§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD rose to draw attention to the growing strength of Socialism, and to ask His Majesty's Government whether they propose to take any steps to modify by legislation the power of trades unions to make compulsory levies for political purposes. The noble and learned Earl said: My Lords, the first duty I should discharge is that of expressing my regret that the Motion, which has on at least three occasions been in my name on the Paper of the House, should have been postponed. I postponed it on two occasions in response to requests made to me that there were other subjects which at that moment were more pressing, and I agreed that on the whole that was so. But I should be very sorry if it was assumed that by postponing the subject as I have done over a period of some eight weeks I acquiesce in the view that any more important topic in politics presented itself to the attention of the House to-day.
§ The terms of my Motion address themselves to two subjects. In the first place, I call attention to the growing strength of Socialist Parties in the country, and in the second place, to a somewhat more practical question—that is, the methods by which members of trades unions are in fact, though indirectly, compelled to support the candidature of Socialist candidates. The co-relation of these two subjects is obvious, and I am sure the House will address itself to the whole problem with the realisation that you have to face two plain and admitted circumstances. The first is the increasing growth of Socialist strength in the country, and the second is that in existing circumstances Socialist members of trades unions are, in fact, able to compel political contributions for electioneering purposes from non-Socialist members of trades unions.
§ Before attempting to make the co-relation quite plain let me deal with the first proposition. What is the situation to-day? What is the menace of Socialism? Is it exaggerated? Is it a chimera? Is it one of those eidola which are set up from day to day for the purpose of destruction by politicians? In that connection let me state one or two extremely significant facts. Seventeen years ago you could have brought to the House of Commons in one hansom cab all the 476 Socialist Members in that Assembly, and when Mr. Keir Hardie, who had a very definite and clear view as to the part that should be played by independent labour—from the point of view of the Labour Party great credit must be given to his prescience—and who was the creator of the idea that there must be an independent Labour Party bound by no tie of affiliation or allegiance to the Liberal Party, was elected to the House of Commons, he drove down alone, the first significant and menacing intruder into a House which until the day of his intrusion had consisted entirely of Conservatives and Liberals.
§ The interest of these problems to your Lordships' House is manifold and apparent. Not the least interest of all is this; that should the Labour Party in this country obtain a majority as the result either of the next Election or the next Election but one, your Lordships would have completely ceased to function. Most unfortunately, for reasons which have not been completely explained so far as my limited comprehension of such matters goes, the question of the reform of the House of Lords has been postponed for two years, and we are therefore committed to this formidable, dangerous, and, as I think, most unpardonable gamble,—that if, as the result of an Election which takes place before this House is reformed, a Labour Government should obtain a majority, that Government would approach the King with the knowledge that there does not exist in this House an instrument of government that could be made conformable with the necessary conditions of a Labour Government.
§ What would happen in this House supposing the Socialist Party obtained a majority at the next Election, having regard to the most unhappy and weak decision to postpone a discussion of the reform of this House for two years? Supposing, for instance, that an Election took place two years from now—and I can hardly conceive that anyone will be so sanguine an admirer of the Government as to dismiss absolutely from the contemplation of a reasonable man the possibility that an Election might take place within two years—and supposing as the result of that Election that the Socialist Party obtained a majority, and, let us say, that Mr. Ramsay MacDonald were sent for by the King: How is the Government of this 477 country to be carried on? How is the contribution of the House of Lords to the Government of the country to be maintained? We are unreformed, we cannot admit Ministers to our counsels by an arrangement which might have been made, and which would have been made, if the reforms which the noble Marquess, Lord Curzon, and I recommended to the House and with which Lord Salisbury so vehemently quarrelled, had been adopted. An arrangement in that case would have been possible; but it has proved to be impossible, and we now know that for two years nothing is to be done. And yet within those two years we may easily find ourselves face to face with circumstances in which a Labour Prime Minister will go to the King and we shall find a Second Chamber bankrupt of constitutional resources because it is unreformed.
§ How are we to make any contribution at all to a Labour Government? What Ministers are to sit upon the Front Bench opposite? We have now the advantage of many Ministers enjoying high official position and sitting in this House. Supposing Mr. Ramsay MacDonald has created his Cabinet. It is not for me to anticipate his decisions, nor do I know what colleagues he would assemble around him. But how many of the colleagues whom he would assemble around him would be found sitting on the Front Bench in the House of Lords? How many of the Ministers who would naturally be collected around the Labour Prime Minister would find seats in this House? I hope, indeed, that the wise, sagacious and experienced advice of my noble and learned friend, Lord Haldane, would still be left to us, but I think he would sit alone, like the boy on the burning deck, in your Lordships' House.
§ Need I say more, to make the thing plain, about the incredible danger of the situation by which we are confronted? This House has sustained many formidable and grave attacks in the generations which lie behind us, but never at any moment in all its history has it been confronted with a situation so critical as that which awaits us to-day. Let us examine the votes. I have recalled the occasion on which Mr. Keir Hardie alone burst into the House of Commons with a clear realisation that an immense potential force existed in Labour opinion in this country which would enable it to 478 challenge competition on equal terms with the great Parties in the State, and which might enable it even to sweep aside in triumph the accumulated forces of the two great Parties in the State. What growth have we seen in the movement since that date? The year 1906 marked a very formidable change, when for the first time some thirty Labour Members, elected as Members of the Labour Party alone, were returned to the House of Commons. At that time the Party which is so well represented in this House by my noble friend Lord Beauchamp nourished the comfortable delusion that the new creation in English politics could be focussed by the old Liberal Party. No Party ever nourished a delusion so pathetic. The Liberal Party did not intend the same things as the Labour Party, neither did they intend to reach their conclusions by travelling along the same road. But nevertheless the importance of that change which took place in 1906 was masked so far as the country was concerned by the alliance which was maintained, for the moment, between the Liberal Party and the Labour Party.
§ There followed another Election. It left the Socialist Party some seventy Members strong in the House of Commons. And then there came the last Election. Let us, in analysis—because nothing is of any value except candid analysis—attempt to clear from our minds all propositions and prejudices in relation to the last Election. A man might very moderately, I think, make this claim about the last Election that it took place at a time very favourable to Conservatism in this country, not in the partisan sense, but in the true sense in which one uses and ought to use the term Conservatism. What was the result? The Socialist Party polled, at a Conservative moment, in a Conservative Election, only a million less votes than the Conservative Party polled. They returned to the House of Commons about 145 Members—a very considerable increment upon the returns of some seventeen years ago—and it is the literal truth that if 400,000 votes had gone differently at the last General Election, had twenty-seven constituencies been arranged differently, you might very easily have found an exact equipoise in this country between the forces of Socialism and the forces of the older Parties.479
§ The importance of this fact is prodigious. All of us know for what Socialism stands. We are not concerned to consider too closely the moderate speeches that are made by the moderate leaders of the Labour Party, Mr. Clynes. Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Thomas. They naturally do not put into the forefront of their programme that which we know it is inevitable that any Labour Government must do if returned to power. There is no one listening to me who does not completely realise that when once you have a Socialist Government in power it will not be the moderate men who will direct the programme which that Government is to carry out. What then is the risk which we run if a Socialist Government is returned to power? I do not discuss it in the terms of a Capital Levy or in the terms, disastrous as they are, of a socialisation of all the means of production, of distribution, and of industry; I prefer to analyse its dangers upon a broader basis, and I say this: that the danger of Socialism to this country and to this Empire lies in the disparagement and the destruction of private ability, private capacity and private initiative. The consequences of this would be spelt in large and menacing letters if and when we should be confronted in this country by a Socialist Government in the House of Commons.
§ I say plainly that I am appalled by the activity of the propaganda by which these views are being pressed upon the country. I am distressed and alarmed by what seems to be the apathy of both the older Parties in dealing with them, because I know perfectly well, as many of your Lordships know perfectly well, what is the force with which the case can be put when you are dealing with very unhappy and very ill-instructed people, between whom and starvation there exists so frail, so fragile, a plank—a tabula in naufragio. I read, sometimes, of speeches being made, daily and nightly, in the great industrial centres of the country, and our peril is not in the least in the home counties. Let us apply a larger political judgment to the risks of the moment than can be furnished by a motor tour in Surrey or in Sussex. There exist in parts of this country great industrial centres, in 480 which, believe me, truer and more permanent lessons for our guidance are to be learned.
If you take the great industrial centres you will find, at the present moment, the Conservative Associations, upon Conservative lines, adhering to what has been the policy, and on the whole a policy successfully carried out, of Conservative Associations in the last twenty or thirty years; but it was formulated in relation to a different competition, and is wholly inadequate to meet the rivalries and the cases that are being preached against it to-day. Go to Bradford, to Manchester, to Liverpool, to Birmingham even, and you will find there, preaching in the open air, upon waggons, men trained in Socialist colonies, with glib powers of speech, putting this kind of argument: "Why should such a man drive about in a rich motor car, while you earn 25s. per week, if you are fortunate enough to get-employment at all? Why should one man starve while another man lives upon all the luxury that the world can afford?" That is the old argument which, four hundred years ago, in this country, provoked a great revolution:—
When Adam dolve and Eve span.
Who was then the gentleman?
§ There is a complete economic answer to these arguments. There is an answer based upon the unassailable fact, if it can only be established, that human beings live in this world upon the basis of an unequal individual contribution, and that with a world conducted as, economically, this world must be conducted, the reward must be distributed according to merit. But think of the difficulty of making this answer to unhappy and ill-instructed people, and think of the difficulty of making it when the other case is put as unscrupulously as it is put to-day.
§ Let me suppose that I was making that other case, to-day, in the position of a man who is perhaps earning, if in employment at all, the sum of 25s. per week. I should say: " I went, to-day, to Hyde Park. I saw great palaces around me, and every sign of luxury and wealth; great houses emptying their guests after lunch and after dinner. When I went into Hyde Park I saw a hundred motor cars, as luxurious as private trains, the implements of luxury and wealth, and 481 what I want to know is why in this world there should be such inequality of conditions." That is the kind of case that is being made. It is, of course, to anyone who understands the realities of the world, a ludicrous case. The answers that can be made to it in any educated audience are so plain and convincing that it is hardly worth while making them, but my case is that this argument is being put before ignorant audiences, to whom the appeal is almost overwhelming in its force.
