§ MR. WILLIAM JONES (Carnarvon, Arfon)
rose to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely—the loss and privation arising from the dispute between employer and employed in the Penrhyn quarries, and the failure of the efforts under the Conciliation Act to terminate the dispute.
§ MR. SPEAKER
asked whether it was the pleasure of the House that leave should be given, and thereupon the whole of the Opposition and several Unionist Members rose in their places. The requisite assent to the Motion having thus been signified,
§ MR. W. JONES
said that for over 17 weeks the dispute at the Penrhyn quarries had been in progress and about 3,000 men had been thrown out of employment. The dispute had attracted considerable attention because it involved principles which, in their application, were not restricted to the local area of Bethesda, but were a matter of grave national concern. [Cheers.] It arose, in the first instance, from the dissatisfaction of the men employed with regard to some of the terms and conditions of their employment. Those terms had to do with the standard rate of wages, the system of large contracts and sub-letting, 692 and the conditions under which a class of unskilled workmen worked. The claim of the men with regard to these were a rise in the standard rate of wages, a minimum wage of 4s. 6d. a day; that large contracts should be abolished; that contracts should be confined to ordinary bargains, that they should be diminished in number and limited to monthly bargains. Their claims were formulated by a quarry committee, and this committee was a very important element indeed in the dispute. The committee consisted of delegates elected by the men working in the various galleries, and formed a sort of executive of the men. The important claim of the men was the recognition of this committee or any form of combination for protective purposes among the men whereby the negotiations could be carried on. This committee had never been recognised by Lord Penrhyn. [Some Ministerial cheers.] The question of wages, of contracts, and of sub-letting had become subsidiary ones to this—the right of combination among the quarry-men and the right to have access to their chosen spokesmen. This right had been persistently denied them. The men met at Bethesda and passed the following resolution:—That we are of opinion that as workmen anxious to bring the present difference between us and our employer, if possible, to a peaceful settlement, it is our duty to call the attention of the Board of Trade to the matter, and to ask for their intervention under the provisions of the Conciliation Act of August, 1896.The workmen might be perfectly right, or they might be perfectly wrong—personally he believed they were in the right—but they were eager and willing to submit their whole case for inquiry to the Board of Trade. [Cheers.] On September 28, 71 men were suspended, in-eluding the whole of the members of the quarry committee, and 15 other men who had first opened up some of the grievances and enabled the committee to show that these grievances did exist. The same day the men met and resolved to support their committee, and to cease working until they were afforded an opportunity of explanation of this action on the part of the management. On the following day, in spite of the men's resolution and although the manager had actually received a copy of it, an effort was made to conclude bargains for 693 the following month. The manager ignored the resolutions of the men, but none of the workmen took the bargains. [Cheers.] The same day a notice was posted in the quarry that the men who refused their bargains must remove their labour implements, and they were informed that the reasons for the suspension of the 71 men would be published in due course. When that document appeared it alleged against these 71 men insubordination, misrepresentation, and inciting the men to strike Since then the quarries had been laid idle. On September 30 an application was made, on behalf of the men, to the Board of Trade to take action, under Section 2 of the Conciliation Act, for the purpose of promoting a peaceful settlement of the dispute. Accordingly the Board of Trade communicated with Lord Penrhyn, and received an intimation that his lordship was prepared to have an interview with a deputation representing the men, of which none of the suspended quarrymen should be members. [Ironical cheers.] That proposal handicapped the men in this way, that they were to meet Lord Penrhyn without any of their trusted leaders or their chosen spokesmen. Under the strongest pressure from the Board of Trade the men yielded to this proposal. On December 5 the men met at Bethesda and resolved that three quarrymen should meet Lord Penrhyn;that one or more representatives of the Board of Trade, should, if possible, be present at the first interview,and also—that the deputation should be accompanied by its own interpreter, and also by its own shorthand writer if any notes of the proceedings are to be taken.These seemed to be perfectly reasonable proposals. [Cheers.] Lord Penrhyn, writing to the Board of Trade on December 9, stated that he was prepared to receive the deputation—upon receiving in writing a request from them to that effect, accompanied by their statement giving me an outline of the points which they propose to lay before me.The Board of Trade considered this to be the imposition of fresh conditions and 694 restrictions, and Sir Courtenay Boyle, in his letter to Lord Penrhyn, said:—I am also to point out to you that the men only acceded to the suggestion that they should appoint a deputation not including any of the 71 suspended workmen who form their committee under the strongest pressure from the Board of Trade. Now that they have been induced with great difficulty to meet your wishes thus far, the Board of Trade would greatly regret if the opening of negotiations—always a difficult matter under such circumstances—should be rendered more difficult by the imposition of fresh conditions and restrictions.As to the proposal that there should be a representative of the Board of Trade present at the interview, Lord Penrhyn said he mustdecline to comply with such a suggestion, as my acceptance of it would establish a precedent for outside interference with the management of my private affairs.He begged the House to listen to the striking reply of the Board of Trade—I am to state that there is no desire to press the matter against your wishes, but I am to point out that in view of the provisions of the Conciliation Act, the Board cannot admit that the settlement of a prolonged dispute affecting some thousands of men and their families, can be rightly regarded as a matter of private interest only.[Cheers.]
MR. W. BROMLEY DAVENPORT (Cheshire, Macclesfield)
Will the hon. Member read the reply of Lord Penrhyn to that?
§ MR. W. JONES
said he knew that in his letter Lord Penrhyn drew a distinction between the dispute and his private affairs, but he had given the House Lord Penrhyn's letter and the Board of Trade reply. ["Hear, hear!"] The next resolution ha I to do with the shorthand writer and interpreter—matters in the eyes of the Board of Trade, of detail not likely to cause serious difficulty. But how did Lord Penrhyn meet this trifling point?I will, on this occasion, if pressed on the point, agree to it, provided that they are selected from amongst my late employés not included among the 71 who were suspended.Let the House consider for a moment, how could anybody reasonably expect an interpreter front among quarrymen? There were 3,000 men, and from these 695 their best and most trusted leaders were weeded out. A qualification for an interpreter was that he should think in two languages. How many men, with intellectual capacity, educational distinction, and a university training would be competent to think in two languages? How-could it be reasonably expected that among these quarrymen they could get an interpreter able to interpret between Lord Penrlryn—who knew no Welsh—and workmen on the other hand, who, although they had a smattering of English sufficient to read English newspapers, did not think English, and had not facility of expression to express their thoughts on technical points in English? ["Hear, hear!"] Lord Penrhyn declined to assent to the conditions, and the Board of Trade unfortunately felt that they could not usefully take any further steps to promote the desired conference. Subsequently the quarry was closed, and by December 31 there was not a single workman at work at Bethesda. During the interval some of the men found employment elsewhere; hundreds of them scattered over North Wales in quest of labour, and hundreds could not get it, and were forced to remain at home with their families, idle. What sort of men were these, and did they deserve better treatment? They were among the most intelligent workmen in the whole British Empire. [Cheers.] They had built and maintained three schools, well staffed and equipped, and efficient as any in North Wales. ["Hear!"] They had lately subscribed nearly £1,000 towards the building and maintenance of an intermediate school in the vicinity—[cheers]—with physical and chemical laboratories such as would do credit to any such establishment in the Kingdom. They had scholarships and exhibitions for their boys at the schools, and when the School Committee had overdrawn its banking account by about £1,000, in order to provide playing-grounds, the men promised, as soon as they could get remunerative labour, they would find that £1,000. ["Hear!"] They had built some 20 chapels, and paid off the chapel debts. In addition—and showing that they were alive to the advantages of higher education—they had collected a sum amounting to £1,500 towards the University College at Bangor, and when last Tuesday week the new building was 696 opened—though it was a time of strike and poverty—60 children appeared, 50 of whom were quarrymen's children, and two quarrymen and two ex-quarrymen were on the governing body. The Calendar showed this to be an almost crimeless district. Not long ago an inquiry was instituted as to the expediency of providing a new bench of magistrates for the district, but as the result of the inquiry, it was found that a bench of magistrates was absolutely and totally unnecessary, so few were the offences in the district. On the authority of the police, he could say that the offences were fewer now than they were before the strike. ["Hear, hear!"] Last Saturday week he passed through Bethesda, and saw hundreds of quarrymen congregated for a mass meeting to discuss proposals in notices set up by Lord Penrhyn's managers. There was perfect order, and no necessity to increase the staff of police. At the meeting the men applied remorseless logic to the notices of the quarry owner, but not a word of denunciation or disrespect was uttered against Lord Penrhyn himself. They discussed matters; they passed resolutions; they sang hymns. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] The resolutions went to show that they would sternly abide by the proposals of the Board of Trade, and would not renounce their right to combination. ["Hear, hear!"] Meanwhile there were between 600 and 800 families supported by the relief fund which had been started by tradesmen and others in the district, and contributed to by workmen in all parts of the country. Money from all parts was flowing fast into the funds, and, thanks to the generosity of the Press, all classes of the community—men of all creeds and all political parties—had helped to support these men in maintaining the prolonged struggle. Money could do much, but it could not heal troubled minds, it could not bring solace and content to scattered homes and families; money could not settle a grave labour dispute. ["Hear, hear!"] He thanked the House for the attention given to his endeavour to put forward a plain statements of facts, and he desired to thank, on behalf of his constituents, the President of the Board of Trade and his able staff for their capable efforts to promote a settlement of this dispute under one of the sections of the 697 Conciliation Act. It was only for him, as Member for the constituency, to present this case, and make an earnest appeal to the Government and the President of the Board of Trade to take any measures open to them under the Conciliation Act or others—which they on their responsibility and with the great influence they could command—to bring the two parties together, and so help to secure what was the real wish of every one of these three thousand quarrymen—a just, honourable and lasting settlement of the dispute. [Cheers.] He formally moved the adjournment of the House.
MR. J. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion),
in seconding the Motion, associated himself with the opening remarks of his hon. Friend upon the right of combination. Had this been solely a question as to amount of wages, or time for holidays, or any matter relating to the working of the quarry he would have had a great, if not an insuperable, objection to intervene in any way. Bui the question here involved was whether Welsh quarrymen should have the rigid such as was exercised by workmen all over the Kingdom, and which had, in this case, been denied—the right of combining to secure their joint interests Lord Penrhyn seemed, to some extent to make the concession that it would be unreasonable and unjust to refuse such right, because he had said he did not object to combination, but he did object to the committee. But the noble Lord had omitted to state how the right of combination could be exercised without a committee. It was useless to say that three thousand could combine but must not appoint a lesser number to carry out the decisions of the majority, and to negotiate with the employer. To say that they might combine, but that every individual workman was to make his representation to Lord Penrhyn, was to trifle with language. Seventy-one men had been suspended, and most of these were on the committee. Lord Penrhyn had stated that he could not submit to the intervention of the committee in the work of the quarry. Now, if the committee had interfered with the working, saying, "You shall work here, but stop work there," "You shall enlarge this gallery, and shoot rubbish here," then everybody would admit such interference would be intolerable. 698 It was not interference of that description. The functions of the committee were the same as those which were carried out by agents of combinations of workmen all the world over. If a workman in the quarry felt that he had a grievance it was his duty to lay his complaint before the Committee, who inquired into it and ascertained whether there was any ground for bringing the matter to the attention of the managers. If the committee thought that the facts supplied by a workman disclosed a serious grievance, then it was their duty to consult and decide as to whether action, ought to be taken in regard to it. The contention that the committee had no right to consider such matters was unreasonable. It had been alleged that the committee had supported, if not incited, insubordination amongst Lord Penrhyn's quarrymen. What was the alleged insubordination? Two workmen declined to go down to the office when requested to do so. He did not intend to go into the original cause of the dispute between Lord Penrhyn and his workmen; but it was necessary for him to state certain facts to make the case clear. The workmen complained, amongst other things, that instead of the quarry being let as hitherto to small bodies of men, huge portions of it were sub-let to contractors, who sweated the workmen by again sub-letting. Two men were deputed to make certain measurements on behalf of the committee, and they did so during their own dinner hour. Immediately Lord Penrhyn heard of this the two men were requested to go to the office for the purpose of being subjected to a cross-examination. Lord Penrhyn stated that he required two of his quarrymen to go to the quarry office, and that the committee were instrumental in preventing them, and that a resolution was passed that no quarryman should go alone to the office in order to have an interview with respect to the matters that were in dispute between the quarry committee and Lord Penrhyn. The resolution the men passed was that with respect to the matters in dispute between Lord Penrhyn and the quarrymen as a body, Lord Penrhyn should not try to go behind the committee by going to the workmen one by one and endeavouring to frighten them into submission. There was good reason for 699 this resolution. Some of the men were sent for to the office and subjected to a cross-examination by Lord Penrhyn or his agent. The men were quite alone, and had none of their fellow-workmen to support them, and their knowledge of English was imperfect. It was a most unfair position to put the men in, a position unworthy of Lord Penrhyn. The majority of the men stood firm, but it was not a surprising thing that one or two of them did break down and back out. Then instant use was made of this circumstance to denounce the committee for having, as it was alleged, fabricated complaints and stimulated agitation, and all because those poor men had been frightened at this star chamber inquiry. The men who had been examined were suspended and afterwards dismissed, and the whole of the committee were also suspended. There was no suggestion that any one of those seventy-one men had been guilty of negligence in his work. The only reason assigned for this course was that they were on the committee, and gave certain advice. It was because the advice they gave to the men and the method they employed of conducting the controversy with him were not palatable to Lord Penrhyn that he took the action he did with regard to them. To say that men were liable to be dismissed because they were acting in the best interests of other workmen was to say that there was no right whatever of combination. He maintained that when men were appointed as a committee to act on behalf of their fellow-workmen, anything they did or said in such capacity ought to be entirely privileged. No employer should assume a right to visit with punishment anything done by those men in discharge of their duties as agents of the workmen. The position taken up by Lord Penrhyn on this part of the question was intolerable, and he hoped the House would show that it thought such an attitude on the part of an employer quite unreasonable. Lord Penrhyn spoke very strongly against outside interference, but it was not "outside interference" for the men to seek some assistance. The management of their labour was surely as much in their own hands and was as much an affair of the men as the management of the quarry was an affair of Lord Penrhyn's, and if Lord Penrhyn could 700 not carry on his quarry without the assistance of 3,000 men, then the conditions of labour in the quarry were no longer simply a question of his private affairs, as Lord Penrhyn seemed to think. As Lord Penrhyn was perfectly entitled to go where he liked to select his manager or agent, the men had an equal right to choose their own agents. If the quarry-men had shown any disposition to interfere with Lord Penrhyn's selection of his agents, then he for one would have been strongly opposed to such an interference; but he said that they had not done so, and that Lord Penrhyn had no right to dictate to the men as he had done. They had as much right in that matter as Lord Penrhyn had. Some 3,000 men had now been out for four months; their dwelling houses were situate in the middle of a highly preserved estate, and yet not a single charge of poaching could be brought against any one of them, and no riot or disturbance was traceable to the strike. Not only so, but they had treated their employer with the greatest respect, and they had, indeed, passed a resolution protesting against being held responsible for language which they considered bore with some degree of severity, if not violence, upon Lord Penrhyn, and dissociating themselves from it. The men desired to do everything they could to meet Lord Penrhyn except to abdicate the ordinary rights of free men. [Cheers.]
