§ Mr. Huskisson
said, he rose with great regret, to call the attention of the House to a subject that was of the highest importance to the commercial interests of this empire, but which in consequence, as he apprehended, of-some misconstruction that prevailed among certain classes in this country, in respect of a legislative proceeding of the last session, repealing the combination laws, seemed likely to be attended with most inconvenient and dangerous consequences. He certainly considered, that the parties immediately interested in that proceeding had been subsequently acting under a misconstruction of the intentions of the legislature: and, in the motion with which he meant to conclude, he did not propose to suggest that the old laws against the combinations of workmen and labourers against their employers should be again put in force. Those laws were, many of them, oppressive and cruel in their operation on workmen; and he had always advocated the principle of allowing every man to dispose of his labour to the best advantage, which principle they, in very many instances, had directly violated. The right hon. gentleman then proceeded to advert to the bringing in of the 5th of George IV. c. 95., and to the avowed objects of that bill. He felt himself bound to admit, that in principle those objects seemed to be perfectly fair and proper to be established, as between workmen and their employers; but he was satisfied that they were not so in practice. Moreover, he doubted whether the act in question, as long as it should continue to exist, would not have a strong tendency to keep up, between workmen and their employers, a spirit on the one side of alarm, on the other of distrust.
He would briefly review the course and effect of that proceeding. It com- 1289 menced by a motion introduced by an hon. gentleman on the opposite side of the House, who pointed out the hardships to which, under the then subsisting laws, journeymen and others were liable; and there could be no doubt that, in too many cases, those laws were, in a great degree unjust and prejudicial in their operation. A committee was accordingly granted to the motion of the hon. gentleman; in which it was proposed to go largely into evidence and inquiries on these topics. It was a very full committee, consisting of about fifty members; and it, undoubtedly, examined a vast variety of evidence, upon all questions connected with the main intention of its labours. The result of those labours was—not that a report was made to that House (which, as he thought, would have been the most desirable course), stating the grounds upon which the committee had come to the determination of recommending the introduction of their bill, and thereby affording to the public, and in a more especial manner to parliament, the necessary information, as to the motives which induced them to recommend such a change of the existing law; but that the committee adopted, finally, a string of resolutions which involved no such statement whatever. He should inform the House, that he was himself a member of that committee; and, perhaps, he ought to mention that circumstance with considerable regret, owing to the fact of numerous other avocations of an official nature, in which he was all that time extremely busied, having prevented him from paying that degree of attention to the business of the committee, which he could have wished to do, and which the importance of its inquiries most undoubtedly demanded. To the same causes he must refer the indulgence of the House, while he stated, that they had equally precluded him, when the bill in question was brought in, from considering it with all the attention and care, in its various stages, that it deserved to be considered with. And he might go further, and express his regret, that those of its enactments which were of a legal nature, had not, possibly, been discussed with all the technical knowledge, which might have been beneficially applied to them by those hon. and learned friends of his of whose professional learning, in ordinary cases, government had the benefit.
The consequence of all this had been, that some of the provisions of the bill, 1290 which afterwards passed into an act, were of a very extraordinary nature. Not only did the bill repeal all former statutes relative to combinations and conspiracies of workmen, but it even provided, that no proceedings should be had at common law, on account of any such combination, meeting, conspiracy, or uniting together of journeymen, &c.; for, in fact, almost any purpose: and thus, by one clause, it went to preclude the possibility of applying any legal remedy to a state of things which might become, and which had since become, a great public evil. Now, this fact was the more curious, inasmuch as the hon. member who introduced the bill into parliament, had himself taken occasion to state, both in that House and in the committee, on what he considered to be legal authority,—and he (Mr. Huskisson) in common, he was sure, with every hon. gentleman who heard him, would readily allow that the hon. member for Peterborough (Mr. Scarlett) was indeed high legal authority—that if all the statutes relative to combinations were to be repealed, he thought the operation of the common law alone would be sufficient to repress, among workmen, any dangerous and injurious tendency, improperly or violently to combine against their masters. The bill itself, however, repealing thirty or forty acts of parliament, and in this singular manner putting aside the common law altogether, was brought into the House at a late period of the session; passed through its first stage, subsequent to the first reading, on Wednesday, the 2nd of June; and, on Saturday the 5th of June, only four days after the second reading, and in the same week, was read a third time and passed, without any discussion. The measure was therefore hurried on with as much expedition, as was usually applied to the most pressing bills.
To the hon. gentleman himself he imputed no blame for thus speeding his bill through the House of Commons. Looking to the advanced period of the session, and the discussion which it had received in the committee, it was natural enough that he should desire it to go through the House with all possible expedition. But, since the passing of the act in question, it had happened to him in his official capacity to receive information of the conduct adopted by bodies of workmen in various parts of the country. They were, many of them, very painful accounts; and to his right hon. friend, the Secretary of 1291 State for the Home Department, numerous reports had been forwarded, detailing acts of outrage and violence, on the part of workmen combined against employers, of the most disgraceful character. His right hon. friend had permitted him to inspect those reports; and he could state that they manifested, in all those classes of workmen who had misconceived the real object of the legislature in the late act, a disposition to combine against the masters, and a tendency to proceedings destructive of the property and business of the latter, which, if permitted to remain unchecked, must terminate in producing the greatest mischiefs to the country. Indeed, those mischiefs were rapidly growing, in some districts, to so alarming a pitch, that if their progress was not speedily interrupted, they would very soon become, rather a subject for his right hon. friend to deal with in the exercise of his official functions, than for him (Mr. H.) to call the attention of the House to, in this manner. These things could not remain much longer in their present condition. Unless parliament should interfere to place them on a different footing, his right hon. friend, armed as he was by the state, with the authority of calling in aid to the civil power for the protection of the property and liberty of the king's subjects—must so interpose against what he could not but consider a very formidable conspiracy in certain bodies of men, calculated to place that liberty and property, and perhaps life itself, in great jeopardy, as regarded certain individuals who employed large numbers of labourers and journeymen. But, by a timely inquiry into, and consideration of, this subject, parliament might be enabled to deal with it as with a question merely of commercial polity.
