§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Secretary Cross.)
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU,
who had given Notice of his intention to move the Previous Question, said, it was a subject which did not agitate England alone, but also America and Australia. He did not believe that the Bill would remedy the evils connected with the Labour question. The alterations which it proposed to make in the law were slight and few. With regard to the next Bill on the Paper—namely, the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Bill, he might say that it would make only one amendment in the law, while some other points in the law, and those the worst ones, were allowed to remain. "But," said the Home Secretary," if you do not accept these proposals we will let the Act of 1867 lapse, and the old laws in the 1st Schedule will come into operation." The right hon. Gentleman would not dare thus to trifle with a question of such magnitude. He wished, however, to give the Home Secretary credit for all the improvements he had proposed. The first improvement which the right hon. Gentleman desired to make was to substitute for two justices of the peace—that was to say, two employers of labour—wherever it was practicable, either a County Court Judge or a stipendiary magistrate; but in the second Bill the two justices were retained, as was also the Criminal Law Amendment Act, the interpretation of which was left to their discretion. The second Amendment was this—Under the Act of 1867 the damages which might be awarded were limited to £20, whilst in the present Bill there was no limit whatever. If the poor man was to be so amerced as was proposed it would ruin him. Practically, the power to deal with the matter was in the hands of the employers, and it might become an instrument of great injustice towards the labouring man. A further limit proposed by the Home Secretary was, that there should be no imprisonment unless the persons affected should fail to 652 pay the penalty; but one was at a loss to know whether the right hon. Gentleman meant failure to pay on account of poverty or on account of neglect. Harsh and tyrannical rules might be posted up at the places of work, and those rules might be held to be part of the contract between the employers and the employed, for against such tyranny the working man had no remedy whatsoever. Such were the Amendments which the Home Secretary proposed to introduce into the Bill. It was a Bill which was to be neither here nor there. It would be a dead letter—it would not be used. And why? Because every employer would be sure to regard a violation of contract or a strike as wilful and malicious, and therefore he would proceed, not under the provisions of this measure, but under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, or 5th clause of the Home Secretary's next Bill, which was, to all intents and purposes, as nearly as possible the same as the 14th clause, so justly objected to by all working men, of the Act of 1867. The principle of the proposals of the Government was based on an utterly false policy and the subject-matter of these Bills had been utterly distorted. The principle of the Bills was the destruction of trades unions, and the subject-matter of them was the relation subsisting between the working men and the employers. In the latter the right hon. Gentleman had followed the example set him by the Criminal Law Amendment Act, but in the principle of the Bills he had followed the exact lines of the 4th clause of the Trades Unions Act of 1871. That was a singular course of action, and the very reverse of the policy which the right hon. Gentleman ought to follow if he wanted to settle this labour question. The right hon. Gentleman indulged in grandiloquent amphibology when he said his object was to secure freedom of contract. The real object of the Government was to stop the legislative, the judicial, and the coercive action of the trades unions. The Homo Secretary's plan of freedom and independence was the very contradictory to the existence of those societies. He asserted that the Home Secretary's principle was the compulsory reduction of wages, and he believed the right hon. Gentleman was perfectly aware that this was so. The right hon. Gentleman went into a long history of the laws which he 653 supposed to exist in former times for the reduction of wages, because he knew that the destruction of trades unions was tantamount to the reduction of wages. Trades unions were invented for the very purpose of preventing wages from being borne down by the competition of workmen, which the plan of the Government encouraged, and that could only be done by each workman giving up his individual will for the will of the whole body. That principle was right, and he (Lord Robert Montagu) maintained that free competition ought not to be secured in the case of working men. The Commissioners said on this subject that the object of the law should be equally to secure freedom of action, and that cloven foot it was that appeared to have so much captivated the Home Secretary; but the right hon. Gentleman forgot that the working man was placed in such a position as to leave him no alternative but to accept the terms that were offered to him or starve, while a master could cease operations for years, living in the meantime upon his capital. Free competition would bear wages down to so low a point that a man could not properly support his wife and children. Therefore, bearing down wages to the lowest point would be offering a premium to men not to marry at all, or at least not to have any family. The result would be to encourage working men who were unmarried or who neglected their duty to their children. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members of that House, never having felt want themselves, had ever disregarded the interests of working men. ["No, no!"] That House never had regarded the interests of working men—["Oh, oh!"]—and it was well that some at least should speak in their favour. It was precisely the feeling of the Tory Party that no one should speak in favour of the working man. By natural law every man had a right to combine, and by taking from trade associations the executive power of punishing their members, you were not making working men free and independent; you were making them stand alone and were forcing them to accept lower wages. In that way poverty would come to working men, whose trades unions were their support against capitalists. It might be asked—was this right of combination a benefit to the State? He would answer this question by asking another—was it 654 not better for men to associate together than to be isolated and in antagonism? In his opinion trades unions were not only a natural right, but a preservative of order. If they had not that power of combination working men would feel, as they did at the outset of the French Revolution, that there was no salvation for them but by appealing to their numbers and to force, and then they would seek to overthrow capital altogether. It was said that working men ought to be freed from the tyranny of trades unions. But that alleged "tyranny" was only the exercise of the proper legislative power which every society and every club possessed of making its own laws and regulations. Was it the small minority or the majority who suffered from this tyranny? If the small minority, it was their fault that they so suffered; if it was the majority, they had in their own hands the power of freeing themselves. But they did not desire such "freedom," and supported trades unions because they knew that only by such means could they cope with capital. Parliament had done everything it could do by legislation to break up and destroy trades unions. What was the result? These unions had increased and multiplied. Their numbers and their influence had grown considerably, and the wish and object of Parliament, not a friendly one—namely, the desire to make working men knuckle down to employers—had been defeated. So much for the principle of the Bill. Now for its subject-matter. It appeared that the contracts of the manual labour class were not to be treated like the contracts of other persons. The proposals of the Government did not apply to shopmen, clerks, Post Office officials, or policemen, who were left to the Common Law; but if working men on strike pointed out to others that their continuance at work would injure themselves in the end, and that they would lose the advantages of the union, they might be punished, though that was only fair argument, and would not be reached by the ordinary law. A recent Charge of the right hon. and learned Recorder had brought home this question—"Why should men of the manual labour class be punished for doing that which was not punishable by the ordinary law?" Working men had said in that case—"If you do so-and-so 655 you will be looked upon as a black sheep." Hereupon they were charged with conspiring to molest and obstruct. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said both parties were acting within there rights; there would be no evidence to support an indictment at Common Law. But though there was no criminal act those men were sent to gaol. What were working men to think of that when the Judge said they were within their rights? ["No, no!"] Why, the Judge had said so. If working men were to watch at the gate of an employer to induce him to send away a particular man, or to cease the use of a poisonous dye which he employed in his business, it would be indictable under the Criminal Law Amendment Act. Again, if one workman aid the saw or hammer of another because he owed him money, he might be indicted under the Criminal Law Amendment Act; and yet Parliament allowed the keeper of a public-house to detain the property of a man who owed him money. The children of Israel complained of the way in which Pharaoh conducted his business, in making them manufacture bricks without straw, and under that Bill the Home Secretary would have sent them all to prison. It was stated at a deputation that waited upon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London in 1873 that in Yorkshire when a man left his work the employers would not enable him to work in any shop in the district for the next six months. They combined together to coerce him and starve him for six months, and for that they were not liable to punishment; but if workmen combined together to better their circumstances they were to be punished for conspiracy. In short, our Criminal Law Amendment Act did not reach the masters, but it pressed on the workmen with fearful violence. Both rattening and picketing were forbidden by the Act. But "rattening" was nothing more than a form of distraint upon the goods of a working man by the governing body of his fellow-labourers, while "picketing" was merely a means of giving notice to men in search of work that at the shop thus attended the accustomed workmen were on strike, and that anyone accepting work in it would injure themselves in the future by losing certain privileges in connection with trades unionism to which they would 656 otherwise be entitled. That kind of thing existed in every society, and yet Parliament did not interfere. In that House, if the Speaker were told not to call on some particular man because he was not subservient to his Party, and the reporters were told not to report him, and in the morning there was not a line of his speech in the papers, would not that be depriving a person of his tools?—so that what was done for the working man was absurd when it was applied to themselves. They had in that House "Whips" and "Finders." The Finders went about the Lobby, and ascertained how a Member was going to vote, and the Whip stood at the door and told him how his Party was going to vote; and was not that picketing in another form? There was nothing criminal in the act; but if one working man told another working man not to work for a certain master because of a strike, he was punished; but what more wrong was it in that case than the Whip standing at the door and telling a Member how to vote? There were two principles in the Bill. The first was, that in the case of manual labour to break a contract was a crime, and to agree to do so was a conspiracy. But to break a civil contract was a civil act, and we had no right to inquire into the intention. In the case of a minute contract, a man at the pumping engine of a mine might walk away without notice, immense damage might be done to property, and yet the act would not be a criminal one. But if there was a contract for a week, the man who should do the same act would commit a crime, and to agree to do so would be conspiracy. They were confusing civil and criminal acts and going beyond the ordinary law whenever they dealt with working men. This Bill would also alter the relations between employer and workman. What in a great many trades would be a simple breach of agreement would in another become a crime
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
begged the noble Lord's pardon—the act in such a case must be "wilfully and maliciously" done.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
would acknowledge he had made a little mistake there. Wherever there was a general danger to the State or a large body of the community ensuing from the neglect to perform a contract, that neg- 657 lect was to be considered a crime. Such a principle could not be defended on any ground whatever. If there was a strike among the coal owners, and no coal reached the gas works, no gas could be made; but its absence would be considered no crime on the part of the gas company, although the public would suffer precisely the same danger and inconvenience as if the want of gas had been occasioned by neglect of the workmen, whose neglect would be treated as a crime. If public danger and inconvenience were enough to constitute neglect a crime in one case, why not in every case?—and if not in every case, why in any? So with regard to water. If a water company did not filter the water they supplied to the public, would no danger and inconvenience be incurred by the community? Would there be less danger and inconvenience in such a case than if a working man walked away when the water was not turned on? But in the latter case the neglect was treated as a crime, while the rich companies were let off. Such a distinction was utterly false and fallacious, and could not be carried out. An act might be apparently wilful and malicious which was not really so, and the greatest injustice and oppression must result from an attempt to enforce such a measure. The ambiguity implied in the words "wilfully and maliciously" would not alter the relations between workman and employer. Breach of contract being a civil wrong, no person had a right to inquire whether it was wilful and malicious or not. It was not a criminal, but a civil act. The relations subsisted between the workman and the employer, and not between the workman and the outside public; and Parliament had no right to step in and say that an inconvenience to a third party, arising from a breach of contract between employer and workman, should be amenable to punishment. The effect would be to induce working men to get rid of all contracts, and have only minute contracts. In connection with the point, let them remember there was not more than a day's consumption of edibles in London. The locomotive engine-drivers all made minute contracts. They could leave at any time, and produce danger and inconvenience to the public, and yet they would be exempt from the operation of this Bill, and the effect of its provisions would be 658 to increase that system. It was adopted at present by miners, ironworkers, engineers, and the building trade—which included joiners, masons, carpenters, plumbers, and plasterers—and shipbuilders, and in the Nottingham textile trades when a man finished his warp. It would be to the advantage of the State to have long and, if possible, permanent contracts, so that we might not have a nomad population. He objected entirely to the principle of the Bill, but he would not move the Previous Question, as he believed there was a disposition on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to give way to the wishes of the working men; but on the second Bill he believed it would be necessary to divide the House.
§ MR. LOWE
said, it had sometimes been the duty of himself and of hon. Members on his side of the House—at least they had thought it so—to complain of Bills introduced by the Government, because they were wanting in vigour and stringency, but no complaint of that kind could fairly be urged with regard to this Bill. As one who had given a great deal of attention to the subject, he must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary as having, in the measure he had introduced, emancipated his mind boldly and freely from a mass of prejudice in relation to it. He had emancipated his mind fairly and boldly from a mass of prejudice—he had laid down proper principles and applied them properly; and he would have the satisfaction of introducing a measure which would do great good by soothing passions and conciliating those who believed they had conflicting interests. Therefore, he did not rise to imitate the noble Lord the Member for Westmeath (Lord Robert Montagu), but to give his humble assent to the general principle of the Bill, in the hope that in some degree it might tend to console the Home Secretary for the awful castigation he had received. The right hon. Gentleman, in his (Mr. Lowe's) opinion, was entitled to the more credit, because the matter was involved in some perplexity by the Report of the recent Commission, which so far from offering a solution of the questions involved them in further obscurity. However, the right hon. Gentleman had delivered them from the necessity of discovering a solution and had cleared the ground for them, for he 659 had wisely, in regard to the first Bill, seen that the only principle by which these matters could be fairly dealt with was that of contract. To that the right hon. Gentleman had adhered, and he (Mr. Lowe) was convinced that the more the measure was considered the more it would commend itself to the approbation of the House. In the way of suggestion, he would remark that the right hon. Gentleman gave a Court the power of rescinding a contract—a power which, as far as he knew, had never been vested in any Court. He did not see why such a power should be given; and, if it were, it would introduce great confusion and perplexity. The right hon. Gentleman deserved great credit for having exploded altogether the doctrine of the specific performance of the labour contract, which was founded on an entire misapprehension of the practice of the Courts of Equity. If a Court would refuse to order Mr. Kean to act Richard III. continuously, because it would involve a succession of efforts no man could be called upon to make, was it not monstrous that a Court should claim to compel a man to do a particular thing for a year? It would be introducing a principle of slavery utterly inconsistent with the genius of our laws and institutions, and for which no precedent or parallel could be found in the law of England. The right hon. Gentleman, much to his honour, had got rid of that principle and had substituted a principle which was fair in itself—namely, that a person who had rendered himself liable to damages for breach of contract, instead of having to pay them, should be allowed to return to his master's service, giving security that he would perform the remainder of it. It was a fair provision which did credit to the originality of the right hon. Gentleman; but the security ought to be the security of somebody else, in order to satisfy the master that the contract would be observed and induce him to forego his right to have damages. As the Bill was drawn it was also the man himself who would give security. A man could not increase his power of paying compensation by saying that he gave security, when he had no security to give except a personal promise; it did not add to the master's security; and this had occasioned the right hon. Gentleman to do what it was to be hoped he would re-consider—namely, to 660 say that if a man would not, after giving security, return to work he should be imprisoned. That was but restoring imprisonment for debt in another form, and it involved the objectionable principle