§ MR. DOUGLAS-PENNANT (Northants, S.)
felt it his duty to take the very first opportunity of rising to reply to the observations which had been made against Lord Penrhyn and the management of the Penrhyn quarries, a, very considerable number of misstatements—["hear, hear!"]—having been made throughout the country in connection with this most unfortunate strike. There were two main points at issue before the House, namely, the question of Lord Penrhyn's attitude with regard to a Committee, and his attitude with regard to the intervention of the Board of Trade. [Cheers.] The dispute with reference to the first point dated back to 1885. At that time the late Lord Penrhyn was a very old man, and the quarries were in a state of financial difficulties—so serious, indeed, that in a short time they would have been closed. The late Lord Penrhyn gave the present owner of the 701 quarries full power to do what he could to put things on a better footing. There existed at that time in the quarry a Committee which was styled the Quarry Committee. It had been allowed to come into existence and had obtained recognition from the management. It was recognised as a Committee appointed by the workmen to receive complaints, to consider them, and to see whether they constituted a proper case to be placed before the supreme manager for his decision. There were many complaints about the action of this Committee; for example, that complaints which were made were not forwarded to the authorities, that there was no provision under it for the representation of the non-unionist workers, and that, as the late chief manager averred, it interfered in many ways with the working of the quarries. The present Lord Penrhyn determined to do away with the Committee. [Ironical cheers.] He said, as he had said again recently in the Press, that he could not allow any body of men to interfere between him and his workers. From the date when the quarry was put on a new footing down to the time of the, strike, things went on peacefully and smoothly, bringing increased prosperity to the quarries and district. Nothing more was wanted in proof of this than to point to the remarks of the hon. Member opposite, when he spoke of the manner in which the quarrymen had been able to found and endow various chapels and schools. In May of last year a number of the men wished to attend the May Day labour demonstration, and notice was given that the men should apply for leave in the ordinary manner. Some 300 men did apply; the remainder did not apply, but took leave. When they returned to work they were suspended for two days. [Ironical cheers.] Any employer of labour would understand that it was not unusual for such a. course to be adopted, and, at any rate, it was the rule of the quarry. After the two days' suspension they returned to work. Shortly before August seven of the employés forwarded to Mr. Young, the chief manager, a written statement and requisition dealing with the wages standard of different classes of workmen, one point being that there should be a minimum wage of 4s. 6d. a day. The result of a minimum, wage would simply be to put a premium 702 upon idleness. [Cheers.] He might point out that the wages of the quarry-men for the six months prior to the strike represented an average daily pay of 5s. 6d. On August 17 Lord Penrhyn received the deputation of the men with reference to various grievances, and at the interview he read out a. reply giving his reasons for not being able to grant their request. He also told them that if they had any desire to see him again they should write to Mr. Young, but down to the present time Lord Penrhyn had had no application from the workers. On August 20 the men formulated a detailed reply, going over the same ground. On September 25, after some weeks' further investigation, Lord Penrhyn forwarded a full rejoinder, and promised to put a stop to any abuses found to exist. On September 14 two workmen were summoned to the manager's office, but did not go, their explanation being that the Committee had told them not to. The men were suspended, and after an interval of 12 days, no further explanation having been made, they were discharged. The statement that they Were discharged next day was incorrect. On September 26 a resolution was passed at the meeting of the council of the North Wales Quarrymen's Union, stating:—That we, as the committee of Lord Penrhyn's quarries, after serious consideration of our position, in the face of Lord Penrhyn's unfavourable reply to our request and complaints, are of opinion that no good can result from continuing the negotiations on the same lines as hitherto, and we regard it as our duty to make it plain that we shall strike in March next unless, in the meantime, we find that the main points of our grievances have been conceded.That meant that the men chose March next as the most convenient time for themselves, and therefore the most inconvenient time for the owners of the quarry, to announce a strike. This resolution was passed on September 26, and on September 28 notices were served on 31 men, comprising the committee and others, in the following words:—I have to inform you that you are hereby suspended until further notice from the end of this quarry month.'[Opposition cheers and laughter.] On September 28 a general strike was declared by the workmen, and on September 30 the Quarrymen's Union organiser 703 applied to the Board of Trade to intervene. With regard to Lord Penrhyn's action in declining the intervention of the Board of Trade, there were two or three points at issue in reference to this demand of the men. Lord Penrhyn stated on many occasions that he was always willing to receive any deputation from the men, but that he was not Milling to assent to the conditions which the Board of Trade proposed. Two of the stipulations were of minor importance. The men desired to have their own interpreter and shorthand writer. [Opposition cheers.] Lord Penrhyn assented to this on the understanding that these men were taken from the ranks of the quarrymen. [Opposition laughter and ironical cheers.] An efficient interpreter might easily have been found among the quarrymen. In the statement sent to Members of the House it was stated that when Lord Penrhyn received the deputation the working manager acted as interpreter. That was not so. The interpreter on that occasion was a man drawn from the ranks of the quarrymen, David Davies, and his services were available on any other occasion. As to the statement that all the men of light and leading in the quarry were on the committee, it was disproved by the fact that Mr. William H. Williams, who had been described in the Welsh papers as "the quarrymen's Gladstone "—[laughter]—was not a member of the committee, and a great number of other able men were not connected with it. As to the shorthand writer, he admitted that it might have been difficult to find one among the quarrymen—[Opposition cheers]—but there had been no suggestion on the part of either the men or the Board of Trade officials that any independent, impartial, and official shorthand writer should be asked to attend. Lord Penrhyn felt strongly that the suggestion involved an unjust slur upon the shorthand writer and interpreter who had attended previous meetings. In the letter which the Permanent Secretary of the Board of Trade wrote on September 24, he repudiated the suggestion that the proposal of the Board of Trade contained any imputation that the men had suffered any disadvantage from Lord Penrhyn's interpreter and shorthand 704 writer. But these difficulties were not too serious to have been overcome. [Opposition ironical cheers.] But Lord Penrhyn's main objection was extremely important. The men insisted that representatives of the Board of Trade should be present at the proposed conference, and the Board of Trade supported that view. [Opposition cheers.] The functions of these representatives and the authority they were to exercise had remained from the outset quite indefinite. The specific section of the Act to which the men referred contained no words for guidance in that matter. It made no reference to the presence of representatives of the Board of Trade at any conference between employers and employed. It simply authorised the appointment of a conciliator or board of conciliation.
§ MR. DOUGLAS-PENNANT
said that it had been asserted that Lord Penrhyn, in declining to avail himself of the Conciliation Act as interpreted by the Board of Trade, had flouted the Act and defied the Government. That accusation was unreasonable. The words of the Act must be taken to represent the opinions of the Government as to the limits to which it was expedient in practice or just in principle that the Board of Trade should interfere between employer and employed. Those words contained no shadow or suggestion of a compulsory principle—[cheers]—or that it was always the duty of either party to admit the application of the Act. Employers would always be apt to shrink from having recourse to this Act, because they were well aware that no arrangements which might be made between them and their workmen before a conciliation could be made binding on the men. [Cheers.] If the trade unions would consent, as recommended by the Labour Commission, to become legally liable for breach of contract, the matter might assume a. different complexion. [Cheers.] But trade unions were apparently resolute in their opposition to these recommendations. Lord Penrhyn also thought that the presence of the Board of Trade officials would weaken his authority and that of his officials in the quarry, and form a precedent for the men asking for similar intervention on other occasions. [Opposition cheers.] Finally, the fact 705 that in their letter of December 24 the Board intimated that Lord Penrhyn's letter had been forwarded to the organising secretary of the men, while the Board did not, until he had twice complained, forward to him the letters which had passed between the Department and the men—[Ministerial cheers]—did not encourage Lord Penrhyn to welcome the intervention of the Board of Trade.
§ MR. HENRY BROADHURST (Leicester)
said that no statement made by the men could illustrate the grievances under which they laboured better than the defence of Lord Penrhyn offered by the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman had admitted the men's whole case. He had complained that the House did not adapt its legislation to the whims and fancies of Lord Penrhyn, and had stated that if that had been done Lord Penrhyn would probably have condescended to be advised by the legislation of Parliament and to be influenced by the Board of Trade. The House of Commons had not vet become the slave of Lord Penrhyn.
§ MR. BROADHURST
said that the hon. Member had complained of the terms of the Act of last year, as not containing a binding clause on the workmen with respect to any contract entered into on their behalf. [Cries of "No!"] What did that amount to but a demand that the House of Commons should adapt itself to the peculiar prejudices of Lord Penrhyn—[cries of "No!"]—and not consider what would be equitable between employer and employed? The hon. Gentleman had admitted also that the committee's statement of complaint to Lord Penrhyn had been revised and altered to suit the fancies of the agent who conveyed it. The crux of the whole question was whether the men had a right to combine and to make their case heard through the mouths of their chosen leaders. That was the old position for which Trades Unionism had contended 40 years ago. The whole forces of Trades Unionism had long been used to demand on behalf of the workers the right to submit their grievances and their representations to the employers through their chosen leaders, as the employers could 706 communicate their wishes to the workmen through their managers and other paid agents. If that right was denied or objected to then the whole force of combination fell to the ground. Lord Penrhyn had been good enough to say that he did not object to combination, provided it took a form suitable to his own convenience and opinions. [Cries of "No!"] Yes, that was the fact. He wished hon. Gentlemen opposite would have a little patience. The leading-advocate of the other side had been given a most patient hearing. They had encouraged the hon. Gentleman by their cheers when they thought he was travelling in the right direction, but to their consternation he soon harked back to the old cry that a man had a right to do as he pleased with his own, and they then ceased to cheer him. [Laughter.] Lord Penrhyn did not object to combination so long as it did not interfere with his right to do what he liked with his workmen, or his right to conduct his own works without any consideration to the feelings of the people whom he employed. But he sincerely trusted that before the Debate closed some Member representing property and capital would stand up and put a different face on this unhappy dispute than had been put on it by the hon. Member who had just sat down. The hon. Member opposite had raised the old question of combination. It looked indeed as if they would have to fight for the old right of combination over again if the policy of Lord Penrhyn was to be the policy of the majority of the employers of this country. But happily Lord Penrhyn was in a minority of one. There were very large employers in this country who welcomed the advent of trades unionism, and who were anxious to settle disputes through the chosen delegates of their workpeople rather than by dealing individually with their workmen. He would also point out that slate quarrying was a business of great skill. The arrangement of contracts involved great technical knowledge and patience, and he did not know any other industry in which it was more necessary for men of highly skilled knowledge and training, and men thoroughly acquainted with the English and the Welsh languages to represent labour in negotiations of the kind which had led to this unhappy dispute. The 707 hon. Member opposite had admitted to the House that on last May Day the Penrhyn Quarry Management fined a number of their workmen two days' wages because they had the audacity to attend a labour demonstration. [Cries of "No!"]
§ MR. DOUGLAS-PENNANT
I would like to point out to the hon. Gentleman that these men were suspended because they absented themselves without having first applied for leave.
§ MR. BROADHURST
said that if the hon. Member had had patience and allowed him to finish his sentence he would have seen that that was precisely what he was going to wind up with. [Laughter.] The men were punished because they attended the May Day demonstration without the permission of the manager. What other employer was there in the kingdom that would look for a plea from his workpeople as to whether or not they should attend their annual function for trades union purposes? It was monstrous put on that ground. He had been present at that May Day demonstration, and he had attended many other labour demonstrations in North Wales, and there were thousands of quarrymen there whom he regarded as personal friends. He wished the whole House of Commons could have seen the proceedings on that remarkable day. It was a scene that would ever remain in his memory. [Laughter.] He begged hon. Members opposite, however frivolous they might be naturally, to give more serious thoughts to serious subjects. ["Hear, hear!"] He attended the conference in the morning, and he could say with truth that that conference had been conducted in a manner that would have done credit to the House of Commons, or to any other assembly in the world, and the religious tone and seriousness of the speeches, and the hymn-singing before and after the proceedings, made an impression on him which he would never forget. He took part in the procession in the afternoon, and later in the day he attended the public meeting, which again was opened and concluded by sacred songs of the most elevating and impressive character. He could not imagine why any man pretending to be included in the ranks of common Christianity should be excited to laughter when he heard that British workmen associated religious services 708 with a demonstration intended to improve their social condition and to increase their means of obtaining their daily bread. He hoped that some responsible Minister or some responsible ex-Minister would come to the front in the sacred right of labour, in the sacred right of workers to have a voice in the terms which decided their wages. They had heard the manner in which some of the scanty wages of these workmen were used for educational and religious purposes in the Principality. He counted it amongst the most pleasing experiences of his life what he had witnessed in various parts of Wales, showing the religious fervour and the educational enthusiasm of the working classes of that country. He trusted that the result of the Debate would be to induce this great owner of the means of production to listen to reason, and not to use his mighty wealth and his great strength to crush out by starvation and tyranny the spirit of independence of the workpeople. Men had the right to some extent to do what they liked with their own, but it should be remembered that municipal law limited that right whenever it interfered with our neighbours, or tended to the spread of disease from house to house, in almost every town and village of the kingdom; and, if that were so, how much more was it necessary that there should be a limitation to rights which were used in a cruel and vindictive manner against a large community, as they had been used, many of them thought, in the case of the Penrhyn quarries. He trusted that the result of the discussion would be to lead to reason, common sense and justice prevailing between the two parties in this dispute. They had heard from the spokesman of the men that they were still willing, as they had been willing at the commencement of the dispute, to go into arbitration and to abide by the decision, not of a politician of the Radical school, or of a politician of the. Conservative school, but to abide by the decision of a great permanent officer of the State who had no political purposes to serve, who was thoroughly unprejudiced and impartial, and who had already brought to a satisfactory conclusion many disputes during the last few years by the exercise of his influence, his good judgment, and his common sense. He might mention the 709 case of the shoe trade of the kingdom, which was within an ace of being almost ruined. He had that day a letter from the gentleman who was then President of the Employers' Association, who said that he believed no outside interference could do good, that they should be better without it, and that after listening to the reasons of the permanent official of the Board of Trade he saw how reasonable it was to follow the suggestions made from that quarter. He also said that he had never ceased to be glad that he did on that occasion accept the proposals made, which had had a happy effect upon the whole of the trade. He had no doubt the workmen's officers would in the main agree with the employers' official. If the Board of Trade could deal with the boot trade it was equally capable of dealing with the slate trade. He hoped that it was not too late even now for something to be done—for 3,000 men, with their families, on the brink of starvation, was no light matter. He prayed the House to contemplate this difficult subject with all the seriousness which it should show on a great occasion of this kind, and that passions would not be allowed to take the place of reason. Let them join as one man in holding out the olive leaf of peace to the two contending parties in this dispute. [Cheers.]
