§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Mr. WARDLE
I am asking the House to-night to divide against the Second Reading of this Bill on the ground that the company which is putting forward this measure has shown itself scarcely fit to be entrusted with the power which this Bill would confer upon it. They come here and they ask Parliament to confer powers upon them to run a great industral concern, and yet they have not shown, and they are not showing, that consideration for their employés which I think Parliament has a right to ask for. In this particular instance the Glasgow employé is rather different to that which we are used to speaking about on these benches. I am now dealing with the case of the clerks and the station-masters employed by the Great Eastern Railway Company. I should like to point out to this House that our objection to the action of the company is based on the facts disclosed in the documents which have been sent to the various Members of this House, not only the clerks, but by the company, which say they are denying to their clerks what ought to be in these days one of the elementary rights which those clerks ought to possess. May I say at the outset that with regard to the other portions of the staff of this company, by various agitations and through the interference of Parliament, a method is provided by which there can be a combined movement of the rest of the staff. They can bring a united case before the Conciliation Boards which have to consider their case and deal with it en masse for the general body of the staff.
In this particular instance there is no such thing as a Conciliation Board for the clerks, and therefore they ask that they should be permitted to present this company a united memorial for the improvement of their status and for an increase in their salary. Consequently they have 114 asked that a deputation should be received, and that it should be allowed to put the case of the whole body of the clerks, and that the united movement should be allowed. We are told by the company that such a course as that cannot possibly be permitted to this respectable body of their servants, and that it is impossible to allow clerks and stationmasters to ask unitedly and in a combined movement for better conditions of service, and that they must make their application individually or in small sections. Therefore, I venture to say that while this attitude is taken up by a great railway company, and by them alone, this House ought not to confer upon that company any further powers. This memorial, about which all the trouble has arisen, was signed by 1,717 of the company's staff, including fifty-four stationmasters. The secretary to the movement is an employé of the company. So far as the movement itself is concerned, it has been conducted by the staff of the company. I do not deny, and I should be foolish to deny, that they have not received assistance from others, outside. I should be very foolish to deny that part of the movement has been inspired, if that is thought to be wrong by other people, but that does not alter the fact and the rights of these people. It does not alter the fact that they have gone in a perfectly constitutional and straightforward way to the company and asked for this memorial to be received and for this deputation to be heard.
In these days, if a company desires to have friendly relations with their staff, and that their staff should be treated properly, it is time they gave up these old-fashioned, antiquated notions that the clerks are somewhat different from the other portion of the staff, and have no rights which are common to the rest of the staff. Benevolent despotism may be all very well, but it ought not to be the attitude which a great railway company ought to take towards its staff. We are told that there is growing in this country at the present time a great deal of industrial and labour unrest, and some people say even a great growth of Syndicalism. If this company wish to promote Syndicalism and industrial unrest, this Bill is the way to go about it; but if they want peace and good relations with their staff, then they should allow that staff to have the ordinary rights which are conceded to 115 all other bodies of workers. I am right in saying that the Great Eastern Railway Company in these matters are a law unto themselves. They have some very peculiar notions. Other companies have permitted and have allowed, if that is the proper language to use in this connection, a combined movement on the part of their railway staff, they have received memorials, and they have accepted deputations; nay, more, they have had interviews, which have resulted in great improvements in the position of their staff without any of this trouble at all.
I would not stand up here to-night to speak against this Bill if it were not that it ignored a very vital point of principle so far as I am concerned and so far as the staff is concerned. I do not want to go through the whole history of these negotiations, because I do not think it is desirable. Hon. Members have already made themselves acquainted with the literature which has been issued on this subject, and it has been pretty voluminous, and they have had an opportunity of hearing and reading both sides of this case. It is upon the company's own statement that I take my ground this evening. If the statement which has been issued on behalf of the company is not in itself sufficient to convince this House that the company are adopting an autocratic attitude which is old fashioned and antiquated, then I do not know what is autocratic. They have put forward this statement. Some parts of it I do not propose to deal with, but they say they cannot receive from their clerical staff applications for a general improvement in salary, and that the staff must present those applications individually or in very small sections. I will quote in a moment the statement which was made by the Noble Lord before the Royal Commission, but before doing that I would like to draw attention to this fact. A more inoffensive individual could not probably be found in the whole of the company's system than the secretary of this movement, a person who has always, so far as I have been able to find out, done his duty to the company, and his only offence is that he has been the mouthpiece of his fellow clerks. He has been called before the general manager, severely censured, and, according to the company's own statement, practically intimidated for simply trying to get the rights which these clerks think they ought to possess. 116 The general manager, according to his own statement, says:—I saw him and pointed out he was acting most improperly, and advised him to refrain from continuing a course subservient of all proper discipline, which, if persisted in, would be detrimental to his own interests.Surely in these days it cannot be said when a clerk simply tries to act as the secretary of a movement and asks for an interview and puts forward a memorial that any question of discipline arises. It is positively absurd to say so, and I venture to say on the company's own statement they ought to be condemned. The ground upon which the refusal to receive the memorial is given is a document issued in 1900 which was put in by the Noble Lord the hon. Member for Kensington (Lord Claud Hamilton), before the Royal Commission. The clerks say, and I think they are perfectly right, that this document has absolutely nothing whatever to do with their case. It has no connection with clerks. It was never conveyed to them as having anything to do with the question under consideration. These are the particular words which are supposed to have something to do with it:—In the course of the interviews—These interviews were with the outdoor staff, and with people who had been for a long time agitating for improved conditions.In the course of the interviews the directors had with the various deputations from the men they had brought under their notice, several cases in which in some instances individuals and in others small sections of the men complained of alleged minor grievances in the departments to which they belonged. Nearly all these cases had reference to matters capable of being dealt with by the head of each department, and were not of a character to be brought in a first instance before the Board.That is not the case in this instance at all. This memorial does not affect individuals as individuals, and it does not apply to small sections of the men. They are not minor grievances nor such as could be settled by the heads of the departments. If there is to be a general increase and general improvement in the condition of the clerks on the Great Eastern Railway, it must be put before the general manager and the directors before it could take place. Therefore, there would possibly be no means whatever by which a general improvement could take place if the company were to insist that every individual and every small section of men should make application to the head of the department. That, in brief, is the position of these clerks, and the ground upon which I am going to ask the House 117 to divide against this Bill. There have been other matters introduced, and I should like to point out that notwithstanding what has been, said about the alleged improvement in 1911 these clerks to-day receive less on the average than the clerks of any other railway company running into London. The revised scale of salaries put forward in January, 1911, was scandalously low. It was admitted to be low at the time it was given, and it was admitted that for a long time these clerks had been under-paid. I do not want to go into the question of comparative salaries, though I could do so if necessary, because I think that is a matter for the deputation and for the Board; but I think the Board ought to receive these men and hear what they have to say. The Noble Lord and his company have issued a statement that they made a general improvement in January, 1911. Will he believe that general improvement was denied in many individual instances to men who were entitled to it. Only this very last week men have been paid back money as much as £20 in one case, if not more, because they were not even getting the rights conceded to them in January last year. That shows if it had not been for this movement and for this Motion down to-night the probability is many of these clerks would never have received their back money, and that attention paid to their grievances which they had a right to expect, and which they had put forward time after time individually in that very manner the Noble Lord asks them to do. That is the general case with regard to the clerks' salaries. I venture to appeal to this House not to allow this Bill to be read a second time until the company are willing to receive the depution to which I have referred.
