§ Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My Lords, I do not intend to detain you more than a few minutes in moving the Third Reading of this Bill. I think your Lordships may congratulate yourselves that in many respects the Bill has been improved in its passage through your Lordships' House, and that the combined wisdom of your Lordships has once again reasserted the value of the position of this House as a revising Chamber. It so happened that I was present in another place when the Second Reading of this Bill was moved, and I can testify to the difference in the atmosphere as between one place and another during the passage of the Bill. It had rather a stormy introduction. It seemed to excite in certain quarters in that House a great deal of vigorous and loudly-expressed objection. Now, after being thoroughly sifted in both Houses, more especially by your Lordships, it seems to be approaching its more peaceful and satisfactory end.
I cannot help thinking that the attitude that has been adopted by one great Party in the State towards this measure has been all through a real comedy of errors. It was denounced before even it was introduced, and when 819 it was introduced the attacks that were levelled at it were not so much against the Bill itself as against that curious conception of the Bill which many Labour leaders thought must be produced by a Conservative Government. It only shows how grievously, in trying to interpret the mind of other Parties, many of us may err. Again, I think there was a considerable discrepancy in the attitude taken up towards this Bill by the leaders of trade unions and by their followers. It was, of course, vigorously denounced by the leaders as an attack on trade unions, as an attempt to limit, and possibly even to destroy, the right to strike or to settle industrial disputes by the method of the strike. But I do not think it struck so much alarm or terror into the minds of the followers as it did into the minds of the leaders.
On the contrary, I had some opportunity of watching the faces of many of those leaders before they had gone to the country to denounce the Bill and when they returned, and I judged, from the melancholy aspect of some of those persons when they returned, that they did not find the same indignation existing among the mass of their followers that they did possibly in the minds of the leaders themselves. They tried to organise, and did organise, great demonstrations in order to produce a feeling of fury against the Bill itself, but I think it must be said that they found that all those demonstrations only resulted in a very low percentage of indignation, quite out of proportion to the trouble and expenditure involved.
I read, and I may claim to have studied, the vast flood of literature which issued from the district of Eccleston Square, in which the Bill was described in language of great vigour as generally a smashing blow delivered against the trade unions themselves. We regard this Bill as in no sense an attack on trade unions, but as an assertion as it were by a constitutional Government that the constitutional way of effecting great political or social changes is a better way than the use of force, under whatever coercive colour that force may be described. I admit that the constitutional way may be the slow way, and the tedious way, and to have to persuade a number of possibly froward and obstinate persons that your 820 view is better than theirs is a tedious method. Nevertheless, I believe that it is a wiser method, and in the end less likely to produce those reactions which are so disturbing to the equanimity of the State.
I think it may be said possibly that at some time or other the struggle of the great Strike was certain to arise. There has been a great growth in the last twenty or thirty years of unions, with huge resources, with legal immunities, and with a privileged position. It seems to me that it was, I will not say almost inevitable but very likely that ambitious men would choose the chance of climbing to political power by using these great industrial combinations, if they could get hold of them for their own purposes, and would try to set up a rival authority in the State. It is remarkable, I think, in some ways that this great effort to supersede the State, the General Strike, is coincident with the widest extension of the franchise. And yet, perhaps, in another sense it is not remarkable, because by the very means of the extended franchise changes in the law have been effected which have strengthened and concentrated the machinery of power in the hands of those who could get the mastery of the trade unions.
Now this Bill tries to deal very simply with that situation. It lays down a clear and broad criterion by which a line can be drawn between legal and illegal strikes and—we must not forget it—between legal and illegal lock-outs as well. Ordinary strikes, ordinary trade disputes are left, as a result of these discussions, entirely unaffected by the Bill itself. Only those strikes are branded with the disapproval of the State and marked with penalties where there is an object beyond the industrial dispute and where coercion of the State or of the community, or coercion of the State by means of the force that is laid upon the community itself, is attempted. I have listened, I think, to all the debates in your Lordships' House and I do not think noble Lords opposite have questioned the condemnation of General Strikes. I have studied most of their speeches and I may be wrong, but I do not think I have found in them any very severe condemnation of General Strikes. On the other hand, they possibly have allowed it to appear that they have a 821 decided disapproval, though not a very active one, of General Strikes. Their criticism, I think, has rather been to the effect that the words of the Bill have gone too wide and that the Bill included certain disputes which were industrial disputes that ought not to be affected by any legislation directed against the General Strike.
In the course of the discussions the issues have been clear. Although ingenious cases have been introduced by noble Lords opposite—cases on which it might sometimes be a little difficult to pronounce—I think on the whole the public itself does appreciate, and readily appreciate, the distinction between trade disputes and the class of disputes which are really an attack on the authority of the State. The general result, I trust, of a measure of this kind will be to enlist upon the side of law and order the great law-abiding sentiments of our country-men, which will show themselves plainly when loyalty to the smaller group conflicts with the highest loyalty to the State. It has been said that General Strikes are not likely to occur again and, therefore, why take the trouble to pass a measure to deal with them? That is very much the same class of argument as was used with reference to the State organising itself against a General Strike. It was said: "If you make your organisation compact against a General Strike, or try to do it before the General Strike occurs, your action is provocative and is likely to stir up the General Strike which it is supposed to control." Again: "If you try and produce your organisation during the course of the General Strike, why then it is too late and you had much better not have troubled to have an organisation at all." I submit that it would be absolutely impossible at least for any constitutional Government to avoid the issue, to contend that a General Strike would never take place and to leave the law indefinite, except possibly as stated by a Judge, thus leaving a doubt in the minds of the masses of our countrymen whether a General Strike is legal or illegal.
I am not dealing now (because they have been dealt with) with the statements of some of the more rash leaders of the Labour Party, who have been threatening other General Strikes, who have said: "This is only a prelude to other General Strikes," and that the ex- 822 perience they have gained by the conduct of the one last year will be of great value in perfecting their organisation when they deal with another. I put that for a moment aside. I do suggest that where the opportunity occurs it may in the future easily be seized upon by men of revolutionary temper who see the opportunity given them of the control they may obtain over the great industrial organisations and who are not likely to be deterred by any constitutional predilection or feelings from trying to get the better, by a great strike of this kind, of the State itself. So much for the general or larger provisions of the Bill.
I do not think I need say more than a word about what I may call the minor provisions. They, indeed, have been least disputed. Few would contend that an effort should not be made to define more clearly the law as regards intimidation, and the only argument that has been used in regard to the proposals about the method of the political levy has been to show that at present persons are forced to contribute to political opinions with which their own opinions do not coincide. Moreover, no one would contend, suppose, that it was not an advantage that the great Civil Service should be true to its old traditions and that it should not be permitted to associate itself with outside political organisations and tend to exchange its present neutral attitude for interference in Party politics. We have been threatened—I do not think so much in your Lordships' House as in another place—with a determination or a decision on the part of the Labour Party to repeal this Bill as soon as they come into power. I cannot help thinking that those threats during the course of the Bill have grown fainter and fainter and, if I may be allowed a gentle prophecy, I believe the Labour Party, however vigorous their denunciation may be of this Bill at the present moment, will soon desert the unprofitable soil of the Trade Disputes Bill and will betake themselves to other fields of controversy more fruitful and more likely to bring their Party into power. With those few words I move the Third Reading of this Bill.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Viscount Peel.)823
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a third time this day six months. The speech of the noble Viscount to which we have just listened does not enable me to undertake my task with any feeling that I shall be able to say anything very new upon this subject, for the noble Viscount was wholly unable to say anything that had not been said and had not been answered from this side of the House many times. We are now near the conclusion of the discussions upon this Bill. I am afraid in some of their aspects they have proved rather tedious to noble Lords opposite. To us on this Bench they have certainly been burdensome and responsible. I think noble Lords on the Benches on my right have been diverted, for whilst opposing the Government with eloquence and conviction they at the same time had the task put upon them of showing in every case that they did not agree with us. I am told that it is computed that in another place two million five hundred thousand words have been used in the discussions upon this Bill, and we are now here upon the eighth day of discussion. Therefore it is very hard to say anything entirely original, but I will try as far as I can not to go over old ground, because certain new points have unquestionably come up in the course of the discussions in your Lordships' House. With those the noble Viscount did not attempt to deal, but I will try and deal with them.
