HL Deb 01 May 1946 vol 140 cc1011-70

2.41 p.m.

Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion of the Lord Chancellor, made yesterday, That the Bill be now read 2a.


My Lords, I am one of those who had the privilege of listening to practically the whole of our interesting debate on this 'matter yesterday, which started, if I may say so, with two brilliant speeches—one from the noble and learned Lord Chancellor and the other from one of his predecessors from this Bench. I also had the privilege of hearing the noble Lord, Lord Walkden, speak at the end of the debate. Anybody who knows him, as I have had the privilege of doing for some years now, and who heard his speech yesterday, cannot fail to be impressed with his sincerity. He feels, as do other trade union leaders who were concerned with the General Strike of 1926, that some stigma was cast upon them by the Act which it is now sought to repeal. I must say that I, for one, have never felt that any stigma attached to them, or that they were in any way branded as the result of the action that they took in 1926.

I pride myself that I have many friends in the trade union movement. There are many, indeed, with whom I have been glad and proud to work. In my first Government job as Civil Lord of the Admiralty it was my duty to preside over the Admiralty Industrial Council, and when I went, in the early days of the war, to the Ministry of Supply, I happened to be the prime mover in starting the Trade Union Advisory Committee to that body. Nor could anyone need better support than I had from the trade union leaders throughout the difficult days when I was at the Ministry of Aircraft Production. The same applies to the Ministry of War Transport and the later period when I relied on a Trade Union Advisory Committee at the Ministry of Food to advise me—and good advice they always gave—on the feeding of industrial and agricultural workers. Never, when I met these men or, indeed, when I sat at the Cabinet table with some of my colleagues in the Coalition Government, did I have in my mind any such thought as: "Oh, there is some stigma upon you." I believe this stigma is realy a fiction of their own imagination. It may be—who knows?—that it is just a slight stirring of a guilty conscience. But at any rate, if stigma there is—I do not know that there is—it is a stigma because the Courts of Law of that time declared that this strike in which they had been the leaders was an illegal strike. It does not matter, so it seems to me, what the noble and learned Lord Chancellor or ex-Lord Chancellors may say, nor what Professor Holdsworth nor Professor Goodhart, nor any of those eminent legal luminaries, may say: the decision remains. It is the only decision that can decide the matter, the decision of a Court of Law, and a decision which was never appealed against and which remains, therefore, an abiding decision as to what that strike in fact was. The repeal of a subsequent Act in no way removes that stigma, if stigma there be.

I myself think that the action taken at that time was an error of judgment, perhaps a grave error of judgment. I do not know that I would use such strong words as the Lord Chancellor used about it in his speech to us yesterday. I think perhaps their hearts ran away with their heads, and that they did not really realize what the constitutional effect would be. It was quite clear that it was a failure. It was a failure because we are a democratic country, and we believe in Parliamentary government. The people were not going to be held up by the dictates of a few men, whether they included Mr. Cramp or not. They were not going to be prevented from getting to their work. They were not going to be starved into submission. Indeed, they showed the same spirit as the people of this country showed in the days of Dunkirk, and in the days when we were expecting an invasion of our shores.

I was in no way concerned with this legislation of 1927. I myself, as many good citizens did, worked during the General Strike. I remember that one of the efforts made by the strikers was to prevent petrol coming up from Thames Haven to London. It was essential, of course, if food and milk deliveries were to be made, that petrol supplies should be available. I joined up with a fairly tough gang of Rugby football players. We went down, and we soon assaulted the barricade. It is quite true there were a number of bricks and stones thrown at us, but that was nothing compared with the rifle and machine gun fire that a few of us had been through a year or two before, in the European war. At any rate we cleared the place, and I would do it again against anyone who attempted to prevent essential supplies reaching the people of this country.

I do not believe that these supplies should only reach the people, as we saw on some of the lorries at that time, "by kind permission of the T.U.C.", any more than I believe we should be dependent on their getting through by kind permission of Hitler, Mussolini or any other dictator. The T.U.C. has a great part to play in this country, but it is not that of holding the country up to ransom. Indeed, I believe that the present—and I underline the word "present"—holders of responsible positions in the T.U.C. realize that full well. I was rather surprised at the speech which we heard yesterday from the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay. As far as I can understand him, he was advocating the revolutionary strike on certain occasions. He instanced that it might have been effective in 1933, when Hitler came into power in Germany.


May I just ask the noble Lord, does he not think the people ought to have struck against Hitler?


I was just coming, of course, to that. We must realize that Hitler's original movement had the great support of the Left in Germany. There was no leader in the Hitler organization who was a leader from the old Prussian Right and they were, it is quite true, a set of gangsters. But the main support that they received was at that time from the extreme Left, rather than from the Right.


May I just interrupt the noble Lord again? The original and early support for Hitler came from what people call suburbia, the lower-middle classes and the peasants. It was not from the trade unions at all. That really is the case.


Do not let us ignore the peasants at all. They are a very big factor in the life of any country.


They were not trade unionists.


Of course not. Certainly not trade union leaders. They were shortly afterwards abolished. What I was saying was this, that it was at that time largely based on the reaction of the Germans who wanted the kind of place in the sun which Hitler his movement promised them, and it was at that time a very big movement in Germany, springing quite largely perhaps from suburbia as well, but at any rate from large sections of Left opinion in the German nation.




Anyway, let me come to the French case, which the noble Lord also took, with regard to why you could not have had a revolutionary strike in France in 1940, as I understood it. That seemed to me, if I may say so, to be quite an absurd suggestion. In the midst of the war, when we were doing our best to keep France in the war, the worst thing for the French nation at that time, when things were just in the balance, would have been to have had a General Strike taking place which would have paralyzed all movement in France in the midst of the German invasion.



Order, order.


I quoted a distinguished Frenchman who deplored the fact that there was not a General Strike in France after the Pétain Government had resolved not to go to Africa, and the war was over. It may have been my fault.


The noble Lord did not make it clear.


I beg your pardon.


The noble Lord did not quote a date at all. I thought he was referring to the crucial moment just before the surrender of France. Be that as it may, at any rate if I may say so, do not let us in this county have responsible people advocating revolutionary strikes. We have here a Constitution which can provide for the kind of thing the noble Lord had in mind. We always have had a constitutional monarchy in this country, and it is still the prerogative of the Crown to dissolve Parliament and to dismiss the Government of the day should occasions arise of such a nature as was envisaged by the noble Lord in his speech yesterday. That is the outlet that we have in our Constitution. It is a very valuable one. It obviously would not be exercised except in the last resort, but it is a great thing that we still have it in our Constitution.

Before I digressed slightly to refer to the noble Lord's speech yesterday, I was saying that I believe the present holders of responsible positions in the T.U.C. realize full well that the General Strike is not a weapon which they wish to use. But let me see where we stand in this matter. Their tenure of office is by no means secure. The numerous unofficial strikes which we have been having in industry give a clear indication of that to those who like to see it. Many of them, I suspect, are slightly apprehensive as to what is going to happen at the Trades Union Conference at Whitsuntide. I know there are doughty opponents quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Walkden, who will be there to fight against the Communist dictation of the trade union movement. This time they may succeed. I hope they will. But how do any of us know what lies ahead in the future? They hope to frustrate the Communist Party by passing a resolution saying, as I understand it, that there is to be no more affiliation by any outside body with the Trades Union Congress. But if they succeed this time, what is to prevent that resolution being over-ruled later on? The trade union movement may, for all one knows, quite properly, get sick to death of those who are associated with the present Government if they go on as they are at present. I just throw out that thought, and leave it in the minds of noble Lords opposite.

In my view the Government are making a great mistake from their own point of view in introducing this Bill. They may consider that it removes a stigma, if there was one; if there was not, the Bill could not remove it. If the Bill is brought in because Mr. Clynes, speaking in the House of Commons in 1927 said that they would repeal the 1927 Act when they got a chance, it does of course show commendable conservative instinct to adhere to that declaration of 1927, but it does not appeal to me as a progressive Tory, as I claim to he. If it is said that it is because there is strong pressure for it in the country, I do not believe it. Lord Walkden said (and I know that it is true) that the general number of those whom he meets—he probably meets no more working men than I do, because I meet a lot—are in favour of this repeal. But, of course, he will meet active Labour Party organizers in the movement, who naturally are in favour of it. Actually, as one sums up the country, there is not much interest whether this Act is repealed or not. It has not caused any great stir in the countryside.

We had an interesting speech yesterday from Lord Chorley. He told us that the 1927 Act destroyed very many privileges of the trade unions. It is just as well to look at the Act and see what those privileges are which it is said to have destroyed. First, there is Section I. That enables a man to know whether or not a contemplated strike will or will not be illegal. The noble Lord, Lord Walkden, said that we all know what is and what is not an illegal strike. I am going to be the first to disagree with him, because I am convinced that he did not himself know in 1926 that he was taking part in an illegal strike, and vet the Court—did he?


I thought I was doing right.


And yet the Court, and the only Court which made a declaration with regard to that strike, said that he was doing something illegal. The Lord Chancellor told us, talking about the General Strike of 1926, that he believed that the judgment of posterity would be that before the 1927 Act the question whether a man was acting illegally, or was liable in damages, depended upon the answer to a comprehensive question of fact as to whether he was or was not acting in furtherance of a trade dispute. One man might have been found guilty, having regard to speeches he made, whilst another one would not. It is to that position that we are returning by the repeal of this 1927 Act. So it seems that the first privilege we are going to give back to trade union leaders is that of not knowing, as they did not know in 1926, whether they are doing anything illegal or not. To me that does not seem much of a privilege to give back to them.

Moreover, at the same time we are repealing a valuable little provision of Section 1 of the Trade Disputes Act, 1927, which says this: Provided that no person shall be deemed to have committed an offence under this section or at common law by reason only of his having ceased work or refused to continue to work or to accept employment. By repealing the 1927 Act, we are taking away a protection given to the mere striker who does not instigate the strike. And now let us find out what Section 2 does. What privilege does this take away? It takes away from the man who refuses to do an illegal act the privilege of not being expelled from his union and of not being fined by his union because he fails to take part in an illegal act. So the only privilege taken away from the trade unions under this section is the privilege of expelling or fining the man who refuses to do an illegal act at their behest. What an odd privilege to seek to restore to the trade unions.

When we come to Section 3, we are all agreed that Section 3 (1) merely codifies the existing law in regard to the prevention of intimidation. So after the repeal of the 1927 Act, all that will happen is that the people will have to look through the Statutes to find out what the law is in regard to subsection (1), instead of the pickets being able to refer to it in a convenient consolidated form. That is all we are doing by repealing Section 3 (1) of this Act. Now I come to Section 3 (4). There seems to be some dispute as to exactly what that subsection, when it is repealed, will leave behind it. It will leave behind the words in the Act of 1875 which, if the House will allow me, I will read. Section 7 says: Every person who, with a view to compel any other person to abstain from doing or to do any act which such other person has a legal right to do or abstain from doing, wrongfully and without legal authority,—… watches or besets the house or other place where such other person resides… But that was altered by the Act of 1906. Section 2 of that Act said, in subsection (1): It shall be lawful for one or more persons, acting on their own behalf or on behalf of a trade union or of an individual employer or firm in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute, to 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. Subsection (4) of Section 3 of the 1927 Act absolutely prohibited a person from attending at a house or place to persuade a person at his home. So by doing away with this subsection (4) we are restoring to pickets the doubtful privilege of not knowing whether or not they are doing something lawful in going to a man's house.

I must say I have no idea, putting together those two sections which I have quoted, what exactly it is lawful to do, and what it is not. I am one of those who think that it should be said quite clearly to be wrong, without a shadow of doubt, to go and badger a man or his family at his own home. I frankly could not understand Lord Lindsay's remark about this 1927 Act being a totalitarian Act. The repeal of this section savours to me much more of the methods used by the Gestapo than anything to which we are accustomed in this country. If the cause is not good enough of itself to show a man that he should cease work, surely the method of going to his home and trying to persuade him there, standing outside, round about the house, is not one to which we should resort in a free country of this sort.