There is another point in regard to the Bill. I have put down an Instruction which I had hoped to move should the Bill be fortunate enough to get a Second Reading, dealing with the question of the superannuation fund of the company, but I am told there is some doubt whether it is in order, and I therefore take this opportunity of saying a word or two with regard to it. This railway company has a superannuation fund, and it is, like the rest of the dealings of the company, autocratically managed. The men who have to pay have no say in its management and are not allowed to elect any of the men on the committee. That is not the case with the other railway companies, excepting the Great Northern Railway, of which the hon. 118 Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) is one of the directors. In this particular case the question of the superannuation fund was referred to a Departmental Committee two years ago. I sat upon that Committee, and there was a railway manager also upon it, and it unanimously reported that these men ought to have the opportunity of having a say in the management of this superannuation fund and of electing a certain number, only half, of the committee. There are other points I should like to touch upon. This fund has had a very varied history, and, according to all I can gather, although it is guaranteed by the company, it is not in a very solvent condition. The company have persistently refused to act on the report of the committee which has sat on it and has urged that its actuarial valuation should be sufficient for five years. If my Instruction is in order, I shall move that this point be referred to the Committee. One other point I wish to touch upon. It has regard to the action of the company since this question came to the front. It is a very strange thing that not only have the company refused these men the right to present a memorial and to have deputations, but they have, since that refusal, interfered with the men who put it forward and have returned it. What has happened since? Fifty-four stationmasters who were signatories of the memorial have been reprimanded and told that it was a very grave breach of discipline. At Parkstone the staff have also had a system of espionage applied to them, and the secretary of one of the most promising branches of the Railway Clerks' Association has been removed to a very small station. This is but part of the whole story. The Noble Lord who will reply to me will probably say that they treat their clerks very well. But I submit that the clerks are entitled to better salaries and to better conditions of service than they are under at the present time, according to the scale of salaries which was put forward in January last year. It is a disgraceful state of things. The company may be poor. It may be suffering from financial embarrassment, but there are other companies which are in a much worse financial position, but which have nevertheless improved the salaries of their clerks. Unless the company are prepared to meet us in this matter I shall certainly divide against the Second Reading of the Bill as a protest against the manner in which they are treating these men.
§ Mr. BOWERMAN
My hon. Friend has made a very clear and explicit statement on this matter which leaves very little for me to say. It appears to me that the men presented their request in a memorial which was drafted in terms of the most respectful character. But, after all, it is another phase of the old question, the question of the refusal of the managers to receive the representatives of the men. So far as we are concerned on these benches, it is the last thing we would do to stand in the way of powers being granted to the railway company with regard to a revision of regulations of this kind. I can only hope before this discussion terminates, and before a Division is challenged on this question, the House may obtain from the Noble Lord who represents this company, some guarantee that he and his co-directors are prepared to meet the representatives of the men.
§ Lord CLAUD HAMILTON
It may be for the convenience of the House if I, for the moment, defer my observations with regard to the objections to the Bill, and deal in the first place with the remarks of the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Wardle) regarding what he called the clerks' grievances. I am sure no one will take any exception to the manner in which this question has been brought forward by the hon. Member for Stockport and by the hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Bowerman), but I think I am entitled to say that the hon. Member for Stockport exaggerated his case and I would ask the House to be good enough to listen to my views. As the House is aware the Great Eastern Railway Company is not a strong company financially. It has striven manfully for many years to maintain its position as one of the great railways of the country, and I believe it has done so not without success. Two or three years ago it gradually emerged from the financial depression which had involved it, and began to find itself in a better position. During that period of financial depression I became painfully aware that the salaries of many of our clerks were not adequate to the services they performed. In these matters one must have regard to economic conditions, and I felt that so long as the company was in that position we could not 120 safely, having regard to its price in the market—which as the hon. Member must admit is a very important factor in dealing with railway matters—advance the salaries. But a year ago last November, finding that our position was better, I moved, without any solicitation whatever on the part of the clerks, and without any pressure whatever from outside, that we ought to reconsider their salaries and agree upon immediate advances. The numbers affected were as follows: We have 340 station masters, of whom 198 had their salaries raised in April last; we have 1,100 clerks in the coaching department, of whom 866 had their salaries raised on 1st January, 1911, while out of 1,100 goods' clerks, 985 had their salaries raised on 1st January, 1911, the total being 2,540, and out of that number, without any request on their part, 2,050 had their salaries raised some on 1st January, 1911, and others on 1st April, 1911. When these salaries were advanced no question of finality ever arose. The House will admit that there can be no finality in matters of this kind, but we felt we were doing something in justice to those men who had served us so well and loyally, and with whom we were on the very best of terms.
What happened? We got letters of gratitude from those clerks in every part of our system. Where we did not get letters, they expressed their sense of what was done through the chiefs of their departments. Therefore we felt that for the moment—I will only say for the moment— we had endeavoured to do our duty towards these clerks. Towards the end of December last I was told that a large memorial was in course of progress for signature amongst our clerks for an increase of salary. I said at once that it was rather soon to agitate that question, since we had gratuitously, only a short time before, accorded them an advance. I said we must see what all this means. Finally, a memorial was delivered at the head office of the Great Eastern Railway Company, not from the clerks in the different departments, but a memorial en bloc, with all the departments mixed up hotchpotch, asking for different increases in salary. I myself carefully looked at the memorial, and saw at a glance that it had not been arranged! within the precincts of the company itself, and that it was entirely due to outside influences. What showed me this was—and it will be apparent to any hon. Member of the House, that there was not an allusion made in that memorial to the voluntary 121 increase the directors had granted in 1911. The board and I are on the best terms with the clerks and the men in our service. I have been on the best of terms with them for thirty-eight years, and during the long time that I have been a director of the Great Eastern Railway Company I have never had one word with a single clerk in the employ of the company. My relations have always been friendly, cordial, and co-operative with them in forwarding the interests of the company. I asked myself how it was that in the memorial no mention was made of the advance given in 1911. I came to the conclusion, and rightly, that the whole of this memorial was manufactured outside the company, pressed upon the clerks for signature, and had then been presented as emanating from the clerks themselves. We know what human nature is, and that when it is said there is money going everybody says, especially young men, "Why should not we have a share in it?" No doubt 1,700 clerks did sign that memorial, but I know for a fact that many of them had no idea that it meant any interference with the rule and discipline of the company.