He wished to treat it as a question, on the one hand, of the freedom of labour, looking to the right which every man naturally claimed to exercise over his own labour; and on the other, as a question upon the effect of those principles that had formerly prevailed in this country with regard to the right in those claiming this freedom of labour of interfering with, and exercising a control over, parties largely employing such labour. But, he must beg to repeat his conviction, that if parliament did not very soon interfere to reconsider the whole of this question, in all these branches, they would find that the evil which was already existing, would 1292 speedily attain an extremely mischievous height. They would then be obliged to apply to it other means and another remedy. If such should unfortunately ever be the case, he did hope that his right hon. friend would not only not be backward to employ those means and that power with which he was vested for the removal of the evil he spoke of, but that if necessary, he would apply to parliament to be furnished with further powers to prevent the baneful oppression of a tyranny, as he must call it, that was now exercised over a great portion of the property and the liberty of some of his majesty's subjects, in many parts of the country. But, while he thus designated the character of those combinations which had been so extensively formed by men who were obviously proceeding altogether in error, he did trust, that on account of what he had been saying, he should not be considered as a person who was at all hostile—nay, who was not friendly—to the right of labour—to the right which every man, generally speaking, had, to dispose of his labour and skill to the best advantage, or as he might think proper. As a general principle, he undoubtedly thought that every man had a fair inherent right to carry his own labour to whatever market he liked; and so to make the best of it. And, accordingly, he had always maintained that labour was the poor man's capital. But then, on the other hand, he must as strenuously contend for the perfect freedom of those who were to give employment to that labour. Theirs was the property which rendered that labour necessary—theirs was the machinery on which that labour was to be employed— theirs was the capital by which its employment was to be paid for. At least, therefore, they were entitled to an equal freedom of action: and that property, that machinery, and that capital ought to be as sacred and unfettered, as the labour which was the admitted property of the workman. If their right and title and freedom in all these matters could not be sustained, so neither could there be kept and retained in the country the means of employing labour; and the workmen themselves would be the victims of a delusive system of attempted influence and intimidation over the employers.
He would not unnecessarily detain the House by entering at any length into details, to show that such a system was, in several quarters, now acted upon, Meet- 1293 ings had been held, and associations formed, in different parts of the country, which, if persevered in and prosecuted successfully, must terminate in the destruction of the very men who were parties to them. Now, as to the individuals who had adopted measures of this kind, it might not be immaterial to advert to one or two papers that he held in his hand, which pretty clearly developed what were their own views, and what their own proposals, in respect of this right which they had assumed, of interference with the property and concerns of their employers. The first which he had with him was entitled, "The Articles of Regulation of the Operative Colliers of Lanark and Dumbarton." The second was a similar production of "The Ayrshire Association;" and he could produce a great number of such rules and articles and regulations, each body of them absolutely forming as regular a constitution as any of those which we were now almost daily reading of, as arising from the new governments that were springing up in every part of the world. These Associations had their delegates, their presidents, their committees of management, and every other sort of functionary comprised in the plan of a government. By the 9th article of one of the sets of regulations, it was provided, "that the delegates from all the different works should assemble at one and the same place" on certain stated occasions: so that the House would perceive, that this provision regarded not a combination of all the workmen of one employer against him, or even of one whole trade against the masters; but something more formidable and extensive; namely, a systematic union of the workmen of many different trades, and a delegation from each of them to one central meeting. Thus there was established, as against the employers, a formal system of delegation —a kind of federal republic, all the trades being represented by delegates, forming a sort of congress. Another regulation was to this effect—"Each delegate shall be paid out of his own work" (the earnings which he was to be permitted to make, and of which a portion was subscribed by every member having employment, for the purposes of these associations), "with these exceptions only—the president, the secretary, and the treasurer, are to be paid tout of the general funds. The delegates are elected for six months, and may be re-elected." So that here was a tax levied 1294 upon each workman, for the maintenance of general funds applicable to purposes of this mischievous character.
He would next particularly call the attention of the House to the 11th article; inasmuch as it clearly demonstrated the real meaning and intentions of the societies thus constituted. "It is the duty of these delegates, first, to point out the masters they dislike." A duty in itself sufficiently dangerous and illegal. "Secondly to warn such masters"—of what?—"of the danger in which they are placed, in consequence of this combination." Here, therefore, was an acknowledgment of the danger of such associations, admitted by themselves. But, let the House observe what followed: "And, thirdly, to try every thing which prudence might dictate to put them (the masters) out of the trade"—not, let it be observed, every thing which fairness and justice might dictate to workmen who sought really to obtain a redress of grievances; but, every thing which "prudence" might dictate. In such a position "prudence" must be understood as implying merely that degree of precaution that might prevent the "Union" from being brought within a breach of the law—such as the crime of murder, for example. Now, was it fit, or right, or reasonable, that persons engaged in commercial or other pursuits—such as mining, for example—should, by combinations thus organized, and by pretensions of this kind, be kept in constant anxiety and terror about their interests and property? In order to show how regularly organized these bodies were, and how they proposed to exercise the mischievous tyranny that he complained of, over such masters as might happen to be placed within the sphere of their control, he would just allude to the 13th article:—"These articles may be modified and altered at any meeting of the delegates; and if sanctioned at such meeting by two-thirds of the delegates present, they shall be final. The power of levying money from all the members of the association must be left to the general committee." So that these were not to be voluntary, but compulsory contributions, actually "levied" upon all the parties to the union. "All laws passed at the meetings of the delegates will be binding on all whom those delegates represent." Now, one of these laws was, "that there should never be allowed to be any stock of coals in the hands of any of the masters;" because, if 1295 such stocks were allowed, they would be less dependent on the workmen, and might possess some means of rescuing themselves from the tyranny and control of this association or union.