I cannot help feeling that noble Lords opposite who have listened to the discussions and not merely voted against the Amendments proposed from this Bench, can hardly have the same complete satisfaction with the work of the Government in this Bill as they did have when the discussions first began in your Lordships' House. On that it is significant that very few noble Lords opposite have attempted, throughout these long discussions, to support the Bill by speech. I will take first, as a new point and one rather illuminating, the last fate of the Bill in your Lordships' House on Thursday last, when your Lordships reversed an Amendment that had been accepted during the Committee stage. Your Lordships may remember that the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack had accepted the Amendment in the Committee stage, only reserving the right to reconsider the 824 point, if it was desired, in another place. Then came the noble Viscount, Lord Inchcape, who had not opposed the Amendment in Committee, but who read on Report a short paper before your Lordships, which I understand is in itself not quite in order in your Lordships' House, urging that the Amendment should be deleted. The noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, rightly pointed out that, if you did go back immediately afterwards on something done in Committee, you were in danger of having your proceedings described as farcical. If it is a high form of courage to face ridicule, undoubtedly your Lordships showed a high form of courage. With hardly any discussion, your Lordships agreed to put back the words you had taken out. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack must congratulate himself on having noble Lords so docile to his suggestions. I doubt if any ring-master at Olympia, with a mere crack of the whip or nod, could so easily send his team first one way and then another way.
We were told that that Amendment had been put in for the purpose of having a Report stage. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House said it was a good act and we ought to thank him for it. For my part, I do not think we owe him any thanks for such a spurious proceeding. There were various Amendments put in on the motion of the noble and learned Viscount on the Report stage that could equally well have been dealt with on Third Reading. As far as we are concerned, then, all the Report stage did nothing whatever. The Amendments of the noble and learned Viscount have undoubtedly removed some absurdities and taken out some glaring injustices. The noble Viscount, Lord Peel, congratulates himself unduly when he thinks the Bill has been thereby much improved.
I shall maintain that in all its essence it is the same Bill, the same punitive, repressive measure that came to your Lordships from another place. Personally perhaps I am ungrateful in not expressing some gratitude to the Government for giving us a Report stage, because I shall remember all my life that it gave me the unexpected opportunity of finding myself for the first time in the same Lobby with the noble 825 Lord, Lord Banbury. Apart from that, I think that the Report stage was not of any great value, granted that you could have put in the Amendments after the Third Reading. I refer to this incident of the reversal of what was done in Committee because it seems to me typical of the whole Bill. The Amendment had been to remove the words in the definition of a strike, making it a strike if men concerted together to refuse to accept employment. They have now been put back on the Motion of the noble Viscount, Lord Inchcape.
Just consider what this means. Take the analogy of a partnership agreement in which there are five partners. The two senior partners take the opportunity, when the articles of agreement come to an end, to say to the other three partners: "We will only go on if your salaries are half what they were before." They have the control because they have the majority of the capital. Under this definition, if it were applied equally and did not apply only to the wage earners, those three partners by refusing to accept those terms would be on strike under this Bill. It is hardly possible to imagine a more one-sided, inequitable piece of class legislation than this Bill. I will say no more about this point in view of the fact that my noble friend Lord Haldane has an Amendment dealing with it on the Order Paper.
Just previous to that act of reversal there was an Amendment by my noble friend Lord Arnold directed to excluding single-industry strikes from the operation of Clause 7. That was rejected with some brevity by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, who said, in his brief answer in rejecting the Amendment, one of the most illuminating sentences of the whole discussion on this Bill:—One of the objects that we have in view is to restrain a political strike of that kind.Even without that perfectly clear statement it became manifest, in earlier stages of the discussion from what fell from the noble and learned Viscount, that, in certain circumstances, strikes within a single industry would be illegal under the provisions of this Bill. No noble Lord opposite has attempted to reconcile that statement with the definite statement made by the Solicitor-General that any strike, however widespread, however 826 coercive in its effect upon the Government, is legal so long as it is connected with a dispute within the strikers' own industry.
The noble Viscount, Lord Peel, stands up before your Lordships almost at the last stage of the Bill and commits himself to the statement that the law as enacted under this Bill is perfectly clear. Yet we have noble and learned Lords and their learned colleagues elsewhere giving entirely different statements of what the main clause of the Bill is really going to do. We tried with all our power to get from the Government some definition of what is meant in Clause 1 by the word "coerce." All we were told was that we were not as ignorant of English as we appeared to be, that "coerce" was a well-known word and that it required no definition. That seems to me a very disingenuous reply. "Coerce" in English may mean a great many things. It may mean coercing extremely or mildly, and what we want to know is what degree of coercion the Government mean in their enactment. The noble and learned Viscount, answering my noble friend Earl Russell on this point, said:—… putting pressure on the Government is not quite the same thing as coercing the Government and inflicting hardship upon the community.The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, had spoken as if "coerce" did mean using pressure and all we got was the reply that it does not mean the same thing. Therefore, we are left completely at sea as to what is really within the definition of Clause 1.
In fact, out of the whole of the discussions, out of the whole welter of confusion there has come to your Lordships only one lucid and penetrating comment from the lips of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner. On applying his distinguished legal faculties to the clause, he made this striking pronouncement:—The only strike that the Bill deals with is a strike that I will venture to call a Clause 1 strike, and your strike will be illegal not because it is sympathetic or because it is general but because it comes within the terms of Clause 1.There speaks the Delphic oracle on this subject. It was by such answers as that that the Delphic oracle built up its great reputation for accuracy. At any rate that is the one truth, the only unassail- 827 able, unchallengeable truth that has emerged from the whole of these discussions. In earlier days, when he was a distinguished member of the Liberal Party, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer said:—It is not good for trade unions that they should be brought into contact with the Courts, and it is not good for the Courts.In addition to the one truth enunciated by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sumner, it seems to be perfectly clear that there is this other truth, that under this Bill trades unions will be forced into constant contact with the Courts and that trade unionists cannot possibly know where they stand. How can they, when noble and learned Lords themselves disagree as to what the law which we are asked to enact really means?
