HL Deb 24 January 1956 vol 195 cc495-520

3.28 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the quality to which we attach most importance in a civilised society is the measure of the rule of law which prevails in that society. In a civilised society the rights of the individual are defined by law. The law both circumscribes and protects his freedom; it defines the area within which he can conduct his own affairs in his own way under the protection of the law, and so safeguards his freedom. It has been emphasised frequently that the conception of the rule of law is older than democracy as we know it to-day, and it is important for our civilisation that democracy should preserve the rule of law and not destroy it. If democracy is to substitute for the rule of law just the weight of numbers then the individual will have no rights. Individual liberty has been the source of much creative achievement in the world, and must be preserved if we value progress. This short Bill, which I have the honour to present, fits in, I think, to buttress individual liberty.

No one admires the bully, still less a collection of bullies. I could give details of a number of specific cases in which individuals have suffered recently, to whom this Bill might afford relief; but I do not feel that it is necessary for me to do so. I am sure that a number of noble Lords will speak of particular cases within their knowledge, and I am sure that all noble Lords have in their minds cases within their knowledge, so that there will be a readiness to admit that on too many occasions the small trader in business and the individual worker are subjected to a form of Coercion which we know to be wrong, coercion often backed by a snooping organisation and a secret court or private trial. Nor do I wish to present this Bill merely to deal with a number of particular cases. It is general, giving a general right to all individuals whenever they feel that they are being coerced in their lawful life. It is general, as I think all good laws should be; a general buttress to the liberty of the individual which, I submit, is necessary in these days of powerfully organised groups.

With your Lordships' permission, may I run through briefly the clauses of the Bill? Clause 1 defines the purpose—to provide a remedy against coercion where the existing law is inadequate for the protection of individual freedom in the pursuit of lawful occupation or the lawful conduct of affairs. Clause 2 seeks to give a right to an oppressed party to apply to the courts for relief. It gives a new remedy, additional to any remedy which may exist. Clause 3 provides the method by which application for relief can be made—that is, by application to a court having jurisdiction to grant an injunction, declaration or order so as to afford effective relief. Clause 4 makes provision for appeals. Clause 5 contains a definition of what constitutes coercive action. This means any action taken against another person and … includes any request or demand, the infliction of any penalty, or the withholding from or depriving any person of any benefit or amenity … so as to induce or compel any person to act otherwise than in accordance with his will or conscience;". Clause 6 exempts from the provisions of the Bill any action taken by virtue of any process of law. It exempts any action arising out of any lawful contractual obligation which can be dealt with by the courts in the usual way, unless the obligation was entered into under the duress of coercive action as defined by the Bill. It exempts any action taken in accordance with lawful decisions of registered trade unions.

I submit again that this Bill is necessary in these days of powerfully organised groups. On my first count, the case of the small trader, so much was shown and condemned by reports recently published on restrictive practices. On my second count, that of the individual worker, so much is admitted in an attack upon this Bill by the Daily Worker, though the article suggests that the cases of oppression are too few to make a fuss about. Oppression which involves human suffering is so distasteful to all of us, particularly when, as so often happens, wives and children are included in the persecution, that I am sure noble Lords would wish to act to save even a few sufferers. There is a record of at least one case where the worker committed suicide. But I do not believe that it is just a few people who are affected. Few resist long enough for their cases to come to light. Others submit to what they believe to be inevitable, for they have not the means of fighting back against great odds.

The Bill does not attempt to deal generally with the evil of monopolies. We await the proposals of Her Majesty's Government on this wide subject. It may prove a useful supplement to their proposals. It is no Bill to revise trade union law. The lawful decisions under existing law of the trade unions are not involved. I think it is likely to prove definitely helpful to workers—for example, to those who are employed by small traders who are being coerced out of business. This Bill does not create any new crimes or offences and does not introduce any new penalties—a feature which I hope the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor will note with approbation. All it does is to give a new right to small people who believe that they are being coerced by the action of others out of their lawful business or in the enjoyment of their lawful occupation; a new right to go to a court of law and tell the story of their oppression. If the court finds that there is such oppression, all that the court need do is to order that the practices which are the instruments of that oppression shall stop. The courts have their own way of dealing with disobedience of their orders. No law and no court can make men treat their fellows with consideration and kindness or abolish selfishness, but the law can act to restrain positive actions of villainy and persecution.

Need I say more? I am sure that in this matter I have the sympathy of all in your Lordships' House. Some may wish to criticise the wording, the drafting. I ask the indulgence of all in this matter. The Bill is the attempt of an inexperienced Member of your Lordships' House to deal with an evil which Ministers have admitted to be baffling and difficult. May I ask those who would criticise to help improve the Bill in Committee, if they will, but to show determination to carry it through and not to destroy it. I suggest that its very existence on the Statute Book will have a salutary effect and will help to diminish the evils which it is designed to check. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

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

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, let me assure the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, at once that, though I do not support his Bill, I appreciate the spirit in which he introduced it. The first question I ask myself is: what is the problem with which this Bill is supposed to deal? The noble Lord was wise enough to make it appear to be a small and unimportant Bill, in that it will affect only a small number of people, and to suggest that the trade unions and the employers' organisations need not worry in the least because they will not be affected by this Bill. I would tell the noble Lord at once that the trade union movement feel that they are affected by this Bill, and that they are intended to be affected by it. So there need not be any uncertainty as to how they feel about it.