Other associations, however, were governed by regulations, if possible, more extraordinary. One of these regulations was, that no man coming into any given district or county within the control assumed by the associating parties, should be allowed to work, without being previously amerced 5l., to be applied to the funds of the association. And another of the regulations was, that any child being permitted to work or assist (as, for instance, a man's son), should at ten years old, be reckoned a quarter of a man, and pay a proportionable amercement accordingly. In like manner it was provided, that any man being called in by any collier to his assistance, should not be at liberty to work under him, unless previously adopted, like the collier, by the society, and unless, like him, he should previously have paid his 5l. Now, in this part of the empire there could not exist any doubt whatever, looking to the artificial situation in which this country was placed in regard to many of its institutions, and particularly with regard to the poor-laws, that parties, who were liable some day or other to become reversionaries on that immense fund, had no right to take measures that had an obvious tendency to throw them on that fund, and so increase the burthen which its support imposed upon the country. And, without desiring to restrict the right or choice of any individuals as to the legal disposal of their means, he could not help asking, whether this amercement of 5l., and this subscription of 1s. a week to the funds of the association, which every member of it was called upon to pay and contribute, would not produce to each of the parties, if placed in a saving bank, far more beneficial and advantageous results? What could be the meaning or motive of creating all those presidents, and permanent committees of management, if there were not among these combinations many persons anxious for the enjoyment of the power and distinction which they considered the attainment of certain posts like these would confer upon them? And, was it not in human nature almost an invariable principle, that in all contests for all kinds of power, the most artful were those who usually obtained their object and 1296 seated themselves in places of authority? This consideration rendered it still more necessary to look narrowly at the constitution of these assemblies.
Another of their rules was, that every measure to be adopted should previously undergo a full discussion, and that the majority should bind the rest—a very proper rule in Debating-societies, no doubt; and one, he believed, very generally adopted in them; but it was one, that, under these circumstances, he could not approve, as thinking it to be, in its consequences and application, inconsistent with that freedom from all external control, which the masters or employers were obviously entitled to, in the administration and management of their own property. That he had not over-stated facts or their possible effect, the 22nd of the articles from which he had been reading would sufficiently show: it was conceived in these terms:—"that no operative, being a member of this association, shall be at liberty to engage himself for any given time or price, without the consent of the committee of management." Why, if a system of this kind was to extend itself through the "operative" population, engaged in all the different branches of mining, manufactures, navigation, and shipping in this country, in what a painful situation would every body concerned be placed? Who would, for an instant, endure a control of this oppressive, of this destructive nature? Yet, such a control, under the prevalence of such principles, might exist: and, when he said it might, he was sorry to add, that it did exist. For example, it existed in that most important branch of our commercial greatness, our coasting trade. There had been a society formed, called the "Seamen's Union." The principles and object of this combination had been promulgated in the form of a little dialogue—not the Jess interesting, be it observed, on that account, to those whom they were addressed to. In this, as in other concerns, it seemed that the association had come to the determination of not submitting to the authority of any persons whom they had not among themselves appointed or approved. He would here ask, in relation to doctrines of this sort, how it would be possible to carry on business in mining concerns, for example, if the workmen themselves should have appointed all the overseers under whose superintendence they were employed? In the same man- 1297 ner, however, it appeared, that they who were employed as seamen in the coasting trade would not put to sea unless all the rest of the crew were members of their union. Having stated to the House that it was positively one of the articles agreed upon by this union, that men thus employed should do nothing which they had never before been called upon to do as seamen, but which it was quite evident it might be very material on particular emergencies that they should do—let the House observe the mischiefs that must flow from such a regulation. He could state to them, if it were necessary, a case that had occurred very recently, in which a vessel, coal laden, got on a sand-bank at the mouth of the river. It became necessary to have her ballast shifted; but it happened, that one of the regulations to be found in this dialogue between Tom and Harry purported, that it was unworthy a seaman to assist in shifting ballast. The consequence was, that on the occasion he was speaking of, all the men were in a state of insubordination and mutiny; and, if some craft had not come up to the vessel's assistance, it was impossible to say what consequences might have ensued. As soon as the ballast had been shifted by the craft's hands, the men immediately returned to their duty, and navigated the vessel as before. What was the result of their refusal to shift the ballast, however? The men in the craft who had performed that service claimed salvage. A sum of 200l. was awarded to them on account of salvage; which of course the owners were obliged to pay, the salvors themselves unanimously declaring, that the danger of the ship and cargo salved was occasioned by, in fact, the adherence of the crew to one of the rules of this Seamen's Union. If any man after this could be found to affirm that such principles and such conduct were not matter for the interference of parliament, he would only say, that parliament had better at once resign every idea of giving any protection at all to any - species of property.