that a man who was not able to get credit otherwise might get credit by undertaking to submit himself to harsh treatment and conditions. According to Tacitus, it was the practice of the ancient Germans that a gambler who had played away his substance and his wife and children, might at last stake himself, and, if he lost, go into perpetual slavery. We should not think that a right principle in this country, but it was the same as allowing a man to stipulate that he should be imprisoned for debt, under certain circumstances, in order to get credit he could not obtain in any other way. If the right hon. Gentleman would consider this point with the same liberality with which he had dealt with other parts of the subject, he would see that his proposal was well worthy of revision. It would be better to get rid of imprisonment altogether in these measures, and to leave this simply as a matter of debt. He did not object to the introduction of two tribunals—the County Court for sums above £10 and the justices for sums below that amount; but he wished to point out that if an offence was tried before the justices, they would merely have the power of awarding the sum that was due for a man to pay, and if the man could not pay, there was no remedy that he (Mr. Lowe) was aware of that could be taken against him, except that of selling such goods as the man might have. But if he was taken before the County Court the matter was quite different; for there the Judge, by what he (Mr. Lowe) considered a most harsh and cruel law now in force, had the power of ordering the defendant to pay by instalments, and if he made default in any instalment and it could be proved that he had had money in his hands, no matter what other claims he might have had to meet, he was liable, if he did not pay, to be imprisoned; the payment might be divided into seven instalments, and the defendant was liable to be imprisoned upon all of them. After he had been imprisoned upon all of them, imprisonment had not the effect of the old law of cancelling the debt, but the defendant still remained as much liable 661 for the debt as ever. By introducing the machinery of the County Court the right hon. Gentleman had introduced that element into the matter; and he (Mr. Lowe) thought it would be a very great improvement in the Bill if the operation of the law of 1869 were negatived, and he hoped that the time would soon arrive when we should blot it out of the Statute Book altogether. He thought it was very desirable in all these cases to have as little as possible of class legislation, and to make the general law as wide as possible; and he would suggest whether it would not be worth while to extend the principle of the Bill to all persons earning wages, including menial servants, at all events if the parties were willing to go before the justices instead of waiting for the decision of the County Court. As long as we retained a vestige of slavery, and acted on the traditional assumption that every man was to work for somebody at prescribed wages and be punished if he did not, such a claim as he put forward might be unreasonable, but now, that nobody would wish to drag anybody else within such a law, and when we had adopted instead the basis of contract, he could see no reason why a remedy of this kind should not be extended to all persons. As to the second Bill, he thought the right hon. Gentleman had adopted a fair and reasonable principle with regard to the law of conspiracy. The policy of the law, as embodied in the Act of 1871, was to place masters and employed as much as possible on an equality, and if they applied the law of conspiracy stringently to what might be called trades unions, the effect must be to put the employed at a disadvantage, as it would happen that certain things would be lawful to the master merely because he was one, which would be unlawful to the men because they were many. Therefore, the proposal that no men should be punished for conspiracy for any act which was not in itself penal was a wise improvement of the law. He wished to suggest as a principle the making of our legislation as wide and general as possible, and he was disposed to agree in the view of the right hon. Gentleman that some punishment should follow desertions of duty involving serious consequences. It seemed to him that if a man by a wilful breach of duty deprived a town of gas and water or placed human life in 662 danger—conduct which was not punishable at all as far as he was aware—or if he endangered property of considerable value, it was quite right and fair that he should come within the dominion of the law. He submitted, however, that faults of that kind could be committed by other people besides workmen, and that it was not wise to limit the punishment to working people, and thus put a kind of stigma upon them. Supposing, for instance, that a contractor for gas or waterworks the construction of which involved the supply or non-supply of a whole district, or possibly the lives of a number of people, failed from mere negligence to set his men to work, and mischief followed, there was no law to punish him; but if one of his workmen had absconded and damage followed as a consequence, such workman would be liable to heavy punishment. The enactment of laws such as this was not, in his view of the matter, a proper course to be taken in order to weld all classes together, and he felt sure that the right hon. Gentleman had no object except to bring about harmonious action between all classes of persons who were interested in the labour laws. He would, therefore, suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should so modify this particular clause as to provide—That where any person is under a legal duty or obligation to do a certain thing, and whenever he without reasonable excuse violates that duty, so that he puts human life in danger or risks the supply of gas or water, or damages property of very great value,such person should be held responsible for his illegal act, no matter whether his position happened to be that of master or of man. If the right hon. Gentleman did that, he would but be making a very reasonable concession to a not unnatural feeling of sensitiveness and jealousy on the part of the working classes, who objected strongly to be made the subjects of special legislation. As he did not wish to trouble the House again on this matter, he would at once lay before the right hon. Gentleman and the House one or two suggestions in reference to the Criminal Law Amendment Act. Among a considerable section of the working classes there was a strong desire to obtain the repeal, if not of the whole Act, at least of what was known as the "picketing clause" of the measure. He was not at all seeking for popularity in 663 reference to this matter, and therefore he had no hesitation in saying that he saw no cause for the repeal which was demanded. If the liberty of the subject was to be maintained, it must not be allowed that one set of persons should deliberately destroy any particular man's liberty because he happened to differ from them on particular points. Therefore, he thought the right hon. Gentleman had done right in not touching on this particular matter, but there were one or two suggestions he would like to make on the general question. The first branch of the Act with which he proposed to deal was that which provided punishment for persons who threatened other persons so as to coerce them in reference to their work. For this he saw no necessity in face of the fact that the existing general law gave to magistrates power to deal with all such cases by binding over persons using threats and imprisoning them when they failed to procure sureties for good behaviour. Therefore, as the clause was useless and invidious, he thought it would be but reasonable to expunge it from the Act. The second provision was that which defined the punishment to be inflicted upon persons who, in order to prevent other persons following their employment, used violence either to person or property. He could not imagine why such a provision was foisted into the measure, for it was fully provided for under the general law of the country, and ought not to be made a part of any special legislation. So with regard also to the clauses relating to rattening and other matters of that kind, he thought that those offences were of a general nature, and need not be confined to trades unionists offences. The House would remember the case of a man who, some years ago, persistently followed about a lady whom many hon. Members knew personally and all respected, in order to force her into a most unequal and improper marriage. There was no law to punish that man, and he persecuted the lady with impunity. He thought it would be perfectly easy to draw a clause which would have the whole effect of the third part of the 1st section of the Criminal Law Amendment Act—a clause which would entirely cover all the ground now covered and a good deal of what was not covered, and which would prevent a good deal of annoyance; and though it would not 664 be acceptable to many of the working classes, he thought it would be accepted as a proof that Parliament was anxious as far as it could to meet their wishes and to conciliate their feelings, and it might have some effect in toning down any acerbity which now existed. They all wished to restore harmony and unity among all classes. The country had every reason to be proud of its manufacturers and also of its workmen. There would always arise differences as to the proportions in which profits arising from manufactures should be divided between capital and labour. These questions could not be settled by legislative enactments, and all that Parliament was called upon to do was to conciliate all classes as far as possible, and settle the basis on which they could work together for the common good. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had taken a step in the right direction, and therefore he had been emboldened to make a few suggestions on the subject. He had placed a few Amendments on the Paper; but if he found that the passing of the measure would be risked by his pressing them, he should not trouble the House by bringing his proposals forward.