I agree that coercion—and here I speak from experience—is a most undesirable thing; but it is exercised in many ways, not all of which are detected. Those of us who have spent our lives in the trade union movement are fully aware of coercion but it is not confined to one side of industry. I agree that coercion is something that we should deal with, so far as we can, but I am certain that this is not the way to deal with it. To me, legislation is one of the last ways in which to deal with what is troubling this country at the moment. I know that this "sending to Coventry" business has upset many of us inside the trade union movement, and we are worried about it. Rest assured, my Lords, that the trade union movement will deal with it, and more effectively than could be done under this Bill. But it must take time.

When I look at the Bill, the first question I ask myself is: is it well timed? At the moment this country is confronted with some big problems, and the Government are having a difficult time in dealing with them. They are being fairly and sometimes, if I may say so, unfairly criticised for the manner in which they are dealing with them. To what extent will this Bill help? Will it bring about a better feeling throughout the trade union movement? My worry is that this type of legislation from your Lordships' House may cause more trouble than the good it can do. Let it not be said that e in the trade union movement are not sympathetic to any effort to deal with what has been happening in certain places, and especially in a small section of the trade union movement. After all, we cannot afford to ignore the fact that full employment plays into the hands of this small section. As has been said before in your Lordships' House by a number of noble Lords, this full employment is a test of moral character on the part of the men, just as unemployment was a test of moral character on the part of employers. Many of the employers failed to show that moral character, just as some of the men are not showing it in this period of full employment.

When I look at this Bill and go through its clauses, all of which have been defined, I would say that it is far too loosely drafted. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said that he was a humble Member of your Lordships' House attempting to deal with an evil that is baffling the whole country. When dealing with evils that baffle the whole country it is as well to approach the interested parties. I sincerely hope that the Government are not going, to welcome this Bill, but, at the same time. I hope that they will indicate a willingness to go into the question of how this undesirable coercion which has taken place in certain parts of the country can be dealt with. If they do that, I believe they will find the employers' organisations and the workers' organisations anxious to help. I should have preferred the noble Lord to put down a Motion on the Order Paper outlining what he has in mind. This Bill is something that will divide the House, if it goes to a Division, and that will not help the cause. I am sure that a well-worded Motion on this issue could have achieved unanimity, and that would have hen a good start, whereas, as I say, with this Bill we might start with a divided House.

It is not my intention to speak at any length on this problem—it is not a small or easy problem, but a large and difficult one—but I want to say here, on behalf of the T.U.C., that they have looked at this Bill, and they have informed me that they see in it nothing that would be effective in dealing with the evil envisaged. I can assure your Lordships that the T.U.C., and the employers' organisations, too, would be only too willing to find a way out of this difficulty. Let it be clearly stated that we on these Benches believe that coercion of the kind referred to by the noble Lord is something that must be dealt with, but we do not think that this is the way to deal with it. We believe that consultation with the interested parties, and the putting forward of suggestions, followed, if necessary, by agreed legislation, would more appropriately deal with the evil that troubles the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, I had no intention of speaking on this Bill today. I am, unfortunately, pledged, and have been for some time, to address your Lordships to-morrow on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Teynham. I can only promise that, as I find myself compelled to speak to-day, what I have to say will be quite short. I feel bound to support the mover of this Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, because it seems to me that something in the nature of this Bill is badly needed to-day. We in Britain have always been distinguished in the matter of liberty, in that we did not merely talk about individual liberty but presented practical methods of protecting it. At one time the main danger to individual liberty in Britain appeared to come only, or mainly, from the Government of the country, and after long experience of successive Governments we invented, not a general resolution in favour of liberty from the Government but the Habeas Corpus Act, which crystallised, after many attempts, in the Act of 1679, and which gave to any individual whose personal liberty was threatened by the coercive action of the Government, or by imprisonment, the means of bringing his case before a court of justice independent of the Government, so securing to him his freedom from any form of imprisonment not inflicted in pursuance of an authorised legal decision of a court.

That Writ of Habeas Corpus, as lawyers know, has not been used only to protect people against interference with their liberty by Governments: it amounts to a bar dealing with all forms of physical imprisonment. It has actually been used to restrict the rights of a parent over his child, or of a guardian over his ward; and in one case, if not more, it has been used to enable the mother of an illegitimate child to rescue the child from the reputed father when he sought to take the child from her. All these things are possible under Habeas Corpus. But Habeas Corpus is concerned only with physical liberty. True liberty means much more than purely physical liberty, the escape from imprisonment. Liberty is something positive, for action.

To-day there are more powers than those of the Government able to threaten individual liberty. There are associations of all kinds, in which numbers of men may, and do, band themselves together to limit the freedom of their neighbours to live as ordinary citizens of this country. There are business associations whose purpose it is to make it difficult or impossible for individuals to buy or sell, or to employ or be employed, freely. There are trade unions (and I must remind the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor—though no doubt he knows this—that the term "trade union" legally covers not merely associations of workmen but associations of employers, and associations of all kinds which are not in the least On the workmen's side of the employment contract), which have now grown to immense power in the State. We all know that such bodies, whether they are associations of workmen or associations of business firms, have a power that can challenge the power of the Government itself.

