§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT CAVE)
My Lords, I rise to move the Second Reading of this Bill. I should like, at the outset to take note of the change which, since the Bill was first 3 introduced, has taken place in the political atmosphere in which it is being discussed. At first our proposals, even before their purpose and effect were known, were received with an outburst of indignation and of denunciation which was so violent as to be almost hysterical. But as the purpose and nature of the Bill became known, and as the feeling of the country, especially among the working classes, with regard to the Bill began to manifest itself, there was, I think, a change for the better, and in the end some of our opponents even condescended to help the Government in moulding some of the clauses of the Bill. The final opinion of the other House on the Bill is shown by the fact that the Third Reading was carried by a majority of 215. There are still some people who say that they do not fully understand the meaning of the Bill and, that being so, I think that some explanation is desirable, for which I shall have to crave your Lordships' patience.
I think I cannot begin better than by quoting the four propositions which my right hon. and learned friend the Attorney-General stated as the main purposes of the Bill. These are his propositions: (1), A General Strike is illegal and no man shall be penalised for refusing to take part in it; (2), intimidation is illegal and no man shall be compelled by threats to abstain from work against his will; (3), no man shall be compelled to subscribe to the funds of any particular Party unless he so desires; and (4), any person entering into the established Civil Service must give his undivided allegiance to the State. That statement of the main purposes of the Bill still holds good and if, when the Bill leaves Parliament, it is found to put those propositions into concrete form then we shall have succeeded in our task.
Clause 1 arises, as everyone knows, out, of the General Strike of last year, and it may be worth while to remind your Lordships of the terms in which that Strike was proclaimed. I will read the announcement then made:—At twelve o'clock the conference of executives of unions affiliated to the Trade Union Council met at the Memorial Hall and formally approved the general council's proposals for a General Strike"—some people say to-day that they do not know what a General Strike is, but there 4 was no uncertainty in the minds of those who framed this announcement—to begin at midnight on Monday, 3rd May. The industries to be involved in the strike were: All transport, including all affiliated unions connected with transport,—i.e., railways, sea transport, docks, wharves, harbours, canals, road transport, railway repair shops"—I omit some of the enumeration—printing and the Press; iron and steel, metals and heavy chemicals; building, with the exception of houses and hospitals, electricity and gas"—and so on. I need not remind your Lordships of the miseries that followed upon that announcement and upon the action taken upon it. The privation suffered by all classes, the permanent injury to our trade, the severe strain on our national finances—these are all fresh in our minds. I believe that the country then determined that never again, if it could be prevented, should such a blow be struck at the heart of the nation.
It has been suggested that no legislation is required in order to prevent another General Strike because a General Strike has been declared by the Courts to be illegal. It was so declared on high authority and for weighty reasons, but the decision has not been accepted by all those who claim to guide the trade unions in their action, and there have, I regret to say, been threats to renew the attempt. For instance, Mr. Arthur Pugh, an able and generally a moderate adviser of Labour, said that in certain emergencies the weapon of the General Strike would not remain unused. Mr. Hicks, who is, I believe, Chairman of the Executive of the Trade Union Congress, said this:—It would appear that General Strikes of a more intense and formidable character than the one recently experienced are inevitable.Even Mr. Snowden, a powerful factor in the counsels of the Labour Party and a statesman of experience, has quite recently used words which seem to justify such a course. He said:—It is the duty of the community to ensure safe conditions for every section, and, if the community will not do that, then the community ought to suffer; and, if the community will not remove the causes of strikes, then the community must suffer the hardships of strikes. Governments—not this Government in particular—are representatives of the community, and there- 5 fore the community has a right to coerce the Government. They can compel them to deal with industrial disputes.That means, of course, to deal with those disputes in a manner which the majority of those who advocate this kind of thing think right. In face of such declarations it is surely desirable to declare the law and, if need be, to provide further sanctions against its infringement.
We propose, then, by the first clause of the Bill to declare:—that any strike is illegal if it—It is then declared that it shall be unlawful to use trade union funds in furtherance of such a strike, and that those who declare or instigate it shall be subject to penalties; but the concurrence of the Attorney-General is required for any prosecution. There are like provisions as to a lock-out, not because anyone ever heard of a general lock-out or because such a foolish attempt could possibly succeed, but so that no one may pretend that there is one law for the workman and another for the employer.
- (i) has any object other than or in addition to the furtherance of a trade dispute within the trade or industry in which the strikers are engaged; and
- (ii) is a strike designed or calculated to coerce the Government either directly or by inflicting hardship upon the community."
I call attention to the terms of the clause because I believe that, it forms a complete answer to the charge made by some people that we propose by this Bill to forbid genuine industrial strikes and, as it is somewhat foolishly said, to produce a condition of serfdom. No strike or lock-out is declared to be illegal unless it has some object other than, or in addition to, the furtherance of a dispute in industry; and further, unless it is not merely an industrial strike but also a strike designed or calculated to coerce the Government. Those two conditions are cumulative and both must be present in order that a strike may come within the terms of the clause. We do not propose to interfere with any genuine industrial strike. Such a strike might, of course, do great harm, but it may be the worker's only method of defending himself or maintaining or improving his conditions. Nor do we propose to interfere with what is called a sympathetic strike if it is 6 declared for industrial purposes. We only declare it illegal if it is declared for other than industrial purposes and is intended as a blow at the Government or community.
The distinction which I draw is, I think, vital, and I think there can be no dispute about it. I should like to quote from the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Oxford and Asquith, who, for reasons which we understand and regret, is not in his place. He said this:—There is a very broad and obvious distinction between a General Strike and those particular strikes or lock-outs in various industries which have from time to time taken place and which have been painfully frequent in our industrial areas. What distinguishes a General Strike is this, that it is a blow, not struck by one combatant at the other, but directed whether in intention or not, in effect by its inevitable results, at the very vitals of the community.I should like to add two quotations from the leader of the other Party, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald. Writing in June, 1924, he said:—The General Strike is a weapon which cannot be wielded for industrial purposes. If fought to a finish as a strike, it would ruin trade unionism.Again, in May of last year, after the General Strike, he said:—We are not likely to hear much more of a General Strike as an effective industrial weapon. Its blow is not against the employers but against ordinary folk in the mass.That is the kind of strike which we desire to prevent by the first clause of our Bill.
The second clause follows naturally upon the first. Its purpose is to provide that no one shall suffer for refusing to take part in any illegal strike or lock-out. By the first subsection he is not, for so refusing, to be expelled from his union or to be deprived of his rights. Secondly, if he is so expelled or deprived of his rights, he may enforce his rights in the Courts, and as in the case of a man expelled from a trade union restoration to his union might only lead to oppression and persecution, it is provided that the Court may, instead of restoring him to his position in the union, award him compensation. By the third subsection the clause is made retrospective to May 1 of last year, and that is in accordance with the pledge given 7 by His Majesty's Government during the Strike, in these words:—Every man who does his duty by the country and remains at work or returns to work during the present crisis will be protected by the State from loss of trade union benefits, superannuation allowances, or pension. His Majesty's Government will take whatever steps are necessary, in Parliament or otherwise, for this purpose.That is one of the objects of the second clause.
The third clause deals with intimidation. Of course intimidation in some of its forms is illegal, both at Common Law and under the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875, but the Trade Disputes Act of 1906 contains a provision which has been sometimes misunderstood and sometimes, I think, abused. That Act provides that persons may, in furtherance of a trade dispute,attend at or near a house or place where a person resides or works or carries on business or happens to be, if they so attend merely for the purpose of peacefully obtaining or communicating information, or of peacefully persuading any person to work or abstain from working.Under cover of that section it seems to me that abuses have arisen. It has happened many times that when a strike is in progress crowds of persons, sometimes numbering hundreds and in rare cases even thousands, have assembled outside the works against which the strike is directed, or on the way to those works, or even outside the house of a worker who is desirous of continuing to work, and those crowds have assembled obviously with a view of bringing pressure upon workmen not to work.