MR. BROMLEY DAVENPOKT (Cheshire, Macclesfield)
thought it very desirable that they should confine themselves to the only matter of the Debate. There appeared to be two main allegations against Lord Penrhyn. The first was that he had dismissed or suspended a large number of his men because they were legitimately combining amongst themselves; and the second was that he had put himself in the wrong by declining to accept the intervention of the Board of Trade, and refused to avail himself of the Conciliation Act of last year. If it could be shown that Lord Penrhyn had dismised these men for no other reason except that they were engaged in a legitimate combination in their own interests, the House could take no effective action in the matter, because he apprehended that Lord Penrhyn's personal feelings would not be very materially affected. If there were a complete justification for the men, every hon. Member could have his own judgment 710 upon the matter. These men were dismissed for certain distinct and definite offences, the climax of which was that in December they threatened a strike, and he asked the House to say whether an employer was bound to keep in his employment men who had threatened to strike three or four mouths hence. It appeared, the hon. Member said, quoting from a statement circulated on behalf of Lord Penrhyn, that in August the men came with certain demands, which were refused. What those demands were was not very material, but they included a rise in wages to the extent of 37½ per cent., the present wage being 5s. 6d. a day, and included a demand for a minimum of 4s. 6d. a day. In refusing those demands Lord Penrhyn was only doing what other employers had done in similar cases. On December 26 the Committee of the men announced they would strike in March unless their demands were in the meantime granted, whereupon Lord Penrhyn suspended the Committee, and then a. general strike was declared. If Lord Penrhyn had no objection to combination, why, hon. Members might ask, did he refuse to recognise the Committee? The fact was that combination in that part of the world meant more than it meant to our ears. ["Oh!"] There was a Committee prior to 1885, which was not merely a Committee for the men, but a Committee which practically assumed the management of the quarry. [Ministerial cheers,] Their idea of management was to run up wages to such an extent that in 1885 the entire earnings were not sufficient to meet the wages bill. [Cheers.] Lord Penrhyn abolished the Committee, which had never since been recognised, and reduced wages to the maximum paid in any other quarry in the district. Now there was an attempt to restore the Committee to its old influence. The men passed a resolution that they should not be called individually to the office, but that negotiations should be carried on under the supervision of the General Committee—that was to say, that Lord Penrhyn was to be deprived of his right as an employer to send for any one of his employés. Could any employer possibly agree to that? [Ministerial cheers.] This Committee had been writing very able letters to the papers, one of which covered over two columns of The Times. 711 It was a beautifully expressed letter, in which it was said that the Committee were simply working men, who, as they were unable to express themselves in English, had to rely on a translator. [Laurghter.] He congratulated that translator on having done his work so admirably. The men complained that the quarry was not worked in the manner best calculated to benefit master or men. They meant to say that the management was bad, and would be a great deal better in their hands. ["No."] Mr. R. Davies, chairman of Committee, who went to Lord Penrhyn, made a speech in which he said his object was "to restore the King." It was obvious that the intention was to restore the Committee, not to represent the men in the interests of their labour, because a Committee in that sense had existed all these years. As representing the men Lord Penrhyn was ready to receive it now, but he would not recognise its authority to come between him and the management of his quarries. It was only natural Lord Penrhyn should take that course. He was upholding the right to manage his own property. He was entitled to do so in any case, but he was still further induced to do so by the almost fatal consequences which had ensued during that period when the management had passed into the hands of these men who were now seeking to resume it. He hoped the House would understand why Lord Penrhyn objected to the Committee, and that hon. Members would see that there could be no truth in the assertion that Lord Penrhyn dismissed these men for no other reason except that they were combining amongst themselves. As to the complaint regarding the shorthand writer, all Lord Penrhyn wanted was that any report which was sent out in connection with so delicate and difficult a matter as the preliminary negotiations with respect to conciliation, should be an accurate report. He naturally did not put much faith in that class of local journalists who for weeks and weeks past had been misrepresenting the facts of the dispute. If the men had suggested to Lord Penrhyn the name of an impartial reporter he would not have objected to his presence.
§ MR. BROMLEY DAVENPORT
The suggestion did not come from him, but from the men. What the men said was, "We want to bring our own reporter." He would now turn to another point. He had heard it stated that the sweating system largely prevailed in this quarry. A man sent up a long letter to the Board of Trade in support of this allegation. This individual stated that he was engaged casually, and for one day's job at road clearing at 4½d. per ton, under a contractor, not under Lord Penrhyn. He was able to clear five loads a day, which would be about 3s. 9d. That was not a very high wage, but at any rate it was not his own idea of sweating. The writer's description of sweating was this: "I succeeded in loading five loads a day and that by sweating extremely." [Loud laughter.]
§ MR. J. W. LOGAN (Leicester, Harborough)
asked, amidst interruption, whether the hon. Member was clear in his calculation.
§ MR. BROMLEY DAVENPORT
said a load was two tons. If the hon. Member would go into the matter he would find the statement was correct. It was not a high wage, 5s. 9d. a day, but it was a fair wage, and though the contractor might do well at those terms it seemed a bad bargain for Lord Penrhyn. He denied that Lord Penrhyn had declined to avail himself of the Conciliation Act. The Act provided that on the application of either party to a dispute the Board of Trade might, if satisfied on certain points, appoint a person or persons to act as a conciliator or as a board of conciliation. No such suggestion was made to Lord Penrhyn. The suggestion was that one or more representatives of the Board of Trade should be present at a proposed interview between himself and his employees. There was no provision in the Act for this. [Cheers.] Sir Courtenay Boyle in one of his letters presumed—the expression was not too strong—to say that that was the intention of the Act. It was, indeed, a new and dangerous doctrine that one of the administrative departments through one of its permanent officials should be allowed to do what even the Courts of Law could not do—read into an Act of Parliament words which were not there. [Cheers.] Lord Penrhyn declined to be bound by this assertion 713 of a Government official, and he believed the House would say he was right. So far as the Conciliation Act was concerned Lord Penrhyn was in the right and the Board of Trade was in the wrong. Some explanation on the point was due from the Board of Trade. [Cheers.] But Lord Penrhyn did not take his stand merely on the letter of the law. Even if the Board of Trade had confined itself within the limits of the Act, Lord Penrhyn would probably have declined to be bound by the decision of a tribunal which had apparently already made up its mind against him. ["Oh, oh!"] Two incidents would prove his case. There was a lot of correspondence between Lord Penrhyn and the men and the Board of Trade. The Board published the correspondence between Lord Penrhyn and themselves, but withheld the correspondence between the Board and the men. Lord Penrhyn asked for the correspondence, but Sir Courtenay Boyle wrote:—I am not aware of any communication from the men the substance of which has not been known to your lordship, but if you desire to have the text of any letter and will specify which letter you have in your mind, I will cause a copy to be supplied to you at once.Was there ever anything so monstrously unfair? [Cheers.] Lord Penrhyn was asked to select from a bundle of correspondence he had never seen—[cheers and laughter]—a letter of the contents of which he was totally ignorant. Not being a conjuror or a thought-reader Lord Penrhyn declined to avail himself of the offer. The House would agree that the sources from which the Board of Trade derived information on which it might have to found its judgment, ought to be without taint or suspicion of prejudice or partiality. ["Hear, hear!"] The Board derived its information from officers called labour correspondents. The correspondent for the district of North Wales in which Lord Penrhyn's quarries were situated was Mr. George Rowley. Happily he was relieved from the necessity of giving the House his own views of Mr. Rowley's suitability for the office he held, and the impartiality with which he discharged his functions, because he had put on record his own views of his qualifications for the post. 714 Mr. Rowley was lately attacked in a local newspaper on the ground that he could not speak Welsh. This gentleman wrote to assert his qualifications for the post he held. He said:—I received my appointment through the recommendation of several Welsh Members, well-known Radicals.[Loud cheers and laughter.] He further stated that he had been a trade unionist all his life to which, of course, there was no objection, and continued:—I have taken a leading part for more than 20 years in, and have bad a large experience of, strikes of all kinds, and have on many occasions presided over meetings conducted wholly in Welsh. Only the other day I was chairman at a Welsh meeting at—he declined to attempt to pronounce the name—for the purpose of raising subscriptions on behalf of the Bethesda men.This was the man who was conveying the information to the Board of Trade—[cheers]—which was to enable them to hold the scales of justice evenly between the two parties to this dispute. Surely it was not Lord Penrhyn who owed an explanation to the House, but the Board of Trade. He frankly admitted that he bad been induced to take part in this Debate by considerations of a personal character. A life-long friendship which he had inherited had given him countless opportunities of learning the true character of the man who had been assailed with so much rancour. For weeks past Lord Penrhyn had been the subject of criticisms of a severe kind at the hands of those who could only have heard one side of the case. The Leader of the Opposition in the course of his speech on the Address expressed his deep regret and condemnation of the course Lord Penrhyn had taken in refusing to act under the provisions of the Conciliation Act. [Opposition cheers.] He had failed indeed, if he had not made it plain that Lord Penrhyn had never been invited to act under that Act—[cheers]—and he could not avoid, in the House of Commons, expressing his deep regret that the right hon. Gentleman was not more careful that a statement so calculated to prejudice public opinion before the facts were known, should at least be accurate, 715 however ill judged. [Cheers.] All over the country for weeks and weeks past there had been speeches, newspaper paragraphs, leading articles, and even sermons, denouncing Lord Penrhyn. Only last Sunday, he believed, the same hon. Members opposite were deriving fresh ideas and inspiration for their speeches from the eloquence of certain reverend gentlemen, one of whom, he understood, preached from the text, "And Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the people go." [Loud laughter.] The preacher forgot that the people in this case went of their own accord. [Laughter.] While the House would appreciate the humour of it, they would also appreciate its injustice. Lord Penrhyn was no hardhearted Pharaoh, but an upright, honourable, fair-minded English gentleman, and wholly incapable of any mean, paltry, or dishonourable action. [Cheers.] Suggestions had been made that he was a hard, ungenerous, and unjust employer; but the total refutation of that was to be obtained from the men themselves, who said they had had good wages and comfortable homes. They were undoubtedly a splendid body of men, but they earned splendid wages. [Some cries of "No."] That was proved by the fact that they were able to spend £1,000 in a cricket ground, to build 20 chapels, and to give £1,500 to the University of Bangor. It was very creditable to them to have done this, but they could not come to the House and complain of sweating wages. After this strike 400 men remained at work, and Lord Penrhyn kept them on for thirteen weeks, though nothing was coming out of the quarry, and when at last he had to dismiss them, he gave every one of them over the age of 65 a pension for life of £1 a month, and to everyone under that age£1 to assist him in obtaining work elsewhere. It was fair that the House should know these facts, If in the remarks he had made he had given offence to any section of the House, he apologised, but he made no apology for having resented, even with some warmth, an attack which he felt to be unjustifiable on an honourable and upright gentleman, and a personal friend.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. C. T. RITCHIE,) Croydon
said he associated himself with every 716 word his hon. Friend had said with regard to the personal character of Lord Penrhyn. He had not the honour of his personal acquaintance, but he had sufficient acquaintance with him to enable him to speak upon it. He knew from what he had heard from all quarters, and even from those who unfortunately were in opposition to him at the present moment, that the character of Lord Penrhyn was as had been described by his hon. Friend; and although he regretted the position he had taken up on this question, he hoped that no one word would fall from him that would give personal offence to him. The hon. Gentleman who made this Motion made it in a very clear and moderate speech—[Opposition cheers]—and he might also say the same for his hon. Friend the Member for South Northampton, who he thought performed a task of a difficult character in a way which won for him the admiration of all Members of the House. He wished that these examples of moderation had been followed by some of the subsequent speakers on both sides of the House—[cries of "Oh!" on the Ministerial side below the gangway]—because he was sure that what they all had at heart was to endeavour in some way or other to bring this unhappy dispute to an amicable arrangement; and it was not quite the right way of doing that to use very strong language on one side or the other. He wanted the House first of all to consider what was exactly the position of the Board of Trade with regard to questions of conciliation and the duties imposed on them by the Conciliation Act. The Board of Trade, as bad been already alluded to, had for many years past endeavoured to perform when requested the part of conciliator, and had done so with remarkable success in many difficult disputes, involving many intricate and difficult questions. But they did so without any statutory authority until the Act of last year was passed. That Act was passed because it was felt on all hands that the most unreasonable way of endeavouring to settle disputes was by trying to see which side could last out the longest. It was felt, and felt rightly, that disputes which involved the employment of a large number of people, which involved, it might be, the very existence of an industry, which 717 might be of great importance to the country, was not merely a private question—[cheers]—and that the utmost efforts possible should be made by the authority of an Act of Parliament to endeavour to do something which should bring these disputes to an end. Thus the House of Commons had recognised that this was a matter of great public concern, and they had accordingly placed upon the shoulders of the Board of Trade a large and heavy responsibility with regard to it. He was glad to think that since the passing of this Act many disputes—some of them of great importance—had been dealt with by the Board of Trade, an I happily settled. ["Hear, hear!"] He need scarcely allude to the well-known case of the London and North Western Railway Company, in which on the one side the directors and on the other side the men had shown the greatest willingness to listen to the representations made to them by himself, and in which ultimately a settlement was arrived at for which he had received the thanks of both parties. ["Hear, hear!"] It was also only the other day—indeed it was within the last week—that the Board of Trade had received an application from a large coal-mine owner at whoso mine, where 1,200 men were employed, a strike had occurred that the Department should put into action the stipulations and provisions of the Conciliation Act. The application, it should be observed, came not from the men who had struck, but from the owner who had been struck against. That was a proof that the Act was not regarded only by those who struck but was equally regarded by those who were struck against as being of value to them. ["Hear, hear!"] He might say that the utmost disposition had been shown by both parties to the dispute to take advantage of the provisions of the Act. ["Hear, hear!"] And how had these settlements been brought about? Not by the fussy or official interference of the Board of Trade, but by bringing the parties together. The principal object of the Board of Trade in all cases had always been not to put their statutory powers as conciliators into force, but to get those concerned to settle their disputes among themselves. ["Hear, 718 hear!"] They believed that if they could get the parties to a dispute round a table it would be found that there was really no very great difference between them, an I that the difficulties in the way of a settlement disappeared. The hon. Member for the Macclesfield Division of Cheshire had used some very strong language with regard to the action of the Board of Trade in connection with Lord Penrhyn and his employés; indeed he had actually implied a want of good faith on the part of the Department. [Cheers and counter-cheers.] The hon. Gentleman ha I referred to certain letters which had passed between the Department and Lord Penrhyn. He took upon himself the whole responsibility for the Board of Trade's share in that correspondence. [Cheers.] Every one of those letters was written under his own personal supervision, and he took upon himself the responsibility for every statement that was made in them. [Cheers.] The hon. Gentleman said that Sir Courtenay Boyle had been directed to read into the Act words which it did not contain. That was a view that he did not agree with. Sir Courtenay Boyle in his letter of December 24 said—The remark in my previous letter with regard to another disadvantage under which the men would labour by having to come to you without any of their chosen leaders had reference to the condition you imposed that all the members of the committee originally chosen were to be excluded from selection by the men in appointing the deputation that was to wait upon you. To this condition, however disadvantageous as it undoubtedly was to the men, they very reluctantly consented, but they urged very strongly that a representative of the hoard of Trade should be present at the interview, believing that the adoption of this course would greatly facilitate the opening up of negotiations. In this view the Board of Trade concur, and they cannot but think that your categorical refusal to comply with this request was neither in harmony with the intention of the Conciliation Act nor promising for the success of the negotiations.He did not intend to trouble the House by reading Section 2 of the Conciliation Act. What was intended by that section any one could judge for himself; it was that the Board of Trade should endeavour to bring about settlement of disputes between employers and employed.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said that the section was in these words—Where a difference exists or is apprehended between an employer or any class of employers and workmen, or between different classes of workmen, the Board of Trade may, if they think fit, exercise all or any of the following powers, namely:—(a) Inquire into the causes and circumstances of the difference; (b) take such steps as to the Board may seem expedient for the purpose of enabling the parties to the difference to meet together by themselves or their representatives, under the presidency of a chairman mutually agreed upon or nominated by the Board of Trade or by some other person or body, with a view to the amicable settlement of the difference.["Hear, hear!"] Did not that justify the view that Lord Penrhyn's refusal to allow the Board of Trade to take steps for the settlement of the dispute between him and his men was contrary to the intention of the Act? [Cheers.]