Are we sure that that great power of these associations will never be misused? Is it not important to see that any action that may be taken by such associations to diminish the priceless heritage of individual liberty in l3ritain will be brought to public notice, and can thus be made the subject of remedial action? That is the whole purpose of this Bill. Striking instances of interference, not by the Government but by such associations of individual citizens, with the freedom of other individual citizens occur daily; and we all know that Smithfield, which formerly distinguished itself as a place for burning people of excessive independence of mind, is a centre for a new form of tyranny of interference with individual liberty. I will not dwell upon the dangers, because we all know them. Even the noble Lord who preceded me, although he did not like this Bill, was well aware of the danger.

This Bill has been devised, with all the care its authors could take in drafting a workmanlike measure and one that was carefully prevented from doing any harm, as an effective defence of individual liberty against tyranny of all kinds; tyranny moving against the liberty of the individual, not only from the State but from groups of other individuals, and tyranny that uses not the primitive weapon of physical force but the modern weapons of monopoly, boycott, restrictive practice and restrictive agreement by the people forming the association. Naturally, the wording of a Bill of this sort needs careful examination, and naturally it may be argued that some different form of words would better serve the purpose which I believe we all have in common. I hope that if the Government accept this Bill they will let it go forward as a basis for discussion and will not say, "There is nothing to be done." There is everything to be done, because individual liberty, which we thought we had protected sufficiently in this country by protecting it in 1679 from the Stuart family and their kind, is now threatened by much greater dangers coming from different sources.

I think that this Bill is a good Bill, because it gives to ordinary citizens who feel that their liberty to buy and sell and to live their lives as free citizens is threatened unduly by fellow citizens, the opportunity of bringing this threat to public knowledge and thus allowing the foundations of an amendment. I trust that the Government will hold out to us the hope that something real will be done to bring about what I have called the new defences against the new evils of tyranny and interference with liberty which threaten many people to-day.

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, I hope your Lordships w ill give this Bill a Second Reading. I particularly welcome what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, when he remarked that one side of this evil was occupying the attention and concern of his friends. I welcome that very much indeed. He has my full sympathy in all that he said there. I deprecate a little his concern about this Bill as emanating from your Lordships' House, because I do not think any Bill ought to have that said about it, either here or outside.


My only point was that it was without consultation with the affected parties.


But when a Bill has passed through Parliament it is a conscious act of volition of both Houses. I will say no more about that. There was an old Scots country lawyer, now long gone to his rest, who once brought a case before the sheriff's court. After he had proceeded a little way in his ease the sheriff interrupted him and said: "Well, Mr. Milne, it is perfectly clear to us that your client has suffered a wrong, but what I do not understand is what you wish me to do." The old man put down his brief, looked up at the sheriff, and said: "My Lord, your Lordship has said that my client has suffered a wrong. On that account I am come to your Lordship to ask your advice, because where there is a wrong there must be a remedy, and I am asking your Lordship's advice as to how I should proceed to seek it." The court thereupon being asked to use its brains, did so, and found my old friend a way out of his difficulty. I think that is a maxim of Scots law and I should have thought it was a maxim of English law and one which ought to he invoked a great deal more frequently. If this Bill is going to stimulate courts to take that kind of action more frequently, it will in that way, at least, be a good thing.

I take it, from some of the things my noble friend Lord Grantchester said, that he was thinking particularly of a matter I brought before your Lordships a short time before we rose for the Christmas Recess, where members of the National Union of Railwaymen who remained at work were visited in their homes by members of the striking union. I suppose one could, on the law as it stands at present, take action in those cases as being action liable to lead to a breach of the peace, if one could identify the individuals. In Scotland, I suppose one would proceed by way of an interdict. But an interdict has two disadvantages, and one is that it operates only against particular parties named in the interdict; it does not operate against the action universally. The other disadvantage is that a court will grant an interdict only in a case where a repetition of the offence is held to be likely. If this Bill would facilitate something in the nature of an interdict against people doing wrongful actions, then I think it would be a very good thing. I certainly hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading. It will be interesting to see the Amendments that are moved to it on the Committee stage.


My Lords, it may possibly be to the advantage of the House if I intervene at this moment to give your Lordships some indication of how Her Majesty's Government react to this Bill. I should first like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, on his courage in tackling this important, controversial and difficult subject. I should also like to congratulate him upon the serried ranks of noble Lords on the Liberal Benches on whose loyalty he has been able to call this afternoon to hear him move his Bill. I wish I could equally congratulate him upon achieving the object which he has set out to gain; but that, alas! I cannot do.