It is plain that the mere presence of an assembly of that kind, even though (as rarely happens) it should confine itself to the giving of information or to the using of peaceful methods of persuasion, must indeed have an intimidating effect. It is difficult for a workman to pass through such a crowd and not be unduly affected by the fact that all these persons are combining to prevent him from exercising his lawful right of going to work and continuing at work. It is difficult for the police to interfere because such a crowd may include pickets whose object is lawfully to persuade. We propose by the first subsection of Clause 3 of the Bill to enact that it shall be unlawful for persons to attend in this way 8if they so attend in such numbers or otherwise in such manner as to be calculated to intimidate any person in that house or place, or to obstruct the approach thereto or egress therefrom, or to lead to a breach of the peace.The second abuse, as I call it, which has arisen under this "peaceful persuasion" clause, or under the intimidation clause of the Act of 1875, is this. It has been sometimes said that the prohibition of intimidation only applies to intimidation by threats of personal violence. If that is so, I suggest that the laws do not afford sufficient protection to the worker. A threat of injury of some other kind, for instance, a threat to drive a man out of work, or a threat to insult or to harm his wife, or his children when they go to school, or members of his family, is not less cowardly and not less intolerable than a threat of personal violence. So we propose by subsection (2) of the clause to enact thatIn this section the expression 'to intimidate' means to cause in the mind of a person a reasonable apprehension of injury to him or to any member of his family or of violence or damage to any person or property, and the expression 'injury' includes injury other than physical or material injury.Then, thirdly, we consider that the worst form of coercion is to beset a man's home, so that neither he nor his family nor his friends who come to see him can have any peace or freedom or comfort. That kind of intimidation, I am afraid, has been practised under cover of the "peaceful persuasion" clause. So we propose in subsection (4) to provide thatNotwithstanding anything in any Act it shall not be lawful …. for the purpose of inducing any person to work or to abstain from working, to watch or beset a house or place where a person resides or the approach to such a house or place.…That subsection would not prevent any one from paying visits to a workman for the genuine purpose of obtaining information or of using persuasion. The expression watching or besetting is well known to the law, and it implies such conduct as may seriously interfere with the ordinary comfort of human existence. I suggest that that clause is a valuable one, and I am curious to know what may be said about it by the noble and learned Viscount who is to move the rejection of the Bill. Indeed, I should have thought that the clause is so fair in its provisions that it might well have 9 induced him not to move the total rejection of the Bill, but at least to assent to that provision going through.
Clause 4, to which I now come, deals with the political funds of trade unions. Before the year 1913, as your Lordships know, the unions could not apply their funds for political purposes. The Act of 1913 authorised them to raise funds for these purposes, subject to a preliminary ballot of the members, and subject to the right of any member to claim exemption from contribution to those funds. That right to claim exemption should surely be unfettered, for everybody knows that the political funds of many unions are applied in support of one Party only in the State, and it is unfair that members of other Parties should be compelled, by whatever means, to contribute to them against their will. I believe that many trade unions have faithfully observed those conditions. But in some cases undoubtedly the conditions have been infringed, or have been evaded. Your Lordships may have read some articles contributed last year or early this year to The Times by Dr. Arthur Shadwell. They were the result of careful personal investigation by a highly skilled observer, and I think it is plain from what he said, and from much other evidence, that there have been cases of undue pressure upon a workman not to claim exemption from contribution to the political fund. A list of those claiming exemption has sometimes been put up at the headquarters of a union and elsewhere for an obvious purpose; contributions to the political fund have been levied with other contributions, and without distinction between them in the demand, so that the member has had no fair chance to object; and in some cases other funds have been applied to political purposes.
We propose by this clause that a member shall be required expressly to consent to contribute to the political fund; that contributions to that fund shall be levied separately and shall be kept separate from other funds; and that no other funds shall be used for political purposes. Two objections have been taken to this proposal. Some people say that it is intended to destroy, and will destroy, the political activities of trade unions, and is therefore mischievous. Others say it will make no difference, and is therefore useless. Both these propositions cannot 10 be true, and I shall be interested to hear what the noble and learned Viscount says upon that point. We say that it has been clearly proved that in some cases unfair exactions have been made from political opponents. Whether this Bill will entirely put an end to that process remains to be seen, but we hope and believe that at least it will make it more difficult.
Now I come to Clause 3, which deals with the position of established civil servants. I think it came as a shock to most people when, at the time of the General Strike, it was found that servants of the Crown were subjected to pressure by their own unions, or by the Trade Union Congress to which those unions were affiliated, to turn against the State, or at least to refuse to volunteer their help in maintaining the essential services of the country. Most civil servants, of course, refused to give way to that pressure and loyally joined in the efforts that were made to deal with the serious situation. But some took the other course and in any case the position is, I suggest, quite intolerable. The established civil servants have special privileges. They have security of tenure, they have a right to pensions and so on, but, above all, they are in a position of trust and their first duty is to be loyal to the State that employs them.
In May of last year there were, I think, no fewer than seven Civil Service Associations which were affiliated to the Trade Union Congress end at a conference at which their representatives attended they were asked whether they would call out their members or give financial aid to the General Strike. Three of the larger Civil Service Associations said through their representatives that they would help with funds, and members of their headquarters staff gave active help to the Strike. I have in my hand two circulars. One of them is issued by the Civil Service Clerical Association and is signed by the general secretary of that association. That circular includes this passage:—Already information is reaching headquarters that members are being asked to volunteer for all kinds of duty outside their normal work—despatch riding, car driving, etc., etc. In this connection I am to say that members should not voluntarily undertake work outside their usual occupation except after consultation with the branch officers. Branch officers in giving advice 11 should be governed by the policy of the Trade Union Congress, which is that while essential food, sanitary and hospital, etc., service should be maintained, no action should be taken by members of associations not directly involved in the dispute which would prejudice directly or indirectly the miners, or other sections of workers who may be called out in support of them.I have also the original circular signed by the general secretary of the Union of Post Office Workers, which went much further. I will quote a passage from that circular:—A state of emergency has now been proclaimed in connection with the crisis precipitated by the Government. The general council of the Trade Union Congress are acting on behalf of the whole of the trade union movement, and pledges of loyalty to the decision and the requests of the general council have been given by the great majority of the unions, including not only those representing vital industries but 'black-coated' organisations, including those of the Civil Service. Your own executive council have taken full part in all the proceedings which culminated in the acceptance of the Government's challenge to the trade unions and to the standard of life of the whole wage-earning community. In common with other organisations a pledge of loyalty has been given by the executive council on behalf of the Union of Post Office Workers.I will quote another passage, which, after calling on members to refrain from volunteering, says:—The executive council attach great importance to the loyal observance of this latter obligation, a breach of which would amount to black-legging.I think those quotations are enough to show that the process under which the Civil Service organisations have been affiliated to an outside organisation contains elements of real danger. The civil servant cannot be loyal to two masters and should not have to choose between loyalty to an outside organisation and loyalty to the State. We, therefore, propose that regulations shall be made which, while leaving civil servants free to combine together as Crown servants, will forbid them from being connected with outside organisations or with unions affiliated to outside organisations. There are safeguards in the Bill to protect existing members.
I can take the remaining clauses more briefly. Clause 6 deals in two ways with persons employed by local authorities. It provides firstly that no authority shall 12 make it a condition of the employment or continuance in employment of any person, that he shall or shall not be a member of a trade union. It is difficult to conceive for what legitimate purpose connected with local government such a condition would be imposed. The other part of the clause applies to persons employed by local authorities a rule which already applies under former Statutes in regard to gas, water and electricity undertakings, and provides that an employee of a local authority who wilfully breaks his contract of employment knowing, or having reasonable cause to believe, that the probable consequence of his doing so will hinder or prevent the discharge of the functions of the authority, shall be subject to prosecution. Clause 7 gives power to the Attorney-General to apply for an injunction to restrain the illegal application of the funds of a trade union in contravention of the provisions of this Bill. I think the procedure set out in this clause is suitable for dealing with the position when injury to the public or a large body of persons is threatened.
