§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir William Jowitt)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
As the House knows, this Bill is a Bill designed to amend the Trade Unions and Trade Disputes Act of 1927. Rightly or wrongly—I shall ask the House to consider which—that Act is widely regarded as having placed an unjustified restriction on the powers of trade unions and trade union organisations. If we consider the history of trade union legislation in this country, from Mr. Gladstone's Act of 1871, Mr. Disraeli's Act of 1875 and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's Act of 1906 to Mr. Asquith's Act of 1913, we see a succession of Measures, each having for its object the authorisation of the gradual but carefully guarded extension of trade union activities. Nor do I think that the effect of those Measures was found wanting when tested by the events of 1926, for if[...] the strike of that year, in regard to which I shall have something to say later, if it was a revolutionary strike or a political strike or a non-industrial strike—I use those three words as synonyms—there was nothing in any of those Acts to render that strike lawful. The courts were open then as the courts are open now. Anybody was entitled to go to the courts then to obtain an injunction if he could show that he was or would be threatened by some illegal action. An injunction could have been obtained, as in one case an injunction was actually obtained.
It is, of course, true that if that strike, or to be more precise that series of strikes—for each one has to be considered separately—were industrial, they were expressly made legal by that series of Acts. But difficult though it may be and difficult though it must remain, whatever formula you may adopt, to decide on which side of the line any given strike falls, I do not understand that it is the wish of right hon. and hon. Members even to-day to affect the legality of the industrial strike. Why then was it that the Act of 1927, an Act reversing 386 the whole direction of the previous Acts, was passed? In our belief the Act of 1927 was founded upon and inspired by resentment at the action which trade unionists had taken, and resentment, however just it may be, affords no secure foundation for the building up of a wise and statesmanlike Measure. Such foundations shift with popular opinion; the foundations of trust, of sympathy, and above all the conviction of fair play, remain.
If we assume that the Government, of the day before and during the crisis of 1926 showed consummate wisdom and inexhaustible patience—no inconsiderable assumption—and that the Labour leaders throughout were entirely in the wrong, that very fact was the measure of the Government's opportunity. I have always felt that the father of the Prodigal Son obtained a better security against bad behaviour in future by killing the fatted calf than he could possibly have obtained if he had pronounced a bill of pains and penalties. I do not mean to suggest by that that I think the Government of the day should always ask to tea and buttered scones any budding revolutionist. Of course they should not. It is, of course, legitimate for the Government of the day to take steps—and drastic steps—to put down revolutionary action, but it is not legitimate to use such vague and general terms that, under the guise of putting down revolutionary action, you restrict and hamper trade union activity in its appropriate industrial sphere. It is because we believe that, whatever the intention of the framers of the Act of 1927 may have been, that has been the result, that we have felt it our duty to introduce this Bill, and I have no doubt it was for a like reason that at the last General Election a great majority of the electors expressed their approval of the course we are now taking. [Interruption.] As there seems to be some doubt about that statement, I shall have occasion, in the course of this speech, to quote statements officially issued by the leaders of the Liberal party dealing with each Section of the Act which we propose to alter, and I think it will he found that those statements lack nothing either in pungency or force. With regard to the Labour party, I think it will 387 probably be not disputed by Members opposite that they at least—every one of them—made the drastic modification of the Act—to put it no higher—a feature in their election campaign. So that we can certainly claim that we have a direct mandate from the electors for this Bill.
Before coming to details, into which I shall have to go, I am afraid, at some length, let me examine one or two general criticisms which have been made, and first let me put on one side a minor criticism—a criticism in point of form. It has been said that this Bill is a glaring example of legislation by reference. I can only think that those who make that statement have not in their mind any very clear idea of what is meant by legislation by reference. It is not, surely, every Bill which amends an existing Act of Parliament that is legislation by reference, and certainly is that not so if the Bill provides that the Act as so amended shall be reprinted so as to incorporate the alterations made by the Bill, for then anyone reading that earlier Act will see before his eyes on one piece of paper the combined effect of the two Acts, just as he would in the case of a codifying Act.
Accordingly, Clause 1 of this Bill provides, as in other cases—not an inconvenient practice—that the Act of 1927 shall be reprinted in the light of such alterations as may be made by this Bill in the form in which this Bill is finally passed. Such difficulties as Members may have, owing to the fact that the legislation takes—and necessarily takes—this form, would, I thought, have been met by the issue of a White Paper, and hon. Members will find that in this White Paper, on page 16, we print the Act of 1927 in the condition in which it now is, and on page 3 we print the Act of 1927 in the condition in which it will be if this Bill is passed in its present form. I would point out that alterations in language are indicated by black lines, and omissions, where no words are inserted instead, are indicated by square brackets. There is on page 5, line 10, an example of legislation by reference, where we refer to the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act, 1875, and hon. Members will observe the absence of a black line. So that that example of 388 legislation by reference is already in the Act of 1927.