It is easy, as we all know, to legislate in theory. We all do it to ourselves every day of the week. It is a very different matter, though, to legislate in practice. Here, I offer the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, my personal sympathy because I have more than once tried to do exactly the same as he is trying to do this afternoon. I apologise to him in advance if I appear to, as I must, pour cold water upon his Bill, but this is not a general debate. The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, expressed regret that we had perhaps not tackled this matter by way of a general debate. The noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, talked about a basis for discussion. I had a second-in-command once who used to regard every order I gave him as a basis for discussion, and that, too, always ended in tears. This is a Bill. We must treat it as a piece of proposed legislation, not just as a general debate on an interesting and important subject. I am afraid that I must be frank at once with the noble Lord and say that, even after listening carefully to his able and unprovocative explanation, I am quite unable to change the original opinion I formed of this Bill. It strikes me as liberal in conception, lofty in principle, and quite unworkable in practice.

Let us look at the objects of the Bill. They are: the preservation of the rule of law in such a way as to secure that no person shall suffer duress or coercion in his lawful pursuits or the conduct of his affairs without means of effective redress. With those principles nobody can quarrel, The noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, has expressed his approval of those principles. But we have to progress beyond principles. The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, I think wisely, did not mention in detail many of the cases which we have at the back of our minds and which he must have had at the back of his mind when he put this Bill on the Order Paper. No good purpose will be served by going into the various examples which have worried most people of good will. The chief vice of this Bill is that it offends against the very principle which it seeks to uphold. The Bill is thus fundamentally objectionable and is rot susceptible of amendment on Committee stage.

Having made that rather sweeping attack upon it, I must try now to demonstrate what I mean. The noble Lord has rightly called in aid the rule of law. "Rule of law" is not a term of art, and it is something from which the draftsman shies away when he is drafting an Act of Parliament. What it means, roughly, is, of course, that no man is above the law. There are two considerations that we must bear in mind. The first is that the essence of the rule of law is that, so far as practicable, rights recognised and enforced by the courts should be ascertained and capable of precise definition. If it means anything, it implies a degree of certainty which is wholly absent from the noble Lord's Bill.

The second consideration is that the enforcement of those rights should not be a matter of arbitrary discretion. I am afraid that, under the Bill, neither object is achieved. There are two fundamental reasons for the noble Lord's failure, if he will allow me to say so. In Clause 2 there is no clear indication of the rights which the Bill intends to protect. Secondly, the power of granting relief conferred on the court by Clause 3 (2) is wholly discretionary. Clause 1 seeks to protect persons against duress or coercion in their lawful pursuits or in the conduct of their affairs. Duress, I suppose, has a meaning sufficiently clearly defined in law, but coercion certainly has not. It is not clear what action is to be regarded as sufficient for the noble Lord's purpose.

I am afraid that Clause 2 is even more vague. There is no indication of what is to be regarded as undue pressure or unreasonable or vexatious oppression or coercion. I should have thought it was essential in a Bill like this that everybody should know exactly what he was up against, and should know it beforehand. No wonder that the court is given, by Clause 3 (2), completely unfettered discretion as to whether or not to grant relief, subject only to the requirement that the court must be satisfied that the complaint is well founded. We ask ourselves how the court is to reach this conclusion. That again, I am afraid, is not indicated: nor incidentally is the court. The noble Lord does not tell us whether he means the High Court, the county court, the mayor's court, or any other court; but that is a minor detail.

It is possible under the noble Lord's Bill for the court to grant an injunction or make an order oil an ex parte application. Anyone who has a working knew-ledge of procedure will realise that that is an enormous and undefined power. The fact that, in reaching its decision, the court is required to have regard to the purposes referred to in Clause 1 is not of much assistance because—again I apologise to the noble Lord for speaking so harshly—those purposes are so ill-defined. In the field of action with which the Bill is concerned, as we all know, passions and prejudices are easily aroused, Therefore it seems to me particularly desirable that arbitrary discretion should not be conferred on the courts, particularly when Party politics are so deeply and so frequently involved. Your Lordships will also observe that there is no limitation on what the court may do. The court may award damages, it may grant an injunction or it may, presumably, commit an offender to prison. So far as I can see, it can commit an almost limitless number of unofficial strikers, if it so minded, which is a very queer and undesirable possibility to put into an Act of Parliament.


It is impossible.


The noble Lord draws attention to the fact that he has created no new offence. I would not be so sure about that, either, if one looks carefully through the powers that spring from the rights that the noble Lord is giving to the court. There is no principle by the light of which the court is required to act. It is to be guided only by what is, in its opinion, necessary or desirable in order to secure the vague and general purposes referred to in Clause 1. I really cannot imagine anything more likely to bring the courts into the cockpit of political or industrial controversy than this Bill, and I think your Lordships will agree that that is wholly undesirable.

Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, realises this and he has attempted to avoid it, but I am afraid that his attempts are ineffective. Take his savings clause, Clause 6. The savings themselves indicate the unsatisfactory nature of the earlier provisions of the Bill. The Bill is not to apply to action taken in pursuance of any lawful contractual obligation unless the court is satisfied that such obligation was entered into as a result of action inconsistent with the Bill's declared purposes. For my part, I think it is hard to see why any lawful obligation could possibly be regarded as contrary to the purposes of the Bill. The vagueness of the purposes would make it impossible to tell in advance whether or not the given contract could be regarded as enforceable as against a person who was minded to evade its provisions. The existing relief already available in law I should have thought in these particular circumstances was adequate.