He was really not surprised, however, when he looked at the way in which this act of last session was worded, and the artful misconstruction that might easily be put upon it, by those who best knew how to mislead and deceive the men who had engaged in these combinations, that those men should have erroneously supposed their proceedings to be warranted under this act. The act, as he had before, in- 1298 timated, repealed all former statutes, and so on; and then enacted, that no proceedings at common law should be had, by reason of any combinations or conspiracies of workmen formerly punishable under those repealed statutes. The House would perceive, that the second section declared, "that journeymen, workmen, and other persons who shall hereafter enter into any combination to obtain higher rates of wages," and so forth; "or to regulate the mode of carrying on any manufacture, trade, or business, or the management thereof, shall not be subject or liable to any indictment or prosecution for a criminal conspiracy or combination, or to any other proceeding or punishment whatever, or under the common statute law." Now, would not any body on reading this sentence, suppose it was something really fit, and almost commendable, for workmen to combine and conspire together to regulate and control the management of any manufacture? And accordingly — without imputing to the framers of the bill the slightest idea, that such a misapprehension could ever be entertained—he did not doubt that a great proportion of the associated and combined workmen in the country did actually believe, that so far from violating the law, this clause proved that they were only pursuing a course that was strictly conformable with the meaning of the legislature. If then, it was only to set these men right, it would be highly proper that some inquiry should be forthwith instituted with this view, and that the committee charged to make it, should report to the House what would be the most eligible steps to be adopted.
He would next offer a word or two on the fifth section of the same act. That section provided, not that any such combination or conspiracy should be visited with any punishment, or be made matter of legal cognizance, but "that if any person shall hereafter by threats deter a man from his hiring, or engage in any combination or conspiracy to destroy any machinery, goods, wares, or merchandizes, he shall, upon being convicted of such offence before a magistrate, on the evidence of any two witnesses, be punished, with two months' imprisonment." Now, it surely did not require any act of parliament—he was speaking in the presence of his hon. and learned friend, the Attorney-general, who would correct him if be was wrong—to declare, that to deter a 1299 man by threats from his hiring, or to destroy, or combine and conspire for the destruction of goods or machinery, was an offence to be made punishable in a certain way, upon conviction. Such acts were already offences by the law of the land, independent of any thing like combination; and in so far, at least, the declarations and provisions of this act were quite supererogatory. By the law of the land, some of these offences would be actual felonies; others, high misdemeanors. It was equally extraordinary, that the act should require the conviction to be on the oath of two witnesses—two witnesses being necessary only in cases of high treason and perjury; and that the punishment should be limited to two months' imprisonment. Therefore, here was a law that contemplated certain offences which had in themselves nothing, necessarily, to do with the offence of combinations—which regarded quite different questions. But, under this act—"plotting together" for the destruction of machine— threatening even, which proceeded to menace of life or property, were no longer any criminal offence whatever; and thus, by repealing the combination laws, the acts of plotting and threatening were rendered no criminal offences at all.
Under these circumstances, he must consider, that the law of which he had been speaking was not adequate to put down an evil which was increasing to so formidable an extent; not the evil of committing the other offences to which the act had so particularly adverted, but the evil of workmen being permitted to plot, and the bold open avowal of their intention to carry such permission (as they presumed it to be) into effect, in the manner he had pointed out to the notice of the House —a manner, the most destructive, perhaps, which it was in their power to devise, to the property of their masters and employers. He did conceive that, if these misguided men could be induced, for one moment, to reflect upon what must be the inevitable consequences of the course they were pursuing, they must see that such a course of proceeding, if continued, would render it impossible for any individual to embark his capital, under risks so great as those which he had pointed out; or to submit its application to a system of tyranny and control, that no man possessing capital would for a moment choose to endure. If they would reflect on these facts, they would perceive the impossibility of 1300 their being left at liberty to pursue the career of violence and combination, in which they were now proceeding; and that they must soon cease altogether to procure employment for their own subsistence. For, so long as they persevered in their measures, capital must desert the districts in which they were carried on; and ultimately, unless the evil was arrested, the kingdom itself for other countries.
He would only add, that he would recommend to those who employed numerous workmen, not lightly to submit to such extravagant pretensions, and to feel assured, that, if the present prevailing misconstruction of the law should bethought by the workmen to justify those pretensions, the magistrates would give the masters their support against any such demands. If that support should be found inadequate, his right hon. friend would, he was sure, not fail to afford them such further assistance as might be necessary to protect them from those measures which had so fatal a tendency to destroy the property of the employers, and to dry up the sources of labour to the workmen. In what state the law with regard to combinations should be put—whether the last act, repealing all the old statutes, should, in its turn, be repealed altogether, or not, he was not at present prepared to suggest, and had not in his own mind determined: but, the necessity for inquiry did not seem, on that account, the less urgent. He should be very sorry to see all those laws, which were formerly in force on this subject, renewed; but, it might be well worth their consideration to ascertain, whether something at least more definite and effectual than the existing statute could not be devised—something that might prevent the evil he had been describing from extending itself any further than the point to which it had already arrived. This was a question that deserved the most serious I attention of the House. In the mean I time, he felt that, in having submitted; these matters to their consideration, and called upon them, in virtue of the situation which he had the honour to fill, to give a more effectual protection, forthwith, to the property employed in the hire and application of labour, and also to the labour applied to the improvement and in- crease of property, he was acting in the conscientious discharge of what he believed to be his public duty. He indulged the hope, that, by the timely interference of parliament, they might prevent that in- 1301 terruption to the public peace, which must infallibly be the consequence of their remaining any longer inactive spectators of a mischief that was rapidly increasing, and that if not speedily arrested, must be followed by the most disastrous results. He had hoped, that whatever might be the first ebullition of the feelings of the workmen, on finding themselves emancipated from some of the grievous restraints imposed by the old laws on their industry, their own good sense would have instructed them to withdraw from a path so fraught with difficulties and danger, as that which they had so unwisely adopted. That hope, he could, unhappily, no longer indulge. And it was with the expectation of thereby doing justice to both parties—the workmen and their employers—that he now moved, "for the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the effects of the act of the 5th Geo. IV., cap. 95, in respect to the conduct of workmen and others in different parts of the United Kingdom: and to report their opinion how far it may be necessary to repeal or amend the said act." He was aware that in making this motion he might expose himself to much obloquy, and the expression of much dissatisfaction among some of the parties it related to; and particularly in a place where he was most anxious to stand well, and among those who had sent him to that House. However this might be, he had only to do his duty fearlessly; and he had no doubt that, upon a little reflection, the same parties would be among those who would feel most obliged to him for having, in this instance at least, performed it.