I pass to consider a much more fundamental objection. It is said that this Bill is, if not designed, at any rate calculated to stir up industrial strife and promote industrial unrest. If that be true, I agree that this is a mischevious Bill. But I believe it to be the exact contrary of the truth. It is precisely because we believe that the Act of 1927 has had the effect of engendering distrust and suspicion by curtailing the workers' legitimate rights, without seeking to give them any improvements, or any added security for fair treatment, that we regard the Act of 1927 as an obstacle to that trust and confidence which are the necessary pre-requisite to the foundation of a better system. I, for my part, do believe in the building up of some better system. I am not the least ashamed to say that I regard the strike and the lockout as barbarous methods of settling trade disputes. Loss and suffering must be occasioned, not only to the participants, for, in these days of wide aggregations of capital, which have necessarily led to wide aggregations of labour, that loss and suffering may well be widespread.
It is not, I feel sure, with a light heart that any responsible leader, whether of capital or labour, can embark on one of these struggles, and yet, as society is now organised, the principle of collective bargaining must be maintained if the worker is to stand any chance of achieving a decent standard of life, and, in the last resort, the right to withhold his labour is the very fortress and citadel of his existence. If these powers, either on the one hand or the other, are exercised without a due sense of responsibility, unnecessary harm is caused to the body politic. We should welcome any well-conceived plan which, by promoting conciliation, would increase that sense of responsibility, just as we distrust any plan which is merely designed to hamper and restrict the existing powers. In the course of the 1927 debates, much play was made with the quotation from Isabella's speech in "Measure for Measure":O, it is excellentTo have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannousTo use it like a giant.389 Those who would lessen the giant's strength should consider whether a better and surer remedy cannot be found along other lines. Some day, perhaps in the far distant future, the political genius of our people will surely evolve some measure whereby any just demand the workers may make is sure of a just answer. Then, and not till then, shall we rid ourselves of the strike and the lock-out. For my part, I think that when that day comes we shall find the sphere of activity of trade unions greatly extended. They will have become interested in the conduct and control of business. Businesses will be conducted not only, and perhaps not mainly, in the interests of the shareholders, but also in the interests of the workers and the public at large. Production for use will be the rule, and not production for profit. In the meantime, conciliation schemes are growing, and I sincerely hope will grow, but they must grow with the consent of the two parties concerned. They must grow from within; they cannot be fabricated from without. But by removing the weeds of suspicion and distrust, we can create a soil favourable to that somewhat tender plant, and by removing the causes of distrust implanted by the Act of 1927, we can claim to be making our contribution to that industrial peace which this country so much needs.
There is one further criticism with which I want to deal at this stage. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Bill?"] I want to deal with this objection first. If; is said that this is a Bill to legalise the general strike. That seems to me a strange objection to come from the benches opposite. Thus much is quite plain. This Bill legalises nothing that was illegal in 1926. All that it does is to declare that certain strikes are illegal. Hon. Members and right hon. Members opposite pronounced the strike of 1926 to be illegal. There was no lack of assurance then. Be it so. But if the strike was illegal in 1926, such a strike will assuredly be illegal when our Bill is passed. Can it be that doubt has begun to assail those who then made those confident assertions? Have they lost faith in the once famous Astbury judgment? Is that book of speeches so neatly bound together no longer to be regarded as an accurate exposition of the law? If it is 390 not, how can this Bill, which leaves the pre-1927 law absolutely intact, be said to legalise the general strike? I hesitate to rush in where the angels have trodden, but, bearing in mind Section 3 of Mr. Disraeli's Act of 1875, which is printed at the bottom of page 8 of the White Paper:An agreement or combination by two or more persons to do or procure to be done any net in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute shall not be indictable as a conspiracy";and bearing in mind the definition of a trade dispute in the 1906 Act at the bottom of page 11 of the White Paper:The expression 'trade dispute' means any dispute between employers and workmen …. and the expression 'workmen' means all persons employed in trade or industry, whether or not in the employment of the employer with whom a trade dispute arises—bearing those two provisions of the existing law in mind, I should have thought that the question as to whether any particular strike which took place in 1926 was or was not illegal depended not in the least upon a question of law, but upon the answer to be given to a question of fact. Was that strike in furtherance of a trade dispute? If "Yes," the strike was expressly made legal by the Acts of 1875 and 1906. If, on the other hand, the strike was not in furtherance of a trade dispute, there was nothing in those Acts which made it legal, and there is nothing in this Bill to make it legal. I can well understand that there might be differences of opinion as to that question of fact. There always must be. Whenever you lay down any formula you always must get divergencies of view as to whether a particular case falls on one side of the line or the other side. So far as the proposition of law is concerned, I should have thought that it was quite simple and depended upon the answer to the question "was the strike, or was it not, in furtherance or