HL Deb 08 April 1924 vol 57 cc159-88

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill, which is a Bill to amend the law with respect to the reference of trade disputes to Courts of Inquiry established under Part II of the Industrial Courts Act, 1919. The Second Reading has been deferred from the week when my noble friend the Lord President of the Council was going down to Liverpool to obtain powers far more stringent than any that are suggested in this Bill. At the same time, I was not averse from the Bill being deferred until the disastrous dispute here had come to an end, since I did not want it to be thought that the Bill was being introduced at a time of panic, or when strikes of a very serious kind were in actual being.

The necessity for something being done is apparent when it is realised that in January last 629,000 working days were lost, and that in February that number was increased to 699,000 working days. This Bill cannot, of course, stop all lockouts or strikes. It is merely a minimum—a very slight alteration of the existing law. It is an amendment to an Act which gave, after discussion had been exhausted, power to the Minister of Labour to intervene in a dispute, and to order an inquiry, without giving to that Minister any assurance that the inquiry should be conducted at a time of calm, or at a time when it would not be influenced by the turmoil of further strikes. The Act under which the Minister was allowed to do this was passed in 1919. That Act, after referring to the powers of the parties, if they so wished, to go into an arbitration court under Part I, gave power in Part II, when any trade dispute existed or was apprehended, for the Minister, whether or not the dispute was reported to him under Part I, to inquire into the causes and circumstances of the dispute, and if he thought fit to refer any matter appearing to him to be connected with or relevant to the dispute to a Court of Inquiry appointed by him for the purpose of such reference, "and the Court shall, either in public or in private, at their discretion, inquire into the matters referred to them and report thereon to the Minister."

It has often been said that the Minister should intervene at an earlier date, and that he should not wait until the very eve of the strike before intervening and appointing a Court of Inquiry. It is no new thing for a debate between the parties to go on for a very long time, often for a considerable number of months, and both parties are equally to blame, if there is blame attaching to a course of that kind. The parties may have to get statistics; they may have to refer back to their members; they may have to obtain authority and power; they may have to take a ballot, and there are a dozen other reasons which prolong discussion, such as the winter season, or the desire that peace should ensue, or that discussion should be exhausted. To my mind the exhaustion of discussion is a very important matter in these questions. I think that the Government is not a proper body to intervene at too early a date until that principle of exhaustion has asserted itself. The Act upon which this measure of ours was largely built was passed in Canada in 1907 and is still on the Statute Book of that country. That Act expressly said that exhaustion of debate was to take place before anything else occurred. In fact, in making a report upon it, I made the remark that the Canadian Act was an extension of the principle of exhaustive discussion. With a view to obtaining this result the Act gives a right of obligatory discussion, and it is the right of obligatory discussion which, for the protection of the Minister, I suggest ought to be introduced into this country.

I would fain make out my case before your Lordships on this rather long history for the purpose of introducing this obligatory discussion. The passing of the Act in Canada was very largely due to the action of Mr. Mackenzic King, now Prime Minister of that country, who was in 1907 the lieutenant of Sir Wilfred Laurier, the Liberal Prime Minister of Canada. He made an elaborate report at the time of the railway and mining strikes, and he set forth in his description of those strikes that up to a point in the struggle, so far as third parties were concerned, the struggle appeared to have been purely selfish. The public did not seem to have come in for any consideration whatever. The public are the people who are hurt by these strikes. The Minister is appointed to represent the public, and if the Government intervenes it is on behalf of the public that the Minister is supposed to act.

Mr. Mackenzie King, in giving his reasons for the Act, said:— In as much as coal is in this country one of the foremost necessaries on which not only a great part of the manufacturing and transportation industries, but also much of the happiness of life itself depends, it would appear that if legislation can be devised which, without encroaching upon the recognised rights of employers and employees, will at the same time protect the public, the State will he justified in enacting any measure which will make the strike or lock-out in a coal mine a thing of the past. Such an end, it would appear, might be achieved were provision made whereby all questions in dispute might be referred to a board empowered to conduct an investigation under oath, with the additional feature, perhaps, that such reference should not be optional but obligatory, and pending the investigation, and until the board has issued its finding, the parties be restrained on pain of penalty from declaring a lock-out or strike. He suggested a penalty. The Act was passed in Canada within a very few months, and was put upon the Statute Book in 1907.

In reporting upon that Act on behalf of our own country in 1912, I brought out, so far as I could, the importance of this power of investigation on behalf of the public. I said:— The simple purpose of the Act is to ensure the recognition of the interests of the public, as a third parry in trade dis- putes, and the insistence that that third party, through a Government shall have a voice in regard to a dispute affecting their interests, and according to the Act, before a stoppage of work takes place. It will be seen that the Act differs essentially from compulsory arbitration. It only endeavours to postpone a stoppage of work for a brief period and a specific purpose. It … legalises the community's right to intervene in a trade dispute by enacting that a stoppage either by strike or lock out shall not take place until the community, through a Government Department, has investigated the difference with the object of ascertaining if a recommendation cannot be made to the parties which both can accept as a settlement of the difference. It stipulates that before a stoppage takes place the possibilities of settlement by discussion and negotiations shall have been exhausted, but, and here it differs from compulsory arbitration, it does not prohibit a stoppage either by lock-out or strike if it is found that no recommendation can be made which is acceptable to both sides. If no way out of the difficulty can be found acceptable to both parties … both sides are left to take such action as they may think fit … If it does not effect a settlement, it indicates a basis on which one can be made. The pith of the Act lies in permitting the parties and the public to obtain full knowledge of the real causes of the dispute and in causing suggestions to he made as impartially as possible on the basis of such knowledge. Now, so far as that went, the Industrial Courts Act might be suitable in regard to informing the public; but the public are not informed at the right time.

I hoped, in 1912, that an atmosphere might be, created in which, without; the infliction of penalties, it would be possible for the trade unions and the employers to come to a conclusion that they might voluntarily give time for the investigation to take place. I said that I hoped that there would be created in the public mind, and in the minds of the employers and employed, the opinion that when opportunity existed by law such opportunity should be taken advantage of, and that strikes and lock-outs ought not to be commenced, and ought certainly not to be supported by sympathetic strikes, when such investigation was pending. If such opportunity did exist, it might be expected that the large number of trade unions would be quite willing voluntarily to afford time for investigation and recommendation, and an atmosphere would be created in which the voluntary granting of time world be deemed to be a proper course to pursue.