When the memorial was presented by a clerk of the Great Eastern Railway, acting under the influence of an outside trade union secretary, it was returned to him with the intimation that he had misunderstood the position, and that any such memorial to be received by the board of directors should come through the usual channels—namely, the heads of the departments to which the signatories belonged. For the information of the House, I may say that for forty years the system of the company has been that all such memorials should come through the heads of the departments. That has worked without friction and with the cordial co-operation of the staff, clerical and wage paid. Why do we consider it so important that that rule should be observed. I believe the system of the Great Eastern Railway Company is different from that of most other great companies. We have always had a great dislike to centralisation. We are a decentralised company. Each of the four great departments of the company— coaches, goods, locomotives, and engineering—are separate departments, absolutely independent of one another, and governed by an independent head. So independent is the head of each department that he is supreme within his 122 own department. No director has the right, not even the chairman, to make an appointment to any of these departments, or to promote, suspend or dismiss any man, or to have anything to do with the action of those departments, except with the express sanction of the head of that department. We have always had a very strong belief in that decentralisation, because I know that when you put responsibility on the shoulders of a man you bring out all his finest qualities. When you make a man responsible, as these heads are responsible to the board of the company, you know there will be a minimum of favouritism or of jobbery of any sort or kind, for the reason that, if anything goes wrong in any of these departments, the head of that department is immediately made responsible to the board for such failure, whatever it may be, within that department. That is a system which has worked well for forty years on the Great Eastern Railway, with the full approval of the staff and the members of each of these four departments; and what we feel is that when a memorial comes forward for improved conditions of service, for improvement of pay, or any other purpose, it should reach the board through the head of that department, who in his turn makes his remarks upon it, in favour or against, as the case may be, and sends it to the general manager, who presents it to me, and finally it comes before the board, who, if necessary, or if it is persisted in see the signatories to the memorial. In this case the clerk who presented the memorial was told it had been presented in an irregular manner and a manner contrary to the practice and rules of the company. Having been told that in writing by his superior officer, he returned it. The general manager told him he had nothing to add to his previous letter—that this was contrary to the rules of the company. He then sent it to me, the chairman. A short time ago we were involved in great trouble, not with our clerical staff, but with our wage-paid staff. The upshot of that was a Royal Commission, before which I gave evidence; and that Commission, which contained upon it a Labour representative and also a member of the Board of Trade who had formerly been identified with the Labour party, unanimously passed a resolution, which contained the following provision, among others:—We think that, with great responsibility, the company cannot and should not be expected to permit any intervention between them and their men on subjects of discipline and management.9.0 P.M.
123 I hold that the rules which have been made by the company and have been observed by the members of the company come under the head of "Management and Discipline," and when a clerk, possibly inadvertently, transgresses the rules, and is told by the general manager that he is transgressing, and repeats the transgression on two subsequent occasions, he is certainly guilty of a breach of discipline. In ordinary commercial life, in institutions not responsible in any sense whatever to the House of Commons, such a man would be dismissed for breach of discipline. We take a broader view on the Great Eastern of these matters. I discussed the matter fully with this young man, who I believe is a good servant of the company, but had been misled by the outside influence to which he was subjected, and, therefore, no notice was taken of his transgression. But I cannot help thinking that every impartial Member of the House will feel that in this instance a breach of discipline has been committed, to which in ordinary cases the man would have to incur the consequences. All we said to the clerk was that, "If the Great Eastern Railway clerks are honestly and genuinely desirous of getting their salaries raised and their conditions of service improved, all they have to do is to follow the approved rules and practice of the company in force for forty years, and then we will give the most friendly consideration to anything they have to say." I repeat that here. All we ask is that they should follow the established rules of the company and approach us in the regular form which has always been in force. I cannot say more than that. The hon. Member suggested—he did not say so actually—that the Great Eastern Board are not only old-fashioned, but are somewhat autocratic in the manner in which they deal with the staff. If we had a secret ballot of the men—clerical and wage-paid—to decide between myself and the hon. Member (Mr. Wardle), I should come out triumphant at the top of the poll. When men are dissatisfied with their employers and the manner in which they are treated, there is no more favourable occasion for showing their disapproval of their masters than by using the opportunity afforded them when a strike occurs. A strike occurred in August last. The Great Eastern Railway employ, roughly speaking, 30,000 men, clerical and wage-paid. How many went 124 out? Thirteen hundred. How many went out on other lines with their termini in London running north? Numbers very much in excess of that. I do not think anything has shown a belief of the Great Eastern men in their board and in their chairman more than the fact that out of 30,000 only 1,300 went out. I do not say they all were satisfied. I wish we could afford to give many of them higher pay than we do. But they believe in their board and in their chairman, because they know that their chairman never makes, them a promise from which he goes back. That is the reason why they have faith in their chairman and in their board, though they may not be satisfied on all points. I ask hon. Members, having regard to the position they occupy in this House and the feeling of public duty which we should all entertain in regard to our position here, do they think they are really serving the public interest by adopting the course which they have taken to-night? I quite admit that certain Members in this House are returned for a special purpose, but underlying whatever may be our desires in entering this House, surely we all have a sense of public duty. Forty years ago the Great Eastern Company was a byword and a reproach to the railway companies of the United Kingdom. The first man who took that company in hand was the late Lord Salisbury, and he cleaned out the Augean stable. Then followed my predecessor, who took in hand the reorganisation of the company. Then came my humble self, and I think I may claim, although we are not perfect in all respects—we are very imperfect in many respects—that we now occupy the position of one of the great railway companies of the Kingdom, and that we are on the best of terms with the whole of our staff, except for these small eruptions which have now taken place. Our relations with the traders in our district are cordial and friendly, and as regards the Board of Trade, for the past five or six years there has never been a dispute between us. Do hon. Members think that by stopping momentarily the career of usefulness of an institution like that they are serving the public benefit? I fear they make a great mistake. We have proved ourselves capable of doing much for the district we serve, and we hope to do more; but we cannot afford to have a setback, even for a year, having regard to the injury which it will inflict upon those very districts on which we wish to confer a favour.