§ LORD ELCHO
said, the praise which had just been bestowed upon the Bill by the right hon. Gentleman must have consoled his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the speech of his noble Friend the Member for Westmeath (Lord Robert Montagu) who had given Notice of an Amendment. His noble Friend said the Home Secretary had been captivated by a cloven foot—whatever that phrase in its present connection might mean. He also said that the principle of freedom upon which the Bill was based was the opposite of what the principle of legislation of this kind should be. It was impossible for him (Lord Elcho) to gauge what his noble Friend's knowledge of the working classes might be, but having had much experience of them in connection with the Act of 1867, he (Lord Elcho) ventured to say that the great mass of them no more believed in the infallibility of trades unions than they did in the infallibility of the Pope. The noble Lord, commencing with the Act of 1867, condemned the legislation of all succeeding Parliaments down to the present, who had attempted to deal with this labour question, and, in fact, throughout his 665 speech had constituted himself the mouthpiece of the extreme party of trade unionists, and in several cases had repeated the exact words spoken by the chairman of the Trades Union Congress at Sheffield in 1873, and since then by the chairmen of demonstrations in Hyde Park and elsewhere. He (Lord Elcho), however, felt sure that his hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald) would substantiate him in saying that the Bill at the time of its passing gave satisfaction to the principal representatives of the working classes in this country. Having been to some extent responsible for the Act of 1867, he would give them a brief history of that legislation. A Committee was moved for, and after sitting for two years, and taking evidence of working men, a Report was drawn up. The Committee sat at Glasgow, and, after the whole matter had been long considered by employers and employed, the Act of 1867 was introduced, and was looked upon by the country at large as satisfactory. The Times newspaper, in remarking on it, said that it crowned a long series of remedial legislation, that it removed the last rag of inequality, and that the employers and employed now stood face to face on equal terms. The present Prime Minister, moreover, in his speech at Edinburgh, cited it as an instance of legislation intended to meet the views of working men. There were two principles contained in that Act, one making a civil offence that which had previously been criminal, and the other establishing equality between working men and their employers. In the belief of the working men both those results had been obtained by the Act, and the Glasgow Committee declared that it had placed employers and workmen on a level platform. If, however, it were found that having regard to the principles intended to be embodied in his measure, it had either been defectively drawn or defectively administered, that would not affect the original intentions of its promoters, who endeavoured to give a fair and proper application to those principles. His hon. Friend the Member for Stafford before the Trades Union Commission, of which he (Lord Elcho) was a Member, gave the strongest evidence as to the intention of Parliament in passing the Act in question, and stated that although the 666 House of Commons contained many capitalists it was willing to do justice to the workmen when they were aggrieved. He would conclude by saying that it appeared to him that the Government was now acting rightly in putting master and servant upon an equality before the law, and in carrying out absolute freedom not only between master and servant, but between workman and workman. He did not deny that trades unions had in one way and another done a great deal of good; but as only one man out of every 14 or 15 was connected with them, one thing was absolutely necessary—namely, to secure the absolute freedom of individuals, and not to allow any one class or any individuals of any class to interfere with the freedom of others.
§ MR. MACDONALD
said, that he did not agree with the statement of the noble Lord who had spoken first in this debate (Lord Robert Montagu), that it was the object of the Home Secretary in this and the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Bill to destroy trades unionism. He felt perfectly confident that the right hon. Gentleman had too good a knowledge of these institutions, and that he was desirous of giving fair play to the working man; and he believed the right hon. Gentleman had not in the remotest corner of his mind any intention of interfering with trades unions—he was equally sure the Government collectively had no such intention, because they would not dare in the present state of things to interfere with them. The noble Lord had told them that the laws which were framed up to 1871 were inimical to trades unions and the interests of the working men. "Well, he must say the noble Lord, in his zeal for the working men, had not read the history of this country as he (Mr. Macdonald) had done it. He felt confident that in no other country in the world had such legislation been carried out as the Imperial Parliament had enacted for the protection of young women and children, for the protection of life and limb, and for the protection of working men in every respect. Therefore, while he was strongly infavour of amending the existing law, he would be no party to declaiming against those remedial measures which Parliament had passed even before the adoption of the extended suffrage and the Ballot. So far back as 1859 a small 667 Bill was introduced, and he was one of the parties who tried to get that measure passed into law. It was passed, and it had for its object to enable working men to speak to each other, and to persuade each other, if they so thought fit, to join in combination. That Bill, although simple in its character, had a most beneficial effect upon the state of things which had existed up to that time. He now came to the question which immediately concerned the House to-night. In the first place, he felt bound to thank the Home Secretary for introducing these Bills, and he might tell him that within the last few days the trades unions of Manchester, the working men of Sheffield, and the Parliamentary Committee which represented the trades unionists of the United Kingdom, had all given a general though qualified support to the Bill. On Thursday he had the honour of presenting a deputation to the Home Office, representing 750,000 men, who expressed unqualified satisfaction with these two Bills, except with regard to some trifling Amendments. Glasgow had also spoken out, and, so far as he was aware, the city of Edinburgh only had pronounced against these measures, and the right hon. Gentleman might feel gratified with the reception which they had met. He (Mr. Macdonald) hoped that the powerful Party which was sitting behind him, as well as many Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House, would endeavour to aid him in passing these Bills, and settle as far as they could the difference between employers and workmen. With regard to the Master and Servant Act, to which the noble Lord opposite (Lord Elcho) referred, it was thought at the time that it would establish perfect equality between masters and workmen, but it was soon discovered that it would not accomplish that object, however good the noble Lord's intention had been, and however good the intention of that House had been. Three most objectionable provisions were discovered in the measure introduced by the noble Lord opposite shortly after it became law. By those provisions matters that ought to be dealt with by the civil law were made subject to the criminal law. It was proved that the Judge had power to order the fulfilment of a contract, and that if that order were not complied with he could punish by imprisonment. It 668 was also discovered that that Act for the first time introduced the monstrous principle that a Judge should declare what was an "aggravated offence," or, in other words, should create the offence. And the Judge having declared what constituted an "aggravated offence" might pass a sentence of three months' imprisonment with hard labour upon the accused. The working men had to congratulate themselves that a measure to remedy the objections to that Act had been introduced by a Conservative statesman who he (Mr. Macdonald) believed was desirous that justice should be done between employer and employed. He was of opinion that there was no necessity for penalties for breaches of contract—the system of "minute contract" which had been adopted in many of the largest manufacturing establishments in this country with great advantage to all the parties concerned proved this. He hoped the time would come when in all our large industrial establishments work would be carried on on that condition. Under a minute contract an incompetent or vicious workman could be immediately got rid of, instead of being able to continue in an establishment for some weeks or months to the annoyance of his employer. A minute contract would also, on the other hand, enable a workman instantly to leave the employment of an unjust master. The minute contract produced perfect respect in both parties, and put them both in a position of perfect independence. The employer refrained from doing wrong to his workman, because he knew that the man might leave him at any moment; and, on the other hand, the working man refrained from doing wrong to his master, because he knew that he could get rid of him at any moment. There was another point in reference to the breaking of contracts. There was an impression abroad that trades unions employed their agency and influence in the breaking of contracts. Now, he ventured to affirm that they were not contract breakers; nay, more, he would venture to affirm that not 5 per cent of the parties brought up for breach of contract belonged to trades unions. If a wrong was inflicted upon a member of a trades union by his master, the man did not break his contract; he merely sought the advice of his society, who often dissuaded him from taking that step. He 669 agreed with what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London had said, and hoped the Home Secretary would receive his suggestions in a generous spirit. He regretted