contemplation of a trade dispute?" I want to make this observation with regard to the use of the phrase, "general strike." It has been my somewhat doubtful privilege to read and to re-read the whole of the 1927 Debates, and no one who has undertaken that task could fail to be impressed with the many senses in which that phrase is used and the confusion of thought for which it is responsible. I was 391 reminded, I confess, in reading those Debates, of the discussion between Alice and Humpty Dumpty about the word "glory":When I use a wordsaid Humpty Dumpty:it means just what I intended it to mean, neither more nor less.Then Alice said:The question is whether you can make a word mean different things.and Humpty Dumpty said:The question is which is to be the master. That's all.No one can doubt that the House of Commons obtained complete mastery over the phrase "general strike." Sometimes it meant a universal strike. Sometimes it meant a strike extending through some particular industry. Sometimes it meant a large strike. Sometimes it meant a coercive strike. The then Attorney-General was careful not to accept that meaning, for, as he truly said, every large strike must be coercive to some extent. Finally, it meant a strike designed to achieve a political end, as opposed to a strike designed to achieve an industrial end, and in that sense a revolutionary strike. The then Attorney-General used the phrase "general strike" in the first of his four propositions, but it was not very long before his colleague the Solicitor-General was bidding the House to avoid the use of that "vague and elusive" phrase, and in a statement which he published in the Press when the Bill was passed, Sir Douglas Hogg, as he then was, made use of the phrase "revolutionary strike." I think that phrase, however strong, at any rate is much clearer, and I hope that, if speakers in the course of these discussions are going to use the phrase "general strike," they will at least explain in what sense they are using the words.
I wish to make one further general observation, and it is with regard to the attitude which the State should adopt during a trade dispute and the powers with which it ought to be armed. Any Government, no matter what its composition may be, is plainly under the duty of preserving law and order and of seeing that the health and welfare of the inhabitants is not imperilled. To this end it is entitled to ask for the most adequate powers. In 1920 the Government of the 392 day were confronted with the peril of the threatened strike of what was called the Triple Alliance. What did they do? They did not discuss whether the strike would or would not be illegal, they did not discuss whether they should or should not impound trade union funds. They did not even talk of "gaoling the ringleaders." That latter course would have made a collision absolutely inevitable. It would have been like driving down the line and disregarding the danger signals. The former course is one degree better, but it is rather like screwing down the safety valve.
I do not pretend to think that all the acts of that Government constitute a symposium of wisdom, but at any rate they showed a little refreshing common sense. They came down to this House and they asked the House to grant them emergency powers. It was under those emergency powers that Regulations were made in 1926 enabling the Government to take possession of land, to commandeer goods, to arrest without warrant, to proscribe meetings and generally to control conduct. Wide as those powers are, we are not asking that those powers be abated by one jot or tittle, and I will tell the House why. Because, broadly speaking, the political genius of our people has evolved this system—that we have not sought to make strikes illegal, but we have sought to control, and rigorously control, what was done during the strike. The American policy has been exactly the opposite. The Americans have sought to make strikes illegal, and it is an interesting reflection to the student of comparative history that just at the time when we are abandoning our old policy and having recourse to the American policy—that is the very time when the Americans are abandoning their policy and adopting ours.
I think it is worth while to see why it is that the American policy has failed. An injunction restraining a strike or restraining the use of funds, if it is to be of the smallest use, must be granted with great promptitude. It must be granted either before the strike takes place or in the very early stages of the strike. Obviously, there is no time for delay at all. Difficult enough though it may be for a judge to ascertain the truth after an elaborate trial, after the cross-examina- 393 tion and confrontation of witnesses and all the elaborate machinery of a trial, it is almost impossible to ask any man to get at the truth on affidavits which are placed before him during the heat and bitterness of a labour controversy. That is why successive Presidents in the United States called attention to the fact—for it is quite untrue to make the smallest attack on the judges in this connection—that this system would not work. President Roosevelt in 1908 sent this message to Congress:It must be remembered that a preliminary injunction in a labour case may often settle the dispute between the parties and therefore, if improperly granted, may do irreparable wrong, and there have undoubtedly been flagrant wrongs committed by judges even within the last few years.President Taft renewed a request for legislation, and during President Wilson's first Administration the Clayton Act was passed, and at the present time a Bill known as the Shipstead Bill has been approved by the Senate Committee which is practically taking away altogether the power of the courts to grant injunctions. I am not asking the House to do away with the injunction. I am not, though I think I have been misunderstood in this Bill, even asking that there shall be any delay in granting injunctions, but I am asking, if you are granting these wide and very great powers to a judge, if you are calling upon him to exercise these powers in the early stages of a dispute before there can be a proper trial, that you should at least take great care to see that you do not use vague, wide and general terms.