Of course, when we come to Section 4 of the 1927 Act, there is something in Lord Chorley's complaint that we are taking a privilege away. And what privilege is it that we are taking away? The privilege of getting from unwilling subscribers subscriptions to the political funds of one party to which a trade union is affiliated. That is the privilege that is taken away and which it is sought to restore. Lord Walkden told us that the contracting-in procedure was very troublesome. Troublesome, I would like to ask, to whom? To the trade union secretary and the shop stewards who have to collect the money. But the method of contracting out will be troublesome to a far larger number of men than that. They will be approached and told, "Oh, now you have to pay." The man may ask, "Why?" The reply will be, "Because you have not filled up a form; you have not filled up the form to contract out." He then says, "What? another form?"—with that instinctive horror of filling up forms to which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has referred. He says: "Another form to sign? Why is this?" And if they are honest they will say: "Because this is the jolly provision that a Socialist Government has imposed upon you."

That is certainly so, because at the present moment a man who does not want to pay has not to fill up any form—and we have heard that there are hundreds of such men. After all, it has been estimated on two sides of the House that the amount of these subscriptions, which are not, perhaps, very large, is £25,000 and that represents a good number of men who, if they still do not want to pay, will have to fill up the forms—I repeat—because of the action of the Socialist Government in this country. And although the people in the country may be indifferent now, a number of them will, I think, he properly indignant when it comes to taking hard cash out of their reluctant pockets.

And what is the principle behind it? I think Lord Calverley touched upon it in our debate yesterday. The contracting-in method is the voluntary system; contracting out is conscription with a conscientious objector's clause. It is odd to me, when I look back over the years, to find that a Party which voted en bloc in the House of Commons, only four months before the late war broke out, against compulsory military service because they objected to it on principle, do not object to that principle when it comes to collecting money for their own funds.

I would like to ask one other thing. When were these resolutions passed by these trade unions affiliating them to the Labour Party? In many cases they were passed before the birth of many of the existing subscribers. That, at any rate, cannot have happened to Lord Lindsay with regard to his subscription to the Automobile Association. What is to prevent any of the trade unions, especially those which are going to vote for the admission of the Communist Party to the TALC., passing a resolution saying that they will in future be affiliated to the Communist Party rather than owe allegiance to the very friendly but perhaps in the main somewhat elderly noble Lords whom I see sitting opposite me? Then indeed my noble friend Lord Walkden might have the troublesome job of getting people to contract out because the shop stewards would not then be around the works doing the job for him. This is a privilege which the passing of this Bill may ultimately confer upon the noble Lord, and I wish him good luck if it does so.

When I come to Section 5 I see clearly what privilege its repeal gives to the civil servants. It gives them the privilege of serving two political masters. We have it on the highest authority that the serving of two masters is impossible, so this seems to me to be a doubtful privilege, to say the very least of it. Let us look at Section 6. The repeal of Section 6 will accord a privilege to the trade unions, but a privilege hardly known outside a dictator country—namely, the privilege of putting pressure on a local authority to employ none but members of a trade union. What jolly scenes does that envisage between the Municipal Workers Union and the Transport and General Workers Union! I know from experience the difficulties involved in some of these demarcation problems. If I may digress for a moment, we found at the Admiralty, when we wanted to build or repair a ship, that a bit of tubing which was so much in diameter had to be laid by the members of one union, but if it narrowed down, then, as it lost more of its electrical leads, some other union had to come in. What an awful row there would have been if one union member had followed that tube all the way through! At any rate, we may see quite a healthy competition springing up between various unions in the nomination of local Labour councillors—the nomination, not the election—in order that one union or other may have the privilege of the membership and the subscriptions of the employees of the local authority, who will lose their jobs unless they join the designated union.

The repeal of this section gives another privilege. It gives the trade unions the privilege of putting pressure on local authorities to put pressure on independent prospective contractors to put pressure on their reluctant employees to join this great spontaneous, free-will, trade union movement. That is one of the privileges which will be restored by the repeal of the 1927 Act. The noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, said that Section 5 of the 1927 Act, which demanded undivided loyalty to the State, seemed to him to savour too much of the Führer principle, but to any impartial man does not the repeal of Section 6 look mighty like the Hitler Labour Front? I would remind your Lordships that under Hitler's plan nobody could be certain of a job unless he belonged to the Nazi Labour Organization, and nobody in this country in future can perhaps be certain of a job unless he joins a trade union. Take my own case at home, where, if I may so say, the gardeners I employ are perfectly happy, as no doubt are those employed by other noble Lords. They are not members of a trade union; they do not need to be. As a patriotic action during the war we ploughed up our tennis courts, we increased the size of our garden and we sold the produce to the local British restaurant and for the feeding of the school children. If the local authority had a Labour majority and said to me: "You must force your gardeners to belong to a trade union, which can give them no benefit whatever," I should say: "Certainly not, I would sooner put my tennis courts back to grass and put the herbaceous plants back where the cabbages now grow." Do not let us try to force the people of this country all into one mould. It is against the instinct of the country and any tendency to do it is, in my view, completely wrong.

So these are the privileges that this movement demands to have returned to it. These are the privileges which the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, complained it had been deprived of by the Act of 1927. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay, who said that the 1927 Act was based on a unity of fear. I do not think it was; I think it was based on a commonsense view of where the trade unions, without at all hampering their proper activities, should take their place in the State. But if that Act were based on a unity of fear, it seems to me that it is a unity of gratitude which is prompting its repeal to-day, because there is not the slightest doubt that the trade union movement did a great deal to put noble Lords opposite into power. Complaints may be made that a compromise solution was not agreed to by the Conservative Party when it was in a position to make that compromise. I do not know whether that is a just criticism or not; it is sufficient to say that some very good solutions were reached in the days when all were working together, and this might well have been one of them.

But if that criticism is just, it applies equally to-day to the attitude of the Government on this measure. They are in the position, if they wish, to make those compromise solutions, which might be lasting. The repeal of the Act, the repeal of the whole Act, and nothing but the repeal of the whole Act, seems to be the motto. In these circumstances, let no one complain if this is not the last word in trade union legislation. But that will not depend mainly on political majorities in one House or the other. It will remain to be seen how, with this new freedom given to them, the trade union leaders conduct themselves in the management of their affairs. There is no doubt that at the recent Election this measure had quite a foremost place in the thoughts and minds and speeches and writings of the Party now in power. There is no doubt that they were pressing for it, or some part of it, as we all know, for two or three years before the Election took place. If there is a mandate given in respect of any particular item of a programme at an Election, this is clearly one which comes within that claim. It would be wrong of us to stand up here and to try to oppose the will of the people because that is not our function in this House. I hope that it will not be necessary to have future trades union legislation, but I fear that it may be. As I say, it will all depend on the way in which the affairs of these great trades unions are in future conducted.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, there was a war time slogan which I am sure your Lordships will remember, which in fact is still with us—a slogan bidding us to make do and mend. A new suit of clothes is a question of waiting, saving up coupons, and then probably waiting again. This Bill does not offer us a new suit of clothes, but it bids us cast off the suit made in 1927 and go back to a suit designed in the fashions of 33 years ago. In fact, when we take off the 1927 suit, we find the 1913 suit underneath it. It is a kind of strip-tease act, if I may use that expression, or if not a strip-tease act, at any rate a strip-tease Bill. I should have thought that the 1927 suit might have been made to do a little longer, or at any rate made to do with a little mending. Perhaps we are to assume that just as cloth for new suits is in short supply, so time for carefully considered new measures is too scarce a commodity for His Majesty's Government to be able to spare any for this particular problem, when it can be dealt with by the quicker but less constructive method employed in this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, yesterday referred to this time factor. I cannot help feeling that if the Government, after nationalizing one industry, were to pause for a while to see how the experiment worked out in practice before rushing at the next, they might use the breathing space thus provided for directing their minds to the devising of some measure more constructive than the process now being adopted. My own impression, gathered from the industry with which I am connected, is that all the problems which arise from time to time affecting working conditions and rates of pay are, in the long run, satisfactorily settled by the Joint Industrial Council, and I wonder whether the issues raised by this Bill are present in the minds, or at any rate in the forefront of the minds, of any of those, on one side or the other, who meet round the table of the Joint Industrial Council.

The Bill, however, does raise points of vital importance, points of principle, which affect all of us whether we are con- cerned with industry or not. I will refer only to one of them, and that is the question which has already been frequently referred to, of contracting in as against contracting out. Contracting out, it seems to me, is based on the assumption that a preponderating majority of members of a union are almost as a foregone conclusion supporters of the Labour Party. I often wonder what would happen if political parties, in order to secure the exclusive use of a particular name or party label, had to apply to the Registrar of Trade Marks in the way a manufacturer has to apply before he can obtain the exclusive use of a particular brand name and label for his product. I very much doubt whether the name "Labour" would get past the Registrar. I question whether a word of such wide and extensive application would be given as a monopoly to one user.

There is much to be said for the old names of Whig and Tory. They had no implication or meaning except as names to describe the political parties to which they were applied. It is very different in regard to the name "Labour." Under this large and generous umbrella called "Labour", Socialists preach Socialism. Many of your Lordships, I have no doubt, will have heard of incidents where canvassers at election time have asked individual voters if they believed in Socialism, in the nationalization of the means of production, distribution and exchange and other tenets of the Socialist faith, and the reply has very frequently been in terms such as this: "Well, I don't know about Socialism, but you see we're labouring folk and so we vote Labour."

In 1913 Socialism was not heard so much of by the population as a whole. The early Labour Members of Parliament were essentially trade unionists concerned primarily in advancing the cause of trade unionism, and in the improvement of the working conditions of the people. Under the interpretation given to the term Labour in 1913 there was far more justification for contracting out than there is to-day, when a contribution to the funds of the Labour Party is largely a contribution towards the advocacy in Parliament of a set of doctrines known as Socialism. This Government, as fast as it can drive along that road, is introducing Socialist measures.

First one industry and then another is being nationalized, and there is obviously a possibility, if not a probability, that when an industry is operated, directly or indirectly, by the State, membership of a trade union may be made a compulsory condition of employment in that industry. Now, couple with that contracting out and it will mean that the vast majority of those employed in State industries will be contributors to the funds of one political party. The more this grows—as the number of undertakings which, in one form or another, are nationalized, becomes greater—the nearer we shall be to the reality of a One-Party State—that dream of so many Socialists the world over. These are the implications we have to take into account if, in this year 1946, we are to go back in its entirety to an Act passed in 1913 and designed to meet the needs of an age in which the conception of a One-Party State was not in the picture at all.

But is there no alternative to the two methods of contracting out and contracting in? Must a man be assumed to want to contribute to the political fund unless he expressly states that he does not, or assumed to want not to contribute unless he expressly states that he does? Why should not the question be put definitely and clearly to each member: "Do you, or do you not, wish to contribute to the political fund?" Let him face the issue, think it over and make up his own mind, and let him do it in a way resembling, as nearly as possible, the secrecy of the electoral ballot. Let every existing member of a union and every newly-joining member be given a paper on which he can indicate his choice of two alternatives: "I do wish, I do not wish, to contribute to the political fund. Strike out the words which do not apply, or indicate your choice by a cross." And let the paper be handed personally, or sent by post, to the appropriate authority.

The noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack referred to the general dislike of filling up forms. I fully share that dislike, and I was glad to hear this reference, from one in a position of such high authority, to the modern mania for form-filling. But this suggestion of mine is perhaps the simplest kind of form-filling that there can be. We are all familiar with it, and how often, in fact, it saves our time. We are asked to attend a meeting or a public dinner—some people like public dinners; some people do not—and enclosed with the invitation is a card on which is printed: "I am able, I am unable, to accept. Strike out the words which do not apply." It is true that we may decide to do nothing about it, and put the card in the wastepaper basket. But, if we ignore the card, we do not turn up at the meeting or the dinner expecting a place to be reserved for us.