that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had not dealt with the Criminal Law Amendment Act, and trusted he would yet deal with it in such a way as to prevent the recurrence of such an event as that which they had recently witnessed in the case of the cabinet makers. He hoped, if the right hon. Gentleman could not see his way to doing something in the matter during the present Session, he would do so early next year. A number of the offences mentioned in that Act were offences which ought justly to be punished, but he was of opinion that they ought to be relegated to the Common Law. It might be said this was a sentimental grievance—he was quite sure it was not right that these class distinctions should be preserved, and when the time came for the Home Secretary to deal with the subject, he hoped he would do so against the employers as well as working men. As the law at present stood an employer, or an association of employers, could do all the things which were contemplated by the Act, and yet get off scatheless. What was the intention of picketing? It was to keep men from going to a certain place to work. The workmen had the right to persuade their fellow-workmen not to go to work. That was legal picketing. But the employer could picket and do what the employed could not do, for he could picket so as to prevent men from working, and that was done almost every day. He could do the same with respect to rattening, and the law did not touch him. The fact was that the employer could do everything which was mentioned in the Criminal Law Amendment Act, and yet he committed no breach of the law. He had in his possession numberless documents showing that when men had struck, their employers wrote to other people and told them to give the men no work. One of the latest instances of this kind was the action of the tinplate manufacturers at Swansea. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman in dealing with the question would make the law so strong that neither the employer nor the employed would be able to prevent men from following their lawful calling, and 670 would place both parties on an equal footing. In conclusion, he thanked the right hon. Gentleman for bringing in these Bills, and hoped that he would have the consolidated support of his Party in passing them with such Amendments as would make them just and equitable. By doing so the right hon. Gentleman would have the credit of doing successfully what the feeble hands of a Bruce dare not touch or the jaunty mind of a Sir George Grey could not comprehend—he would make himself popular with the whole working classes generally.
§ MR. TENNANT,
as a manufacturer and employer of labour, desired to express his unqualified approval of the principle of the two measures, and rejoiced to find that the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald), who might be said to represent the working classes, was also satisfied with the proposals of the Government. It was evident that the opinions expressed by the noble Lord below the gangway (Lord Robert Montagu) were repudiated by those who represented the working classes. He had great pleasure, therefore, in thanking his right hon. Friend for introducing the Bills, and although it might be said that they went far beyond what the Commissioners recommended in their Report, yet it was impossible for a Government framing measures on these subjects to carry out some of the suggestions which were recommended, for they were quite irreconcilable with the data on which they were founded, and inconsistent with the principles which the Commissioners themselves laid down. The principles introduced in the Bill were plain and intelligible. The first was to make the relationship between the employers and employed entirely in the nature of a civil contract, and to divest it of all character of criminality. This was the principle embodied in the Employers and Workmen Act. The other principle laid down by the Commissioners was that no act which in itself was innocent and legal when performed by a single individual should be transformed into an illegal and criminal act when it was performed by two or more persons. Those were principles which, in his opinion, could not be controverted. The absence of any power to enforce the performance of a specific contract had been complained of, but it was in the very nature of a contract of personal 671 service that it could not be specifically enforced. Even if it could be enforced, he conceived that far more harm than good would result from forcing an unwilling workman to return to his employment. There were, however, cases of breach of contract which ought to be severely dealt with, but they might be sufficiently provided for by the 5th clause of the Protection of Property Bill, which might be made applicable to cases of this kind with greater effect than an attempt to enforce specific performance. As to the Conspiracy Bill, he thought it was quite as essential for the protection of the employers as it was for the protection of the employed, and on that ground he gave to it his entire approval. It was well known that masters, in self-defence, had been under the necessity of associating themselves together to meet the united action of trades unions, and therefore it was necessary to give them the protection provided by the Bill. He was sorry the Criminal Law Amendment Act had been introduced into the discussion, because it had no direct bearing on the questions dealt with in these two measures of the Government. He thought the Home Secretary might deal with the Criminal Law Amendment Act very satisfactorily; but, whatever changes were made in it, those provisions should be maintained which secured the freedom of individual workpeople. The measures now before the House would remove all inequalities between employers and employed, putting both on precisely the same footing in every respect and taking from contracts the taint of criminality, at which he was not surprised working men felt aggrieved.
§ SIR CHARLES FORSTER,
representing a manufacturing constituency, thanked the right hon. Gentleman opposite for the introduction of the present Bill, and though he regretted that the Government, by refusing to deal with the Criminal Law Amendment Act, had failed to secure a final settlement of the question, yet he thought the provisions of the Bill which the House was asked to read a second time were far too valuable to allow hon. Members to retard their progress by supporting any Amendment. He hoped both Bills would pass a second reading unanimously. A correspondent had called his attention to a case at Birmingham in which a working man, of steady, regular habits, 672 was summoned before the magistrates and had to pay a fine and costs for being absent a single day, as he alleged, through illness. If he had been unable to pay the fine and costs, the man would have had to go to prison; and mere justice required that such a law should be modified. The Criminal Law Amendment Act also required modification; but on the principle that half a loaf was better than no bread, he gladly accepted the measures now before the House, believing, as he did, that they were instalments of justice and steps in the right direction, and trusted that an early day would be named for going into Committee upon them. He hoped, also, that they would not be among the "Innocents" to be by-and-by massacred. For his part, he would willingly sit here till Christmas to pass Bills which would remove a well-founded cause of discontent among working men, and inspire them with additional confidence in the administration of justice.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
joined in the approval of the measures, and said, he had seldom read upon this question so broad, clear, and statesmanlike a speech as that of the Home Secretary. He had also heard with great pleasure the speech of the right hon. Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) who had dealt with the whole question, and was satisfied that the present state of the law would now be greatly improved. On the other hand, he had heard with surprise and regret the apology of the noble Lord the Member for Westmeath (Lord Robert Montagu) for what he thought an abominable and iniquitous practice. Having represented Sheffield for seven years, he had always felt it his duty to use all his influence to put down rattening, and he and his constituents repudiated and abhorred the whole system. The noble Lord described rattening as a sort of irregular distraint put in force by the executive of the trades union. That was just the argument which Broadhead used, but it was an abominable form of tyranny, and he was grieved to hear what the noble Lord said of it. The noble Lord was again entirely mistaken in supposing that the scope and object of this Bill was to crush out trades unions. He (Mr. Mundella) believed that even if the results which the noble Lord predicted should follow, the reverse of what he anticipated would happen. The long and 673 permanent contracts were injurious in both cases, and nothing had been productive of more mischief than the system of a 14-days' notice, which prevailed in Lancashire. He had been an employer of labour for 30 years, and he never made a contract for more than a week. As to the prosecution of workmen for failing to perform their contracts, his experience was that a generous or even a successful employer did not prosecute in these cases, and that the penal laws to enforce such contracts were not only unnecessary, but utterly mischievous, and, from an economical point of view, injurious to the employers even more than to the workmen. That was a state of the law we should do well to get rid of. He did not think that the right hon. Gentleman could have done more, except, perhaps, in reference to the surety clause, in connection with the Employers and Workmen Bill. With respect to the Conspiracy Bill, he should have liked some better definition of the term "coerce," which under the Criminal Law Amendment Act had been a trap for the workmen. He regretted that, having gone so far in this matter, the Home Secretary did not go further and make the whole of these laws in accordance with the spirit of his own speech in introducing the Bill. Why should not the right hon. Gentleman try to relieve us by means of a declaratory clause from the universal confusion which prevailed under the Criminal Law Amendment Act? Men believed they could do