That was my opinion in 1912, but I confess that facts have altered that view. The hope of an atmosphere being created has not been realised, and strikes are now occurring, and have frequently occurred, without giving that time for discussion and investigation during which the public could intervene. The history of the matter is that, after 1912, the Industrial Council, a body which comprised the most important employers and heads of trade unions in the country, reported unanimously that:— In order that the interests of the community may be adequately safeguarded, it is desirable that before a cessation of work takes place there should be a period of time, after the existing procedure has been exhausted, sufficient to admit of (a) the further consideration of the position by the parties, and (b) the opportunity of the introduction into the discussion of some authority representing the interests of the community. Then came the Whitley Committee. They adopted the Report that I have mentioned, but, with their minds full of the sweeping away of the restrictions that were enforced at the close of the war, they said:— It is obviously possible and desirable that in some instances arrangements should be voluntarily made in organised trades for holding an inquiry before recourse to extreme measures, and we suggest that the Ministry of Labour should be authorised to hold full inquiry when satisfied that it was desirable without prejudice to the power of the disputing parties to declare a strike or lockout before or during the progress of the inquiry. There, again, they hoped that there would be a free time for discussion given after the Government had intervened, but the opinion of the Whitley Committee was equally firm as to the time that should be allowed for discussion.

In 1919 there came this Industrial Courts Act, to which I have referred. There can be no doubt as to the feeling of the present Minister of Labour. He has expressed himself very strongly indeed on the subject. In fact, he came to the conclusion that:— In all these great disputes, where the public must necessarily suffer—for you cannot restrict the suffering merely to the parties—the public must have the right, and must exercise the right, of knowing what the dispute is about, and when these disputes break out I hope that it will be possible, in every case, at any rate, to give to the public the actual condition of affairs elicited by an impartial Committee of Inquiry. I hope by that means to restrict very considerably what might be very long suffering. I wish to go further than to restrict. I want both to restrict and to prevent. We have had strikes recently which could have been prevented by an obedience to a law which allowed even thirty days for discussion, and it is with that view that I have introduced this Bill.

The Prime Minister has expressed himself very strongly upon the matter. He made a speech in which he said:— We are threatened with strikes and lock-outs, and disputes and disturbances. How childish it all is. How foolish it all is. What has happened? Why is there now no mutual confidence? Surely these things can be arbitrated. I do not go quite so far as compulsory arbitration. I do not go so far, and nothing like so far, as the Lemieux Act. That Act settles machinery which extends the time after intervention has taken place to a longer period than I propose. That is an Act operating in a great country where it is more difficult to work these matters than it is here. In this country, in the narrow confines within the four seas, much easier machinery can be adopted for hearing disputes, for sending the matter to a Court of Inquiry, and getting people from the country to come and give evidence before such a Court in London. Here it is by no means so difficult as it is in a country where the distances to be traversed are so great.

I said that my proposal is not so wide as those in the Acts in operation in other countries where there is compulsory arbitration, such as in New Zealand, or where there is a system such as that in force in Australia and other parts of the Empire. My proposal is confined simply to this—that when the Minister has intervened it should then be unlawful to declare a lock-out or a strike until the inquiry has taken place, and prior to or during that inquiry, but that after thirty days for inquiry, and if a Report has been made and no settlement has occurred, it shall then be lawful for either of the parties to proceed as they can do at present. My proposal simply defers for a short time the right to strike or lock-out which, apparently, the industrial people of this country are not prepared to give up altogether. In order to obtain that thirty days I have laid it down that there shall be penalties for any infringement by either party, and heavier penalties for those who incite, encourage or aid either a lock-out or strike during that period. That is the essence of the Bill.

The first subsection of Clause 1 is taken almost verbatim from the Lemieux Act. The second and third subsections are really verbatim from the words of Sections 58, 59 and 60 of the Lemieux Act. I have founded the penalties upon that Act so that it should not be said I had invented penalties of my own. If the penalties are to be altered there is a precedent in the Munitions of War Act. Penalties under that Act were in some cases far heavier than those I have proposed. The penalties are, no doubt, the point upon which criticism will be made. It is often said that you cannot enforce penalties because of the difficulty of putting them upon a large number of men. I remember, some years ago, hearing "Mabon," the well known South Wales Labour Leader, say to Mr. Churchill, when he was President of the Board of Trade: "You cannot put 600,000 men into prison." I have no idea of putting 600,000 men into prison. You would have to make a selection of those persons upon whom penalties should rest, but the mere existence of such a law is enough for moderate trade union leaders, and in many cases for the whole of the rank and file.

In Canada, moderate trade union leaders frequently say that they are not going to support a strike or allow the wild men to burst out for the reason that they themselves, as leaders, would be more heavily penalised than the rank and file. A very good endorsement as to the way in which penalties can be dealt with is to be found in a recent speech made by Mr. Theodore, Premier of Queensland, to the Empire Parliamentary Association. Queensland is a country which is governed by compulcory arbitration and Courts of Inquiry. Mr. Theodore said:— With regard to the enforcement of the awards, there is machinery to enforce awards and there are penalties for non-observance of them on the part of the employer? and employees. I admit frankly the difficulty of enforcing an award where a large body of men are disinclined to accept it, hut that is a condition that, I suppose, no human genius can remove. The fact that the difficulty exists and actually arises occasionally, of course, is not in itself sufficient to condemn the whole system of arbitration; that is what I want to impress on those who are interested. If both sides are confident that they can get a fair deal they are generally inclined to accept the awards without demur, even though they do not agree with the decision. In the last four years the average number engaged in disputes were only 3,000 throughout the whole State—that is, 20 per thousand. In 1875 there was passed in this country an Act called the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act in connection with gas and water undertakings, and heavy penalties were put on those who infringed it.

