HL Deb 05 May 1971 vol 318 cc365-422

3.5 p.m.

LORD GREENWOOD OF ROSSEN-DALE rose to call attention, on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Robert Owen, socialist, co-operator and social reformer, to the relevance of his work and thinking to the social and industrial problems which now come within the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion for Papers standing in my name on the Order Paper. It is a tribute to what the noble Earl just called the adaptability of your Lordships' House that we should be able for just a few hours to tear ourselves away from the ardours of our legislative function and look at the basic principles which have become a part of our British political philosophy, shared in some measure by all Parties, and which stemmed from the work and thinking of Robert Owen, the 200th anniversary of whose birth we shall celebrate next week, and whom my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder has rightly called "a practical idealist".

It is, of course, easy to underestimate and to criticise both the man and his influence. One can say that he was autocratic and didactic. His father-in-law told him "Thou needest to be very right because thou art very positive". He was intolerant of others' views, and Harriet Martineau made the biting comment that "Robert Owen was not the man to change his mind about a book for having read it". To many of us, especially to those of us on these Benches Who call ourselves Christian Socialists, his attacks on religion were anathema; but it is only fair, I think, to remind ourselves that he attacked the Churches because he believed, with some truth, that their leaders were hostile to proposals which were basically Christian in their conception. I should be surprised this afternoon if the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn spoke of Robert Owen in the terms his predecessors used in Robert Owen's own time.

One can point to many eccentric and unconventional assertions—his absurd views on marriage are one example—and one can poke fun at the failure of some of his more Utopian enterprises. I am indebted to the Adult School Union for reminding me of the summing up of Professor Tawney, who said: Owen was convinced that early in his life he had discovered the secret of social regeneration; thereafter he was driven remorselessly by the demon of benevolence, whom no success could satisfy and no failure arrest. But at the end of the day it would be wrong to ignore his standing among his contemporaries, the nobility of his aspirations, and the practicability and enduring importance of many of the things that he preached. He was presented by Lord Melbourne to Queen Victoria, an event which provoked an anguished protest from a body quaintly called "The Society for Peaceably Repressing Infidelity". The President of the United States attended a lecture which Robert Owen delivered, and Owen's own son became a member of the American Congress. He numbered among his friends Jeremy Bentham, Rowland Hill, Edward Chadwick, Wilberforce and John Dalton. And social reformers came from all over the world to see his work at New Lanark.

Why, my Lords, did this superficially unremarkable man, with no advantages of birth, of education or of wealth, attract so much attention and respect, affect social development all over the world, and become a popular leader on a scale never exceeded, before or since? I think that first we should look at his work at New Lanark, where he put into practice his belief in the part that the environment plays in affecting character. Putting it in simple terms, he asserted that the moral values and habits of the population could be changed by better working conditions, by better living conditions, and by education. And he set out by example to prove his assertion. He had already addressed the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society on a number of occasions on the evil consequences of the Industrial Revolution and of the dangers of uncontrolled competition, of rapid urbanisation, and of unregulated factory systems.

One of his first steps at New Lanark was to add an upper floor to the workers' houses, perhaps the first application of the house improvement policy which we developed in the Housing Act 1969. He enforced strict rules about hygiene. He provided trees and lawns, rather like the environmental improvements of whole areas made possible by the 1969 Act. There were playing fields for children, something which is still lacking in many urban areas. He provided medical care and sick pay as of right, thus anticipating both Aneurin Bevan and David Lloyd George. He gave productivity incentives in the mill for which he was responsible, and in his village shop sold the necessities of life at cost price.

There was an institute for grown ups, an example of adult education which I think would please my noble friend Lady Lee of Asheridge. In the infant school, he insisted that the children should learn through reasoning and not just through memorising, and he used what are now called visual aids. There was no punishment, and not even harsh words to the children were allowed. I am quite certain that Robert Owen would have been bitterly opposed to the recent increases in the price of school meals which have deprived half a million children of a mid-day meal. It was not without reason that Thomas Henry Huxley spoke of Owen as the pioneer of nursery schools, of which we still stand sorely in need. He influenced Pestalozzi. And Engels not only called him the inventor of infant schools but also said, in spite of the condemnation of Owen as a Utopian in the Communist Manifesto, that all social movements, all real advances in England in the interests of the working class were associated with Owen's name.

In a moment I am going to ask how far Engels was right in his grudging praise of Robert Owen. But could I first direct your Lordships' attention to the state of New Lanark to-day? I received yesterday a letter from Mr. Christopher Harvie, a lecturer in History at the Open University. He had recently visited New Lanark and found that Owen's school is partly roofless. The No. 1 mill is used for reducing aluminium, and covered in a red deposit. The workshop is partly in ruins, and piled with slag and scrap. A new entrance has been driven into the No. 3 mill, destroying the symmetry of the facade. And the large block of residential property with the bell-cote is untenanted and partly vandalised.

But New Lanark, my Lords, is one of the great examples of industrial archaeology. It reflects badly upon us that we should have allowed it to deteriorate in this way, and is a poor tribute to the memory of Robert Owen himself. I hope that the noble Viscount who is to follow me will be able to tell your Lordships what public money has been made available for preserving this very rare example of Robert Owen's work.

Owen's contribution to social improvement was partly due to the influence that he had with a disillusioned working-class. He condemned the inhumanities and the viciousness that accompanied the Industrial Revolution. Not satisfied by his own refusal to employ children under 10, he sought to reform industry as a whole by safeguarding little children, whom he described as the feeble, pale, wretched flax or cotton-spinning children, doomed all the year round to one unvarying occupation for 14 or 15 hours a day. He inspired a campaign which led to the Factory Act of 1819. But the moderate and feeble proposals of that Bill fell far short of what Owen had wanted, and he washed his hands of it. The later work for factory reform was left to Richard Oastler and Lord Shaftesbury, but it was Owen who had blazed the trail.

His influence over the workers derived not only from his own reputation as an enlightened and highly successful employer. He also popularised the Labour Theory of Value-I say "popularised" rather than "developed" because, to a large extent, Adam Smith and Ricardo covered the same ground. But it was Owen who communicated the Labour Theory of Value to the workers in general. By stressing their part in the creation of wealth he gave them a sense of being an indispensable partner in the new industrial system, and thus gave them a self-confidence that otherwise they would have been slower to develop. Indeed, in my own view, the two men who contributed most to the rescue of the working-class from the degradation and hopelessness which the Industrial Revolution had brought were Robert Owen and John Wesley.

Dame Margaret Cole has reminded us that Owen considered moral regeneration as a method much to be preferred to the strike. He had no time for class hatred or conflict. Nevertheless, although he himself might have preferred a union of masters and men—two words which we spent some time discussing in greater detail yesterday—he found himself at the head of the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union, founded by Owenites and widely supported among those workers who had been disillusioned with political action when they had been excluded from the benefits of the Reform Act 1832. Their determination to create their own organisation was increased by the savage- and almost summary-sentences on the Tolpuddle Martyrs, those devout Christian labourers who had been inspired by Owen's followers to create a farmworkers' union in Dorset.

A few years later the Rochdale Pioneers, influenced without a doubt by Owen's teaching, gave a new structure and a new image to co-operation. The results, in terms of improving the standard of living of our people and the acceptance of co-operative principles in most countries of the world—and especially in the developing countries of the Commonwealth—were great and enduring. I shall not expand upon this, because I hope that my noble friends who have lifelong associations with the Cooperative Movement will themselves tell us something of the work that has been done, and particularly of the work organised by Mr. Paul Derrick in connection with the bicentenary of Robert Owen.

So Owen contributed, my Lords, to education, social reform, factory reform, the development of trade unions and the spread of co-operative ideals. He enjoyed almost unique popularity at the height of his career. I am sure, however, that his greatest triumph has come since his death, in the establishment of the Labour Movement as one of the great forces in the State and its success at one time or another in launching social programmes which have been adopted by both the other political Parties. I am quite certain that Owen would have rejoiced in the success of our post-war Labour Governments.

My Lords, I have couched my Motion in terms which emphasise the relevance of Owen's work to to-day's problems. I have here a cutting from The Times of April 26. I cannot believe myself that a system whose survival in a hungry and deprived world depends upon stopping men and women from producing can be morally justified. But that is, we are led to believe, the Government policy. The Times article is headed, "High Unemployment Now Seen as Government's Main Short-Term Economic Plan". In the course of the article we read: The Prime Minister has also recently repeated again and again the Government's central short-term economic tenet, namely that inflation is the cause of unemployment and that unemployment is the cure for inflation, and so, at second remove, for itself.

May I also quote from the Financial and Business Scotsman: … it appears that it is now the deliberate policy of the Government to let the unemployed total rise so that, in time, the pressure from the unions for increased wages will slacken and that the hungry will force down living standards. Those views do not come from publications of the Labour Party.

It is appropriate to remind your Lordships' House that Robert Owen foresaw this situation. As Dr. John Butt has reminded us in a number of writings in this bicentenary year, he advanced the opinion that: 'superabundance'—or what we would call over-production—was the basic problem of industrial society. He said that it could only be solved by 'demand management', i.e., by raising consumption at particular periods of slump. Owen's views were summed up in his Letter to the Governed of All Classes in All Nations in 1857, and I quote his words: No Government that is incompetent to find good perpetual employment for the working classes in such manner that in return for it they shall be well-placed, fed, clothed, lodged, trained, educated, amused and governed, ought any longer to be allowed by the people to govern them.

Owen gave us guidelines for national policy in many fields. He, above all others, warned the people against the damage that the new industrial system could bring. He gave the lead to working men and led them into paths of peaceful progress at a time when workers in other countries were developing their organisation on a basis of bitterness and, indeed, of revolution. As Vice-President of the Robert Owen Bicentenary Association I have to admit that in some respects he was foolish, and in some that he was unrealistic. But we cannot allow his failures to detract from the lustre of his name, from the nobility of his aims, or from the greatness of his achievements.

My Lords, I should like the last word to be with Mr. Alexander Gray, whose book, The Socialist Tradition deserves wide circulation. Mr. Gray has written: The ordinary man turns back to the miracle of New Lanark as the crowning achievement of Owen who, in the darkest days of the industrial revolution showed even if in undemocratic ways and building on strange principles, what love could do to regenerate a fallen community. And even if the second part of his life was barren of achievement, so far as the world's coarse thumb and finger could assess, Owen's life is memorable, if not unique, in presenting us with a man who achieved wealth and success, and yet … cast them aside to gain for his fellow men a greater salvation: 'Blessed is the rich that is found without blemish, and hath not gone after gold. Who is he? And we will call him blessed, for wonderful things hath he done among his people'". My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, it is a tribute to the reverence in which this House holds the past, and also to the satisfactory state of the nation, that the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, should have secured this Wednesday afternoon for so interesting a historical debate. I hope it will be taken as no discourtesy that I have to attend another anniversary, the 150th anniversary of the Political Economy Club, founded by David Ricardo, to which I was proposed as a member many years ago by Lord Keynes; therefore when the time comes I hope the noble Lord will excuse me. Until I heard the speech of the noble Lord I really did not know what to make of this man Owen. I had read Sir Leslie Stephen's summing up, that he was both an intolerable bore and the salt of the earth. I am not sure that that is not quite a good description, but obviously it leaves a large number of questions unanswered.