Why should a movement stand to gain by the inertia of its members? Machines are not, as a rule, propelled forward by the inertia of their component parts. An election is often lost through the inertia of people who will not take the trouble to vote. Why, in this particular instance, should inertia be allowed to produce a result the opposite of its usual one? I would like to see consideration given to an alternative on these lines.

There have been many references to the General Strike. I cannot believe that anyone in his senses wants to give legality to any strike or lock-out—not much has been said about lock-outs in this debate, but this measure, I think, applies to lock-outs as well as to strikes—deliberately contrived to force the hand of Government and Parliament. Not all strikes are authorized by the officials of the unions concerned, and, whatever may happen in times of stress and strain, when emotions run high, I should have thought that it would have been in the best interests of all parties to have no uncertainty about what is legal and what is illegal. The General Strike of 1926 was an event unique in our history, and I hope that it will remain unique. In the middle of the seventeenth century we had our Civil War, and, in that way, we, as a nation, got something out of our system which otherwise might have developed in a more catastrophic form later on. It may well be that the events of 1926 served for us the same purpose. We have a way of getting over these crises, of having our fevers in a mild form, which makes us the envy of less happy lands.

What brought us through the General Strike successfully in the end? With all respect to noble and learned Lords who have contributed with such authority to this debate, it was not solely the legal pronouncements made upon the strike at the time. Equal credit must be given to the individualism and innate love of liberty of the British people. We do not want to re-kindle the passions of twenty years ago, but when we look back in retrospect upon painful crises, now long past, we can often recall incidents, not without their amusing side, from which we can draw inspiration and profit. A story is told of an incident in the General Strike which illustrates what I mean. Pickets were outside the London clocks. The gates opened and out came a great high-powered lorry—the kind of lorry to which the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, referred in his speech. It bore the notice "By authority of the T.U.C." A little while later the gates opened again and out came a little man in a billycock hat, smoking a clay pipe and driving his own pony and cart. This cart also had on it a notice, bearing these words "By authority of my own blooming self." (My Lords, I substitute the word "blooming" as being more Parliamentary than the original.) He passed through the gates unmolested and amid cheers. And thus was asserted the right of the individual to go about his lawful occasions. Whatever the future may bring, it will, I feel sure, be that innate love of individual freedom which will preserve us from all threats to our essential liberties, whether they come from without or arise from within.

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, the debate so far, on the second day, has certainly progressed with good humour and fair statement. In fact, I could not help feeling that the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, dubbing himself, rightly I believe, a progressive Tory found himself in real difficulties because of his progressiveness. Again and again he had to concede a little more than others had been prepared to do in the course of this debate. I will try, first of all, to deal with some of the points he raised before I turn to particular points with regard to the debate as a whole. The noble Lord dwelt on the question of stigma. Surely there is a stigma when a certain set of people are differentiated, in some way or other, from the rest of the community and special legislation is passed in order that they may be prevented from exercising their full rights and functions as citizens. The noble Lord went on to say that the General Strike of 1026 failed because we are a democratic country. Exactly. That is our whole case. There was no need for this legislation. There was no need for the 1927 Act, because always the good sense of this country, as has been manifested again and again, will ultimately assert itself and prevent anything that is unreasonable—or shall we say illegal?

I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, should have objected in any way to the remarks of my noble friend Lord Lindsay on the subject of revolutionary strikes. I think the only revolutionary act of that nature that has ever taken place in this country was that of the friends of the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin. That was, when they tried to hold up the whole government of this country and event plunge it into civil war. That was a good many years ago, in regard to the Irish question. They were prepared to bring—and did bring—this country to a very grave issue. It was only the intervention of a larger issue which prevented the other from developing to a very serious extent. To charge the Labour Party or any one associated with it with that sort of thing is quite an unfair accusation.


I did not accuse the Labour Party of that. I was only referring to the speech which the noble Lord, Lord Lindsay, made in this House yesterday, in which he clearly advocated, in certain circumstances, a revolutionary strike. I said I thought that was wrong.


I was merely referring to the noble Lord's objection to a revolutionary strike when the record of his own Party is still very fresh in the memory of many of us. He is still totally wrong with regard to the position of the Left in Germany. The Nazi movement, from the very beginning, was subsidized by the large business and capitalist concerns in Germany. Thyssen and Krupps were amongst those at the bottom of it. The people who were liquidated were the trade unionists and others who followed the same line of thought. It is that sort of thing we are guarding against in calling for the repeal of this particular Act, which does seem to impose certain conditions which place the State in a position of legal authority over and above the right of individuals.

The noble Lord went on to talk of the future and the possibility of the Communists gaining accession to the Council of the T.U.C. This 1927 Act will not prevent that. The 1927 Act will not prevent anything of that description. Against that we have the common sense of the mass of trade unionists, and ordinary men and women, and we must rely on that to see that it does not happen. That is the sort of thing on which we have to rely, in the last resort, in every phase of our trade union experience. Then the noble Lord quoted part of the 1875 Act, to say that it was repealed by the 1927 Act. Might I call the attention of the noble Lord to an exchange which took place yesterday between my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon? In the course of that discussion the noble Viscount indicated that there would be something lost if the 1927 Act were repealed, and that there would be no power to deal with intimidators. The Lord Chancellor interrupted to say: "I had thought that there was provision in the Act of 1875 to deal with cases of anyone watching or besetting houses." The noble Viscount's reply to that was "I do not think so." Naturally it is not for me to interfere, or venture on ground where great legal pundits differ, but it aroused my curiosity and induced me to look up the 1875 Act. And for purposes of accuracy I think it would be as well that that should be on record.

Section 7 of the Conspiracy, and Protection of Property Act, 1875, provides that a person guilty of an offence—that is a person who, with a view to compel any other person to abstain from doing or to do any act which such other person has a legal right to do or abstain from doing, wrongfully and without legal authority

  1. (1) uses violence to or intimidates such other person or his wife or children, or injures his property; or
  2. (2) persistently follows such other person about from place to place; or
  3. (3) hides any tools, clothes or other property,…or
  4. (4) watches or besets the house or other place where such other person resides or works…or
  5. (5) follows such other person with two or more other persons in a disorderly manner in or through any street or road "—
shall be liable to pay a penalty or to be imprisoned. That Act still stands.


It has been amended.


During the course of the debate on the Trades Disputes Bill in another place those years ago—and I envy the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, inasmuch as he was not able to be present; I have the doubtful advantage of age in that respect—Sir William Joynson-Hicks, who was then Home Secretary, said that: "peaceful picketing for the purposes of peaceful persuasion or imparting information was permissible, and that the Act of 1926 did not do away with the Act Of 1875."


It should have been 1906.


What was illegal under the Act of 1875 is still illegal to-day, except in so far as it was modified by the simple words—which Sir John Anderson was not able completely to understand— for the purpose of peacefully obtaining or communicating information or peacefully persuading any person to work or abstain from work. The Home Secretary of that day said that under the old Act any form of violence or intimidation was illegal. Therefore, my Lords, there is no fear that the powers existing in Acts of Parliament for dealing with cases of intimidation such as those which have already been referred to in our discussion, are cancelled.


Perhaps, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, while he is explaining this, he could tell me the difference between watching and besetting a house, which is prohibited by Section 7 of the 1875 Act, and attending at or near a house or place where a person resides for the purpose of peacefully persuading him. I do not know where one ends and the other begins.


I am afraid I am in the same position as the noble Lord. I would point out that even the legal authorities have found that a subject of difficulty.


May I help? The words "watch or beset" involve some sort of continuity—the sort of action which would be a nuisance at Common Law. "Attending" of course may be on one occasion. May I add that the prohibition in the 1927 Act is a prohibition not against attending but against watching and besetting?


We are both grateful to the noble and learned Lord Chancellor for clearing up that difficulty for us. In the course of the debate yesterday Lord Simon said that it was not right to change the law and to make the position again as obscure as it was in 1926. If one may judge by the variety of legal opinions which we have heard quoted, the law is certainly not a bit clear. At any rate, I venture to say it is far better to go back to that than to have laws which cannot be operated or put into effect. That is the position in which we are at the present time. It is ruled that it is quite illegal to have strikes under the existing regulations and laws. But strikes go on. I have been spending some time in an endeavour to find ways and means to stop a big strike which is threatened in one of our large industries at the present time. If the strike breaks out, this 1927 Act will not be able to do anything to prevent it, and no action will be taken against those who participate. Therefore I say it brings the law into contempt to have laws, which we are unable to operate.

May I turn to the question of the so-called General Strike? Firstly, I have always contended that it was not a General Strike; that is to say it was not a strike in which there was a deliberate conspiracy planned by people meeting together for the purpose of holding up the community and endeavoring to gain their ends in that way. That is why, if he will pardon me, I took slight objection to the words of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor when he said that in some senses the strike was ill-advised and ill-considered. I quite appreciate what he meant. But this so-called General Strike was one of the greatest and one of the proudest moments in the whole history of trade unionism and of the working class of this country. What was it? It was simply that people of all ranks and sections of society, mainly from the trade unions, rallied together to support the miners in their protest against conditions, which were positively inhuman, when the whole conditions of life were being forced down to an unreasonable level. No doubt it was feared that such a state of affairs might be extended to other quarters.

For that reason alone, no one has any reason whatever to be ashamed or to express any regrets for being in sympathy with that object. That was followed by an Act, which was really conceived in fear and born in reprisals. Such was the Act of 1927. The so-called General Strike was a great up surging of human feeling. I venture to say, and I know the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, will agree with me, that, even if sometimes this does lead to actions which in later years might be considered to have been not wholly wise, it would not be altogether a good thing if we subordinated those feelings of indignation and sympathy to strict logic. This human feeling was really the basis of what took place on that occasion.

Under this 1927 Act all strikes, whether sympathetic or otherwise, designed or calculated to force the hand of the Government either directly or by inflicting hardship on the community, are illegal. It is an impossibility, I think, to draw the line and say that there is hardship or even pressure brought to bear upon a Government and therefore that a strike is legal or illegal. You are bound to have hardship and distress in cases of strikes, and the wider the strike the greater the hardship. Difficult as it is, it has got to be met in some way. I, in common with anybody else who has had anything to do with organized labour, deprecate strikes. We look upon them as wasteful, as stupid, and altogether harmful. On the other hand, however, we have to remember that it is, unfortunately, only by those methods that men have been able to obtain any decent standard of life. The whole history of the working-class movement is built up on that fact, that men had to fight for every concession, even for the ordinary decencies of life. That is the trouble, I respectfully submit, with which we are faced at the present time. Since I have come into this House I must frankly confess I have been tremendously impressed with what I might call the high standard of impartiality and consideration which has permeated the atmosphere of this Chamber. I have found an absence of what I would call Party bickering and Party division which one met with in other places. That is due to a variety of reasons. Therefore I am sorry that this Bill should be opposed by some of your Lordships who by so doing would seek to return to conditions which we have long since hoped had gone for ever.

I do not require to bring forward any evidence to show that again and again in the history of progressive advance in this country there has been resistance from the side that has been represented in opposition to the repeal of this Act. In recent years, while the two parties were co-operating, a real attempt was made to find a compromise solution of this question in order that another way out might be found. That compromise was resisted and rejected. Thus you reach the position, as happens again and again in regard to most other things, not only on the industrial side but on the political side as well, where, having rejected one claim, you find that a fuller and bigger claim is pressed and has to be conceded. That is not good for right and proper development.

I turn now to the point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Leverhulme, with regard to the political fund. The only answer I can give to the matter he has raised is that in a measure it is met in the Schedule of the Bill itself. It says there, on the assumption that this Act will be repealed, that: …notice shall, in accordance with the rules, be given to the members of the union acquainting them that each member has a right to be exempt from contributing to the political fund of the union and that a form of exemption notice can be obtained… That is one of the first things that will have to be done, and the rules to that effect will have to be agreed to by the Registrar-General himself. The Schedule goes on to say: Notwithstanding anything in this Act, no member of a trade union shall, until the expiration of one month after notice has been given to members in accordance with the provisions of the last foregoing paragraph, be required to contribute to the political fund … Therefore certain provision is made both for consideration and for opportunities for people to signify their willingness or unwillingness to contribute.