The, noble and learned Earl, the Secretary of State for India, before the Bill had been introduced said that no Bill had ever been so carefully considered, more perfectly drafted to meet its object. I do not often have the happiness to find myself in agreement with the Secretary of State for India, but I do entirely agree with him in that pronouncement because the object of this Bill must be to harass and weaken trade unionism all along the line in every part of its activities. The mind of the Government has become absolutely plain in the course of these discussions. They have gone a very long way—not the whole way, but a very long way—towards the desire enunciated by the Solicitor-General a little more than a year ago. Speaking at Rood Ashton on July 3 last year, the Solicitor-General is reported to have said:—Personally he believed strikes were obsolete and ought to be made illegal. … The strike is an obsolete and barbaric weapon to use and it ought to be taken out of the workers' hands by the State. They ought to be deprived of it in their own interests. Employers might have to reduce expenditure on luxuries, but strikers had to reduce on necessities. Disarmament and peace at home were what we wanted as well as abroad. We should not get rid of it till we abolished the strike weapon.When my noble friend Lord Arnold quoted a portion of that memorable pronouncement he was immediately challenged by the noble and learned Viscount who said; "I am certain my learned 828 friend never implied in anything he said that strikes ought to be illegal."
Lord Arnold was not able to give the exact reference to the speech. I have since found it and it is absolutely undoubted that the Solicitor-General did make use of those words which are wholly general in their application and cannot be understood in any other sense. Therefore I think we are entitled to say that under these vague provisions nearly all important strikes will become excessively difficult, that it will be very difficult for any trade union leader to know whether in going into one he is going beyond the definition in Clause 1 or not, and that the great majority of important strikes will be made illegal under this Bill. It is admitted that such a thing as what is called a General Strike would be illegal. It has been stated also, and not refuted in your Lordships' House, that all important sympathetic strikes would come under the provisions of Clause 1, and it is also not denied that in certain cases strikes within single industries would also come within the provisions of Clause 1. Would it not have been very much more logical and certainly much more deserving of respect if the Government had announced in plain unequivocal language what their real object was? But their only hope of avoiding the emphatic condemnation of the electorate is to wrap it up in such language that what exactly the effect will be is lost in clouds of legal obscurity.
The country and your Lordships have been told that this is a Bill to enunciate four great principles; the General Strike illegal, intimidation illegal, no one to subscribe to political Party funds against his will, and civil servants expected to give undivided allegiance to the State. How could any draftsman, given those four principles, produce a Bill of this character? I am perfectly certain that had there been sent to any expert draftsman merely a statement of those four principles, the Bill that would be before your Lordships would be quite unrecognisable as the Bill we are in fact discussing. Then we are told that this Bill is necessitated by the General Strike of last year. The noble Viscount, in the speech he has just concluded, told us that again, and based the greater part of his argument upon it, but he did not attempt to deal with what has been pointed out 829 again and again that this Bill goes far beyond any question of disturbances or incidents arising out of the General Strike. How can you defend clauses relating to the political levy on that argument? With regard to that I can only say that it seems to me that such legislation is driving or attempting to drive trade unions to say that they will exclude from membership all who do not agree with their views. That is not desired in the least, but that is the tendency of such legislation as the Government have introduced.
How can it be said that from the General Strike comes legislation with regard to the Civil Service? Under this Bill the Government are differentiating sharply between two classes of civil servants. It has been the pride of our local administrations that they have been gradually building up a civil service of their own. Now, under this Bill, we may have two men in the same provincial city, one of them the servant of the central administration debarred from joining any trade union, and next him, a close friend doing exactly the same work, may be a servant of the local administration who is at liberty to do so and the local administration may not say that he shall or shall not join a trade union. Therefore you are driving a wedge between two classes of people doing exactly the same work.
I am anxious to avoid repetition of things which have been said again and again. I will not deal, therefore, with the fact that this Bill creates a great number of very ill-defined crimes, not with the fact that every attempt to clarify the language in which those crimes are enacted has been energetically resisted. If it is true, as we have been told again and again in these discussions, that men must be held to intend the consequences of their own acts, then it must be true that the Government must be held to intend the vagueness of this Bill. I do not deal again, either, with the question of the mandate for this Bill. I regard it as perfectly useless. The Conservative Party is in a singularly happy position. When any legislation is brought forward by the Government in accordance with their wishes, then they are able to know that the country is behind them. It does not matter about facts and figures or such things as by-elections. They know the country is behind them.
But when legislation is introduced with which they are in disagreement they know it is merely a whim, a passing phase, not the considered judgment of the country.
The noble Viscount says "Hear, hear" to such a proposition as that. I think it is perfectly hopeless to argue with such a mentality. It reminds me of nothing so much as the old lady who, when told of some very inconvenient fact, replied, "Well, it may be true, but I don't want to believe it." How can the Government possibly say with any assurance of knowledge that they have the popular support of the country behind them with regard to this Bill? They say so because they have a Parliamentary majority, elected when this Bill was not before the country at all. I should like also to call attention to one great inconsistency. The noble and learned Viscount upon the Woolsack, in one of his arguments for the rejection of the Amendment moved by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Halsbury, to Clause 3, pointed out that if it were accepted it would lead to great discussion and that this might be fatal to the Bill. He used the word "fatal" several times. How should it be fatal if you really have the popular support that you talk about behind the Bill? I cannot help thinking that the noble and learned Viscount had in mind those passages so frequently called attention to quite recently in the principal organ of the Government, relating to the moral disintegration of the Government and the fact that post-War mentality had not been so fully developed in it as might have been hoped. I record this, but I do not now dwell upon it.
There is one fact, however, that I think may be dwelt upon. The noble Viscount, going in for face reading, so far as I could gather, said that he had been much impressed by the difference of physiognomy in trade union leaders before and after they had spoken in the country. He was not given any very definite guidance upon that point.
It was the noble Viscount's intuition, but, however much we may respect that intuition, surely he should take into consideration the fact that there is not one single leader of trade unionism or of the Labour Party who has not testified that this Bill must exacerbate relations in every way. There are men who, as is admitted even by Conservatives, have spent the greater part of their lives engaged in the betterment of industrial relations, and they have testified in the most sincere and solemn fashion that they are in despair at the bitterness that has been created by this Bill. The noble Viscount does not believe it. He does not want to believe it. Instead we are put off with rhetorical clichés. I think he told us on the Second Beading that he regarded this Bill as the workman's charter of liberty. Certainly the phrase has been used up and down the country by Government spokesmen. When one hears such phrases one is really tempted to wonder whether those who use them can seriously have studied the use of the English language. Liberty! Where do you find anything about liberty in this Bill? From start to finish it is full of phrases to the effect that "Thou shalt not": it is all concerned with what is illegal, it is repression front beginning to end, and in phrases so vague that no two noble and learned Lords have agreed what they mean, and more than once the same noble and learned Lord at different times has differently interpreted them.
I cannot help regretting from the very bottom of my heart the introduction of this Bill. I feel that the Government, towards the latter part of last summer, had a very great opportunity—an opportunity that now can hardly recur. There was a genuine desire to find some way out of perpetual industrial strife. I hope that I do not make the error of attributing insincerity to my political opponents. I do not do so in this case. How blind and how tragic it is that, in answer to that opportunity, they should have come forward, first with an Eight Hours Bill, thereby at once depriving themselves of any hope of appearing impartial, and then with this purely destructive legislation! I will not be so impolite as one prominent journalist has been. I will merely say, without reference to Biblical quotations, 832 that I regard it as driving the coach of State down a hill up which for years it has laboriously climbed. But none are so deaf as those who will not hear.