Paragraph (c) of Clause 6 seeks to protect action taken in accordance with the lawful decision of a trade union. Here again—and I think noble Lords opposite who have more experience in these matters than I would agree with me—I have considerable doubt as to what decision could, in the light of the declared objects of the Bill, be regarded as lawful or unlawful. Surely such uncertainty in a Bill of this kind is most unfortunate. The clause I am discussing at the moment removes from the scope of the Bill actions taken in accordance with the lawful decision of trade unions, but it would leave within the scope of the Bill the whole range of unofficial action of various kinds—such as alleged victimisation and no doubt many other incidents in the sphere of industrial relations. For Her Majesty's Government to support legislation of this character would, I am afraid, be a total reversal of our traditional policy in the field of industrial relations.

In general, these questions are regarded as a matter for settlement between the two sides of industry. Here I endorse what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, and I endorse also his hope that the two sides, as I feel certain they will, will realise the onus upon them at this particular moment to discharge that well-established and well-recognised duty to the full. The ineffectiveness, and indeed the positive harm, from seeking to regulate this sort of problem by legal process has been recognised for a long time. Responsibility for the success or failure in harmonious industrial relations rests with the two sides.

My Lords, I speak with a certain amount of experience in this matter. I was for five years the chairman of a joint advisory committee in one of our craft industries, and I very soon learned how impossible it was to legislate, either in Parliament or unilaterally within the industry, in problems of this nature. If there were two sides, no satisfactory solution could be obtained unless there was cooperation between the two. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to achieve by legislation the co-operation which the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, wants. He carries us all with him in regard to the principles that he has enumerated this afternoon. We wholeheartedly endorse those principles, but they cannot be put into practice by legislation or by any other means of written compulsion which lacks the agreement of both sides. I must add that within recent months a National Joint Advisory Council, on which are represented the British Employers' Federation, the T.U.C. and the nationalised industries, have made it clear to the Government that they are all opposed to fresh legislation in the field of industrial relations. I am afraid, therefore, that the noble Lord's Bill would not command the support of either side of industry; and although the legal objections to the Bill are, as I hope I have demonstrated to your Lordships, powerful, it is that reason above all which makes me most reluctant to suggest that this Bill should be allowed to go any stage further.

May I sum up our objections? The Bill represents a well-meaning attempt—I am not in any way patronising the noble Lord; he means well in this Bill, and we acknowledge and respect what he is seeking to do—to legislate in a field where legislation is, quite frankly, impracticable. He is trying to legislate and to put into an Act of Parliament good manners, honouring your obligations, sticking to your bargain, doing unto others as you would have done unto you. But you cannot make a man a gentleman by an Act of Parliament; and that is what the noble Lord is trying to do. The Bill's operation would be quite arbitrary. It would confer on the courts a jurisdiction which the judges would neither welcome nor be well-equipped to exercise. I cannot believe that a measure on these lines would contribute to happier industrial relations or be of any practical benefit to individuals in the daily incidents of their working life—individuals whom we all seek to protect and who, when attacked or abused or unfairly treated, command, I hope, our universal sympathy. My Lords, in conclusion, I see a real danger of actually creating ill feeling by this Bill at a time when our national prosperity depends more than anything else on mutual understanding and good will in industry. I hope that your Lordships, while admiring the noble Lord's courage and respecting his ideals, will not allow his Bill to go any further.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I support the Second Reading of this measure because I want it to be examined more fully and in detail on subsequent stages. The speech to which we have just listened puts upon the argument this afternoon a complexion which is, I think, conclusive. Although I have promised the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, to vote for the Second Reading should the matter go to a Division this afternoon, it would be well if notice were taken by him and by his Party of the suggestion that has been made, that although it is right that these subjects should be ventilated (that is my point in supporting the Bill, so that it may go to a subsequent stage), they could perhaps be better ventilated, at any rate at the present time, in a full-dress debate upon a Motion.

I do not know what the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, will do, but there are one or two points that I should like to make, which I feel are important from the point of view of industrial relationships. I know that the Bill affects not only industry but also the other side. The question of monopolies and coercive measures there will, I think, be dealt with effectually by the Monopolies Commission. The purpose of preventing the exercise of arbitrary compulsion in matters of will and conscience (to use Lord Grantchester's terminology) appeals to me, but when it is proposed to legislate on the matter I can see possible dangers. I am not quite sure that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, in the notion that if legislation is passed which offends trade unions, that is the last word upon the matter. I want good industrial relationships, and of course I want the trade unions—I think they are capable of it—to act as sanely as anyone else in establishing concord in the industrial field.

In my young days I had a world to conquer; I fear in my old age that the world has conquered me—unless the illusion of time has come too much into play. I am disappointed. In my view, we are much less free than we used to be. Instead of removing internal defects from the concept of freedom and thus purifying it, we have followed mechanical progress—good enough, of course, in itself—by turning ourselves more and more into machines. I have looked at this Bill and I feel that I am not so much in love with the law: I believe in the soul of man and not in the entrails of a machine—least of all a legal one. In looking upon this measure, I can see many difficulties aid I feel that the measure does not, simply because it cannot, probe the very source of injustice that exists and that is in the mind of its promoter. Here again, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor. He brushes aside the whole question of interference with human liberty as being not of much importance because it applies only to one or two small sections here and there—I gathered that was the general tenor of what he had to say on that matter.