§ I may be asked: What is the trend of these observations? It is an answer which I am certainly bound to make. I think all the existing methods of replying to this case are obsolete and old-fashioned. There is a plain economic case to be made in answer, and the whole of the propaganda and organisation of those Parties which do not believe in the suppression of individual effort, and which do not believe in the socialisation of the industry of the country, ought to be employed in combating these Socialistic views by every means which those who are opposed to them adopt in their efforts to persuade the country. It is not an encouraging symptom that in the by-election at Morpeth there is not even, as I understand it, a Conservative candidate in the field. There ought to be a Conservative candidate at every election, however hopeful or hopeless; and whatever may be the number of Conservative voters, the torch should be kept burning.
§ Do not let us underrate the difficulties of the task which awaits us. It is the fundamental problem which has lain in the path of this country ever since the first of the important Reform Bills became law. There are various methods of dealing with inconvenient democratic problems. Those who opposed the Reform Bills knew perfectly well what they were doing. They did not quite so clearly realise what the strength of their own supporters was in relation to the strength of their opponents, but they had a clear and rational view. They were beaten, and with their defeat came the inroad and rule of democracy in this country.
§ It may be that the last word has not been written, in the history of human civilisation, of the chapter of democracy. For instance, Signor Mussolini has written quite a new page in that varied story, and the most remarkable page which has been 482 written since Parliamentary institutions were adopted in any country in the world. But to us, to whom this particular solution is happily denied, only one alternative in the existing situation exists, and that is, are we or are we not able to persuade a majority of this country of the sanity and reasonableness of the existing system, and of the insanity and unreasonableness of the system which is proposed to be substituted?
§ I have said perhaps enough on what I called my first proposition, and I now approach the second. The second is one of which I ventured to give the Government notice some weeks ago, and it is to ask what is their policy in relation to the practice of exacting contributions for political purposes in trades unions. I should, of course, be the first to admit that, a change of Government having taken place, some delay might have been requested in answering this Question, but, as every arrangement had been made to answer it about a month ago, I am encouraged to hope that we shall not fail to receive a plain declaration of policy upon an extremely important point, and I propose, if I may, to explain that point. The existing situation is this. The trades unions are in a position to compel every individual member of a trade union to subscribe to its Party purposes—that is, of course, to Socialism. I am well aware that there is a way in which a man with the moral and physical courage, being a member of a trade union, can escape it; but it is nevertheless broadly true that to-day the trades unions of this country can compel every working man who belongs to them, be he Conservative or be he Liberal, to finance Socialist candidates for the House of Commons.
§ Let us work this out a little carefully. In the first place, the trades unions will not allow any man to earn his living in this country, if they can prevent him, unless he joins them, and we know the methods that are pursued. Those methods shrink from no act of intimidation and no act of violence, and, if I may say so without disrespect to any of my friends who sit about me, some of whom were responsible for that measure, no more wicked Bill was ever put upon the Statute Book than that which, in the year 1906, placed the trades unions above the laws. I am glad to remember that at every stage of that Bill I contested it and fought 483 it as a private Member of the House of Commons. What did it mean? It meant that these immensely formidable political organisations are entitled to direct any wrongful act, and they are entitled alone in the whole Kingdom to escape in the Law Courts the consequences of the illegalities which they have recommended and committed. It was the most tragic step which was ever taken in the Legislature of this country, and the purpose of my observations to-night is not definitely to recommend—of course, very important political considerations enter into this question—not definitely to recommend an alteration, but to put the case before your Lordships so that we may see where we stand.
§ At the present moment if twenty men wanted to work in a particular trade, and were not members of a trade union, they would, of course, be hounded down and destroyed. It is no use employing ambiguous language—they would not be allowed to exist; they would be driven out of their homes, and their wives and children would be driven out, too, if they tried to work against the trade union. Therefore, economically, they are bound to join the trade union. The formidable nature of the case, of course, arises when once we realise that fact. The Conservative working man of Liverpool and Birmingham, having been compelled to join a trade union whatever his political views may be, the Liberals of Scotland, having been compelled to join a trade union whatever their political views may be, are then practically compellable to subscribe to pay the Parliamentary expenses of Socialist Members of the House of Commons. Of course, such a system is utterly indefensible, and it is ruinous, not only to the stabilised order of politics in this country, which is the wider charge, but it is ruinous in the narrow charge and the less important charge, to the position and existence of the other Parties in the state.
§ Take, for instance, the position of the Conservative Party. I have been long associated with the Conservative Party in Liverpool. I have resisted and helped to defeat many Socialist candidates in Liverpool, and I have seen emerging from the polling booths in Liverpool ten or twenty trades unionists one after the other wearing their trade unionist buttons handing in their Conservative cards to 484 the Conservative agent and nevertheless compelled to subscribe to the Party funds of the man against whom they voted. Such a system would be paradoxical and impossible in any country but ours. I do not know what in the competition of Parties is going to be the result of it. Let us try to work it out. At the present moment His Majesty's official Opposition in the House of Commons is the Labour Party. The leader of the Opposition is Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, the leader of the Labour Party. Unless some happy resurrection and reunion of the Liberal Party should take place—my noble friend Lord Beauchamp, I think, and Lord Grey have effected the only reunion within the walls of this House which up to the present has become really effective—what are our prospects? These men are our enemies. We have to fight them politically. They challenge and assail everything in which we believe and they will, if they are given the power, destroy everything which we conceive to be vital to the maintenance and the greatness of this country and of this Empire. Well, be it so. If I am face to face with antagonisms I have never been found without the power, with moderation and restraint, to resist them, but I like to examine them.
§ Now what is this future which is opened out to us? We, the Conservative Party, possibly also—I do not know—the Liberal Party, depend upon the result of the next General Election as to whether the Socialist Party is or is not in the majority over all the other Parties in the State. If the Socialist Party as the result of the next General Election—as I have said they have only 400,000 votes to change—finds itself in a majority you will have either a Capital Levy and the socialisation of your industries, or you must combine with the non-Socialist Parties. I am. I hope, a practical politician and I try to examine these things. Are we really prepared indefinitely to enable every Conservative working man who is not a Socialist and every Liberal working man who is not a Socialist to be compelled as the condition of earning his livelihood to finance Socialist candidates who are running against the candidates who express his political views? I cannot state in moderate language my views as to the reasonableness of such a proposal, and if my advice were asked, which it is very 485 unlikely to be, as a strategist in this matter, I should think that the proposal was a ludicrous one.
§ Those of us who are not particularly old may have to face twenty years of strenuous controversy, but that we should leave men who agree with us and who support us, who believe in the maintenance of the greatness of this country, as in many of the most important centres of industrial population they do, helpless to be lined and bullied into voting for candidates in whom they do not believe, on the merits of the thing, is absolutely unarguable.
§ Now I come to the expediency of it, because that is the last observation I have to make. If, without incurring the fashionable charge of giving away any Cabinet secrets, I may inform your Lordships of the history of this business under the late discredited Government, I would remind you of this circumstance. By a strange chance this topic was for three days upon the Cabinet paper. By a strange chance, due no doubt to the incompetence and discursiveness of those who composed the late Government, the subject was not reached on any one of those occasions, and I may tell your Lordships perfectly frankly that I had never made up my mind before I heard the debate, which never took place, how I should ultimately have voted because I should have voted then, of course, not with the irresponsibility which I enjoy to-day but with the responsibility of one who had to take a decision and to take the consequences of that decision. I do not in the least want anyone to suppose that I am pressing this issue unduly or with antagonism to the Government. I am not, because I realise its difficulties, its responsibilities, its potential ultimate consequences. That the thing is ripe I have no doubt; that the existing practice is monstrously irrational and purely wrong I have no doubt. The only question that remains is a question of political expediency and that is for the Government to determine.
§ Let us be under no delusions on this matter. The Taff Vale decision which was reached by your Lordships sitting judicially in the year 1904, produced prodigious political consequences and most 486 unhappy political consequences for the fortunes of the Conservative Party. I do not know, I have not been sufficiently closely in touch with the country to be sure, whether it would or would not be possible to represent the correction of this monstrous system as a grave and unwarrantable attack upon the trade unions. I am not sure enough of the present temper of the country to advise your Lordships confidently whether, if that case were made, it would be possible for those who knew the truth, who could tell the truth, and who were not afraid to tell the truth, to conquer that misapprehension. If that were possible, if that crusade were undertaken in the constituencies by courageous men confident, as all of us must be confident, of the justice of our cause, and not afraid to take the risk of the political consequences in preaching that truth. I believe that there are enough working men, who ask nothing except that they should be entitled to earn their own living without tyranny and oppression while at the same time retaining the right of Englishmen to record a free and uncontrolled vote in the polling booth, to ensure that it would not fail.