History shows many examples of men of influence and fame who began as dotty reformers and ended up as some kind of Conservatives—one has only to look at both sides of your Lordships' House. We have all met the starry-eyed youth whose idea of doing something in the world is to do something with the world, and who ends by realising that human nature is not what he thought it was. That human nature is always attractive I agree, but that it is always under the shadow of weakness and error is a melancholy fact of experience. This man Owen reversed these, the usual, lessons of a lifetime. When he started in business he treated his employees better and more realistically than did his competitors and he made money because he did, but little by little his feet left the ground and he ended up in cloud-cuckoo land. Let us salute him for all the good he did during his passage from capitalism to socialism. But as his life progressed he seems not only to have learned no more about men and women, but actually unlearned what he must have known as a practical manager up to the best period of the New Lanark mills. I heard the noble Lord ask the question about the present state of the buildings in New Lanark, and my noble friend Lord Aberdare will give an answer when he comes to speak later in the debate.

Owen was born just at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Any sensitive man must have been appalled by the contrast between the clean, quiet, spacious life of the countryside and the dirty, noisy, overcrowded existence in and around the new factories. It must have hit one in the face. But there was the war against Napoleon to win and also very strong financial temptations to look the other way. In that dawn of the machine-age, money was very easily made by anyone with modest gifts. Owen made good money, 20 per cent, or more on his capital, money that bought him a lot, that hired domestic servants for a whole year for less than we should pay now for one week, money that made him a member of the middle-class. It was the middle-class because Owen and his like knew there was another class down below.

It would be interesting to learn how much capital Owen made before he was 30, not only out of textiles, but by acting as broker in the purchase and sale of industrial buildings and plant. It was easy enough then to be a "whiz-kid" and to be financed by rich men on the lookout for investments, provided you impressed them with your honesty and capacity. Of this there is no doubt whatever. Owen was instantly recognised as a young man to be trusted. He had that simplicity and natural goodness which make a conquest in a twinkling. My Lords, he was also crafty when he needed to be.

I enjoyed very much the story of how Owen used his money to secure Mr. Dale's consent to his marriage with his daughter. One can imagine the scene. Rumour has reached this pious old mill-owner that the young sceptic, who was going around saying that there was something fundamentally wrong with every religion, wanted to marry his daughter. "I'll have none of it", Mr. Dale tells his wife, "Anne must put him out of her head". What then does Owen do? He fixes up to see Mr. Dale, who no doubt thinks he is coming to talk about marriage. But not at all. The young man asks if he may buy Mr. Dale's textile mills at Lanark, which, one guesses, were giving plenty of trouble. Mr. Dale is so pleased with this proposition that he sells out at Owen's valuation, that is to say, £60,000. Owen has a card up his sleeve. To keep alongside his future father-in-law, Owen stipulates that the payment shall be £3,000 a year for 20 years. By agreeing to these terms, Mr. Dale ties himself to Owen for the rest of his life. One supposes that as a throw-away line the young man then says that it is time he settled down, he would like to stay in Lanark, he is thinking of marriage, in fact his heart is set on Miss Dale. All then goes well.

I thought I might understand this extraordinary character better—because I find him a very extraordinary character, and fascinating—if I inspected the long series of portraits which were made of him from early life to death. A very fascinating exercise it has been. The earliest picture shows a young man with the irregular, almost brutal, features of one of Ian Fleming's characters. His chin sticks out and he has a nose as large as a root vegetable. The years pass, his love of children and his patience with them and everybody else begin to mark his features. The tough knock-you-down expression gives way to a gentle benevolence, until we come to the engraving of 1856 and the fine medallion on his tombstone. Here is a face of someone who has already left us for a better world.

Owen's life corresponds to the changing expression of his features. He came from Wales to learn from the Scots how to get on in business. So far as I can discover there was nothing English about him. This was a man whose ancestors might well have included an elf or a fairy, to whom he owed his talent for making money like magic and spending it all on dreams. Where I think he went completely wrong was in holding that the differences between one man and another are almost solely due to the difference in the environment and that the conditions of the environment are wholly under human control.

My Lords, it was this version of determinism which led him to repudiate all religions and which has led many impatient reformers to the inhumanities of Communism. Owen was saved from this because he loved people, and because he had no talent for organising a political party. He was a prophet rather than a politician. He preached the doctrine that men and women can be made completely happy and good by changing the environment and the structure of the State, and that this is all one needs to do.

Well, my Lords, after our own experience of Fascism, Nazism and Communism, we cannot any longer accept so optimistic a view of mankind. We must see it as a basic weakness in Robert Owen's thinking that he believed social engineering and his own very interesting system of education could cure all the world's ills. It led him, as the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, said, to make extraordinary attacks upon the institution of marriage, which he said—I quote— deformed the character of man and wife. He himself was sure he knew how to bring up children, but he thought that the average parents trained them to acquire all the most mean, ignorant, selfish feelings that can be generated in the human character. These are not my words. I am quoting Owen. He says marriage has inflicted morally and physically the direst calamities upon the human race. It is perfectly true that some marriages are disastrous for the two people concerned, but it does not follow that all marriages are and it was this kind of transition from particular examples of evil to the widest, wildest generalisations that let Owen down.

It is very instructive for us on these Benches to realise how much the Socialist Party still owes to Owen. I am not thinking of primary schools and the co-operative societies, of which he is, I imagine correctly, credited with having been one of the founding fathers. I certainly praise him for his share in both and acknowledge that the pioneer of the New Lanark School deserves a high place in our regard. The debt which interests me, because there it is to-day round the neck of the Socialist Party, is Owen's immense confidence in institutional paternalism based upon a view of human nature so unrealistic that before long it resulted in the failure of all those schemes which he had started with such high ideals and I hopes.

My Lords, if Robert Owen were now a member of your Lordships' House and were taking part in the Committee stage of the Industrial Relations Bill, what would be his style and argument? It is not difficult to guess, because we have many records of his public debates with the opponents of his theories. I know, of course, where he would sit—on the third bench on the opposite side between the noble Lords, Lord Leatherland and Lord Blyton, if they were here. There can be no doubt that however narrow the Amendment before the House, on every occasison he would make a Second Reading speech. Nor can we go wrong in thinking that the content of his repetitious Second Reading speeches would always be the same: a flat declaration that provided he was allowed to elaborate a code of industrial practice there would be no need for legislation of any kind. With enchanting simplicity and complete lack of guile he would put it to your Lordships over and over again that we only have to treat employers and workers as saints and saints they will be.

My Lords, we shall never, I hope, despite this dream progress through good will alone. It is an old, old story and one that will break fresh hearts in every generation. There is truth in it but only part of the truth. Reluctantly, one must say that it was no accident that all Owen's socialist communities came to grief—came to grief because he assumed the perfectability of man by man. That is something which will never be within our grasp. Such excursions into the land of illusions are all very well for boys and girls, but they cannot be a man's guide in a world where good and evil are inextricably interlocked.

Every man's life is composed of good and evil, and at the end of the day what matters is that the good should have exceeded the evil. The larger the entries on both sides of the balance sheet the more interesting the man; and I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, for giving me the duty of looking at an exceptional human balance sheet. Just what is the excess or deficiency when all is added up, I leave to your Lordships to judge, but I should be very content myself to agree that the credit items make a noble showing.

I would add one word to the interesting view of the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, of the relevance of Robert Owen to politics to-day. I do not take quite the same point as he took. Of course, Owen had in full measure great qualities which we lack: genuine enthusiasm and a passionate belief in his own limited prescription for social progress. In the last ten years we have suffered from politicians who either had no ideas or only half believed in the ideas they put before the public. Thank goodness, we now have a Prime Minister who is neither a compromiser nor a sceptic!

My Lords, enthusiasm and sincerity are the means by which a great message can be made to enter the hearts of the people. But what of the message itself? Taking Owen at his best, forgetting all the absurdities and crudities, he was telling us that kindness alone will cure everything. He had nothing to say about the sterner virtues: courage, loyalty, endurance, thrift; or about the need for forgiveness and the wisdom to be learned from mistakes. His message was such a vulnerable fragment of Truth as to be dangerous. Let us accept his enthusiasm and his kindliness for all that they are worth, and say, regretfully, that we must look elsewhere for the material out of which to forge constructive politics in the 1970s.

3.43 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to associate myself with what the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has said in appreciation of this opportunity which the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, has given your Lordships to consider the work and thought of Robert Owen in relation to our contemporary social and industrial problems. I do not think Lord Eccles has really been fair to the lasting influence of Robert Owen, which I believe will be brought out in this debate. I also should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, personally for introducing me to Robert Owen, of whom of course I had heard but of whom I knew but little, and of whose thought I should certainly like to know more—hence my taking part in this debate. But I must crave your Lordships' indulgence in that another engagement prevents me from staying to the end of the debate, and I trust that the noble Lord for his part will excuse me.

Like the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, I find Robert Owen something of an enigma: a puzzle to his own generation and no less a puzzle to posterity. I wonder whether this is anything very new, because I am bound to reflect that there are times when I find in the debate on the Industrial Relations Bill that the proceedings are very puzzling on that, too, both in the Government's attitude to constructive Amendments which are placed before them, and also in what appear sometimes to be the time-wasting Amendments which are being put forward by the Opposition. I find this very puzzling. But the truth is that we can be overridden by Party prejudices.

Robert Owen has something interesting to say about this—and I quote: The political leaders or their partisans are embarrassed by the trammels of Party which mislead their judgment and often constrain them to sacrifice the real well-being of the community and of themselves to an apparent and most mistaken self-interest. That was the verdict of Robert Owen. I say that he was an enigma in that, as has already been said, he was certainly in the first part of his life a capitalist. He regarded himself, I should have thought until the end of his life, as a benevolent dictator, and he seemed often to align himself with the Tories until they abandoned their support for him. He had no great belief in political reform as a means of remedying economic grievances—in very much the same way as it is only increased growth and increased productivity which will solve our own industrial problems.

I am bound to take note of one other puzzling feature of his character and thought—and I say "puzzling" deliberately, and it is this which has prompted me to speak in this debate. He was utterly opposed to organised religion. I suspect that Bishops were anathema to him. I hear that in his day they were mostly reactionary, intolerant, and autocratic prelates. I should like to say here and now how much the noble Prelates who sit upon these Benches value and appreciate the courtesy and hearing that is always extended to us in your Lord- ships' House, even though sometimes we are addressed by the wrong title.


My Lords, I hope the right reverend Prelate will take note of the fact that he referred to his own Bench of Bishops by their wrong title.


My Lords, I beg your Lordships' pardon. I say that Robert Owen's attitude is puzzling because as one reads his essays and other writings it is obvious that he was a religious man. Not only did he often quote words of scripture—and that is not uncommon even to-day among those who make no religious profession. I remember one particular case, though not in this House, where great play was made of the text: Suffer little children to come unto Me", but the emphasis was more on the "children" than on the "Me". So often are these passages wrongly quoted and misquoted. People rise and say that money is the root of all evil. Of course, it is nothing of the sort: it is "The love of money" which "is the root of all evil."

Not only was Robert Owen well grounded in the scriptures, but his whole life and work was motivated by two great religious and, I would remind your Lordships, Christian ideals. First, that of charity, and charity in its proper sense, not of doling out largesse but in caring about people and the conditions under which they live and work. For example, he called upon his fellow manufacturers to devote time and capital to improve their living conditions. "If you will do this", he told them, "You will gain 5, 10, 15, perhaps even 100 per cent., return". But alas!, his appeal largely fell on deaf ears, and it was for this reason that he embarked on factory reform.