But noble Lords must bear in mind that a political fund is never established until after a ballot of the members has been taken, and a secret ballot at that. Therefore the fund cannot be established unless it is established by the wishes of the majority of members of that particular union. After all is said and done, we decide most things that way. We decide the government of our country by a majority of the votes of the persons concerned, and the taxes that are levied under the Government have to be paid by all, whether they agree in accepting them or not. There are some unions where they have not been able to carry that resolution and where the members have decided against the setting up of a political fund. Where a fund is established, the rules have to be submitted to the Registrar-General to see that they deal fairly with all persons concerned.


May I intervene for one moment to ask the noble Lord whether the secret ballot to which he has referred is taken at a meeting of the trade union or whether it is spread over a period of time so that all members of the union have ample opportunity of giving their secret vote?


As a matter of fact a separate notice has to posted or given to every member, who himself will, in most cases, return it at a given date. So there is not any case of a meeting being packed, or anything like that. The question has to be decided by the whole membership of the union. I hope that answers the noble Viscount's point. I would point out that even under the 1927 Act there are two lists. There are bound to be two lists, whether members contract in or contract out, and if there is any intimidation or pressure brought to bear upon people it is just as likely to be done under the system of the 1927 Act as any other.

I turn from that to the position of the civil servants, about which I know something. I see sitting opposite me the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who was once my chief and whom I used to meet in quite different circumstances when he was Postmaster-General from those in which I meet him now. I make bold to say that he would not dissent from the statement that he did not find the men more disloyal when they were affiliated to the Trades Union Congress, or that they carried out their duties any less efficiently because of that fact. How did that affiliation come about? The Civil Service carried on an agitation foe a long while. The agitation arose mainly through the Post Office workers, who formed the largest number and who to a great extent were brought in contact with the public outcry. They felt they had a right, like other workers, to be associated, to organize and to get the moral support—for that is all they could get—of other trade unionists in pushing forward claims for better conditions of life. To a certain extent they succeeded.

What were the conditions? The conditions, as I remember, were described a good many years ago by Air. Punch in a cartoon which bore the question: "Why are pillar boxes red? Because they blush for the postman's pay." The late Mr. Will Crookes, at a time when the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, was a Minister in the other House, answering the case which was always put up as a defence for poor pay, that civil servants had security of tenure, said: "Yes, it is quite true that in the Civil Service they have security of tenure. It is starvation, but, thank God, it is constant!" Out of that came the desire and the striving to affiliate to the Trades Union Congress. They did affiliate, and by the moral support they gained they very greatly improved their conditions. Long before any Act of Parliament was passed dealing with the matter, there were, and there still remains and always will be, conditions of service in the Civil Service which limit to a large extent certain actions by civil servants that might be detrimental to their duties as public servants. I do not suppose for a moment that any noble Lord who has served in a Government Department has thought at any time about what were the politics of the civil servant who had been advising him. He has had perfect confidence that he is getting the best advice and service possible. But we all know, because we sometimes meet them on other occasions, that these civil servants have politics and political allegiances. We are not concerned about the fact, and do not think they will discharge their public duties any less efficiently because of it.

The curious thing about it is that this 1927 Act, which makes it impossible for the Post Office people or other civil servants to join up with trade unionists, applies only to established civil servants and not to the unestablished, who are the larger number and who are performing duties quite as important. I remember the time when even so humble a person as a postman was ostracized and punished for belonging to a political club or for attending a political meeting. That is the sort of thing which makes one determined that we are not going to hark back to such conditions. It has been the Post Office servants and the civil servants as much as any, who have kept up the agitation for the repeal of this Act—not that they want to strike, but because they feel it is a reflection upon and a restriction of their dignities and rights as individual citizens. It may be that there are civil servants in certain positions and performing special duties upon whom there would have to be some restriction, which they themselves would no doubt quite willingly bear.

The only strike there has ever been in the Post Office occurred long before there was any thought of the Post Office workers being able to join up with any outside organization,, and it was occasioned by sheer desperation owing to the disgraceful conditions under which they lived. I remember that when I was still in the employ of the Post Office as a civil servant, I came under discussion in another place because I had spoken at a meeting organized by the Civil Service Socialist Society. Some of the remarks I made were reported in the Press and were brought to the attention of my superiors by a member of the House of Commons. I had been speaking on the Temperance Bill that was then being brought forward by the Liberal Party, and I was called upon by the then Mr. Sydney Buxton, who was Postmaster-General at the time, to explain my actions. I do not think I am giving anything away, because that gentleman has now passed to his rest, but after he had admonished me he said: "Look here, you have been speaking in the country, how is the Bill going?" Then he assured the House, which was quite true, that the officer had been suitably reprimanded. That shows the difficulty and the absurdity of trying to cut off large bodies of men who want to contribute and who have something to contribute to the councils of the State in matters such as this. I suggest that that in itself is a very good reason why this sort of thing should be wiped away. If my memory serves me rightly, there are about 320,000 established civil servants who are brought under this ban, for which there can be no justification whatever.

Then I would point out the absurdity of the 1927 Act. It does not penalize, and cannot penalize, the organization for any action it might take. The penalty must apply to the individual. If there were some trouble, to deal with every individual person in a big service like this would hold up the whole of the communications and the business of the State. It is because this is legislation which cannot be implemented, and because it has many absurdities in it and infringes the rights of the people that we are pressing for its repeal.

I want to say a word as to the suggestion that has been made about undivided loyalty to the State. This is, I should say, the very last place in which that ought to be pressed as a doctrine that is sacrosanct because the very walls of this building cry out against it. Again and again there are occasions when there have to be protests, when there are involved higher loyalties than the State can demand from its citizens, and when things which affect the consciences and the higher moral duties of men are bound to come into conflict with mere legalities. To say that undivided loyalty to the State is a reason for the retention of this Act is not likely to commend itself to the majority of the people.

There is no suggestion that on the whole people are willing to be or want to be law-breakers. Let me for a moment deal with the position as to whether the General Strike was illegal. I was then an official of the Post Office employees. We were especially warned that, whatever happened, nothing should stop the telegraph or postal services. The strike leaders were careful to see that that should not happen. I had a very unpleasant task at that time-one which brought upon me great unpopularity. The news came that the employees at Woolwich were corning out on strike and I was deputed to go down to Woolwich to see that they did not. At a mass meeting on Plumstead Common, where I was anything but a popular figure, I am glad to say I succeeded in preventing that happening. That is an instance which proves there was every intention to try to keep the strike a purely industrial dispute.

One can only conclude that this Act was born out of fear and a spirit of reprisal. In fact I venture to say that had it not been for a certain prominent member of the Government who has lately been able to exercise, to the advantage of us all, his great capacity and liking for a fight and his ability to lead it, things might have gone differently at that particular time. It was a fight; it did not matter to him whether it was against a trade unionist or a German so long as a light was to be fought. He went into it and, I believe, pushed his rather quiet and slow-going Prime Minister very much farther than he would have gone otherwise. That led to the trouble which has been brewing ever since.

I suggest to your Lordships that, not on mere grounds of expediency—I should be sorry if that were the case—but on the merits of the case itself this Act should be repealed. By its repeal we show that we trust our people, that we know they are to be relied upon to do the right thing to exercise their judgment and wisdom on the right lines, and to use the liberties that they have won not for themselves only but for the good of the State. If your Lordships will do that you will have indeed proved that this House is what I believe it has shown itself to be, a real Council of State, not only recognizing that the majority of the electorate have already declared themselves in regard to this but recognizing also that it is useless and stupid to keep Acts of Parliament on the Statute Book which cannot be operated and which to a very large extent are a stigma on and an insult to many of our citizens.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, I find it very difficult to speak on this topic and very difficult to be silent. I find it difficult to speak because the questions involved are very largely questions of law which call for so much detailed thought and examination of the words of the Statute that one can hardly discuss them here. I find it difficult to be silent because I have been connected with these problems for half a century. As a member of the Bar I fought in many industrial disputes, both on the side of the men and on the side of the employers, and as a Judge I have taken part in the decision of many cases, including, I think, the last which dealt with somewhat cognate matters—namely, the case relating to the Harris crofters, in which it so happened that Mr. Ernest Bevin's views were of great importance. I should feel I was taking a rather cowardly course if I abstained from expressing my opinion, for what it is worth, and from endeavouring, as far as I can, to clear up some of the matters which apparently remain obscure in the minds of a good many noble Lords opposite.

The first thing to note is that the Bill before us is a Bill to restore the legal position which existed nineteen years ago, and the obvious question which one asks to begin with is this. Is there any case of injury, hardship or disadvantage which any human being has suffered during the last nineteen years because the Act of 1927 is on the Statute Book? We have heard of none. Nobody has told us of what hardship has been suffered, and although I am going to deal at some length, I am afraid, with the sort of things that are said about the Act, I cannot find that anybody has been any the worse for that Act. Noble Lords opposite wish to take us back, by the passing of the present Bill, to the state of uncertainty and confusion which, by the admission of everybody, existed in the year 1926. That is not in dispute. I am a lawyer, and have been a lawyer practically all my life. I know how difficult these questions are and I, of course, like others, have formed a view upon them. But I am not discussing what is the right view to take, the strict legal view to take, of how the law stood in 1926. I am saying that it was doubtful, and I none the less say it was doubtful although a Judge who was my friend, Mr. Justice Astbury, expressed an opinion which had a great effect in guiding the general views of mankind at that time, followed as it was by a most powerful speech by a gentleman who was then Sir John Simon.


Preceded by.


One preceded and one followed. There were two speeches. I am obliged to my noble friend. When you have Lord Hailsham, Lord Simon, Sir Frederick Pollock, the greatest jurist of his day, Lord Haldane, the present Lord Chancellor and Professor Goodhart and other professors express different views on the position as it was when the General Strike was going on, or immediately after it had come to an end, who is going to say that my opinion is so valuable that I should decide amongst all these great men and tell you what was the law? I certainly will not. I hold the view, for what it is worth, that what Sir Frederick Pollock, who was a personal friend of mine, said was right, but I am not saying that the view which has been expressed either by the present Attorney-General or by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack is wrong. I can only say that this is a case where opinions differ, and it may be that the elaborate opinion which my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack gave us yesterday is right.

I am here to say that you cannot tell which is right and which is wrong in such a case. As a lawyer, having had to sit for so long deciding cases, what I loathe and detest most when sitting as a Judge is the uncertainty of the law. I think the law ought to be certain. This is a matter where people's liberty is involved, where freedom is involved, where we want to know whether large numbers of people are acting rightly or wrongly, and I am convinced that one ought to have that perfectly clear. Noble Lords opposite wish to take us back into a state of uncertainty and confusion and doubt. Why? Well, I will come to "why" later on, but I do ask them to accept that my view has some force in it, and at any rate is made with a personal conviction, that the law on this subject ought not to be left doubtful and that it should be stated in the clearest terms.

My noble friend Lord Ammon who addressed us with a very interesting and, if I may venture to say so, very able speech, said, among other things, that we should bear in mind the fact that since the Act of 1927 there have been, notwithstanding the Act, a number of strikes, some official and some unofficial, some therefore prima facie right from his point of view and some from his point of view absolutely wrong. This Act has not stopped them in any way and they have gone on as merrily, if a strike ever continues merrily, as before. This is one of the most remarkable statements made in the whole debate, and it shows how different a view a lawyer on this side must take of the whole matter from that which noble Lords on the other side, who are laymen, are inclined to adopt. The Act of 1927 was never intended to stop strikes in the general term. Had it been in fact a reprisal, as some noble Lords and some gentlemen in another place seem to think, of course it might well have interfered with strikes as a whole. There are a number of things it might have done. For example, it would have been quite easy to restore the results, or most of the results, of the Taff Vale decision, but the Government of the time never touched it. It is moonshine to suppose that the object of this law was in the nature of a reprisal. The law was affected by the 1926 strike because that strike had shown the necessity for a definition in this matter of what a General Strike was, and that definition was called for on ordinary common-sense grounds and in order to prevent people acting illegally in such a case. But that is not the only way in which Section 1 of the Act of 1927 seems to be misunderstood. It is extraordinary to me, although I can well understand the layman being in that position, to hear it stated as if it was an obvious fact that this Act of 1927 made sympathetic strikes illegal.