Neither the Government nor the Conservative Party can, at any rate, be under any delusion as to the attitude towards this Bill of their political opponents or their determination that this is not a Bill which can be allowed to remain upon the Statute Book. The Government cannot pretend that it is representative of a majority in the country. It is representative of a minority, and it is owing to the chances of election that they have a Parliamentary majority, elected when this Bill was not before the country. I can only say, in the words of Shakespeare:—O, it is excellentTo have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannousTo use it like a giant.This Bill goes against every profession of faith in the way of desiring industrial peace that has fallen from every member of the Government, and directly against the Prime Minister's own most emphatic statement and against all the pleas for stability and peace between all classes of the community that have been made. This Bill can do nothing but produce dissension, dispute and unrest. How can it be wondered that it should be so, when you are applying the eighteenth century mind to twentieth century problems, and legislating in a class spirit against years and years of progress during the nineteenth century? The greater the temporary success which may appear to befit your Parliamentary majority, the greater will be the reaction as soon as the full consequences of this Bill are known and understood. I deplore with all my heart these controversies. There was nothing that industry required more than peace, and your only contribution is this sword, this repressive, punitive Bill.
I do not know anybody—and I have been about not so much in political as in non-political circles—who will rejoice at the passage of this Bill except the extremists on either side. If I were one of them, I confess that I should rejoice at this Bill, because I can imagine no more potent weapon being placed in my hands. I cannot hope that anything that I may ma say will have the slightest effect upon the vote that your Lordships are 833 going to give, but I feel it my duty once more to make my protest against this Bill. You have taken your course, and I presume you will abide by it. But this is not the end. It is all very well for the noble Viscount to say that we are now approaching a peaceful and satisfactory end. He deludes himself: this is not the end, it is but the beginning. The noble Viscount prophesied, and I will venture upon a, prophecy that the time will come when many of your Lordships here present who will vote for this Bill will admit, perhaps not in words but in your heart of hearts, that never was a greater blunder perpetrated by any responsible Government.
Leave out ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day six months").—(Lord Gorell.)
§ LORD JOICEY
My Lords, I have listened to the speech of the noble Lord with very great interest and, as he condemned this Bill point by point, I began to wonder if it were possible that I had been mistaken in supporting it. But I cannot help thinking that the condemnation and the hard language that he has applied to this Bill are not really warranted. I rather think, as was said by the noble Viscount who moved the Third Reading, that there is not the strong objection to it amongst the miners who will be affected that has been put forward by the noble Lord who has just sat down. What is the situation? It is this. A most furious attempt was made by the Trade Union Congress to take the power out of the hands of the representatives of the people in the House of Commons, and practically to control all these matters in connection with their own organisation. What is the duty of the Government in such a case? Do they require any mandate? Surely it is the duty of a Government, whatever Government may be in power, to take action. I believe that if the noble Lord himself had been a member of the Government in power he would have been one of those who would have adopted some measure, at all events, to ensure that a second General Strike should not take place. I think he would undoubtedly have taken some strong measure, such as is contained in this Bill.
Is there anything in this Bill which will prevent a trade union from carrying 834 on its proper work? I can find nothing. When you find that trade unions begin to consider that they should have great political power, and that they should use that position which the industries have given them for political aims, I say that the Government is perfectly justified in stopping them if it can. My noble and learned friend Lord Parmoor spoke of the fine men connected with the coal mining industry, and mentioned the name of Mr. Thomas Burt. Mr. Thomas Burt was a man of the highest character. He was Father of the House of Commons for some considerable time. Besides him, there were other men of the same type, such as Mr. John Wilson and Mr. Charles Fenwiek. What was their view? They would have nothing to do with politics in their union. They refused to join the Labour Party. They declined to accept the Labour ticket. But after these men—sensible men, who had been in control of the Durham and Northumberland miners for a generation—after they passed away some of the other men were led astray by extremists, who were not working for the benefit of the industry itself but working for the benefit of themselves, and with the object, if possible, of reducing this country to a state of chaos such as exists in Russia at the present time.
These extreme men have undoubtedly got the upper hand in the trade unions. How did they get it? There are votes, and large votes, in connection with the trade unions. Personally I have always regretted that there is not a clause in this Bill providing for the same security for a voter in connection with a mining matter as there is in connection with the Parliamentary vote. I have known cases where a thousand men have been working in a mine and all who could be gathered up to vote were about fifty. The majority of the men did not approve of the policy, but being very loyal they would not oppose their colleagues. Resolutions were passed unanimously which I am sure were not approved of by the bulk of the men, and I have always had the greatest doubt, when a ballot is taken, whether you get what is the real opinion of the men. Then, again, the noble Lord spoke very strongly about destroying the trade unions. I think that is a libel upon the employers of this country. I can speak for the employers in my own district, and they are certainly anything but favourable to the destruction of the 835 unions. The trade unions are not only of benefit to the men themselves, but also to the employers and to the industry as a whole.
Consider what has taken place in the Counties of Durham and Northumberland. I have been associated with those two Counties for the whole of my life. For forty years we have enjoyed the advantage of joint committees dealing with all questions associated with the mines. There are six representatives of the men, and six of the masters, with an impartial chairman, who is generally a County Court Judge or some man of that position. All questions relating to the industry have been debated, and hundreds of small strikes have been prevented. What happens when the extremists get control of the unions? They close the joint committees, which were very much on the lines of the Whitley Committees, and they refuse to allow us to deal with these local questions. At the present time we are without a joint committee. What is the object of these gentlemen? They are not really working in the interests of the industry. They are working to carry out some great political revolution which they have in view, and depend upon it, if the Government had not attempted to deal with this matter they would not have done their duty.
Then look at the advantage which trade unions have. Masters and men are brought together, and are thus able to discuss all kind of questions outside of those which are likely to be settled by the joint committees. We have, for instance, a committee to deal with compensation claims, and what has been the result of that? We never have a lawsuit. We have our solicitor, and the miners have their solicitor, and every case is dealt with fairly and properly, and by that means we are saved any legal costs. It would rather surprise some of these noble Lords if they were to attend the meetings of some of these committees. It is not an uncommon thing, when a miner makes an unreasonable demand, that the man who moves it off the board is one of his own colleagues. Depend upon it, amongst the miners we find men just as honest and straightforward, in dealing with these matters, as you will find in any other class. And there is insurance, too. All matters of this kind are dealt with; but 836 had it not been for the trade unions that good feeling could never have been established. Now, however, with the extremists in control of the unions, we are only allowed to work in the way we used to work before these committees were established.
The noble Lord alluded to the levy. I do not think much of the levy, and I scarcely think that that clause will have very much effect. If the men wish to pay the levy for political purposes, and they are asked to do so, a great many of them, who are not strong politicians, will do so. There will, of course, be a minority who will decline to pay, but so far as my own experience goes I do not think that that clause will have very much effect, one way or the other. To me it does not matter whether men contract in or contract out. I am very glad to support this Bill. The noble Viscount who moved the Third Reading to a great extent expressed the views which I hold myself. So far as I have been able to learn, there is not any very strong feeling among the rank and file of the miners against the Bill, and I do not think there is any strong feeling among the men in other industries. It is quite possible that, once it is passed, and it is found to work reasonably and fairly, they will strongly support it.