Reference has already been made to what Robert Owen did at New Lanark, not only in the mill but in housing his workers, the strict rules that he made to correct the evils which existed there of drink and gambling—and to which he also added the Church. As regards drink, he said: Spirit duties must be increased until the price shall exceed the means of ordering their consumption". This already seems to be in operation. He said, State lotteries must be abolished because they encourage gambling. The Poor Laws must, be overhauled because they encourage the indigent to acquire the worst habits and practice every kind of crime, and the Church should purge those inconsistencies from its system which now create its weakness and its dangers"— which we are still engaged in doing.

This brings me to his second great insight, the constant theme of his life and work: to promote happiness, not of the few but of the greatest number. It is not generally recognized—indeed I am not sure that he recognized—that happiness is basically a religious virtue, because true lasting happiness is not really dependent on what happens but is dependent, I would suggest, upon caring and being cared for. Your Lordships will no doubt know that in the Sermon on the Mount, which is so often quoted —and I have had it so often quoted to me at trade union meetings—the word "blessed" really means "happy". The creation of happiness for the greatest number is an ideal that he followed, and it is not to be scoffed at. Not only is it to be followed but it is to be proclaimed, for it is this which must still inspire our social and industrial plans and projects.

In our present preoccupation with the Industrial Relations Bill we need to keep firmly in mind that the real aim is to promote good human relations in industry. We must be concerned about the creation of conditions that will make for happiness in its widest, fullest sense of those engaged in industry; and it is no exaggeration to say that not all workers are happy in their jobs. The Industrial Relations Bill is not seen by all to be the agent to promote happiness; rather it seems to be having the reverse effect on some.

What was Robert Owen's remedy? First, education, and he was a great educator. It seems to me, to return for a moment to the Industrial Relations Bill, that we want a great deal more education about this Bill, and I am surprised that the Government have not given more attention to this aspect. We can be grateful that since the days of Robert Owen such wonderful steps have been taken in education. I think he would have been surprised that the Church which he lambasted has been the pioneer in education. His great concern was to educate children for life, teaching them the principles of brotherhood, industry and character building rather than intellectual prowess. His emphasis on what I should call practical, useful education was absolutely right and one that we have kept, and must continue to keep, constantly before us. I find it odd that here again Robert Owen was often quoting the words that I find again and again in his writings, that "man does not live by bread alone". Here again is a quotation of only part of a text: but rather from every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. But "man does not live by bread alone" is a lesson that we need to take particularly to heart in this materialistic society.

His other great conviction—another theme of his life—is that the individual does not form his own character; it is conditioned by his environment. Man's character, he claimed is a product of the circumstances in which he is born, in which he lives and works, that evil conditions breed evil men; that good conditions develop good men". This is not the whole truth because it neglects the grace of God to lift a man despite his surroundings. But Robert Owen's thesis is most important and it has been increasingly recognised. It has prompted the reforms of the last 150 years and reinforces the present emphasis (and we thank God for it) on the improvement of the environment.

It is quite clear that Robert Owen's greatest achievement was what he did in New Lanark, when he was at his best. Having succeeded there, he imagined that this model community could, and would, provide the Utopia fox all men everywhere—a common enough idea. So he embarked on his great crusade, which as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has said, did not produce many results—certainly not the results that Robert Owen looked for in his own time—but I would say unhesitatingly it undoubtedly inspired the great developments in social, industrial and educational reform for which we salute him to-day and acknowledge our indebtedness to him and his work.

There is one bon mot of his with which I would conclude: To effect any permanent change in society I found it was far more necessary to act than to speak". That is a lesson that we all need to take to heart—perhaps sometimes in your Lordships' House and also in another place, where the volume of words reaches the proportions of a torrent, accompanied by mountains of papers, documents, reports and memoranda which we are supposed to read and which sometimes become an excuse for inaction; and our other favourite device is to appoint a Committee. We salute Robert Owen for what he did more than for what he said or wrote, for what he has inspired others and can inspire us to do, especially if we continually keep in mind his basic thesis of bringing happiness to the greatest number through all succeeding generations.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said, in a speech as ingenious and entertaining as it was, if I may say so, cynical and unfair, Robert Owen was an exceptional, fascinating and, at times, outrageous man. But, none the less, as the noble Viscount also said, he was a prophet; and prophets have an extraordinary knack of coming true, however eccentric they may be and however much people may make fun of them through the ages. As the words of Lord Greenwood's Motion say, and as he himself movingly said in his speech, Robert Owen's work and thinking are relevant to to-day's industrial problems. That is why I, as a businessman, decided to take up 10 minutes of your Lordships' time. But I must, too, humbly apologise to your Lordships for the fact that I may be forced to leave before the end of the debate in order to keep an inextricable engagement.

I believe that many of this country's difficulties, and much of our depression, result from the fact that to a large extent we have so few shared objectives. For a thousand years we in Britain have not been oppressed by foreign invasion. We have had neither the stimulus nor the opportunity to start from scratch again. We have tried to graft the Industrial Revolution and modern capitalism on to the roots of the old inherited power bases!monarchy, feudalism, aristocracy, land ownership. This has surely resulted in everyone being concerned with protecting his own interests against oppression, or his own power base against intrusion by others. It has been our idiom to limit power: the King's power by the barons' power, the power of the landed aristocracy by the power of Parliament. Through the years the trade unions, from being the protectors of the oppressed, have learned to exploit their power against management. Modern directors and managers are seldom, of course, the owners of businesses, but they often behave as though they were the natural successors to the powers and privileges of the old owners.

Units of organisation have got bigger and bigger, so that individuals are no longer able to identify themselves with each other in the success or failure of the organisation which they serve. Britain's economic performance to-day largely depends, whether we like it or not, upon the direction and management of industry and commerce. So would it not be better for everybody that the objectives and regulations of business should be formulated in a way that is susceptible of general understanding and respect? My Lords, I am talking essentially about the private sector, although a good deal of what I say has relevance to nationalised industry.

In passing, I ask, would it not be sensible to get our terminology right? It is as out of date as our company law, which, for instance, gives no status whatever to workers in a business. We refer to public companies as "private enterprise". Why should we not say "private enterprise" to mean private companies, partnerships and one-man businesses; "corporate enterprise", for public companies; and "national enterprise" for business organisations in the public sector? Is it not as silly as it is false to encourage people to think that there must be some deep eternal conflict between businessmen supposedly intent on maximising profits at the expense of all other consideratons, with the corollary that the only possible reaction for trade unionists is to fight likewise for maximum wages, and everybody else seeking a sensible pleasant civilised society?

There is a constant power struggle, and no shared objectives. I believe that Robert Owen, in his own way and in his own time, understood and foresaw this. I quote from his life: From an experience of a long life, in which I passed through all the gradations of trade, manufactures, and commerce, I am thoroughly convinced that there can be no superior character formed under this thoroughly selfish system. Truth, honesty, virtue, will be mere names, as they are now, and as they have ever been. Under this system there can be no true civilisation; for by it all are trained civilly to oppose and often to destroy one another by their created opposition of interests. My Lords for 25 years, as a businessman myself, I have been arguing that the objectives of business should be to produce wealth, to manufacture and distribute goods, and to provide services, and that in fulfilling these objectives businessmen must recognise and balance and fulfil responsibilities to employees, customers and the community, as well as to shareholders. Maximising profits cannot and should not be the sole purpose, or even the primary purpose, of business. This does not mean that I am against profit. On the contrary, profit is both necessary to reward the shareholders and an essential criterion of efficiency. A business that makes a loss is thoroughly demoralising for everyone who works in it, and is indeed a fraud on the community. But that does not mean that profit should be the be-all and end-all of all economic organisation. When Christians misquote, "Man cannot live by bread alone" (with respect to the right reverend Prelate") it does not mean that they are against bread. I am not against profit, but I say that businesses cannot live by profit alone. To quote Robert Owen again, his intention was to conduct the establishment at New Lanark on principles to ensure the improvement of the condition of the people, as well as to obtain a reasonable remuneration for capital and for its management. It is ludicrous to suggest that the citizens of the country other than businessmen should be guided by social and moral considerations; that the workers and their trade unionists should respect the national interest and the public good; that truth, beauty and goodness should inform the professions—including the professional advisers of businessmen—but that businessmen themselves should pursue profit, to the exclusion of all other values. This must be dangerous nonsense. Even if salaried economists can hypnotise businessmen into thinking that the maximisation of profits is an end in itself, I do not believe it can ever be a meaningful human purpose for about nine-tenths of the population of Britain, or of any other country. It must surely be the duty and interest of any Government to inspire more fruitful understanding and more constructive respect between trade unions, national enterprises, businessmen and society as a whole. Let me quote once more from Robert Owen's life: I was completely tired of partners who were merely trained to buy cheap and sell dear. This occupation deteriorates, and often destroys, the finest and best faculties of our nature. Now, my Lords, apart from my deep personal convictions that Robert Owen was right in his vision, and that we have a great deal to learn from him to-day, there is an interesting coincidence for me in all this. Thanks to a letter a year or two ago from a Scottish chartered accountant who had been doing some research into the Campbell tribes, I discovered who Robert Owen's partners in New Lanark were. The partners who financed him, and with whom he eventually fell out because they insisted on arguing that commercial men should carry on business only for profit, were my great-great-grandfather, his brother and their partners. This came to me after I had for 20 years, absolutely by chance, I am ashamed to say, never having read Robert Owen, been saying exactly the same thing.

My Lords, is there anything practical that businessmen can do to-day, in our mixed economy, towards realising Robert Owen's vision of a truly civilised system of creating wealth;—and, with respect, to the noble Viscount, I do not believe that it is a question of being nice to everybody; anything practical, not visionary, they can do towards creating shared objectives? I believe that there are at least two useful lines of approach. Big business can never be loved (I always say that it is easier for a Campbell to pass through the eye of a needle), but it should be understood and respected and worthy of respect. First, let directors and managers stop preaching that profit for shareholders is the predominant motive of business. Let them explain that they have responsibilities to employees, customers and the community, as well as to shareholders. Let them by all means explain, too, that economic efficiency and good housekeeping, and the proper stewardship of other people's money, are essential means towards the fulfilment of these fourfold responsibilities.

Secondly, I believe that directors and managers should give active consideration to organising work in such a way I that men and women work in groups of a size in which they can identify them-selves with each other and with their achievements; that centres of responsibility should be as clearly defined as objectives, and that all working groups should have some clearly defined responsibility; otherwise they will indeed be irresponsible, and otherwise there can be no shared objectives.

My Lords, I hope that in the spirit of this Motion I have been able to establish my conviction that there need be no split in society, no constant power conflict between businessmen and other people. At the moment the nation simply cannot afford the split, the schizophrenia, that now exists. Surely, if people had listened to Robert Owen after the Industrial Revolution, we might have avoided the collision course in industrial relations that we have been on ever since. The fact that we failed to avoid it then is surely no reason for persisting on a collision course now.


My Lords, one of the reassuring features about the debates which take place in your Lordships' House is that in the course of the arguments and points of view that are expressed there is always a great deal of common ground shown by your Lordships on both sides of the House. I, for one, would not in any way wish to differ from the general theme which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Eskan, has put forward with regard to the relations between the business community and the body politic here in this country at the present time.

As the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, has said, it is unusual for this House to devote a day to celebrating an anniversary. I must confess that I hope it will not occur too often, for I have reservations about our contemporary preoccupation with anniverseries. It represents a rather depressing nostalgia for a more successful, a more creative, a more romantic past; tinged, I may say, in too many cases with an eye to the main chance of commercially exploiting some association with a famous person or event. I do not think it is one of the happier features of our times, for it indicates lack of satisfaction with the present and of confidence in the future; less a process of seeing visions, and more a preoccupation with dreaming dreams.