§ Mr. Hume
said, that no one had watched more closely than he had done the operation of this act, and he was not aware that he was unacquainted with any of the proceedings that had taken place after its enactment. He was satisfied, that many of the parties had availed themselves of what they considered to be the benefit afforded by it; and that many classes had gone further beyond their own interest, or the interest of the community, than could possibly be permitted. But, it did happen that, since the passing of that act, employment had been increasing; workmen had been more in demand; and these causes had tended to the mischief complained of, more than the repeal of the former laws with respect to combination. When the right hon. gentleman opposite referred to the common law, he (Mr. 1302 Hume) would say, that the prosecutions which flowed from common law were ten-fold more oppressive than those which flowed from the statute law. Formerly, if two or three persons were found together with papers, they were liable to imprisonment, and many had suffered penalty. He would call upon the right hon. gentleman to draw a distinction between two cases. There might be meetings of persons combining orderly and peaceably for proper purposes; and there might be meetings for disorderly purposes. The committee which sat on this subject, on a former occasion, drew this distinction—that it might be lawful for men and masters to meet together, to consult upon wages to be given and received in their trades; but, if three masters met to settle those wages, or three men met for such a purpose, they might be prosecuted. But, this difference existed—that out of the many cases of conspiracy against masters, none were proved, from the difficulty of procuring evidence; while the convictions of the men were innumerable. Now, if the right hon. gentleman would draw this distinction, he would show, in the first instance, what might be said under the acts of the 38th and 39th Geo. 3rd. The punishment inflicted for the offence under those acts was imprisonment for two months. The plain question was, whether this, or any other punishment, was necessary, and whether they came within the law, unless in cases where the men, by acts of violence, interfered to deteriorate the property of their masters or fellow-workmen. His opinion undoubtedly was, that both the parties ought to be free to make what bargains, and to act in what manner, they should deem the best for their own interest. He thought the law, as it at present stood, was as strong as it ought or need be; and he should, therefore, oppose any increase of its severity upon one of the parties, while the other was left at full liberty. He was sorry to say, that the Union societies in Dublin had been productive of the greatest evil. Many persons had actually been murdered; but then, he was happy to observe that, although these Union societies existed also in England, they were not attended with any such dreadful evils, as those which accompanied them in Ireland. In Dublin, if the curriers were offended with their masters, they applied to the carpenters, and marked out the 1303 objects of their censure: if the carpenters were offended with theirs, they applied to the shoe-makers, or any other trade; and then, the unhappy individual, who was afterwards assaulted, could not, if he survived, bring any of the offenders to justice; for they were all unknown to him. To repress such a system, he thought no law could be too severe; but then, his objection to the Combination-law generally, was, that it punished the whole of the operative class for the offence of a few of its members. He admitted that the men had acted with extreme impropriety; but he thought that, perhaps, they might not have been the only persons who had so acted. In some cases, the conduct of the masters was worse than that of the men; and he would give a few instances of it. The first act of combination in Glasgow was the act of the masters. A few men of Mr. Dunlop's manufactory, in Glasgow, disagreeing with their master, he believed, upon some point of wages, they declined to continue working for him. What was the consequence? Why, the masters immediately combined together; for they called a meeting, at which the subject was discussed, and which came to a resolution to make a stand against the men. This they effected in the following manner:—They published a notice, stating, that "If the men of Mr. Dunlop's factory did not return to their work on or before Monday morning next, they (the masters) would discharge from their employ all the men, amounting in number to ten thousand, until the men who had quitted Mr. Dunlop returned to him." The workmen who had gone away disclaimed acting in concert with any others, and said, "Do not punish them for what we have done;" but their disclaimer was not attended to, and all the men in Glasgow of the same trade were actually turned out of their employment. Now, he would ask, whether the mere declining, on the part of the men, to work for their masters was to be put in comparison, for enormity, with that act of the masters? But, that was not all. The property of the masters enabled them to get the better of the men; who were at last obliged to come in unconditionally. When they did so, the roasters punished their resistance in a very decided manner; for they actually deducted the loss they had sustained by this cessation of labour, from the amount of the men's wages, the men being obliged to pay at the rate of 1304 ten per cent per week, until the masters declared themselves satisfied. He asked, whether the refusal of the men to work might not have proceeded from some act performed by their masters? He knew that combinations were often carried on by both parties; but the stronger of these was the masters. A person employing a great number of men in the tin trade, in London, had occasion to find fault with one of his men for drinking, and he finally discharged the man; he was told by the man, that, if he did so, all the others would leave him; but, he persevered, and the consequence was, that ail the men in the factory, amounting to 74 in number, actually quitted him on the following morning. Immediately afterwards, this person put an advertisement into the papers, in which he stated, that he wanted men, but that he would not engage any who belonged to the Union. His advertisement was answered, and he gradually filled his factory with men not connected with the Society; in this instance, therefore, the master was again triumphant. This case, however, showed something else; for it clearly proceeded upon the same spirit and principle which had been ascribed to the men. It was a regulation entered into by the masters in Scotland, that any person who quitted one factory, should not be employed in another; and that object was effected by the masters sending round to each other lists of the men who, from any cause whatever, had quitted their employment; so that no man who happened to differ with his master, could succeed in obtaining employment elsewhere. Was not this an odious combination? For his own part, he did not approve of such proceedings, whether they were adopted by masters or by men. In his opinion, both sides carried their measures far beyond the point to which they should restrict themselves —far beyond what he had hoped they would have done when the combination laws were abolished. In making these observations, he wished to establish this point—that the fault in these cases, did not rest alone with the journeymen. This being once admitted, there was no person who more heartily concurred with the right hon. gentleman than he did, in the propriety of punishing any measures connected with threats and intimidation, whether they were adopted by masters or by men. If the enactment was fair and equitable, he believed it would be re- 1305 ceived with pleasure by both parties. Sometimes the law on the subject of combination had been so severe that it fell into complete disuse. There was a law on the subject of combination amongst the colliers which, however, from its peculiar construction, was found to be entirely inefficient. The lord-advocate of Scotland was applied to for his opinion, with respect to that law; and he expressed his readiness to try, whether it would not be better completely to remove the act. This proved, that strong and violent measures were not the best for putting down an evil of this description. Much depended on the conduct of masters towards their men; and especially on the way in which they treated their demands. If those demands were reasonable, they ought to be complied with: if unreasonable, the masters ought to make a firm stand, and to punish every one who had recourse to threats, violence, and intimidation.