Of course, as was said by the noble Lord who preceded me, it is very difficult to know exactly what the words in various clauses mean. I have listened to the debates which have taken place between men who are probably the greatest lawyers in the country, and I was not surprised to find how much they differed on the meaning of words in the clauses. I do not fear that very much, because I have always found in my experience of life, whatever the words may be in an Act of Parliament they do not mean anything really until they come before the High Court. The Judges are the men who really construe the various clauses and tell us what they mean. Once the principle is settled in the High Court it lasts for ever, and I think we shall find the same in the case of this Bill. I do hope that many of those who strongly oppose the Bill and have spoken so very bitterly against it will find as time goes on that their strong feelings against it were not really justified; I really put them down, not to strong opposition to the principle of 837 the Bill, but to the fact that they are really ignorant of the various matters with which it is concerned.
§ LORD THOMSON
My Lords, I venture with great diffidence to differ from so eminent a captain of industry as the noble Lord who has just spoken, but when he connect politics with industrial questions I am able to quote against him the opinion of men who in a different sphere of life have at least as great experience of the connection between industry and polities as he has. I am referring to trade union leaders, men whose names are household words in this country, and who, as my noble friend Lord Gorell remarked, have spent their lives in trying to secure industrial peace. The noble Lord, Lord Joicey, spoke of Mr. Burt and Mr. Fenwick and other great trade union leaders, and said that they had nothing whatever to do with politics. The noble Lord knows as well as I do that they were Members of Parliament, so that they had some direct connection with politics.
§ LORD THOMSON
Well, they were trade unionists and Members of Parliament, the noble Lord must admit. Then, again, he attributes all our troubles and the objections to the Bill to the violent extremists in the Labour movement. I think I can correct the noble Lord by saying that the extremists in the Labour movement rather like this Bill, that a great many of the extreme members of the trade union movement did not want the Bill amended at all. They wanted it to go to the country as it stood, because they felt that it would strengthen their position in the country. No, the men in the Labour movement who object most strongly to this Bill are those very moderate trade union leaders to whom he made a somewhat flattering reference. They feel that this Bill is evil and obnoxious from a national point of view, because it weakens their hands, and strengthens the hands of those who might, have revolutionary tendencies.
This Bill seems to me a very striking illustration of the pursuit of one set of principles at the expense of other principles just as valuable and sacred. I 838 know that nothing can stop the passage of the Bill, but I should like to quote a writer who has frequently been quoted during the debates in this House and in another place, who contributed one more letter to The Times this morning. I am referring to Dr. Shadwell, who said that everything depended on the way in which this Bill was worked. I believe that the only hope that is left to us is that British common sense will triumph over the clauses of this Bill which have been most frequently and most strongly denounced here by the noble Lords of the Labour Party and by members of the Labour Party in another place. It seems to me that that is the only chance of avoiding serious disturbance. If the majority of the clauses of the Bill become dead letters then I think we may avoid any serious disaster. But if that hope is disappointed, as far as I can gather from trade union leaders these clauses which have been inspired by the extremists in one Party are very apt to be exploited by the extremists in another. It is for that among other reasons that I support the Motion of my noble friend Lord Gorell.
THE MARQUESE OF READING
My Lords, I can find no reason for modifying or changing the views I have before expressed on this Bill. The objection that I raised to it on the Second Reading was that the Government had adopted the wrong method—as I still think—of introducing the Bill before they had made any attempt to secure agreement or any attempt at examination by an independent Commission, and before it was proved that it was necessary to have a Bill of this character against the General Strike. I do not propose to say a word more about the General Strike except to emphasise the view I expressed originally when the Bill was discussed on the Second Reading, and which apparently did not quite reach the Lord Privy Seal, that the General Strike was subversive of all constitutional government. I am entirely in accord with those who take the view that it ought never to have taken place. I do not desire to add anything to that observation.
This Bill depends in the main on Clause 1. There is not so much importance to be attached to the others. It stands or falls by that clause, which 839 attempts to define the strike that will become illegal. I still think that the language used with reference to this crime, which is to be subjected to various penalties, is vaguer and more indefinite than the language of any Bill that I ever remember seeing which had to go for interpretation before the Courts of Justice. We have had discussions upon the meaning of the words used. Certainly the arguments in regard to Clause 1 and the opinions expressed upon it by learned lawyers will not help to elucidate or make it clearer. Indeed, I feel quite sure, as a result of it, that there is greater confusion and that it would puzzle most people to explain exactly what is meant by the words. The necessity for clear language is, as your Lordships are aware, that the Bill constitutes new crimes. The time may perhaps come—I sincerely hope it never will—when this Bill has to go before Judges for judicial interpretation. I can imagine the difficulties with which they will be confronted in trying to interpret to juries or even to themselves the meaning attributable to the language used by Parliament.
Of one thing I am sure and it is this. However difficult the task may be that is set them, our Judges will set to work to construe the clause with the utmost impartiality. I have heard some opinions expressed outside which seemed to indicate that there would be conflict in the Courts. I hope that never will take place. To those who may perhaps dislike judicial decisions, I can say from an experience extending over a considerable number of years, that whatever may be the views that our Judges hold they will deal with these clauses merely with a desire to elucidate them and to lay down the principles which must guide the juries who may have to come to a decision upon the facts of any particular case. It may happen that ultimately a case will have to come to your Lordships' House to be interpreted by the learned members who sit as the Judicial tribunal of this House, and then we shall get authoritative decisions. I desire merely to add that throughout the discussions on this Bill which have lasted now for some eight days, the reflection has been constantly in my mind how lamentable it is that at this period, when we stand so much in need of industrial 840 peace, when everything should be done to promote greater goodwill between employer and employed, the time of Parliament should have been taken up, during almost the whole of this Session, in trying to pass a measure which can only embitter relations, and which will certainly not mollify the attitude which has been taken up by all the principal Labour leaders.
However certain I am that the Government have no intention of exacerbating relations, nevertheless I think the result of this Bill unfortunately will be to have that effect. On that ground more than any other I regret that it has been thought necessary to introduce the Bill and to try to pass it. After all, the Government always have the power of passing emergency legislation if it becomes necessary. That has been shown again and again. Even the Leader of the Labour Party, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, when he was Prime Minister, being asked what he would do if anything of this character had to be dealt with, said the Government must govern and he would not hesitate to ask for emergency legislation in order to enable him to have whatever powers were thought to be necessary. I should have thought that would have been the best way of dealing with this matter, if the Government thought the opportunity for doing so might arise. I pay little attention to the wild language that may be used by some extremists as to what will happen. I pay far greater attention to the language used by the accredited leaders of Labour, who must have found from experience, if they did not know it before, that a General Strike will not succeed in this country and that it is a weapon which never ought to have been resorted to. For myself on those grounds I shall vote in favour of the Amendment.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT CAVE)
My Lords, no one, I think, can be more satisfied than I am to see the end of these debates approaching, and the more so as I think I see the criticisms becoming rather less bitter as the days go on. But in view of the character of the speeches which have been made I will not keep your Lordships long. The noble Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill rehearsed, not unnaturally, many of the points raised in Committee or on the Report stage of the Bill. I will ask 841 to be excused from dealing with such matters as he complained about with regard to the drafting of the Bill. It seems to me there is nothing in the Bill which will really cause difficulty to the Courts. Nor will I deal with his inability to understand the word "coerce." That seemed to me the small beer of political controversy. I will take leave to postpone my remarks on what he said about the definition in Clause 8 until the Amendment which is to follow the Third Reading of the Bill is moved. I will only say that his description of the result of the clause appeared to me to be ludicrously incorrect.