My noble friend Lord Eccles, when he spoke from the Front Bench of the Government side, quoted the rather destructive passage from the Dictionary of National Biography written by Sir Leslie Stephens. The writer goes on after that, and here I quote again from the same source in summing up Owen, to say: He was essentially a man of one idea, and that idea was only partially right, enforced less by argument than by insistent and monotonous repetition". I do not think it was fair, but nevertheless I must confess that having listened to the speeches of noble Lords opposite during the debate on the Industrial Relations Bill, I have begun to feel that the mantle from Robert Owen which they have assumed is not entirely confined to his social and political ideas. Nevertheless, I sympathise with the Party opposite, who, at this moment of political failure and electoral defeat, seek to find renewed faith and inspiration in a recourse to the day-springs of their Party's philosophy.

In 1945 we, in the Conservative Party, did exactly the same. In our case it was not to the owner of the New Lanark Mills, Robert Owen, that we turned, but to a contemporary, Richard Oastler who, with Michael Sadler, took over Owen's Factory Bill which produced the Factory Act of 1819. Although that Bill was but a modest and shadowy expression of their intention to improve industrial conditions in this country, and although it is true that Owen dissociated himself from that effort, the fact remains that it was from that particular Bill that all the great factory legislation, and the great improvements that have taken place in the conditions of our industrial life, stemmed. It is also to be remembered that it was two Tories who carried some, at any rate, of Owen's original ideas for the improvement of those conditions into factories by legislative and political action.

Like so many businessmen, Owen was not a political success. He was perhaps too impatient to accept the self-discipline, too frank to recognise the subterfuges, too imaginative to understand the limitations which the practice of what another political prophet, F. S. Olivier, I once called "The endless adventure of governing man" makes necessary for those who take part in it. But his ideas —the effect of environment on character, and the importance of community self-help—have permeated great movements like the trade union movement of this country, and the Co-operative Movement, and have provided inspiration for vital social experiments like the Rudolph Steiner Homes and Camp Hill.

But, my Lords, it is for noble Lords opposite to proclaim the virtues of their prophet, and to pour libations on the altar of his memory. My object in speaking shortly this afternoon is simply to attempt to draw some lessons from this rather curious political occasion. I have already called attention to the fact that in the hour of political defeat the two great Parties in the land have sought some refreshment in the social and political ideas of men who, in their day, tried to effect reform, and who were able to work together to that end. In this matter of industrial relations in which we are to-day involved, we should not be undertaking a long and tiresome wrangle about the Industrial Relations Bill. Historically, and appropriately, the legislation necessary to modernise the trade unions should have been passed in the last Parliament by the Labour Government. I am quite certain that Robert Owen, against the standards and atmosphere and climate of the present day as compared with the years in which he lived, would, in his greatest days at the New Lanark Mill, have supported such a move.

Professor Trevelyan reminds us that factory legislation was never a Party matter. Industrial relations should not be a Party matter to-day, and it is I think due to the errors of judgment by the leadership of both Parties that to-day we have a Bill which, instead of being unifying and reforming, appears to a large section of the community to be contentious and divisive. But then we are all—and our Party leaders in particular—victims of an out-of-date political alignment. Parties based on a supposed conflict between capital and labour; on the supposed difference of interest between public ownership and private enterprise; on what is claimed to be a Socialist view of society or a Conservative view of society, are just as much nonsense, in my view, as to believe that every person born alive is either a supporter of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and his friends on those Benches, or my noble friends and myself on this side of the House.

What I am trying to say is simply this. Whatever his biographer in the Dictionary of National Biography may have said about him, I am happy to pay my tribute to Robert Owen—socialist, social reformer and co-operator—because we are all, regardless of Party, heirs to the political and social legacy which he left behind him, just as noble Lords on the other side of the House, whether they like it or not, are heirs and beneficiaries to-day to the qualities of life in Britain created by Whig Lords in the past and by Tory squires, who in their time made a contribution to our community interests and to the progress of our society.

I do not think that the issues of contemporary politics are those which have traditionally fed Party and faction. I think that, as in the days of Owen and Oastler, it is the duty of men who claim to have some vision and responsibility to corns together to heal the social wounds of the nation after a long period of revolution, after two great wars and after years of materialistic change. I think that The Times, in its recent article on the Prospect of Britain, called "The Politics of Reconciliation", began to set up some of the signposts towards which the real political objectives for us in the future lie: problems less of industrial organisation or of the division of material wealth, and more the problems of social attitudes and moral behaviour. If this is so, then perhaps Owen still has something to teach us.

It is recorded that, alongside his enthusiasms and his aberrations, there was always the saving grace of his delightful manner and his great good humour. I think that this is perhaps what is needed most of all in our political and public life during this period of conflict, stress and disillusion: not what is called abrasive leadership, not the extreme doctrines of Right and Left, not the themes of class struggle or race conflict, but some return to what the great Lord Clarendon once called, The old good humour of English life".

4.22 p.m.


My Lords, I am afraid that this is a day of anniversaries. It is not only the bicentenary of Owen and the 150th anniversary of the Political Economy Club; it is also the 150th anniversary of the Guardian—the Manchester Guardian, as it was—and I am afraid that I, too, shall have to ask to be excused from being here at the winding-up to-night. As I expected, my noble friend who initiated this debate has refreshed our memories of Owen's practical achievements and the justifiably dangerous ideas that he put into the minds of the workmen of Britain. I do not propose to go more deeply into them, but wish to speak of their effect upon our political and social life.

But before I do so, I should like to quote one sentence of that Welsh saddle-maker's son who came to Manchester and who, by the age of 20, had become a famous spinner. Yet, successful as he was, he was appalled by what he called the "white slavery in the manufacturers of England"; and at the end of his life his indignation at the horrors of the new capitalist system and its competitive ethic was unabated. The sentence which I was going to quote has already been given by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Eskan, Under this system [the capitalist system] there can be no true civilisation. Owen concluded—and I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, quoted this passage—by saying, It is a low, vulgar, ignorant and inferior mode of conducting the affairs of society. My father escaped the pit and followed Owen from Wales to Manchester half-a-century after Owen's death, to find that Owen's moral indignation with the system was by that time shared by many splendid people in that city. One of the spiritual leaders of the times was Robert Blatchford, editor of the Clarion and the author of Merrie England, the theme of which was running like wildfire among the working people in the city. Owen's practical teaching had led to the creation of flourishing co-operative societies that provided people with pure food and honest clothing—and they were not universal in those days—and returned the profits to the customers; incidentally, teaching them how to save. The trade union movement was by that time, around 1908, fighting and slowly winning its battles and the Independent Labour Party was converting people to socialism with evangelical zeal.

We had then not merely a political Party. We had a movement. There was a ferment in society and the leaven was called "socialism". As I said, like my noble friend I am the son of one of the pioneers; a less eminent one, but one of those dedicated men who helped to create, and lived to see, the revolution of 1945. Of course, in the days of which I am speaking the movement had four corners—the I.L.P., and for me the shop assistants' union, the Co-operative Society and the Methodist Chapel. They were all part of the same movement, a movement of hope and a movement of moral protest. The evangelism of the chapel and that of the I.L.P. were in the same key, though one was speaking of the kingdom of heaven and the other of an earthly Utopia. The chapel was about personal conduct; the Party was about social conduct.

It all seems very far distant to-day, and yet one hears, even in this Chamber, echoes of those days in, for example, the oratory of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, and of the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge. But the gospel and the dream of socialism were so closely linked that, in our simplicity, we could not see how a man could claim to be both a Conservative and a Christian. By the exercise of a little Christian charity, however, it was just possible to grant that some Liberals—but only some of them—might claim to be genuine Christians and might see the Kingdom of Heaven. No wonder that Lenin scoffed at us, at our gentility and at the legality of what he called the Christian Mensheviks.

But socialists were, by this time, winning their place in public life, in Parliament, in the local councils and on the boards of guardians. It meant a gradual but profound change in the character of the Labour movement. The dreams of Owen, of William Morris, of Blatchford and the rest were exchanged for the practicalities of public administra- tion. Boundless hopes had to go down I before the limitations of real life. And, this is still the cause of tension in the Party to-day. The true believers think I that the pragmatists, when in office, could go a bit further and a bit faster along the road to socialism than they have done. Which side is right does not matter very much in the aspect of eternity. But all Parties would be poorer without their guardians of the true faith; and all Parties would be dangerous without their practical men and women who accept the need for some flexibility in strategy, and the need to have limited objectives. We can never dispense with either the prose or the poetry of politics.

Yet the historians will surely find that that period, that quarter of a century between 1920 and 1945, was one of the most romantic periods of British history. In those few years was seen the emergence of the British Labour Party, from a small Parliamentary group of protest, to a constitutional Party, able to win power with a large majority and to carry out a programme of radical—even revolutionary—reform.

May I say in passing that the transformation of society caused by the rise of labour is evident even in this Chamber. I think that noble Lords opposite never imagined that they would be facing a Party such as exists on this side of the House to-day, and, if they are surprised to see some of us here, they are not so surprised as some of us are to find ourselves in this position. If you contrast the debate on the Industrial Relations Bill, on which we are now engaged day and night, with the debates in 1926 and 1927 on the Mines Bill and the Trades Disputes Bill, I think you will find the difference quite remarkable. Your Lordships are able to-day to profit from the experience of men who have led or still lead some of the great trade unions; and I think they have made it clear that they will spare no effort to communicate that experience to noble Lords on the Benches opposite.

Now there were men of industrial experience in this Chamber 45 years ago, but they were all on the other side; and my noble friend Lord Blyton tells me that there was indeed a rich seam of royalty owners, and there was a "long wall" of coalowners, too. Of course, there were some Socialist Peers, but they were mainly brought to this side by their intellectual and moral conviction and, of course, had never worked with their hands in a factory or in the mines. From people such as Lord Haldane, we got a powerful Hegelian defence, but of course he had never been a trade unionist. We, my Lords, the heirs of Owen, of Morris, of Marx and of the Methodists, have an eclectic but distinctive philosophy. We are all deeply concerned about equality; we are all deeply concerned about liberty; and, if I may put it in the simple words of half a century ago, our goal is fraternity, to get rid of those things, material and spiritual, which threaten the brotherhood of men.

So we have evolved something which we call the mixed economy, and one of its pioneers, or spiritual pioneers, was a Conservative. It was Lord Woolton, also a Manchester man. When he was Minister of Reconstruction, towards the end of the war, he accepted high and stable employment as a priority of Government. We never heard, I think, in those days of a mixed economy: Lord Woolton had a simpler word for it. He called it a kind of shandy gaff society, but whether it was the strong ale of socialism mixed with the lemonade of private enterprise or the other way about, he never made quite clear. But at that time it seemed incredible that the Conservative elements in the National Government, when one remembered their inertia before the unemployment of the pre-war years, would dream of accepting the economic changes which Keynes and Beveridge had prescribed for full employment. I think it was Aneurin Bevan who was so sceptical that he said that if that happened there would be no need for a Labour Party; and I am afraid that the British people for 13 years took the same view and kept a Conservative Government in power. But they did so because it maintained full employment and the Welfare State and the nationalised industries.