I propose to consider the details of the Bill, and it will be for the convenience of the House probably if I first indicate in a completely non-controversial way what the Bill does and then come back to consider the various details, explaining the reasons which have actuated us in taking these various steps. I deal, first, with the parts of the 1927 Act which we omit. If hon. Members look at the White Paper, they will see that the first square brackets occur on page 4, about four lines down. We propose to omit Sub-section (4) which is the last Subsection appearing on page 17; that is to say, we propose to place Trade Union funds in the same position as they were in as a result of the 1906 Act. The next square brackets occur on page 5, line 394 20, in three places. The first square brackets refer to the political levy. We propose to restore the system of contracting-out, and the Bill contains the necessary transitional provisions. Secondly, with regard to the Civil Service, we propose to repeal Section 5 of the Act of 1927, and the House will observe that that is not a Section which enabled regulations to be made, but is a Section which required that certain regulations were to be among the regulations which were to be made. The last square brackets there refer to the Section of the Act dealing with public authorities and the prohibition of public authorities imposing certain terms upon those in their employment. Those are omissions.
With regard to alterations, coming back to page 3, we first alter the definition of illegal strike. Although we alter the definition, we do not, at any rate as far as injunction is concerned, alter the consequences at all. A man will still be able to go the courts and to say, "I am threatened by an illegal strike. If it takes place it will do me serious injury. I want you to grant an injunction." And the court will then be able to grant an injunction restraining, of course, the trade unions, its servants or agents, and any one of those persons who thereupon or thereafter takes part in the strike will, of course, be punishable for contempt of court.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
May I just ask the hon. and learned Gentleman: is it his view that the trade union could be made defendant in such an action?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Yes, that is my view. There are cases, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, in which that has been done. That is the first alteration. The second alteration on line 21, page 3, is this: We insert a Clause making it a condition of criminal responsibility that there shall have been obtained a declaratory judgment. That declaratory judgment must be obtained in proceedings to which the Attorney-General was a party either as plaintiff or defendant. In Clause 2, on page 4, we insert a similar provision at line 7, and the House may take it from me that the alterations on line 27, page 4, are mere drafting alterations. Then, with regard to the definition of intimidation, we have altered the definition and done away with the somewhat artificial definition pre- 395 viously there. We have inserted a new Clause 4, containing the machinery for obtaining a declaratory judgment, at the same time giving the Attorney-General the right to become a party to ordinary injunction proceedings if he so desires. The other alterations, I think, are merely consequential.
I come now to the reasons which have actuated us in making these alterations. My predecessor, in describing his Bill, enunciated four propositions. Lawyers always like to follow precedents, so I thought I would have some propositions too. I have put down four comparable propositions, and it is in the endeavour to carry out these propositions that the alterations which we are proposing are made. The first proposition is this: Any revolutionary or political strike or lockout is illegal; but the right to declare a strike or lock-out, even though sympathetic, in furtherance of a genuine trade dispute must not be placed in jeopardy. The second is: No man should be held guilty of the crime of intimidation merely for doing or stating that he intends to do that which it is lawful for him to do. The third is this: Where an association of persons has lawfully decided by a majority to set up a political fund, any member of that association should be bound by the majority decision unless he gives notice of his dissent. The fourth is this: The Treasury should have an unfettered discretion in regulating the conditions under which and the extent to which any grade of civil servants may take part in political affairs.
I will take the first proposition. I cannot do better, I think, than explain my reasons for altering the definition by testing it in the light of the statement which the then Attorney-General issued to the Press when the Bill was passed. This is what Sir Douglas Hogg, as he then was, said:It will be found that the Act will not interfere in any way with the use of the strike weapon in legitimate trade disputes. What it will do is to prevent any attempt to dissipate the funds of trade unions by a misuse of their powers for revolutionary purposes.Of course, I accept that as a statement of his intention, but I cannot accept it as an accurate statement of fact. The question is, and it is a question by which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite 396 would presumably desire this to be judged: Does the Clause as it at present exists interfere with legitimate trade disputes? First of all, may I take the case of the sympathetic strike? In the course of the Debate, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) asked the then Attorney-General this question: Supposing you have a mining strike and you have a certain amount of coal being produced. You get the railwaymen objecting to handling that coal, and the railwaymen are told they have to handle it, and the railwaymen say, "Very well then, rather than handle this coal we will give notice to terminate our engagement "—the proper, appropriate notice so that there is no question of breach of contract at all. Would that strike, said the right hon. Gentleman to the Attorney-General, be legal or illegal under your Bill? The Attorney-General, as I conceive perfectly rightly, answered:If the effect of that would be, as I think it would be, to inflict such hardship upon the community as to coerce the Government to intervene, it would be illegal.Just see how far that goes. I am dealing with the sympathetic strike. The House will observe that is not the case of an unrelated industry. You cannot get two industries more closely connected than the mines and the railways. The recent strike in Wales led to a number of railway servants being given notice to terminate their contracts. The two industries are closely related. Secondly, see what test the then Attorney-General himself applied. Does it, he said, coerce the Government to intervene? So long as the coercion is enough to make the Government intervene—illegality. But it is the Government's business to intervene in these strikes, and the conclusion that I draw is this, that any sympathetic strike, save on the smallest scale—and you do not in practice get sympathetic strikes on the smallest scale—is, if not made illegal, at any rate placed in jeopardy, for who is going to say what will coerce a Government or what constitutes hardship upon the community?