§ But the difficulties are very great, and I am not a critic of the Government if they hesitate. Indeed, I should have thought deeply had a decision been required, as it seemed to me at one time it would have been required, in the Cabinet of which I was a member. But I would earnestly hope that whoever does me the honour, if anyone does, to reply to the few observations I have made to-day will realise that, in answering this Question he is answering, it may be for all time, a question on which the free right of the industrial classes of this country to register a free vote depends, and in deciding that question it may well be that he is deciding the fate of democracy not only in these Islands but also in the world.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (VISCOUNT PEEL)
My Lords, it may, perhaps, be convenient to your Lordships if, before the debate proceeds further, I state very briefly the attitude of the Government on the point raised by the noble and learned Earl. To the first portion of the speech of the noble and learned Earl I have very little in the way of criticism to make, but I do 487 criticise almost the first sentence to which he gave utterance in the course of his speech. He told us that it was monstrous that working men should be compelled to support Socialist candidates in whom they did not believe. I agree with that statement, but I do not think it is stated broadly or widely enough. I state the matter far more broadly than that, and I say that no person should be compelled to vote for Socialist or any other candidates, whatever their political views may be, in which they themselves do not believe, and it would be most unfortunate to limit, and I wish at least to sever the Government from any suggestion that they would limit, this prohibition only to the case of the Socialist candidates.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
The noble and learned Earl has called attention to the rise of the Socialist Party in this country, and he gave us a picturesque description of the beginning of it some twenty-five years ago. But I think it is as well in this case not to limit your view merely to this country. These contemporary movements of Socialism and the rise of Socialism are not confined to this country. If your Lordships examined the figures—I do not carry them at the moment in my head—of the position of the Socialist Party in Germany, you would find that an increase has taken place, not only in the number of votes in the country but in the representation in the Reichstag, which has been more rapid than in this country. The noble and learned Earl then discussed very interestingly and at some length questions which, perhaps, are not very strictly relevant to this particular aspect of the case which we have before us. He discussed the question of the reform of the House of Lords and that point of the access of Ministers to both Houses which has had rather a rude rebuff lately in another place.
He lamented the fact that moderate leaders of the Labour Party probably did not and would not represent the 488 action of that Party if it came into power. Possibly not. Moderate leaders in any Party never seem to represent very fully the views of their own Party. But I think there is this to be said against that rather melancholy view, that it is a question if the Labour Party did come into power to-morrow, or a year hence, whether there would be shown to be so much unanimity in the ranks of that Party as might appear to be the case when they are engaged in fighting another Government. The noble and learned Earl also dwelt with melancholy on the terrible propaganda of Socialist doctrines that is going on all over the country in schools, in lectures, and in public meetings. Of course, it is unfortunately always the case, it seems almost to be a law of politics, that those who are in favour of existing institutions never show the same tremendous combative energy in their defence of them as the destroyers show in trying to attack them.
The noble and learned Earl showed the necessity for strong counter propaganda. Perhaps I might be allowed to suggest, as the noble and learned Earl is himself so competent to address and hold vast public meetings, that he should devote himself and his great abilities to a propaganda in favour of individual effort. I am certainly not one of those who think that the case for individual effort and independence cannot be made even on platforms far more palatable than the other side of the case. After all, if any propaganda is wanted as to what may happen—and has happened in another country under a full Socialistic régime—I think he can do no better than read, mark and digest those terrible articles that have appeared in The Times in the last two days as to the state of things in another country under a complete Socialistic or Communistic régime.
The noble and learned Earl has connected the general subject of Socialism with the representation of Socialists in the House of Commons, and with working men voting for them. I should like to make this general observation before I deal with the particular Bill to which he has taken exception. It is most important, if there is a large amount of Socialistic feeling and opinion in the country, that that Socialistic feeling and opinion should have the fullest voice and 489 representation in the House of Commons, even if it is, unfortunately, confined to one solitary adventurer in this House. It is most important, further, that in any action that may be taken, or in any advice that may be given as to the methods of trades unions in allocating or giving funds to secure the election of a Parliamentary candidate, there should be no suspicion whatever that this or any other Government is using that action or advice as a means to try to prevent such Socialistic opinion in this country from finding the fullest expression that it can find in the House of Commons.
The noble and learned Earl has told us—and I am sure we shall all agree with the proposition—that it is monstrous that all these Conservative members of the working class should be prevented by intimidation or threats, or fear of intimidation or threats, from recording their votes freely in favour of those whom they desire to elect as Members of Parliament, but I wish to examine, if I may, such figures as I have been able to procure from the Labour Department in regard to that particular proposition. It is dangerous sometimes to make propositions too sweeping, and I think your Lordships will feel that, before we commit ourselves to any general proposition as to intimidation, we should examine, so far as we can, the figures and facts showing the actual state of things.
I may be allowed perhaps to refer a little more in detail than the noble and learned Earl intended to do—because he was dealing rather with the general aspects of the case than with the Act—to the provisions of the Act of 1913. It was in the Act of 1913 that powers were given to trades unions to constitute these political funds, and to get their members to contribute towards them, and to use those funds for political purposes. So far as I understood him the noble and learned Earl, though he condemned, and condemned very severely, the methods of the application of these funds and the methods by which some of the subscriptions were obtained, did not suggest that there should be any repeal of the Act of 1913, or that in some way or other trades unions should not be allowed to make use of their machinery in order to collect funds for political purposes.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
I did not feel it necessary to make a positive suggestion, because I was in great doubt myself as to the course which the Government would be well advised to take. If, however, the noble Viscount asks me, on the assumption that the other course was to be adopted, I should certainly suggest that the onus be put upon those who would use the funds; in other words, that every man should positively indicate what Party he desired to support, otherwise he should not be made to pay.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I can understand that point of the noble and learned Earl. I was going to come to that a little later. I think I am right in the proposition that though he might wish to put the onus on those who wished to pay these contributions, yet he did not, so far as his speech went, dissent from the general proposition laid down in the Act of 1913 that these trades unions should be able to constitute, in some way or other, funds for political purposes. I must refer, if your Lordships will allow me, to one or two details of that Act of 1913, because they seem to me to be very relevant to our particular discussion. First of all, I would remind your Lordships that that was the first time that trades unions were permitted to make use of the machinery of their unions to collect and apply certain funds to political purposes. These political purposes included propaganda, payment to funds for running candidates at Parliamentary elections, and so on.
By that Act the methods by which this was to be done were carefully safeguarded. I want to put before your Lordships for your own judgment some rather interesting figures on these particular points. First of all, ballots were to be held under which the general application of funds was to be approved by the trade unions before anything could be done, and these ballots were to be held under certain rules to be approved by the Registrar of Friendly Societies. Further than that—and on every one of these points controversy as to their practical effect arises—payments were to be made into a separate fund to be called a political fund, which has to be kept entirely separate from the other funds of the trades unions. Moreover, those who objected to this contribution to political funds were to be 491 exempt from contributing. If they object to contribute to these funds, and claim exemption, it is laid down in the Act of Parliament that they are not to be excluded from all the other benefits of the union. If your Lordships examine the Act you will find, I think, that so far as an Act of Parliament can do it this Act provides a careful safeguard, although I admit that on these points controversy as to their effect arises.
The real issue in this particular question arises upon the point as to whether you should have contracting in or contracting out—that is to say, whether you should give a general assent to certain contributions being taken from you and applied to a political fund and then should have the right, by filling up a form, to claim exemption, or whether you should, as has been proposed in a Bill recently introduced in another place, each year have to say definitely and affirmatively that you are ready to contribute to the political fund. I need hardly say that that Bill, changing the onus, has been most vigorously challenged by the Labour Party.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
The noble Earl says: "Very naturally." They have opposed it mainly on three grounds. First of all, on the good old Conservative ground that it was an unnecessary interference with an existing law; that this system had gone on for ten years, and that no reason had been shown why it should be interfered with. Further—and I am bound to say, on looking at the figures of some of the leading unions, less strongly as regards the figures than might have been expected—they claimed that the ballots of the trades unions had shown that they were in favour of the raising and application of this fund for political purposes.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
May I ask the noble Viscount whether he can give the House the figures as to the numbers who voted. That is a most important matter.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Yes; I quite agree, and I have some criticism to make on the contention of the Labour Party. The figures I propose to give are extremely interesting. They further say that the 492 Act on the whole is working without difficulty and that if there are isolated cases of intimidation it is very far from being the fact that a general case of intimidation can be made out. It is suggested that the system itself is unfair; that it gives the unions an unfair hold on a man from whom, after a ballot, funds are taken and are applied, without any further action on his part to the furtherance of political ends. I do not think it necessarily follows in all cases that because a man is indifferent, or even hostile, to some views of the Labour Party that he may be taken as dissenting from the application of this fund. People sometimes have not clear-cut views and members of trade unions who do not openly dissent may sometimes have some sympathy with the activities of Labour leaders in Parliament. They may think that the declarations about a full Socialist programme, and so on, are unlikely to come into effect. They are rather indifferent to them, and with good practical British sense they treat them as the humorous expression of the views of some of their leaders rather than as the declaration of a practical policy which is likely to be brought into effect.
We are all accustomed to contribute to philanthropic and other funds and we know with what energy secretaries urge upon us the duty of signing those bankers' forms by which an automatic contribution is made each year without further trouble. It is different when in each year you have to send your contribution to an institution. You have to perform a conscious act of virtue once every year. It may be that some of the magnificent contributions which your Lordships make to philanthropic and charitable enterprises are increased by your unconsciousness of your own generosity. Let me pursue a little further the question of contracting out and contracting in. It is fairly obvious that if a man has to declare each year that he is ready to contribute to a political fund of a union the contribution will probably be far smaller than if in the ordinary automatic way these funds were contributed. The trades unions themselves say that this is a blow at trades unions.
The one proposition laid down by the noble and learned Earl with which we all agree is that a man should not contribute towards a fund which is to be spent on objects with which he does not agree. In that respect it is rather interesting 493 to see what actually were the numbers who obtained the right to exempt themselves from contributions to this particular fund. I will give two figures in this connection. First, the number of persons who voted in the ballots for setting up a political fund, and, secondly, when these funds had been set up, the number of persons who exempted themselves. As regards the ballot, it is clear that in many cases the number who voted, compared with the membership, was small, only a small percentage.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
Not always negligible. Take the National Union of Railwaymen. The number who voted in favour was 102,270 and the number voting against was 34,953. The number of votes rejected was 3,015. Therefore, the total number of votes, one way or the other, was 140,238 out of a total membership in that year, 1913, of 267,611. Take the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Cabinet Makers—I will give the totals in this case. The number voting was 25,340 out of a total membership of 86,972, or less than one-third of the members of the union. Take the National Amalgamated Union of Labour. Only 25,943 votes were cast out of a membership of 60,003; and in the Amalgamated Weavers' Association, 174,418 votes were cast out of a membership of 197,263. In the largest union whose figures I have, the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, 476,666 votes were cast out of a total membership of 645,900. In that particular case the minority was very large. There were 261,643 votes in favour and 194,800 votes against, while 20,223 votes were rejected.