Has anyone heard of serious strikes or lock-outs in gas and water undertakings since 1875? The existence of this law has tended to prevent, them, and further, if this Act with its penalties was not effective, why was it that in 1919 Parliament added electrical undertakings and put them under the protection of this Statute? In Canada, although the Statute to which I have alluded—the Lemieux Act—has been in force for seventeen years, there have been no great strikes on the railways—that is, among the people who have been particularly governed by it. When I was in Canada many people claimed, and backed up their claim by statistics, that the restrictions on the strike or lock-out have been of great assistance in causing a calm discussion and investigation at an early date.

The Industrial Council, when they went against penalties, were dealing with the question of whether agreements could be enforced after they had been reached. That is a very different proposition altogether. The Whitley Committee had in their mind the question of sweeping away the restrictions of the war; they had not the question before them in its present form. The restrictions which were imposed during the war did not stop all strikes, but to my knowledge they stopped a very large number. There were Munitions Tribunals throughout the country. They had to deal with penalties. There were strikes that were stopped by means of a Royal Proclamation which brought under the Act and its penalties trades which were not specifically supplying munitions of war. What was the use of bringing forward these Royal Proclamations if the Munitions of War Acts were of no avail, and if the penalties under them were of no avail? In July, 1915, a mining strike in South Wales was proclaimed. I will not say anything about the way in which that strike was handled, but it did blunt the effect of the Royal Proclamation. In October, 1916, a dock strike on the Clyde was proclaimed. In August, 1917, a strike of locomotive drivers and firemen was proclaimed. In February, 1918, an enginemen's and boiler tenders' strike in the cotton trade was proclaimed. In the summer of 1918 a cooperative wholesale strike was proclaimed. And these strikes were hindered by the Proclamation.

From my own experience I can cite a very serious threatened strike which was entirely stopped by Royal Proclamation. It was in the summer of 1918. Information was given to me that there was a conspiracy—it was nothing less—to stop flax being collected and manufactured in Ireland. It was said that aeroplanes would not be made at all unless the flax crop was produced. The matter was kept very secret, the Royal Proclamation was made, and. at the last moment the flax crop was not only got in, but manufactured into proper material without any strike occurring. That was the effect of a Royal Proclamation with its penalties, and it was a most important result for the country at a time of crisis. Those are instances of the effect of penalties, and I think that during the last three big strikes in this country the possible effect of penalties would have been to moderate the action of some trade unionists. But instances other than of recent date could be given where if an Act of this kind had been in existence strikes would have been stopped.

I do not see upon the Government Bench any members of the Cabinet who have been intimately connected with the inner working of strikes, though possibly the noble Earl sitting behind them (the Earl of Kimberley) has had something to do, behind the scenes, with strikes of agricultural labourers. Sitting just in front of me, I see my noble friend Earl Buxton, who, with Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. Asquith, sat as a Court of Inquiry upon a coal dispute in 1912, in which the Government intervened and did all they could to prevent the men coming out while consideration was given to the question whether there should be a minimum wage or not. They were not allowed a month; they were allowed three days before the men came out, and they had to conduct their inquiries while a million men were out, and under great stress of circumstances. Some districts in the country were persuaded to agree to the Government proposals. The coal owners of Northumberland joined in after some persuasion by me, and the coal owners of Scotland might have come in if only there had been more time. It is possible that the coal owners of South Wales also might have agreed if they had found that the whole country was in favour of the Government's proposals, and in that ease the strike need never have come to pass.

Again, my noble and learned friend the noble Viscount upon the Woolsack may recall an occasion when he appointed a Court of Inquiry into a certain transport strike. The strike had been going on for some time, and he appointed Sir Edward Clarke to conduct the inquiry, it having been pointed out to him by me that it was useless for me to undertake it because I had been so immersed in the previous attempts to get these people together. That inquiry too place during the strike. Had it taken place before the strike, had the people concerned been obliged by law to give the noble and learned Viscount thirty days, I dare say he would have prevented that strike taking place. But this Court of Inquiry had little or no effect. The strike had gone on for some time when it made its Report in May, and it continued until the end of July, and, but for the fact that at the last moment the Chairman of the Port of London Authority agreed to meet the leaders of the strike, it might have gone on until the present day.

Those are instances of the difficulties which this Bill proposes to remedy. The Bill does not encroach upon existing rights. It merely defers them, it merely asks for a minimum, and it should gradually educate the country to realise the importance of preventing these strikes by giving time for investigation. It is a short Bill, and merely a step in the evolution of these matters. We have no margin to waste at a time when we want reconstruction, and, if I might use the words of the Minister of Labour, the greatest sufferers are invariably those who are the poorest. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Askwith.)


My Lords, I think that the country is very much disturbed at the present time by the epidemic of strikes which is taking place. It is still more disturbed at the sudden strikes which in some cases have taken place without any real endeavour being, made, or any real opportunity being afforded, to bring the two sides together and see if they can come to terms, and so avoid a strike, I am sure that your Lordships will welcome the practical contribution, made by such a recognised authority on these questions as my noble friend Lord Askwith, to the solution of some of these difficulties. His proposal has, at all events, these advantages: It is a very simple one, and not a theoretical one, and one that has already been tried, and has been for some years in practice, in one of our great Dominions. I would be the first to admit that you cannot try to construct an analogy between the conditions in Canada and the conditions here, and it docs not follow that, because an Act may have been of practical use there, it would necessarily have the same value in this country. But the whole of the evidence that has been forthcoming during the seventeen years since the Act came into force has shown that it is a practical way of bringing together the two disputants, and that it has on many occasions prevented a dispute from coming to a strike or a lock-out.