Perhaps the greatest triumph that Labour has had was the reluctance of that Conservative Government, or their inability, to reverse Labour's revolutionary reforms of 1945 to 1951 when they came back to power. It was the greatest act of I practical political wisdom that the Conservative Party, which had many acts of such wisdom in its history, has ever I shown. Nevertheless, Aneurin Bevan may have been right. It is, I think, open to us quite fairly to question whether, if the Conservatives had won the Election of 1945 with a great majority, they would really have made full employment their first priority and the Beveridge reforms their second.

My Lords, this mixed economy which we have to-day confronts us on this side and noble Lords on the other side with great moral dilemmas. We can all see its shortcomings. No Socialist philosopher ever set out to prove that a mixture of socially-owned industries and private enterprise, under the guidance of an intervening Government, would produce the greatest good for the greatest number; and I do not think any Conservative theoretician ever set out on that course, either. It just happened; and its achievements have been colossal. Never have so many people enjoyed so much prosperity with so much personal opportunity, including educational opportunity, and so much freedom. Of course, it is far from Owenite dreams of Utopia; it has much ugliness and frustration. And although we may take pride in its achievement there is no room for complacency.

But for us it has certain moral embarrassments. It requires for its success on the vast private side of the economy a competitive spirit and old-fashioned financial incentives; and in spite of all the successes, the poor are still with us. They are absolutely better off, of course, but they tend in this kind of society to become relatively worse off. Although we have recognised that our most urgent social problem is now perhaps the lower-paid worker, nobody has yet, so far as I know, come up with a good theoretical solution for the problems of the minimum wage.

But, of course, the mixed economy is an embarrassment for the Conservative Party, too. It is their duty in Government to make the Socialist side of the economy, including the great nationalised industries, work efficiently; and yet the more successful they are the more they improve our case for an extension of social ownership. So there grew up in the 'fifties what the pundits called "a system of consensus politics", popularly known as "Butskellism", though the term did an injustice probably to both men. It was a civilised way of conducting a political dialogue between the two sides, but inevitably it brought a certain pallor to our political life, and the romantics on either side who rejoice in the fierce clash of rhetoric have found it psychologically unsatisfying. But in time the young philosophers of the Conservative Party began to preach that conflict is more creative than consensus, and soon the Leader of the Conservative Party was talking about the "great divide". What we fear in the new Conservative Government is a calculated attempt to emphasise the divisions in society and to widen them; to depart from the soft, Macmillan middle-way in order to devise what is now euphemistically called "a more bracing society". Thus far, there has, I think, been more rhetoric than action, but there has been some action, and I find it rather disturbing. The Budget does well by the very poor; it does even better by the very rich. But the ordinary poor have been overlooked, and by that I mean those workers who are above the poverty line but well below the line of affluence.

It is, however, when we come to the employment situation that we fear the clock may have been turned back. I am not going to accuse the Government of having created unemployment. I think that would be untrue and unjust. But what is appalling is the inertia of the Government before developing unemployment. Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer hopes only to contain it, and he does not seem to be too confident about that. Unemployment is not a policy, but in the absence of a policy it may become one. A day or two ago one of the more idiosyncratic columnists in the Financial Times said: There is something ominously reminiscent of the 1930s in the current Ministerial theme that the Government is not responsible for the onward march of unemployment. For this was precisely the line taken by the Government headed by Stanley Baldwin". I wonder whether the Government are wise in following their new ideological line, even if it is mainly one of rhetoric. This year may be the one in which the Government ask the people of Britain to follow them into Europe. I think they will not get the response they hope for, and which I hope for, if this is a bitterly divided nation. Would they not be wise, I wonder, to return to the path of consensus or, as The Times called it, the path of reconciliation which the noble Lord, Lord Alport, mentioned? I think it is right on this bicentenary that we on this side should reaffirm our faith. I hope that the Government side will do the same. The road back either to the laissez-faire of Owen's Manchester or to the inertia of Baldwin is the road to ruin, not only for the Tory Party but also for this country.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, I start with the deep embarrassment of saying that I shall join the ranks of those who may have to leave early. It may be that I can stay to the end of this debate; but I must leave by 6.30 p.m. I should like to begin by paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, and to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, because I think I have never heard a finer point and counterpoint in two speeches. I listened with rapt attention.

In looking at Owen to-day I find myself in agreement with Lord Eccles, in suggesting that he was one of those who recognised the contrast between the misery created by the Industrial Revolution and the green fields of England. I believe that if Owen were living to-day this perspicuity, this capacity to outstrip other men's imagination, would cause him to see things that still remain largely unrecognised in our society to-day; and I believe that until they are recognised, we shall find ourselves unable to deal with some of the problems that face us.

Owen's ideas were rooted in paternalism, material wellbeing and education; but where I think he missed the point—and Heaven forbid that one should criticise him for doing so—was in failing to recognise the effect of the institutional environment within which people worked. We are to-day in a society in which most people, at any rate, have a fair idea of the institutional environment in which the citizens live. We know that there is a Parliament; we feel that, however distantly, we participate in the making of our laws. As a result, we are a law-abiding nation. We know that there is a form of justice. We know of the existence of the law and, in spite of the crime figures, we are a law-abiding nation. And on the whole we get justice. We know a great deal about our lot as dwellers in the towns and in villages and as citizens of the nation as a whole.

But when we turn to industry we are living to-day, sociologically speaking, in what is, to me, a complete jungle. And this situation is not to be corrected by detailed legislation such as we are debating in this House at present. The jungle is made up of a lack of definition of the institutions which we are using in industry. There is a feeling that something is lacking, a feeling that gives rise to the constant reiteration of the demand for industrial democracy—though few are able to define what they mean by that term. Most do not mean syndicalism; most do not mean Communism; nor worker-directors, nor profit-sharing, nor an Industrial Relations Bill as we are debating in this House. But it is something that I believe Owen would have seen. Small firms have it; some large firms have it; many small and large firms do not have it.

Freud, largely by his own contribution of a single set of ideas, changed at any rate Western society, because he recognised that early environment affected the character of people as they grew up. Despite the fact that he was stoned for it in the streets of Vienna, we to-day accept this. What I think we do not accept, and what I believe Owen was working towards, is the idea that sociological environment at work conditions behaviour at work. It does not condition character, it conditions behaviour. You have only to observe the behaviour of a person finding himself in the first place subordinate to a foreman or a manager who is, perhaps, wily, cunning and somewhat lacking in integrity, and you will see a reflection of that character in the behaviour of the person. When you transfer that person into the command of a person who has the opposite virtues, outspokenness, integrity and honesty, you will observe a completely different kind of behaviour. Those noble Lords who have had experience in industry, and particularly in manufacturing industry, will agree with me here.

It seems to me, therefore, that if we are going to achieve an insight into this missing factor, this factor for which so many are groping to-day, we shall have to look at our institutions. I believe that Owen, if he had lived longer, or if he had not grown into a period when, as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, put it, his feet completely left the ground, might have taken us towards an appreciation of some things which to-day we are beginning to recognise but which are not yet taking the centre of the stage. I should like to name a few examples of the sort of thing that seems to be essential to industry but about which no-one is doing very much to-day.

As citizens, we have the right to appeal to the courts if we feel that we have suffered injustice. There are vague mechanisms in many firms by which people can perhaps get the decisions of those who sit in managerial authority over them reversed; but where they exist in this vague form, or where they do not exist at all, they must be created in a clearly institutional form. A man must have the right to say to his manager, "I appeal against your decision." And he must have the right to go on appealing until he reaches the chief executive, at least, of that company.

We see to-day hundreds of unofficial strikes. If we examine the details of many of them, it is clear beyond per-adventure that what has happened is that an individual (or perhaps two or three) has been the subject of a decision which he felt to be unjust. In default of other procedure, he has turned to his representative who, in order to pursue the matter on his behalf, has generalised the complaint—he has raised it as a general issue, which it is not—with the result that a strike has taken place which need never have occurred if there had been a clear individual right of appeal by the employee.

If we were to introduce this clear right of appeal, we should find another need emerging quite clearly. That would be the need to commit the policies which govern the lives of people—industrial policies with reference to simple things like pay, overtime, night shift, holidays and so on—to paper. In the large factories to-day, there may be a hundred foremen daily issuing instructions which will be inconsistent unless each is working within the ambit of a clear and common policy. If there is an appeal system in which these policies do not exist then the judgments of the foremen will be inconsistent, as will be the judgments of higher managers. It is the inconsistency that worries people when judgments are made. If we came to recognise that there was a need for clearly written policies, we should then have to face the fact that they would have to be agreed policies. No manager to-day has any hope of carrying into effect the decisions properly arising from proper policies unless he has clear authority to do so. That authority must arise from the acceptance of those policies. So we need an institution in which these policies can be agreed.

This calls for the setting up of what I would refer to as works councils—and I use that term in a special sense, because a works council that attempts to reach agreement about matters by majority vote will not get the agreement of every stratum of employees in the company and he will need to have unanimous vote in the council. I would draw attention to the fact that this is one of the hidden institutions of our society and other societies to-day; and if we could recognise the existence of these in so many instances we should not regard the idea of setting up such councils with the derision that I have so frequently faced when I have proposed them in the past. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade had to be the subject of a unanimous vote by the nations who were parties to it. The Kennedy Round likewise had to be the subject of a unanimous vote. Most of The Hague Conventions, regarding safety at sea, pollution, and dozens of other subjects, had to be agreed unanimously, as one of Her Majesty's Ministers said the other day in your Lordships' House.

If the employees of a company go on strike, and that strike involves a number of unions or strata of staff, on the day they return to work there is unanimous agreement on the part of the management and the leaders of the unions, or of each of the strata, on the basis of settlement of the strike; and if such an institution, involving unanimous voting, could be set up, most strikes would not take place. They would take place, if I may put it this way, across the council table. There would be a failure to agree on some change, and there would be delay until compromise brought about a change which was agreed. If we could realise that this type of institution is in common use every time we use the term "nego- tiation", if we could set up institutions like that, we should get agreed policies. If we were to get agreed policies we should greatly enhance the authority of managers in industry. And if their authority, which is in flight to-day—we must face it—were enhanced on the basis of consent and control within agreed policies-policies agreed by those affected by their decisions—we should, I think, be approaching something which people are vaguely referring to when they use the term "0industrial democracy". It is the existence of institutions with which we are already familiar as citizens but which are vague, formless and misunderstood in industry, that is leading to the dissatisfaction at work which is not only tending to lower the efficiency of industry, and to create great unhappiness in industry but, I believe, bleeding over from industry into our society—and I link the hate, the greed and arrogance of many concerned in industry with the increase of crime in society generally.

I believe that Robert Owen, with his perspecuity over such issues, and his emphasis on the environment, would have come to see that the sociological environment of the institutional environment, have to-day become more important than the material environment. Because we know to-day, in a society which is relatively so much better off in material respects than the industrial society which he faced, that material betterment is not enough. I believe that we need this sociological betterment. I wish there lived in our ranks to-day a man with the capacity to preach these things to us that Owen showed in his day, together with the capacity to notice what is missing in our thoughts, as he noticed what was missing in the thoughts of those who lived in his day.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, first of all I wish to join my noble friend, Lord Brown, in complimenting the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, on their brilliant point and counterpoint. I thought the noble Viscount in the end did a little less than justice to Owen, but his counterpoint as a whole was undoubtedly brilliant. As one who has been deeply involved with the Co-operative Movement during the whole of my life, it gives me very great pleasure to join in the tributes to that great man, Robert Owen. He was perhaps the most exceptional character that was thown up by the Industrial Revolution. He was an initiator rather than an imitator. His ideas were almost always beyond his time. But let us be clear about one thing: many of those ideas have now been accepted generally as part of our way of life, while others are nowadays accepted by a very large body of opinion. His lifetime coincided with what was perhaps the greatest period of change in our economic history. The specialisation of labour had simplified the processes of production, and consequently there was a gradual mechanisation together with new methods of transport which facilitated the movement of goods in bulk. Owen himself estimated in 1816 that in cotton-spinning alone machinery was doing the work which would formerly have needed 80 million men and women. These changes were very great, and changes are seldom painless—perhaps that is why we tend to advocate them for other people rather than for ourselves. And the bigger the change the more painful it is likely to be. In Owen's day there were none of the social policies which are so necessary to take the sting out of change. The workers had to take the social upheavals of change without enjoying much of the benefit.