The next interesting point, bearing these figures in mind, is to take the same unions and see how many persons exempted themselves from contribution to this particular fund. My difficulty is that during the last nine or ten years the membership of these unions has largely increased, and, therefore, the figures will not be the same, proportionately, in 1921 as they were in 1913. Let me take them as they come. In the National Union of Railwaymen there were 37,000 exemptions out of a membership of 386,000. In the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Cabinet Makers there were 32,000 exemptions out of 255,000 membership. 494 The largest number of exemptions is in the Amalgamated Engineering Union in which, in 1921, there were 185,000 exemptions out of a total membership of 410,000. In the National Union of Agricultural Workers 52,000 members obtained exemption out of a total of 130,000; and in the. Miners' Federation 152,000 got exemption out of a membership of 769,000. In the Amalgamated Weavers' Association there is rather an interesting figure on the other side. There were only 8,000 exemptions out of a membership of 219,000.
When I look at the Report of the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies for 1922 I cannot get much light on this point. It says that there were sixty-eight complaints in 1922, but, I cannot pay great attention to this particular figure because the Report says:He (the Registrar) cannot even investigate under this section the allegation that a union is spending its money on political objects without having political fluid rules, since the ground of complaint is limited to the breach of a rule made under the section and not to the non-existence of a rule.A provision of that kind takes away from any deduction that can be drawn from the number of complaints made to the Registrar of Friendly Societies.
I think one may, perhaps, lay down two general principles on this subject. One is that the trades unions, as has been very vividly pointed out by the noble and learned Earl, have a very privileged position under Acts of Parliament, both under the Act of 1906 and that of 1913, to which I have been referring, and that they cannot really object, therefore, to the right of Parliament to inquire, if cause is shown, into the working of those particular privileges. On the other hand, I think it ought to Be made perfectly clear that however these things may be examined the sole intention is that there should be no intimidation or pressure upon any individual to vote otherwise than as he desires, and that there is an entire absence, of any desire to deprive the Labour Party of the right to run their candidates for Parliament. It should be remembered, I think, that three or four years ago there was a movement towards what was called direct or unconstitutional action. At the present moment the Labour Party, what ever we may think of its policy or of its shortcomings, is definitely reacting in 495 the direction of constitutional action, and it would not be wise if any step were taken which would give the impression that anybody wants to send the Labour Party back into these unconstitutional paths.
Charges have been made not only of intimidation but also—a point which was not referred to by the noble and learned Earl—of either transferring funds, or making loans from other funds to the political fund in cases where there is not sufficient money in the political fund to run candidates for Parliament. Our general attitude upon this point must, I think, be perfectly clear. We hold that it is not fair, and cannot be fair, that any man, whatever may be the system by which these funds are collected, should be compelled to subscribe towards the furtherance of objects in which he does not believe. The noble and learned Earl spoke about the action of the Government, and though he spoke with great force, and indeed with vehemence, on this subject, he himself admitted, I think, that he was not quite certain of the precise nature of the advice which should be tendered to the Government as to the action which should be taken in these particular circumstances. He recognised fully that the Government in the first few months of its career was naturally fully occupied and preoccupied and re-occupied with a great number of very important subjects.
But it is the intention of the Government to act fully up to the declaration which was made by the late Prime Minister on November 8 last, and it is suggested that later on in the year, when it is hoped there may be more time for consultation of that kind, the Prime Minister may consult the trade union leaders and others who may be concerned and try to come to some arrangement on this difficult and controverted subject that may be equitable and fair to all Parties. I hope that the noble and learned Earl will be satisfied with that declaration. He will see that the present necessity of delaying a consultation of that kind is really due to the great pressure of public business.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
My Lords, I should not have dared to trouble your Lordships with a word more if the noble Viscount had not expressed 496 the hope that I should be satisfied. When he tells your Lordships that he hopes that I shall be satisfied with a consultation with the Labour leaders, he is saying something, if I may say so with respect, which is completely ludicrous. Does he really suppose that any single Labour leader is going to agree to give up this right? The Government must make up their own mind. There is no chance whatever of gaining anything by consultation with Labour leaders. They will merely say that they want to adhere to the present system.
§ LORD EMMOTT
My Lords, your Lordships have listened with deep and sustained interest to a powerful and gloomy speech from the noble and learned Earl who sits behind me, and we have also listened with interest to the speech of the noble Viscount opposite, in which he has given us an idea of what the Government intend to do. I do not desire to speak at any length upon this Question, but I want to say a few words both about the specific Question as to the power of trades unions to make compulsory levies and also upon the broader considerations raised by the noble Earl. I am sorry to say that my voice is a little husky, as I am still recovering from a recent indisposition, but I will try to make myself heard.
I did not quite gather, either from the noble Earl or from the noble Viscount, what is his definition of the Socialism of which he spoke. There are all kinds of Socialism: there is Guild Socialism and there is Collectivism, but I understood their definition to be very much the same as my own. The remarks I have to make about Socialism really deal with Collectivism, with the idea that private enterprise is played out, and that the time has come when the nation is ready for a great experiment in the nationalisation of industry. Nationalisation has never been a pronounced success in any country, and the only case in which it has been tried on a large scale has proved the most appalling disaster of which mankind has any record. I agree that the kind of Socialism which would lead to the rapid nationalisation of industry is a very great danger indeed. I agree also, as we must all agree, that the feeling in favour of Socialism has grown, as the growth of the Labour Party proves. But I should 497 lay a somewhat different emphasis upon some of the points dealt with by the noble and learned Earl.
Much as I desire to see your Lordships' House reformed and more representative of the great mass of the people, I do not believe that any kind of reform (oven of functions) that is at all possible is going to render this House any kind of barrier against extreme men if they come into power. In the case of Russia there was no question of a House of Lords, but even the representative Duma was swept aside in a moment, and the country has ever since been governed by an oligarchy. I cannot therefore attach any particular importance to the subject dealt with at some length by the noble and learned Earl. As regards the Sunday Schools of which we hear so much, it is a matter of fact that Socialism has grown along with our Christian Sunday Schools—I do not say because of them—and it is possible that these Socialist Sunday Schools may mark the beginning of the end rather than prove a very sinister factor.
The real danger which we have to face is not that of a few hotheads. The danger arises from the effect of bad trade. The unemployment of honest workers who cannot find work is driving a great many of them into the Socialist camp. Our industrial conditions have been profoundly changed by the war. We have lessened production in this country as a whole, and there is a lessened demand for the export of our manufactured goods. It will take years to restore our export trade to anything like its pre-war volume, and it will take many years to organise the migration from this country which is very necessary if some of our citizens are to go to the Dominions and, as we hope, increase the market for goods from this country. The breeding ground for Socialism is the fact that unemployed people see their wives and children either starving or in danger of starving. They are apt in these circumstances, as the noble and learned Earl said, to listen to the agitators who say that profiteers are living a life of luxury and idleness, and that the workers are starving, and to add that if they will only put these agitators in power they will soon nationalise industry, when the workers will have a large measure of control of industry, and no longer be wage-slaves, and of course the country will then be near the millennium.
498 We must look at this matter fairly. There are not many of us who have ever wanted for a meal, or who have ever dreamed of pawning our goods to keep our homes together. I do not think we can realise what the menace of unemployment is, even to people who are employed but who fear that as the result of bad trade or sickness, or old age, they may lose their jobs. That is really what we have to deal with. The danger is of the adoption, in moments of despair, of a quack remedy which may bring greater evils than those from which we are now suffering, and it is because I see that danger acutely that I am so anxious to see the country take the right steps to meet it, and not the wrong ones. I believe that any serious meddling with this measure which has been discussed this afternoon would be a wrong step. The idea is that it would deplete the war chest of the Labour Party, and by reducing the power of that Party to put forward candidates, would lessen the number of Labour representatives in the House of Commons. I do not gather that the noble Earl is in favour of altering that measure drastically. I listened to his speech with interest. One never quite knows what he is going to say. Sometimes he speaks after the manner perhaps of Palmerston in his famous case of "Tit for Tat" with Lord John Russell, and at other times, while refraining from excessive eulogy, he shows some sympathy for what the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, who is unfortunately absent to-day, called the damnosa hereditas of this Government.
It is perfectly true, as the noble Viscount opposite has said, that the Labour Party is far less coherent in principle than other Parties in the country, and has yet got a greater appearance of solidarity. Their difficulties would come, as has been said, if and when they came into power. That danger is increased, I entirely agree, by the internal squabbles of other Parties, but as my own Party suffers a good deal from internal squabbles I am not going to throw stones in glass houses. Now I believe that this change which is suggested—I do not mean by the noble and learned Earl—with regard to political levies would be unjust and impolitic. As to the injustice of the case, it is true that other Party funds entirely depend upon 499 voluntary contributions, and that Labour has special privileges, but it is also true that the Labour Party could not find funds to run candidates without some such privilege, and that to deprive them of this privilege, which they have now enjoyed for many years, would be to deprive them, in fact, of the equality of opportunity in choosing the representatives they desire to represent them.
That seems to me strong enough ground, but when I turn from the question of theory to the question of expediency I hope that the Government, for their own sake, will not put their hands in a hornet's nest in this particular matter. It would undoubtedly meet with vehement opposition from the great mass of the Labour Party and of the trade unionists, and to force such a change—I understand no such change is suggested—by the votes of the Conservative Party in the House of Commons—votes which represent only a minority in the constituencies—would cause profound resentment. It would re-create the Taff Vale atmosphere, which is so undesirable. It would. I believe, fail in its object through the resentment which would be aroused, and therefore would add to the growth of Socialism, the very thing which we would deplore and desire to prevent. So much on the specific Question.