It does not by any means stop at a sympathetic strike. Take now the case of a primary strike. Is there anybody who believes that the primary strike is not endangered by these words? Let me quote the words of somebody who, I 397 think, ought to carry very great weight on a question of this sort. I am going to quote the words of Lord Reading in the Third Reading Debate in another place. He said this:The language used is more vague and indefinite than the language of any Bill that I ever remember seeing which had to go for interpretation before the courts of justice.If I had said that, that would have been called wild exaggeration. Those are the remarks of a most distinguished statesman, who has held, with great distinction, the office of Lord Chief Justice, a man who condemned as roundly as anyone the General Strike. Those are the observations that Lord Reading made, and those observations cannot be lightly disregarded by any lawyer in this House.
§ Mr. LESLIE BOYCE
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman now quote Lord Buckmaster's opinion on the present Bill?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Under those circumstances, those being the vague words used, it is not surprising to find that the interpretations put upon the words by the supporters of the then Government differ. I should like to read these three quotations, first of all from the then Solicitor-General, Sir Thomas Inskip, in the course of the Debate. This is what he said:Any strike, however widespread, however coercive in its effect upon the Government, is legal so long as it is connected with a dispute within the strikers' own industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd June, 1927; col. 2083, Vol. 207.]A very distinguished and erudite lawyer, the hon. and learned Member for Altrincham (Mr. Atkinson) said this:Once a strike is genuinely concerned with a trade dispute in the industry, it does not matter a bit whether the strike is designed to coerce the Government.Is it a fact that, so long as you get a strike connected with an industry or concerned with an industry, that saves it from illegality? Let me read what Lord Cave said in the course of the Debate in another place. He said this:A strike confined to the mining industry alone and conducted by miners alone, for the purpose of securing a seven-hour day, if it included coercing the Government to repeal the Eight Hours Act, would be illegal.I hardly like to interfere in these unhappy domestic differences, but for my 398 own part I am bound to say, reading these words, seeing that the words are "any object other than or in addition to," I should have thought the latter view was clearly right. If you are trying to kill two birds with one stone, I should have thought that the second bird was an object in addition to the first. If it can be said that your strike is designed to coerce the Government, then it seems to me that it plainly comes within both limits of the Clause. It comes within the first because that is an object in addition to the furtherance of a trade dispute, and it comes within the second in express terms. Consequently, you get all this sort of problems.
Take, for instance, the lockout or miners' strike which preceded the whole of the 1926 trouble. Was that legal or was that illegal? Anyway, somebody succeeded in coercing the Government to the tune of over £20,000,000! Take a case like this: If anybody employed in a factory or in a mine who wants to try to get better conditions and who wants as an incident to see that those conditions, when obtained, are observed, strikes to obtain those better conditions and that better inspection, he is acting illegally if the Government are coerced. He is seeking to achieve some object other than or in addition to the trade dispute with his employer. With regard to his employer, he wants better conditions; with regard to the Government, he wants some inspector to see that the conditions are observed—illegal. Take the often quoted case of the sailors and the Plimsoll line. If sailors want to secure an alteration in the Plimsoll line, it involves not merely the action of the employer but the action of the Government. That strike is illegal. All those strikes are obviously miles away from being revolutionary strikes.
This Clause really cannot be summed up more tersely than it was summed up by one who has received his meed of recognition from the benches opposite—Professor Ramsay Muir, who said:In short, this Clause is the most monstrous piece of confused, slipshod, and misdirected drafting which has ever been laid before Parliament. It does not do what it set out to do, and it does a multitude of unjust things which it never intended. Yet this Clause is the substance and essence of the Bill. If it fails, the Bill is useless.