§ MR. BROMLEY DAVENPORT
said that he should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he contended that that section of the Act gave power to the Board of Trade to suggest that they should send their representative down to the scene of the dispute.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said that not only the phraseology of the section, but the whole intention of the Act was in that direction. ["Hear, hear!"] The intention of the section was that the Board of Trade might take such steps as they deemed necessary to bring about a settlement of the dispute between the parties—["bear, hear!"]—and if the Board of Trade thought that the only way to bring about a meeting between the parties was by their sending a representative, it was clearly their duty to do so. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member further stated that it was quite evident from the course of the correspondence that the Board of Trade had made up their minds on the merits of the dispute. To that allegation he gave a most absolute and unqualified denial, and he might say that there was not a shade of foundation for it. [Cheers.] He and his advisers had been most careful not in any way to enter into the real merits of the dispute; with that he had always said he had nothing to do, and Lord Penrhyn knew that he had always 720 stated that in his correspondence with him. He was satisfied that Lord Penrhyn had never authorised the hon. Member to put forward any such contention. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Gentleman had spoken about some man, whose name he had never heard to his knowledge, as being a local labour correspondent of the Board of Trade, and from whom they had obtained their information in regard to this case. That certainly was not the ease. ["Hear, hear!"] So anxious had he been that the Department should receive the information necessary—not upon the merits of the case—that, in addition to the correspondence, he had asked his noble Friend Lord Dudley to go down and see Lord Penrhyn and endeavour, by his personal influence, to obtain that information, and he also sent down one of the most trusted officials of the Board of Trade to see the men with the view of persuading them to give up some of the points which they were insisting upon. Therefore the information received by the Board of Trade was not obtained in any shape from the person to whom the hon. Member referred. ["Hear, hear!"] The man might be a. labour correspondent of the Board of Trade for all he knew, and in that case doubtless it would have been his duty to furnish such information as he could. There was a large number of these local labour correspondents, and perhaps the man referred to might be one. [Ironical cheers.] Did hon. Members who objected to these local labour correspondents place any reliance on the Labour Department of the Board of Trade? Did they think it useful or useless? If they thought it useful they must have as their labour correspondents men who could advise them as regarded the circumstances of these cases. He did not know of the individual referred to, but he could say that his information in regard to this case was obtained from other sources. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Gentleman had also said that Lord Penrhyn had never been asked to consent to the appointment of a conciliator to act under the Conciliation Act. That was true, because he regarded the appointment of a conciliator as a more advanced step. Did he understand the hon. Gentleman to say that Lord Penrhyn would have 721 consented to the appointment of a conciliator if he had been asked to do so?
§ MR. RITCHIE
said that in that case he did not think that the hon. Member was entitled to find fault because the Board of Trade had not asked Lord Penrhyn to adopt a course to which he so strongly objected. ["Hear, hear!"] As he had already said, he regarded the appointment of a. conciliator as a more advanced step. He had always considered that the most friendly and best way of bringing about an agreement was to get the two parties to the dispute together, and the hon. Member must admit that he had endeavoured to bring the two parties together. The hon. Gentleman had laid great stress upon the fact that the whole of the correspondence was not sent to Lord Penrhyn, whilst it was sent to the men. But the men had to make up their minds whether or not they would accept Lord Penrhyn's proposals, and therefore it was necessary that the whole of the correspondence should be sent to them. That part of the correspondence which was not sent to Lord Penrhyn was of a purely formal character. Lord Penrhyn was acquainted with every material fact in this correspondence. He himself had sent to Lord Penrhyn the material letter in the correspondence. [Mr. BROMLEY DAVENPORT: What date?] He sent it to Lord Penrhyn on October 2. [Opposition cheers.]
§ MR. RITCHIE
I beg pardon, it is the correspondence. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not believe that Lord Penrhyn would for a moment contend that there was any portion of the letters of the least importance which was not forwarded to him. They had not concealed from him a single thing that he ought to have known: he was certain of that. ["Hear, hear!"] He could only say with regard to much of the discussion that had taken place that day that they had steadily avoided going into the merits of the case, and he did not now propose to go into them. ["Hear, hear!"] Their object was to attain peace. His hon. Friend said that there were three conditions laid down—two of them of minor 722 importance and one of them of considerable importance. The two of minor importance he had said might have been overcome, but not the important one. The two minor points were the shorthand writer and the interpreter, and the one of importance was the presence of a representative of the Board of Trade. It was curious that in letter No. 13 of the correspondence there were these words—that with regard to the presence of a Board of Trade representative, he stated, there was no desire to press the matter against Lord Penrhyn's wishes. So that this point was waived before the negotiations were brought to a conclusion.
§ MR. RITCHIE
After the negotiations had practically terminated the suggestion was renewed; but prior to that Lord Penhryn was informed that the presence of a Board of Trade representative would not be pressed against his wishes. That was the one condition of importance, and it was withdrawn before the negotiations came to a close. ["Hear, hear!"] Then there remained the shorthand writer and the interpreter. He was told that it would have been impossible to have obtained in the quarry a man sufficiently acquainted with Welsh and English who would have made a good interpreter, and as to the shorthand writer my hon. Friend said that no suggestion came from the Board of Trade on the subject. On reference to No. 20 it would be found to this effect:—I am directed to ask whether you still adhere to the objection to a representative of the Board of Trade attending at the first meeting, and whether you consent to the men bringing an interpreter and a shorthand writer whose names should he first submitted to you for your approval.[Opposition cheers.] He authorised that letter to be written without consultation with the men. [Mr. BROMLEY DAVENPORT: "Hear, hear!"] He did not quite understand that "hear, hear! "It was they who had reason to complain if he bad exceeded his powers in this respect. No notice was taken of that suggestion. As far as the Board of Trade was concerned there was no wish to press a shorthand writer not approved of by 723 Lord Penrhyn. He hoped that they would have no prolonged discussion on the subject. He most earnestly desired that the negotiations broken off might be resumed. They were willing to meet, as far as possible, every suggestion which Lord Penrhyn might make in order to get the parties together to discover reasons for ending the conflict. He hoped he had shown that that was the sole desire of the Board of Trade. [Cheers.]
SIR WILLIAM HAUCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
We have witnessed this afternoon a remarkable and, I can only call it, a very painful scene. I have heard of Ministers being attacked, sometimes perhaps unjustly, by a violent Opposition, but a more vehement and, I think, a more unjust attack made on a responsible Minister of the Crown by one of his avowed supporters and cheered to the echo by hon. Gentlemen opposite I never heard of. [Laughter and Opposition cheers.] It seems to me the inveterate practice of this overwhelming majority is to occupy themselves night after night with attack after attack upon their chosen representatives. [Lauhter.] I must say the practice saves the minority the task of criticising the action of the Government; and I must add that if the hon. Member for Macclesfield desires to bring this quarrel to an end a more unsuccessful advocate I have never listened to; for, if this matter is to be approached in the spirit in which he has approached it, there will not and there cannot be peace in that district. [Cheers.] What is the language what we have heard from him in this matter? First of all it was a denunciation of the action of the Board of Trade in carrying out the Conciliation Act. There can be nothing more clear on the face of the Act than that the action of the Board of Trade in this matter was exactly the thing which the statute laid down. [Cheers.] Listen to what the Act says. It contemplates a difference between an employer and his workmen. In such case the Board of Trade may—
724 All this may be done on the application of one of the parties; it is only when it comes to a final arbitration that the consent of both sides is required. It is the duty of the Board of Trade to exercise the first three powers upon the application of either of the parties. Lord Penrhyn had undertaken to say that this is a private matter, in which the Board of Trade had no right to interfere and no light to inquire into the circumstances. The Board of Trade can take such steps as may seem expedient on the application of one of the parties for the purpose of enabling the parties to the difference to meet together. How are they to do that? The interference of the Board of Trade is resented by Lord Penrhyn. What was the Board of Trade to do except to apply to Lord Penrhyn and suggest to him how to carry the Act out? Thereupon Lord Penrhyn says: "This is a private affair; you have no business to interfere between me and my workmen." According to the Act the parties might meet under a chairman mutually agreed upon or nominated by the Board of Trade. It is clear, therefore, that the Board of Trade is entitled to nominate a chairman. It is entirely in accordance with the spirit of the Act as well as of the letter that the Board of Trade should send a representative. ["No!"] The words are perfectly clear. ["Hear, hear!"] Can anybody say that the course of the Board of Trade, in suggesting to Lord Penrhyn that a representative of the Board of Trade should be present in order to assist in settling the differences, did not come within the letter and spirit of that Act? I venture to say that the Board of Trade were justified in doing—and, indeed, were called upon to do—what they did. What the right hon. Gentleman has said is perfectly true. The Board of Trade might, if they had chosen to do so, on the application of the employers or workmen, and after taking into consideration the existence and adequacy of the means available for conciliation, have appointed a person or persons to act as a conciliator or as a board of conciliation. Now, what becomes of the hon. Member for Macclesfield's venomous attack upon Sir Courtenay Boyle for presuming to say on behalf of the Board of Trade what he did? It is a mean and unworthy course, and one 725 which is always condemned, and I hope always will he condemned in this House, to attack one of the permanent officials in a department of the Government for which there is a responsible Minister in this House. [Cheers.] No Minister who respects himself or respects the House of Commons will do otherwise than repudiate such unworthy attacks as those made by the hon. Member upon Sir Courtenay Boyle. ["Hear, hear!"] Sir Courtenay Boyle did in this matter what he ought to have done, and he did what his chief has taken—and very properly taken—the responsibility for. I deplore and condemn the conduct of Lord Penrhyn in refusing to accept the good offices of the Board of Trade under the Conciliation Act for the purpose of settling this unfortunate dispute. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are very pleased to go about the country boasting of the social legislation which they have passed. Here is a fine specimen of their social legislation! [Opposition cheers.] It has led to that sort of language which I can only call a declaration of warfare between employers and employed—["No, no"]—which has characterised the whole course of this dispute, and it is setting at naught your own Act of which you boast before the constituencies—an Act which I am bound to say has done great good in this country. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes; great good, because it had been fairly and honourably dealt with by employers of labour, Lord Penrhyn being, as far I know, the solo and unfortunate exception. Suppose, when one of the most disastrous strikes that could threaten the industry of this country was impending between the London and North-Western Railway Company, the company had chosen to hold the language of the old Duke of Newcastle before the Reform Bill—" Cannot I do what I like with my own? "That was the motto Lord Penrhyn has chosen to adopt. Suppose the London and North-Western Railway Company had chosen to say: "Oh, questions between us and our employés are private matters; what business has the Board of Trade to say a word in the matter? Why in the world are we not to do as we like with our own? On the contrary, they sought the good offices of the Board of Trade, and the matter was satisfactorily settled. Lord Penrhyn 726 would have nothing to do with the Board of Trade; he would have nobody but his own interpreter and his own shorthand writers, and he would take no step whatever that might put an end to the strife. There is another point, and in my opinion a more important and far more wide-reaching question, and that is the war Lord Penrhyn has declared against the principle of labour combination. Was there ever such an idle pretence as to say: "I am in favour of combination, but I will refuse to admit of any of the methods by which alone combination can be given effect to"? How can a combination of men be carried out except through a committee or a body corresponding to a committee? We have been told that these are the private rights of property of Lord Penrhyn. Yes, there are private rights of property; but these men have quite as great private rights as Lord Penrhyn. The men have private rights in their own labour, and when there is a. question of wages or contract they have just as much right to defend those private rights as Lord Penrhyn has to defend his. ["Hear, hear!"] How are they to defend their rights'.' Are they not to choose their own agents just as Lord Penrhyn chooses his? Lord Penrhyn has no right to question who shall be the agents of these men, any more than they have a right to challenge the agent Lord Penrhyn thinks fit to employ. If his example is followed by employers of labour you will have nothing but endless strikes, you will have no peace between capital and labour. [Cheers.] It is because employers of labour have for many a long year recognised that in these combinations, and in the agencies which these combinations employ, they have the best means of reconciling the interest of capital with that of labour, that they have always desired there should be representatives of these great bodies of workmen. Lord Penrhyn has endeavoured to deal individually with the men, and his men, I hope, never will allow themselves to be individually treated with. ["Hear, hear!"] Whatever his representatives may say, he has declared war upon the rights of combination. What business has he to attack the 71 men who were chosen by some thousands of these quarrymen? 