I have explained as briefly as I could the provisions of this Bill and I submit to your Lordships that it is a just and necessary measure. It does not take the place of other proposals designed to promote agreement between employers and workmen, or designed to secure that inquiry shall in all cases precede a strike. Of those proposals I hope we may hear more hereafter. Meanwhile we cannot leave things as they are. We must, to the best of our power, take measures to restrain those who attack the public and seek out of the misery which would be so produced to reap some advantage for themselves. We must check those who, by terror or threats, would compel men who desire to continue work to be idle, and we must restrain those who would, if they could, seduce from their duty the loyal servants of the State. This Bill makes no attack on trade unions or on trade unionism. Still less can it be harmful to any workman. We seek only to defend those whom Mr. Ramsay MacDonald calls "the ordinary folk in the mass" and especially the quiet and willing worker against injustice and oppression, and we hope and believe that our proposals, when approved by Parliament and understood by the people, will do 13 much to secure the fair and harmonious working of the machinery of industrial organisation.
Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ VISCOUNT HALDANEhad given Notice to move, as an Amendment, That the Bill be read 2a this day six months. The noble and learned Viscount said: My Lords, my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack is always so moderate and reasonable in his words and so persuasive in the farm of his statements that one is reluctant to differ from him. I often feel that when we are sitting together judicially. To-day, however, we are engaged on another task. We have to consider a question of policy of a very grave kind and I cannot congratulate the Lord Chancellor with the same sincerity as I should have congratulated him in an ordinary judicial matter. He has given us in very clear language his views of the Bill and a sketch of its provisions, but in doing that he has given an account which I do not think, as I shall submit to your Lordships, bears close examination.
§ What is the position of this Bill? The Lord Chancellor has said that the opposition to-day is obviously dying down, that there is not the feeling against it that was promised when it was first introduced, that in the country the working people are beginning to show readiness to accept its provisions. That is not quite my information, nor do I think that the recent by-elections have borne out that view, but, whether that be so or not, it is no use trying to predict ahead. We shall see as soon as the Bill comes into operation. To begin with, the Government have put in provisions which will compel every trade union in the country to set to work to revise its rules, and the moment you call together trade unions to consider the rules under which they exist you will find that you are up against a state of things which only those who have some experience of trade unions can forecast. There is nothing they dislike so much as being called upon to change their rules. It is not a question of whether the change is good or bad, but there is a reluctance like that of the people of the United States to alter their Constitution. Immediately you stir up attention to this Bill and then we shall see what it really means.14
§ The noble and learned Viscount has given an account of the Bill, which, of course, is a very accurate one so far as its text goes, and he has made it plain that the real and important clause in the Bill, the one that comes first and is the foundation of the whole structure, is Clause 1, which declares certain General Strikes illegal and the action of the trade unions which promote them illegal. This is a curious Bill. The one trade union that developed a certain amount of violence, not much, but still in Wales and some parts of the country some violence, was the Miners' Union, and the strike which took place was primarily a strike or lock-out, according as you regard it, between the millers and their employers on questions of hours and wages. That was the bitterest strike in the whole business and one would have thought that if any strike called for the attention of the Government it was that strike which was the difficult one, but the curious thing is that that strike is left alone. It is not within Clause 1. Lord Banbury will be concerned to learn that the Trade Disputes Act of 1906, which he urged so strongly during the progress of the coal strike that we should get rid of, is left to operate untouched as regards the coal miners and as regards those who were engaged in the coal strike on the last occasion. It is very remarkable that that strike is untouched because it is a strike of the miners with their own employers within their own union, and they may go on as they like. You cannot sue the Miners' Union in tort any more than you could before.
The Trade Disputes Act, or what Lord Banbury regards as the iniquitous provisions of 1906, on which I shall have a word or two to say a little later, remains intact. What the Bill does do is to strike, and strike heavily, at a great principle which has been a part of our Common Law for a long time and has been primarily recognised by our Statute Law—the right of every workman and the right of any number of workmen in combination to say: "We will not continue to labour unless we are satisfied on points"—as to wages or hours or anything else—"on which our union is interested." That is undoubtedly, as I shall demonstrate in a minute or two, the law of the land. But there are other views, not of the law because as a rule the people who entertain these other
views have not considered the law, but of trade unions which lead people into different directions. What is a trade union? A trade union has been defined authoritatively to be
a continuous association of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining and improving the conditions of their working life.
That is the very essence of a trade union to-day and that is why it exists—to maintain and improve the conditions of the working life of those who belong to it.
A trade union acts with two instruments. One is its power of collective bargaining, which the individual workman does not possess but which he does possess when he acts with his fellow workers. The other is the instrument by which they can make their force felt, which is the strike. That is why the right to strike has always been very high in the mind of the working classes, but not higher than it has been in the minds of the Judges. I have here an extract from a decision of your Lordships' House given in the year 1892, which I think conclusively determines this. Lord Bramwell, who had certainly no leaning towards Socialism, in delivering the judgment of the House of Lords in the Mogul steamship case in 1892, as your Lordships who are interested in the matter may see from the report, said:—
I have always said that a combination of workmen, an agreement among them to cease work, except for higher wages and a strike in consequence, was lawful at Common Law.
That has been said over and over again. All strikes, as such, are of this nature, and yet the Government proposes, as I will show, to put on the rights so recognised by this House, a restriction of the most serious order, so as to render it very much less useful than it is at present.
§ Pray do not think that I am an admirer of strikes, or that I would not wish, as much as any of your Lordships, to see them never occur. But what I want to point out is that there has been a confusion of thought in the framing of this Bill between strikes and the evil consequences which may attend strikes. Every man has a right to say: "I will not work unless I can come to an agreement with you about hours and wages." But it is quite another thing when a man, or still worse a combination of men, proceeds to resort to rioting, to 16 violence, or it may be to that organised use of force which in law is called sedition, for the purpose of enforcing their claims. If the Government had brought in a Bill distinguishing between the lawfulness of combination to cease work, between a strike, as such, and the unlawful consequences which may be put into operation following on that strike by those who promoted it, then I could have understood their position, and I think there would have been a great deal to say for many things in their Bill. That would, of course, have changed the whole Bill, because Clause 1 underlies its whole structure.
§ What I want to insist upon is this confusion of thought. There may be a strike without any illegal action at all, and if there is then it is something not only to which the law does not object but something which, as I have just shown by the highest authority, the authority of this House, has been declared to be the legal right of the workman. The Bill is only to a very slight extent a Bill dealing with the unlawful actions which are sometimes committed by hot-headed strikers. What was impressive during the last great Strike was the very little amount of violence that there was. Where there was any, it was among the miners, and even then there was very little of it. But among other bodies there was practically none of which we need take note. Yet your Lordships are invited to take this opportunity of saying that General Strikes are illegal and even, as I will show, notwithstanding a sentence that was used by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, that what are called "sympathetic strikes" are unlawful.
§ Turn to Clause 1 of the Bill, my Lords, and look at it. It has just been stated by the Lord Chancellor, but the Lord Chancellor did not bring out its implications. By that clause a strike is declared to be illegal if it
- "(i) has any object other than or in addition to the furtherance of a trade dispute within the trade or industry in which the strikers are engaged; and
- (ii) is a strike designed or calculated to coerce the Government either directly or by inflicting hardship upon the community."
§ But there are still other considerations which are more important. If the strike, besides having the last consequence, which every strike has, is a strike which goes beyond "the furtherance of a trade dispute within the trade or industry in which the strikers are engaged," it is declared to be an illegal strike. I think the Lord Chancellor suggested that that was merely declaring the existing law, that that was nothing new, and that a General Strike, or what is called a sympathetic strike, was illegal.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I did not say that of a sympathetic strike. I said that it was held by the Courts that a General Strike was illegal.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I thought I heard the Lord Chancellor make an exception of a sympathetic strike which I did not understand, because what is a sympathetic strike? It is a strike of men who are outside the trade or industry within which the strike has taken place, who strike no doubt because they are greatly interested in the general question but who have no direct interest. Take specific cases. The transport workers may be immensely interested in a strike of railway servants. The railway servants may be immensely interested in a strike of the miners. The price of coal and the restriction on its supply may be of the deepest moment. Yet, under this clause, they are not protected. A strike of railway servants in the case of a coal strike, under the words which I have read, would be declared unlawful. A General Strike is nothing else than an extended sympathetic strike, that is, it is a strike of the whole body of workers who are engaged in industries. It is a 18 strike which comes about because of their sympathy with a dispute which is not their own dispute, but a dispute in which they are interested because it tends to the general level of wages and hours throughout the country.