I want to say a few words, if I may be allowed to do so, on the wider subject of how, within the bounds of our democratic Constitution, we can meet this admitted danger of Socialism. I have no heroic remedy to propose. The first matter I shall mention is a relatively small but important electoral change. We have in this country a permanent third Party, and we may resort to the group system. I think it is essential that there should be some better method of arriving at the real opinion of the country than we have to-day. At present we might have extreme legislation either of the right wing or the extreme left wing, prompted and carried out by those who represent a minority of the votes in the country. I have looked at the returns of some half of the present House of Commons, and I believe I am correct in saying that something like 30 per cent. of the Members sit for a minority of the votes in the constituencies which return them. That can be altered by a system of Proportional Representation, or 500 by the Alternative Vote, and for the particular purpose the Alternative Vote would be the easier method of altering it; but whichever method is used I urge that this matter should have more attention.
We ought to get at the real opinion of the country, and this might be a safeguard against the revolutionary feeling which we all deplore. What I desire, however, is that something more should be done to meet the Socialist case in argument. I entirely agree with the noble Earl that in opposing Socialism we need to imitate the energy and enthusiasm of the advocates of Socialism. They fight their Socialist campaign with energy and great self-sacrifice. We need to pursue a course of economic education with equal force and conviction, to argue wherever we can against a change which must bring disaster if adopted, and to try to influence that great mass of opinion which is still malleable. To do this it is necessary to study the Socialist case. I think Socialists and anti-Socialists live far too much in separate worlds, and, if I am not wearying your Lordships, I should like to suggest one or two lines of argument which in my opinion have not been sufficiently exploited up to the present.
I do not think the case of Russia has been treated on the most convincing lines. It is no use merely haranguing against Bolshevism, because the better members of the Labour Party join you in that. The majority of the Labour Party dismiss Bolshevism as undemocratic, tyrannous, cruel, and destructive of liberty. I believe they are perfectly sincere in making those objections to it. But the objection to political Bolshevism ignores the lesson of economic Bolshevism. It is important to separate the effects inherent in pure Socialism from those of Communism and political Bolshevism. Bolshevism au fond is an economic creed. It is based upon Lenin's reading of Earl Marx's book and economic teachings. It means the destruction of Capitalism by force and confiscation. Moderate Socialism is equally out for the destruction of Capitalism, but by much milder methods of expropriation. The nationalisation of industry is the aim of both. The end is the same—the means adopted are different.
I have followed the Russian case as carefully as I could. Some three years 501 ago the noble Marquess, the Leader of the House, asked me to preside over a Committee to inquire into economic conditions in Russia, and since that time I have, so far as my limited means allowed, tried to keep myself in touch with the Russian question. The conclusion I formed, without any kind of hesitation in my own mind, was that the breakdown in Russia, the appalling poverty which has affected, not merely a few, but the whole mass of the people, is not due mainly to what I have called political Bolshevism, but to the utter impracticability of economic Bolshevism in the shape of nationalisation. I will give my reasons very briefly. Take the case of agriculture. Over eighty per cent. of the people of Russia are interested in agriculture. The peasants, under Bolshevist instigation, at the beginning of the revolution—even in Kerensky's time—seized the land belonging to the landlords, and, I am sorry to say, murdered a great many of them. Then they were told that of the produce that came from their farms they must keep only sufficient to feed themselves, and the whole surplus was claimed by the State. The result was that they ceased to grow any surplus at all, and the agricultural production of Russia went down. I should think, to half what it was before. That shows undoubtedly, I maintain, that the peasant agriculturists of Russia were willing to work for themselves, but they were not willing to work for the State. And I believe there has been a considerable revival since the new economic policy came in which substituted rent for these confiscatory methods.
The same thing is true in regard to the nationalisation and democratisation of the larger industries. Take the case of transport. In Russia there was no need so vital as that of transport, and yet the production of locomotives in that country went down from 1,200—a figure which it reached in 1906—to something like sixty or seventy in 1920–21. Take the case of coal. The great coal basin in Russia is the Don basin, and there the production of coal went down—not because there was any shortage of people to work—to one-fifth of what it was before the war, and indeed some time after the war began, because it actually increased in the first year or two years of the war. The case 502 of Russia proves the falsity of the claim that the industrial workers there are ready to work harder for the State, because since the principle of nationalisation and what was meant to be an equal division of the products of industry was started there, they have had to alter it by giving a bonus to anybody who would produce a reasonable amount of work—so much did the character and quality of the work go down. I see in those articles in The Times, which have already been referred to, that the cotton trade has got back to fifteen per cent. of the pre-war production. At the time when I was studying the matter, a year and a half ago, the production of cotton goods had gone down to something like two per cent. of the pre-war volume. I may remark also with regard to the democratisation of industry, which is another plea by means of which Socialism is advocated, that at first in Russia they began working their industrial concerns by committees appointed by the workers, but they had to drop that system immediately and return to one-man management.
The whole effect on trade unionism of nationalisation under Russia's experience forms a very interesting story. Trade unionism in all countries claims the sacred right to strike against Capitalism. In Russia the capitalists had gone, being replaced by the State, Was there still a sacred right to strike? That is the question that has been discussed continually in Russia. Conference after conference was held about it, and crisis after crisis, arose in regard to it. There were two views. The trades unions themselves tended, of course, to Syndicalism, and wanted to make the State the handmaid of the trade union. The other view was held by the Party headed by Trotsky, who desired to militarise industry, who openly advocated conscription and compulsion and the most intense development of the State—in other words, the subordination of trades unions, so that they should become the abject servants of the State. Lenin, at the time of which I am speaking, was still in possession of his full powers, and he hates Syndicalism as we ought to hate the devil. He was equally opposed to Trotsky's view, and he invented compromise after compromise, which did not settle the question. It went on until at length the extreme demands 503 of the trades unions were, at any rate, defeated. Of course, those messages which have come to this country from the so-called trades unions of Russia are not sent by the genuine trades unions, left free to act as they choose; they are manufactured, as other things are manufactured there by the Bolshevik oligarchy.
Then came the new economic policy, removing most of the effects of nationalisation, and encouraging, or, at any rate, permitting, a certain amount of private enterprise. One of the earliest results was to try to place the factories on a business footing, which meant closing a number of them, and causing a large amount of unemployment. As a result a few months ago the trades unions in Russia came out into more or less open hostility to the Government, and worked up anti-Government propaganda, first of all on account of the distress caused by unemployment, and, secondly, because they complained, very naturally, that the industrial workers, who were the backbone of Bolshevism, were being worse treated than the peasants, who had got their way, having, so far as the land was concerned, destroyed the system of Bolshevism. The Government were frightened, and they raised wages. With what result? I heard a month ago that the rouble, which two months ago was exchanged at 100,000,000 roubles to the £, instead of the old pre-war ten roubles to the £, had dropped during the previous few weeks to 450,000,000 roubles to the £. That is the way things are going on there.
May I say most emphatically, in closing, that I do not think that a negative attitude in this matter is sufficient? It is hopeless to imagine that the workers of this country will be satisfied in the future without obtaining a certainty of a fairer share of whatever the products of industry may be. These people are not stupid or unpatriotic. If they are convinced that they are getting their fair share I know they will do their best. Speaking for my own Party, we cannot possibly adopt an attitude antagonistic to Labour. The noble and learned Earl talked about the Labour Party being our enemies. Of course, he was using the word politically, but, after all, he was in a Cabinet with members of the Labour Party. Hard words are said to break no bones, but it seemed to me rather a strong word to use. Though, as I say, my own Party cannot adopt an attitude 504 antagonistic to Labour, most, if not all of us, are bitterly hostile to Socialism as being fundamentally opposed to the liberty of the subject, for which we stand. The Conservative Party has great traditions of social reform. A member of His Majesty's Government bears the name of Shaftesbury. I think it was the noble Earl's grandfather who left a name in the last century which will be remembered long after many of the so-called statesmen of his time have been forgotten.
Labour is bearing to-day, with wonderful patience, hardships and privations, which we can imagine, but which we do not personally share. Do not let us add to this a sense of injustice. Do not let us exacerbate those upon whom so much of the strain and stress of our present industrial condition falls. Let us rather, while opposing what is wild and impracticable, do whatever we can to ameliorate the lot of the worker and gradually to rebuild the prosperity of this country on the basis of a happy, a grateful, and a contented people.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, it seems curious that so many speeches should be made upon this Question from a single Bench, but I make no apology for offering a few observations to your Lordships because, as my noble friend, Lord Emmott, has observed, it does not always happen that those who sit upon the same Bench are in these days of the same mind. It is my fortune, bad or good, not infrequently to find myself in agreement with the Government, and to-day I find myself more in agreement with the Government than with either of the two preceding speakers. At the same time, in what I have to say I shall have to be critical even of the Government.
Still, I will begin with my noble and learned friend the Earl of Birkenhead. He reproached the Government for saying that it was going into consultation with the Labour Party in this matter, and he declared that it ought to know its own mind. It is a general and popular superstition that a Government ought always to know its own mind, but I think it is not always a good superstition. I cannot help remembering that on that very question to which he had alluded a few minutes earlier—the reform of your Lordships' House—my noble and learned friend spoke of the House of Lords as a question in regard to which there was 505 a lamentable display of want of policy on the part of the present administration; whereas he referred to the time when he had spoken boldly upon the subject from the Woolsack. I remember that occasion well, and I remember my noble and learned friend finding it wholly impossible to get his Party to agree with him in making any proposition for the reform of your Lordships' House.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I did not say that they did not make any propositions. I said that the noble and learned Earl found it impossible to get the Government to agree with him.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
They did not. My noble and learned friend's speech was made in a spirit of apprehension. He saw a wave of Socialism growing and taking shape in an enlarged Labour Party, and he looked forward to a possibly unfortunate day, even so little as three years hence, when the Labour Party, commanding a majority in the country, might refuse to make those arrangements which would enable your Lordships' House to exercise checks and safeguards. Well, these things are possible, but it is not always the possible that is the probable.