Would my noble friend permit me to interrupt? I hate doing so, but he has rather misunderstood me. What I did point out was that strikes had gone on in spite of emergency legislation. That was the point I was making. Now with regard to the other point, I will meet that right away. It does prevent it because it brings the extent of a strike within very much narrower limits.


If I have done an injustice to the noble Lord, I need not say that I heartily regret it. I fully understand what he now says. It is not quite what I understood him to have said before, but that was probably my fault. I am cooling now to the question of what Section I means. It is not true that it stops sympathetic strikes, and it is not true that it was ever intended to stop them, as far as we can judge from this Act. Let me tell your Lordships what is the truth. It is not a matter of doubt at all. There are two things which make a strike illegal, two conditions which have to obtain before a strike is an illegal one. I may mention here that "General Strike" is not a phrase used in the Act at all; it is only a compendious way of saying "Such strikes as are referred to in Section 1."

These are the two things that have got to be proved if anyone says that a strike-or a lock-out for that matter-is illegal. A strike is illegal if two things happen. Section 1 (1) (a) (i) declares that any strike is illegal if it 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. For instance, I have known strikes to have for their objects the getting of an unpopular person out of a village, or the obtaining of some political advantage which was not directly connected with the particular trade concerned at all. That is the first condition. I will ask the noble Lord, Lord Ammon, to listen carefully to this because I am so anxious, as a matter of courtesy, to explain to him where he was wrong. Paragraph (i), which I have just read, and paragraph (ii) are connected by the word "and," which is a common English word, and to a lawyer it means that both these conditions must be complied with. The second condition is that a strike is illegal if it is a strike designed or calculated to coerce the Government, either directly or by inflicting hardship upon the community… So, if there is a sympathetic strike of, shall we say, people engaged in the shipping trade, to help the miners, and if it can be shown that that strike is a strike "designed or calculated to coerce the Government directly or by inflicting hardship upon the community," the strike will be illegal.

There is a definition of a lock-out with which I need not trouble your Lordships. Nobody cares, apparently, about the employers for the purposes of this debate. We are concerned only with the work-men, and it is quite right that we should be. Half the things that are said on the other side of the House are wrong, because noble Lords there do not understand the real legal meaning of the Act. To say that so limited an object as that in the section is something which indicates-that this Act was intended as a reprisal for the General Strike—I shall use the popular phrase—seems to me a preposterous conclusion to draw from the facts.


May I ask the noble Viscount if he will explain this matter a little further? I still say that a sympathetic strike is prohibited by this. If he will read further he will find that it says that a trade dispute must be limited within certain areas, that is, within the same trade or industry or Industrial Council. That is where the limitation comes in. The ship-builders could not come out in support of the miners under this, because they would not be under the same Industrial Council. That is the limitation.


Indeed, that is not so. To make a strike illegal both the conditions which I have quoted have got to be fulfilled. I wish that I could persuade the noble Lord that that is plain as a matter of English. I do not think that the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack will contradict me upon this. It has been recognized by lawyers for a long time, and I confess that as a question of law I think the matter is unarguable here. Whether before this Act there was agreement as to what is and what is not an illegal strike is a very different matter, and a matter of legitimate doubt. But here it is absolutely certain that a declaration that the strike is illegal can only be made if both conditions obtain. A sympathetic strike not designed or calculated to coerce the Government is not illegal—you may be as sympathetic as you like. The Government of the time were very anxious to confine this to a limit, and I feel absolutely convinced that what I have said to your Lordships is right as a matter of law.


May I say a word upon this? I quite agree with what the noble and learned Viscount said about the word "and". Both these conditions have to be fulfilled. But I think it is plain that any large-scale sympathetic strike must be illegal because it would tend to coerce the Government. Would the noble and learned Viscount contend that the railwaymen could come out in support of the miners? Could coastal shipping men come out in support of the miners? Is the noble and learned Viscount not introducing a tremendous element of uncertainty where no uncertainty existed before?


I am glad that the noble and learned Lord Chancellor is with me that both conditions have got to be fulfilled. But he glozes rather over the important word in what he says. When he says that any large-scale sympathetic strike is bound to be a strike designed or calculated to coerce the Government, that is perfectly true. The strike has only got to be large enough and it will be designed or calculated to coerce the Government. But in my time—and I am afraid that that means a longer time than that of almost anybody on the Benches opposite—I have known sympathetic strikes which did not coerce the Government in the smallest degree. And it is fair enough to point out that a large-scale sympathetic strike which affects a number of trades will be bound to affect the Government. I admit that at once. But that is not what noble Lords here have been contending. That is a new consideration. Of course, it is the object of this section—another phrase might be used (only it would be much too vague): "A large-scale sympathetic strike which would have the result of coercing the Government," to state one of the conditions which would make a strike illegal.


That is the idea of the General Strike.


Yes, precisely—it is what we mean by calling it "General." If it is sufficiently large-scale, it has the effect of being designed or calculated to coerce the Government. I am hoping that I am now in complete accord with the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack. But both in another place and here a wholly contrary expression has been used, or a wholly contrary view of what this Act does has been taken. Let us consider the position of noble Lords who want to remove that section from the Statute Book. I am not going to argue to-night—because I do not want to keep you here too long—that there could not be a doubt as to the meaning of this question, although I am not aware that any doubt has arisen in the minds of juries or that they have particularly criticized this section on the ground that it was obscure. That is not my point at all. I would say the same with regard to the sections we are corning to. If it is doubtful, and that is the objection to the section, I say "Come forward with an Amendment," which you know perfectly well, with the huge majority you possess in the other place, you will be able to pass. The contest between us is this. The interests of the country are far more important than the interests of Tory, Labour or Liberal Party. We have to ask which is the better course, having regard to the interests of the country, to take—to go back to the law as it was nineteen years ago (which admittedly was doubtful and obscure) or to amend the Act of 1927 to make it just and equitable to everybody and capable of being easily understood. That is the question which the noble Lords opposite, in my view, ought to put to themselves. It seems to me that the grounds on which they are supporting the present Bill—as I shall hope to demonstrate—are not based on any such consideration as that.

Doubt will exist, and the doubt which existed in 1926 was not only in reference to the precise meaning of a General Strike,—an illegal strike I should have said—but there may also be doubts on some other matters, and if your Lordships will allow me I should like shortly to go through one or two of the other subjects in debate, in particular the other sections which have to be considered. I would first like to say something on a point just touched upon by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. The noble Lord, Lord Lindsay, who is I think no longer here and who takes the view which nobody can understand, that the Act of 1927 is totalitarian, was in favour of revolutionary strikes. If he is alone in that I need not trouble about it; but it is quite clear that the noble and learned Lord Chancellor took a very different view, for he said that as soon as a strike was revolutionary it must be illegal. Let us accept that. I accept it to the full. It does not seem to me, if you want to alter the Constitution of the country, that the law can possibly provide any step—any legal step—for the alteration, other than that of turning out the Government and establishing a new one, and getting the new Government to pass legislation which the country as a whole considers to be proper. The law cannot approve of a revolution, which is contrary to the law. That being so I am utterly unable to understand how an argument can be based on the footing that we ought to repeal the law of 1927 in order that we may have greater liberty to embark on a revolutionary strike.

The noble and learned Lord Chancellor at the end of his (if I may say so) extremely clear and interesting speech referred to the Emergency Powers Act, 1920. It is curious that so little reference has been made to that Act, which was an Act passed by a Coalition Government when Mr. Lloyd George was the Premier. That Act, reading it shortly, provides that: If at any time it appears … that any action has been taken or is immediately threatened … of such a nature and on so extensive a scale as to be calculated, by interfering with the supply and distribution of food, water, fuel, or light, or with the means of locomotion, to deprive the community … of the essentials of life, His Majesty may, by Proclamation … declare that a state of emergency exists. Where a Proclamation has been made, and so long as it remains in force, there is power for His Majesty in Council, by Order to make regulations to secure the essentials of life. And there are certain particulars as to the regulations to be made.

I think the noble Lord in referring to that was well aware that if that was to be any use at all it would require some amendment, because, although you may make regulations of that kind, if half the workmen in the country a re striking under a General Strike you have no power to take a man by the scruff of his neck and force him to deliver goods or run a boat or drive an omnibus. Therefore there is nothing in that Act, as it stands, which will help you if a General Strike should break out. Accordingly. I do not think this Act will help us very much. I would like to point this out. People who have never been engaged in the law so often think that if they can put a nice well-drawn section in an Act of Parliament on the Statute Book they have solved the problem, because they think the section will be ultimately enforced by the law. I know from large experience that that is a great mistake, and that the one thing you have to consider—almost the most important thing of all, if there is an illegal strike—is how long it will take you to enforce the law.

The noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, has incidentally touched on this matter, because he and the Attorney-General in another place both said they did not in the least think that an indictment for a breach of the law of this kind—as to the illegality of any particular strike—was a course which they would recommend to a particular Government. Of course it would be useless. We are only dealing with a General Strike. The offence therefore is according to the definition, something which is designed directly or indirectly to coerce the Government by inflicting hardship upon the community. That may be amended, but that is the substance of it. How long can such a strike last, without either the country being half ruined or the people -engaged in the General Strike declining to go on? Any action taken, if there is such a strike, must be swift. It was swift in ro26. When my friend Mr. Justice Astbury had before him a motion for an injunction to restrain the use of the funds of a particular trade union from being applied in support of the strike, he was using a legal power which could be obtained in two or three days after the issue of a writ. It could be done very rapidly. There was no reason for any delay at all. If you are going to indict a man for some offence under this Act, it may very well take six months or even a year before he is charged, before it is proved that the act which he did was illegal, and even then there might be an appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal. Therefore, if you are dealing with machinery to stop a General Strike, it must be rapid, and it must be capable of being exercised by injunction without delay. That is why in this Act of 1927 there is a section—Section 7—which, enables the Attorney-General to apply for an injunction restraining any application of the funds of a trade union in contravention of the provisions of Section 1.

I do not think that has been appreciated by noble Lords opposite. I think they are of opinion that if we left things as they were under the Act of 1875 everything would be all right and the strike could be stopped. That is not so. It simply is not true. It is true that there are people who might be held to be liable under the Act for damages, or who might be liable to be subjected to certain penalties—that is something, at any rate—but the Act was not really designed to deal with a General Strike. It was designed to deal with conspiracies, but, it did, incidentally, deal with ordinary strikes and in Section 7 made illegal certain acts in support of ordinary strikes. If I have misstated the title of the Act, I state now that the Act was the Conspiracy, and Protection of Property Act, 1875.

So much for the necessity for the Act if you want to be able to stop a General Strike, and to know whether a particular act is legal or illegal. I rather echo what has already been said, I think by my noble friend Lord Simon, or rather I echo the question which he asked—why do noble Lords opposite want to make it impossible, if there is a wide-spread strike which involves half the means of production in the country, transport, lighting, and all the rest of it, to stop that in the way in which it could have been stopped, and in the way which was partially responsible for stopping it in the year 1926? That is a thing which I think we ought to be told, and which we have not yet been told.

With regard to Section 2, which relates to the protection of persons refusing to take part in illegal strikes or lock-outs, I quite agree that, as framed, the section is intended to deal with the illegal strike as defined in Section 1, and, if Section 1 were to come out or to be amended, it would be necessary to amend slightly Section 2. But do noble Lords opposite really want persons who refuse to take part in an illegal strike to be subjected to the tyranny mentioned in the section which in the past sometimes has been employed to punish them for not joining what is supposed to be the majority? The actions which are prevented are, in particular, expulsion from any trade union; fine or penalty; deprivation of any right or benefit to which the man or his legal personal representatives would otherwise be entitled; or in any respect, directly or indirectly, placing a man under any disability or disadvantage—merely because he has refused to do something illegal, admittedly illegal. Do they want to have that removed from the Statute Book? Again I think they ought to explain why they do.

