there been no Departmental Inquiry? We know, of course, that the Prime Minister was brought in, and that he settled the thing off-hand by, as far as I can make cut, giving very nearly 100 per cent. increase on the 1914 figures. But surely there must have been some Departmental Inquiry? I confess that the explanation that has been put into the mouth of my noble friend does lead me to this inference—that the Police have a great grievance. It is a grievance which permeates the whole of society—that is, those who are paid fixed wages. It is that wages have not corresponded rapidly enough with the rise in the prices of all commodities, and this is at the bottom of all these strikes from which we are suffering.

Now, what is the excuse put forward for the men? They says—and there, again, we have no information—that they did represent their grievances to the head of their Department. It was hung up. Hung up where? In the office of the Chief Commissioner or in the Treasury? I wish very much that this could be cleared up, because I have a very strong opinion, from personal and official experience, that it is possible for a great deal of delay in financial matters to be imposed on all Departments by arguments from the Treasury. In this care there was a proposal before the Commissioner for a further scheme of pay connected with the men's pensions. May I observe at this point that the prospects of a pension are of no earthly use to men whose families are suffering from a shortage of food owing to rise in prices? The prospect of a pension does not help them the least in the world.

I am so far justified in rising to trouble your Lordships on this occasion that, in connection with another very important Government Department, I was called upon at a moment's notice to have ready a number of Volunteers to take the place of certain officials, who, if they had struck and deserted their posts, would have placed the civilian population in almost as great danger as they were placed in by the strike of the Police. At a moment's notice I, with other commanding officers of Volunteer regiments, was called upon to provide Volunteers—in their civil capacity if you please, but in uniform and with side arms—who were to have civil pay to supplant or be substitutes for these officials whom it was apprehended might strike. Therefore I had some little experience at that very anxious moment of the confusion and the danger to the public that were possible.

Here, upon the statement of the Home Office itself, was a scheme before the Commissioner of Police, which had been evidently before him for some time, comprehending an increase of pay connected with pensions and connected furthermore with widows' pensions, all very admirable objects, I admit, but all of them—the whole thing—requiring Parliamentary sanction, and of course, preliminary to that, Treasury sanction. Cannot you imagine the inter-correspondence going on between the various Departments, the Home Office, and the Chief Commissioner of Police, upon this subject, and meantime the men's immediate grievance—assuming there was a grievance—of not getting enough pay compared with the rise in the cost of all the commodities that go towards keeping a man alive. All that was suspended because there was this other scheme on foot. That is the impression which is left upon my mind by the explanation put into the mouth of my noble friend by the Home Office; and if that is the explanation of the ignoring of a petition which the men themselves say to my noble friend on the back bench was put forward over and over again to the head of their Department, then it is not a satisfactory one, and I think that the public is entitled to some explanation as to what were the real causes that lay underneath this mutiny.

I yield to nobody in condemnation of every one who is under contract, whether he be a civil workmen or an official, who "downs tools" before the notice which he is bound to give. If your domestic servant leaves your service he can be sued in a Civil Court; I am not sure, but I believe he can be prosecuted if he leaves your service without giving you the notice to which you are entitled. He in his turn is entitled to claim from you due notice, or the pay for the period which is usually allowed for notice. Everyone of these men in the Police Force would be as insistent upon their rights as regards the period of notice to which they are entitled for their discharge as anybody else; yet they ignore the rights of the public and "down tools" without giving the notice to which the public is entitled. I am as strong as my noble friend below the gangway in condemning in the most criticial terms the Metropolitan Police for ignoring that condition of their service. I do not think that any condemnation can be too strong for them.

But I confess that the answer of the Home Office does not satisfy me that the grievances of the men had been properly met. I should want a great deal more from the Home Office before I was satisfied that the men had been met in this essential particular. With regard to the index figures, I spoke upon this subject a year ago with regard to agricultural matters, and I said to my noble friend Lord Milner, What is the good of putting 25s. into your Corn Production Bill, making a fixed amount, when prices are varying perpetually, and when under the custom of the country wages have corresponded more or less correctly with the cost of living; what is the good of putting a fixed figure into your Bill, and then six months, or at any rate a year, afterwards, the fixed figure has to be swept away? It must be swept away. Wages must correspond, roughly, with the cost of living.

I am not satisfied, from the figures given by the noble Viscount, that the rise in wage in the case of the Metropolitan Police anything like corresponds with the cost of living. If it did not so correspond, then I confess that I am not prepared to stand up as a judge of what are the merits of the case. I am prepared to judge them upon having ignored one of the important items of their agreement—namely, that they ignored the period of notice; but I am certainly not prepared to condemn them on the information which we have been given to-day as regards the grievance under which they suffered, or to say that the heads of the Departments, and perhaps the Home Office itself, were not in the main responsible for the strike.


My Lords, I agree with my noble friend who has just sat down that it would be more satisfactory to this House and to the public if the Government, even yet, could tell us a little more than they have done in connection with that part of the Motion of my noble friend which consists in a request for Papers. My noble friend Lord Sandhurst says that there are no Papers. Will he tell us whether there has been no Inquiry into the causes of this lamentable occurrence, or whether there is going to be no Inquiry, and whether there will never be any Papers which can be laid before Parliament on this subject? I wish he would be a little more explicit on this point, because I entirely agree with my noble friend who has just spoken that we have not the material on which to express any opinion at all as to the merits of the case of the Police for an increase of pay. I wish to express no opinion on that. Nor, in my judgment, have we the materials on which finally to decide whether the Home Office, or the Chief Commissioner of Police, or the Treasury, or some other Department of Government, must bear a share of the responsibility in this matter. We have not the material; therefore we cannot attempt to formulate a judgment.