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL
The Clause of which Mr. Ramsay Muir was speaking was the Clause before it had the alteration, when it had in it the phrase "substantial portion," but even so the statement is so generous that I can allow a handsome discount. Now I come to my Clause. Anybody who has tried to draft a Clause will readily agree with me when I say that it is very much easier to criticise other people's Clauses than to draft your own. My object is to prevent and render illegal the political strike, and to safeguard the industrial strike. I do not claim for my words any inspiration, and I have no doubt that they may be improved. I do not claim for them any originality, and I should like to tell the House the sources from which I got them.
First of all, I borrow the general idea from Mr. Disraeli s Act of 1875. Let us see what this was. Mr. Disraeli was brought face to face with this problem in a very acute way. He had had in 1873 a decision which went far to destroy the whole utility of Mr. Gladstone's Act of 1871, and he had to consider what steps he should take and how he was to separate the legal from the illegal strike. Hon. Members will observe that it was not so very long after the 'Forties, and there must have been many people in the House of Commons then who remembered the trouble connected with the Charter. The possibilities of a general strike must have been widely open to his mind, and he was furnished with perhaps as fine a team of lawyers as any Prime Minister ever had. He had Lord Cairns as his Chancellor, Sir John Holker as Attorney-General, and Sir Hardinge Giffard, afterwards Lord Halsbury, as Solicitor-General. What he did was to devise that test to which I have already referred. First of all, he said: "Is the strike in furtherance of a trade dispute? If it is in furtherance of a trade dispute, it is legal, provided that you do not resort to riot or sedition or treason or anything of that sort." From him I borrow the words "in furtherance of a trade dispute." Then I come to Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's Act of 1906. I have there set out for me a definition of "a trade dispute," so, instead of simply using the words "trade 400 dispute," I can use the definition in the Act of 1906. Finally, I must express indebtedness to my right hon. Friend the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) who in the course of the discussion on the 1927 Act moved an Amendment. He, like me, disclaimed any inspiration for his words. His Amendment was this:Any combination whether of employers or persons employed the main object of which is to coerce the Government or Parliament, as distinguished from furthering a trade dispute by means of concerted and simultaneous refusal to continue employment or work, is an unlawful conspiracy.Let us analyse that with mine. The right hon. Gentleman's words were:Any combination whether of employers or persons employed.Criticism was levelled at that, because it was stated that it was not aimed at a strike but at a trade union. I therefore substituted for these words, the simple words:Any strike or lock-out.The right hon. Gentleman's words were:the main object of which.I say:of which the primary object.The right hon. Gentleman said:is to coerce the Government or Parliament, as distinguished from furthering a trade dispute.I am rather more severe; I say:is an object other than that of furthering purposes connected witha trade dispute. The words,by means of concerted and simultaneous refusal to continue employment or workbecome unnecessary, because I have used the words "strike or lock-out." The words,is an unlawful conspiracybecomeshall he illegal.I am afraid that I am a plagiarist, but with these three sources I have done the best I can. The right hon. Gentleman has made it quite plain that his Amendment was intended to apply to sympathetic strikes, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs stated that the Amendment was the test of the bone fides of the Government.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I am glad to hear it. I have seen some criti- 401 cism about the words "the primary object." Distinguished lawyers have said—and indeed one is saying in the papers to-day—rather casting doubt upon the possibility of construing these words: "What is the primary object of an association? How can you ascertain it? "I am surprised that difficulty should have been felt about that, because, if hon. Members will be good enough to look at. page 20 of the White Paper, they will see that that is the very phrase which the late Government used in Section 5 of that Act. It prohibitscivil servants from being members, delegates or representatives of any organisation of which the primary object isthis, that or the other. Perhaps I should have expressed my acknowledgment also to the present Act.
I have already stated that, although our definitions differ, the right to injunction remains precisely the same. The only alteration is as follows: I have inserted in a new Clause 4, which appears on page 5 of the White Paper, a provision giving the Attorney-General locus standi and a right to appear in any case in which an injunction is sought. I have done that for this reason. The Attorney-General, as representing the public, has to be a party to any litigation concerning, for instance, the rights of the smallest charity. It seemed to me that he should have the right to intervene in litigation where some grave public question may be concerned as, for instance, if somebody were seeking to obtain an injunction restraining a strike, let us say, of railway workers. If anybody thinks that I have inserted that provision in order to secure delay, they are quite wrong. I do not attach much importance to the point, and, if it is brought home to me that the fact that the Attorney-General has a right to take part in the proceedings is a reason for or may cause delay, rather than that I am perfectly prepared to leave the provision out.