Section 3 deals with the prevention of intimidation. There is a clause with regard to intimidation in Section 7 of the Act of 1875 which has been partially amended by Section 2 of the Trade Disputes Act of 1906. I am afraid my noble friend Lord Ammon takes a view of those sections with which I do not agree. The Act of 1875 is altered in respect of that particular matter of intimidation by the Act of 1906. They have got to be read together, and the 1906 Act must be taken as meaning pro tanto that section in the Act of 1875.

The Attorney General's view of the law, as given on the Second Reading in another place, surprised Sir John Anderson, to whom it was particularly addressed, and I would add that it also surprised me. I do not think it was quite accurate. He said this: Suppose you had a strike that made men stay out. Supposing one of the strikers goes along to a friend in a perfectly friendly and peaceable manner, to a man who thought it right to remain in work, and supposing he said 'Look here, Tommy, if you stick it we shall be beaten, and if we are beaten they would bring all our wages down and you would lose money in the end, the same as the rest of us.' Perhaps honourable members may think there is nothing very terrible in that, but that is intimidation under the terms of the 1927 Act, and that conduct would be punishable. I am afraid I do not agree. I do not think any Court would hold that to be intimidation. But I would add, at the risk of repeating what I have been saving, that if you think that section goes a little too far in regard to intimidation, amend it. I am sure none of the noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite are in favour of intimidation properly so-called being used in support of a strike. I am perfectly certain they are candid, and their word in that respect can be relied upon. They do not want it.

I am also equally certain that there is not one of them who, with the Act of 1927 out of the way, can tell me what are the limits of intimidation. I do not believe they can, and I would observe that I was not very greatly impressed with the criticism of the section which was made by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack. It does not seem to me that the words used to define "intimidationx"— a reasonable apprehension of injury to him or to any member of his family or to any of his dependants or of violence or damage to any person or property "— are really capable of much misconstruction, if you read the sentence in which the words appear. The words are not applied to a single person who tries peaceably to persuade somebody to stop work. They apply to a number of persons "if they so attend in such numbers or otherwise in such manner as to be calculated to intimidate." If a hundred people, or it may be fifty people, appear at a man's house or the place where he resides or works and intimate to him that they have come for the purpose of obtaining or communicating information or of persuading or inducing him to work or abstain from working, it does not seem to me they will so appear in a body unless they are intending pressure which, for this purpose, is intimidation.

I would observe that I did not invent that view. It was a view which was expressed by the Commission, consisting of some of the most distinguished people in connexion with a matter of this kind, and I think they were undoubtedly right. The Commission of 1906 consisted of Lord Dunedin, Mr. Arthur Cohen, K.C. and Mr. Sidney Webb, and talking about watching and besetting a house they said: It is to be observed that the Statute places no limit to the number of persons attending for the purpose only of obtaining or communicating …information and picketing therefore of that kind is always and of necessity in the nature of an annoyance to the person picketed. As such it must savour of compulsion and it cannot be doubted that it is because it is found to compel that trade unions systematically resort to it. Who is there with a reasonable mind who can doubt that that is true? And who is there that can say that since that part of Section 3 is confined only to cases of attending in numbers—"such numbers or otherwise in such manner as to be calculated to intimidate"—it is unfair, although one may be able to say that there is some slight obscurity as to numbers which might be cleared up?

I am afraid I have been rather longer than I had intended. I might perhaps refer to the "rough music" to which Sir John Anderson referred in another place. There is one other thin I should like to say with regard to the exact effect of the Act of 1927 which I do not think has been said yet. Sir John Anderson was, as your Lordships know, permanent Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office at one time, and he told the people in another place: As the matter was left by the Act of 1906, no distinction was drawn between watching and besetting a workman's place of business and watching and besetting a workman's house. I can assure the House that the records of the Home Office bristle with instances where the practice of besetting a workman's home was attended by oppressive conduct of the most outrageous description, and it is significant that there was no proposal in the Bill of 1931 to modify that particular provision of the Act of 1927. That has never been denied. These outrageous instances are to continue unless a change comes over the spirit of the strikers' world. Will noble Lords opposite really feel comfortable when some years hence they read that these instances of oppressive conduct of the most outrageous description are being continued and that there is the gravest doubt whether any Government action or other action will be taken to stop them?

I could go on, but it is late, and I do not want to keep your Lordships here. I should like to observe this in conclusion, however: that it does not seem to me that noble Lords opposite, or the majority in another place, bother themselves about arguments in any way at all. I have carefully read all they have said, and it seems to me it may be summarized under four heads. They say that the 1927 Act was passed in the wrong spirit, and this Bill will improve the atmosphere in industry. Well, that may be a reason for considering an Act and amending it, but if you are going to say an Act is passed in the wrong spirit, you might go back, I suppose, to the Reform Bill. The second contention is that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs intends to remove a stigma which the Tory Party put upon him in 1927 as the leader of the trade unions. Well, various noble Lords have already mentioned that strange contention, but it is absolutely without foundation. No stigma whatever was attached either to Mr. Ernest Bevin or to any other person who was a leader of the trade unions or connected with them.

It came upon me as a complete surprise. I know very well that if anybody in this country requires a testimonial from the Tory Party to say how greatly they have appreciated his conduct during the recent months and that any notion of stigma which he ever thought had attached to his name was removed, that testimonial could be obtained for Mr. Ernest Bevin and I should be very glad to put my name at the very head of it. The suggestion is entirely without foundation. Have noble Lords opposite any idea of the mentality of the people with whom they are sitting here if they believe that anybody thinks, some nineteen or twenty years afterwards, that Mr. Ernest Bevin's reputation is still, if it ever has been, affected in the smallest degree by the position he occupied in the strike of 1926, or, I might add, that the reputations of my noble friends Lord Ammon and Lord Walkden are in the smallest degree affected?

That is the second ground. The third is the assertion—I suppose one may call it the contention—that the Bill will establish good will and that there is a mandate for it. Is it really supposed that if one establishes ill will it becomes doubtful whether Acts such as these we have been discussing here are lawful or unlawful? I should think that would sow suspicion and people would not know what they could do properly and what they could not do. Finally, it is said that the Act of 1927 was a reprisal for the General Strike. If so, it was the strangest sort of reprisal I have ever seen, because, as I have shown—and I do not hesitate to say I have shown it—the definition of a General Strike is of the narrowest kind and the Act can only be operated in defence of the State. If anybody thinks that is a reprisal for what was done, in the words of the noble Lord on the Woolsack, "with not enough consideration and care," they must be content to hold that view, and I must be content to say that I think it is absolutely unfounded.

The fact is that the Government have been rather affected in this matter by the arrogance due to their possessing a great majority in the other place. At the end of his eloquent speech my noble and learned friend Viscount Simon reminded us of a quotation, of which we were all of us aware, in reference to a "giant's strength." It came, as noble Lords opposite and on this side will know, in the great speech of Isabella in the play Measure for Measure when she was addressing some remark to Angelo. Perhaps I might be permitted to say that ten lines further down Isabella added something which may also be properly quoted. I will omit one line which might be thought to be a little rude to the other side. Isabella said: …but man, proud man, Drest in a little brief authority, Most ignorant of what he's most assured, Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven As make the angels weep … That, I think, might be a description, and not a very unfair one, of the way in which the Government have forced this measure through the other House and of the way in which they are compelling us to accede to it here.

5.16 p.m.


My Lords, I will not apologize for bringing your Lordships down to earth after that very brilliant exposition from the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham. One of the amenities derived from speaking late in a long debate in this House is that so much has been said before which will not stand repetition. I will not detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes and I will pay attention solely to Section 3. As I see it, there are two assumptions on this section. One is that the Law Officers of the Crown at the time satisfied themselves that the Acts of 1875 and 1906 did not provide sufficient protection for workmen wanting to work during a strike—I do not mean a General Strike, but any strike—and that they therefore drafted Section 3 in the Act of 1927, which does in fact give them that protection. On the other hand, in the Committee stage in another place the Attorney-General, in resisting an Amendment for the exemption from repeal of subsection (4) of Section 3, described the argument in favour of it as "the purest political bunkum".

That gives rise to the assumption, in my mind, that those same Law Officers had completely wasted their time and had drafted this long and very difficult section to no good purpose at all. It would take the most powerful peaceful persuasion to make me adopt that latter assumption. On February 12, moving the Second Reading of this Bill in another place, the Attorney-General, dealing with the legal implications, said that at bottom the matters involved in this legislation were matters of common sense and policy. I venture to suggest that common sense and policy do not always go hand in hand. Policy can in fact sometimes try to make the purest political bunkum into common sense, and of course vice versa. I will, however, try to limit myself to the two matters he recommends. On the common-sense point of view, I believe that the Law Officers discovered, with all the facts and evidence in front of them, that the existing legislation contained loopholes legalizing various forms and acts of intimidation—riot any particular form, but various forms of it—and that they set themselves the very humane task of drafting this section to make all those acts in future clearly illegal, thus preserving the right to strike and at the same time preserving the right to work for those who wished to do so without fear of any harm to themselves, their wives or their families.

I do not put much trust in what is normally called persuasion. In times of industrial crisis, when mass meetings are addressed by fiery orators, passions become inflamed, tempers roused, and I do not believe that men under those circumstances will calmly go away, sit down and talk over the merits or demerits of any particular situation. It is at those times that mobs will collect, and when mobs do collect very ugly incidents follow and sometimes even the rule of mob law gets under way. I am quite sure that no responsible trade union leader would ever agree with such acts as hooliganism and tyranny, but who can say, human nature being what it is, that these things will not inevitably occur again unless most stringent measures are used to prevent them?

On the question of policy, the Government are continually asking now for greater production, larger output, greater effort for supplying the markets of the world, and urging that our economic position must be made stable. Surely, therefore, the more sensible and, in fact, the obvious thing to have done, instead of repealing this Act would have been to have seen whether it could not have been made even more tight and more protective so that those who wanted to work during the period of a strike could do so in perfect safely and keep up at least some production, because if they have no protection we are going to have no production at all. Moreover, I cannot understand any justification for leaving on the Statute Book Acts which are so loosely drawn as to permit of even one man being forcibly prevented from earning his daily bread in a Christian country. Sorely, to earn one's daily bread is one of the basic rights of Christianity.

We have been fighting for six long years with everything we possess. We have been fighting an ideology which not only permitted but encouraged the oppression of man by man. We have been fighting for another ideology, that which was expressed in the Atlantic Charter by those four famous freedoms, the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear. I think that sets out in the clearest possible terms our conception of democracy. I believe sincerely that if in consequence of the repeal of Section 3 of this Bill such bad forces of human nature are put in motion and let loose with consequent tyranny, history will condemn this Government as having broken faith with that Charter and dishonoured those who died for it, because for countless numbers of people in this country we shall be abolishing one of those freedoms—namely, freedom from fear.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I think everyone will agree that it has not only been right that we should have had this very full debate in this House, but that it has contributed, in the speeches which have been delivered with great knowledge and great sincerity on all sides of the House, much of material value. A very respected Member of this House, Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, who is now not a member of my Party—I am not sure whether he is yet a member of the party opposite—speaking recently in a debate here on the functions of this House said: There is a strange and, as I think, altogether unhistorical opinion, that Parliamentary debates are of very little importance…. Parliament means etymologically, and it ought to mean, a place where its members talk, for it is by talk that questions can be elucidated, confusion can be clarified, and that fundamental agreement reached which is really the foundation of the whole of our Constitution.… I would submit that this House affords special advantages for a discussion of that kind. That was reinforced to-day in that interesting speech from Lord Ammon in which he said how much he had been impressed by the sincerity and the dispassionate character of the debates in this House. It is indeed valuable that we should debate a measure of this kind. We were all touched by Lord Ammon's story of his old fights against the noble Lord for the betterment of Post Office conditions.