125 I will say one word about superannuation. There was a time when railway companies or commercial undertakings starting a superannuation fund for the benefit of their employées were considered as doing something which was very fine indeed, and for which they were always commended in the pubic Press and sometimes in this House itself. But things have rather changed now, and hon. Members who represent Labour view with a very jealous eye these superannuation and pension funds, particularly when they belong to railway companies, and more especially when they are eminently successful in their operations. The superannuation fund was founded in 1878, and it was put on the basis of the guarantee of the company in 1898, that is, twenty years later. That was during a period I have been chairman. Why did I get the board to put it on the basis of the guarantee of the company rather than the basis of the actuarial quinquennial investigation? For this reason: I found that the clerks who composed that superannuation fund, and who numbered about 4,000, as the quinquennial valuation approached, always had a feeling of unrest, anxiety, and apprehension in their minds as to what the result of that report might be. I talked to many of them on the subject, and they thought that they might possibly have to increase their subscriptions to the fund, or to agree to diminished benefits. I felt that this harassing operation on the minds of those who served us so well ought to be got rid of if possible. In consultation with men whose financial knowledge was very much greater than any I pretend to possess, the board devised a scheme by which the guarantee of the company was substituted for the quinquennial valuation by an actuary. I may say, in passing, that ordinary commercial institutions cannot have such a guarantee as this, because a commercial undertaking may at any time become bankrupt, or be broken up owing to the wishes of those who own it, or come to grief in any other way, and, therefore, the only way in which a fund can be safeguarded is by an actuarial investigation. There are only two classes of undertakings which can be entirely free from actuarial valuation, namely, the State and railway companies, because they cannot be wound up. The State must continue so long as civilisation lasts. Railways are in a somewhat similar position, for they cannot be wound up summarily, and, therefore, an actuarial 126 valuation can be dispensed with in the case of railway companies. But the guarantee must be absolute, otherwise we should not be justified in asking our employés to accept it. What is the guarantee? It is the guarantee of the working expenses. It is, a pre-debenture guarantee, and has behind it no less than £1,500,000, so that it is absolute. This substitution of the guarantee of the company for the actuarial valuation was made at the request of the members themselves, and when it was put before the whole body of the contributors to the fund the proposal was passed unanimously, not on one occasion only, but at a second meeting which had also to be held. Far from there being any desire on the part of the staff to get rid of the guarantee of the company, the whole staff are against any change from that guarantee to an actuarial investigation.
§ Lord C. HAMILTON
On Thursday last the annual meeting of the superannuation fund of the Great Eastern Railway took place. It was a crowded and enthusiastic meeting, but, having an engagement elsewhere, I was not able to be present. Not one word was said by a single member present, either as regards a change from the guarantee of the company to an actuarial valuation or as to the representation.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I did not propose or suggest that the staff had made any representation in regard to that, but the committee of which I was a member made a representation that in the interests of the shareholders of the company it was advisable that a valuation should take place every five years.
§ Lord C. HAMILTON
I think the shareholders can take care of themselves in a matter of this sort. I admit the hon. Member said that the representation upon this superannuation fund was somewhat inadequate, and I am ready to state on behalf of the company that the contributors should have wider representation. We are willing to accept it, and I think we will have to embody a proposal for that purpose in a future Bill. But as regards a change in the superannuation or pension fund from the guarantee of the company to an actuarial investigation, that is a matter to which in their interest I could never assent.
127 The Bill is an Omnibus Bill of considerable importance. It deals first of all with the widening of the line to three flourishing seacoast places—Felixstowe, Clacton, and Cromer, and it contains provisions with respect to large works at the town of Ipswich. Looking to the welfare of millions, as we must do, the main and most important part of the Bill is that which enables it to find money for the electrification of the East London Railway. I happen to be chairman of the East London Railway, and for three years I have devoted my time—and no easy task has it been—to endeavouring to get the six companies who lease that line to agree to its electrification, so that the resumption of the through services from New Cross, across the Thames, to other parts of the Metropolis may take place. It was not an easy matter to get these companies, whose interests might not be all in the same direction, to agree to this proposal, but I managed to do so in the course of last year. The Great Eastern Company propose by means of debenture stock to raise the necessary funds. What does the electrification of the line mean? It means the resumption of the arterial traffic from New Cross to every Metropolitan and Metropolitan District station, and by changing at Liverpool Street in June next to any portion of Central London. In that respect it will be of enormous value, not to smart society, but to the toiling millions who live on either side of the Thames and who have to seek work on either side. I ask hon. Members not to think of rejecting the Bill. Hon. Members opposite think, or profess to think, that my interests only lie in one direction. I work very hard sometimes for the toiling millions, and I have worked very hard for those who will be benefited by the through services of the East London Railway. I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
I do not think any Member on this side of the House would take any exception to the statement as presented by the Noble Lord. I admit frankly that he has stated the case from the standpoint of the company fairly, honestly, and dispassionately, but I also contend that the very statement of the case as presented by him is the strongest proof that we are justified this evening in the action that we are taking. I also admit frankly that it is unfortunate for any Member of this House to block a Bill 128 on a subject-matter foreign to that contained in the Bill. There is no Member on these benches that desires to take exception to any Clause in the Bill, but this Bill gives us an opportunity of asking this House to say whether the particular railway company, who already possess certain powers, have so used those powers that they are fit to be entrusted with wider powers in the future. I go further and say that on three different occasions last year when railway Bills were before this House, and when we from these benches asked the House to reject the Bills, and various representatives of the Board of Trade, with a view to giving the Bill a Second Reading, pleaded that the matters we complained of would eventually be adjusted, had the warnings we gave then been taken serious note of by the railway company, there would have been no strike in August last. Therefore we are justified, when this opportunity has presented itself, in asking the House to consider fairly and honestly whether the attitude that the Great Eastern Railway Company took up is an attitude that this House can itself recognise. The Noble Lord indicated clearly that his objection to this particular petition was not on the merits of the application of the men, because he admitted that the men to his personal knowledge, although they had served the company well, were not rewarded adequately.