In Sub-section (2) we are dealing with criminal liability. It has always seemed to me that the relevant Section of the 1927 Act has this great blemish. Any man up and down the country may be accused, and may be hauled before a magistrate and accused of having committed an illegal act merely by reason of the fact that he has acted in further- 402 ance of some strike. We are not dealing with outside illegalities, such as throwing stones through windows, which are punishable elsewhere, but with the mere fact of acting in furtherance of a strike. The House should consider this. Suppose that you have a railway strike. The question whether that is legal or illegal would depend on what is done at headquarters by the negotiators in London. There are district organ[...]sers up and down the country, all doing their trade union duty, none of them having the means to judge whether the strike is legal or illegal, and yet all these men may be hauled before magistrates before there have been any proceedings at all. I stress that. There need not be any proceedings at all in the High Court of Justice; they can all be hauled up before magistrates. We should then have this ridiculous result. A magistrate in one division would declare the strike illegal, and a magistrate in another division would hold it to be legal. That is obviously unsatisfactory. Again, I say that I do not want to cause delay by this, and we are all agreed that, if you can devise a method which does not involve delay in getting some authoritative pronouncement from some central body that the strike is illegal, by all means punish everybody who takes part after that date.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
For this reason, that it is surely a principle of our criminal law, which should always be preserved, save in the most extreme cases, that no man should be found guilty of crime unless he knew that he was doing wrong.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Certainly they must know the law. The whole point here is that the illegality depends on the facts, and the citizen cannot know the facts. I can best answer the hon. and learned Member out of his own mouth. Let me read what he said in this House, for again I claim no originality for this. I owe everything to him. This is what he said:There is one very vital thing …. in regard to which Clause 1 is …. unsatis- 403 factory. It leaves to the magisterial courts the duty of imposing imprisonment on a man for taking part in a dispute which may ultimately …. be declared not to be an illegal dispute.See What frame of mind the hon. Member was in three years ago. He said:It is absolutely necessary that machinery of Clause 1 should be amended in such a way as to ensure, not that it shall be optional on the Attorney-General to apply to the Courts, but that it shall be compulsory for somebody to obtain an authoritative declaration relating to the legality of a dispute before any proceedings are taken."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May, 1927; col. 1691, Vol. 205.]
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
As the Attorney-General has done me the honour of immortalising my words, may I ask him whether that was before or after this Section was amended?
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I am coming to that, of course. [Interruption.] I am very willing to give way to hon. Members always, but I have rather a long speech to make, and the less I am interrupted, the quicker I shall get it over, but of course I am going to refer to that. Following upon the Amendment of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs gave his blessing to the suggestion, and Sir Ellis Hume-Williams moved an Amendment. That applied not merely to criminal proceedings, but to civil proceedings. Under that Amendment no proceedings could be taken at all unless and until the Court of Appeal had pronounced a strike to be illegal, and it provided that the Court of Appeal could not pronounce a strike to be illegal until it had actually taken place. The Attorney-General dealt with that Amendment, and said that he found it attractive, but that he could not accept it, because it extended to civil proceedings as well as to criminal proceedings. Finally, an Amendment was made. It is the Amendment to which the hon. Member referred, and is Sub-section (3) on page 3 of the White Paper:Where any person is charged before any Court with an offence under this section, no further proceedings in respect thereof shall be taken against him without the consent of the Attorney-General except such as the Court may think necessary …. to secure him in safe custody.404 That does not seem to me to meet the point at all. The Attorney-General is a judicial officer; if there is prima facie evidence that an offence has been committed, the Attorney-General has got to allow a prosecution. The point here is that the offence is complete with no guilty knowledge at all. What I want to secure is that no man shall be guilty of this offence unless it is clear that he knew he was doing wrong. I am not wedded to this declaration if anybody will devise a better method of securing these two results: first of all, that no man is to be guilty unless you can prove guilty knowledge; and, secondly, securing some method of providing uniformity of decisions up and down the country by some central authoritative pronouncement, so that you do not have different benches of magistrates taking different views. As I say, I am not the least wedded to my idea of the declaration, and we do not want to spend so much time over getting the declaration that there are delays in operating the machinery. I frankly say that I do not believe that locking up people in gaol is a very satisfactory way of ending strikes, but as we have decided to leave this part of the Act in I do not intend to put obstacles in the way, by declarations and so on, which will make it impossible in point of time to operate the Clause, and I am perfectly prepared to do what I can to see either that a declaration as to the methods is promptly secured—if you like, before the strike takes place—or that some other method is adopted, so long as the two objects which I have indicated are achieved.
I have now got to page 4. The next part we omit is that Section which once more places trade union funds at the mercy of any jury who can be induced to hold that a strike had some object other than or in addition to a trade dispute. The House will remember that that Section formed part of the 1906 Act, which was unanimously passed. Though it. is sometimes referred to as giving the trade unions an "immunity," yet "immunity" is hardly an appropriate word, because, after all, trade unions have been denied some of the blessings of incorporation. For instance, they are not allowed to sue for fines or offences, or anything of that sort, and whilst they are denied some of the blessings of incorporation it is not logical that they should have to bear all the burdens. Therefore, we pro- 405 pose to repeal that Section. As to Clause 2 of the Act of 1927, we merely insert the same provisions with regard to the declaration I have already stated. When this was suggested, during the 1927 debates, the then Solicitor-General said that it was almost certain there would have been such a declaration; we are taking steps to make it quite certain.