There was no fight.


It must be a consolation to him to feel to-day that his colleague the Postmaster-General is going to have his sweated salary of £3,000 raised to £5,000. I have listened to nearly the whole of this debate and certainly the first reflection which occurs to me after studying the Bill and hearing the debate is that the time of the Government and of Parliament might be much better occupied than with this Bill. There are plenty of Bills and plenty of problems in front of us. In these frightfully difficult times I would honestly test all proposed measures, legislative or administrative, by this question: Are these measures going to help us to achieve those results which the whole country needs and which we would all wish to join in achieving?

I cannot see how this Bill is going to help the economic condition of the country or the restoration of our trade. The best and indeed the only argument the Government can produce—I want to put the case quite fairly—is that they have constantly advocated the repeal of the 1927 Act, and that in the early days they made it plain that if ever they were in a position to do so they would do their best to repeal it. I admit that they have what my noble and learned friend Viscount Simon called yesterday "a sort of mandate" for doing it. I think it is perfectly fair to admit that. Personally I think this is a bad Bill. I hope we shall not be compelled to have other legislation, but I shall be surprised if in the future we do not. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, himself in a very powerful and persuasive speech, in which he introduced the Second Reading of this Bill, said that they had not had time to think of what ought to be put in its place, but that the time would come when some new trade union legislation would have to be introduced. I think the Government have got an authority to do this thing if they think it right to take the responsibility for doing it. I go further, and say that this Bill, which is either a good Bill or a bad Bill, is not a Bill which is susceptible of amendment, unless it were desired—and that would be the responsibility of the Government—to produce the kind of amendment to Clause 1 which would substitute for the uncertainty that is going to be created a new certainty. But, as I say, I do not think that this Bill is really susceptible of amendment in this House. I know I speak on both these points for all my colleagues on these Benches. That is why I think it so important that we should consider this Bill fully on the Second Reading.

When I say that the Government have a right—as I think they have—to present this Bill to Parliament, that does not at all mean that if you have a right to do a thing you are necessarily wise in doing it. The real test is whether this Bill is fair. What is it desired to do which cannot be done at present, and which is fair and reasonable and in the national interest? Is it desired to make legal—I will not talk about a General Strike—a political strike, a strike to force the Government, as a Government, to do something? The Lord Chancellor left us in no doubt where he stood in that matter. He was perfectly definite that there was not such an intention. But there was another speech, also made by an eminent lawyer, to which I think I must draw attention. I refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Chorley. I think I am right in saying that he is himself a Professor of Law, a lawyer of high standing, and, in contrast to the Lord Chancellor, he advocated most strongly the legalizing of the most extreme form of political strike.

In order that I might not at all misrepresent him I have refreshed my memory from the report of yesterday's debate. I quote from Column 986. Speaking about the speech of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, Lord Chorley said: … he went on from reading Mr. Cramp's statement that the object was to obtain the resignation of the Government— there can be no doubt that that was a political motive— —and surely it is a perfectly legitimate object— I was so surprised at that curious contrast with the Lord Chancellor's speech that I ventured to interrupt, and so this is how the Report continues:


By a strike?


To make it go to the country in order that the country might pass a verdict on this business. We are all occupying ourselves the whole time trying to bring pressure to bear on the Government.


Is that what the present Government are seeking to do and to legalize by this Bill?


My contention is that pressure on a Government, provided it is of a legitimate kind—"

I do not quite know what that means. I presume it may mean provided you do not: shoot them. You may remove, but you must not liquidate them. —is quite common. To withhold one's work is perfectly legitimate; anybody can withhold his work. The whole time the people are trying to bring pressure to bear on Governments to do this— I do not know whether he means to withhold their work. Oh, no, I beg his pardon, I see that the latter part of the sentence runs: to do this, that and the other; it is the whole business of politics. That really is very extraordinary, and it does show what difficulties we get into when we begin to tamper with this legislation. The Lord Chancellor says that the last thing in the world his Government would seek to do would be to make a political strike legal. Lord Chorley suggested that it ought to be the everyday work of every trade union in the country. Now both noble Lords are eminent lawyers—one of them sits on the Woolsack and the other on the Back Benches oppo- site. No doubt with his characteristic tact and acumen, the Leader of the House will be able to reconcile their statements. With his characteristic, lucidity he will, I am sure, explain to us what it: is that the Government intend to do, But what he certainly will not be able to explain is what will, in fact, be the legal result when this Act is passed.

I leave aside the quite extraordinary argument by the Attorney-General in another place—that what is wrong should not be made illegal if the relevant law is difficult to enforce. The Lord Chancellor was very careful to steer clear of any such argument in commending this Bill to your Lordships. I do him the justice to say that doubtless he not only realized that it is argumentatively untenable, but he would not himself profess, as head of the judiciary, any such extraordinary faith. And it really is most amazing—I speak in the presence of eminent lawyers who have held office as Lord Chancellor and have been leaders of the Bar—that the leader of the Bar of England should address an argument of that kind to the House of Commons. What becomes of the "Rule of Law" which is what we are holding up as a mirror and an example to all the world? International right may be a difficult thing to define and a difficult thing to enforce, but that has not prevented us from insisting on trying to validate and fortify international justice and equity as International Law. We are a law-abiding people, most surprising persons have professed that we are, and we want to keep the law—at least I suppose we do.

We, at any rate, want to know what are the laws which it is our legal duty to keep. That is a ten[...]t to which we can all subscribe. We all want to keep the law, and to do it we must know what the law is. If the law is wrong, it should be amended. If it is not clear, it should be clarified. The worst amendment that any Legislature can make to the law, is to make it more obscure. And there is no doubt at all that this is what this Bill does. We have listened to some of the greatest lawyers in England in this debate—it is our advantage to have them in this House—and they do not agree as to what the law will be when this Act is passed. Not only do they not agree, but every one of them, even the highest authorities, say that so difficult and obscure will the position be that they would not venture to give a final opinion—even for an adequate fee.

The noble and learned Lord Chancellor, in commending the Bill to the House, said that he commended its clarity. The only clarity in the Bill is in its drafting. I have the highest possible respect for Parliamentary draftsmen, but even I could draft in fairly simple language the one necessary clause of a Bill to say that the whole of the Act of 1927 is repealed. That did not tax the draftsman very much. What is not clear is the effect of passing this Bill. In distinction from the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, it is not claimed by the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, that a political strike would be made legal. But can anybody deny that when this Bill is passed it will be more difficult for a trade union member to know what is an illegal strike and what is a legal strike? That cannot be right. Is this a wise time to make the position more obscure, to repeal the Act and put nothing in its place? The noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, was feeling his way towards what ought to be the amendment of the law but the Government have not had time to think that out. It might have been better to delay this legislation until they had had time to think it out. One speaker, from the Benches opposite, asked us to face up to present realities. Honestly, I try to do that. I wonder if the Government are doing that in this Bill. Let me ask them for one moment to face some of the realities.

I am not going to argue the merits of nationalization now. We shall have plenty of opportunity of doing that, on measures which will come to us. But the Government are proposing to nationalize a series of industries and one of the dangers—even the keenest supporter of nationalization will admit this I think—is that you immediately put the State in the direct relation of employer to a great number of workmen, instead of putting the State in the position of the impartial, independent third party who can come in and see justice done, and if necessary do justice. We have had extraordinarily good and most convincing speeches to-day and yesterday from trade union leaders such as the noble Lords, Lord Ammon and Lord Walkden, with all their experience, and (if I may say so), with all their very highly respected record in the way they have conducted their respective unions over decades of time. They said that what is required is a solution, the right approach to the problem, arbitration—no, I will not say that—conciliation machinery. I cannot say how much I agree with that, but so far you have always had the Government standing aside. Whether people thought the Government were right or wrong the Government were in a position to appoint a conciliation tribunal. Yet every time you nationalize an industry you make that almost impossible, because you put the Government directly in the position of the employer and the row, the dispute, is a dispute between the industry and the Government.

Sir Stafford Cripps, in another place—and it was quite interesting to hear it—talked about strikes and said: "Yes; that weapon, although not to be encouraged is certainly to be safeguarded, so long as capitalism and private enterprise persist." The problem he has to face up to is, what is going to be the position vis-a-vis the Government in the nationalization of industries? Some industries have gone on very well. The Post Office, for instance, as the noble Lord, Lord Ammon, said, has continued for a great many years without a strike. There was one a long time ago. Some industries have been equally fortunate. The iron and steel industry, which it is proposed to nationalize, has gone on for forty years without industrial dispute. The mere fact that the State is the employer or a private individual is the employer does not bring industrial peace. There have been plenty of strikes in municipally-owned industries, some authorized, some unauthorized. I hope we shall avoid strikes. I shall not talk about Bills for "bigger and better strikes." Let nobody suppose that anybody on any side of the House wishes to make trouble. But we legislate, and we have to take into consideration what are the possibilities that may arise from legislation.

Take the case of the mines where, under the Bill which has been introduced, the whole of the big decisions about wages and industrial conditions are reserved to the Minister. I am not arguing that that is right or wrong, but it is a fact. When an industry is nationalized and a Cabinet Minister made directly responsible for industrial conditions and wages in that industry, and when the industry strikes against the Minister who has taken the matter to the Cabinet for their decision, is that or is it not a political strike? These really are the issues, and the difficult issues, which we ought to be considering, not whether somebody thought twenty years ago that there was a slur on his name—a slur of which most of us were not conscious. I was concerned with the trouble at the time. When that unwise action was taken one had to fight it; but there was very little ill-will. That is one of the remarkable things in this country. Certainly, until I heard the speeches, made by some who were my colleagues, about slurs and stigmas—or stigmata—I had never thought they applied to any of those with whom we had our little difficulties in the General Strike twenty years ago, and who were so happily our colleagues for years afterwards.

The Government, as the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, has said, will have to govern. That must be recognized and powers will have to be taken. If their powers were inadequate they would have to be increased. I agree. We had to accept the challenge in 1926, and it was expected that we should accept it. It was hoped to beat us. It so happens that I was responsible for creating the organization for keeping going the food supplies of this country. One of the things the other side gambled on—I know, because we talked about it after-ward—was that this organization would break down, and the real charge would then have been brought against us that we as a Government had failed to govern. That was really what made it a political strike.

I reveal no secret when I say that after we went out of office, and the Labour Government came in in 1929, that Government for the whole of that time maintained at full strength, and in immediate readiness for action, the whole of the organization which I had created to combat the General Strike in 1926. I know that, because when I went back to the Board of Trade in the Coalition Government of 1931 I said to my Chief of Staff, although did not expect a strike: "I suppose that organization has all gone to pot." His reply was: "Not at all. It is all ready. All the people who did such good work are ready, and every post is filled." I am not imputing blame because this was so. Of course it was right to keep it up to concert pitch. It may have been thought likely that even with a Labour Government in power a General Strike was not improbable. But is it not better to try and avoid the possibility? Because we are a law-abiding people, if the country knows—if everybody in the country knows—what is the law and what is not the law, we are much more likely to keep out of this trouble and much more likely to avoid these political strikes.

I will only say one word about one other aspect. There is a compulsory levy. I am not saying you have not the right to bring in this clause. But is it wise, is it fair, is it reasonable.? Why should a man be forced to contract in? Does it not savour rather of the one-party system, the one thing which all over Eastern Europe you are trying to avoid? You are saying you will not recognize the Polish Government—perfectly rightly—unless they allow absolutely free elections. When they come along and say: "Well, of course, we are going to have a nice set of elections; there is only goring to be one list of candidates you can vote for; they will be nicely compounded like a Christmas pudding, of different elements, but only one list"—you repudiate that and you say it is not democracy. And it is not. You protest against it. But is not this compulsory political levy rather like it? Lord Calverley's speech has been referred to already to-day. He said: "What have you got to object to in this?" I am not misquoting him. I will read him his words, if he likes.