Perhaps we had better get it right. My point was that the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, tried to confine the Bill to a very small area and so hoped to get it through. My point is that it affects a much larger number of people than he indicates.


Evidently I misunderstood what the noble Lord said. But the point is that the particular incidents that cause trouble in many directions are those which do not come under this Bill at all. For example, people will not apply to the courts because they have been "sent to Coventry." I know something about trade unions; I was a member of one until I became a politician. I know what it means, for instance, to vote or speak against a majority in a trade union branch on political and other matters. I know what the open ballot means: it means that a large number of members of a branch will not vote at all, because they are afraid of social ostracism. That goes on to a large extent all over the country, and I consider it deplorable.

I do not altogether understand the attitude of Her Majesty's Government on this question. It may be due to a misunderstanding. The Government seem to be opposed to any risk of offending the trade unions. The Government are opposed to the idea of the secret ballot. Yet, after all, the secret ballot was the sheet anchor of progressive thought from the days of the Chartists. It was included in Mr. Gladstone's programme. The earliest Socialists fought for the adoption of the secret ballot in elections. The principle has been a dear one, and it is a sound one. I do not see why it should not apply to the question of unofficial strikes. It does not seem to be understood that the secret ballot could be imposed except where a strike has been decided upon by the legitimate executive authority of the union concerned. In other words, the possibility of an unofficial strike should be avoided (by allowing time to pass in cases of emergency) without interference with the legitimate function of the union. I make the suggestion that that might be a way of handling the question—to divide into two the issue of whether or not there should be a secret ballot.

I want to deal with two cases which are important and relevant at the present moment. Though I do not want to go beyond the scope of the measure under discussion this afternoon, I feel that the use of one or two examples may make my point more easily understood. I do not like the closed shop, but what is not usually appreciated is that the ideal of 100 per cent. membership of a trade union is unexceptionable. I do not believe that anyone is opposed to the trade union aim of 100 per cent. membership in any shop or industry. What is to be objected to is the use of force to achieve that aim. Two things should be distinguished. We who are libertarian say merely that pressed men do not make the best soldiers. Considering the small number of those who are really "scabs" at heart against the mighty organisations of to-day, it is far better to let men be free and to rely on reason, persuasion and good faith.

If you do not accept that position, the only alternative is to penalise a man for acting according to his own conscience, good or had. That is what you are actually doing, and you might as well apply it to the whole question of politics and political rights; for if a "scab" (to use the current terminology) is injuring the working classes by taking advantage of trade union effort in making gains for the workers concerned without standing his corner—and that is the argument—then the man who votes for a Liberal, a Conservative or an Independent at an election is also doing the same thing in the view of those who argue that the Labour Party is the party of the workers. If a man is thus to be deprived of his right to earn his living in the trade he has adopted, he might as well be deprived of his vote, because he takes advantage of Labour legislation and at the same time votes against the Labour movement and the Party. The argument might run that that was exactly the same thing. The tyranny beneath a great deal of modern thought is one of the reasons why I support the general tenor of this Bill while criticising it in detail—though not as effectively as the representative of Her Majesty's Government has done this afternoon.

There is a further point. I notice in the Press that this Bill has been referred to as a measure which, if it were the law to-day, would cover the question of market porters at Smithfield, a matter which will be particularly in the public mind to-morrow because of a certain conference. I am perturbed by the rate at which we seem to be drifting towards a coercive system of life in many directions. One of the reasons why I left the Party to which I belonged was that I believe that to-day there is a drift away from the whole of the libertarian principles of the early Socialist movement. All the same, we must be aware of any "hot under the collar' judgment. It is the easiest thing in the world to wax indignant about the bummarees of Smithfield Market; but they have a case. The issue is not as superficial as outsiders who criticise seem to imagine.

Had Mr. Tribe put their case, instead of posturing as a pocket Mussolini, he would have gained much in public support. Omitting the legal aspect, with which I am not qualified to deal, it is one thing to argue that a retail butcher should be allowed to use his own staff instead of licensed porters; it is another thing to have to stand by, as these men are expected to do, while small firms, without adequate staff or with no staff at all, roll in and take advantage of the situation to turn an organised body of men into a rabble. Where that is the case I do not see who can blame them. Their case should at least be considered fairly and should not go by default or be oversimplified.

Though I am not au fait with Parliamentary draftsmanship to that extent, I cannot see how this measure will help, as it does not cover the real tyrannies that exist. I am a libertarian and I do not like legislation when it can be avoided. I do not want, for trade union organisations, more legislation than can be helped. For reasons which will be accepted by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, I believe that to be bad. If legislation is necessary, however, that fact ought definitely to be stated. We must not be afraid even of trade unions. But I do not want any interference; I prefer to rely upon the sanity of the common man. Yet men inside the unions who really are coerced show insufficient courage in standing up for those rights which they should possess. That is largely because, on bigger issues, people are not as politically and seriously minded as they used to be. I am afraid that that is a judgment I cannot avoid. Until the people of this country—the trade unionists and everyone else—are imbued with the spirit of freedom, we shall have something which is not freedom. But we cannot alter it by legislation. We cannot make people moral by legislation, as the last speaker has said. We must leave these vital issues to goad will; to the arts of persuasion; to the arts of argument and reason. Those are the things I prefer to rely upon rather than upon the force of legislation.