certain things; they were told by Judges that they could, and by the Home Secretary in his speech; but if they did them they would find themselves within the walls of a prison. He could inform the House that most of the leaders of trades unions were as averse from picketing as he was himself. There was something about espionage to which every English man had the greatest repugnance. He believed in 99 out of 100 strikes it could be done without; but still there were cases in which the men should know what workmen were going into the place, and should have the right peaceably to persuade them, if they could, not to take the place of the men who were out. The Home Secretary, in his speech, said that all this was perfectly lawful; but magistrates, juries, and sometimes Judges, did not think it was lawful. Nothing could have been 674 clearer in a recent case than the charge of the Recorder to the Grand Jury—it meant that they should not bring in a true bill. But the result was they did bring in a true bill, and the case went before Baron Cleasby, who put a different construction on the Act. It must be admitted that society—especially the men who composed juries and sat as Judges, were not just towards trades unions, so that the men rarely got what the law intended. He would, therefore, be greatly obliged to the right hon. Gentleman if he would try to settle this question this Session. He would be glad to see the Criminal Law Amendment Act wiped out of the Statute Book, except the clause about rattening. About 15 or 16 years ago, when they formed in Nottingham their first little Boards of Arbitration, it was almost impossible to get masters and men to sit down together or to look one another in the face. But now what was said on every side was—"We don't want a strike. Let us have some amicable mode of settlement;" and so the differences between masters and men had been settled amicably in almost all parts of England, and were now, he believed, being amicably settled in South Wales. He believed the two strikes in South Wales, which had cost £6,000,000, might have been settled in three or four hours if wisdom and moderation, instead of a spirit of antagonism, had at first prevailed. He had with him an extract from a foreign journal, which stated that every foreign working man was a Socialist and desired to be a Robespierre. But you would not find a Socialist or Internationalist in the United Kingdom. Why was that? Because our workmen had strong common sense and respect for property, and all they wanted was that masters and workmen should stand on equal bases of right; and if this Parliament would only put them on an equality in that respect, and contrive means for settling disputes amicably, the results would be the best possible for the interests of capital and labour and for the promotion of the general harmony.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he felt very grateful for the way in which the Bill had been received by the House; but that feeling was not the result of personal considerations. It had been his misfortune for many years not only in the House, but out of it, to see and to 675 deplore the quarrels which arose from time to time between masters and workmen, and if we could only bring them to think that their interests were practically very much the same—much more so than they were sometimes disposed to think—we should do a great deal of good. It was with sincere pleasure, therefore, that he had found himself able on the part of the Government to introduce these Bills; and he felt bound to say that he believed they would tend to show there was at the bottom a real, sound, good hearty feeling on the side both of masters and men. It was with considerable pain on that account, therefore, that he heard the noble Lord opposite (Lord Robert Montagu), in the opening of the speech with which he had favoured the House that evening, describe the intention and purport of the Bills in a way which he hoped he should not be exceeding Parliamentary usage in describing as equally untrue, unjust, and ungenerous. He (Mr. Cross) would say they were brought forward from totally different motives. He thought he had made it perfectly clear when he introduced these Bills the other night, that if there was one thing more than another, from the beginning to the end, which tended to the benefit of the working men, it was the doing away with that law which so much puzzled and confused them, and from time to time exposed them to so many unjust punishments,—he meant the law of conspiracy. What, then, was his surprise when next day he saw in the papers that, while the noble Lord passed over the Employers and Workmen Bill, he proposed to read the Conspiracy Bill that day three months. He therefore argued that, however much the noble Lord had studied the Bill, he did not understand it, and when he asked the noble Lord to read it a second time, it was plain he had not read it even a first time. He, therefore, would pass over the noble Lord's speech, which had not met with a favourable response from any hon. Member who had hitherto spoken, and as he had, perhaps, at unwarrantable length, detained the House when introducing the subject, he would not take up its time by alluding any further to the speech of the noble Lord. All he would say was this—If the noble Lord's language to persons connected with trades unions was couched in such terms 676 as he had employed that evening, it would not be very surprising that they should be astounded and brought to wrong conclusions—especially when they heard such phrases as "grandiloquent amphibology," which he was free to confess he did not understand. He also regretted very much to hear the noble Lord's exposition of the right hon. and learned Recorder's Charge. He thought he might venture to say to the noble Lord, without transgressing any of the rules of the House, that, having read a short passage from the beginning of that Charge, he might also have read the conclusion of it. He did not think that a clearer exposition of the law, so far as picketing was concerned, could be made than the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave in that Charge. He only wished that it could be made absolutely clear that what he had said was the law of the land. He did not believe that after the Report of the Commission, after that Charge, and after the debates which they had had in that House, any misunderstanding in the future could arise on that point. He believed the law to be as laid down in the Report of the Commission and the Charge; and Baron Cleasby's judgment, when fairly considered, did not differ from either. He only wished the law clearly understood throughout the length and breadth of the land, Nobody, he believed, wanted any different law from that which was contained in the Charge. He believed all honest and well-intentioned men were satisfied with it, and he did not think any honest, well-intentioned master wanted any other. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman the Member for London University (Mr. Lowe), for what he had stated, in the most candid and open way, as to the intentions of the Government in relation to this Act. The right hon. Gentleman had made several suggestions, some of which were worth consideration, as there were others from which he rather differed. The right hon. Gentleman rather found fault with the power to rescind contracts. He thought that a novelty in procedure which should not be sanctioned, but he forgot that, in a clause of Lord Elcho's Act of 1867 that power existed. It was recommended by the Committee which sat before that Bill was framed, and he was not at all certain that many masters were 677 opposed to it. There was a sort of marriage in such cases from which it might be very proper there should be a divorce. There were other matters that might deserve consideration—one was whether a person ordered to perform a contract should be allowed to give security himself. A good deal might be said in favour of that suggestion; but with regard to other sureties, he thought that a most valuable part of the Bill. Again, the right hon. Gentleman said, although he did not find any fault with the tribunal, he did not like giving the power to the County Courts to send parties to prison under the Insolvent Debtors' Act. He (Mr. Cross) could not, however, see why these eases should be placed in any other position than an ordinary debt. If the power of recovering small debts were abolished, the one case might go with the other; but treating the question as one of damages to be given, he could not see why the damages should be treated in any other way than as a debt under the Act. Anything else would be resorting to exceptional legislation. Then the right hon. Gentleman asked why this Bill should not be applied to menial servants. That was rather a matter of detail, and did not affect the main question which they were now discussing. Having thus referred to the suggestions of the right hon. Gentleman, he was happy to say he was relieved from detaining the House at greater length, because he had no further objections to answer. He (Mr. Cross) hoped that masters would see and recognize that what had been said by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald) was quite correct as to the injustice of one particular class of contracts being dealt with in a manner totally different from other contracts; workmen said why should a mere breach of contract on their part subject them to imprisonment, when a manufacturer who entered into a contract for a supply of wool or cotton, the breach of which entailed precisely the same amount of injury, was only civilly responsible, and could not be sent to prison? The only answer was, the one had a pocket, and the other had not. What was the consequence of such a state of the law? The men said they would not take any contract which would subject them to such ignominy; and many of their contracts were rather implied than expressed by the payment of wages 678 at certain times. They would not enter into any contract beyond the day, hour, or minute. If the law remained as it was, that state of things would become more general than it was. If there was any great struggle between masters and men, it would make no difference to the men whether they left on Saturday or Wednesday; and so long as the present law existed they would leave on Saturday night without saying a single syllable, and not go back on Monday morning. Thus they found out the way of escaping the criminal laws, and the result would be only to increase the ill-feeling which already existed. Therefore this Bill said freely and fairly all such breaches of contract should be treated not criminally, but civilly, and nothing more. The; object of the Bill was not to destroy trades unions; but as there was to be absolute freedom of will between master and servant, he (Mr. Cross) said there should also be absolute freedom between a man and his fellow-servant—a man should work if he liked, he should not work if he did not like; he should belong to a trades union if he liked, but should not be compelled to belong to a trades union. He believed the great object of all good government in England was not to create penalties and misdemeanours and summary convictions of all kinds—and he would like to have a Return of all the summary convictions that had been created for the last 10 years—but that there should exist, so far as was consistent with general public order, the greatest amount of individual freedom of action it was possible to attain.