It is a great delusion to think that the working classes consist of a set of water-tight compartments and that one trade has not an interest in another. It is a delusion as regards the employers, for they work together on a very extensive scale. But the workmen are assumed here to have nothing to do with one another, and those in one trade are assumed to be wholly unconcerned with the affairs of those in another trade. I say that this is not only a mistake, and a very serious mistake, but that it is contrary to the law as laid down by Lord Bramwell. Lord Bramwell put no limitation upon what he said, and it does not remain at that, because some years afterwards this House, in the case of Conway versus Wade, laid down authoritatively that the right of striking, the protection that was given to he striker, extended to the sympathetic strike. That was said in terms, and consequently you have two decisions from the highest authorities that a sympathetic strike is something that is lawful.
The noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead, on one occasion put to me a question across the floor of the House. He said: "Yes or no—are you in favour of a General Strike" I, for two reasons, refrained from answering him. One was a mere reason of form—that this House is not the Old Bailey and not a place in which to cross-examine people. The second reason, however, was one of substance. It was that the question rests on a confusion. It is like the good old question: "Have you left off beating your grandmother?" If you say that you have, it is said that you have been beating her; and if you say that you have not it is again said that you have been beating her, and you cannot get out of it. Here it is assumed by those who put questions of that kind that there is something illegal in a combination of workmen of this kind quite apart from what they do. If it is a question of whether we approve of riot or seditious action or violence in some form, the answer would be "No." But the question is not put in that way, but is mixed up with another 19 that challenges the general right to combine to lay down tools on the part of the workmen.
This is not an academic matter. It is a matter which will be debated on every platform throughout the country before we are many months older. People are slow to take up legal points, but they must take them up if they are to defend their rights. One of the legal points that the workman will take up is his freedom, in his trade union and in combination, to assert the right to give or withhold his labour on the terms which, by collective bargaining or otherwise, he can arrange with the person who employs him. If that is kept as a quite distinct and separate question, then this clause is unutterably wrong—wrong because it preserves the right to strike only in the case of the industry in which the striker is engaged and prevents the General Strike, and, I think, not less the sympathetic strike, because I cannot appreciate the distinction which the noble and learned Viscount drew between them. It makes this Bill a Bill which not only challenges but takes away the right which the workman has enjoyed for a very long time. One of the great principles that was vindicated by Mr. Disraeli was that no combination of men was to deemed to be committing an act of conspiracy if what they combined to do was something which would be lawful if done by a single individual. A single individual may withhold his labour and, since Mr. Disraeli's great Act of 1875, the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, it has been lawful for people to combine to withhold their labour. I will come in a moment—because it is right that it should be before your Lordships—to what followed upon that great Act. But there it is.
If you ask me whether I thought the General Strike was desirable, my answer would be that it was most undesirable. First of all, it was foolish from the very beginning. I felt that I had knowledge which enabled me to see that it could not succeed. I think that everything that is launched and that cannot succeed is foolish. Before the War and during the War the administrative sides of the Army and Navy were brought to a very much higher point of efficiency than they had ever possessed before, with the result that when the General Strike broke out the Navy was in a position to send up 20 skilled ratings, officers and men, who were able to work even the most complicated electrical machinery, to take charge of railways, if that was necessary, and to perform every kind of technical service. The Army had had long training in supplying with food and transport vast masses of people in the most difficult conditions that war brings about. The result was that both the Army and the Navy were in a position to deal with the emergencies of the General Strike and the protection of the public from want and inconvenience in a fashion that had never been possible before.
That being so, I had not the least doubt that, if the Government called upon the two Services to meet its requirements in this respect, those requirements would be met in a way that would make the General Strike look most silly, and that was the view taken by the leaders of the Labour Party in the House of Commons. I am not talking of Mr. Cook; I do not include him in the term "leaders of the Labour Party in the House of Commons." Nor am I talking of some other private members of Parliament. I am talking of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, Mr. Snowden, Mr. Clynes, Mr. Henderson and others, all of whom united in saying that they did not want the General Strike, not because it was illegal but because they thought that it was a mistake. They did all they could to bring it to an end, which was not a very easy business. They made clear a distinction that has not been made clear in the Government Bill, and I do not think that it was made clear in the speech of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. If the Government had brought in a Bill to strengthen their hands still further in the event of a General Strike, to strengthen their hands against riot, against sedition, against crime, I do not think that there would have been much controversy. They might also have strengthened their hands under the Emergency Powers Act, 1920—though I do not think it was necessary, because those powers are very wide already—and given themselves the faculty of calling into operation all the resources which they now possess without limitation. But that is a totally different policy from the policy of this Bill.
The policy of this Bill is to strike at the right of the British workman of to- 21 day to combine to withhold his labour unless he has adjusted satisfactory terms with his employers. I know that a great many people dislike strikes even on that limited footing, but there are those who do not. I have known great employers of labour who have said: "Before we set up a factory in this region we would first ask if there is a trade union, because without a trade union you cannot get that stability in the stream of employment and in the management of the men which only large and strong combinations can give us." And it may very well be that in course of time the views of the public will change very much, and we shall get over the idea, which there is in some people's heads, that a trade union is only a sort of obstacle to progress in industry. The Government Bill has nothing to do with that. It is a Bill directed at putting down the right to strike.
I come now to what was said upon this subject, in this House, in the case of Conway versus Wade, which was decided in the year 1909. It was the decision of a strong Court and it was unanimous. The judgment, which can be found in the Law Reports for 1909, was delivered by the Lord Chancellor. The question was whether the language of the Statutes and the principles of the Common Law are confined to a trade dispute between the parties to the dispute, that is, the employer and the men in his employment in a particular industry, and the Lord Chancellor said:—I agree with the Master of the Rolls that the section cannot fairly be confined to an act done by a party to the dispute. I do not believe that was intended. A dispute may have arisen, for example, in a single colliery, of which the subject is so important to the whole industry that either employers or workmen may think a general lock-out or a general strike is necessary to gain their point. Few are parties to but all are interested in the dispute.That is the decision of this House. Then the Court of Appeal three years later, in Darlaston versus Williams, laid down the same doctrine. I say beyond all question that a General Strike is perfectly lawful, so long as it is not associated with crime in the shape of riot, sedition or the use of violence.
It is said that there is high authority the other way. I have of course read, as your Lordships have, what was said by Mr. Justice Astbury in a recent application. 22 It was an ex parte case in which there was no proper argument. It was not necessary for Mr. Justice Astbury to say anything on the point, because he could decide and did decide the matter on the breach of the rules of the union, and I cannot find that the relevant authorities which I have quoted were ever cited to him. Therefore I must be forgiven if I prefer the opinion of this House and of the Court of Appeal to that of Mr. Justice Astbury. Nor can I bring myself to agree with some of the words which fell from the lips of Sir John Simon, who seemed to say that a General Strike was in itself unlawful. This matter has since been explained and a series of pamphlets written by writers of high authority who have gone into the matter and insisted fairly on the distinction which I have been drawing between the right to strike and the right to commit crime—two very different rights, the second of which does not exist.
I have in my hand a pamphlet written by Mr. Goodhart, editor of the Law Quarterly Review and Fellow and Lecturer of Corpus Christi, Cambridge. There you have an examination of the proposition of the right to strike in very great numbers—"The legality of the General Strike in England." It contains a careful statement of the law on the subject, in complete harmony with what I have stated to your Lordships. Mr. Goodhart's pamphlet is essentially good, but there are two others to the same effect, one written by a distinguished member of the Liberal Party, Mr. Ramsay Muir, and the other by Mr. Cyril Asquith, a member of the Bar and, a son of Lord Oxford and Asquith. I add these pamphlets to the authoritative decisions as showing how infinitely more complicated is the question which we have to discuss than would appear from the speech of the Lord Chancellor.