My noble friend has referred to the Act which he is proposing to amend. The powers at present possessed by the Labour Ministry, formerly the Labour Department of the Board of Trade, are very limited indeed. Probably the most useful and practical of their powers are not statutory powers but powers of conciliation and intervention at the psychological moment, exercised by bringing the parties together and endeavouring, after having brought them together, to bring them to a more reasonable frame of mind. If he will allow me to say so, my noble friend has had many opportunities of using those powers, arid in that respect has done valuable service, not only in past years but in recent years as well. He has shown that the powers exercised are the. statutory powers possessed under the Industrial Courts Act, the first Part of which, while it gives power for arbitration, does so only with the agreement of both parties. I think it is somewhat disturbing to find that this Part of the Act has practically never been used at all. The other Part of the Act, which my noble friend explained to your Lordships, gives power to the Minister of Labour, in the event of a dispute being brought to his notice, to appoint a Committee of Inquiry to report to him and to the public, to make suggestions and to see if they can provide any remedy. He has quoted cases in the past where hit proposal to add a compulsory month for consideration would have been of the greatest practical value.

We have seen how valuable his proposal might have been had it been in force during the last few months. The Minister of Labour, the other day, explained—and I think quite properly—that the Government had utilised their powers under the Industrial Courts Act to the fullest possible extent. What was the result? In the three strikes which, we have seen lately, and which have so greatly disturbed trade and involved so much discomfort to the public, a Committee was appointed after the strike notices had taken effect and the strike had begun. In two cases a Court was appointed and it sat, without having any effect whatever, direct or indirect, upon the result of the strike. The two parties came together quite irrespective of the Court, and, though it was doubtless right that the Court should be appointed, it did not assist to bring the parties together or to arrive at a settlement.

In the third case, which I think is still more significant, that of the tramway strike the other day, the Court sat after the strike had begun, and made various suggestions which were accepted by the employers and by the men, particularly in regard to having some co-ordination of transport in London which would enable it to be carried on upon a more profitable basis. They were accepted by the men and the employers, and the strike ended. The suggestion was a practical and obvious one. It is certain that had it been possible to appoint this Court two or three weeks before, and during that time no strike had taken place, the Court would have come to the same conclusion and settled the dispute without the men having been out, and without the discomfort which was entailed on the public.

I think that is a great argument in favour of the Bill. That is what this Act was intended to do when it was first introduced. It was thought that it would not only bring these disputes to an end, but would do much better—help to prevent them. That, unfortunately, has not been the result. We have had, in this case, the verdict first and the evidence afterwards. The Court has had no effect, as a rule, upon the strike itself. It is clear that if you have your Court appointed before the strike has taken place, when the two parties are still negotiating, and before the atmosphere has become very lurid—before recriminations have taken place—it is more likely to bring about a satisfactory conclusion than if it is appointed after the strike has begun. Moreover, you obtain that which I think my noble friend desires to obtain—public interest, and publicity, so that public influence may be brought to bear, and you may have proposals made which will bring about a solution of the difficulty. During the last three strikes the public, as a whole, have had no idea of the merits of the strikes at all. There was no information before them, and they were unable to judge how far one side or the other was in the right.

I know, from very considerable experience at the Board of Trade, and elsewhere, that unless you go into these matters most carefully, and have full information before you with regard to the dispute, it is impossible to make up your mind as to the rights of the case, and on which side the argument lies. The worst of it is that the strikes which we, have had lately have been more or less connected with utility matters, and it is the public who have suffered, and not the combatants. The men are out for a week or two, draw strike pay, and have a holiday. The employers in this case are the tramways, and as they protested that they were running at a loss, the closing of the tramways for a few weeks could not have seriously involved them in a loss; but the whole of the discomfort and loss practically fell upon the public. The worst of it is, as every noble Lord knows, that the real discomfort, the real evil, falls upon the poorest of the working classes, who have day by day to go to their work, and they are entitled, as the rest of the public are entitled, to protection.

I do not wish to be unfair to the Government, or to impute to them unduly the unrest which undoubtedly is existing in this country at the moment, but they can hardly deny that the somewhat reckless statements, if I may so describe them, made by the Party that they represent at the time of the Elections, made Labour generally think that the millennium was about to appear, and that they were going to have a new heaven and a new earth. Undoubtedly, that has brought about a certain amount of unrest, and the hope and belief that this is the opportunity to make special efforts to obtain better conditions. I do, however, blame the Government—and I should like the noble Lord who perhaps is going to answer to give us some information upon this matter—for not having protected the public during these three strikes which have lately taken place. The strikers are not entitled to exploit the discomfort of the public and to use it as a lover for carrying out their objects and desires. It is the elementary duty of any Government to protect the public in such a matter as that, and to do the beet they can to mitigate the discomforts and evils which fall upon the public, without intervening in the strike itself. The worst of it was that the Government did not once, during the time of the strike, lift a little finger to assist the public or to bring about a better state of things, and that fact would naturally encourage others to come out.

Putting that aside, the object of the Bill, as I understand, is to give a somewhat longer breathing space and an additional opportunity of deliberate consideration of the matters in dispute, so that a conclusion may be come to, if possible, between the disputants. I think your Lordships will agree that that, in itself, is an admirable proposal, and one which, if carried out, would be of great value. Of course, the difficulty—and my noble friend has already, in a sense, indicated it—is that you cannot disguise from yourselves that in these matters there is, on the part of the employers and the men, some suspicion of, and hostility to, any proposals which savour of compulsion or penalties. The liberty of the subject is always brought in question there, but I agree with my noble friend that even if you have any joint acceptance of anything in the nature of compulsory arbitration you cannot have anything accepted which interferes with the freedom of strikes and lock-outs, or sympathetic strikes, or anything in the nature of attaching the funds of trade unions.

The proposal in the Bill, however, does not really interfere with any of these principles, and it does not take away, or even reduce, the power of striking, the power of giving notice of sympathetic strikes, and the like, in any way so as to interfere with the full liberty both of the employers and the men—on the one hand to strike, and on the other hand to lock out. It does, however, presuppose that the object and desire of those interested in these trade disputes, on either side, is that if possible they shall bring them to a conclusion by discussion and friendly settlement, and that only in the last resort shall this barbaric method of striking or locking out be brought into play. It. will be admitted, surely, by everyone, that no strike and no lock-out is justified until every endeavour has been made on both sides to bring the dispute to a satisfactory and friendly conclusion. That is the basis on which my noble friend founds his Bill, because ho offers an additional opportunity of bringing about that which everybody desires.