Mr. Secretary Peel
said, that he was not aware before that evening, that the committee which had sat upon the combination laws last year, had consisted of so many as fifty members. That circumstance, however, seemed in some degree to have contradicted the maxim, that "in the multitude of counsellors there was wisdom," for their report, and the measure founded upon it, had failed to convince him, that the precipitate repeal of thirty-five statutes, without substituting something for that which had been taken away, was the best course which could have been pursued. He did not mean to defend the old statutes, which were undoubtedly very defective, but bethought the law, as it at present stood, was not what it ought to be. The question now came fairly before the House; and he was happy that nothing of party, or political feeling, was mixed up with its discussion. The ten resolutions of the committee declared, that it was expedient to punish, in a summary manner, the man or the master, who by violence or threats, attempted to injure the property, or the rights of the other. The offender was to be taken before a magistrate; who, on the testimony of two credible witnesses, might send him to prison. Now, under this part of the law the criminals generally managed to escape the penalty of their misconduct; for what they did or said was done or spoken only to the master, and not in the presence of any witnesses. 1306 Why the presence of two witnesses was rendered necessary, he knew not; but so it was, and the consequence was that the law was evaded. He did not think that the whole of the evil could be fairly ascribed to the masters. He believed the system of delegation, at present existing in this country, to be an excessive and infamous tyranny. Was it fit that such a system should be longer borne? Was it lair—was it just—was it in accordance with that free trade, of which so much had lately been said, and which had been justly described as of the highest importance and benefit to this country? He asked, was it for the advantage of that free trade, so justly praised of late, that men should be permitted to refuse to sail in a vessel, unless all the crew and the mate of that vessel were members of the union? The effects of such a system were most disastrous. The master might have entered into a contract, under a heavy penalty, to sail at a certain time—he might have taken his cargo on board— every thing might be ready—and then, when he was anxious to sail, he would find himself prevented from doing so, by his crew refusing to proceed on the voyage, unless the mate was a member of their union. He might have no confidence in the members of that union, or he might have placed as mate on board his vessel, a man in whom he had the highest confidence. That circumstance would be of no avail; he would be reduced to the alternative, of either complying with the demands of his crew, on the one hand, or of submitting to the loss of the penalty in his contract, on the other. Was such a system to be any longer endured? He trusted not—but that some remedy would be applied to so gross and glaring an evil. He knew that a committee of delegates was very recently sitting in the Thames, dictating, in the most imperious manner, both to masters of ships and shipwrights. He would mention one instance of this. A short time back, four or five individuals presented themselves at the yard of a shipwright employing a great number of men, and commenced employing themselves in the works. The foreman, or one of the masters, told them, that they were not wanted. And, what was their answer? They said that they had been sent thither by the committee of delegates, and that employment must be found for them. They were again told, that the number of men already employed was 1307 quite sufficient for the purposes of the business, and they were desired to retire. The consequence was, that all the men in the service of that shipwright quitted immediately afterwards. The same thing was done in other parts of the country. One object of the combination was manifestly injurious to the men, who were, however, deluded enough to attempt to obtain it—that was, the indirect establishment of a maximum of wages. If that could be done, the men would be the principal sufferers: for the active, industrious, and powerful man ought, undoubtedly, to gain more than the slow, the idle, or the weak workman; and yet the reverse would be the fact, if their intention could be carried into effect. The old and the young, the strong and the weak, would then receive the same remuneration for their labour, and the men would have succeeded in establishing the worst principle that could be applied to the regulation of wages. He knew of a case where the safety of a vessel had been in danger by a combination existing among the men, in consequence of which they conceived it to be inconsistent with the rules of a certain society to give their assistance in the particular manner required. That assistance was obliged to be procured from other individuals, who were very largely paid for it. Such a system was injurious to property, and if carried into operation, might be destructive to life. The evils it occasioned to both parties were extremely great; and, for the benefit of the men themselves, he thought the system ought to be repressed. He called on the House to look with calmness to the present existing circumstances, and without reference to party or to prejudice, to say what was the extent of the evil, and what was the nature of the remedy that ought to be applied. If they did so, he was confident the result would be highly beneficial to the country. Indeed, he believed that the promulgation of the discussion of that night would have a most excellent effect on the minds of the deluded men who had entered into these combinations, and that they would find it their interest to abandon such combinations in future. The effects that had been produced in Dublin were terrible in the extreme. In the course of the three last years no less than ten lives had been lost in consequence of these combinations, and not one of the persons connected with these murders had been brought to justice. He thought therefore, he was justi- 1308 fied in saying, that they produced the effect of breaking the bonds of civil society, and of reducing men to that state, in which force was the only arbitrator of all the differences. The horrid details of the manner of committing these murders had been stated by the hon. member for Aberdeen, who had said, that the curriers, when offended, applied to the carpenters to avenge them, in consequence of which the sufferers could not know the persons by whom they had been assaulted. He thought such a state of society dreadful in the extreme, and the sooner it was put an end to the better: The men had attempted to regulate the number of apprentices that their masters should receive; and twelve having been the limited number, the master who took thirteen rendered himself obnoxious, and was thought deserving of punishment. They had also attempted to regulate the number of the machines employed by any master, if not, to put a stop to the employment of machinery altogether. In the case of Mr. Robinson, a very extensive iron manufacturer, who had constructed a machine by which nails could be made with great rapidity, the men had determined to prevent the use of those nails which he manufactured. The nail-makers, therefore, assembled a meeting of three thousand men of other trades, who promised, that if their masters would oblige them to use Robinson's nails, they would drive them in crooked. This took place in Ireland; and the consequence was, that instead of the nails used there being manufactured in that country, they were obtained from Birmingham; so that the introduction of English capital into the labour of Ireland, which was so beneficial a measure for that country, and which had taken place in this nail-manufactory, was rendered totally ineffectual and useless.