727 An hon. Friend behind me gave a very good illustration—namely, that from the moment these men became the agents of the whole of the quarrymen they were invested, as it were, with a sort of right which belongs to an ambassador, and Lord Penrhyn had no right to attack the men and suspend them. I deeply regret that Lord Penrhyn, against whom personally I desire to say nothing—[a laugh]—I have said nothing against Lord Penrhyn personally. I have said he has totally misapprehended the intention and the character of the Conciliation Act, and, in my opinion, he has entirely misapprehended the whole character of these combinations of labour. ["Hear, hear!"] Now the question we have to discuss to-day is whether you desire, as Parliament appeared to desire last Session, that the Board of Trade should be a beneficent instrument in bringing these contests between capital and labour to end by offering its good offices in order to ascertain the rights of the matters and to remove the differences between the parties. You made an attempt. That attempt promised great success. Experience has shown that the intervention of the Board of Trade has been generally useful. I do not understand the denunciation of the labour correspondent. Everybody knows that the office of a labour correspondent is not at all to direct or to influence the policy of the Board of Trade. Labour correspondents simply send up particulars as to wages and employment, the number of unemployed, and so forth—mere statistical information—and therefore all the appeals to prejudice made by the hon. Member for Macclesfield only tend to embitter the controversy, which is bitter enough without them. You have in the Board of Trade a very useful instrument of conciliation. Are you going to destroy it by encouraging the line Lord Penrhyn has taken? If you are, then tear up your Conciliation Act—it is not worth the paper it is printed on—and admit your social reforms are worthless, as indeed they are if the conduct of Lord Penrhyn is to prevail. Let us come to a clear understanding on the subject of combination. Are you going to make war on the trade unions? If you take up the line that an employer of labour is entitled to say: "This is 728 my private affair, and you have no business in it, and I won't deal with any of my employés who go into combinations, and who choose their own representatives," we know exactly where we are. Shortly after I came into Parliament, as the hon. Member for Leicester knows very well, we fought out this battle in the seventies. We then passed these Acts, which gave recognition to the trade unions of the country, and are you prepared now to overthrow that legislation, and to support Lord Penrhyn in a view on the subject of combination which would defeat the whole principle of those Acts? I venture to say that this is a much larger question than that involved in the conduct of the Board of Trade. I hope, at all events, that in spite of the animated and vehement language of the hon. Member for Macclesfield, inspired, doubtless, by those sentiments of personal regard which everybody must respect, we have a higher duty than the consideration of the character of particular individuals or the sentiments of personal regard. ["Hear, hear!"] We have to deal with one of the gravest questions which affect the prosperity of this country. We know what injury has already been done by strikes to the trade of this country, and are you going to-night to encourage a course which must make strikes much more general and prolonged? Are you going to condemn the Board of Trade for interposing to prevent, if possible, the evils of strikes? [Cheers.] Are you going to declare principles making war upon that other method of conciliation by which it is competent for trade unions to appoint representative men to deal with their employers? If so, you are preparing for yourselves a very evil future—["Hear, hear!"]—if so, you will be laying the foundations of perpetual strife, which will undermine the prosperity and commerce of this country. Therefore, I hope that even at this moment wiser counsels may prevail, and that Lord Penrhyn will accede to the just and friendly interposition of the Board of Trade, and that he will deal in this matter with the men whom his employés regard as their representatives and friends. Except by so dealing with them I fear that it will be impossible that 729 Lord Penrhyn can ever come to a fair understanding with the men who served him before, and I have no doubt would serve him again. [Cheers.]
- (1.) "Inquire into the causes and circumstances of the difference.
- (2.) "Take such steps as to the Board may seem expedient for the purpose of enabling the parties to meet together of themselves or their representatives.
- (3.) "On the application of either party appoint a person to act as conciliator."
§ THE FIRST LORD OF TUB TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I cannot imagine to whom the solemn sermon contained in the closing sentences of the right hon. Gentleman's speech are really addressed. [Laughter.] Looking across the floor of the House the right hon. Gentleman said:—Are you going to sanction this or that? Are you going to lay down that workmen are not to be permitted to combine? Are you going to support this or that new principle?And turning to the Member for Leicester the right hon. Gentleman appealed to their common experience, observing,Don't you remember the noble fight we fought 25 years ago for the purpose of enabling the British workmen to combine?[Laughter.] So far as I can carry in my own mind the history of legislation on this subject, almost all the principal Acts giving liberty to workmen to combine were Tory Acts—[cheers]—and were part of that programme of social legislation against which the right hon. Gentleman sneers, but which I do not think he will find it very expedient to denounce on public platforms. [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman asks whether the Government are going to destroy their own Conciliation Act of last year—a most pertinent question, and one which I confess has been occurring to me more than once during the course of this Debate. It is principally, indeed solely, for the purpose of bogging the House not to destroy the Act by hasty and, if I may say so without offence, intemperate Debate that I have risen. [Cheers.] I make no complaint whatever against the fact that my right hon. Friend below the gangway and others have thought themselves bound to criticise the proceedings of the Board of Trade. ["Hear, hear!"] We ask for no immunity from criticism from either side of the House. ["Hear, hear!"] So long as criticism is directed to our administrative errors—if administrative errors they be—I should be the last person to complain of it. On this part of the Debate, however, I am bound to say that it seems to me that my right hon. Friend has ably and 730 successfully defended the action of his Department—[cheers]—and the action of his subordinates, and nothing further is required from his colleagues in defence cither of the head of the Department or of any members of it. ["Hear, hear!"] But there is a much larger question involved in this discussion, and I ask the House in all seriousness whether they think it possible that any Conciliation Act is going to work in this country if you take the matter out of the hands of the Department on the one side, and out of the hands of the workmen and employers on the other, and make it the subject of acrimonious controversy in the House of Commons. [Cheers.] The thing is absolutely impossible. This House has many great qualifications and many great gifts, but the qualification of being an impartial judge is one which it does not and never can possess, and it would be disastrous to the public interests if it should lay any claim to it. ["Hear, hear!"] I agree with the able speech of the opener of the Debate, a speech which was couched in very moderate language. I believe the hon. Member did his best not to embitter the dispute—["Hear, hear!"]—but his example has not, I think, been followed by every one who has spoken. In the nature of things it is impossible, perhaps, that the hon. Member's example should be followed by all. Once throw down on the floor of the House as a matter for discussion questions between representatives of different classes or sections in the House—questions in which personal discretion, conduct, and character were involved—and you will inevitably find that bitterness is imported, that accusations are made against people who cannot defend themselves which must rankle and leave behind them consequences very injurious to all the interests concerned, and which can be productive of nothing but evil to every person involved in the dispute. What would be thought if a similar course were taken when any body of gentlemen in this House thought not that the employer is in error, but that the trade union leaders involved in a dispute are in error owing to their action? Supposing the trade union leaders, by their faults, either of knowledge or of temper, involved a great industry in ruin and inflicted great injuries on a vast body of workmen, what 731 would be thought if their case was vehemently discussed on the floor of the House of Commons, and a strong personal attack made on their discretion? [Cheers.] I know what I should think in such circumstances. I should think it a most deplorable and unfortunate course. I should say that this was not the way to induce men to agree among themselves; and if that is not the way to act when we are dealing with the leaders of labour, so also it is not the way to act when we are dealing with those who are employers of labour. ["Hear, hear!"] We are all alike fallible, all alike liable to error, all alike may permit personal feeling to intervene between the dry light of discretion or reason, and these inevitable failings to which we are all liable are aggravated, not appeased, by such Debates as we have had to-night. ["Hear, hear!"] For my part I cannot help thinking that, if, whenever the Board of Trade happens to fail, either with the employer or a body of workmen, in carrying out the beneficent work which was initiated by Parliament last year, the merits of the question are to be discussed on the floor of the House of Commons, accompanied by the invective and bitterness which must attach to such questions, then social legislation, at which the right hon. Gentleman has sneered in so far as it is embodied in the Act of last year, is foredoomed to disastrous failure. ["Hear, hear!"] This much, I think, is generally acknowledged, that the body of workmen engaged in the quarries of Lord Penrhyn are most admirable specimens of the working men of this country—[cheers]—and, on the other hand, I think that it will be admitted that Lord Penrhyn, both as a man and as an employer, is honourable, and, indeed, not only honourable, but generous. ["Hear, hear!"] The part of my hon. Friend's speech in which he dealt with the motives which led him to bring the matter forward with so much ability—[cheers]—and the way in which he dealt with the character and conduct of a personal friend must have found an echo in the hearts of everyone who listened to him. ["Hear, hear!"] Whatever we may think of this dispute—and if I had an opinion I would not express it—["Hear, hear!"]—it is, at all events, abundantly clear that in Lord Penrhyn 732 we are dealing with one of those employers of labour who have shown themselves not merely honourable, but generous towards their workmen, and who have done very much for the great body of workmen, with whom, after all, their own interests are so intimately and closely associated. [Cheers.] Surely we ought to do something to earn the blessings that have been pronounced upon peacemakers. Some speeches, and notably that to which we have just listened, are not likely to earn us anything of that kind. [Laughter and cheers.] I hope, now that the Debate has gone on for upwards of three hours, it will be felt on all sides of the House that no further public advantage, that no further benefit to the men lately engaged in this great industry, that no further advantage either to capital or labour, can possibly accrue from prolonging a Debate which has gone on, in my judgment, too long already, and that we may hasten to bring this Debate to a conclusion and hesitate, and hesitate once again, before we think it necessary to bring into the arena of public Debates in the House of Commons matters with which the House of Commons is but little qualified to deal, and on which, if it does persist, as it has a right to persist, in dealing with, I am afraid it is likely to do more harm, in the long run, than good. My right hon. Friend has shown, both by his speech to-night and by his conduct, that his earnest desire and the object of the efforts of the Department over which he presides are directed towards healing those unhappy differences. [Cheers.] Let us not mar the good work in which he is engaged; let us wish him good speed in all his efforts, and let us not intervene in a manner, apparently in his support, but really in a way which must hamper all he is doing by attacks and criticisms upon persons who are not, and who cannot be, here to defend themselves, but with regard to whom passionate controversy had been aroused in the country which cannot but find a reflection in our Debates if we permit ourselves to debate them. I need say no more upon the substance of the Debate we have been engaged in. With regard to the technical point of view of the division, I hope we may be spared it. ["Hear, hear!"] It is evident that the division can only 733 be as to whether the House adjourns or does not adjourn, and whereas there are cases in which even that apparently unmeaning Motion may be interpreted into a verdict of the House on one side or the other of a question it cannot be so interpreted on the present occasion, because evidently all those who desire to support the Board of Trade, all those who desire to support Lord Penrhyn, all, whatever interest they may take in the controversy, are bound really to vote for the Government on this occasion. [Laughter.] Those who vote against the Government are condemning my right hon. Friend—[cries of "No!"]—and I understand that everybody, on all sides of the House, is agreed that my right hon. Friend has behaved admirably. [General cheers.] On the other hand, if there be any who concur with the criticisms hastily passed, if I may venture to say so, by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield, they are equally bound to support the Government, because if they do not support the Government they are condemning Lord Penrhyn. [Laughter.] Under these circumstances I hope it will be generally thought that the Debate has gone far enough, and that we need not emphasise what has passed by going to the trouble of a division. [Cheers.]
§ MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
characterised the Debate as memorable in the industrial history of this country, and went so far as to say that the House of Commons would some day, perhaps, not regret that the Motion for Adjournment intervened between the South African Committee, which had for its object the correction of undisciplined wealth abroad, while this Motion sought to keep in check irresponsible capital at home. He regretted that the sympathetic speech of the First Lord of the Treasury offered no solution of the Penrhyn dispute. He could not follow the right hon. Gentleman that the House of Commons was out of place in discussing a momentous question like this. He would follow him, however, in not importing into his version, of the dispute any question as to Lord Penrhyn, whose heart he did not question, but whose head had sadly failed him, and in regard to whom the opinion of his own class was, that one Lord Penrhyn made an adjournment, 10 Lord Penrhyn's might make a riot, and 100 Lord Penrhyn's might make a revolu- 734 tion. He ventured to say that if they could hear the opinion of the whole Conservative Party of Lord Penrhyn's attitude it would be to advise him to take the first opportunity of climbing down from the position that he had made untenable by his intolerance. The First Lord of the Treasury took some credit to his Party for its connection with the passing of the laws that made for freedom of combination. Lord Cross's conduct towards that end deserved, and secured at the time, the approval of every labourer, irrespective of politics; but they complained—at least he did—that the old traditions of the Tory Party were being departed from in Lord Penrhyn's attitude. The First Lord of the Treasury bad no right to say that the House of Commons should not press this matter any further. The House of Commons he regarded as the highest tribunal in this country, and a Chamber in which the workmen, whether combined or not, had the utmost trust and confidence on the bedrock principles that affected their right to live and to combine. When the First Lord of the Treasury told them that they would do no good by discussing this question, he would say respectfully that his suggestion was simply sterile, because, beyond a few stilted commonplaces, there was no suggestion for any solution by means of which Lord Penrhyn would come to his senses and concede at once the elementary right of every Englishman to sell his labour under conditions that he himself might determine. The labour leaders and workmen involved in this dispute had been conciliatory almost to the point of subserviency. He did hope that before this Debate was over the Board of Trade would suggest some means by means of which the quarrymen would be able to follow their peaceful, constitutional demand for representation. If it was not conceded to them they would perhaps have to resort to means and methods that other workmen in other parts of the country had sometimes adopted, and not always with the preaching of sermons, the passing of resolutions in chapels, and the singing of hymns. However much they might regret it, they had got an industrial calamity in Bethesda. They had got there a social question that touched the very well-springs of representation in a free country, and unless 735 the First Lord of the Treasury could devise some means by which this wealthy mine and quarry owner could be brought to his own senses, then he admitted that Parliament was impotent and that the House of Commons was unable to keep in check what he believed might be construed by some men some day as an overt act on the part of a rich man using unfairly and unjustly and ungenerously his enormous power of wealth to drive men, through starvation, to do that which, he trusted, they might never have recourse to. The question in dispute was not how much per ton the quarrymen should ask Lord Penrhyn for their labour; not whether they should dictate to the manager or he should dictate to them, or whether their wages should be high or low. The question was, whether, in the year 1877, they would allow the power of the plutocrat to do what was unfortunately done in Germany and France, but which, if attempted in England, would be resisted and fought and overwhelmed, to the discomfiture of the Lord Penrhyn of the day and of the future. They had been told that Lord Penrhyn admitted the right of legitimate combination. In that he made a virtue of necessity, not daring to challenge the right. Lord Penrhyn, it was admitted, had taken the action for which he was being criticised because the men threatened to strike. Was he omnipotent in the kingdom of Wales, this lord who talked in so lofty a strain? In his opinion the fault of the Welsh quarry-men was that they had been so conciliatory and had not struck on the spur of the moment, when Lord Penrhyn was in a difficulty. The fairness of the quarrymen in giving six months' notice was conduct which a peer and aristocrat ought not to be so ungentlemanly as to overlook. The men were justified in asking for an increase of wages, having regard to the prices ruling in the market, and when they threatened to strike they only did the opposite of that which masters did when they gave notice of a reduction in a certain time, or in the alternative of a lock-out. If Lord Penrhyn's quarries had been in the Rhondda Valley and he had had to deal with the colliers there, it was possible that his castle might have been pulled down about his ears. [Cries of "Oh!"] Yes; it was because these men had been 736 too conciliatory and peaceable, and had been singing hymns instead of learning how to box that the aristocrat had dared to presume on their lack of obstinacy. The criticisms which had been passed upon the men's committee had been cheered in the House by the very same gentlemen who were enthusiastic a year ago when a committee of German Jews were concerned in the invasion of a friendly State. In their opinion a, Dr. Jameson, a Cecil Rhodes, or other filibusters could defy the law and deserved to be acclaimed as patriots; but if a few workmen without abusing their master approached him and submitted a peaceful resolution their action was described as tyranny which must be suppressed. The action of Sir Courtenay Boyle had been critised by hon. Members opposite, but the Government were responsible for the action of the Board of Trade, and if hon. Gentlemen opposite thought that the Government were unwise in striving to preserve order by preventing people, to whatever class they might belong, from making fools of themselves, they ought to bring forward a vote of want of confidence against their Ministers. A continental Socialist had said to him the other day:—If there had been a dispute of this character upon the Continent, our governing classes would have made no inquiry, and would not have allowed the Minister at the Board of Trade to intervene. No Minister would have dared to write a letter like that which Sir Courtenay Boyle wrote to Lord Penrhyn. But the fact that such action is not possible on the Continent means that some day we shall have to solve our social and industrial problems all at once, perhaps with bloodshed and anarchy. Now I know how it is that you Englishmen are such practical people, and have conquered the world's markets. You keep off the possibility of revolution by insisting on reforms. When a Jameson rebels you imprison him; when a Lord Penrhyn does what he ought not to do you correct him, and when a labour leader exceeds his rights you punish him.For his part, if Lord Penrhyn were not checked he saw no reason why this dispute should not go on, why the men should not fight him and starve him, rich as he was, into submission. There was a limit even to his purse, and a picket might be established in the valley of Bethesda, strong enough to prevent any workmen from going to take employment. [Ministerial cries of "Violence!"] 737 No; he left violence to hon. Members opposite, and was content to rely upon persuasive argument. The hon. Member for Macclesfield had said that one of the demands of the men was the establishment of a minimum wage. Well, had not the principle of the minimum wage been accepted by the hon. Member's own Government? The 4s. 6d. a day asked for was only the average pay when the men were at work. It was contended that Lord Penrhyn was justified, and within his right, in suspending his men. Shylock was also within his right when he demanded his pound of flesh, and they all knew Shylock's punishment, and perhaps Lord Penrhyn's punishment might come sooner than he expected. The tone of Lord Penrhyn, of his letter, and of his representative, and his attitude of lordly indifference were not in keeping with modern requirements. He did not object so much to the nasty thing Lord Penrhyn had done as to the nasty way in which he had done it. He ought to have shown better manners in his negotiations with his men, and ought not to have flouted a Government Department as this lordly legislator had thought fit to do. He resented and repudiated the insinuation that there had been intimidation of non-union men by unionists. It had been hinted that the action resolved upon by the men had not been approved by all of them. It was, however, impossible to get over the fact that all the men who had gone out, non-unionists as well as unionists, had stuck together up to the present, and would continue to do so. Another point had to be dealt with. Seventy-one men had been dismissed. ["No, no!"] Suspended or dismissed. Why not say deprived of employment? Why call things by false names? If these seventy-one men were to present themselves at the works to-morrow, or three months hence, for employment, as he hoped they would not, and the other men were starved back into submission, as he trusted they would not be, then would not the suspension of these seventy-one men be interpreted as dismissal? Was not this suspension a premonitory symptom of dismissal? For combination these men had been suspended, and this suspension might be interpreted as dismissal. The Board of Trade were invoked to settle this dispute in a simple 738 way, and there were Members who said the Board had acted unjustly. They did not say that two years ago, when men like himself, who did not hesitate to grasp the nettle, said conciliation was needed. The Bill was asked for and assented to, it passed unanimously through the House, and not even the hon. Member for Macclesfield or the son of Lord Penrhyn objected; but now, because the interposition of the Board was in favour of the men, the Act was repudiated. This quibble about deputation and committee was not fair to the House of Commons. Lord Penrhyn allowed a deputation on August 17. What was the difference between a deputation of the men and a committee of the men? An electoral college of 5G decides there shall be an Executive Committee of 11, who in turn appoint a deputation of 7 workmen. If Lord Penrhyn condescended to see a deputation on August 17, 1896, then he ought equally to have seen a smaller, businesslike, technical committee five months later. It was well known that Messrs. Harland and Wolff, Sir William Houldsworth, William Allan, Mr. Whiteley, or Mr. Kenyon would in the case of any dispute arising with their workpeople, send for and consult with the Executive Committee of the District Association. What these men could do with safety, profit, and satisfaction, Lord Penrhyn, by compulsion and pressure from the House, or the force of public opinion, should be forced to submit to. There was at stake not the question of a strike or the question of the intervention of the Board of Trade; the question to decide was, should the workmen have the right to sell their labour through their own agencies and by their own selection? Lord Penrhyn contravened that doctrine, and on him rested the responsibility for what had taken place. It had been said the prolongation of the Debate would do harm. Would Lord Penrhyn, if the Debate stopped, reconsider his attitude? Would the men be allowed to resume work to-morrow? If he would not or could not do that, then the House of Commons would have to consider whether there should not be applied to the brutal, intolerant employer that treatment which years ago the House applied to labouring men in labour disputes. In the streets of London a cabman had only to whistle 739 the "Dead March" in Saul to another cabman with whom he disagreed, and he was liable to be hauled before a magistrate and get a month. To call a man a "blackleg" might mean three months for intimidation. Three men waiting outside a factory and seen by a policeman might come within the clutches of the law, and 500 men peaceably assembled were liable to be convicted.
§ MR. SPEAKER
called the hon. Member to order; his remarks were travelling outside the matter before the House.
§ MR. BURNS
concluded by remarking that what was sauce for the labouring goose should be sauce for the lordly gander. He admitted that it was very difficult for the House of Commons to intervene in labour disputes of this character. He admitted that if it did interfere it would be found possibly that the same power asked for against the master would be used against the workmen, but fortunately that alternative was never likely to occur, because the Conciliation Act provided a middle course by which the matters in dispute could be made the subject of public arbitration, which could be voluntarily adopted. If either side objected, then the mighty force of public opinion, stronger than troops or police, and in some cases than Acts of Parliament, would act against those who dared push aside the Conciliation Act and ignore those fundamental relations between master and men Englishmen have observed in the past, and which had prevented many disputes assuming that serious character they had in America. He appealed to Lord Penrhyn not to force this quarrel further; not to drive away from their native place the men who had earned his wealth, and had rendered it possible for him to assume the power and means of insulting them in their native land, where they had worked in removing a mountain around which they had played as children. They had known only this employment, which had been carried on under peaceful conditions but a single irresponsible individual could arouse passions that the Conciliation Act could control, and the House of Commons should not permit any man, though a Peer, to use his monopoly, stand above law, and bring poverty, misery, and despair into this Welsh valley. He appealed to Lord Penrhyn to leave his 740 hard-hearted policy, to put aside the greed of the new millionaire and monopolist, and not ruin and insult the men whose labour gave him his wealth and position. If he would not respond to that appeal, then Englishmen would treat him as he deserved. Children would mock him, women would spurn him, and the Welsh quarrymen would take to combination as they never had before. They would organise as the Northumberland miners had organised, and he was ready to help them. It would then be impossible for any man to flout public opinion and legislation in the scandalous way Lord Penrhyn had.
On the return of MR. SPEAKER after the usual interval,
§ MR. LLOYD GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
said he represented a constituency whose whole interests were in a speedy determination of the strike, and therefore he should be exceedingly unwilling to do anything to prolong the dispute unless he were convinced that in so doing there was a question of justice and right involved for a number of meritorious workmen in another constituency. He was exceedingly sorry that some passionate words had been used in defence of Lord Penrhyn, which would have the unhappy effect of prolonging a disastrous struggle. He quite agreed that it was not for the House of Commons to enter into the original dispute between the workmen and their employers, but there was one point which the House of Commons could settle, and it was a very simple one. The hon. Member for Macclesfield had said that these men were paid on the average 5s. 6d. a day, but every man who knew anything about slate quarries knew that there were days when the men. could not be employed at all, and Lord Penrhyn in his computation of averages took no account of the weeks and months when the quarries were stopped owing to weather and other reasons. Times of sickness, too, had' to be deducted, and accidents. It was perfectly true there might be men earning their £15 a month, but cases were submitted to Lord Penrhyn where men were not earning £1 a week. What the men asked was that as long as they worked hard and skilfully, and did their work honestly, 741 they should be paid, not exactly equally, but in proportion to their skill and industry without regard to considerations of luck. At the beginning of the month one face of rock was given to one set of men and another face to another set, and the result was that a certain set of men who got favourable terms from the management made probably very high wages especially the contractors, but the bulk of them, taking the average, earned very low wages indeed. The men asked that this should be equalised; that there should be no favouritism. Did the hon. Member know how long it took to master this trade—one of the most highly-skilled in the United Kingdom? No man could master this trade without an apprenticeship of fully seven years at least. And it was a trade carried on at the risk of their lives. Most of those men in the course of their employment met with serious accidents, and in the course of a year live or seven men got killed. Yet, in face of all that, the hon. Member for Macclesfield sneered at a minimum wage of 4s. 6d. per day! The hon. Member distinctly challenged the right of any to say that Lord Penrhyn had been put in the wrong by refusing the interference of the Board of Trade in connection with the Conciliation Bill. Now that was a fair issue, not merely for this House, but for the public. ["Hear, hear!"] They would know in future that they were lighting at any rate for the principle of conciliation in labour disputes. They had that not merely on the assertion of the Opposition side of the House, but by the admission of the friends of Lord Penrhyn himself. The first point of the hon. Gentleman was that Lord Penrhyn had not refused the right of legitimate combination to the men. But Lord Penrhyn had refused to recognise the right of the committee to speak on behalf of the men, though the committee was elected openly and fairly by the men. How could 3,000 men, except through a. committee, make known their grievances? Lord Penrhyn's idea of combination was this. They might meet and pass resolutions, and register themselves as the members of a trade union; but directly they began to put the union into active operation he refused to recognise the representatives. It was a perfect farce, and a dishonest contention 742 to say that Lord Penrhyn recognised the right of the men to combine. What precipitated the strike was the suspension of the 58 members of the committee, together with 13 others. The hon. Member had said that that, was done because the committee had passed a. resolution announcing a strike in March. But the House had not been told that something like 80 per cent. of the men had previously passed a resolution calling for an immediate strike. The whole action of the committee was directed to restraining the men from striking on the spot. There was another point which the hon. Gentleman had not explained, and which had been overlooked by the agent of the quarry in the statement circulated to hon. Members. Why were the 13 men suspended who were not members of the committee? Simply because they had dared to give evidence to the committee in support of the statements of grievances to Lord Penrhyn. No reason at all had been assigned for the dismissal of these men.