This great man had considerable gifts, both as an entrepreneur and as a manager. He used those gifts, and the wealth they brought to him, for the benefit of mankind, and particularly for the benefit of the workers with whom he had direct contact. He started work in a draper's shop at nine years of age, and at the age of 20 he was managing what in those days was a very large cotton-spinning mill. It had a work force of 500, and was equipped with the latest machinery. As a schoolboy in junior classes organised by the local cooperative society, I always remember reading how, as such a young man, he tackled the job. To quote just two or three sentences, he said, I inspected everything very minutely. I was at the mill with the first in the morning and I locked up the premises at night and took the keys. I continued this day by day for six weeks. In answer to questions, I merely said, 'Yes' or 'No'. During the whole of this period I did not give one single direct order on anything. There you had a young man of 20, in the flush of his success; a man who had the wisdom to get to know the facts and take stock before he started giving orders or throwing his weight about. At the end of six months he was so successful in this managerial post that his salary was increased from £300 to £400 a year, and a little later he was made a partner.

In 1800, at the age of 29, Robert Owen went to New Lanark, and it is an undoubted fact that it was there, during the next 28 years, that he achieved his greatest accomplishments. His work at New Lanark was based on the concept that wealth is merely a means to an end and not an end in itself; and at the end is human happiness. This in part depends on character; and character, in part, depends on environment. The views of Owen have been exaggerated. He never said that character depended entirely on environment. He said that it depended very largely on environment. Because he understood this, he sought to change the environment of New Lanark, and greatly succeeded. He regarded the worker as a delicate, complex human mechanism which needed far more care and attention than the machines the worker operated. Therefore he kept copious notes on each of his workers and tried to get them placed in positions appropriate to their health, temperament and ability.

During his period at New Lanark he halved the hours of labour and considerably increased real wages. He built houses, some of which are still occupied to-day. He not merely provided handsome schools but also introduced teaching methods which are still in use. He also built a centre of adult education which bore a name that only Robert Owen could have given to it—the Institute for the Formation of Character. I think that only Owen could have invented that name. During the 28 years that Owen was at New Lanark he had hundreds of visitors from all over Europe and from America, some sympathisers but most sceptics. One deputation of sceptics reported that it had to admit that the whole place gave the impression of industry, comfort, health and happiness. What greater tribute could have been paid to this man in his lifetime?

Robert Owen gave to the Co-operative Movement its ideals; working class realism did the rest. It was from Owen that the Co-operative Movement got the idea of producing or providing goods and services for use rather than for profit. It was from Owen that the Co-operative Movement got the idea that if there was a trading surplus, the first charge on it should be a mutual aid fund so that there were moneys available for members in great need before there was any distribution of dividends for purchases. It was from Owen that the Movement got its ideas on education for members and their children. The Movement provided education services and libraries long before and long after it became the duty of the local authorities. Even to-day, the Cooperative Movement provides 30 places at its own college for students from underdeveloped countries overseas. Co-operators cherish the name of Robert Owen, not so much for what he attempted nor even for what he accomplished; but for the idea which he planted in the minds of men. We believe it has enriched the lives of men all over the world, and will continue to do so on an increasing scale.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, I should imagine that it was sufficient answer to those who have passed some dubiety on the propriety of this Motion to have considered the careful framing of it, to which we are indebted to my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale. Recrimination, like celebration, is amply justifiable if it is a spur to action, and the purpose of this debate I interpret as being a method of looking back in order that we may the better proceed forward.

The Labour Movement, the movement of the Left in this country, has commonly ascribed to it two main principles, and in the tangled complex skein there are two discernible threads. There is the Continental thread, represented by Louis Blanc, Fourier, Hater, later Hyndman; and, of course, Marx and Engels. Then there is the much more advertised Church, or religious, or ecclesiastical thread, represented by Maurice, by Kingsley, and by Ludlow—much the neglected of the three—and later on, of course, by Stuart Headlam, Scott Holland and Gore. It will, perhaps, be within the knowledge of your Lordships that it has been said that the Labour Movement in these Islands owes more to Methodism than it does to Marx. That is an agreeable statement to make, so far as 1 am concerned. It has the added credibility of alliteration; though in the interests of honesty I think I ought to say that it does not owe as much to Wesleyan Methodism as to Primitive Methodism. Indeed, the Labour Movement owes much more to Mow Cop than it does to Aldersgate Street. It is necessary, I think, that in this debate we should recognise that Owen represents a third strand in that tangled skein, one that is discernible and different from the other two.

It has already been said that Owen was hostile to organised Christianity, and so he was; I will say a little about that later on. It is also true that, so far as we know, he read very little of Continental ideology, and understood even less. But there was a strain in his attitude—that persisted and was recognisable in all he did—of a kind of moral earnestness which did not depend, at least in the early stages of his life, on any supernatural religious or metaphysical basis; but was unique, I think, and can be recognised as unique, in the history of Labour movements almost everywhere. I do not agree, if I may say so, with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, that the principal element in his sense of moral rigour was kindness. Those who have read his two essays on the formation of moral character, which he prepared for the adult schools, will regard that as simpliste to the point of being naÏve. He believed, as has already been said, in the provisions that education can make, if properly located and organised, for transforming character and imbuing those who enjoy those principles of education with virtues and qualities which hitherto they had not displayed at all.

I believe that there is here a lesson to be drawn—and that is the point of this exercise—from that kind of moral earnestness which, in all that he did, characterised Robert Owen. He was a kind of lay Albert Schweitzer. He had the same kind of paternalistic Omnicom-petence; he had the same kind of irritation with those who disagreed with him, which he expressed in benevolent terms but, nevertheless, he carried to the point of decision. He was omnivorous intellectually, as again was Schweitzer, yet at the same time he possessed that quality of super-abundance of moral enthusiasm in which he believed that what he was doing was essentially right. I do not want to flog this point, particularly wearing the kind of collar that I do; but I think it is something that needs to be amplified and insisted upon.

As with every Wednesday, I have come from a loud and large place in the open air, and I find that perhaps the most disillusioning and disabling of all the contexts in contemporary articulate correspondence, in the Press and particularly controversy in the open air, is a lack of the sense that the thing is right in its own sense and does not depend ultimately on some kind of supernatural sanction. I believe in supernatural sanctions, but I am sure that in our reminiscences of Robert Owen we do well to remember that third strand in the composition of the present Left Wing, in this country and elsewhere, of moral earnestness, in which he believed most comprehensively in what he did.

He never, of course, subscribed to the idea of the perfectability of human nature, he was too well conscious of original sin. I sometimes wonder whether our noble friends on the other side of the House relish, and cherish, and almost cuddle to themselves, the idea that man is a sinful creature; on the proposition of the schoolboy's definition of a lie, which is an abomination unto the Lord but a very present help in time of trouble. Surely it cannot be gainsaid that the manifold changes that were produced by the educative principles and the educative efforts of Robert Owen go far to establish the point that he believed in so strongly, and exercised through the whole of his life: that if you put people within a particular environmental framework you are more likely to do them good than if you make personal appeals to piety or to just dealing. May I come to that a little later.

I should have thought that preeminently the contribution which Robert Owen made and which is pertinent to this debate, is his attitude to the transformation of society in which he fully believed. He would have execrated mixed economies, and quite rightly so. What he believed in was that the kind of society which ought to take the place of those societies which he regretted, and under which he suffered, was one built, at the point of production itself, on the direct action in the company structure. He believed that politically there was not much to be gained, and after his experience with the Bill which he helped to sponsor with regard to factory Acts he made it quite clear that he had very little political ambition, and felt that politics was a waste of time. He also had little sympathy with those who took the materialistic view, and believed that there was an inexorable process by which ultimately the proletariat would succeed and justice would be done, and that the classless society would emerge. What he believed in was that there is everything to be said for experimentation at the grass roots of production and the transformation of the company.

It may well be argued—I think it is true to argue—that he failed, and that his various enterprises had a life expectancy of only about two years. But it is also true to say that, looking back upon the adventures in which he involved himself, we are confronted with facts which suggest that maybe it is time we looked more carefully at his sense of communism. I do not believe that nationalisation, except in the framework of the nation State, is the true road to socialism; neither do I believe that it is possible to impose socialism by any means which can leave untouched in general structure the framework of the company or the unit of production. Although I am well aware that this is a highly complex problem, I am also aware of the fact that within the compass of this debate it is excellent practice I think, for those of us who want to do some thinking in depth, to confront ourselves with the problem which confronted Robert Owen, which he failed to solve, but which he left in the minds of so many, even if his practical expressions of it were ephemeral.

I want to end, because the ambience of this debate is suitably wide, by saying a little more about religion. It is very difficult to assess what Owen believed. We know what he did not believe. He did not like Bishops, and he was not particularly fond of Methodists, though we were not so prominent as Bishops and did not vote as often in places which were public and where records could be maintained. But what he said and what he practised was something which I believe was far nearer to the concept of the Sermon on the Mount than the practice and attitude of the Established Church of his day, and if I may say so, of the Government of to-day.

He execrated and hated with all his being the idea of individualism as a means of social change, and indeed as a means of social regeneration or personal regeneration. He believed, as the previous speaker has so eloquently put it, that the framework of the society in which you live, the environment in which you find yourself, the air which you breathe, has far more to do with what you are likely to be doing and feeling and thinking than the most fervid exhortations to improve your personal lot and to escape the fires of Hell. That he believed. He did not like the Church because, though Morris and Kingsley and Ludlow and others were eloquent in their theological objections to the whole fabric of society in which he and they lived, yet they, too, had an individualistic approach which was in some cases of course the very opposite of their professional and public activities, and it seems to me that this still persists to-day.

If I have one overall objection—and since it has been mentioned before, I make no apology for mentioning it again —to the Industrial Relations Bill, it is that it is a piece of Conservative thinking, as was the conservative thinking of the nineteenth century Establishment in the Church, that our timely aim is to concern ourselves with the individual, to protect his rights, and to think of him as within his skin isolable or at any rate distinguishable, and enjoying a right of life and a way of life which is sacrosanct. As has been said again and again with eloquence and passion by trade union people on this side of the House, what chance does the individual worker have as an individual, whatever the protections which may be offered to him, as against the entrenched and inbuilt privileges of those who have for so long enjoyed power?

Much as they would seek personal happiness and personal well-being, they see their only salvation in the community in which they live, acting as a community, which will offset the inbuilt disadvantages which they suffer as indivi- duals. I believe this. But so did Robert Owen, most passionately. It was his considered judgment that the community must take precedence in all things over the individual, for only within a community which was just and peaceable would the individual find his true happiness. I believe that is a lesson for the times, and I believe it is a question which, sooner or later, has to be answered. In advance of the answering of it I set my name down as one who believes, so belatedly, that Robert Owen was saying something which will turn out to be absolutely true for this generation, as it was disbelieved in his own.