— The fact was, that there existed the strongest necessity for a law to repress combinations—a law which should equally bind both masters and men—which should be founded in principles of the most perfect equality of punishment, and which should provide an efficient remedy for this disgraceful system of combination. The men should be prevented from attempting to regulate that of which they knew nothing; while the masters should, at the same time, be prohibited from combining together, so as to affect the interests of the men. He should therefore support the motion, for a committee to examine 1309 into the effect of the repeal of the combination laws; and he thought the present a fit time for the purpose, as the question could be considered carefully, and the evils, and the best means of checking them adopted. As the law at present stood, he could only say, that in case of any actual violence committed, he would, as Secretary of State, give every civil— aye, and in cases of necessity, every military assistance that could be afforded to the parties. But he had no doubt, that when he said this to the masters, they would answer him, by declaring, that it was not open violence they feared: that the men attacked their interests, and injured their property, by combinations, producing a more silent, but not less certain effect. In such cases, all that he could do was, to advise the masters to enter into counter combinations, by which they might succeed in defeating the objects of the men. That they might succeed by such counter combinations there could be no question; but, then, the feeling of amicability and good faith, which ought to exist between masters and men would be destroyed; and he therefore gave such advice with the utmost reluctance, because he felt, that, by establishing these counter combinations, the amount of evil was only increased, and yet, however, without them the masters, under the present system, could have no protection. He had lately received from Ireland proofs, too conclusive to be doubted, of the evils of such a system; and he did think, that there was a party to whom no allusion had yet been made, whose case was, however, well deserving the attention of the House. He alluded to the situation of any man, who, in the midst of these combinations, should resolutely adhere to his master. Such a person would be the object of universal hatred among the men; and he did think that there were more than twenty towns in that country, where such a man could not appear with safety after night-fall. Could there be a stronger case for the intervention of the legislature than this? He thought not; and he was glad to observe the unanimity which prevailed in the House, respecting the impropriety of combinations of all kinds. He trusted, that after the evils of such a system had been exposed in the manner they had that night been, the men would listen to argument, and be convinced of the impropriety of their conduct: that they would feel how hostile it was to their own interests; 1310 and that they would of their own accord abandon it; if not, he trusted the result of the deliberations of the committee would be a law equally for the benefit of the masters and the men—a law which would prevent that system of combination, than which nothing was more injurious to the true interests of this country.
§ Mr. Hudson Gurney
defended the conduct of the committee upon the combination laws. He said, the president, or vice president, of the Board of Trade, and another right hon. gentleman connected with administration, attended all its sittings, and that they had come unanimously to the resolutions which closed their inquiries, with the full approbation, as he then understood, of all those right hon. gentlemen. He deprecated the re-enactment of the abrogated statutes; and could not attribute the lives lost, according to the right hon. gentleman's statement, to their repeal; his instances being from Ireland, where the committee had in evidence, that the same violences had always taken place. From the men, they had learnt, that in these Irish combinations their first proceeding was, to swear to secresy; and from the lord mayor of Dublin, that the magistrates had ordered men, whom they suspected of having met to combine, to be publicly whipped through the streets. It had been most distinctly established before the committee, not only that the combination laws did not prevent the evils complained of, but that they, in fact, had tended very greatly to aggravate them.
§ Sir M. W. Ridley
said, he was not a member of the former committee; but he was of opinion, that much misconception had arisen with respect to the labours of that body. His right hon. friend (Mr. Huskisson) had, in more instances than one, corrected statements which had emanated from the committee. During the time of the disturbances in Glasgow, a letter had appeared from his hon. friend the member for Aberdeen, calling on the workmen to observe a strict adherence to the law. But the workmen, he believed, did not know what Jaw they were to obey. It was asserted by some of those persons, that Mr. Hume had repealed all the combination laws; and that therefore they felt they might do just as they pleased. They imagined that the committee had gone much further than they had ever contemplated to go. The House was told, that, if the masters, pleased they might easily put down any 1311 combination; because if they resisted and stood firm, the public would stand with them. That was very true; but it should be recollected, that, in the mean time, their business went to ruin. He was glad to have an opportunity of speaking favourably of the miners and colliers; bodies with whom he was intimately connected. They had not latterly endeavoured to place themselves in a state of opposition to their employers; on the contrary, those who had engagements for the year did not, under any pretence, attempt to alter them. There was, at present, in that House, a strong desire to adopt the principles of free trade and commerce; and he was sorry to say, that some of the parties out of doors, who appeared to be most anxious for the extension of those principles, were the first to defeat their own object, by agreeing to plans of combination. He was in favour of the committee; and trusted that their labours would have a successful result.