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that Lord Penrhyn called the giving of evidence with regard to grievances "misrepresentation." But these 13 men were not the only men who had made complaints. The whole 3,000 workmen had made complaints on different points; but Lord Penrhyn did not dismiss them all. He wished to strike at the leaders, and so intimidate all the men into submission. How hollow, then, was this profession of Lord Penrhyn's that he did not refuse the right of the men to combine, when, directly they did combine, he threatened to suspend and discharge the first men who offered to give effect to the combination. As to another point of the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire, there was a quarry committee prior to 1885. When the late Lord Penrhyn had the quarry, there was a quarry committee, and all the points that were raised now. What the men asked for was simply a restoration of the old rule in the quarry. The hon. Member for South Northamptonshire, who had a personal interest in the quarry, said that the old committee were dismissed because there were complaints against it—that some of the grievances of the men were withheld from the management. Of 743 course the committee, which presented the grievances, reviewed them first, and withheld those which they did not think substantial. And yet that was made the cause of complaint. Then, as to Lord Penrhyn's reasons for refusing the interference of the Board of Trade. They were very curious. That placed in the forefront by the hon. Member for South Northants was that Lord Penrhyn was not supplied with the whole of the correspondence between the men and the Board of Trade. That point had been disposed of by the President of the Board of Trade. Lord Penrhyn was supplied with it as soon as he applied for it. [Mr. BROMLEY DAVENPORT: "Not for three weeks."] At any rate, Lord Penrhyn had refused to submit the dispute to the arbitration of the Board of Trade before he knew of the existence of that correspondence. Therefore the reason given was hollow and insincere. Then Lord Penrhyn said that he objected to outside interference with the management of his private affairs. But his action throughout this controversy was inconsistent with that statement. Lord Penrhyn invited the men to present their grievances to him at his Bangor office; and before the men appeared, he prepared a written reply to the deputation and sent it to the Press. [Mr. BROMLEY-DAVENPORT: "No."] If the hon. Member had mastered his brief he would not have contradicted him on that point. In the course of an interview Lord Penrhyn said that the reply had been sent to the Press beforehand, in order that the men might be able to read it the next day. This was the man who objected to outside interference. Then Lord Penrhyn went up to London to interview the Board of Trade, and entered into a correspondence with them. Why did he not refuse interference from the first? Up to the point when he thought that the Board of Trade and the public might be persuaded to go against the men, Lord Penrhyn was perfectly willing to allow the interference. The hon. Member for South Northants said that Lord Penrhyn was not going to submit the matter to the Board of Trade, since the Board seemed to have taken sides against him. Yes, it was only when he saw that the Board of Trade would not play his game, that he refused the interference. What then became of Lord Penrhyn's 744 high principle of objecting to people interfering in his private affairs? Lord Penrhyn sent his reply to the men to the Press and took the public into his confidence! Why did he do so? Because he thought he could divert public sympathy from the men. When it was a question of starving the men into submission, Lord Penrhyn was willing to take the Board of Trade, the public, everybody in fact, into his confidence; but when it was a question of the Board of Trade and the public assisting the men to arrive at a just and equitable settlement of the dispute, he discovered that there was a high principle involved, and that he could not allow any interference by anybody in the management of his private affairs. Lord Penrhyn had also by means of the circular he had sent to every Member of the House taken the House into his confidence as to the manner in which he managed his quarries; so that from first to last his action was absolutely inconsistent with the principle he had himself laid down. Again, Lord Penrhyn's offer to allow a shorthand writer and an interpreter to be present at the interview between him and the men, provided they could be found in the ranks of the quarrymen themselves, was cruel and insulting. How many men employed either in a colliery or a quarry could write shorthand? The thing was absurd. Then, again, Lord Penrhyn was palpably insincere. Knowing, as he did, that there was no shorthand writer among the men, he made a proposal that was perfectly futile and nugatory. Lord Penrhyn also said that no one had challenged the accuracy of the report of the interview between him and his men which he had made public. Why, he had himself actually challenged the accuracy of the transcript of the shorthand notes of the interview which he himself made public. Lord Penrhyn first supplied a copy of the transcript to the Press. This gentleman who objects to any public interference in his private affairs took the public into his confidence before he held any communication on the subject of the interview with the men. A few days after the report of the interview was published in the Press he wrote to the men saying that the first transcript was not correct, and forwarding a corrected copy. The transcript sent to the men was in fact "doctored." 745 Everyone who knew the personal relations between the Special Correspondent of The Times and Lord Penrhyn knew that The Times correspondent was not likely to be prejudiced in favour of the men, and that he had at his disposal all the information in the possession of Lord Penrhyn. What, then, did The Times Correspondent in regard to this dispute between the men and Lord Penrhyn say as to the two conflicting versions of the interview? He promised in his leters to The Times on January 6 that it would be his object to procure the two versions and compare them. The Times Correspondent had never fulfilled that promise. Not a line had since appeared in The Times on that particular part of the dispute. What was the inference to be drawn from that circumstance? Why, that if the difference between the two versions was unsubstantial, The Times Correspondent—who was Lord Penrhyn's counsel and a brother of Lord Penrhyn's solicitor—would be certain to point out the fact in The Times. Who, then, could say that the notes of the interview were reliable? He did not blame the shorthand writer who took down the notes of the conversation between Lord Penrhyn and the men. It was difficult even for a trained reporter to take down a conversation, and the gentleman who reported the interview was not a reporter, but a clerk employed in taking notes of letters dictated to him. Then came the question of the interpreter who was present at the interview. It had been stated that he was drawn from the ranks of the men. That was not strictly accurate. The man had been a quarry-man at one period of his career, but he was now engaged in Lord Penrhyn's office. That would give the House an indication of the sort of half truths which Lord Penrhyn had conveyed to the public.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
That is exactly my point. He is one of the officials down at the port of Bangor, and yet we had him described as a quarry-man by the hon. Member for Macclesfield.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to conclude his speech without so many colloquies across the floor of the House.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I did not invite those interruptions by which hon. Members opposite have confirmed my point.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said he did not wish to suggest anything against the interpreter. All he wished to imply was that whilst the man could interpret into English what the men said in Welsh, he could not interpret into Welsh what Lord Penrhyn said in English. Lord Penrhyn also objected to the presence on the deputation of Mr. W. II. Williams, the one leader of the men which the men desired to have with, them. That meant that Lord Penrhyn wanted to exclude every one of the leaders of the men from the interviews in order that he might browbeat the men in his usual style. What did the Correspondent of The Times say? He said the men had been before Lord Penrhyn for four hours and that most of the time had been taken up with the cross-examination of the men by Lord Penhryn. Lord Penrhyn bullied these men, he said, "How dare you? Why should you say this? What ground have you got for that? "Lord Penrhyn shouted at these monoglot Welshmen—[cries of "Oh!"]—that was the fact, and that was one of the reasons why the men insisted on there being an outsider at the conference, and why Lord Penrhyn objected to it. He proceeded on the assumption that these men were a pack of liars, who misrepresented the facts. That was not the way to receive a deputation, and the men were perfectly right to demand that there should be an outsider present. It was significant that during the whole of the recess there was not a single speech delivered on Tory platforms in which the Conciliation Bill was not lauded as a sample of Tory legislation, and yet at the first attempt that was made to put it into operation it was denounced by a 747 Tory Member amid the cheers of the whole of his colleagues. ["Hear, hear!"] That was a fair sample of the sincerity of hon. Members in this matter. These men were not the men to make wild and unreasonable demands. After four months' struggle they were perfectly peaceable. The quarry agents, whom probably the men blamed more than they blamed Lord Penrhyn, lived amongst them, and yet he had never heard of a single quarryman who had been turned adrift by the action of the agent who had ever raised his finger or hurled a menace or insult at one of these agents. These men were perfectly right in asking that the influence of the House of Commons should be brought to bear on the Board of Trade, with a view of promoting fair conciliation.
§ COLONEL BLUNDELL (Lancashire, Ince)
said he entirely agreed as to the efficacy of the Conciliation Act, but there had been a want of tact by the Board of Trade in this case. With regard to Lord Penrhyn's objection to the reporter proposed, it was natural that everyone should want a reporter to report technical questions correctly, and if proper advice had been brought to bear he thought that Lord Penrhyn would undoubtedly have accepted that. He thought the men had the right to choose their own representatives just as in a law case a man had the right to choose his own counsel. That was what ought to have been pressed upon Lord Penrhyn, but it must be recollected that 30 years ago most employers objected to any agent representing the men they employed in a dispute. He must say that he did not believe that conciliation could be carried out by an ukase from Whitehall Gardens, and he ventured to think the Board of Trade had been much too previous in this case. He thought that a "deputation" was the correct word to use, and that that represented a real conference between the employer and his men. They should try and get these men to work in the quarries again, because, they might depend upon it, mistakes had been made all round.
MR. JOHN WILSON (Durham)
said there seemed to be a misapprehension as to what the terms a "committee" and a "deputation" really meant. He 748 had no doubt that, as it had been on many occasions, it was a deputation, and in all well managed trades unions the committee selected from the body of the workmen were invariably sent as the deputation to negotiate the matter in dispute with their employers. He found that the workmen passed a resolution in which they asked that a representative of the Board of Trade should, if possible, be present at the first interview. He could fully understand that, for in previous labour disputes they had realised positions where it would have been in the interests of a peaceful solution if a disinterested person had taken part in the negotiations as an intermediary. If the hon. Member for Carnarvon was correct in his description of the way in which Lord Penrhyn treated these men he could fully understand that they required some disinterested outsider to be present. As to the possibilities of one of the workmen in the quarry being asked to act as interpreter or shorthand writer, he would ask hon. Members to realise the position of such a man who knew that his bread depended on his demeanour before his employer. It was surely a wise demand on the part of the workmen that an interpreter and shorthand writer should be chosen who was in dependant of the action of their employer, in addition to which Lord Penrhyn could have had his own interpreter present to watch on behalf of his interests. He commented on what had been said by two hon. Members opposite with regard to the men having been accustomed to send a collective note to the employer that they would be absent on a certain day. For years that had been accepted, and no demur had been raised, but on the present occasion the men were told that they must make individual application. There was another thing in the circular which had not been mentioned—that not only did Lord Penrhyn refuse to accept the mediation of the Board of Trade, but he refused previously to accept arbitration. At the interview of 17th August,Lord Penrhyn informed the deputation that they would be held personally responsible, that he would recognise no committee; he charged the deputation with misrepresentation but the specific instances he then gave of alleged misrepresentation were within a week fully proved to be groundless.749 Last year, when the Conciliation, in Trades Disputes Bill was before the House, there was a great fear that the workmen would not accept it. He was glad the first objection to accept it had come from a largo employer of labour and had proved to the country that the workmen were ready at all times to avail themselves of and to carry out any Act which the House might pass. The men desired to avail themselves of the Act passed last year to settle these disputes They tried to put the machinery of the Act in operation; the employer refused arbitration, and said he would not allow the Board of Trade to interfere because the matter in dispute was his "private affair!" To call the stopping of work of a whole industrial community, an attempt to depopulate a whole district his "private affair" was preposterous. The country as a whole, and not only North Wales, had a vested interest in this dispute. Some in the House disputed the right of any man to put his hand on any hill or valley, field or plain and say it was his own. If the law gave him sanction the welfare of a portion of its people was too valuable to be treated as a private commodity, and he hoped the Board of Trade in their transactions between employers and employed in the future would carry out the same idea The First Lord of the Treasury said "This matter is bigger than the Board of Trade in its results." This was true For many years there had not been a dispute which had attracted to it so much attention, and which had evoked so much sympathy as this. Let Lord Penrhyn learn the lesson that a wise man should learn that public opinion was against him. It had been said that no law could touch him. No man was honest who was made so by Act of Parliament. There was a law which was above that House and outside, and he did not envy the state of mind of any man who was not susceptible to the law of public opinion. Everywhere throughout the country, in the Press, and on the platform, and in the minds and hearts of men everywhere there was nothing but denunciation of Lord Penrhyn's action. The result was a widening of the chasm between employer and employed in this country. [Ministerial cries of "No!"] Every man who had the industrial prosperity of his coun- 750 try at heart should seek to narrow and not widen that chasm—["hear, hear!"]—to soothe and conciliate and not to embitter and irritate their relations. The industrial prosperity of this country could not live by conflict. ["Hear, hear!"] This conduct of Lord Penrhyn's would largely depreciate the character of the whole employing class in this country. [Ministerial laughter and cries of "No"] It would have an effect outside North Wales to a, greater extent than Gentlemen opposite imagined. He had been amongst the quarrymen of North Wales. He knew them to be honest, respectable men, and the working men of the North of England were connected with them by ties of labour and toil. The First Lord of the Treasury asked how it would be if workmen and workmen's leaders had made against them charges similar to those against Lord Penrhyn? If the workmen had acted in the same arbitrary fashion and said they would strike unless Lord Penrhyn discharged Mr. Young and chose a fresh manager, because they would not meet him, he would have as soundly condemned them, as he condemned Lord Penrhyn now. He hoped Lord Penrhyn's heart would soften, and if the law could not touch him he hoped he would accept the mediation of the Board of Trade, and whether in the presence of its representatives or not, would try by the help of the men to bring this matter to a peaceful solution. ["Hear, hear!"]
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
pointed out while the Leader of the Opposition deprecated the use of any language which would embitter this controversy he himself on the first night of the Session referred to it in terms by no means judicial or savouring of an impartial mind which were entirely uncalled for and in a manner almost disorderly, and before any evidence had been read or the House had ordered any correspondence to be laid on the Table.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
said that it had been published only in a fragmentary manner, and had not set out the cases of the respective parties in a complete form. At any rate, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire had taken the earliest 751 opportunity to prejudge the case to the utmost of his power, and to condemn the course which had been taken by one party to the dispute. He had no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had hoped that by the course he had taken he would have been able to settle the dispute between the parties, but he thought that the House would be of opinion that that course was most ill-calculated to effect that object. The Board of Trade appeared not to have endeavoured to ascertain, in the first place, whether both parties would be ready to accept their decision with regard to the matters in dispute. He should have thought that a very slight experience in connection with these matters would have convinced the right hon. Gentleman that his suggestion was not likely to bring about an amicable settlement of the questions raised between the parties. It was clear that Parliament had never intended that a public department should attempt to settle such questions by intervention rather than by conciliation. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade must have been thinking of the action of another President—the President of the United States—in connection with the questions raised between this country and Venezuela, who had thought to settle those questions by intervention. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to have forgotten that when Parliament passed the Conciliation Act they had refused to introduce the compulsory element into it, and had placed the whole matter upon a voluntary basis." The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire had talked about power having been given to the Board of Trade to do this, that, or the other. But it was clear that Parliament, in passing the Act in question, had intended that if the intervention of the Board of Trade was not acceptable to both parties they were to retire in favour of some more acceptable arbitrator. There was nothing in the Act which compelled either party to submit to the intervention of the Board of Trade against his will. The charge he had to bring against the Board of Trade, not against Sir Courtenay Boyle the able permanent Secretary of the Department, who he knew was always anxious to carry out the instructions of 752 his Chief, was that their letters were not calculated to bring about an amicable settlement of this dispute. The tone adopted by the Department in those letters was of a most irritating character and was ill-calculated to bring about a settlement, while it was one that no employer of labour who respected himself could be expected to submit to. He begged to say that he approached this subject having no authority on the part of Lord Penrhyn to speak on his behalf. He had had a large experience on this subject because he had had the management for many years of a large coal mine, in which some 2,000 men were employed, a large number of whom, and their fathers and grandfathers had passed their lives in that employment. Those men had little or no connection with any local union or trade combination. It had been stated, and the statement had not been contradicted, that every man employed by Lord Penrhyn was at liberty to join a trade union if he desired to do so. It was, however, charged against Lord Penrhyn that he had taken a course that was hostile to the liberty of combination. That assertion was absolutely untrue. The House would realise that there was not only such a thing as the right to combine, but there was also such a thing as the right not to combine, and it was the latter right that Lord Penrhyn desired to maintain. Some hon. Members had spoken of this committee as if it were freely elected and a thoroughly representative body—as if it were the exponent of the majority and the minority of those employed in the quarry. The correspondence showed that the Committee represented the dominant majority, who ignored the rights of the minority. ["No, no!"] Their resolutions clearly showed this. Complaints were made that the majority frequently endeavoured to interfere with matters affecting wages and the power of earning—that these must be entirely controlled by these trade union delegates. Perhaps it would be said that it was a libel to say that any pressure was ever at any time used to force men into the unions. He well recollected what took place in Lord Londonderry's collieries. A strike occurred on the ground that the trade unionists insisted that the overmen should join the union or be dismissed.