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he had much pleasure in joining in the congratulations which the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had received both with reference to the Bill itself and the speech by which it had been introduced. That speech was one of the clearest and most satisfactory expositions which he had heard. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman still more on the chance he had, and the good hope he must have, of being the means of settling the labour and capital question. He thought the right hon. Gentleman must be encouraged in that hope by the discussion which had arisen to-night. The short speech he had just made showed that the right hon. Gentleman had studied the question, and his prac- 679 tical observations with reference to the suggestions of his right hon. Friend the Member for London University showed an anxious desire to meet them as far as possible. He could not help expressing an earnest hope that the right hon. Gentleman, having taken the subject in hand, would not shrink from his task, but would thoroughly complete it by dealing with the Criminal Law Amendment Act. Of this he was certain, that in performing it the right hon. Gentleman would find the House and the country willing to aid him in removing that which was still objectionable in the criminal law. It was quite true that Judges, such as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Recorder, had given a very clear idea of what was the intention of the Legislature in the making of the existing law, and of what was the spirit of the law. There was, however, great vagueness with regard to the letter of the law. It was interpreted in very different ways by both masters and men. On the one hand, it was a trap for the men, who fancied that they could do things which perhaps were illegal; and on the other hand, as was seen in a recent case, some masters wished to use the law for purposes for which it was not intended. It was quite clear that the word "coerce," upon which all depended, was subject to more interpretations than one, and that its true meaning ought to be clearly defined. The important relations of labour and capital, which had greatly improved, would be still further improved by debates such as the present and by the action of the Government. They could not hope to avoid disputes between masters and men, but it was in the interests of both that means of reconciling their differences should be afforded to them. With respect to the important branch of the subject which related to intimidating and obstructing workmen, he trusted the right hon. Gentleman would consider the Amendment to which reference had been made. They could not expect to get rid of strikes altogether, and while they lasted the labourers would try and find out who took their places, and, as far as he could see, there was no harm in their endeavouring to induce them not to work. He thought if by the adoption of those or some other words he should render the Bill a perfect solution of a very difficult legal proposition, 680 Her Majesty's Government might go to the Recess with—to use an American phase—a very good record before their own friends, and they might do so with the feeling that many of those who sat on his (Mr. Forster's) side, when they went to the country would not be able to say much against them. At any rate, they had secured this advantage—that one or two very important principles were acknowledged. One was that the legal relations between labour and capital were to be treated in the same way as were the ordinary business relations of life; and next, that contracts between master and man were to be conducted in the same way as contracts between any other buyer and seller were. Those principles had been expressed in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and it was satisfactory to find that they were adopted in the Bill.
§ MR. HUSSEY VIVIAN
said, he also had to thank the Home Secretary for having introduced the Bill. Every right-minded employer of labour would hail with satisfaction the removal of the last remnant of penal laws, and that, in future, disputes between master and servant would be settled by the civil law, and also that the employer and the employed were to be placed on a perfect system of equality so far as the law was concerned. He considered the remarks of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald) with regard to the tinplate masters of Swansea unjustifiable. In writing the letter they did, warning the masters not to employ the men, they only adopted the principle admitted by the hon. Member—the right of any workman to endeavour by fair argument to induce others to adopt a particular course. He demurred altogether to such an act being classed with "picketing" or "rattening."
§ MR. BURT
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had placed before the House his honest and well-meant attempt to settle a difficult subject. His speech on introducing the two measures gave evidence that he had well considered the question, and it was done in an admirable tone and spirit. Although he did not at all agree with the noble Lord who opened the debate (Lord Robert Montagu), that the House had never cared about the interests of the working man, still he believed that until very recently the House considered 681 that the working man belonged to a different order and required different laws from those which applied to other classes. Wages were kept down by the law, trades unions were declared illegal, and when they ceased to be legal their funds were left without protection. However, the Act of 1867 was certainly a great step in advance, as was also the Trades Union Act of 1871, and the Bills before the House were a further step towards their relief; and although they did not go so far as they ought, they would go far to remove many of the grievances of which the working men complained. The right hon. Gentleman had laid down this broad principle very freely—that in future an ordinary breach of contract should be a civil offence simply, and that principle, if fully carried out, would go far to place the question of contract on a proper footing. There were clauses in the Bill, however, which would require a good deal of consideration in Committee, and that observation related especially to the 5th clause. He should like to know whether, under that clause, an act was to be regarded as criminal simply because of the large amount of the damage done; if so, that was a dangerous principle to lay down. It would be desirable to introduce several Amendments into the Bill in Committee. The tribunal before which the parties were to go was a great improvement upon our past legislation, and he wished the right hon. Gentleman could have gone further. There was a strong feeling of distrust in the minds of working men in being taken before a local magistrate. They did valuable service to the country, and gave up considerable time to the discharge of their duties, and no doubt, as a general rule, they endeavoured to administer the law fairly and justly; but as a rule they were employers of labour, and were prejudiced, and sympathized with them. It was a false position for them to be placed in. At the same time, he would equally object to employers being tried by working men. No doubt, the Home Secretary had gone as far as existing machinery would enable him, but it would be desirable to go further in the future. He deeply regretted, and It was shared in by a large number of persons outside the House, that the Home Secretary had not seen his way to deal with the Criminal Law Amend- 682 ment Act. He did not go so far as the noble Lord the Member for Westmeath in defending the evils of rattening, and he had only given a qualified support to picketing, but he had never advocated it. He would throw no obstacle in the way of moral suasion and advice, which the right hon. Gentleman opposite said the law would allow of; but the legislation with regard to picketing was in a very unsatisfactory state; and being capable of such varied definitions, it would require the serious consideration of the House, and should be explained in a simple, clear, and intelligible form, so that it could not by possibility be misunderstood. The men who had been recently released were not the men for whom gaols ought to exist, and he was very glad to hear the Home Secretary state the other night that prisons should be the resort of criminals only. These men had simply given advice, and a very strong and irritated feeling was produced in the minds of the working classes by that conviction. The working men of this country were loyal, but their allegiance was strained to the greatest poossible extent when that House passed laws that were not in harmony with the highest moral sense and intelligence of the community. When men were convicted and punished they ought to feel that they had merited the strongest reprobation for having committed an offence against the State; but here the case was different, and the men who were liberated a short time since were considered, and justly so, as "heroes and martyrs." The Criminal Law Amendment Act demanded the serious consideration of the House, and he hoped the Home Secretary, whose intentions were good, and who really comprehended the subject, would yet deal with it with a view to its amendment.