One last comment. It is of interest that throughout his life Robert Owen professed agnosticism, if not atheism, until he became of a reasonable or of a later middle age. Then, to the astonishment of his friends, he embraced spiritualism, and he embraced it with the same kind of fervour with which he had embraced some of the extraordinary ideas he had about marriage. He entered the field of spiritualism with customary ardour, with his usual preference for broad generalities rather than precise thinking. But he left on record what he found in it.

At the risk of once again utilising the opportunity for professional purposes, I would claim your Lordships' attention for one last comment. As Robert Owen looked very often upon the debris of his schemes, and as he failed to win the allegiance or the continued allegiance of many friends who were prepared to support him up to a time, and to a financial degree, he found it necessary, as he himself says, to discover beyond the flux of time, and beyond the immediate succession of events, the kind of justification for what he was doing. He found it, not in the orthodox faith, but in a spiritual world; and it was his dying belief, inherited by his son and publicised in some writings to which his son committed himself, that it is only when you can be certain that the stars are fighting for you, it is only when you can be certain that what you do in a temporary situation is part of an eternal plan, that you have the wages of going on in days when progress seems desultory if not impossible to descry.

I bring my testimony to bear upon that. Robert Owen was a visionary who, in his last years, discovered that a vision is only finally justifiable if it is the reflection of an ultimate reality. For that I believe we should be grateful; and in that I believe we can take courage and see to it that we press forward with those ideals which he was never able to put into full practice, but yet beckon us to any foreseeable and recognisable future.

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, it is my proud boast that Robert Owen was a Welshman, born at Newtown, on the upper reaches of the River Severn. I heard the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, say, unless I have misunderstood him, that he could not understand why such a fuss was made of this man in spite of all his weaknesses. Now as a compatriot of Robert Owen, I am sure that I can enlighten the noble Viscount, if he will suffer my speech to the end. As a Welshman, too, I desire to congratulate my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale on initiating this debate—perhaps the word "debate" in this instance is a misnomer: it is rather a celebration. We are celebrating the bicentenary of the birth of one of the greatest Welshmen ever.

The date of his birth together with that of his death are very significant. He was born in 1771 and died in 1858, a span of approximately 90 years, and during that span of years there occurred in Britain two revolutions which changed the whole character of the life of the British people. One was the Industrial Revolution, which established the capitalist system of society and made Britain the workshop of the world. Contemporary with that revolution, there was another, the agrarian revolution, which extended from 1760 to 1850 and which involved the inclosure movement. This revolution resulted in the inclosure and conversion into private property of 6 million acres of common land. This was robbing with a vengeance. I am always intrigued to know how many landlords in this country to-day, how many on the opposite side of the House, can produce original title deeds for the lands they own. I doubt whether they would cover that Table.

These two revolutions profoundly changed the life of all the common people and brought untold misery in I their train. Not only were the people changed but the whole countryside was changed, and Britain was never the same after. The agrarian revolution as such had a beneficial effect on the countryside, but not the inclosure movement. These two revolutions were condemned by two men in particular, Thomas Spence, of Newcastle, being the main critic of the inclosure movement and Robert Owen, of Newtown, that of the Industrial Revolution.

Thomas Spence was born in Newcastle in 1750 and was one of 19 children. He was the author of what came to be known as the Spencean scheme for the nationalisation of the land. A lawsuit between the Corporation of Newcastle and the freemen of the town about some common land is said to have first turned Spencer's attention to the question to which he devoted the whole of his life. In 1775 he submitted his views on land tenure to the Philosophical Society and read a paper entitled. The Real Rights of Man. He claimed that all the land originally belonged to the people and was common to all. He contrasted the position of the landowners with that of the manufacturers, whose labour produced the goods in their possession. Could the aristocrats claim, he asked, that by any labour of theirs they had produced the land? And yet they owned it. The society expelled him for (as they said) hawking his paper about like a ha'penny ballad. I think I heard the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, say that he was going to address this Philosophical Society. Well, he had better take warning from what happened to Spence when he did that.

All Spence's efforts were of no avail and were unsuccessful. Indeed, Socialist as I claim to be, I could not go along with him to ask for the nationalisation of the land in Britain. I believe that this should never take place. Leave it to the farmers as private property and we can boast that we have the best farmers in the whole of Europe to-day. Spence's matrimonial efforts were no better. Apparently he called at his master's house one day, saw the servant at the door and was married to her the next day. That was too good to be true or, as Bernard Shaw said, too true to be good, and she soon deserted him.

Robert Owen, on the other hand, was disturbed by the consequences of the Industrial Revolution. It is a true saying that the child is father to the man, and Owen was an extraordinary boy. We find him at the age of 10, with only £2 in his pocket, journeying to London and he was later able to claim: I have maintained myself without applying to my parents for any additional aid. At the age of 18 he joined Ernest Jones of Manchester in producing a new type of spinning machine. He himself put £100 in to the business. The partnership was broken within a year. He was supposed to have received six spinning machines, a reel and a making-up machine as his share, but in reality he received only half his share. He then set up as a master spinner making about £6 a week.

A large manufacturer named Drink-water needed a manager and offered the post to Robert Owen at £300 a year, which he accepted. The new manager was so successful in the spinning of Sea Island Cotton that he was able to increase the fineness of his yarns from 120 to 300 hanks in the lb. and to increase the cost by only 50 per cent. He next joined the Charlton Trust Company and one day proceeded to New Lanark in Scotland to do some business for that firm. He fell in love with New Lanark and with the daughter of the owner of prosperous factories there, David Dale, referred to already. In due course he married her. And here we find the irony of fate. We find the Socialist and freethinker, Robert Owen, becoming the son-in-law of a true blue Tory, the head of the strict Presbyterian sect known as the Scottish Independents. Incidentally, it has been repeated time and again that Robert Owen was a freethinker. So he was, but let me remind your Lordships that in the last five years of his life at least he was a spiritualist and died as a spiritualist.

Owen stepped into his father-in-law's shoes, and as the owner of factories he was presented with the opportunity to put into effect the Socialist experiments he had set his heart upon for a number of years. In other words, he embarked upon a Socialist approach to industry. This is very important. It must be borne in mind that most employees at that time were very unwilling workers in the factories. They were there against their will. They were the men who had been uprooted from the soil, due to the agrarian revolution, and longed for the countryside as against the confines of the factories. The remainder of the workers were not better so far as his factories were concerned: they were Irish immigrants, the ne'er-do-wells of Glasgow and other towns, and above all, the parish apprentices. These apprentices were the unfortunate Poor Law children, who were supplied from workhouses and whose status was hardly higher than that of slaves. Thank God for Aneurin Bevan, another Welshman, for putting an end to the workhouse system in this country! The apprentices that were engaged by Dale, Owen's father-in-law, in his factory were from the workhouses.

It is interesting therefore to follow the steps that Owen took to put the social principles into operation and into effect. The first thing that he did was to end the system of apprentices. This he regarded as simply a form of slavery. His next task was to transform the medley of indifferent workers at the factories into decent citizens. This is what he said himself: I withdrew the most prominent incitements to falsehood, theft, drunkenness and other pernicious habits with which many of you were then familiar, and in their stead I introduced other causes which were intended to produce better external habits-and better external habits have been produced. How much more noble all this was than to think in the terms and spirit of the Industrial Relations Bill which we are considering in this House at the moment. Just contrast the two.

Owen then turned his attention to the question of housing and sanitation, together with the provision of necessaries at reasonable prices for his workers. Let me quote him again-this is marvellous: I bought everything with money in the first markets and contracted for fuel, milk, et cetera on a large scale, and had the whole of these articles of the best qualities supplied to the people at cost price. The result of this change was to save them in their expenses full 25 per cent., besides giving them the best qualities of everything, instead of the most inferior articles with which alone they had previously been supplied. That was an original way of tackling the prices and incomes problem, which both the Labour Government and the Tory Government have failed to solve. Robert Owen solved it in a practical manner. What a glorious boast for any man to make!

Robert Owen next gave his attention to the needs of the workers' children, and proceeded to secure for them a sound education and the provision of suitable play fields. It is interesting to note that many of his fellow directors were in conflict with him over such provisions, and broke away from partnership. New partners joined him, the most noteworthy being Jeremy Bentham, the utilitarian. It is not surprising that because of all this Robert Owen became a national figure, and New Lanark a place of pilgrimage. That is why people go to New Lanark to-day as tourists. That is the answer that I would give to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles.

It is obvious that, apart from being a profound seer and reformer, Owen also possessed the acumen of the businessman. His gifts of organisation and his power of handling men enabled him to amass a very large fortune. He used his fortune, however, not for selfish ends, but to further his ideals. His philosophy of life was simple. He believed that the one supreme factor in life was character. However, he was as equally convinced that character was something which first had to be formed, and that the greatest influence in the formation of character was environment. That is why in all his reform schemes Owen gave first priority to education and training. Having been brought up in the beautiful county of Montgomeryshire, he always felt, also, that there was need for a close contact with nature.

Before I conclude, my Lords, I should like to dwell for a moment on Robert Owen's social philosophy. He believed ardently in a new system of society—a system which was to be known later as Socialism. No system of society is static. One of our poets has declared: Our little systems have their day, They have their day and cease to be. In the main, four systems of society are known to us, and we have read of them. These are the patriarchal system, as one finds in Old Testament history; the slavery system; the feudal system; and the capitalist system under which all of us have been brought up.

It may surprise some of your Lordships to hear me declare that the capitalist system in many respects is the most cruel and the most inhumane ever known to mankind. I make that declaration here this evening. Your Lordships may ask me: What about slavery? I would remind your Lordships that even under slavery the worker was guaranteed the essentials of life. The slave owner had to feed the slave, clothe him and provide him with shelter. So even the slaves were better off than the economic slaves that we have known during this and the last century: indeed, under the ancient Greeks the slave was a very happy man. I said that they provided for the three essentials of life. No mine owner was ever asked to provide those three essentials for his workers: and he never did. We had to wait for the Welfare State before they were guaranteed to the workers.

The benevolent employer of New Lanark believed ardently that to show consideration for his workers was an eminently economic proposition. In spite of the fact that he spent large sums of money upon schools, houses and playing fields, his mills at New Lanark showed an ever-growing balance on the right side. He made huge profits. Again as a Socialist, I declare that there is nothing wrong in making profits: it is the use that is made of profits that is wrong. Some of his fellow directors no doubt would have argued that their profits would have been greater had he not been so philanthropic.

Robert Owen had hoped that his fellow employers would follow his example, but in this he was absolutely disappointed. As a consequence, he ceased to be a philanthropist and became the first Socialist in this land, believing that nothing less than social? regeneration would do. Only Parliament could bring about the new society, or the good society, as envisaged by Plato, and that Robert Owen wished to establish. We to-day can look back to the reforms which an unwilling Parliament has had to concede in the course of the last 100 years to an awakening public conscience as the result of Owen's example and teaching. All the reforms of the past one hundred years at least can be traced back to him and what he taught. Many say that Owen's dream was simply Utopia, but Utopia is not to be scoffed at. I believe that it was Oscar Wilde who wrote: A map of the world which does not include Utopia is not worth even a glance. I think that is worth repeating: A map of the world which does not include Utopia is not worth even a glance. The man whose bicentenary we are observing literally tried to put Utopia on the map, even in terms of latitude and longitude, as at New Lanark and New Harmony, Indiana.