MR. JOHN WILSON (Durham)
That is not correct. The overmen were not asked to join the union. [Opposition cheers.]
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
I apologise—it was the deputies. I had not the name on my tongue—[cheers]—but the deputies for my purpose are the same thing. ["Hear, hear!"] The trade union insisted that the deputies should join the union or be dismissed.
MR. JOHN WILSON (Durham)
That was done because Lord Londonderry offered to give the deputies so much more if they would leave the union. ["Oh!" and Opposition laughter.]
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
I believe the statement of the hon. Member to be entirely inaccurate. What I believe happened was this—that when these deputies were threatened by the union if they did not join the union Lord Londonderry said he should stand by them. [Cheers.] He told them he would see that they were not injured and that their wages should be increased.
MR. JOHN WILSON (Durham)
That is not the case. What he gave was money to leave the union. [Cries of "No, no!"]
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
believed he had stated the fact, for Lord London-deny made every one in his employ free to be a member of the union or not. That he had authority to say. Lord Londonderry in this particular case said, "I shall not desert the men who refuse to submit to this insolent dictation." That showed the spirit in which these trade union leaders approached the liberty of workmen, either combined or not combined. Could it be wondered at that Lord Penrhyn should resist oppression of this kind? Lord Penrhyn was entitled—and he was bound as a man of honour—to stand by his workmen who declined to join any trades union. He was entitled to say that he should not hand over the management of his concerns to a body dominated by such a spirit of trade union combination as was shown in this matter. He was going to dwell for a moment on one point, which was, that the publication by the Board of Trade of this correspondence was, in his judgment, a most unfortunate act. ["Hear, hear!"] They did not themselves, he believed, apprehend this. The 754 Board of Trade sent a portion of the correspondence to the representatives of the men. What object could be served by that? The President of the Board of Trade said he did not send the correspondence until he had arrived at the conclusion that the attempts at a settlement had failed. Then why did he send it? He did not think that the publication of this correspondence could serve any good purpose. His right hon. Friend had published the correspondence on one side, while the correspondence on the other side could not be obtained. He could not understand what good object was to be served.
§ MR. RITCHIE
The Board of Trade did not publish any correspondence. They were invited to do so, and I strongly objected. The correspondence was sent so that they might exercise their judgment on the terms of Lord Penrhyn.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
contended that was the same thing. His right hon. Friend thought it right that the men should be acquainted with. Lord Penrhyn's proposals. Surely there might have been other means of enabling the men to become acquainted with those proposals. He presumed Lord Penrhyn could have communicated his views to his men without the assistance of the Board of Trade. He did not hesitate to say that the premature publication of a portion of the correspondence had very largely embittered the controversy, and that the intervention of the Board of Trade had so far resulted in his hon. Friend being "slated." [Laughter and cries of "Oh, oh!"] Reference had been made to the labour correspondents. He had never believed in the system of labour correspondents, and in the last Parliament he called attention to several highly improper appointments, improper owing to their political, partisan character. [Cheers.] One of those appointments was that of Mr. Rowley, who happened to be labour correspondent for the district in which the Penrhyn quarries were. It was upon the information of that gentleman that in this matter the Board of Trade was set in motion.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I must absolutely contradict that statement. There was no communication whatever between that correspondent and the Board of Trade, myself, or anyone connected with the 755 Board of Trade, in connection with this dispute during any time of the negotiations. [Cheers.]
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
was glad they were to understand that the Board of Trade took no earthly notice of their labour correspondent.
§ MR. RITCHIE
None whatever. [A laugh.] Labour correspondents are not appointed to give the Board of Trade information with regard to disputes and strikes. They are appointed to give the Board information with regard to trade unions and employment. I know nothing of the gentleman. But we received no communication; we invited no communication, from this gentleman with regard to the dispute in the Penrhyn quarries. We heard nothing from him, and we made no inquiries.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
was bound to say the statement of the right hon. Gentleman was eminently satisfactory. [Laughter.] Now that he understood his right hon. Friend took no notice of this gentleman's statements, he thought his right hon. Friend's official career would be less mischievous than he had feared it would be. [Laughter and cheers.] In conclusion, he hoped that what had taken place to-night would be an object lesson to those who desired to move a public department in the direction of interfering in labour disputes upon the request of either party concerned, for so far such interference had been dangerous and mischievous.
§ MR. A. J. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)
maintained that in its working the Conciliation Act, though it was only passed last August, had already proved most beneficent. The operation of the Act had proved a blessing to thousands and tens of thousands of people. The right hon. Gentleman's intervention had not only resulted in the putting an end to railway disputes, but in the settlement of troubles between capital and labour in other instances. It was an evil omen when an Act like the Conciliation Act had been passed 756 that a peer of the realm should be the first to refuse to pay any attention to it. He should be sorry to say anything which would tend to exasperate feelings on either side, and he hoped that one of the results of the Debate would be that Lord Penrhyn would take good counsel and put an end to the conflict as soon as possible. He might point out that the President of the Board of Trade had not exhausted the powers of the Conciliation Act in the matter. He might take a further step. [Cries of "What stop?"]. The right hon. Gentleman, consulting the Act, said the President of the Board of Trade, on the application of an employer or a body of workmen, could appoint a conciliator—["Oh, oh" and laughter]—who would make inquiries into the causes of the dispute and report to the Board of Trade. That report could be called for in the House, and in that way public attention could be brought to bear on the facts. [Ministerial cries of "Oh!"] And there was a yet further step the President of the Board of Trade could take. On the application of both parties—[Ministerial cheers]—he could appoint an arbitrator. [Laughter and "Hear, hear!"] A question of more serious importance had not been brought before the House for years, and he warned hon. Gentlemen opposite—[Cries of "Oh, oh" and laughter]—that the dispute had been discussed in every workshop in the kingdom. [Laughter.] They must be aware also, if they read their newspapers—["Oh, oh" and laughter]—that resolutions had been passed by every trade council in the kingdom in reference to the dispute, and there could be no doubt that a very strong feeling had been created in the country about it. Moreover, the circumstances of the dispute were of a serious character from a public point of view. The noble Lord by the course he had taken had made himself a very dangerous advocate of the scheme of Mr. Henry George. [Loud Ministerial laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite 757 seemed to treat the matter with levity, but he repeated that other matters than the actual dispute were involved. One of the results of it would be to give a great impetus to the demand for the nationalisation of mines and of land. [Ministerial laughter and cries of "Question?"] Hon. Members opposite could not possibly be aware of the immense benefit the Conciliation Act had already been to the trade of the country, or they would not be advocates of that dangerous form of feudalism which Lord Penrhyn had put in practice. [Laughter.] There was not a word in the correspondence to justify the statement that Lord Penrhyn had been championing the cause of the nonunion men. There had been no conflict between the union and non-union men in the matter, for both classes of men were unanimous, as one man, in asking for a propel' settlement of the dispute. What, he would ask, would be the effect on small employers of labour in the country when a large employer of labour like Lord Penrhyn set such an example as he had done? [Cheers.] They would be able to point to the action of his lordship as a justification for resisting the Conciliation Act if it were to their interests to do so. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had complained that the President, of the Board of Trade had intervened, as they termed it, in this dispute. Why, when the last Liberal Government was in power constant questions were addressed to Ministers by those very same Gentlemen to know what action the Government could take with a view to bring the then existing trade disputes to an end. During that time there was a great trade dispute in Scotland, and constant pressure was exercised on the then President of the Board of Trade, by the hon. Gentlemen opposite, to take some action which would be likely to bring about a settlement. Yet they were now to be told that the President of the Board, although certain powers had been placed in his 758 hands by Act of Parliament to be exercised in such cases, was not to exercise those powers. He trusted the President of the Board of Trade would do in the future what he had done in this case. He was bound to say that, so far from having erred on the side of too great promptitude and too great severity, the action of the right hon. Gentleman had been marked by great moderation, by great patience and forbearance, and, what was more, he had put great pressure on the workmen to forego many of their just claims. That being so, it was a monstrous thing that there should be found in that House a man defending the action which had been taken by Lord Penrhyn—action which he believed was fraught with great mischief to the future of this country.
§ MR. G. W. WOLFF (Belfast, E.)
said that, as a large employer of labour, he had felt a very great interest in the Debate that had taken place. The dispute, into the details of which he would not cuter, had a very considerable bearing on employers of labour beyond its immediate consequences or its immediate local importance. This particular dispute, it seems, was a matter of urgent public importance to the House. Well, there had been a great many strikes in this country—he had himself been engaged in dozens of them—and he had asked himself over and over again in what way this dispute differed from the ordinary disputes which had taken place from time to time, and if this dispute was a matter of urgent public importance, why should not every dispute that took place in the United Kingdom be the same? The only point in which he could see that this dispute differed from all the others was the fact that the men had appealed to the Board of Trade to act under the Conciliation Act and to settle the dispute, and that this arbitration had been refused by Lord Penrhyn. So far as he understood, the Conciliation Act was an Absolutely voluntary Act. If the workmen liked to act under it they could 759 appeal to the Board of Trade to set it in motion; if the employer liked to act under it he could make the same appeal; but there was no compulsion on either one or the other to accept the arbitration. That being so, he could not understand why so much blame should be attached to Lord Penrhyn for declining to take the decision of the Board of Trade on the matter. A great deal had been said about the liberty of the men to combine for their own protection. He thought any employer who in this year, 1897, disputed the right of workmen to combine for their own protection or for any object they liked could be little less than a fool. He was quite willing that they should combine for their own protection or to improve their condition, but he equally maintained that an employer had an equal right to decline to receive any deputation the workmen might choose to appoint. The matter on both sides was entirely one of expediency. He could not help thinking that the House, he would not like to say was going beyond its rights or its functions, but was going far in heaping such an amount of blame on an employer because he did not like to receive a particular committee to settle matters as to the way in which the work should be carried on in his quarry or workshop, He thought that it was a dangerous doctrine that, because a man did not choose to accept the arbitration of the Board of Trade—and he could not be compelled to accept it by law—he should be held up, as it were, in that House to the execration of every honest and respect-able citizen. This would be making this Act, which was intended to be voluntary, in reality a compulsory Act. He never thought much of that Act, but still nobody had ever ventured to promulgate an Act which would compel arbitration in trade disputes. He thought it was perhaps going a little too far to wish for such an Act, but at the same time he did not think they would ever settle such disputes unless they did 760 make the Act compulsory. While he wished to give the men every facility for combining, and while he admitted they had a perfect right to do whatever they liked in this way, he did hope that House would not set itself up as a sort of Court of Justice to try employers who refused the offices of the Board of Trade, and that they would recognise that he had a perfect right to refuse it, however ill-advised he might be in taking that course.
§ MR. ELLIS GRIFFITH (Anglesey)
said they had to thank the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken for the valuable admission that an employer who disputed the right of men to legitimate combination was not less than a fool. They not only accepted that dictum in theory, but would also adopt it in practice. What was the right these men said they had? The right they said they had was to combine for matters that concerned them as workmen. They did not wish, they had never claimed, to interfere in any way with the management of this quarry. They had never said a word against Mr. Young or against the subordinates upon the management. All that the men claimed was that when their wages were in dispute, and the question of their livelihood was involved, they had a right to combine to promote their own interests. Not a single instance of wrongdoing could be proved against the committee that had been dismissed by Lord Penrhyn. That committee represented the 300 non-Union men as well as the Unionists, and the former were as keen and active in this dispute as the latter. The right hon. Member for the Thanet Division had said that the object of the Act was conciliation, and not intervention. But how could anyone conciliate without intervening? The Act had two objects—the one being conciliation and the other arbitration. Unless both sides to a dispute agreed to ask for the services of the Board of Trade, arbitration could not be resorted to under the Statute. It therefore could 761 not be resorted to in the case under consideration, because Lord Penrhyn declared that he did not want the provisions respecting arbitration to be brought into operation. There remained the expedient of conciliation, and he held that, according to the meaning and spirit of the Act, the Board of Trade was fully entitled to intervene with conciliatory purpose upon the application of one of the parties. That was what it had attempted to do. It had been said that the Department had forced its services upon Lord Penrhyn, but that was not correct, as was shown by the correspondence. In one of Sir Courtenay Boyle's letters that gentleman said:—I am directed to inform you that, in accordance with the virtual understanding arrived at between Mr. Ritchie and Mr. Young, the quarrymen have been communicated with, with a view to the appointment of a deputation to wait upon you.if that letter meant anything it must mean that Mr. Young, Lord Penrhyn's representative, and the President of the Board of Trade, had had an informal meeting, when arrangements were made as to what should be done? He agreed with the last speaker that it was ridiculous to suppose that people could be compelled as the law stood to abide by the award either of a conciliation or arbitration board. Put there could be a compulsory Inquiry. [Cries of "No "and "Yes."] The cries of hon. Members below the Gangway opposite showed that they had not studied this Act; the President of the Board of Trade, upon the application of either party, might appoint someone to hold an Inquiry, and he hoped that that power would be exercised, for an Inquiry would be of great use. It was public opinion that determined the results of these controversies, and in the long run public opinion was found to be on the right side, and that side won, whether it was the side of the masters or of the men. The chief value of the Act was that it supplied an easy means of concentrating 762 and focussing public opinion on the points in dispute. Why did Lord Penrhyn refuse conciliation? Was it, as they had heard, his haughty and feudal pride that stood in the way? No; it was because he knew that he was in the wrong. The last speaker had said that this was not a matter of urgent public importance. He differed from the Hon. Member, being unable to believe that the enforced idleness of 3,000 men was an unimportant matter. If these 3,000 men had been denied employment anywhere else than in the Principality of Wales more would, he thought, have been heard about the importance of this enforced idleness. He trusted that that Debate and the position taken up by the President of the Board of Trade would encourage the men to keep in the path of law-abiding straightforwardness, and would strengthen their conviction that in the end they must triumph over Lord Penrhyn.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and negatived.