§ Lord C. HAMILTON
I said they were not rewarded adequately before the advance which took place in January, 1911.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
That carries with it the further supposition that they are rewarded adequately to-day.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
If the Noble Lord does not say that, then I come back to the original point, namely, that his one objection to receiving this petition was on the ground not that the men were not justified in asking for more, but because of the methods they employed in petitioning the company.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
That being the case, the House will recognise at once that they are face to face with the problem as to whether in these days any body of workmen can enjoy the full benefits of combination. The real point that we have to consider now is, after the statement of the 129 Noble Lord, as to whether any section of workers in this country are to be denied the opportunity of combining together when the law of the land allows them that particular privilege. Therefore I hope that Members on both sides of the House, when they go into the Division Lobby, will recognise clearly that they are voting on this issue because the rights of combination are being denied to them by the Great Eastern Railway Company. The Noble Lord made the statement that in his opinion the Great Eastern Company had been lenient in their treatment of these men, because, as he says, they broke the rules and regulations of the company. As he put it, other companies were more harsh than the Great Eastern. They may have dismissed their men. Other companies may have dismissed 1,700 men.
§ Lord C. HAMILTON
The hon. Member is quite in error. I was talking of the man who presented the memorial, who admitted a breach of discipline, and the manner in which he did it and persisted in his conduct. It has nothing whatever to do with the 1,700 men.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
It is perfectly true that the Noble Lord apportioned the responsibility to the one individual, but if the Noble Lord is as fair, as I believe he is fair in this matter, and as he is quite conscientious, he will recognise that the sin that he attributes to the one individual was a sin that the 1,700 committed by signing the petition. And if the Noble Lord does not accept that position—and he shakes his head—then it becomes more serious, because he admitted frankly that he is prepared to intimidate the one man who has the courage to present the memorial signed by 1,700 others subscribing their names to it. But I would put this point to the Noble Lord: why does he not apply that principle to other sections? He, like myself, gave evidence before the Royal Commission. His one objection to the attitude of the trade unions was that so far as his company were concerned the board room door was always open. He stated that the directors were ever ready and willing to receive a deputation from any section of the staff.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
What does that mean? The Noble Lord will know that at the same Commission that he referred to I produced evidence, and the original document, where the proper channel he is 130 now referring to meant that a Great Eastern inspector actually sent out a slip inviting petitions of the men to be sent to him as an official in order to be presented to the company to say that the men were so satisfied that they did not want any improvements.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
You followed into the witness-box after myself, and you know that I presented that document to the Royal Commission, and that that document was never controverted by you or any general manager.
§ Lord C. HAMILTON
I knew nothing about it. I am sure if I had I should have controverted it, but I know nothing about it.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
I venture to submit that the whole experience of dealing with the Great Eastern Company is that they have ever been, and are to-day, hostile to trade unionism.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
Modern? Then I can only say that the definition of modern goes back to a long date, because eighteen, years ago the society that I represent paid a victimisation grant to someone whom the Noble Lord rightly deemed was a very, very old-fashioned trade unionist. But the hostility is not to the modern trade unionism, the hostility is against any and every form of combination, and I do respectfully submit that the day has gone by when any section of this House or any employers of labour should take their stand to-day and say that the workers should not have the power of combination. The Noble Lord, with every other Member, knows perfectly well that it is in this bargaining power that the workers have the only means by which they can improve their position. When the Noble Lord suggests that he took exception to this petition on these grounds I would ask him to remember that if he wants to encourage the very worst form of Syndicalism, if he wants to stamp out the evils which he pourtrays from time to time, he will not do it by simply giving a lever to people to say that certain employers of labour will not do justice to their employés. Therefore I ask the House to divide on this particular Bill, and I repeat what I originally stated, that the Noble Lord has put perfectly clearly that he is 131 against combination in any and every form. There is no other railway director sitting on either side of this House, representing any particular railway company, who adopts the same attitude as the Noble Lord.
There are Members on both sides of the House representing large railway companies, and in every case when a similar petition has been presented the directors of those companies have never hesitated to meet the deputation and afford them an opportunity to state their case. The Noble Lord has said that he and his directors are on the very best terms with their staff. They have shown, as he says, their appreciation of the loyalty and services of the staff. Then I do suggest to him that if the only ground for rejecting these men's application was because of the poverty of the company, would it not have been much better, if the relationship was of that character, for the Noble Lord to have invited these men and state to them the position of the company, and then the loyalty of the men would have been tested by the way in which they received the Noble Lord's decision? But he did not do that. He did not absolutely refuse; therefore I say that we should divide on this Bill, not out of any hostility to any individual Member of the House, not because we want to delay legislation, not because we fail to realise our responsibilities as public men, but because we feel that the working classes of this country have by legislative enactment conferred upon them the power and right of combination. It is not in the twentieth century the duty of or a wise policy on the part of any railway company to deny that right, and I hope that Members on both sides of the House will show their opinion by joining us in the Division Lobby.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I ask the House to hear a word or two, not from the point of view of a railway director, because I am not a railway director, and not from the point of view of a trade unionist, because I am not a trade unionist, but from the point of view of the public in the Eastern counties, who are really, after all, the persons principally concerned in the matter in the Second Reading of this Bill. May I say that from my personal knowledge the particular matters with which this Bill is concerned, namely, certain works of widening and of improvement, and other works referred to by my Noble Friend behind me, have not really originated with 132 the company but with the public, traders, and inhabitants of the districts served by the company. The inhabitants of Clacton-on-Sea, Felixstowe, Lowestoft, and other districts in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, have long felt the urgent necessity for the additional accommodation which this Bill provides. They have urged upon the company the necessity for carrying those works, and it is in response to that request that this Bill is introduced to the notice of the House. What the House is now asked to do is to reject the Second Reading on grounds totally outside the provision of the Bill itself, and on the ground very fairly stated by the hon. Member for Derby, that the company, owing to their treatment of certain sections of their employés, ought not to be given any further extension of powers.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I do not want to discuss the very wide principle as to whether it is wise for this House to reject the Bill on that ground. It has now for the last nine or ten years, I believe, been the custom of the House to permit discussion of this kind on an omnibus Bill introduced by a company, and I do not desire to discuss that practice, but I do think the House is justified in paying regard to the relative importance of the Bill itself and the dispute on the ground of which we are asked to reject the Bill. The Great Eastern Company, I believe, is unique among railway companies in that it has practically a monopoly of a very large district in the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, and if these works are not obtained from the Great Eastern Railway Company they cannot be got at all. It is a matter requiring very serious consideration, and it is a very grave thing indeed to ask the House to take the course of refusing the Eastern Counties these advantages.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
Both my hon. Friend and myself put it perfectly clearly that these advantages that the hon. Gentleman and the Noble Lord have enumerated can be obtained if they consent to the very reasonable conditions that we submit.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I think it is rather an ingenuous way of putting it; that, in fact, in the friendliest possible way in the world we hold up the Eastern Counties, and we hold up the Great Eastern Company, and if you want the Second Reading of the Bill you have only to do what we ask.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
It is the hon. Member and his Friends who desire to hold up the Bill. After all they are the assailants in this case, and they ask this House to reject the Bill on the ground of a dispute between the directors and some of the company's servants, or they say that the House would be justified in saying that this dispute must be settled before this accommodation can be permitted. Every hon. Member who is in opposition to the Bill has stated that he does not object to one single Clause in it. I do appeal to the hon. Member who has just spoken, as a reasonable man and in his capacity as a Member of this House because, he is that as well as the representative of a great labour combination, and he is responsible to the public, does he think as a Member of this House that he is doing his duty as a public representative in refusing to allow the Second Reading of a Bill which is desired by three counties and which will provide a great deal of work and labour? The labour which it will provide for the present is a comparatively small item. It is the opportunities of future labour and future development which this Bill will provide which to my mind is the strongest point in its favour. Does the hon. Member think he is justified on account of what is after all a small point?