My noble friend Lord Emmott took, on the whole, a more cheerful view. He spoke of the excellent qualities of the working classes. He, like the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, deplored the tendency of the working classes to be led away into Socialist doctrines. His remedies for that were, first of all, one on which he relied very doubtingly—the Transferable Vote or Proportional Representation. I think it is obvious that in that way he would only be setting up another machine alternative to the present one for enabling public opinion to express itself. If you have a great Socialist opinion forming itself in this 506 country, whether the election be by the Transferable Vote, or Proportional Representation, or by the present system, it will put the Labour Party into power all the same. I think my noble friend did wisely in his very temperate speech not to rely upon that means.
Then he rather suggested that we should have what my noble and learned friend pressed for—a campaign upon this subject through the country, in the course of which political economy was to be explained and other things made clear. But I am afraid that as the times move on political economy is becoming a very much enlarged science. I never read any of the new books on political economy without seeing how the writers, some of them very eminent men, have crossed the border-line into yet wider considerations connected with the social environment, and if you invoke one writer to-day on your side of any proposition about political economy you will be countered by some other writer of equal eminence on the subject. I am not saying that political economy is not a most valuable science, and I wish that all politicians would study it; but as for its solving the problems with which we are confronted, I doubt it very much. It is not by abstract views that you influence public opinion in this country.
My noble friend Lord Emmott also spoke of Russia, and he drew for us a picture of what Socialism can do when it takes hold of a great people. The Russians are very different from the people of this country. They have some fine qualities which we do not possess, " but they lack other qualities which we do possess. They are Slavs, we are Anglo-Saxons; and I should have thought that Lord Emmott might have found a much better illustration of his thesis if, instead of looking at Russia, he had looked at our own Dominions. There is Australia. In Australia Labour is in power and has been in power for a long time.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I was coming to that. If my noble friend would not be in such a hurry to identify nationalisation with Labour he would presently see what I am at. In Australia things have been worked out by the Party which has a complete control of the political 507 machinery of the country. Although there is sometimes an Opposition there, it is still a very Labour-like Opposition. As for what it has done, it has done a great many things. There are a great many laws there which my noble friend would regard as very dubious if anyone proposed to introduce them here. But I was talking not long ago to an eminent Australian merchant who is also a very strong Conservative, and holds almost as definite views adverse to the present Conservative Party in this country as does my noble and learned friend Lord Birkenhead.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My noble and learned friend is always learning something in the course of these debates. My Australian friend told me this. He said: "I should dislike very much to live with you here in this country and to do business here. I have had to do it and nothing is certain; there are always agitations and rows between the trades unions and the propertied classes, and it is very disagreeable and very difficult to work in such conditions. In Australia there are a good many laws which I did not like when I carried on business there. But they have worked the thing out. They have solved all of what they consider to be their grievances. The result is that you know exactly where you are with them, and I found it perfectly possible to carry on business in security and to make a little money." I believe that to be profoundly true. Your troubles come not so much from laws which are actually enacted as from the agitations and unrest which have produced them, and what we have been considering in the latter part of the debate to-day is a very good illustration of the case.
Seventy years ago and more there was a great movement in this country for what were called the Points of the Charter. The Points of the Charter terrified people very much in those days. They have long since, in substance, been incorporated into the law and accepted, but in those days people were even more afraid than my noble friend Lord Birkenhead is afraid to-day, and they went to the Whigs. At that time the Whigs were a very wise people, and the Whig Minister 508 of that day—it was Lord John Russell—gave the answer to the appeal that was made to him to throw the forces of Government against the Points of the Charter. He said, in effect, "No; not a bit of it. Look at what is going on in the rest of Europe? There are Governments busy trying to put down revolution, and to stem the tide. I am not going to say to those who propose to me the Points of the Charter, 'No.' I will speak with the enemy in the gate." And he did speak with the enemy in the gate, with the result that the Points of the Charter passed away into what was innocuous, and this country was almost the only country in Europe which came through without any revolution, and with increased stability to its Government and people. I think that is profoundly true here.
I speak as a detached person. My sympathies are very much with the Labour Party. I supported them at the last Election, and I shall support them again. I should support them not because I have any desire to see the items in their programme carried, because I think, in the abstract form in which these are presented, they will not be carried. But I think they will be carried in a better form. They will be carried in a form in which the six Pointe of the Charter have been carried—that is to say, they will be carried in a way in which grievances have been in the past redressed in this country. I have said that there are many things in the points of the Labour programme with which I am very much in sympathy; indeed, otherwise I could not work with them. But what I am referring to is the notion that in the Labour Party's programme—and I cannot dispute that the words sometimes convey that meaning—there is a desire to socialise all industry. I am not in the least afraid of propositions to socialise all industry. The source of wealth is neither labour nor capital. The source of wealth is intelligence and mind, and you cannot socialise intelligence and mind. A man of exceptional ability will always find his opportunity, and will always come to the front, and you will find opinion will not very much change.
There are certain fields in which you can do a good deal of what my noble friend Lord Emmott calls socialisation. For 509 instance, there are the railways. A Conservative Government has gone a long way towards nationalisation. You may say that you have not done it; you may say that there are directors and companies still; but you have regulated and interfered to such an extent that there is now practically no friction between labour and capital. The only person who wants a little more protection is the consumer, the person who wishes his agricultural produce and his merchandise carried at cheaper rates, and who will presently take care of himself. I am bound to say that when he does it will be with your Lordships' sympathy, and there will be no outcry of socialisation against him. It may well be that in the case of the coal industry you will have to take steps towards exercising a larger control. There, again, you have a great industry standing by itself. But for the great majority of businesses in this country it is, to my mind, altogether improbable, so improbable that I dismiss it as impossible, that they should be put under an abstract nationalisation programme.
However, it is not on that point that the real question turns. Why have we got this great movement of which Lord Birkenhead spoke? Why have we got this great feeling of injustice and hardship which has produced the Labour Party? It has not produced an enormous party. The Labour Party is not a quarter of the House of Commons at this moment. If things were going on in their normal way it would not be so formidable a factor as it is at the present time. But it is a formidable factor for a very good reason. It has behind it a great deal of something that is more potent than anything else. It is not majorities in Parliament nor Ministers that govern this country and rule its destiny. It is public opinion in this country—very vague, very fluid, but still very striking.
I saw a good deal of those who were supporting the Labour Party at the last Election, and whom did they comprise? Not merely the workmen who were convened at street corners, but some of the most distinguished professors of our Universities, some of the most eminent of our men of letters, some of the most prominent of our men of science. Wherever you went you found a great body of that public opinion which returned 510 the Labour members in so large a number to the House of Commons at the last Election. And why? Because at the back of all the Labour Members, and of all the items in this programme to which my noble friend so much objects, there was this desire, firmly and strongly put-forward, for a better life for the people, a genuine earnest seeking to find ways to make that life better, and to promote something like equality among the people. That is a very powerful form of idealism, and it took hold of public opinion at the last Election to a greater extent than it has ever done before. I am not afraid of that kind of idealism, because the people who vote to express it are also the people who will control its application. You cannot go beyond public opinion. The Labour Party cannot go beyond public opinion more than anybody else.
When I look at our democracy I thank my good fortune that I live in a country which has a democracy of a highly conservative order. This is not a revolutionary people. It does not consist of men and women who desire to upset institutions, and to move with great rapidity. On the contrary, the difficulty with it is that it will not move at all at times just when you want it to move, and there are things which it will not stir over which it ought to stir over. It is a conservative democracy, and so long as public opinion remains conservative in that wide sense you are quite safe. I have no doubt there are coming great changes. Great changes have come in the past. My noble friend spoke of the progress of Socialism—most striking progress. Where is it most manifested? I look at the Benches opposite. I see the noble Marquess sitting there, and I realise that he has been an approver—at any rate, he leaves them on the Statute Book, and some he has enacted—of Eight Hours' Bills, Regulation of Wages Bills, and I should say fifty or sixty other ways of interfering with individual liberty in the interests of the community. What would Mr. Gladstone say if he were called up to life and should speak about this movement? He would say: "This is the most Socialistic movement I have ever heard of, and I am astonished that it should have gone on as it has done."
But the Conservative Government is highly Socialist compared with what the 511 Liberal Party used to be about seventy years ago. Everything is relative in these times. You have only to look at the state of the world. It has changed its institutions. Its policies have changed. You have only to look at the state of this country. Its institutions have changed and its policies have changed, and we are far more Socialist, in the sense of looking first to the community and secondly to the individual, than used to be the case with the former generation. It is the neglect of these things that creates the difficulty. You do not want to do much. You have only to show public opinion that you are in sympathy with its aspirations, and that you are prepared in every reasonable way that you can, without inflicting hardship, to carry them into effect and it will be patient with you. That is the way to satisfy this question.
Some of your Lordships may say these are generalities. That brings me, in conclusion, to a point which was discussed by Lord Birkenhead, and which was discussed with great care and caution and skill by the noble Viscount who spoke for the Government. I mean the question of interference with the trades unions, with the right of people to vote according to their convictions. That question assumes a very different aspect when you look at it in its context. It is a great misfortune that anyone should be in the position of having the exercise of his political vote interfered with by anybody else. But political funds are not the only things we are concerned with. There is liberty of action in trade: there is freedom to do what you like in business. The noble and learned Earl no doubt remembers the memorable decision in your Lordships' House in the Mogul steamship case. That decision has given rise to more bitterness in the Labour Party than almost any other thing. It was a decision that the capitalist organisation might combine and interfere cruelly with liberty of trade by smaller firms which they wanted to bring in under compulsion. Compare that liberty with the liberty of the working classes. Steamship companies, the traders, were let loose, in contravention of a principle which used to be a firm principle of the law of England; that is, that any combination which could operate in restraint of trade was objectionable and bad. 512 That was gradually relaxed, in the interest of capital, to the extent of enabling traders to enter into combination when it appeared that it might be in the furtherance of profitable business. That was the ground which the House of Lords took in that case.