I am very grateful, nevertheless, to my noble friend behind me (Lord Stuart of Wortley) for having brought this very grave matter before your Lordships' House. I do not share the view of my noble friend opposite about what the noble Marquess said. The noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, passed to consider this strike as part of a larger subject. I do not propose to follow him in his general survey of the question of strikes, but I am sure that what he said will always be a valuable contribution to the solution of what is, perhaps, the most difficult of all our social problems. I propose to confine my remarks almost exclusively to this particular strike.

Before I say what I think ought to be said, I want to make it perfectly plain to everybody that during the whole of my life I have had the most profound admiration for the Metropolitan Police up to the occasion of this strike—an admiration so profound that I am not exaggerating when I say that it is part of my pride in being an Englishman that I am the fellow-countryman of the men of the Metropolitan Police. I feel about them exactly as I feel about the men of the Navy or of the Army. Therefore to have to say what I am going to say is a matter of profound grief, but I think it is also a matter of public duty. I wish to say further that, except in the case of certain public officials, of which the Navy, the Army, and the Police are the most important, I not only am not against trade unions but I think trade unions are absolutely necessary, and that if they did not exist they ought to be invented. It is impossible for the ordinary wage-earner to assert his just claims without the machinery of a trade union. A trade union implies the possibility of the threat to strike, and the ultima ratio, in certain cases, of a strike.

I have already said that I am going to pronounce no judgment as to the merits of the case of the Metropolitan Police for an increase of pay. Still less am I going to pronounce any judgment on the merits of any of those other strikes to which the noble Marquess referred—the railway strike, or the miners' strike. What I want to say here and now is that in my opinion no strike of any sort or kind, and no threat of strike, is legitimate in time of war. When the country is battling for its life these strikes and threats of strikes are nothing but stabs in the back to the men who are fighting in the ships and in the trenches. This is true in time of war in all trades. I go further and say that never can it be legitimate for the Police, not in peace even, to strike or to threaten to strike. And if it is not legitimate for them to do so in time of peace, how deplorable and how wholly unjustifiable must we consider this sudden strike, and these threats, in the month of August, at a critical period of the war. It is the first blot on a hitherto noble escutcheon.

The Police are the penultimate foundation on which the whole basis of the law and order of the State stands. The ultimate foundation is the whole mass of citizens of whom the Army are a part, but, till you get down to the duty of every individual citizen to keep the law and order of the State, the paid public servants, held in high honour by all their fellow-countrymen for that very reason, are the Police, and there can never be true security for the State or true stability for law and order if there is any suggestion that in any circumstances it is legitimate for the Police to strike or to threaten to strike. My friend opposite provoked me to an interruption. I did not intend to be discourteous, but I could not withhold an ejaculation when I understood him to say that the Government should have done nothing less than what they did in connection with this Police strike.


Not when once the strike had arisen.


I profoundly disagree with my noble friend. It is quite impossible for disagreement to be more profound than mine with him over that. I should not have presumed to say what I think ought to have been done had my noble friend not said what he did; but now I am going to say that in my opinion the moment that the Government were faced with the ultimatum they ought at once to have announced the machinery which they proposed for an examination of the grievances of the men, and at the same time to have given the men twenty-four hours to return to duty, and made an appeal to all citizens to come and support them. Had they done that there would have been such a manifestation of public opinion, such a rally of the whole male population on the side of the Government, that you would never have had a Police strike again, or a threat of it. I am afraid that the Government missed one of the greatest opportunities that Government ever had of squelching a grave public danger such as this threat of a Police strike.

In conclusion, I cannot help lamenting the course that the Government have taken about the union. They tell us that they have not recognised the union, but they have done something that is very difficult to distinguish from recognition, and I am afraid that they will find in the future that the limits they have imposed to the action of this union are not recognised by those who want to manipulate the union, and that, having gone as far as they have in recognising its existence, or the existence of some body to which they assign limits of function in their own mind, the day will come when they will find that their interpretation of the legitimate functions of the union are disputed, and the battle which might have been settled in August last will have to be fought again—I mean the battle of principle, because a great principle is involved. Nothing can be more deplorable or more hateful to every public citizen than the idea of any conflict between the citizens as a whole of the Government and that body of Police for which, as I have said, we always have had the most profound admiration and affection. I do not think that my noble fiend proposes to press for Papers, but I hope that the noble Viscount who spoke for the Government may have something more to tell us about the possibility in the future of further light being thrown on this understanding.


My Lords, I should like to repeat what I said just now in regard to the applications by letter or otherwise relating to grievances. What I meant to convey was that no application had been made by letter or otherwise to the Commissioner, and certainly none to the Home Office, to which there had been repeated refusals. As to the further point mentioned by my noble friend who has just sat down, I have nothing more to say at this moment, other than what I have already explained to the noble and learned Lord opposite; but in view of what has been said by the noble Earl, I will, of course, communicate with the Secretary of State and see whether there is any further information to be given.


I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.