In one respect, however, I admit, and I think my noble friend will admit, that the Bill does, or would, interefere with the right of striking: that is to say, it would penalise, and one would hope that it would possibly diminish very largely the local strike, the unauthorised strike, the strike that is carried out against the desire of the trade union or the federation. Those strikes are, unfortunately, fairly frequent. One of them is going on at the present time—the local strike in Southampton, which looks now as if it might involve a lock-out in one of the greatest industries in the country, though it is merely an unauthorised strike and a strike against the desires of the trade union concerned. And the other day, at Wembley, we saw a spasmodic strike against the wishes of the trade union itself, a strike which jeopardised a great Imperial object. I should think that on that ground at all events the great trade unions of this country would welcome my noble friend's proposal, because nothing is more damaging to the authority and the influence of the trade unions than these spasmodic, unauthorised strikes. They cut at the root of the principle of collective bargaining on which the trade unions are founded, and they diminish the full authority and power which they have in the settlement of a dispute, and prevent them from "delivering the goods."

My noble friend referred to penalties, and he dealt so fully with that question that I need not touch upon it. One other argument, I think, is used against this Bill. It is said that it would cut across negotiations that were taking place, and might bring them to an end without really putting anything in their place. I confess I do not agree with that view, because obviously, if bona fide negotiations were taking place, the Minister would not intervene and would not appoint a Court of Inquiry. It is only when it appears as though a deadlock were coming about that he would appoint his Court, in order to give a further opportunity of consideration. On the other hand, where the case is of the kind that we have seen lately, where there were practically no bona fide negotiations, he would intervene and appoint his Court, and, one hopes, would bring the dispute, to an end.

My noble friend has quoted the Minister of Labour, and the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and others could be quoted also, in support of the view that some further steps should be taken to bring to an end these unfortunate disputes. It is not too much for us to expect the Government, representing the Labour Party, to produce, at all events, some proposals, if they cannot accept those of my noble friend. I trust, after what has been said by some of their representatives, that whoever speaks on behalf of the Government to-day may be able to give favourable consideration to this Bill. It has been well thought out, it is founded on experience, it would be of practical value, and it certainly meets a difficulty and would deal with what is at present a blot on our industrial life.


My Lords, I should like to state in a few sentences what is the view taken of this Bill by my noble friends on this Bench and myself. We must, of course, approach this matter with great caution, because I know very well that the right to combine and the right to strike are very greatly valued by the workmen in our country. They have enjoyed the right in full measure for the last fifty years, at all events since the Act of 1375, and I have no doubt that the privileges which they obtained under that Act will be very jealously guarded by those who have the special care of their interests. On the other hand, the public has its rights also, and I think that more and more in recent days we have found strikes directed not only against the employer but against the public, and inspired by the hope that the inconvenience caused to the public would force some kind of settlement upon those immediately concerned. Those strikes, which have been referred to by the noble Earl, have caused great distress and inconvenience—sometimes great loss, sometimes loss of health—to many members of the public, and it does seem to me that, while the trade unions enjoy some special privileges under our Statute Law, that has created a correlative right for the community as a whole to see that those privileges are not abused so as to cause injury to the public. And I think that that is the view which inspires this Bill.

This is not a proposal for compulsory arbitration. I know with what distaste any such proposal would be viewed in some quarters. I know, too, how real the objections to it may be, because it is useless to say, even in an Act of Parliament, that men shall not strike, that men shall work, because you cannot compel hundreds of thousands of men to do work which they are not prepared to do. That is the reason, I think, why, in Australia for instance, the legislation which makes arbitration in some cases compulsory has not, so far as I know, been a conspicuous success. But that compulsory arbitration is a measure under which men may not strike at all, under which they are bound to submit disputes to arbitration—that is, to decision by a third party—and are forbidden to leave their employment contrary to the decision of that third party.

The proposal in this Bill is something quite different. It goes, I think, upon two lines. First, it encourages the system of inquiry by a publicly appointed body. It proceeds upon Part II of the Industrial Courts Act—not upon Part I which provides for arbitration, but upon Part II, which provides only for public inquiry. I believe that the more that system of public inquiry is extended the better it will be for the industrial interests of our country. In Canada I think they call the provision for a public inquiry a "parade law," by which they mean this, that it brings before the minds and eyes of the whole public the real merits of the dispute. Both sides have to show their hand, and to tell the public as a whole what it is they ask for, and why they ask for it, and have to submit to the observation of an independent tribunal the merits of their case. The mere fact of a public inquiry has, time after time, either prevented or put an end to a Strike. We have seen it, as the noble Earl, Lord Buxton, said just now, in the most recent case of all, the case of the tramway strike. I believe that in that case the mere fact of a public investigation had a good deal to do with bringing that disastrous strike to an end. The more we get inquiry, and the more the Government use the method of inquiry, the greater is the chance of bringing strikes to an end.

But this Bill, of course, goes further. It suspends, without destroying, the right to strike. It says that for an employer to lock out his men or for the men to strike against their employer while the inquiry is pending, shall be a breach of the law; subject, of course, to this limitation, that the suspension of the right to lock out and to strike shall not extend for more than thirty days, however long the inquiry may take. I believe that to be a reasonable proposal. It does not take away the right to strike. We cannot do that, and we ought not to try to do it. But it gives some time for thought and for discovery of the facts, and I support the proposal of my noble friend Lord Askwith, whose great experience in these matters lends special weight to his opinion, that this kind of suspension should at all events be considered by Parliament and, as I hope, may be adopted.

The Bill does not distinguish, I think, one kind of strike from another. Your Lordships know that in some countries a distinction is made between a strike in what are called public utility services and a strike in the other industries. For instance, in some countries a strike by persons employed by municipalities either, let us say, in gas works, or water works, or tramways, or any other matter which is within the competence of a municipal body, is subject to special restrictions. I do not deny, indeed, it appears to me, that the strongest case for this kind of Bill is made in employments of that description, because those are employ- ments which touch the public most closely. I would include the great service of the railways, the tramways, and so on. All those things touch the public as closely as may be. I agree that by other industries, such as mining, for example, the public is indirectly affected, and very much affected; but the best and strongest case for this kind of Bill can be made with reference to the public utility services. I am not suggesting that my noble friend should limit his Bill because I have not thoroughly thought that point out, but I think it is on those services especially that the case of my noble friend can be pressed home.