Nevertheless, I agree with the spirit behind the measure. I am opposed to much of the coercion that exists. But do not forget that the coercions which exist inside the trade unions are probably nothing in comparison with the coercions which exist outside the trade unions. Do not, for Heaven's sake! just make a stab at the trade union movement and leave the others alone. We shall await what the Monopolies Commission produce. But there are other things besides monopolies. I speak with feeling on this matter for during the course of my life I have lost more than one job for standing up for my right as an individual to think for myself. That is the kind of thing we want to deal with. People should not have reason to be afraid of being in the limelight when they have individually and ought to be expressing that individuality.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that every Member of your Lordships' House has a certain sympathy with a Bill the object of which is to strike a blow against oppression and on the side of freedom, but your Lordships will agree that a measure of that kind must he put into practical form before it has any right even to a Second Reading in your Lordships' House. While I feel that this Bill is, no doubt, a tribute to the warmth of heart of the noble Lord who has brought it forward, I regret that I cannot say that it throws an equally favourable light on the workings of his mind, because it seems to me that he has produced a Bill which, from a legal point of view, is almost complete nonsense. It is on that basis that I should like to address a few words to your Lordships' House in regard to the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, in a very eloquent speech with which I entirely agreed, indicated that this Bill would, in effect, if it were passed into law, throw a spanner into the workings of the trade union movement and into the whole problem of labour at the present time. Lord Amwell, in a speech which he said was supposed to support the Second Reading of the Bill, seemed to me to subject it to even more devastating criticism. Almost every point he made in the course of his speech was really highly critical of the terms of the Bill. Lord Mancroft, who spoke on behalf of the Government, seemed to me effectively to dispose of the Bill in a most searching analysis, and I cannot feel that those members of the Liberal Party who are lawyers could possibly put their hands on their hearts and go into the Division Lobby in support of a Bill of this kind which, as Lord Mancroft said, is really quite beyond amendment at the Committee stage.

Here we have a Bill the really operative clause of which is Clause 2. because it is there provided that a man who feels himself to be subject to undue pressure—feels himself, be it noted—is to be entitled to go into a court of law and demand relief. I speak in the presence of much more distinguished lawyers, but I should like to suggest that there is not on the Statute Book of this or any other country a Statute which is so vague in its terms. Lord Beveridge, in a very eloquent speech, said that in this country we had invented practical measures for defending liberty. My objection to this Bill is that it is not a practical measure at all. It lays down rights in the vaguest possible language which no judge would be able to administer in any sort of practical administration of the law.

Lord Mancroft pointed out that most of the terms which establish these vague rights in Clause 2 are terms unknown to the law. It is true that in Clause l there is the word "duress," which is known to the law and has been defined in the courts, to some extent, in a number of cases. But it is rather curious that when we come to Clause 2, the operative clause, we find that that one word is left out, and we are there confronted with a lot of vague words like "undue pressure," "unreasonable or vexatious restriction," "oppression or coercion." All those are things which can exist not only in connection with labour and industrial problems but in many other walks of life. For example, a housewife who felt herself to be unduly oppressed in the grocer's shop, because of something which happened there and which she might well bring within the terms of Clause 2, is given the right to bring an action in a court of law.

It is true that in Clause 6, which is the saving clause, there are some equally vague exceptions. They would be equally difficult for any court of law to consider. If this Bill were passed into law it would be, in one sense, a gold mine, for all kinds of foolish litigation would follow its passing. I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, quite understands that the effect of his Bill would be to open a veritable Pandora's Box. The measure would inevitably be followed by all kinds of ridiculous actions brought in all sorts of courts of law. Lord Mancroft pointed out that Clause 3, which gives the right to go to court, does not say which court it is to be, and it gives the judges of whatever court it may be all kinds of extraordinarily vague sanctions which they are to apply in the vague spirit of the vague aspirations laid down in Clause 1. Really, as a lawyer, I have never seen a document of this kind which is so vague and which is so clearly not administrable in any court of law. All I can say is that I hope that if the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, insists on pressing his Motion for the Second Reading to a Division, your Lordships will throw the Bill out without any question at all.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, after the two powerful legal broadsides which have been discharged at the Liberal Party, I must admit that I am not feeling anything like as comfortable as a few hours ago I had hoped that I should be when it came to be my turn to speak. At the same time, I cannot help feeling that if those experts who have spoken had bent their minds to the task of providing something constructive instead of something destructive, we might have had more in the way of salvage, so that what now appears to be a wreck might still have remained a navigable ship sailing through all its stages with the aid of Amendments made to it during its passage.