I really have not much more which I wish to say, except a few words to reinforce the authorities of which I have spoken. I do not know what is meant by the words "blow at the vitals of the community." If it is a physical blow undoubtedly it is illegal, but if it is only a strike, which a great many people object to because it causes inconvenience and worries the Government, then I say it is within the law, and to say that this Bill merely affirms and does not alter the 23 law is to assert what is inaccurate. For a long time the Parliament of this country has been engaged in trying to clear up these matters. Before the end of the eighteenth century Parliament had taken on itself to regulate wages and hours and to look after not only the employed but the employers, and it made a very great mess of the business. Then came, in 1799, a Statute which swept away all that and put matters on this footing, that any combination of workmen to alter their wages or improve their conditions was an illegality and a conspiracy. That remained so until 1824, when the reformers of those days carried through Parliament an Act which made it legal to do those very things which the Act of 1799 had declared to be illegal; but in the next year that Act was somewhat altered, and it was left open whether a combination to raise wages might not take the form of a conspiracy in restraint of trade, and so be illegal.
So the law remained, and there was much confusion and a great deal of irritation, until the great Commission was appointed in 1867 under the Chairmanship of Sir William Earl, who had been Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. That Commission reported in 1871, and the substance of the Report was embodied by the Government of the day in a Statute which gave effect to most of the recommendations; but the full work was not done till 1875, when Mr. Disraeli passed his great Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, which made it perfectly plain that anything which could be done by a single workman might be done by any number of workmen without infringing the law of conspiracy. There have been other changes in the interests of the community, but the principle stands.
There was the decision of this House in the Taff Vale case, and I allude to that because, unless you understand what happened then, you cannot understand why the Trade Unions and Trade Disputes Act, 1906, was passed. The Taff Vale case arose out of a dispute between the railway company and its workers, and undoubtedly. I think, acts of violence were committed, but reliance was placed on the doctrine, for which there was great countenance in the Report of the Royal Commission, 1871, that you could not bring an action of tort against a trade 24 union. That was believed. The Court of Appeal took that view, and the case went to your Lordships' House, and I know it well because I was counsel for the trade union in the case. Your Lordships decided that the Court of Appeal were wrong, and laid down the law, and I am not saying a word against the legality of the decision. That was for your Lordships to determine authoritatively.
But the consequences were tremendous. There has not been much said about it, but there is going to be much said. It created a storm. The Conservative Government of the day was hurled out, and what happened was that it was plain that one of the first things that the new Liberal Government of 1906 had to do was to bring in a Bill to put it right. I was in the Cabinet, and we set to work and prepared our Bill, and prepared it on what I thought was the best footing, the restriction of the law of agency and the separation of the funds. When we got to the House of Commons we were confronted by an enormous majority, composed not only of Liberals and not only of Labour, but of some Conservatives, and, as for the Conservative leaders, they did not stand up against the storm. They gave in and the Bill was carried. I forget whether there was any Division, but it would have been idle if there had been, because it was plain that the country by a great majority had voted for the Bill, the whole Bill, and nothing but the Bill. The Bill had been brought forward systematically at the Election, and candidates of all Parties had dealt with it. Then the Bill came here, and your Lordships, looking upon discretion as the better part of valour, offered no opposition to it. You let it go through.
That was the history of the Trade Disputes Bill, and that is how it came to be passed. It was passed by the decision of the constituencies. Not any of your Lordships whom I see here had the courage to stand up against that decision, and I think you were prudent, because you would have been violating the Constitution if you had. The Government very prudently have not repealed the Trade Disputes Bill. They have excepted from it certain strikes, but they have let it operate in directions in which it was, I should have thought, most likely that they would wish the whole thing to be brought to an end.
25 This Bill will pass. You are in a great majority. We can only warn you, that is all. In 1906 you had the same result of disregarding warnings that you had in 1832, and that you had subsequently in 1911. It is never safe in this House to say: "Oh, we know. We understand, and we will take our own course, we are full of courage." You are not full of courage. This House is the first House to give in whenever there is an unmistakable manifestation of opinion on the part of the constituencies. And so I believe nobody ought to prophesy. Nobody can say. But I believe it to be far from clear that you are not going to find yourselves faced by just as violent a demonstration against you on this occasion as you had over the Trade Disputes Bill.
You may ask, is the present state of things satisfactory? No, it is not satisfactory, and it never will be satisfactory until workmen and employers come to be much more of one mind than they are at the present time. It is not enough to have mere profit-sharing. You ought to give the workman some chance of having a voice in the disposition of his own life and of the conditions under which he works and lives. You have to bring the community together to consolidate. For years past I have held—and I have worked hard for it—that there is only one way of doing that, and that is to educate your democracy. Give them higher education, give them adult education, give them everything you can which will enable them to think, feel, and live on much the same level as the people who employ them. They do not ask for luxuries, they only ask for equality of chance in life, and they ask for it still more for their wives and children, who have not had the same opportunity as they have had themselves.
I speak here for 4,000,000 trade unionists, but that is nothing. There is a much larger body behind them. With the extension of the franchise a new power was established, the strength of which we have not yet realised. We shall see when the new electors who have been added declare their opinions. They have already transformed the old-fashioned Conservatism into a form of mild Socialism, and, if I am not much mistaken, they will transform it in the next two or three years very much more. Anyhow, 26 that is the situation that we have before us, and for my part my whole sympathy is with the democracy in this matter. I do not want to have them harried in what they believe to be their rights by Bills like this and by misunderstanding of their tone and temper and objects by any Government. It is for these reasons that I now move that this Bill be read a second time on this day six months.
Leave out ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day six months").—(Viscount Haldane.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, it is with great hesitation that I venture to follow in the debate the two noble and learned Viscounts who preceded me, but I should like to take this opportunity as a humble member of your Lordships' House of saying how grateful I am to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack for the very lucid exposition he has given us of the Bill as it has now arrived in your Lordships' House. The noble and learned Viscount who followed him pursued, if I may say so, a very narrow and a very close line of reasoning, in which I certainly shall not have the audacity to think of following him. But so far as I was able to gather from his speech, he seems to have missed altogether the point that there is no equivalent in any of the cases which he quoted for what we experienced last year—namely, the General Strike.
While I certainly did not expect that the noble and learned Viscount would support the Bill which is now before your Lordships' House, I listened to his speech with regret, because, whilst he was moving the rejection of this measure, I certainly hoped that he would put forward some constructive proposals which would take the place of this Bill and correspond to those principles which are embodied in it—principles which I feel everybody in this country is looking to the Government to put forward. The four principles which it is proposed to enact in this Bill are, first of all, the prevention of General Strikes; secondly, that intimidation is illegal; thirdly, that no man should be compelled to subscribe to a political Party with which he does not find himself in agreement; and, fourthly, that civil servants should give undivided allegiance to the State.
27 The noble Viscount certainly adopted more temperate language in his plan of campaign than did his colleagues in another place. It is true that they informed us before the Bill was brought forward that they would fight it line by line and from end to end, and it is difficult for me to feel that they have any other motive than a Party motive. I am not saying that in any offensive way, because I have no desire whatsoever to oppose the Party point of view beyond endeavouring to rebut those charges which are always levelled at the Party to which I have the honour to belong, that we are opposed to the interests of the working man and that our one object is to introduce measures which will curtail the liberties of working men. As, primarily, an industrialist I dread the entry of politics into industry, and it does appear to me that the issues with which we are confronted are much too grave to allow the national regulation of trade unionism to become a purely Party controversy. It is a great and national issue and it claims, if I may say so, the dispassionate consideration of all no matter to what Party they belong. If at this moment we were faced by same great external danger we should find the whole of this country united. I am bound to say that I consider the present issue to be fraught with as much danger to our national stability as almost any international complication that it is possible to envisage.