May I add one or two words about precedents? We have the precedent of the Act of 1875. It is the law in our country to-day, that the gas employees and the water employees of a corporation, and I think those engaged in electricity in some cases, may not strike. They are forbidden by law to strike and are subject to a penalty if they do. I am not aware that there have been many prosecutions under that Act, nor do I think there have been many strikes in those particular industries since it was passed, and I believe the fact that this provision has by no means been without its effect ought to encourage us to push the experiment somewhat further. That is our own English experience which is in favour of the Bill.

But there is more than that. There is the Canadian law, under what is called, I think, the Investigation of Industrial Disputes Act of Canada, which was passed in 1907. In that Act there is very much the same provision as is proposed by my noble friend in his Bill to-day. One would like to have the Canadian experience fully considered. As noble Lords know, there is a good deal of information available with reference to it. So far as I can find, it has had its effect in preventing industrial disputes in that Dominion. I find that during the years from the passing of the Act in 1907 down to the end of 1916, which I am afraid is the latest date for which figures are available, there were 204 strikes in the Dominion of Canada in spite of the existence of the Act of 1907. But the strikes did not last long, they did not affect a great many men, and the number of prosecutions for breaches of the Act was small. Only eleven prosecutions took place during the whole of those years from 1907 to 1916. I believe the reason is that there was no question, as my noble friend said, of prosecuting hundreds, or thousands, or hundreds of thousands of working men. The authorities concerned naturally selected for prosecution some one who represented the strikers as a whole, lie was prosecuted, and his prosecution, or the mere launching of a prosecution against, him, had its effect upon the body of men as a whole. So that the Canadian experience, although I agree that one cannot draw too close an inference from it, is in favour, so far as it goes, of this proposal.

There is one respect in which this proposal is superior, as I believe, to that which is the law in Canada. Under the Canadian Act, if I am not mistaken, there is no standing body for investigating these matters. There is no Industrial Court, or there was not for years an Industrial Court in our sense. Under the Canadian Act you had to appoint a special board to investigate each dispute. That led to delay and led, I should think, to want of uniformity in the decisions on these disputes. In this country we are much better off in having the Industrial Courts Act. We I have a standing Court which now has considerable experience in dealing with these matters, and an inquiry can be entrusted either to that Court, as in a recent case was done, or to a special body as was done in reference to the tramway dispute. I think we have an advantage in that respect over the conditions in Canada. I most sincerely believe that this proposal deserves inquiry, and I hope it will receive some impartial consideration on the part of the Government of to-day.

If the Government do not accept this proposal will they tell your Lordships' House what is their policy for dealing with these industrial disputes? The matter has become very serious, and is becoming more and more serious every week. We have had several disputes during the last few months. We are looking forward to others. There is the dispute about the docks; there is the mining dispute, and there are other questions. The time has come, I think, when we ought to adopt some consistent and carefully thought out policy for dealing with these difficulties. The suggestion of my noble friend is one by which a solution might at all events be attempted. If the Government are not disposed to accept this solution, as, indeed, I hope this House will be, will they tell us what they have in mind, whether they have looked forward and thought the thing out, and in what manner they propose, in the years which are before us, to deal with the difficult question of industrial disputes?


My Lords, the speech of the noble and learned Viscount who has just resumed his seat has shown his appreciation of the very great delicacy of the subject of this Bill. I was asked by my noble friend Lord Buxton what we had done to prevent the threatening situations which arose in connection with the recent strikes. He seemed to think that nothing was done. I wonder from what source he derived his information. I was myself very closely in touch with the whole of the negotiations in these strikes, and I can tell your Lordships that not only was the whole matter closely serutinised by the Government, but that plans were ready, and arrangements made, by which, if matters had spread, we could have acted at once. Why did we not act at that moment? I will tell my noble friend that also. Because there is such a thing—and he alluded to it himself—as a sympathetic strike. We were on the verge of sympathetic strikes of the utmost seriousness in the course of the recent strike, and it was essential that we should do everything we could to confine the ambit of the industrial unrest. It was in the interests of the public that we observed reticence and acted as we did. One result—I do not take credit for it—was that the strike was of short duration, and of very different duration from what it would have been had it extended its scope, and there had been sympathetic strikes.

It is with great hesitation—a hesitation amounting to reluctance—that I rise to make certain critical observations upon the speeches of noble Lords who supported this Bill, and on the Bill itself. With the main principle we are in entire accord. Strikes are an unmitigated evil. They result in loss of production. It is difficult to exaggerate the disturbance to the comfort of the community resulting from them. I often think that we here in London, we who are well-to-do, take these things very much more lightly than we should do if we went through even a fraction of the suffering which they inflict on the poor. But the question is, what is to prevent them?

One noble Lord, in his speech, said that there was a great amount of unrest. I do not agree that that unrest is connected with the advent to power of a Labour Government. Undoubtedly, there was a great deal of talk of the millenium such as has been referred to, but I think that to arrive at the cause of this unrest we have to seek deeper underlying reasons than those to which reference has been made. We must look to the change that has taken place in society not only since the date of the war, but at an earlier date. There was that wonderful industrial revolution under which the productive power of this country developed enormously. Capital was organised, and machinery of a much greater producing power was introduced. This led not only to a great increase in production, but also to an immense increase in the wealth of this country. The result was that, long before the period in which we now live, there was very great unrest indeed. The whole movement from about 1870 down to the present time is characteristic of what always happens. There is inevitably a reaction, and the so-called rights of labour are now insisted on in a fashion that they were not insisted on even twenty years ago.

The Government have this question under their close consideration at the present time. The Government includes among its members not merely people, like myself, who have no first-hand previous experience of this kind, but men of vast industrial experience. They think there are things that can be accomplished which will tend to mitigate the present situation, and restore to the working classes, and particularly to trade unions, that confidence which was shaken by the results of the industrial revolution. We propose, as soon as we get our heads a little above water and out of many things with which we have to contend at the present moment in the way of arrears of business, to proceed by an investigation of a systematic kind into this very wide question with a view of determining whether, with the co-operation of trade unions or otherwise, it is possible to mitigate the circumstances which lead to industrial unrest. That is all I wish to say of a general kind before I come to deal with this Bill.