Compare that with the case of the trades unions. In the seventeenth century the law was so laid down that for a group of workmen to come together and combine in any way to get their wages raised, or prevent their wages being lowered, was a conspiracy to restrict trade and was not merely a civil act but a criminal offence Upon that there ensued a series of the most cruel persecutions, not prosecutions, and the result was that feeling among the working classes became intense. It culminated in such pressure that a Royal Commission was appointed in the sixties, which made a Report to the effect that the workmen ought to be in the same position, no better and no worse, as the propertied classes; and that was supposed to have been done by the Statutes of 1871 and 1876, which enabled trades unions to be registered. Presently the Courts drove a hole through these Statutes. The noble and learned Earl alluded to the Taff Vale case. I was cognisant of that case at the time, and it was a decision which, whether right or wrong—I assume it to be right—was deplorable from the point of view of the trades unions. It made every trade union, although it had nothing to do with the affair, which had a benefit fund, or a sack fund, liable to the extent of those funds, and beyond, for what was done in a local dispute.
The effect of the Taff Vale case was to take away what the Royal Commission had given to the trades unions. There was a storm of indignation among the working classes. There was an agitation, a greater agitation than that with which we are familiar to-day; and with what result? The Act to which the noble and learned Earl has referred, the Trade Disputes Act, was passed in 1906. I was a member of the Government which passed it. If you ask me whether it was a beautiful Act, a properly drawn Act; whether it was right in all respects; my answer is "No." Why did we pass it? We passed it because a great majority of the Members in that House, caring nothing for the Government, had come 513 back from their constituents pledged to pass that Bill and just that Bill. It was like the Reform Bill of 1832; the Bill, the whole Bill and nothing but the Bill. Public opinion was too strong for Parliament and the Bill had to be passed. It was a very bad Act.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
Certainly, and public opinion was responsible for it. Public opinion was so strong that I think we did right in bowing to it. We could have done nothing else. The same thing happened over again; and this the noble and learned Earl did not recall. There was another decision of this House, which I assume was perfectly right, which put a new and startling consequence of legislation on trades unions. The stringent doctrine of ultra vires, applied only to a statutory corporation, was applied to the trades unions. What they did was declared to be illegal and they were allowed to do nothing which was not within the strict terms of their document. It was an astonishing decision when you go back to what the Royal Commission of 1871 declared was the position of trades unions. The result was an agitation which continues now. The Act of 1913, which was supposed to have mitigated its consequence, has not done so altogether, and all these complications are the outcome of a state of things which was provoked, in ignorance no doubt, but none the less deliberately, by the great mass of people who thought these things could be dealt with lightly. It has raised such a feeling of injustice among the working classes that they have insisted on having these things. They ask now to be put in no worse a position than anybody else; no worse than the employers.
If that line had been taken consistently we should not have had this question, or many other questions. We should not have had the great issues which are raised to-day. But the reason why people feel that it is hopeless to put Parliamentary checks in the way of the Labour Party is that if you inflict upon them a 514 succession of acts of injustice you stir up a feeling so violent that it results in Parliamentary action of a most drastic kind and in the return of a large Labour Party with items in their programme of a somewhat acid character.
My remedy for the present state of things is that the Government should go on somewhat in the spirit which the noble Viscount indicated. Let them consult with representatives of Labour. Get rid of grievances. Let them also survey the whole ground and see what inequalities exist between labour and capital. Let them try to promote social reform and improve our social system; to get rid of the differences which make one man miserable while another man is happy. Let them try to reduce these things to this extent, that they shall not be due to some particular law which, apparently, is the cause of these differences. If that policy is taken up and earnestly pursued, if a Socialistic spirit in that sense of the word is accepted, I do not think you will find anything very terrifying in Socialism. I think you will find that these things shape themselves to such an extent that when the Labour Party comes into power it will gather in the country the desire to make effective social arrangements, as has been the case in Australia, a state of things which will enable you to pursue your ways, not unaltered, because there is nothing that remains unaltered in these days, but in a fashion which is consistent with the satisfaction of the best aspirations of our people.
THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBUBY)
My Lords, it is difficult, if I may say so respectfully, to quarrel with the noble and learned Viscount, because his method is so conciliatory and his speech so sedative that one hardly likes to point out any differences which may exist between us. He was at pains to express his approval of what he called the conservative tendencies of democracy. That was very satisfactory, and he tried to draw some of us nearer to himself by saying that we were greater Socialists than Mr. Gladstone. That may easily be the case, for the Conservative Party has always been more in favour of remedies for the evils of the workers than the traditional Liberal Party used to be. It is no news to me, therefore, to be told 515 that the Party which numbered amongst its members the ancestor of my noble friend Lord Shaftesbury who has already been referred to in this debate has greater interest in the welfare of the workers than has the Liberal Party. But I must quarrel with the noble and learned Viscount when he defends himself for passing the Trade Disputes Bill when he was a member of the Liberal Government. It seems that he himself disapproved of it. He said that he was——
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
Not of the principle of the Bill but of the way in which the principle was given effect to. We had a much better Bill, only public opinion would not have it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I agree with the noble and learned Earl who opened this discussion in deploring the passage of the Trade Disputes Act.
THE MARGUESS OF SALISBURY
I confess that I should have felt more modesty than was apparently felt by the noble and learned Viscount who has just sat down in confessing that I had been a member of a Government which passed a Bill although I did not approve of its provisions. The noble Viscount says that your Lordships passed it, but that is a very different thing. Your Lordships have always been necessarily bound to bow to the wishes of the electorate. But Members of the House of Commons, returned by their constituents in order to defend the policy in which they themselves believe and not to be a mere mouthpiece of what they interpret public opinion to be, are in a different position.
I agree with a great deal that has been said in this debate by the noble and learned Earl who raised the Question. There are great risks in front of us. They may perhaps be exaggerated, but they are risks. The noble and learned Earl returned to the speech which he has made already two or three times in your Lordships' House reproaching the present Government for not having sooner introduced a measure for the reform of the House of Lords.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
I think the noble Marquess is right there, but I assure him that I have only once made a speech about the House of Lords.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It would not, of course, be right for me to contradict the noble and learned Earl about his own speeches, but I can assure him that I listened to both speeches with care because a large part of each was taken up with some rather pointed remarks about myself. That is why I remember them. But, of course, I bow to the noble and learned Earl's authority as to his own proceedings. I should be very sorry, however, if it were thought that the pledge which the late Prime Minister gave during the Election means that we have abandoned the idea of House of Lords reform. So far as I am concerned that certainly is not the case. I earnestly hope, and for the same reasons as those of the noble and learned Earl, though perhaps I should not state them in such strong language, that before this Parliament has come to an end some measure of reform may be passed in respect of this House, but, of course, I cannot give any pledge upon the subject.
On the other hand, I do not regret the progress of the Parliamentary representation of Labour in another place to which the noble and learned Earl referred in some detail. I regard it as a very healthy sign, and I am sure that far the best chance that we have of persuading Labour through their leaders of the fallacy of their own principles is by bringing them into Parliament and letting the case be argued out upon the floor of the House of Commons on one side and the other. As I think my noble friend, the noble Viscount who has already spoken for the Government, has already said, such a method of dealing with these questions is second to none. I agree that if you had an extreme Labour majority in the House of Commons and there were no means in your Lordships' House of exercising any 517 restraining influence, even by postponing for the decision of the country measures which were passed in that House, that would constitute a position of considerable risk.
The noble Lord opposite, Lord Emmott, made a very interesting speech indeed, if he will allow me to say so, a speech to which I listened with the greatest attention, but one of his conclusions seemed to be open to a certain amount of criticism. He said, in fact, that the trade union leaders had a privilege, through the Act of 1913, in obtaining funds with which they might fight elections and carry out their political propaganda, and that this position ought to be accepted because otherwise they could not obtain their funds. The question with us is this—Is it a fair method or is it an unfair method? The reason why that is the question with us is that we have to think of that very large body of workers who are Conservatives. It is not a question of the propertied classes against the working classes, of Capital against Labour. We are here to see justice done as between workers and workers, as between the Conservative worker, the Liberal worker and the Labour worker, and if the Conservative workers come to us (as they have come to us) and say: "Here is a very unfair arrangement under which we are compelled to make subscriptions for political objects of which we do not approve, and we call upon you to do us justice," then we cannot reply, like the noble Lord opposite, that this is the only way in which they can obtain funds. The Conservative element among the workers does not agree, so it is represented to us, with this method of acquiring funds, nor with the object upon which these funds are to be expended.
It is for those reasons that we think it necessary not absolutely to leave the matter alone, and I think that the course which we have proposed to adopt is the right course. We are not certain how far the evil extends. We are not certain of the political difficulties which may lie in the road. It is obviously a case of consulting those who are interested—Labour and capital; the employers and the employed. Let us find out what they say and think about it. That appears to be the obvious course, and if we are going to consult people before we act it would 518 be eminently improper for me, or any member of the Government, to pronounce final judgment upon what the result of that consultation will be. It is a wholly inconsistent position to say that you are going to consult people and at the same time pronounce a final opinion upon what the issue will be. If it does turn out, after consultation, that there is unfairness, and undue and unfair pressure put upon Conservative working men—that there are illegalities committed in forcing people to subscribe to that of which they do not approve—then I would respectfully and very urgently appeal to the trade union leaders themselves to consent to an alteration in the law.
Why should we treat trades unions as enemies? I believe in trade unionism, and have said so over and over again. I do not believe it is possible, in the present position of politics, to carry into effect industrial legislation and the administration which follows on it, unless you have organised labour to deal with. Disorganised labour presents infinite difficulties from that point of view, and therefore for many years I have been in favour of trade unionism. There is no reason why we should be hostile to trade unions. I look forward to the day when trade unions will be among the strongest Conservative bodies of this country.
I appeal to trade unionists, if there should turn out to be injustice, upon another ground. When these laws, such as the Acts to which the noble Viscount referred, and the Trade Disputes Act, were passed, trades unions were treated as relatively weak bodies which required special protection. They were treated, as it were, as infants requiring special laws to protect their interests, which adults would not require. But those days are long past. Trades unions are very powerful—as powerful as and perhaps more powerful than any bodies in this country. They do not want special legislation, I should have said, and if I were a Labour leader I should be ashamed to require the protection of these artificial laws to help me in promoting my interests, whether industrial or political.