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Because it is a matter of principle, as I understand. I only know what I have heard in this House. I have no side to take, and, as far as I know, the clerks may be justified or the directors may be justified. I only take the public standpoint. From what I understood my Noble Friend to say, the whole point is the method in which this petition should be presented, and, as I understood my Noble Friend, the organisation of the Great Eastern Company differs from that of other companies in this respect in the organisation of four totally separate departments under separate heads.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
I do not desire to enter into the details, but there is no exception in the case of the Great Eastern Company to that of any other railway company so far as departments is concerned. Every railway company has locomotives, carriage, traffic, and separate departments, and in that respect there is no difference.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I understood my Noble Friend to say that in other railway companies those departments were all grouped under a common head and that in the Great Eastern each department is independent. I do not speak from personal knowledge. After all, the question, whether it be one of principle or fact, is simply one of the methods in which certain petitions should be presented. I imagine that the important thing for railway servants is whether they are going to get some improvement in their position. I am bound to say, and I do so most strongly on public grounds, if this House is to regard it as a question of principle, and if it is to interfere at the request of the hon. Member, not to obtain some particular advantage which is admittedly required for the service of this company, but in order to support trade unions against the company in asserting themselves, and if the House as a body is going to take the side of trade unionism against railway directors, and is going in a matter of business of this kind as between the company and the public to take sides on a political question, then I think they are taking a course which is contrary to the interests of progress and of business and of the proper development of industry in this country. Surely it is part of the business of this House to do what it can, with due regard to the general interests of capital and labour, to enable, and not only to enable, but to encourage, the one root cause of all progress, social and political, which is increased facility in communication. That is the one cause to which all progress can be traced. When a railway company comes to this House and asks, as this company does, on the incentive and the initiative of the inhabitants of a particular district which that railway serves, for facilities, then I simply rise on behalf of those whom I represent in that district, without expressing any opinion on the merits of that dispute, on which I do not desire to say one word for or against, to ask the House not to deprive the district of those facilities which it urgently requires, unless it thinks, as I hardly think it can, that the case made by the hon. Gentleman opposite is so strong and the matter raised so important that it ought to override the actual requirements and necessities of the Eastern Counties for which this Bill proposes to provide.
§ Mr. NEWTON
I have been requested by a public body in the constituency which I represent, and which is served by the 135 company, to say a few words on behalf of the town of Clacton-on-Sea in favour of this Bill. The proposal in this Bill is that the line there should be doubled. At present we have a single line, and I can assure the House that much inconvenience is felt there, especially during the summer time, when they are accustomed to have, and do have, a large number of persons going to that resort, from having only a single line. That must be obvious to hon. Gentlemen opposite, and theirs must be the responsibility if by throwing out this Bill they do a serious injury to that progressive town and to the people in that country. My hon. Friend who has just spoken seemed to me to put the point very well indeed. I had been making a few notes when hon. Gentlemen opposite were speaking, and I find that my hon. Friend has made many of them, so that I need not repeat them to the House. Certainly I came to the conclusion from the speech of the hon. Member who moved the rejection that the grievance with them is this. It is a matter of principle. Just now the hon. Gentleman opposite to some extent seemed to taunt my hon. Friends on this side because they think it is a matter of principle. With hon. Gentlemen opposite it is equally a matter of principle. The point to see is whether that matter of principle is sufficiently vital to entitle this House to take a course which must be fraught with great loss to a large body of people. An hon. Member opposite put the point in two ways. Their grievance was the method of presenting a petition and then the point of hostility to trade unionism. I am not prepared to say what the view of the company is on that matter. I have no interest whatsoever in the Great Eastern Railway Company commercially. My only interest in it is that it does well and has promised to do better for the constituents I have the honour to represent.
One of the hon. Members opposite told us that clerks after ten years' service were able to earn only 22s. a week. We are not able to express an opinion upon that in this House to-night, in the first place, because the hon. gentlman very properly did not prove his statement. But I ask hon. Members opposite to admit that the Great Eastern Railway Company have shown themselves willing by their action in April and January of last year, when, without compulsion from any section of their servants, they showed that as their fortunes improved they desire to improve 136 the fortunes of those who work for them. The noble Lord also might have told the House that the Great Eastern Railway Company believe in promotion from the ranks. I hope that hon. Members opposite will recognise that that is a principle with the Great Eastern Railway Company, and that they will do the company the credit of recognising that in that matter they are thoroughly go-ahead. We are told that the clerks held a meeting, and agreed to a protest being made in the way of a blocking Motion to this Bill. I am quite prepared to believe that, but I say unhesitatingly that if those clerks could be assembled, without any fear of intimidation—because I do not believe that the servants of the Great Eastern Railway Company are in the least afraid of intimidation—and asked whether they preferred that this Bill should be rejected and these works not undertaken, they would to a man say, "We have made our protest; we believe from what we know of the company that they will do their best as times improve; therefore let the work go on, so that not only we but others may have further occupation." My interest in the matter is not at all personal. I submit to the House that if for a small matter of principle, which will not, and cannot, advance the material interests of the clerks, they are willing to delay works of great magnitude and value to residents in East Anglia, they will be taking upon themselves a very heavy responsibility, and one which I personally am not willing to share.