But I will endeavour to deal with two of his more important points. The first is this. The noble Lord, Lord Gore11, pointed out that Clause 1 of the Bill may possibly apply to a strike in one union only. No doubt it may, but on two conditions—if the strike is not industrial but political, and if it is intended or calculated to coerce the Government or the country. Take the case of the railways, or take a more dangerous case, suppose one big union is formed for all the transport industries of the country and that big union should initiate a strike not for any industrial purpose, not for better wages or better conditions, but to force the Government of the country to take some political step which the members or the leaders of the movement desired, say, for instance, to nationalise property, to make some bargain with Russia, to take hands off China or something of that kind, which would be purely or mainly a political coercive strike. Why should not that be an illegal strike simply because the union at the bottom of it is only one big union? I think the noble Lord and those who agree with him will thank us some day for having taken steps to combat a strike such as I have described.
The noble Lord quoted my learned friend the Solicitor-General as having made a speech in which he condemned all strikes. I should have liked to see a full report of that speech. The noble Lord naturally read only a part of it. But I am confident, without having seen it, that if the full report were studied it would appear that my learned friend was leading up to a recommendation of arbitration or inquiry as preceding a strike. There are many people in all Parties 842 who want that. I think that that proposal, which was voiced in another place by Sir Leslie Scott, will some day be heard of again. There are many of us who hold that it would be a good thing, not only for the men, but for the whole of the country, if it were the rule that, before a strike was declared in any essential industry, some kind of inquiry should be held to guide them one way or the other. I think that may well have been in his mind, and I suspect that something of that kind was contained in the speech to which the noble Lord referred.
The noble Lord, Lord Gorell, said the Bill was wholly restrictive of liberty. I venture entirely to differ from him; I think it is entirely in favour of liberty. Take the third clause. What liberty has a workman now who wishes to work and is prevented by intimidation of the kind we have so often heard described in these debates? What liberty has the member of one political Party who is compelled to subscribe to the funds of another? By this Bill we hope and believe, if it has the effect we anticipate, that the liberty of the workpeople will be secured but the liberty of the intimidator will be restrained. If I may quote the phrase of Milton, that is what he calls "the liberty of wise restraint." I will just add this about Clause 3, the clause against intimidation. We are apt to forget that it does not affect one side only. It is bilateral and applies to the employer as well as to the workman. I shall not go through the other clauses. We have heard very little to-day of the political fund clause or the civil servant clause.
I will only add two general observations. The noble Marquess, Lord Reading, in his speech expressed regret that, instead of asking Parliament to legislate, we did not refer the whole matter to a Royal Commission or some body of that kind. How could we fail to respond to the challenge of the General Strike? Such an attempt and such an attack upon the State must needs bring an answer of some kind from Parliament, and I do not think any better way of meeting it could be devised than some such legislation as the first clause of this Bill. We had promised, too, to protect the men who had refused to take part in that strike from victimisation by their unions or fellow workmen. That, we had to do and we try to do it by the second 843 clause of this Bill. Then we had to deal with the events of last summer—not only the General Strike but the miners' strike. We had to deal in some way with intimidation. That could not have been done except by legislation and we deal with it in Clause 3. It seems to me we had to deal promptly and at once with these questions and not to shelve the whole matter by referring it to a Commission or Inquiry that might have lasted some years.
One final observation. There has been much talk to-day and at other times about leaving the trade unions to reform themselves. I think the bitter opposition shown to this moderate Bill even before its introduction and again since its introduction, left very little hope of any possibility of their really dealing with these matters. In any case it is always a good thing to have a substratum of law in these matters round which custom and practice can be framed. After all, our people are a law-abiding people and, when once they are told by the authority of Parliament that such and such a thing ought not to be done, they are apt to obey the law, to follow it and to endeavour to comply with it. I join most cordially in the hope which was expressed in a leading journal this morning and which the noble Lord, Lord Thomson repeated, that this Bill will be wisely and moderately used. By that I do not mean that it will remain a dead letter but that it will be used with a wisdom and moderation. If so, I am confident that in years to come this measure will be looked upon by many workers in this country as indeed their charter.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
My Lords, we are presently going to a Division and my words will be very few. We are not many on this side of the House, but we have defined our attitude towards this measure with quite sufficient clearness. The Lord Chancellor is sanguine in his temperament. He thinks he has perceived a mitigation of the vehemence of the opposition to this Bill. He thinks that in the country it is being received with diminishing opposition. I am not satisfied with either of these propositions, but, if it were so, I would remind him that something of the kind has been the delusion of those responsible for the guidance of Parliament on many occasions before this one.
844 In 1799, 128 years ago, there was tremendous enthusiasm for putting down all combinations of workmen. The Combination Act of that year was passed with enthusiasm. A few years elapsed and in 1824 it was impossible to keep it on the Statute Book, and it went. Again, after reactions, the Royal Commission of 1867 spoke in no uncertain tone and the existing law had to go. Mr. Disraeli's Act of 1875, to which allusion has so frequently been made, swept away still more of the old fabric. The Trade Disputes Act of 1906 again swept away a great deal of accumulated matter, notwithstanding that it was supposed that the working classes had got reconciled to the decisions which had been given. As it was then, so I suspect that it will be now. You will pass this Bill. You have immense mechanical power in Parliament and you are going to put your machine successfully into operation. But that is not the end of matters. We shall see again a period of reaction and possibly an unduly violent attitude towards the Bill which you are now about to pass into law.
I am not going to repeat what has been said so powerfully by my noble friend Lord Gorell and my noble friend Lord Thomson; and by the noble Marquess who sits on the Liberal Benches. As he pointed out, one of the secondary but still very serious disadvantages which this Bill creates is the burden that it imposes upon the Judges. The noble Marquess speaks as a Common Law criminal Judge of almost unrivalled experience. He says the Judges will have a very difficult time. Unquestionably they will. I think of them interpreting paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1) of Clause 1 of this Bill. What a business for a Judge to direct a jury as to whether a strike is illegal because it "has an object other than or in addition to the furtherance of a trade dispute"! Or, again, whether a strike is "designed or calculated to coerce the Government"! These are new problems for the Judges. They are problems which they will find very difficult and in the solution of which they will be exposed to a good deal of misunderstanding. I have no doubt they will pursue the course they have always pursued undeviatingly, looking neither to the right nor to the left, without bias towards virtue or twist towards vice, interpreting just what is 845 printed. But when they come to do that they can hardly fail, being human, to give dissatisfaction to one side or the other, and there will be inevitable confusion because of the language in which the Legislature thinks to express itself.
I say that that is only a secondary evil, but it is a very great evil. This Bill seeks to repeal a good deal of the Common Law, and it restricts liberty. It is all very well to talk of the evils of the General Strike. There were some evils, but why did you not deal with them by dealing with the consequences of the evils themselves instead of going back upon a great principle? But you have chosen another course. I do not know what the origin of this Bill was. I do not know what the tail was that wagged the dog. I expect there were several
|Resolved in the affirmative, and Bill read 3a accordingly|
§ tails that wagged the Government dog. Whether the matter originated at Scarborough, whether it came out in the course of the deliberations of noble Lords, I cannot tell; but of this I am sure, that there have been several minds at work on the construction of this Bill and minds of a varying degree of certainty as to what it was they had set out to accomplish. However, as I have said, I am not going to detain your Lordships. We feel it our duty to proceed to a Division, weak as we are in numbers, because otherwise we cannot make our protest sufficiently definite against the passing of this Bill into law.