I say without any hesitation that the introduction of this measure affords me no feelings of triumph or of satisfaction such as members of my Party are supposed to feel, and I do not think that any of your Lordships view it either with triumph or satisfaction. I see no success to reaction in this measure and I do not think that even the most moderate and the most old-fashioned member of the Conservative Party, if there is such a person, welcomes this as an attack on trade unionism. In my judgment it is entirely the reverse. There is no attack on trade unionism in it. On the contrary, I am inclined to think if this measure reaches the Statute Book—and it assuredly will—that in the future it will be found to be a benefit to trade unionism and will develop that institution in the manner and in the direction in which it should develop. I see in this measure an 28 honest and a courageous endeavour to clarify and to define the position of trade unions. Trade unions, as we all know, are one of the greatest forces of modern evolution in social life. By their rapid development and also by their increasing power for good as well as for evil they have arrived at a position in our midst which is at once unique and illogical. The Bill remedies sundry abuses which we all agree, if they exist, should be remedied. It seems to me as I see it—and I am certain to come under the charge of being prejudiced—a reasonable proposition and one that merits the support of the country.
In his speech Lord Haldane was inclined from his information to tell us that the reception of this measure in the country was in accordance with the views, as they have been put forward, of his colleagues in the House of Commons. I have, perhaps, equal opportunities with the noble and learned Viscount of seeing the other side of the picture, and I have found that the reception of this measure, which certainly involves restrictive principles, has been one of a feeling of relief rather than one of criticism and of condemnation. Many of us have been very much inclined to wait for moderate Labour. The Labour Party is composed of many sections. There are moderate sections and there are very advanced sections. I cannot help feeling that there is not a single proposition in this Bill to which moderate Labour can take any exception. What is the position of moderate Labour at the present moment? Is it stronger or is it weaker than it was? Is it the contention that the introduction of this Bill has weakened the position of moderate Labour in the country? Is that a just suggestion or is it an unjust suggestion? It seems to me that the time has come when moderate Labour must take a decision and must not continually say to us: "You must wait; you must give time for us to influence the councils of our people before bringing in anything in the nature of drastic legislation." I need hardly say that as an industrialist I watch moderate Labour very carefully indeed. I am always willing to be guided by their counsels, but it seems to me that the nation as a whole is becoming impatient for results.
We have looked in vain for the repudiation of the General Strike. That 29 repudiation has never really been forthcoming. The noble and learned Viscount in his reasoning to-day has told us that a General Strike is right if not accompanied by crime. As a layman I do not know where we are coming to if an authority like the noble and learned Viscount can tell us that a General Strike is right, that paralysis of this country is right, so long as it is not accompanied by serious crime. I personally was in favour of delaying the introduction of this measure till the last possible moment. I hoped vainly, as I said on many occasions, that we should see an agreed measure, that a measure would be produced, dealing with these matters which affect the interest of the whole country, as a result of a conference of all Parties. I hoped that that conference would have been set up and would have been fully alive to the danger of making a Bill of this description the plaything of Party politics. I believe that the Prime Minister and the Government took that view.
No one can deny that the Prime Minister exercised patience and forbearance and that he postponed till the last possible moment the introduction of this measure. We know quite well that he was faced with the murmurings and the impatience of his followers. We know that suggestions have been made that the Government were unwilling to cross swords with extremist Labour. Yet the Prime Minister has opposed a Bill—and in fact he brought about its withdrawal—in the House of Commons embodying one of the points included in this Bill. He has made every gesture in the hope of gaining the support of trade union leaders. All we can say is that in his actions and in his gestures, as far as we can see, he has failed, and, instead of the recognition of his obvious desire for a national reconstruction, he has been subjected to vulgar abuse far transcending the ordinary cut and thrust of Party warfare. I am sometimes forced to believe that it would have been better to have embarked on this struggle in the early days of the Administration rather than to have allowed so much time to elapse before bringing to a head the great issues with which we are confronted.
We have a great advantage in discussions on these important subjects in your Lordships' House. There are many of your Lordships who are freed from 30 Party interests and can bring to bear the full weight of opinion on this subject. We have certainly arrived at a late stage, but I do most sincerely hope that, if this Bill can be amended in the direction of removing many of those dangers which the noble and learned Viscount has adumbrated, then those Amendments will be forthcoming. As to the drafting of the measure, it is certainly not for me to criticise, but I am inclined to think that the drafting could have been more perfect. I am not certain that the phraseology was as definite as it should be for conveying the necessary information to lay and perhaps ignorant minds like my own. The original omission of the question of lockouts was one that filled me with amazement and made me think that the Government were entirely oblivious to Party and all considerations when they allowed the Labour Party to gain such a start of them in propaganda in the country. However, I would make an appeal to noble Lords opposite. I know quite well that they are in a very difficult position. It is necessary for them to reflect the complexion of a Party of widely differing sections. I have no doubt that in the speeches that we shall hear we must expect a certain element of the bitterness which has come up from another place. I am inclined to think that the paradox is more than likely to arise, that the Government which in the future may have reason to be grateful to this measure will be the Government of which probably noble Lords who sit opposite will form members.
venture to refer to a speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, who sits opposite. I read in the newspapers that he told his audience that the more he considered the Bill the more puzzled he became and he said he was quite convinced "it exuded spite and petty malice." I am quite content to take a percentage off the noble Lord's utterances in view of the audience he may have had to address. Noble Lords opposite are in the position that amongst their supporters are many of the extremists of this country. They are inclined to exaggerate their utterances for the purpose of not altogether alienating the sympathies of that turbulent following. I would like to ask the noble Lord why he should read into this Bill some- 31 thing which from the phraseology is not there when, from the speeches which have been made by leading members of the Government, this Bill can give no serious substance to a charge of that kind. From the practical point of view, if the noble Lord was right, I should not support this Bill. I have far too many dealings with trade unionism, and I am far too cognisant of the benefits which trade unionism has brought to this country, to join in any attack on trade unionism. The essence of all business is really collective bargaining and any Government that would bring in a measure for destroying trade unionism and that great element of collective bargaining in our social system can have no possible support from me.
We appear, however, to be on the eve of a great reconstruction. That is why I would venture to enlist the support of noble Lords opposite to leave the Party point of view and to combine with those who are fully alive to the situation in which we stand at the present moment. Everyone of our institutions is subject to the closest scrutiny at this time. We know quite well there are forces in our midst so powerful and so far-reaching that it is our duty to regulate the relations of one to the other. I regret the entry of politics into industry, and I have no doubt that my participation in this Bill will be used by the mining leaders, amongst whom I live, for the purpose of undermining the confidence of those with whom I am associated in industry, but that will not deter me from supporting this measure, because I believe that this is a measure which is intended to benefit and which will bring benefit to those great institutions which we all support.
There are many who are inclined to follow the line of least resistance and to say, "Let sleeping dogs lie. Let trade unionism work out its own destiny," and, with the optimism that must be in all of us, they have no doubt that everything will come right in the end. But the history of the expansion of trade unionism has not been altogether an encouraging one. In the debates in another place it was stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who quoted the figures, that the number of days' work lost since 1906 has reached an alarming total. The adolescence 32 of trade unionism has been marked by the sowing of an immense quantity of wild oats, and I would venture to ask, whither is it all leading us? I am not one of those who are prepared to lay the whole blame on trade unionism. I am quite willing to agree that the faults are on both sides. But we are all learning by bitter experiences, and surely the General Strike of last Year was a sinister reminder of the capacity of a section, highly controlled and disciplined, to challenge the authority of the State as representing the community, leaving most of its members, the loyal citizens of this country, perplexed and bewildered as to the direction in which their duty to the country lay. Surely that position calls for some definition, and I support this Bill because I believe that it does supply that definition.
The other provisions which are embodied in this Bill are to my mind of less importance, although they are still very important indeed. Intimidation has been referred to in a very lucid way by the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack. The suggestion of intimidation is revolting to every one of us, but it exists and intimidation will continue so long as human nature is as it is at the present moment. But surely it is the duty of the Government to do what they can to mitigate the tyranny and the hardship which this special form of intimidation brings to the life and the home of the working man. The political levy has been spoken of in very exaggerated terms. We are told on the one hand, that the amount is negligible and therefore that it was superfluous of the Government to bring in a Bill to deal with that particular question. On the other hand, we are told that the Labour Party depends for its existence almost on these funds which are extracted from unwilling subscribers. I certainly have no desire that the Labour Party should be crippled in their political endeavours for want of funds, and I have always thought that this is a matter in which some regulation of election expenses would relieve them from a burden which they should not be called upon to defray.