§ Mr. T. E. HARVEY
Hon. Members opposite have made a very earnest appeal to the House on the ground of the merits of the Bill, and the disaster that would ensue to the Eastern counties if the Bill were not read a second time. The hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Wardle) in opposing the Bill deliberately did not move that it be read a second time this day six months, in order that that argument should not apply. It is pointed out in our "Manual of Procedure" that a mere negative does not preclude a Motion for Second Reading from being repeated on any subsequent day. The last precedent for that, which was also a railway Bill, is of comparatively recent date—1887—when a Report stage was adjourned in this way. I very much hope that the House will keep that precedent alive by enforcing it on this occasion. None of us want to oppose the excellent purposes of this Bill. It would undoubtedly be a great disaster if that were done, but even if that were to be the 137 case—as, from the "Manual of Procedure," supported by the high authority of Sir Erskine May, and the precedent I have quoted, it is clear it would not be—the matter is so important that many of us will feel it our duty to go into the Lobby in support of the hon. Member for Stockport. Will not the Noble Lord (Lord C. Hamilton) give way on what the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman) has admitted is a small point? We do not ask for the granting here and now of the claims made by the railway staff. We quite admit that the House of Commons has no right to decide off-hand whether or not those claims are justified. All we ask is that the directors should be willing to receive this petition of the railway clerks. It is a perfectly simple thing. Every other railway company in the land is willing to receive similar petitions. I have in my hand a letter from a railway clerk in the employ of another company, describing how he was on a deputation which went up quite recently to another great railway company with a similar petition. They were received with great courtesy, first of all by the general manager, then by the general manager and the directors, and their demands in substance met. I do not ask the Noble Lord to promise to meet the demands of the clerks, but that he should be willing to waive this small punctilio and hear their case. He has spoken of the friendly terms he is on with them, and of the perfect confidence the members of the staff have in the Board. Let him respond to that confidence and prove those friendly terms by not adhering to a rule which he says has not been changed for forty years. Is it not time that a forty years' old rule should be changed? I am sure that in private life the Noble Lord would not meet a grievance on the part of the servants in his own household in that way. We can only appeal that in connection with this great public company the same principles of courtesy shall prevail which would certainly be used in private life. We ask the House to reaffirm a precedent already set, not to vote against the principle of the Bill, but to insist upon a just demand being met, by voting that it be not now read a second time.
§ Mr. HENRY TERRELL
The question before the House is really a very simple one, and does not really involve any great question of principle. As I understand it, the question is simply whether the Great 138 Eastern Railway directors should meet, when requested so to do, any number of their clerical staff who have grievances which they wish to submit to the directors, or whether a section, be it large or small, should have to go through the old methods of first of all submitting their grievance to the head of the department, who would transmit it to the general manager, who would transmit it to the chairman, who would transmit it to the directors. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) has suggested that there is involved some great question of principle as to whether or not the trade unions should be recognised, or whether or not the sacred right of combination should be challenged. It has really nothing whatever to do with that question. The only question is whether members of the clerical staff should have the right to go straight to the directors when they have a grievance. If that is the real question, I should have thought it was manifestly to the interests of the directors themselves that they should be willing at any time and under any circumstances to meet any number, be it one or more, of their clerical staff who had any grievance to place before them. For this reason: the clerical staff above all sections of railway servants have always in the past shown themselves distinctly loyal to the company. I only speak from what I know from reading the papers, and I do not profess any experience in railway matters, but you find that whenever a railway is in any difficulty it is the clerical staff that they fall back upon to get them out of the difficulty. The clerical stiff is composed of men who enter the railway service, and from whom the heads of departments and the general manager is often selected. They are men who are also looked up to by other grades of railway servants.
My Constituency is a railway constituency. I know that in it the clerical staff is looked up to by all other grades of railway servants; rightly so—I do not wish to use language offensive to the other grades in any way, but they are all men of superior education. They enter the service in the main with the view that they are entering upon the management of a great commercial undertaking. I would suggest to my Noble Friend that the company might accede to the appeal made by this side, whenever approached by the clerical staff, to agree to receive them and consider their grievances. I submit, however, that this question is not one which 139 should induce this House to refuse a Second Reading to the Bill. The Bill is not one in the interests of the directors. It is a Bill in the interests of the public, and of the public only. It contains provisions enabling the company to give better and more regular services to the people in the district served by the company. It contains provision to enable the company to improve Lowestoft Harbour. It contains a variety of provisions, all of which are directed entirely to enabling the company to provide a better service for the people whom they serve. Why should those people who are intended to be benefited be obliged to suffer because there is some dispute? It is punishing one man with whom you have no complaint in order to try to force that man to intervene in a dispute in which he has not interest. It seems to me to be wrong in principle. I do not say it will establish a precedent, but it would be wrong to follow the precedent which has been established, and refuse a Second Reading to this Bill, and so try to force upon the directors a measure compelling them to give way.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Stockport has laid his case before the House, and the question has been discussed. We have had an expression of opinion from various Members. Surely that is all that is desired? I would urge the hon. Members who are interested in this question not to press the matter to a Division, but to rest satisfied with the ventilation of their grievances and the expresson of opinion on various sides of the House.
It has been suggested that if the question is put in a particular form by Mr. Speaker that it would, not prevent the company from applying again to-morrow; that if the word "now" be omitted it would leave the question open. That would delay the passage of this Bill. Hon. Members know that a Bill of this kind has to go through various stages before it becomes law, and delay in any one of these stages may be very serious, and prevent the Bill from becoming law for a considerable time. Though I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stockport that the clerks should have the right to go straight to the directors, I think they should consent to the Bill having a Second Reading, and that they should rest satisfied with the protests they have made.
§ Mr. WALTER M'LAREN
The position, though vital, is a very simple one. We on this side have no desire to reject or hinder the Bill. It is simply a question of the mechanism by which the memorial of 1,717 clerks and, I think, other officials shall reach the board. The Noble Lord opposite suggests that the memorial can only reach the directors by being broken off into sections, and portions of it going through the heads of the particular departments. In that case it would ultimately reach the board in four fragments. I take it that the memorialists do not even now ask that the Noble Lord and the board should be at the trouble to receive them direct. They will be quite content if the general manager will listen to their complaint. They will be quite willing that he should receive their memorial, in the first instance, or that he should receive a small deputation, the names of which have been given in the newspapers. It is composed of about a dozen fairly well known employés of the company. The Noble Lord, by uttering one sentence in this House, can have his Bill carried. He has, I humbly submit, simply to say, "I will instruct Mr. Hyde to receive that memorial." If he will make that extremely simple concession, it need not go against the rules of the company, for the memorial can come through the heads of the department, and the Bill would go through. That is all we ask.