§ On Question, Whether the word "now" shall stand part of the Motion?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 86; Not-Contents, 17.845
|Cave, V. (L. Chancellor.)||Churchill, V.||Hampton, L.|
|Elibank, V.||Hanworth, L.|
|Balfour, E. (L. President.)||Falmouth, V.||Hardinge of Penshurst, L.|
|FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Hare, L. (E. Listowel.)|
|Salisbury, M. (L. Privy Seal.)||Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Hayter, L.|
|Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Argyll, D.||Inchcape, V.||Islington, L.|
|Northumberland, D.||Peel, V.||Joicey, L.|
|Sutherland, D.||Sumner, V.||Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)|
|Wellington, D.||Tredegar, V.||Kylsant, L.|
|Bath, M.||Ampthill, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Askwith, L.||Lawrence of Kingsgate, L.|
|Bradford, E.||Banbury of Southam, L.||Leigh, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Biddulph, L.||Lovat, L.|
|Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||Bledisloe, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Blythswood, L.||Merthyr, L.|
|Huntingdon, E.||Carew, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Lindsey, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||O'Hagan, L.|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)|
|Macclesfield, E.||Cranworth, L.||Ormathwaite, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Phillimore, L.|
|Morton, E.||Darling, L.||Ranfurly, L. (E. Ranfurly)|
|Onslow, E.||Dawnay, L. (V. Downe.)||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Plymouth, E. [Teller.]||de Mauley, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Spencer, E.||Desborough, L.||Sempill, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Ernle, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Stradbroke, E.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Forester, L.||Wharton, L.|
|Bertie of Thame, V.||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)||Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)|
|Cecil of Chelwood, V.||Gisborough, L.||Wittenham, L.|
|Chaplin, V.||Greenway, L.||Wyfold, L.|
|Lincolnshire, M. (L. Great Chamberlain.)||Allendale, V.||Olivier, L.|
|Haldane, V.||Parmoor, L.|
|Reading, M.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Arnold, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Gorell, L. [Teller.]||Tenterden, L.|
|De La Warr, E. [Teller.]||Hemphill, L.||Thomson, L.|
|Russell, E.||Muir Mackenzie, L.|
§ Clause 8:
§ Short title, construction, interpretation, extent and repeal.
§ 8.—(1) This Act may be cited as the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act, 1927, and shall be construed as one with the Trade Union Acts, 1871 to 1917, and this Act and the Trade Union Acts, 1871 to 1917, may be cited together as the Trade Union Acts, 1871 to 1927.
(2) For the purposes of this Act—
(a) the expression "strike" means the cessation of work by a body of persons employed in any trade or industry acting in combination, or a concerted refusal, or a refusal under a common understanding of any number of persons who are, or have been so employed, to continue to work or to accept employment;
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE moved, in subsection (2) (a), to leave out "or to accept employment." The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, I have put down an Amendment to follow the Third Reading, and the purpose is to produce again from the Lord Chancellor the conclusion at which he has arrived. I am not going to discuss the point. The noble Viscount opposite who moved the insertion of these words is a person of immense authority and influence in the shipping world, and anything he says about shipping is entitled to great attention. But there is another thing that is entitled to still more attention, and that is an attempt to make an unheard-of change in the law. I say that it is unheard-of, because there is no such right in the law as it stands to-day as that which the noble Viscount endeavoured to introduce. It is virtually the power to coerce men into giving their labour and, if the noble Viscount had pressed this Amendment in olden times, hard words would have been said of his action. This is extended to every kind of industry. I do not know precisely what the meaning of the clause will be, nor am I reassured by the introduction of the expression "concerted" action on which the Lord Chancellor relied. What action is concerted? I am concerned for the Judges who will have to construe this language. They will do their duty, but at the risk of being blamed for that for which they will be in no way to blame. I am curious to see how the Lord Chancellor seeks to justify the retention of these words.
Page 10, line 8, leave out ("or to accept employment").—(Viscount Haldane.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount has moved his Amendment with a short speech, and I will endeavour to deal with it as briefly as its importance permits. I should like first of all to remove, or endeavour to remove, one misapprehension that might have arisen from the words used by the noble and learned Marquess, Lord Reading, on the Report stage. He said:—What is now being said for the first time in an Act of Parliament, is that a man, who is not under an obligation to work, who is free to dispose of his labour when and how he likes, renders himself liable to become a party to an offence so long as he refuses to accept employment. I think that is going further than was intended.Indeed it would be going further than was intended, and it is not in the least, as I suggest to the noble and learned Marquess, the effect of the Bill as it stands. The function of this definition of "strike" is to define a strike for the purposes of the Bill, and for the elucidation of Clause 1, and it defines a strike as including a concerted refusal or a refusal under a common understanding to accept employment. But of course that kind of refusal is not rendered illegal in itself. It is only rendered illegal by the Bill if it falls within the terms of the first clause—that is if it has an object other than an industrial one and is intended to coerce the Government. Let me read this definition into Clause 1 and see what the effect of it will be. The clause will provide that a concerted refusal of persons employed in a trade or industry to continue to work or to accept employment is illegal if that concerted refusal has an object not industrial and is intended to coerce the Government. Putting it in that way, why should not such a concerted refusal be illegal? The only effect is to withdraw such a case from the special immunity given by the Act of 1906, and to render the leaders of such a strike liable to prosecution.
I have considered with the greatest care the suggestion made by the noble and learned Marquess that, if possible, these words should apply to the shipping industry only. He recognised, I think, the possible effect on that industry of the omission of these words, and he thought that possibly the words might be confined to seamen and not extended to other trades. I have considered that 849 point with great care, and the more I look into it the more I am convinced that the words should be retained as they stand, because, if you omit them, the effect of the Bill is to exclude from the meaning of the word "strike" all stoppages in those industries in which men work on short time contracts of service. It does not affect the shipping industry only. In the engineering and building trades men are, I believe, ordinarily employed on an hourly basis. At the docks the great majority of the dockers are employed on a half-daily basis, and I am told that most of the cold storage employees are employed on a daily basis. Railway companies, tramway and omnibus companies, electricity, gas and water companies and the printing establishments employ their men usually on a weekly basis, and in the mining industry itself I believe that the men are usually employed by the day or even by the shift. The effect of omitting these words would be, in all those cases where the short contract has come to an end, that, if the men say, "We would rather not re-engage," that would not be a strike; it might be indulged in to coerce the Government, but there would be no remedy for it under this Bill. I think that this is a most important point, and I cannot help feeling that such strikes in all these and similar trades are in ordinary common speech referred to as strikes; and yet they will not be strikes within the meaning of the Bill. Accordingly I am confident that the only possible course is to adhere to the decision come to on the Report stage, and to retain the words which the noble and learned Viscount seeks to omit.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, when we were discussing this Amendment of my noble friend Lord Inchcape on the last occasion and he addressed to us an argument based upon its effect upon the shipping industry, I did ask the noble and learned Viscount upon the Woolsack to consider whether it would be possible to confine the clause to the shipping industry and allied trades. I have also given thought to the subject since we met and I feel bound to say, and I think I ought to say, that I agree that it is not possible to introduce satisfactory words to effect a limitation such as I had suggested for consideration. The difficulty is not confined entirely to the shipping trade 850 because, viewing the Bill now as a whole and assuming that the principle is to give effect to the prevention of a General Strike, I feel that the omission of these words might have a great effect in defeating the operation of the Bill, especially when men were not out on strike in breach of a contract or by reason of anything illegal. Therefore I have come to the conclusion that the Lord Chancellor's second view is right and I shall support him, if necessary, in keeping in these words, which on the whole I think are necessary.