Robert Owen was pre-eminently the practical idealist. When he died in 1858 it could be said of him that he had produced the word "Socialism"; he had been the springhead of the Co-operative Movement; he had given a great impetus to trade unionism. He had been responsible for starting a series of Factories Acts. He had set the British pattern of social democracy. Above all, he had propounded ideas which are still relevant and practical to our contemporary world. I believe that.

I often wish that the post-war Labour Government under Attlee had thought more in terms of Owen's philosophy than in the terms of the London Transport Board when they established the various nationalised industries. They were greatly influenced, no doubt, by the late Lord Morrison of Lambeth. Those industries are simply State capitalism. Do not let us make fools of ourselves by declaring that they are Socialism; they are simply State capitalism, and contain many of the evils of private capitalism. I am glad to think that two organisations, at least, in the course of this century have endeavoured to put some of Robert Owen's principles into operation with the same effect as he achieved. These are, in my opinion, the John Lewis stores and Marks and Spencer. What was the noble Viscount's observation?


My Lords, if the noble Lord will allow me, I should have thought that shopping at Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury or Boots is now so much better than shopping at the Co-op. That was rather a difficult allusion for the noble Lord to bring forward.


You had better wait for it.


My Lords, listen to what John Lewis do, and how they have established themselves—and I believe that the Leader of the Opposition, for a long time, was a director of John Lewis, and probably all this is due to his good influence. Let me quote from the John Lewis Partnership magazine: The Partnership is a co-operative society of producers. Every worker in it, except those engaged temporarily, is a partner from the day he joins and is entitled to all reasonable help to keep his place, provided his contribution to the common effort is not importantly less than that of any likely replacement. Under an irrevocable settlement in trust and partners they get all the profits beyond prudent reserves and moderate fixed interest upon the £25 million capital that is publicly held out of a total capital of £58 million. Last year's profits distributed to partners"— that is, the workers— or applied for, amounted to £3,500,000. I am not talking about something that happened last century, or that may be in the future, but something that is in practice now in this country. The supreme purpose of the whole organisation is to secure the fairest possible sharing by all the members of all the advantages of ownership—gain, knowledge and power. That is to say, their happiness in the broadest sense of that word so far as happiness depends upon gainful occupation. That is true to a great extent of the Marks and Spencer organisation. I wish that the noble Lord, Lord Sieff, was present this afternoon. I would not claim it to be exactly the same but, at the same time, if you question employees at Marks and Spencer and ask them what they think of their employers you will see how well they are looked after; their welfare system is something to marvel at. We all know, too, that parts of their profits are ploughed back into the industry to produce the best for the customers. It is that which is needed in industry to-day, not this silly Industrial Relations Bill. I say to the Government: forget about that; think more of Robert Owen, John Lewis and Marks and Spencer, and you will save the situation that way. I am going to repeat myself when I state that as a Welshman I feel proud of this man, and that I am glad that throughout the country in the next month or so his bicentenary will be celebrated.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, after the fairly slow progress that we have been making in the past few days, it has been refreshing to see the speed with which this debate has moved along this afternoon. It has been very fortunate that this is so because so many of your Lordships who have spoken have announced your intention of leaving before the end of the debate to attend one or other centenary that I fancied that maybe the noble Lord Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, and I would be left alone. I agree with what was said by my noble friend Lord Alport, that this has been a rather unusual debate. For that reason, it makes it extremely difficult for me to give the usual winding-up speech. We have heard a great deal in the course of the debate about Robert Owen's life and ideas, and I do not want to repeat what has already been said. At the same time, your Lordships have taken this opportunity to hang on the peg of his life your various interests, widely ranging over politics, religion, philosophy, industry, education and even other subjects. So I hope that I may be brief in my remarks at the end of this debate.

Robert Owen has at various times—particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, just now—been described as one of the founders of Socialism, one of the founders of the Co-operative Movement and one of the founders of the trade union movement. It was not therefore very easy for me to tackle this subject, especially after the brilliant speech (if I may respectfully say so) of my noble friend Lord Eccles. As I read more deeply about Robert Owen, I came to realise that there was much in his character that would appeal to even a "dyed in the wool" Conservative: for example to start with his early life, the hard work and enterprise which led to his rise from a humble shop assistant to a very efficient manager of a Manchester cotton mill at the age of 19.

One of the interesting things about him was his complete lack of interest in politics. He lived through the French Revolution and the political ideas that it engendered, but it appears to have exerted no influence upon his thinking. Economic and social reorganisation were his aims and revolution was very far from his mind. He sought common agreement between men of all social classes to put into practice the reform of social conditions of which he was a powerful advocate. It is noteworthy that his position as a leader of working-class opinion ceased with the rise of Chartism in 1836. To quote from V. A. C. Gattrell's introduction to his book on Robert Owen: His conservatism, in fact, was among the most insistent motifs of his career. Like the noble Lord, Lord Maelor, I can unreservedly pay tribute to him as a distinguished Welshman, although in fact he seems to have spent little time in the Principality and most of his life was passed in London, Manchester, Scotland and the United States of America.

There is very little I can usefully add to the paean of praise which has ascended from this House this afternoon. It is quite clear from reading his life that he was a most remarkable man, particularly, I think, because his character does not seem to run smoothly in any one normal groove of life. The pamphlet issued to mark his bicentenary, by the Robert Owen Bicentenary Association, is headed, "Robert Owen, Industrialist, Reformer, Visionary", and I think it is in those three descriptions of him that we find the most remarkable thing about his life.

He was a highly successful industrialist who made a considerable fortune from his skill and ability. That in itself is not unusual but, coupled with his success in business, he was a reformer, a practical reformer, who put his ideas into effect at his New Lanark Mills. The work he did there for the local community attracted world-wide interest and brought great benefits to all who worked for him. Though rare, there have of course been other examples of industrialists who have introduced humanitarian reforms into their factories, but Robert Owen went one stage further into the realm of theory and was the author of many pamphlets describing his visionary concept of a new society, although his attempt to put his vision into practice met with less success.

Many of your Lordships have spoken of Robert Owen's contribution to social theories and the relevance of his ideas in modern terms—and indeed this forms part of the Motion. Personally, I find the most interesting of his reforming ideas in its modern application lies in the field of education. The educational theories which he put into practice at his New Lanark Mills have recently come to be accepted as standard practice. It is not strictly true that he established the first infants school in the British Isles as he inherited two day schools at New Lanark from his father-in-law, David Dale, but he did raise the age at which children could be employed in the factories to ten and made schooling for those under ten compulsory. He believed in the importance of the early years of education and that children should start school from the age of two. This idea of what we should call to-day nursery schools was indeed far in advance of his time and is still available to only a small proportion of our children to-day.

He was equally in tune with modern theories of education in methods of teaching. He believed it was important to interest the young child rather than to instruct him. He believed in simple games and stories, lots of pictures—visual aids we would perhaps prefer to call them to-day—natural objects from the gardens, fields and woods, and above all music and dancing—perhaps a legacy from his own Welsh childhood. He scorned formal instruction and learning by rote, preferring that children should enjoy school, learn to tolerate each other, to live in harmony, while almost unconsciously they absorbed knowledge. He did not believe in a system of rewards and punishments; he did not believe in fixed hours of instruction; in fact, between 1816 and 1824 at new Lanark he was putting into practice some of those educational methods now practised in the best nursery and infants schools to-day.

His experiment at New Lanark was outstandingly successful and, as has been said in the debate, an object of admiration to visitors all over the world. Yet curiously it seems not to have spread elsewhere and indeed finally succumbed itself to outside pressures. The reason seems to have been that it depended for its success on Robert Owen and Robert Owen's character. He was an autocrat, or rather, a benevolent despot. There is no doubt about his benevolence and the working people of New Lanark recognised it and trusted him, but he was also a despot and expected to get his way. He was every inch a self-made man, very positive in his beliefs, in himself and his opinions, very unwilling to listen to arguments of others. Such benevolent despotism can be outstandingly successful in its day, but ends in its train the inevitable question of a successor, and rarely if ever is this problem satisfactorily solved.

His own attempt to spread his ideas and develop a new type of community life were not successful—indeed he lost most of his considerable fortune with the collapse of New Harmony in 1828. One cannot help admiring, however, the spirit that moved him to attempt to practise what he preached, even at great personal cost. Is it, perhaps, too fanciful to suggest that in some respects his ideas on community life have come into being in the present Kibbutzim in Israel, which to some extent are the same sort of communities as those which in his day were described as "parallelograms"? A dominant theme in his life was a deep concern for human beings although, alas, as he became increasingly a public figure, in the words of G. D. H. Cole, he became a humanitarian and lost his humanity". As a result, he caused great suffering to his wife and he himself in later years seemed to lose the common touch which had inspired his early success. Nevertheless, he was a remarkable man and the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, has done us a service in allowing us to spend an afternoon looking back at Robert Owen's life and work.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, drew attention to the present state of the buildings at New Lanark. There are 'two buildings still there which were undoubtedly built by Robert Owen, the school and the Institute for the Formation of Character, both, I regret to say, in a poor state of repair. The New Lanark Association have put forward proposals to form a centre for educational and industrial training based on those two buildings, but this poses quite a serious financial problem. Their estimate is up to a quarter of a million pounds to put it into effect. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, on the recommendation of the Historic Buildings Council for Scotland, has already given a substantial grant to the New Lanark Housing Association's work in restoring some of the buildings in New Lanark. The Housing Association, with the support of the Burgh of Lanark and the grant from the Secretary of State, have done a most praiseworthy job in restoring some of the housing in the village. But for any more ambitious scheme the village is very remote and far from the stream of modern life.

My right honourable friend is concerned about the present state of the school and the Institute, and sympathises with the Robert Owen Bicentenary Association. But we must face the considerable financial difficulties. My right honourable friend is certainly always willing to enter into further discussions to see what it may be possible to achieve. I am sure that all of your Lordships who have spoken in this debate to-day would wish to see these buildings stand as a memorial to the life and work of Robert Owen.

6.1 p.m.


My Lords, I shall not delay your Lordships for more than two or three minutes, but I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, most sincerely for the very sympathetic way in which he replied to this discussion, and particularly for his expressions of concern on the part of himself and the Secretary of State for Scotland about the state of the buildings at New Lanark. I would say to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, that I enjoyed his speech, and I am glad we have been so reasonable in the way that we have stated our case that the debate has not lasted as long as he feared. I thought his was a brilliant speech, but that he was not quite fair to himself because he gave just the slightest impression of cynicism, which I do not believe is part of the noble Viscount's make-up.

I do not want to go individually through the contributions which noble Lords have made. It has emerged from a series of notable speeches, giving ample evidence of historical research, of sound theology, of professional and business experience and indeed of national pride, that, with all the faults Robert Owen had, he was nevertheless a most remarkable man. It has emerged, too, that he was a man who would have no part in the divisiveness which many of us fear in the country at the present time. But the clearest message which has emerged to-day is that Robert Owen can still spark off ideas which are relevant to our present problems.

The noble Viscount quoted the remark of Leslie Stephens that Owen was one of the bores who are the salt of the earth; but the noble Viscount did not tell us that Stephens concluded by saying that, in his view, Owen would be recognised as one of the most important figures in (he social history of the time. It is clear from this debate, my Lords, that all of us can agree with Sir Leslie Stephens in that admirable summing-up of the character and work of Robert Owen; and on this note of unanimity I beg your Lordships' leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.