The question I propose to your Lordships is this: Will this Bill make things better, or will it make them worse? Nobody can ever tell beforehand with certainty, but, after all, experience docs throw a considerable light on these matters. I do not set my own experience for a moment against that of my noble friends Lord Askwith and Lord Buxton. Both have had large first-hand experience in dealing with industrial disputes, and Lord Askwith, in particular, has taken a distinguished part in investigation. On the other hand, I am speaking after close consultation with men who have had an even greater experience of these disputes, men who have been in contact with the working classes all their lives, and men who are able to throw upon this question an amount of light, derived from past experience, which could not be got in any other way. These are men who hold strikes in aversion, who do everything in their power to prevent them arising, who are always pointing out to their fellow-workmen the inexpediency of these things, and who, at the same time, are endeavouring, to obtain for them justice in another fashion.

Will this Bill strengthen the hands of the men who are acting in that manner? The proposition of the Bill is that, so soon as the Court of Inquiry is set up, it shall be a. penal offence to resort to a strike or lock-out. That sounds admirable. With the abstract principle I should think everybody in this House is in agreement, but the question is whether you can apply that abstract principle to the facts as they exist. I would point out, in the first place, that it is being more and more recognised that these inquiries are very fairly conducted. They are of a judicial character. In them experience has been gained to show the need of extreme speed in pursuing them to an end. They have been very successful at least in bringing out the facts and the truth of the contentions of both sides. It is, therefore, extremely undesirable that anything should be done which would tend to diminish the number of these inquiries. At present, when a strike breaks out, the Government, not always at once—to intervene at the first moment might be fatal—but as soon as oppor tunity offers, institutes an inquiry, and by that inquiry the essential facts are as quickly as possible got out. Then public opinion is formed, and is focussed upon the dispute. Experience has shown that an impartial Court of Inquiry functions quickly as a solvent.

But supposing that the fact of instituting such an inquiry were automatically to make it a criminal offence to enter upon a strike, and that a strike were entered upon? What then would be the situation? How many thousands of persons would at once be guilty of this criminal offence? And all those persons would be inspired with a sense of martyrdom. Not only that, but sympathetic strikes might immediately be called into existence, and there would be many thousands of other people guilty of the same offence. If any attempt were made to impose penalties in such circumstances you would be overwhelmed. That is what I dread if the provisions of this Bill were to become law. That is what we dread, and we dread it as the result of experience, the experience of people who are in close contact with working class leaders and have an opportunity of knowing their mind. Therefore, the proposition to accompany an inquiry with an automatic, penalising of strikes is, in our view, to run the greatest risk of sympathetic strikes and also of prolonging the strike itself. The noble Lord told your Lordships that it is impossible to prosecute any large number of these people. I had an opportunity of studying some documents in connection with the Industrial Investigations Act of 1907 on the part of the Canadian Parliament, and I find that the success of that Act has been most marked when the fact that there are any penalties attached has been ignored. The inquiry was the important point.

We are all agreed not only that the inquiry is most valuable but that it should be developed wherever it is safe to do so. It is not always safe to develop an inquiry at the first moment, and in a number of cases if this Bill becomes law it would have no operation at all. Suppose a strike broke out first and the inquiry came second, then, according to this Bill, the penal clauses would be inoperative. You must make the Bill call for an inquiry before the strike, takes place. But what a temptation to strikes; Negotiations go on very quietly for some days—the recent dock strike is a case in point—the dispute looks as if it is going to be settled, and both parties say to the Government, "Keep out; let us manage our own affairs." Then there is a lightning strike and this Bill would be powerless to affect the situation. I believe the value of inquiry has not been quite recognised.

As soon as parties on both sides come to recognise that it is an established judicial process of this country carried on in a judicial spirit, with full knowledge and material on which judgment can be based, then you have something which affects the minds of those not only engaged in the dispute but of the public as well. If you take the other course what you do is to run a great risk of destroying the value of an inquiry. I doubt whether this Bill is of the value which some of your Lordships are disposed to think. It is an admirable idea that inquiries should be of such a nature as to have sanction attached to them, but when you come to the question of sanction you must take great care not to destroy the value of an inquiry. For these reasons—your Lordships will take your own course—I cannot, as at present advised, hold out any hope of the Government regarding the Bill with favour, not from any hostility to the idea but because we think the course taken by the promoters of this Bill will make things more difficult, not less difficult, than they are.


My Lords, I only propose to express what I venture to think will be the impression of all your Lordships who have listened to the speech of the Lord Chancellor—namely, an impression of profound disappointment. The noble and learned Viscount began by saying that this was a question of great delicacy. So if is: but it is also a question of great urgency, and, so far as I was able to gather, there was not even a hint of a practical positive suggestion that the Government had to make for dealing with this problem. The noble and learned Viscount said it was being considered, that the Government had it very much at heart, and as soon as they could get their heads above water they proposed to set up an investigation.


The noble Viscount cannot have followed what I said. I said the causes lay deeper—I did not go into them—and that we had these causes under consideration and proposed to investigate and deal with them.


I am much obliged for the interruption of the noble and learned Viscount. It has only confirmed what I have said. He said that the causes lay deeper. It is not a remedy to say that the causes lie deeper. What I was complaining of was that there was not a hint of a practical policy for dealing with the great public evil which exists. It is all very well to say that the situation is delicate. We all know it is. But what are the Government there for except to deal with delicate and difficult situations? And if they reject the suggestion made by the noble Lord with his immense authority and experience in these matters, as great as any of the colleagues of the noble and learned Viscount, then the Government are bound to put forward some alternative method of dealing with the situation. The noble and learned Viscount made a variety of minor criticisms, perhaps not even minor criticisms, on the Bill. He said he thought the right of inquiry was extremely valuable, and he desired to see it extended. We are all agreed that it is valuable, but he did not indicate in what respect he desired to sec it extended, and said that he was afraid the result of this Bill would be to diminish and not to extend it.