Lord Macdonald of Gwaenysgor says that this is a matter which affects the trade unions, and he states quite frankly that the trade unions would object to a Bill of this kind. That does not seem to me to be a good enough reason for rejecting the Bill out of hand in your Lordships' House. We are told that we should not look only towards coercion inside trade unions but also to coercion outside those bodies. Indeed, that is what we on these Benches certainly want to do. If I may descend into the arena of Party politics, of the three Parties it is only the Liberal Party which has been consistently advocating some inquiry into the working of trade unionism. That does not involve hostile criticism of the trade unions. It is known inside and outside the trade unions that there are cases of victimisation and case; of things going wrong, not only among the trade unions but also among employers. We, as a Party, should like to see both types of victimisation inquired into.

We are awaiting the Government's new Bill, but, before the "big thing" comes along, it seems to me that we have here something in a small way, which is not an attack on anyone, to go on with. It gives a remedy to the man who has suffered injury, and I cannot accept from noble Lords on either side of the House that this Bill is, as it has been called, an attack on either side. "Side" is an unfortunate word. In the industrial field it is normally taken to mean the employers on the one side and the employees on the other. What we are really getting at in this Bill is neither of those two sides, but the third party—the consumer, the housewife, the non-Party person if you like, or the all-Party person. Noble Lords on both sides of the House know perfectly well that in the trade unions there are Conservative workers and Liberal workers, who are compelled to subscribe to Labour Party funds.


Not compelled.


That may be, but it often so happens. This Bill is not directed at either side, either for the one or against the other. It is directed to the benefit of the ordinary person, the citizen of this nation, who may be put to considerable inconvenience, and worse, by acts which are coercive. I leave it to my noble friend Lord Grantchester to take what action he likes about a Division; but if he does take the Bill to a Division I would remind your Lordships of the implication: that it will mean a vote for or against the right of a man to go to a court of law to get a grievance remedied. That, I think, is a point which will not escape your Lordships' notice.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this interesting debate. As my noble friend Lord Rea has said, this Bill is not directed against one side of industry. There are many forms of coercion. In spite of what noble Lords have said about the legal phraseology and the difficulties of the courts, I am afraid I am quite unconvinced. Surely the test is: is the applicant being forced out of his lawful business or occupation? If he is, while the court cannot make people behave properly to him—we have made that perfectly clear—it can take steps to stop what I described as "positive acts of villainy and oppression."


My Lords, does the noble Lord not see that the Bill does not deal with positive acts; it deals with feelings?


It deals with the feelings of an individual who is oppressed, by enabling him to go to court. But the court does not deal with feelings; it deals with the fact of whether or not he has been pushed out of, or is being pushed out of, business or lawful occupation by coercive action and prevented from living his life within the law. If he has been, or is being, he is entitled to a remedy. I greatly appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Amwell, said. He referred to Smithfield; but it is not only the action of the bummarees but also the action of the wholesalers that might be called in question.

We should he the last to try to throw a spanner into industrial relations, but even if this matter were discussed between both sides of industry and they were to reach an agreement, does not the individual still come in somewhere? Should he not have the right to go to a court and say, "I am forced out of my lawful business or occupation by the oppression of this group"? I admit that he may have other remedies in certain cases, such as in those mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, when he spoke of calling upon the wives of railway workers who obeyed the orders of their union and stayed at work. It might be possible for action to be taken for a breach of the peace. But it is not done. These would be criminal proceedings. I suggest that these people need the new right to go to a civil court to raise matters for themselves if they cannot get the protection of the Government to which they are entitled. If we take this matter to a Division, as I think we should, I want the Division to be a protest against ignoring the individual. Even if there are negotiations between the two "big boys" on both sides of industry, the individual still

has a right, which needs to be maintained and strengthened.

On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read 2a?

Their Lordships divided:—

Contents, 19; Not-Contents, 49.

Gainsborough, E. Beveridge, L. Methuen, L.
Carnock, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Falmouth, V. Colwyn, L. Rathcavan, L.
Samuel, V. Grantchester, L. [Teller.] Rea, L.
Harmsworth, L. Saye and Sele, L.
Amulree, L. [Teller.] Layton, L. Stamp, L.
Amwell, L. Meston, L. Strabolgi, L.
Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.) Portman, V. Hawke, L.
Soulbury, V. Hayter, L.
Reading, M. Stonehaven, V. Henderson, L.
Woolton, V. Hore-Belisha, L.
Fortescue, E. [Teller.] Hylton, L.
Home, E. Aberdare, L. Jeffreys, L.
Listowel, E. Birdwood, L. Kenswood, L.
Lucan, E. Brassey of Apethorpe, L. Lloyd, L.
Onslow, E. [Teller.] Carrington, L. Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, L.
St. Aldwyn, E. Chesham, L. Mancroft, L.
Selkirk, E. Chorley, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Shaftesbury, E. Conesford, L. Strathclyde, L.
Swinton, E. Croft, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Digby, L. Stratheden and Campbell, L.
Alexander of Hillsborough, V. Fairfax of Cameron, L. Teviot, L.
Colville of Culross, V. Forbes, L. Thurlow, L.
Goschen, V. Glentanar, L. Wolverton, L.
Monsell, V. Greenhill, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.