§ MR. M'LAREN
said, he was induced to address a few words to the House because the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Macdonald), in referring to the opinion of trades unions in the country regarding this Bill, had stated that the united trades of the city of Edinburgh had petitioned against the Bill. Now, he trusted neither the Home Secretary nor the House would suppose that opinion indicated the real opinion of the great constituency of Edinburgh. He begged leave to say that it did not, because the constituency of Edinburgh cordially approved of the main principle of these 683 two Bills. At the last election for Edinburgh a number of candidates appeared, and the trades union leaders were determined that no man should be returned unless he would agree to the total repeal of the Criminal Law Amendment Act. He was not going to enter into any details, but he would simply say that those candidates who most entirely approved of the policy of the trades unions were found at the foot of the poll, and those candidates who in the strongest manner disapproved of the policy of trades unions, and maintained that the Criminal Law Amendment Act was, in substance, a right Act, and that the law against picketing was a proper law, were at the top of the poll at the election. He looked upon this as a very important fact coming from the constituency he had the honour to represent. He had a number of formal questions put to him, and he answered those questions in a careful manner. Having refreshed his memory by looking at those answers again, he found that they were identical in principle with the principles of these Bills. There was no necessity for picketing to extend beyond the hours at which workmen were going to and leaving their work. Trades unions comprised only a small proportion of the working men of the country; picketing had to be resorted to against those who did not belong to unions; and the object of it was to interfere with freedom of contract, and to endeavour to compel men to cease to work in particular places in which they were willing to work. He therefore held that it was essential—whatever might be done to bring about better relations between employer and employed, nothing was more essential than to protect one class of the employed against the tyranny of another class of the employed. The law against picketing he did not regard at all as a law to protect masters against workmen, but to protect one class of workmen against another class of workmen. Every workman in this free country ought to be able to go to work where he liked, and he agreed with the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), who said he despised picketing because it was un-English, and ought not to exist in a country like this.
§ MR. M'LAREN
said, that was exactly what he understood the hon. Member to say—namely, that he was opposed to picketing. He would make a suggestion in reference to one of the clauses of the Bill.
§ MR. SPEAKER
pointed out that it was not competent for the hon. Member at that stage of the Bill to enter into a discussion of the clauses.
§ MR. M'LAREN,
in conclusion, said, he cordially approved of the measures, and hoped they would be passed with as few Amendments as possible.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had, he thought, fully met the wish of the House in proposing as a measure of public policy to place employer and employed upon an equality before the law with respect to contracts; but some of the speakers in the course of the discussion appeared to have urged the right hon. Gentleman to go further, and his (Mr. Newdegate's) opinion was, that the Government would not be supported by public opinion in going any further in this direction. He had been an employer of labour for many years, and he had been exceedingly fortunate in one respect; because, although there had been at different times strikes all round his colliery in the district in which it was situated, there never had been a positive strike among his workmen. In that respect he had been very fortunate; but at times that good understanding had exposed them, both employer and employed, to very great pressure on the part of the trades unions, and from those who had interfered to disturb the labour of the district. He wished to point out to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary that the tendency of the legislation now before the House was to increase the power of the trades unions. Every impediment that they removed in the sense of the old law of conspiracy was an encouragement to trades unionism. He had never resented any man's belonging to a union if he thought fit; but he had been made sensible, and so had many others, workmen as well as employers, of a disposition to exercise a something more than moral terrorism on the part of those unions; and at present they seemed determined not only to decide, where they could, how industry should be controlled, but to erect tribunals of their own, totally irrespon- 685 sible to any other authority, for the decision of all questions relating to labour. His opinion was that, after those Bills had passed, the Legislature would have not only to recognize these trades unions, but they would be compelled to regulate them, for trades unionism was becoming a source of great power, was in fact, creating a new jurisdiction. Those trades unions were practically large employers of labour for their own purposes, and had formed organizations, armed with large funds, collected from the whole United Kingdom, the pressure of which might at any time be directed upon some single sphere of industry with most oppressive effect; and that was done by persons connected officially with those trades unions, who seemed lightly to regard the laws relating to libel, or slander, while impugning the conduct of those with whom they might happen not to agree, or whose action they desired to control. If further scope was to be given to that system of combination, it would, he thought, be found essential that that system, that those trades unions, should be more than merely recognized by law; that they should be made responsible for any injury they might inflict. That was the view he took of the present position, and of the probable effect of that Bill. In common with the whole House he cordially recognized the worthy intentions of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Home Department, as embodied in it; but his own experience suggested that he should give his voice in support of the few words of wholesome caution which fell from the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren). It seemed to him that if the Legislature proceeded thus far in facilitating the action of trades unionism, it must also be prepared, not merely to recognize, but to regulate trades unions, and to render them corporately responsible for any damage they might inflict.
§ MR. HOPWOOD,
viewing the Bill on its intrinsic merits, considered that it justified most of what had been said in its favour; but he contended there were certain details which might usefully occupy attention in Committee. He trusted that the House would not agree to the clause giving power to imprison an apprentice for one month upon his committing a breach of contract, because he believed it would do more harm than good. The Home Secretary had cer- 686 tainly drawn the question of conspiracy out of the vague position in which it stood at common law; but he had still left it in such a position as that the mouths of men charged with the offence were shut when on their trial, and they were not even permitted to call their wives as witnesses on their behalf. He hoped the Secretary of State would see his way to altering this provision, when the Bill was in Committee, for without such permission, it was impossible that the law could be effectually carried out. He also hoped pains would be taken to define more clearly than was the case at present the offence of coercion which was to be punishable under the Bill.
§ Question put, and agreed, to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed, for Monday next.