Mr. C. Grant
said, that the discussion which had taken place must convince every gentleman present of the necessity of inquiry. As one of the former committee, he must express his regret, that those persons, whose interests that committee had endeavoured to serve, had abused the kindness which had been extended to them. The House could not consent to allow the existence of the vicious and abominable abuse which had been, for some time, in progress. Every thing should be done to put an end to it; and he, for one, would gladly coincide in any measure which seemed likely to effect that object. Those misguided persons ought to know, that they were not only injuring their own interests, but doing all they possibly could to induce the House to return to the old system, which had been so recently abolished. He, therefore, thought that no language was too strong for the reprobation of the conduct which had been described in the course of the evening. He regretted that so much had been said on the labours of the last committee; for it would appear as if it were intended to cast some reflection on their decision [no, not He was one of the fifty members of whom that committee was composed; but he believed not more than half that number attended 1312 it. When he entered into that committee be did so with a determination to make an impartial inquiry into the nature of the combination laws; and, after giving due consideration to the subject, he conscientiously felt that their abolition would be advantageous. No one would stand up and palliate the excesses which had been committed since those laws were repealed; but, what he would contend for was, that the system which prevailed before the revocation of those laws did not produce calmness and tranquillity. Had the House at large had an opportunity of seeing the witnesses come trembling before the committee, for the purpose of giving their testimony, it must have seen the necessity for the repeal; if it were wished, that men could be allowed to exercise a calm and deliberate judgment. The old system was a system of terror and compulsion, and this was the ground on which the committee had proceeded in recommending its entire abolition. It was proved before the committee that evils did exist under those laws, which it was necessary to put down. He therefore said, "let those laws be abrogated — let us bring the matter to a point, as a question between man and man—between master and servant." He was sorry to find that those kindly feelings did not exist between the two parties concerned, which ought to characterize them. But, he must say, that it was not the revocation of those laws that prevented the existence of those desirable feelings. He was prepared to expect some re-action of feeling when the combination laws were removed — he thought that some effervescence of feeling might arise amongst the people; bat, he certainly did not expect that those to whom considerable advantages were given, and for the protection of whom the new law was framed, would have acted as they had done. It was said, that the new act had revoked the common law on the subject of combination. He could not speak very scientifically on this question; but, the result of his consideration of it was, that the act did not, generally speaking, put an end to the common law, though it did in one or two instances. This act surely did not exclude sailors who refused to proceed with their vessel from the operation of the common law. He believed that a seaman who refused to proceed with his ship, after having agreed to make the voyage, was utterly out of the provision of this act, and would be just as amenable 1313 to the law as at any other period. It was of great importance that a committee should be formed, and that inquiry should be made as to the effects produced by the act of the hon. member for Aberdeen. Because, while they attempted to do justice to one set of persons, they ought not to suffer themselves to be deluded— they ought not to seem to lend themselves to the abuses which those individuals might commit, under a measure which they owed to the kindness of the House. Under these circumstances, not only was the right hon. gentleman justified in bringing forward his motion; but if he had neglected so to do, he would have been guilty of a dereliction of duty.
§ Mr. Lambton
gave his thanks to the right hon. gentleman for bringing forward this question. At one time the combination system, in the north, had proceeded to a very alarming extent. The measure of his hon. friend the member for Aberdeen, it was clear, had not answered the chief purpose which he had in view; and therefore he considered, that the right hon. gentleman was doing great service to the country, by directing the attention of parliament to the subject. He trusted such measures would be adopted, as would effectually secure persons engaged in every species of Wade, from the dangerous effects of combination.
§ Mr. Huskisson
wished to say a few words in explanation. He had not any objection whatever to the decision of the former committee. The combination laws were, at the time that committee was formed, in a fit state to be considered; and he had on this occasion only described the evils which he thought had grown out of the law as it at present stood. The tenth resolution of the committee was, he conceived, a very proper one. It was a resolution which he would have supported. But, it appeared to him, that the act of parliament executed very imperfectly the object to which that resolution referred. Great misconception had gone abroad with respect to the act; and that misconception had created very prejudicial effects in some parts of the country, where the law, instead of producing the advantages which were expected, had really been the cause of mischief. There was only one other point which it was necessary for him to notice, and on that point he was anxious not to be misunderstood either by the House or by the public. The hon. member for Aberdeen 1314 had called on him not to visit with severity the faults of a few on the heads of the many. The hon. gentleman required of him not to punish the whole mass of the community amongst whom there must necessarily be very many who had not been guilty of any excess or abuse since the passing of the new act. This was a fact to which he was perfectly willing to subscribe. He not only did so, but he would tell the hon. gentleman, that he had no intention to visit any class with severity or punishment. He was not going to propose new penal laws. What he wished was, to draw the attention of the committee to those laws which regulated the situation between masters and workmen. He was anxious to save from the consequences of their own delusion, even those who had acted a culpable and improper part. It was really as the friend not as the enemy, of the workmen, as well as of the masters, that he proposed this inquiry. He considered this to be a question entirely disconnected with party-feeling — as one with which the best interests of the country were intimately-connected; and he thought those interests would be placed on a surer and better footing, if the existing law were revised and altered.
§ The motion was then agreed to.