My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount, in the speech which he made summing up on the Third Reading, said that when this Bill had become enshrined upon the Statute Book and, as I gathered, was by then practically acquiesced in by all Parties—this very moderate Bill as he called it—we should be grateful for it. We have also been invited several times to be grateful to the Government for giving us a Report stage and for the Amendments put down upon it. I am inclined to think that the gratitude should come from the Government to us for having called attention to the necessity for such an Amendment. We pointed out over and over again in argument that the words of their Bill were indefensible, and curiously enough that argument did appear to have some effect, and the Government carried an Amendment which dealt with the words "other than material and physical injury"—impossible words to construe. The Lord Chancellor also put down an Amendment in reference to the functions of a local authority. The Bill as it stood would have made it a criminal offence, as was pointed out, for a hedger or ditcher to leave his work in the circumstances contemplated by the Bill. Now it is limited to "injury or danger or grave inconvenience to the community."
All of your Lordships, I dare say, read with interest the observations of Dr. Shadwell in The Times this morning. If I might paraphrase what seems to me to be the underlying effect of those observations, it comes to this, that your Bill will not be a bad Bill if you are very careful not to use it. He suggests that if this Bill is really used to the full and if you press all the clauses to their real meaning and with the interpretation put upon them in this House, you will cause 851 upset and unrest which you will find it very difficult ever to quiet. It would not be fitting that I should repeat in this House the language used by Mr. Garvin about certain foreign quadrupeds, but it still seems to me that in this Bill as a whole and in their insistence upon these particular points the Government are provoking an amount of opposition of a most unfortunate character.
Now we come to the Amendment to-day. What I have said is not irrelevant to it because all the opinions which I have expressed upon Amendments accepted and not accepted are also opinions which have to be taken into consideration in reference to this Amendment. I was sorry to hear the noble Marquess, Lord Reading, say that he could not support this Amendment. It is really a remarkable principle. Of course there are the other conditions that he pointed out. There has to be some political motive and concerted action, but none the less what in the end and substance you are going to prosecute a man for is refusing to accept employment; that is to say, the man is a free man, he is no man's servant, he is breaking no contract of service, and yet if he refuses to accept employment he has committed a crime—if he refuses to accept employment in the circumstances which I have mentioned.
Oh, yes, the leaders; that is to say, the persons who have advised him to remain a, free man. Yet in face of that we are told again to-day that this Bill is a charter of liberty for the workman. It is the most remarkable charter of liberty that I have ever heard of. If you refuse employment, or advise anybody case to refuse employment, you are to be guilty of a crime. There is not one word about the terms of employment or the rate of pay—whether they are to be the ordinary trade union terms. As I read the clause, it would apply equally to persons in the service of a railway company, or to miners, who have terminated their contracts by regular notice. If they refuse to re-engage on the terms which are offered them then their ringleaders will be guilty of a criminal offence. If it is a charter of liberty for the workman, I repeat that 852 it is the most remarkable charter of liberty that I have ever heard of. I am not at all sure that I desire the noble and learned Viscount, on behalf of the Government, to accept the Amendment, but I shall look with much interest to any prosecution which takes place under this clause.
§ LORD ARNOLD
My Lords, as I originally moved this Amendment I should like to say a few words in this discussion, more particularly as there are still, I think, various considerations of importance which have not yet been touched upon. The importance of this Amendment, as has been pointed out, can scarcely be over-estimated. Last Thursday these words were inserted in the Bill by the Lord Chancellor after a discussion of about ten minutes. I think I am correct in saying that owing to the operation of the guillotine this very vital matter was not discussed in the other House, either in Committee or on Report. Therefore you are going to make this fundamental change in the law without any discussion at all worth speaking of in another place. You are going to do that after only a very brief discussion here on Thursday and again this afternoon. Well, the change in the law which these words make is very fundamental, as Lord Haldane has pointed out, but I do not think that all that they may do is even now sufficiently appreciated.
With respect to the Lord Chancellor, he rather seemed to me in his speech to beg the whole question. He has again said in effect that Clause 1 only applies to a General Strike—to a great upheaval and nothing else. At any rate he says that is the definition of Clause 1, and that it is not desired to suggest that otherwise men can come under its operation for refusing to accept employment; yet, in reply to Lord Reading, he said that, for instance, a strike in the mine industry to change the Eight Hours Act into a Seven Hours Act might come under Clause 1. I have the noble and learned Viscount's words here. He said—If they struck for the purpose of getting the Eight Hours Act repealed, and with that purpose designing to coerce the Government and Parliament, then it would be within the clause.That is exactly what I am saying. And indeed the noble Earl, Lord Russell, also 853 asked the same question and he made the same reply. Therefore it is quite clear that a strike by the miners, which obviously must have a coercive effect on the Government, may be brought under Clause 1, and in my view, on the words in the clause as they stand, there is nothing to prevent the Judges taking that view of it.
And I think a point which even yet has not been sufficiently stressed in your Lordships' House is this, that the interpretation of this Bill is what matters—it is what the Judges will say when they have the words before them, and there is nothing whatever in the words of Clause 1 to prevent them bringing a strike like that within it, if they so think. And therefore you arrive at the position that in a strike like that men who have been locked out, whose contract of service has been legally ended, may be offered terms—we know not what, it might even be half wages or a ten-hour day, there is nothing whatever to limit them—the noble and learned Viscount shakes his head but it is true, and he cannot deny it, that that is implicit in these words—and if they refused to go back and if their leaders advised them, as they certainly ought to, not to go back to conditions like that, then their leaders may be put in prison for two years, anybody who helps in the strike may be put in prison for two years, and indeed, on the words of the Bill, anybody who subscribes five shillings to a relief fund may be put in prison for two years. It depends on the Courts, and, in view of what has happened in the Courts in the past again and again in regard to trade union matters, Labour is extremely apprehensive and with good reason.
The point is that under this change you will practically make an end of, I think, seven-eighths of all lock-outs. There will be no lock-outs in the future in the case of serious disputes in an industry, because if there has been a lock-out, and the men refuse to accept employment, it will become a strike. That is what has happened after a few minutes' discussion, and, as the noble and learned Viscount has put the words back here, the point cannot be discussed in another place. The noble Marquess was very cross with my noble friend Lord Gorell for using the word 854 "pledge." I wonder if the noble Marquess would be equally indignant if this were done by a Labour Government and a promise were given that it could be discussed again in another place, and then the opportunity was withdrawn. If your Lordships will pass this you will pass anything. And if these words are put in after a very brief and casual discussion, let us have no talk in future about things being considered in your Lordships' House on their merits. That has certainly not happened as regards this Amendment. This Amendment has been inserted bcause your Lordships will insert almost anything that is brought forward by a Conservative Government. But happily there are other platforms in this country besides your Lordships' House, and we will continue the discussion there.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.