I hope the Lord Chancellor will excuse me of any desire to be captious, but I cannot conceive on what grounds he thinks this Bill would diminish the power of inquiry. It provides, in principle, for an inquiry in every case before a strike. That is the principle of the Bill; and it seems to me to be a sound principle. The only question is whether the machinery is adequate and appropriate for carrying it into effect. I will deal with that in a moment. What I desire to press on the Government is this. They believe these inquiries are valuable. The noble Lord agreed that they had been very valuable, but they have only been inquiries after a strike has begun, and there are evident disadvantages in that. Both sides have definitely taken up their position when a strike is declared. It is just the same as in international affairs. The time to try to settle quarrels between nations is not after the quarrel has resulted in the outbreak of war but before the quarrel has resulted in war. That is the time when intervention in an industrial dispute should take place.

The principle of this Bill, if I understand it rightly, is that the inquiry should take place before the strike has developed, and not after. The noble and learned Viscount, says that you cannot carry that principle out because you cannot enforce penalties, and that an attempt to enforce penalties would only widen the area of the strike. I do not feel clear that that is so. I should rather like to see that point investigated carefully, and this is the time to investigate it. The opportunity will come when the Bill has passed its Second Heading. The Government can then set up, either through this House or in some other way, whatever investigation they desire. I do not feel that the experience of Canada, which the noble and learned Viscount quoted, is really against this Bill. What he said was that the success of the Canadian Act had been in inverse proportion to the extent to which penalties had been inflicted. That may well be, but it merely means that when you have penalties in the background you very seldom have to inflict them, because you gradually create a state of mind in which it is recognised that the fight thing is to have inquiry before a strike, and not after.

I think that the value of an inquiry is much greater even than has been suggested by the noble Lord. It is not only that you get a public, authoritative statement of the real quarrel—and that is an enormous advantage, because public opinion, in this as in other matters, is the force upon which you have, to rely, and public, opinion cannot operate until facts have been authoritatively established and we know what the dispute really is—but also you have the second advantage, which seems to roe to be an equally valuable one, that both sides are forced to state in an intelligible and moderate form what their real contentions are. Watching the recent disputes, nothing has struck me more than the fact that neither side seemed to be really informed as to the strength of their own case. After the actual strike had begun, and the harm had been partially done, it was found, sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other, that part of the case that was being made was really untenable, even from the point of view of those who put it forward, and had to be abandoned. It is a great advantage to have publicity and to force the parties to the dispute to state in an intelligible and moderate form what are their real, tenable contentions. I venture to think that that is the enormously valuable result, of inquiry before the actual hostilities break out.

I have, I know, the misfortune to disagree on a great many points with the present Government, but there is one point on which I have the happiness to agree with them—namely, their advocacy of the League of Nations. What is the principle of the League of Nations? It is exactly the same as that contended for by this Bill, that you shall suspend the right of hostilities for a certain time, until a public inquiry has taken place before an impartial tribunal which shall force both sides to state in public what their real contentions are, and make the public the judge of what is right and what is wrong in the matter. If that is right in international disputes, why is it not equally right in industrial disputes? Surely, a Government which sets in the very forefront of its policy its anxiety to co-operate to the utmost of its power in settling international disputes without war ought to be at least equally anxious to settle industrial disputes without strikes.

I confess, looking at the matter merely as an observer, that when I see the present state of the industrial world I really think it is little short of appalling. Every day some new strike is threatened or declared, involving thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands, of men directly, and involving far larger numbers indirectly, causing untold hardship, and very often untold misery, to large numbers of people, inflicting great national injury and militating, perhaps, more than anything against that recovery of prosperity upon which depend the solution of the whole of the difficulties with which we are now struggling. I do think that it is really deplorable that in those circumstances the Government have not a single proposal of any kind which they have yet put before the country to deal with this matter. The noble and learned Viscount says that the causes of this industrial unrest are very deep, and I agree. They are part of the same evil that is raging throughout the world—suspicion of one class against another, and between one nation and another. Let us deal with that. Let us in some way bring this suspicion to an end. Let us have a constructive policy of some kind, and, in the meantime, by all means let us examine with the utmost care any proposals, such as the proposal now before the House, which will tend to mitigate at any rate the seriousness of these strikes, diminish their effect and, it may be, pave the way to that radical and fundamental cure which the noble and learned Viscount believes that he sees, but which he declines to communicate to this House.


My Lords, I will say only one word on the speeches that have been made, and chiefly upon the drafting of the Bill, to which the noble and learned Viscount alluded. He said that if the strike had broken out before the Minister acted this moratorium would not be possible, the strike would go on and the Bill would be of no use. I have purposely put it in this way. In Canada the parties have to report the matter to the Minister, and then he can act, but here, in this small country, the Minister has his officials all over the country and must know of any strike or dispute in which it is important for him to intervene. The responsibility is thus placed upon him if he docs not intervene before the strike or lock-out takes place. Even in this last dispute at Wembley I heard from one of the large employers there that action could have been taken five hours before the strike took place, and, that had this power existed, the Minister could easily have acted and made the Communist who led it responsible for having taken that action, contrary to the views of the unions, to the views of the nation and to the views, I should imagine, of the whole Empire, which deplored the possibility of the exhibition not being ready in time.

With regard to the suggestion that strikes would not be averted, I have statistics from Canada of the strikes referred to a board between 1907 and 1912—that is, five years from the passing of the Act. These strikes were only in public utility services, and, of course, in a very large number of cases no reference would be made, through sheer desire to avoid the necessity of going before a board. Cases which were referred in the first five years after the passing of the Act numbered 132, the number of cases in which a strike was not averted was fifteen, and, of those fifteen eases, nine were in the mining industry. Thus the Act had an immediate and very valuable effect. The rest of the speech of the noble and learned Viscount seemed, so far as I can judge, to have been on the lines of that which used to be said of Governments some years ago, when Royal Commissions were appointed and every one said that the question must be regarded as shelved for a very long time. In the meanwhile, what is to happen to the public? The speech of the noble and learned Viscount really made me think that he had forgotten the public.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.