I am not ashamed.


No, I know you are not. I wish you were. As a fellow-Yorkshireman, I blush for you. But, after all, said he, you can be a conscientious objector if you want to! Well, is that really the way of democracy? Is it really the democratic way to recruit a Party and to collect your Party funds by conscription, with a conscientious objector clause? That, incidentally, will not be quite so simple. I think a conscientious objector will sometimes be asked questions, just as he is by a tribunal to-day. We must be frank about this. The man who does not subscribe is a marked man—not by you, but when you go into the pits or into the factory, particularly some- where where feeling has been running pretty high, it will be found that in many cases such an individual is a marked man.

At any rate, he thinks he may be. The checkweighman or somebody may be quite easily saying something. Anyway, the man thinks he will be, and he does not fill up the form. I do not say there is a tremendous lot of money in it. I should have thought, unless the rate of the levy is very small, that it is more than £25,000. But I am not going to argue about it; whether it is £25,000 or £250,000 is not the point. It is the principle of this thing that matters. We ought to collect our political allegiance and our political funds by a system of voluntary enlistment and not by conscription with a conscientious objector clause. I can understand the Communists supporting this one-party conscription plan. What I am surprised at is the Labour Party supporting it, and I wonder whether you are going to support it quite so enthusiastically if you find that one of the unions—perhaps one of the largest of the unions—decides that the whole of the levy, minus the conscientious objectors (and there will be a bit of a row as to who is a conscientious objector), is to go to the Communist Party.

Then there is intimidation. I think it is a strange commentary, on the aftermath of a war for freedom and freedom from persecution, that you should alter this. It is an illusion to suppose that physical violence is the only form of intimidation or indeed the worst form of intimidation. A man will stand up to a great deal of physical violence, but the intimidation, the coercion, that can be applied to a man indirectly by besetting or by attending frequently at his house, and that of his wife and family, may be much more pressing, much more oppressive, much more un-English than a free fight could be. I must say I think that such a stipulation is a pity. I do not think you need it.

What should be our action? I have no doubt about it at all. We should not reject this Bill, but we are wise to have debated it. Whether in terms there is a mandate or not, I think that it can be fairly claimed that you have power to repeal or amend the Act of 1927, but that does not deprive us of our right and duty to debate it fully, as we have done. I think that this debate has been very valuable, and I think, if I may respectfully say so, your Lordships have exercised with judgment, with restraint, and with characteristic ability, your right and your duty to scrutinize this Bill, to expose its barrenness and the difficulties which it will create. The right time to have done this was in this full debate on Second Reading, and I am sure that that dispassionate examination will be valuable now and hereafter.

5.59 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join the noble Viscount who has just spoken in his tribute to the value and character of this debate. I agree with him that it is fully worthy of the traditions that this House has established and maintained.

I listened as a layman with great respect to the legal examination of the Bill and some of its implications which was made by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, and, to be quite frank, it left me with the feeling that they were very remote from the realities of the case. I think some of the remarks and good-humoured animadversions of the noble Viscount who has just spoken were much closer to the realities than the analysis of the noble and learned Viscount, and I will try, in a short time, in summing up, to refer to some of them. In effect, of course, the decision of the Labour Party years ago to repeal the Act of 1927, if they were ever able to, was made because they felt this was an act of political injustice. That is why they took that decision, and not because of any particular form of words in any particular section. It was because it entered into their souls that it was unjust that they decided that that injustice should be removed if they were ever able to remove it.

I notice that the noble and learned Viscount exhorted us ever so many times, in different forms of words, to refrain from repealing this present Act because it was so necessary that the law should be perfectly clear and certain. Those are the word he used. Well, I am a layman and I do not pretend to say that I am competent to decide whether the law is perfectly "clear and certain." But I think, whatever we may say about the Act we are seeking to repeal, it is not perfectly clear and certain as to what it means. Certainly it is not perfectly clear and certain as to what a General Strike means. I do not mind telling your Lordships that at the time of the so-called General Strike I risked a certain measure of unpopularity as a member of the Labour Party in telling a meeting of workmen that in my view the wiser course would have been to have levied themselves so much a week to support the miners. I thought they would have done more to help the miners that way than by the course they took. As a matter of fact, that meeting took it very well. It consisted of Britishers, and as such they recognized that I was saying what I thought. When all is done and said, only about 20 per cent. of the workers of the country joined in the strike, which was called a General Strike, and I am still casting about in my mind as to what exactly is a General Strike. It is not defined in the Act of 1927, and I do not wonder at that; it would be very difficult to define.

Just imagine this case! We are often exhorted by noble Lords to consider a national wages policy. I have never yet been able to get the advocates of this formula to tell me exactly what they mean by it. As it is a highly complicated and technical subject we will leave that point on one side. It is quite conceivable, however, that some Government or other might inaugurate what is described as a national wages policy, and it might well happen—pray God it never will, but it might happen—that the bulk of the people so affected might say, "This is not fair; we will down tools." Well, that would be connected with an industrial dispute, but it would be "general" enough to affect the life of the community exceedingly disastrously if it were persisted in. Let me say, in parentheses, that we fully recognize the necessity to which the noble Viscount referred of the Government safeguarding the life of the community in any emergency. Of course that is the duty of any Government, and it is not affected by whether we repeal this Act or whether we do not. It is, as I have said, the duty of the Government of the country, and, so far as that is concerned, we are not in the least any worse off, as the noble and learned Viscount represented, if we repeal this Act.

Now I come to another point where I find an absence of that clearness and certainty which the noble and learned Viscount exhorts us to maintain. It is in the clause dealing with intimidation. I would like to say a word about that matter. Let me remind your Lordships that "intimidation" is defined as follows: … 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 any of his dependants, or of violence or damage to any person or property, and the expression 'injury' includes injury to a person in respect of his business, occupation, employment, or other source of income, and includes any actionable wrong. If that is an example of the clear and certain definition of what intimidation means, all I have to say is that English to me has ceased to have any meaning.


I am loath to interrupt the noble Viscount, hut, out of fairness to me, he really ought not to suggest that I said any of these things were perfectly clear.


I beg your pardon. I cannot admit that.


I said amend them and make them clear.


What the noble Viscount said was that one of the reasons we should not repeal this Act was because it was so necessary that it should be perfectly clear and certain what things meant. Therefore it is a fair and proper assumption to make from that that the Act of 1927 does make it perfectly clear and certain. That is how I understood him. I am sorry if I misunderstood him. I do not wonder, however, that he does not defend the clarity and certainty of that definition of "intimidation," because anything more muddled and confusing it is impossible to imagine. Let us look at this matter a little further Several years ago it was my duty to appoint a Committee which dealt with Trusts, and they provided me with a most illuminating report. I regret that no Government up to the present has been able fully to give effect to some of the recommendations. That is not the point, however. I want to look at this "apprehension of injury" business for a minute. It was proved quite clearly that there were certain associations—I am not going to mention names; it is not necessary—which, if a distributor of their goods did not do precisely as he was told in respect, say, of prices, or something else, would put him out of business completely, because they would refuse to supply him with any more goods to sell. That is still the case. But it is not defined as illegal, so far as I know, under this Act. Do you wonder that the workman said: "Why should I, as a trade unionist, be subjected to this type of interpretation of intimidation when this other kind of action goes scot-free, without any condemnation?"

I could multiply these instances easily enough. Take my own profession—the medical profession. We do not deal at all leniently with black-legs. Neither should we; it is quite right that we should not. Many a time I have exhorted students and others who were once under (shall I say my influence?) strictly to maintain the traditions of professional honour and discipline, and I would have had no sympathy whatever—and, as a matter of fact very often no sympathy was displayed—with people who, as we say in common language, would not "play the game." But surely, a person who was so treated would certainly have "a reasonable apprehension of injury" to his business. That applies to many cases, particularly in the professions, and I have no doubt that in the legal profession, if only I knew their secrets, it is the same. Happily these days have gone by, but every noble Lord in this House of the same age or younger even than myself will have vivid recollection of the way in which in our country districts people were informed: "If you vote for So-and-so I have no further use for you," or were threatened in an even more direct manner. I am not going to make too much of that, but it has happened thousands of times, and everybody who has lived close to the life of the people in some districts where there are stupid people knows that it is true. Is not that creating "a reasonable apprehension of injury" to their business? Of course it is. But that, I suppose, is to be left on one side.


Those are not cases of strikes at all.


I know, but there is "a reasonable apprehension of injury." I am talking about something that is made illegal, and this is to be made illegal for a workman.


No, it is not.


It is under this Act.


That is a wholly inaccurate statement, if the noble Lord will pardon me. This is something that may not be done in a strike which is on behalf of, or in contemplation of or furtherance of a trade dispute. There you have a special rule.


It does not affect my case in the least. The point is that this is made an offence punishable by law with regard to a trade unionist, and the trade unionist does not quite see the point that he should be singled out in this conspicuous manner for this special treatment.

Let us take another point. The noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, in a very, shall I say, lenient way, dealt with this question of funds. But it is not a "compulsory political levy"—I am using his words. It never was a compulsory political levy; it was a levy which was imposed when, voting by ballot, the members of the union voted that it should be imposed. That is the first point. Now the next point. Here the noble Viscount for once strayed away from reality and spoke of how a man would be a marked man if he did not subscribe, or words to that effect. Years ago it was my privilege, when I was a Labour candidate for a constituency, to lodge, when I went to that constituency, with a man who was the branch secretary of a union—a very responsible official. I remember that on certain days in the week he used to sit, so to speak, at the receipt of custom, and the members came in and paid their subscriptions. Many a time, over a period of certainly not less than three years, he told me how tired he was of so many of the fellows who would not pay into the political fund. They just would not pay in; but for all that they were not marked men. Not a bit of it! I should think it is very doubtful whether half a dozen members of the union apart from the branch secretary knew whether they were paying into the fund or not. For my part, I have never heard of a single case where a man was boycotted or ill-treated because he did not in fact pay into the fund, and I think the noble Lord there was being a little bit misled by his case.

There is one other point. There was another principle which was made much of in connexion with this Act of 1927, and that was the principle on which it was based. Let me quote it. "Any person entering the established Civil Service "this was said by the then Attorney-General in introducing the Bill—" must give his undivided allegiance to the State". That is a doctrine that deserves attention. The Post Office employees did not strike and the Civil Service did not strike in the General Strike. I am perfectly certain that nobody recognizes the duty of allegiance of a public servant more honourably and sincerely than, say, the employees of the Post Office, but it is a very different matter to say they must give their undivided allegiance to the State. The people who supported Oliver Cromwell did not take that view; neither did the people who supported the agitation for the Reform Bill nor those poor fellows down in Dorset who were sent into exile because they wanted to associate with their fellows in forming a union for the betterment of their own conditions. I suggest that if you press it as hard as that, so that people have necessarily to disregard their own consciences, their own religious feelings and their own sense of personal obligation, you are landed into Hitlerism straight away. That is where that doctrine leads to. Let us be sensible about it. The whole of British history and the whole course of the development of our free institutions has largely been, in a sense, a revolt against too stringent an interpretation of that sort of doctrine. Everyone of us who has been a Member of Parliament is well aware of the kind of pressure which is applied from time to time.

Those are the four main principles of the Act which is now on the Statute Book and which it is now proposed to remove. It is not, as the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, said, that this Government is arrogant about it. This has been the declared intention of the Labour Party for twenty years, and nobody recognizes that more fully than the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, who has just spoken. He says it is not wise, and I could not expect him to think so, sitting where he does, but that is not the point. This is not some new ebullition of arrogance: this has been the declared and deliberate intention of the Labour Party for twenty years, mainly because the bulk of the people who support us feel, for the reasons which I have indicated and for many more, that the Act which it is now sought to repeal is unfair. I could use stronger language and still be expressing the feelings entertained by hundreds of thousands, in fact, millions, of decent trade unionists about this Act of 1927. That being so, in my judgment the reasons for the repeal of this Act are sound and sufficient reasons, and I hope your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.

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