It is only right and proper that trade unionism should have representation in Parliament, because it entails political freedom which we all support and which we all must maintain, but it is a very 33 different matter to say, because a man is a member of a trade union, that the policy of the leaders of that trade union must be right, and he must be called upon, and compelled by every means which can be utilised, to subscribe to doctrines with which he is in no sort of agreement. There are those who are indifferent, who take no part, they say, in politics, but are willing to take all the benefits which trade unionism may confer. With them I do not feel myself in such active sympathy, and if their contributions go to the executive of the trade unions I am not sure that I, for one, am prepared to quarrel with that doctrine.
The noble and learned Viscount who preceded me spoke about the relations between employer and employed, but I am bound to say that I regret very much that in the whole of his speech he gave us no sort of indication as to what he would do to remedy those difficulties in which we are placed at the present moment. I would venture to say that relations between employers and employed are infinitely better than the public are led to believe. When we hear of one strike—probably of a political character—there are a hundred and one arrangements come to between employers and employed on the most amicable and friendly basis. I support this Bill wholeheartedly, not because I derive any satisfaction from the actual enactment of legislation of a restrictive character—in fact, as I have said, I would have infinitely preferred to see trade unions of their own volition support an agreed measure—but because it goes a long way towards clarifying a vague and indefinite situation, and tends, I believe, to eradicate some of those abuses which can only hamper and hinder the great and beneficent institution of trade unionism.
§ LORD THOMSON
My Lords, I do not propose in my remarks to-night to dead with this complicated subject as an expert, that is to say, either as a lawyer or a trade union leader. My position is that of an ordinary individual who, if this Bill becomes law, may find himself in prison for a term of two years for acting in furtherance of a strike by subscribing to funds intended to relieve the distress of the wives and families of miners out on strike. In those circumstances, if the past is any guide to the 34 future, and again if this Bill becomes law, I shall find myself in quite distinguished company. We have heard to-day both from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack and from the noble Marquess who has just spoken a great deal about the four principles which underlie this Bill and which are its purpose. Though I do not agree with all those principles, as stated, I admit that they are plausible and that one might be disposed to agree with a great deal of them, but what I find it difficult to do is to establish any connection between those principles and the clauses of this Bill.
The occasion for this Bill was, as I understand it, what took place last year, which is commonly called the General Strike. Now, I think it is a fact admitted by everybody that about twenty per cent. of the workers of this country came out on strike last year, and that a great many of these workers, even though the percentage was so small, came out without orders from their trade union leaders. Twenty per cent. is very far from being a General Strike, very far indeed. I would go so far as to say that if there was such a thing as a General Strike it would be unnecessary, it would be paradoxical, because if there was a General Strike in this country it would involve the vast majority of the people, who therefore could get their wishes gratified by constitutional means.
I am not here to discuss the legality or the illegality of what happened last year. That is beyond my wit. I do not understand these legal questions. But I think, knowing many of the men engaged, that it would be grossly unjust to say of them that they were engaged in a consciously illegal conspiracy. That did not enter into their heads. Some of the men on strike were amongst the most loyal citizens of the King. It is monstrous to suggest that they were engaged in an illegal conspiracy. I believe that the present Leader of the Liberal Party said the talk about the Strike last year being revolutionary was "dishonest slush." I do not know that I would quite endorse that statement, but I entirely agree with what Mr. Clynes said—namely, that it was a sympathetic strike on a large scale; and a sympathetic strike, as I see these things—and I knew a good many of the individuals concerned—calls possibly for 35 finer and nobler qualities, qualities of self-sacrifice and so forth that are indeed much more to be admired than merely going out on strike for an increase of wages or a diminution of hours.
If I were asked for a definition of what happened last year I would say, with my noble Leader, that the tactics were bad, that it was foolish, that it was foredoomed to failure, but that it was something like the Charge at Balaklava—magnificent but not war, and certainly not class war. The men who took part in that Strike felt that they had been stampeded by the Government. I do not say that the members of the Government consciously stampeded those men, but they felt that there was no other recourse and they took this step. The dice were loaded against them from the start and they could not win. We were taunted on this Bench for not having declared here that what happened in the so-called General Strike was illegal. I am quite certain that there is not a noble Lord opposite who, if his associates had been in the same position as were our associates in the trade union movement, would have said a single word to embarrass them under such conditions. Of course we had to hold our tongues and do what best we could to help them.
I admit that the situation with regard to industrial disputes does require some clarification. I have never denied that. The noble Marquess just now said that he was disappointed with us for not having come into co-operation with the Government to secure this clarification. I wonder what chance we had. The terms of this Bill were discussed publicly by members of the Government up and down the country before the Bill was presented to Parliament. We knew all about it in general terms and, as one of the Labour leaders said, how could we co-operate under such conditions? Does the policeman or the householder co-operate with the burglar? I believe that if the Government had expressed a wish and an intention of attempting to clarify this subject and, before passing any legislation, had had an impartial and authoritative inquiry, then they could have invited and would have obtained the co-operation of trade union leaders in this country, not only in the inquiry but quite possibly in the subsequent legislation. As it was, we were presented with what was described as a carefully considered 36 Bill. That description was given by the noble and learned Earl, Lord Birkenhead, in this House. He spoke of a carefully considered Bill, all of whose consequences had been weighed. And what happened? The Bill which I described to the annoyance of the noble Marquess opposite as exuding spite and malice in every clause—
§ LORD THOMSON
What happened to Clause 1 in another place? Would its authors recognise that clause to-day? It has been eviscerated. Like the mummy of an Egyptian Pharaoh it has come up here only the image and type of reactionary legislation and of the inspiration of its authors. I do not believe that we could do much here to amend that Bill. If the, noble Marquess will lead the way I am sure that he will find that there are plenty of Amendments coming from this Bench.
§ LORD THOMSON
I want to amend it. I think that one way of finding fault with a Bill is to amend it. Frankly, I would like to destroy it. I look upon it as a thing like the hydra; you can knock off several heads but more spring up in their place. There is only one way of dealing with the hydra, and that is to chop off all those heads at once; or, in other words, to repeal the Bill. But we are quite helpless in this matter and we cannot do it. Perhaps I should say we cannot do it yet. At any rate we cannot, stop its passage.
I will not go into details, because time is short, but, speaking merely as a man in the street, I have given a very great deal of study to this Bill and I have listened to numerous speeches in another place on all sides—and I think the Conservative lawyers have been among the most active of its critics—and I would say that, so far as Clause 1 is concerned, the effect that it leaves on my mind is that practically every strike that gives the workers a fighting chance is made illegal. I do not deny that certain small strikes would be legal and that certain strikes within certain industries, even on a rather considerable scale, might be legal. But 37 in industry as you have it to-day the strike, after all, is sometimes the only weapon that the men have, and the sympathetic strike is the principal weapon. I have not yet satisfied myself, after really taking great pains in this matter, that any sympathetic strike would be legal under this Bill. I say this with bated breath in the presence of so many eminent legal luminaries. I have tested this by various methods and it seems to me that every sympathetic strike of any importance in which the workers have the faintest chance of success becomes illegal. What is the justification of the noble Marquess in saying that such legislation is not spiteful and malicious? The Government steps in and says: "We will disarm one side in these industrial disputes, we will make it as difficult as possible for one side to fight, and then we will be impartial and keep the ring." I think one is justified in saying that legislation of that kind is spiteful.
As for coercion of the Government, how can men strike without in some way coercing the Government? We are all coercing the Government as much as we can every day. The Government's own supporters, if I may say so, coerce it. They have done so in the last week, at least if the newspapers can be trusted. The recognised function of the Opposition is to coerce the Government, and obviously, when millions of men are dissatisfied, their best course is to try putting pressure on the Government, because the Government is the only authority that can really help them in the end. Again, how can any strike fail to inflict hardships on the community? The first people who suffer in a strike are the strikers themselves and, if enough of them go on strike, they are the majority of the community. Conditions like these hit at the whole vitals of trade union action. Trade unions recognise that the community have got to suffer, and they have to suffer themselves, and they can do nothing unless they do bring pressure upon the Government.