The days of swaddling clothes have gone by, so far as trades unions are concerned, and I should be very glad if they would take the view that now that they have reached years of maturity, and are able to look after their own interests, these 519 artificial laws in their favour may be done away with. I look forward to the consultation that we shall have with the greatest hope and interest, and I trust that as a result we may be able to produce some legislation which will meet the difficulties that have been laid before us.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
There is only one point which has been left obscure, on which I should like to say a further word. Since the Bill was introduced in the House of Commons exactly fourteen Labour leaders have expressed their views. Everyone has said, in terms of implacable opposition, that he will not agree to one single term of the Bill for which Lord Younger and others made themselves answerable. Supposing that is still the attitude of the trade union leaders, what is the attitude of the Government? That is the only question I asked, and the only one to which I have had no answer. It is no good talking about consultations with the Labour leaders. Fourteen of them have given plain expression to their views.
My Lords, the debate to-night has ranged over a large variety of subjects, including the reform of this House and the Trade Disputes Act, with which I do not propose to deal. Nor do I think it necessary to say anything about the interesting description of Bolshevism in Russia given by Lord Emmott. Bolshevism is a thing which seems to me to differ in every way from Socialism in this country. The two things are not comparable, and the noble Lord admitted that no real deductions could be drawn from one or the other.
Then the noble Lord does not admit that. I venture to submit that they are in no sense comparable, and that the rule now going on in Russia 520 is not the socialistic rule of democracy, but a tyranny carried out against the will of the majority of the people, and that that fundamental difference is enough to put it out of court. I think, as one of the few members of the Labour Party in this House—the Party was present in its entire strength earlier in the day—I ought to say a word before this debate closes. We have had many helpful speeches in their tendency and attitude towards the demands of Labour, and I think we had an extremely fair speech from Viscount Peel. I do not think I can say quite as much for the speech of the noble and learned Earl who opened this debate. That speech did not seem to me to be couched in a particularly helpful vein, nor to refer to the matters with which it dealt in a particularly helpful manner.
I gather that the noble Earl is in a state of considerable fear about the growth of Socialism, and what it may do, and he asked what was to happen if this House found itself void of constitutional power when matters came before it with which it did not agree. While the present law exists, and while the present Parliament Act exists, a Bill has to be passed in three separate Sessions before your Lordships' House can be disregarded, and that is a thing which the House of Commons finds it difficult to do, and only can do if it has public opinion behind it. Public opinion is a very great influence and no Bill can be passed three times and made law over your Lordships' heads, unless the country, as a whole, is in favour of it.
Then the noble Earl made an admission, from my point of view, when he said that the Labour Party did not intend the same things as the Liberal Party. That is perfectly true, and that has been quite clearly recognised by the Labour Party. The Liberal Party have, in my view of the situation, managed to preserve the peace by giving sops to Cerberus—by passing ameliorative legislation, making concessions, and generally giving just what was needed for the moment, and no more. The ideals and objects of the two Parties are quite different, I agree. The Liberal Party, as such, is not in favour of nationalisation, and many Members are strongly opposed to it.
521 The noble and learned Earl went on to make what I thought was the extremely rash assertion that we all know what Socialism stands for. My experience, in listening to people discuss Socialism, is that that is precisely what very few people do know, and what, even among those of us who think we know, very few of us agree about. All one can say, and say legitimately, is, I think, that Socialism, as it is understood by the Labour Party, aims at improving the lot of the under-dog, at improving the life and the conditions of life of the lower class in society, of giving them a better standard of life and, to enable them to obtain that better standard, higher remuneration for their work where the industry will stand it, and without feeling any regret that that higher remuneration leads to a smaller profit for the exploiter.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
As the noble Earl is criticising me will he allow me to ask him this question?—Does Socialism, or does it not, mean the nationalisation of the means of production and exchange?
Certainly, Socialism in some forms means the nationalisation of all the means of production.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
But the Socialism that we are, discussing in this country as a practical political creed?
No, I think it extremely unlikely that the business of selling newspapers in the streets will be nationalised at an early stage.
§ THE EARL OF BIRKENHEAD
There is not a single leader of the Socialist Party in the House of Commons who has not stated that that Party combines upon all those propositions.
Certainly, I said that that was the ideal, and that we should be quite prepared—and are prepared if it is considered that that is the only way in which that can be attained—to nationalise the means of industry and the means of work, the tools of trade and the material wealth of the country. That seems to me to be not at all an unreasonable thing to do if a better economic result is obtainable from it. That is what the question really turns 522 upon. It is an economic proposal. What is said by Socialists is that the present Capitalist system is a wasteful system and a very imperfect system, and that it might be much more perfect and therefore might bring much greater happiness to greater numbers. Not only is this question one of improving the conditions of life of the worker, but there is the much more important question, and the very vital question to him, of his having the means of living at all. There is for him the fearful bogey and spectre of unemployment which hovers over him from the cradle to the grave. He never knows for certain whether he will get his next week's wages, and that is a condition of things which, I think, public opinion has felt ought to be changed.
Employers have had ample opportunity of trying to combine and to make arrangements to change it, and I am not aware that very much has been done in that direction. I think many people now feel that that condition of things ought to he ended. That is the object, and that is the idea that underlies all the economic proposals that are made. I am the last person to say that the mere giving of a sufficient material prosperity and of a certainty of livelihood to every human being in this country is, in itself, sufficient to make a new heaven and a new earth. I am perfectly certain that it is not, but it helps towards it, just as, on the other hand, slums and overcrowding and disease and want of food tend to crime and misery. The noble and learned Earl said that he heard people at the street corners constantly saying—"Why does one man starve while other people are going about in wealth?" He said the answers to that question were so abundant that it was not worth while giving them. I can only tell the noble Earl that if, in the course of the propaganda which he proposes, he can at the street corners answer that question successfully, and in such a way as to bring conviction to the working classes, I think he will be able to convert them to the Capitalist system, but till he does that I fear that he will fail. I confess that I do not myself know the answer to that question. He referred, apparently with approval, to a new democratic development which he called the page that Mussolini had written in history. I was not aware that it was a democratic development, and it seems to me that a 523 page which consists partly of black ink smeared with castor oil is not a very helpful page in the development of the world's history. I cannot look upon that example as one that could be commended in this country.
If it be true that trades unions are desirable—and it was admitted by the noble Marquess opposite that he thought they were desirable, and that organised labour was desirable—then I think it is unfortunate that the noble Earl who raised this Question should have said that people were practically forced to join trades unions. That is, no doubt, to a certain extent true. But I would point out that, if it were not also true that that plan met with the general consent and agreement both of the employers and the employed, it could not last. It would be perfectly open to employers to open free and non-trade union shops, and it would be perfectly open to people to work there. But, in effect, that does not happen, because all good employers, and, indeed, almost all employers, except in some of the sweated industries, have now realised that collective bargaining is essential to the proper carrying on of trade. And I think you would find hardly any of them who would be willing to have labour again unorganised and disorganised in the way it was before. That there are evils connected with trades unions no one would deny; there are evils connected with any organisation.
In the last part of the noble and learned Earl's Question he raises the subject of the funds of the trades unions. It seems to me that the noble Marquess, even when he was dealing with this, omitted to state the answer. It must have been present to his mind, but he said Conservative working men came to the Government and said—"What are we to do when we are forced to subscribe to political funds of whose objects we disapprove? " The noble Viscount, Lord Peel, who spoke earlier, pointed out perfectly clearly that they are not forced to subscribe, that they have merely to give notice that they do not desire to subscribe. If the answer to that is that-public opinion makes it unpleasant for them if they give such notice, that is true of many other walks of life. Public opinion frequently makes it unpleasant for a person to take a course which is 524 only taken by the minority. And if you get your new legislation you will not have got over that difficulty of public opinion. Suppose you change the onus. Suppose you require each man, separately, to signify each year his willingness to subscribe. If you still have the majority of trades unionists of the same opinion that the subscription is to be made, then you will have the same pressure put upon him to sign this voluntary card. If he signs a card that he will not subscribe, that gets known, and pressure is put upon him, and if he signs saying he will subscribe then he is liable to the same pressure.
It is obvious why those concerned with administration should dislike any change, because it is one thing giving a bankers' order and forgetting about it, and having your subscription paid automatically, and quite another thing to be reminded of it each year. The trades unions are entitled to have these political funds. You have given them those rights, and you have been careful to separate them from the benefit funds, so that the one should not be implicated in the other. I suggest that, unless you can get a measure of agreement with those who are concerned with trades unions, His Majesty's Government would be very unwise, on such evidence as is now before it, and with what appears to me to be quite insufficient reason, to disturb that course of action
I am prepared to defend—though not to-night, because the hour is late, and it has not been the main subject of this debate—but I am prepared at any time and at any place to defend the nationalisation of the means of livelihood; that is, the placing of control not under the private employer but under some communal authority. That seems to me to be, under our present system, almost the only safe method for the worker. I was rather astonished to hear the noble and learned Earl say that all positions of wealth were achieved solely as the result of merit on the part of the persons who held them. I do not know personally what merit has been shown by people who have become millionaires, sufficient to reap such a reward. Nor do I know what demerit those have shown who are thrown out of employment by vicissitudes of trade over which they have no control—vicissitudes arising, perhaps, 525 from economic causes forced upon them, either by capitalists, or by other countries—and who suffer bitterly in consequence.
Anybody who is able to say to himself, with the comfortable feeling of the noble and learned Earl, that these things are the just and fair allocation of the reward of merit naturally feels that there is no question to be solved, but many people do feel that there are most serious economic questions to be solved; that although they do not give us a new heaven and a new earth, their solution must be attempted; and that we must not hesitate to explore new methods even if there is a menace to the capitalist.