We do not wish to injure the company. We believe the Bill is a good one. It is a queer rule of this House that we have no way of moving in this matter except by moving the rejection of the Bill; and it has occurred to me as to whether a Motion would be in order to the effect that this House will read the Bill a second time, with a request to the directors of the Great Eastern Railway Company to receive the memorial of their clerks. All we ask the Noble Lord to do is—we all know the good feeling which exists between himself and his army of employés—to say, "I will let Mr. Hyde receive the memorial or the deputation." It need not be a precedent for the future. It does not even commit the board to give favourable consideration to the memorial. They can receive it and express their regret that they cannot comply with it. I do not know what the merits of the memorial are. I have no means of judging. These are times when employers should make every possible concession to assuage sore feelings. We have enough sore feeling in this country at the pre- 141 sent time. Do not let us have more of it. Let every employer do what he possibly can to conciliate his workers. I do submit to the Noble Lord that no conceivable harm could be done to the interests of his company if he were to make this trumpery concession to the feelings of the clerks. I dislike the idea of voting against this Bill. It is not what any of us want to do, yet we have no other means of putting our protest upon record. We do not want to destroy the Bill; we would like to have some other method by which our protest could be recorded. I again appeal to the Noble Lord to make this one concession and let us get rid of the whole difficulty.
§ Major DALRYMPLE WHITE
With regard to the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down I do not think that he understands the point, and from what I gathered from the speeches of some other hon. Members, I do not think they understand that the Great Eastern Railway Company are quite willing to receive a deputation—that is, to receive more than one man—as a deputation from the clerks or anyone else, provided they come through the proper channels, the heads of the department. I fancy many think that what was conceded was that a written petition should be sent to the general manager and laid before the board. I thought I would make that point clear.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. J. M. Robertson)
I think it is extremely unfortunate that the fate of the Bill should depend on a small point of punctilio as between the clerks and the directors. Everyone in this House desires that the Bill should pass, and nobody in the House desires that the House should take up a partial attitude as regards either side. The Mover and Seconder of the Amendment simply desired that a certain appeal should have a proper hearing, and the Noble Lord who spoke on behalf of the Bill indicated that if the Bill were passed any question should be heard. Only he stipulated that it should come through certain channels and follow certain formalities, and the whole trouble is that neither side is content to waive that point. It is urged upon the Noble Lord that he is standing on a point of punctilio. I suppose he is, but I think the other side is doing the same. The clerks cannot agree to send their petition in the traditional way through the heads of 142 departments. The directors stand on tradition, and will not be content to receive a petition in any other way. It is not for the Government to take sides in this matter. All I can do as speaking for the Board of Trade, which is the impartial friend of both parties, is to recommend that this dispute should be arranged without forcing the convulsive process of a Division in this House. Why should not both methods be adopted? Why should not the clerks on the one hand agree, as they are not making any bitter complaint against their directors, to send their petition, in the first instance through the regular channels; and why should not the directors then agree, the rules having been observed, that the general manager should receive that general deputation which is all that is asked for by my hon. Friends who spoke against the Second Reading? If the general manager will agree to receive a deputation speaking for the petitioning clerks in general, surely, on the other hand, the clerks might agree that their petition should first go through the heads of their departments. Surely that is a matter that ought to be arranged.
After hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Stockport and the speech of the Noble Lord I was hoping someone on the other side would propose some accommodation and solution. The hon. gentleman the Member for Crewe indicated that something of the kind might be done, but we have not had any kind of declaration from the Noble Lord, or those who spoke for the company, sufficient to avoid the dangers of a Division upon the Second Reading. It is said with great force that there are three parties to be considered. In this, as in other trade disputes, you have the great, silent, much suffering public outside. My hon. Friends who are opposing this Bill make no complaint against any line of it; they do not dispute it is a Bill full of beneficent purposes. They will not dispute what I say that as regards London in particular the arrangements for the prompt electrification of the East London Company and through trains to Whitechapel and New Cross would be a great advantage to the public. The hon. Member for Chelmsford Division, and other hon. Members, spoke of the many other ways in which people would benefit under the Bill, and I am sure my hon. Friends, who recognise the public interest at stake, would be ready to make con- 143 cessions as regards a point of punctilio on their side if the Noble Lord would be equally willing to make a concession on his side. I think that could be done.
§ Lord CLAUD HAMILTON
Any suggestion coming from an hon. Gentleman representing the Government of the day would be received with every respect by any Member who has charge of a Bill of this character. The hon. Member, I take it, has suggested that a petition in this case coming through the heads of their department, and divided into four departments, and having been received by the board, the board should then agree that the general manager, and I suppose subsequently the board itself, should receive the whole of the signatories en bloc. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."]
§ Lord CLAUD HAMILTON
The whole of the signatories represented by the deputation en bloc. That is to say, the hon. Gentleman suggests that the universal practice and tradition of the company should be reversed by receiving this deputation through the heads of the department, and, that in consequence of the difference of opinion that has arisen here to-night, we should waive any further objection to receive deputations en bloc. I think such a suggestion is very important and very clever, and I think it is one which on behalf of my company I could accept. Then I shall have preserved the traditions of the company for which I set out, but at the same time I shall have made a graceful concession to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
I am sure the whole House will desire to express its sense of satisfaction at the handsome fashion in which the Noble Lord has met the suggestion put forward. It only remains now for my hon. Friends to accept the arrangement which the Noble Lord has so readily acceded to and to let the Bill have a Second Reading.
§ Mr. HUDSON
After the very pleasing statement made by the representative of the Board of Trade, and the very handsome remarks made by the Noble Lord, I should like to be clear on this point on behalf of the men. These four departments are to receive the deputations on behalf of the memorialists from the four departments. The men can then send 144 their deputation, chosen as they wish, to choose them from the representatives of their organisation to the board. That is the position.
§ Mr. HUDSON
Yes, the four united, and they are to choose whom they require on that deputation without any interference.
§ Lord CLAUD HAMILTON
Certainly not, unless they are servants of the company. Certainly not in any other circumstances.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I am pleased to know that we are getting on a little bit. I could not press the Noble Lord further, because that has been our request, and it was clearly laid down by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport. The claim was not for distinct representation of the unions, although I do not think that would have been unreasonable. However, we are prepared to accept the offer made to us, and we trust that with regard to the clerks the Noble Lord will eventually travel as far for them as he has for other grades of his own particular company. Already I have met his company as secretary of one of the grades, and would it not be wise to allow, not on this, but on future occasions, the representatives of the union to meet the company?
§ Mr. WARDLE
I have consulted those for whom I have acted, and if it is clearly understood that after the division of the memorial into four sections a deputation to represent the whole of the signatories will be received I am prepared to withdraw my opposition.
§ Question put, and agreed to. Bill read a second time, and committed.