Again, as regards intimidation, I was amazed when I read that definition. Of course intimidation should be avoided as far as possible. It is a detestable thing when it is applied to helpless people. But I ask your Lordships to reflect upon the situation which arises during a period of industrial unrest. 38 Where people are living in densely populated areas a hot-tempered woman can watch her neighbour's house from her own doorstep, and she may quite easily and innocently commit a crime by saying something to her neighbour from that vantage point, which is quite in the normal trend of events when these disturbances are on, but which will now make her a criminal or the perpetrator of an unlawful act. Is that quite fair? The danger of it seems to me to be this, that at these times of industrial unrest sinister elements in the population emerge. I am not saying that all blacklegs are dishonest, but at a time of industrial unrest, in a densely populated community, people will emerge who are not only blacklegs but under this Act may easily become blackmailers, and then there will be a most ugly situation to deal with.
If holding up those with whom one differs to ridicule and contempt is to intimidate them, then we are perpetually intimidating one another. I can foresee a time, after this Act passes into law, when the noble Earl, Lord Birkenhead, and myself will spend our time in the same prison, swapping quotations from our past speeches and those of my noble friend Lord Parmoor on the Constitutional question. Really, to put that phraseology into the Bill is to bring it into ridicule and contempt. If everyone is going to be punished under those words then we shall have to increase the accommodation in our prisons. Of the third general principle I have nothing much to say, except that it does seem to me to discriminate between associations of workmen and all other forms of association, including membership of an ordinary club or a limited liability company.
Of the fourth principle, which applies to the established Civil Service, I can only say this: why should we distinguish between an established civil servant and any other citizen in this particular matter? A civil servant under the principle in this Bill is supposed to give undivided allegiance to the State. If the State is, as defined by Arnold in his essays on Democracy, itself the nation in its collective and corporate capacity, do we not all own undivided allegiance to that? Why should a civil servant be singled out? I personally should have 39 thought it was advisable to encourage civil servants to act collectively through some union or other. I think it would provide a safety valve for their personal political emotions. As I read this Bill an individual civil servant can do almost anything he likes individually. He or she may be as active politically as he or she pleases, but from the moment he or she begins to act collectively, or to follow the dictates of his or her political conscience in conjunction with other civil servants, then under this Bill he or she will be acting unlawfully. It seems to me to be exactly the reverse of what should be laid down if the State is going to interfere in these matters.
The noble Marquess asked for co-operation, and pointed out the good intentions of the Government and the various advantages of this Bill. My reasons for opposing the Bill can be stated very shortly. Firstly, I believe this Bill is going to embitter feeling at the very moment when good will is most required. It is all very well for noble Lords opposite to scoff at moderate Labour. We have had it from moderate trade union leaders all over the country that this Bill is going to make their task much more difficult. My second objection is that the Bill will cause the most law-abiding people in the world to become law breakers, and that it will bring British justice, or will be liable to bring British justice, into disrepute. In this connection I would like to read a short extract from a private letter sent by a very eminent American lawyer, who has had considerable experience of the working of similar legislation in the United States. He says:—I have not seen the full text of your Government's Bill, but apparently the proposal subjects trade unions to the same risks which they have so seriously incurred in this country—namely, restrictions expressed in undefined terms giving wide latitude to 'interpretation' by Courts and of application by juries. Two great issues are left wide open for the conscious or unconscious bias of Judges and juries—namely, what are the limits of a sympathetic strike, and what constitutes 'intimidation' and like conduct.He goes on to say:—Certain it is, that all candid students of industrial relations in America must admit that on the whole our Courts… have not only embittered the industrial strife in this country, stilled for the moment by extraordinary but temporary prosperity, 40 but they have also deeply lodged in the minds of workers a distrust of impartial and fair dealing by our Courts.He winds up by saying:—Those of us—and I think that includes almost all scientific students of labour law in this country—who have been increasingly concerned with the social disruptive tendencies of much of American law where labour conflicts are involved, have found great encouragement in what we supposed was the settled recognition by English statesmen that these labour issues did not lend themselves to ordinary litigation, but must be worked out in a statesmanlike fashion by the co-operative good will of a society which takes for granted trade unions as necessary social institutions. Our Courts too frequently have recognised the legitimacy of trade unions in the abstract, but have denied to them life in the concrete. It is disconcerting, indeed, that now England should be thinking of going back on its own history during the last fifty years and proposing legislation which in its essence, whatever may be the paper details, is directed against the vitality of trade unions.Now that really is the feeling at the back of most trade union leaders in this country.
Supposing this Bill had been in force last year. What would have happened? I believe hundreds of thousands of innocent people would have had to go to prison. I do not believe that the public would have come to the assistance of the Government as they did. The public would have stood aside and said: "Here is this law. Let the policemen and the soldiers do their work, we are not going to help. There is no call upon us." I believe that in those circumstances the General Strike would not have been settled as well and satisfactorily as it was, that its conduct would not have had that feature which surprised and interested all visitors to this country at the time—namely, the good behaviour of the strikers and the absence of violence on the part of everybody concerned. What impressed everybody then was the conduct of the strike, the quiet observed, the extraordinary public spirit of the people generally; and they regarded that General Strike, disaster as it was from a material point of view, as a distinct triumph for British common sense. We are throwing all that away by this Bill.
It seems to me we are doing something which will have to be repealed. It is idle for the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to say because there has not been much noise in the country that this 41 thing is not deeply felt. It is very deeply felt. From a purely Party point of view I cannot imagine any better present that the Government can give us. I am not exaggerating when I say that I believe every trade unionist who is registered to-day—certainly every Conservative trade unionist—is a potential member of the Labour Party. Of course, from a Party point of view that is a very great gain, because there are admittedly a large number of Conservative working men. During the past week we have heard some rather painful expressions about the position and status of this House. I believe we could do a great deal to restore our prestige if we examined this Bill in a most critical spirit and from the point of view of what I believe to be the vast majority of people in the country. I believe that there is only one course open to us, and that is to refuse to give it a Second Reading. I do not believe that we can do anything in Committee which will really be effective. We cannot destroy the spirit of the thing. It is for that reason that I shall vote against the Second Reading when the Division comes.
§ LORD LAWRENCE OF KINGSGATE
My Lords, I would venture to ask your indulgence, as this is the first occasion on which I have had the honour to address you. Nor should I do so now but for the fact that for many years of my life I have been intimately connected with the working classes, and my relationship with them has always been, at all events to me, of an agreeable and satisfactory character. I have generally found in my dealings with them that in approaching the subjects we had to discuss, if I could do so in a fair and sympathetic and a straightforward manner, I generally met with a similar response from them. And this greatly facilitated the discussions between us, and very often prevented consequences which might have been disagreeable. I therefore approach this subject not in any spirit antagonistic to Labour, but with a sincere desire to better the relations between employers and employed, on which so much of the prosperity and even the maintenance of this country depends.
Having said this much, I address myself to the question before the House 42 and to the proposals of His Majesty's Government. I confess that after the serious events which took place last year it seems to me that the Government, acting as trustees for the nation and not for a single section of the State, are compelled to take action to safeguard the interests of the entire community, and to provide a remedy which will be at once thorough and effective. It appears to me that the Bill now before your Lordships' House does provide that remedy, and cannot be looked upon by fair-minded men as in any sense vindictive. On the contrary, I believe that when political passion is allowed, if possible, to die out, this Bill will be welcomed by that very large percentage of moderate Labour which wants to be let alone and to be freed from those political demagogues who have done so much to accentuate the present unfortunate condition of affairs.
The damaging consequences of the courses adopted in May, 1926, are fully recognised by the moderate trade union leaders. These men are not naturally disposed to the violation of established human sanctions, nor do they look unconcernedly upon the possibility of a repetition of the prolonged intensive and extensive suffering of 1926. They profess the creed that every citizen has the right of individual freedom of thought and action, and that such a creed is sacred and inviolable. If they are sincere in their avowals they must acknowledge that this Bill, if reasonably and properly operated, will establish that right more firmly, will prevent the committal by extravagant men of abuses which have discredited their movement, and will secure to a man and his wife and Emily much-needed protection against such excesses in future. I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I understand it to be convenient to the House that I should now move the adjournment of the debate till Monday next. I beg to move.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes before seven o'clock.