I come to Clause 3 of the Act, which deals with intimidation. Let there be no doubt about this. Intimidation always has been illegal. If hon. Members will refer to page 10 of the White Paper, they will find that this matter was expressly dealt with in the Act of 1875, though intimidation was illegal long before then. So far as Section 3 of the Act of 1927 is concerned, we have not altered the first sub-Clause at all. It is a long rambling Clause. It was said that it was desirable to put it there in order that strikers might know exactly what the law was, providing a kind of vade mecum for strikers. The text writers have not been able to fathom it, but we have not altered it. I believe it is right to say that it is only declaratory of the existing law, and I frankly say that I do not want to put myself, or any of us, into the position of its being thought that we want to encourage intimidatory methods. Here I can speak on behalf of the great trade union movement, and I say that it is grossly untrue to suggest that they want to be allowed to employ the weapons of the bully and the blackmailer to carry on their work.
Sub-section (4) deals with home picketing. That, again, is a Section of the Act which we have left. There is some slight change, but, for the same reason, I thought it not desirable to suggest any great alteration. The vice of Clause 3 in the Act lay in the fact that for the first time it introduced a wholly artificial definition of "intimidation." It is possible under this Section as it stands to-day for persons to be guilty of a criminal offence for doing things which involve no sort of moral impropriety. It is difficult to-day for any trade union organiser to know what he may do or what he may not do. I do not dispute, no sensible person can dispute, that there are other methods and ways of intimidation quite as dangerous and quite as offensive as a broken window or a black eye. It is very much easier to put up with those than to put up with 406 the loss of friendship or the disdain of one's associates. You cannot make your criminal law co-extensive with your moral law. So far as the criminal law is concerned, you must provide certain plain, objective tests. So far as the moral law is concerned, an infinity of considerations come in. I should have thought that was quite obvious. The Home Secretary of the day, who had charge of this Bill in Committee, always had in mind the case of some striker who said to a non-unionist that he was going to try to get his daughter dismissed from a local cinema. As far as I know, I should think he was acting in a very discreditable way. I think anybody is acting in a very discreditable way who tries to get any one discharged from his employment for reasons of malice; but the legislator who thinks he can make the criminal law co-extensive with the moral law is really in a most dangerous frame of mind.
I am in the fortunate position, with regard to this Section at any rate, of being able to quote to the House a case which shows the length to which the law has gone. It has led to this ridiculous result. You may arrange a strike to secure the dismissal of a non-unionist, and that is legal; but if you go to the non-unionist beforehand to give him a chance of joining the union and so ending the trouble, it is a criminal offence. The case arose in Chester. A large number of plumbers were working at an hotel. All the plumbers save one were members of what I may call the main union. One plumber was a member of what, I think, is called a breakaway union, at any rate, a union which was not recognised, and the main body of the men treated him as a non-unionist. It may be harsh or tin-charitable to strike to bring about a man's dismissal, but it is undoubtedly legal. Before they struck to bring about his dismissal, an official of the main union went to see the man. He went once, and once only. Admittedly the interview was perfectly friendly and perfectly peaceable. He gave him the opportunity of joining the main union and so putting an end to the trouble. The man declined to do so. That, of course, he was perfectly entitled to do. Thereupon, the other men threatened to strike, as they were perfectly entitled to do. To avoid the strike, as was anticipated, the em- 407 ployer got rid of the one non-unionist. Then the breakaway union prosecuted the trade union official for being guilty of intimidation. Do hon. Members really think that that ought to be a criminal offence? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] The summing up of the Recorder was approved by the Court of Criminal Appeal, and therefore we may take it as authoritative. I will ask the House to look at the words which are on page 19. They will see that "to intimidate" is there defined. It is defined as includingA reasonable apprehension of injury,and the expression "injury" includes injury to a person in respect of his income. The Recorder said:Injury merely means loss. A person who has apprehension of loss in his income suffers intimidation.Looking at Section (3) on page 18, hon. Members will see there the word "attend." "Attend" merely meansvisit for the purpose of obtaining or communicating information.They are the widest possible words. The critical words arein such manner.They occur about six lines from the bottom. The phrase "in such manner" includes not only how you say it but what you say. The Recorder told the jury that they were entitled to have regard to what the man said and to have regard to the fact that he was a trade union official. May I ask the House to follow me whilst I read the words? Instead of the word "intimidation" I will use the words "cause a reasonable apprehension of loss in respect of his income." Let us read the Section as a whole. I will read Section 3 at the bottom of page 18, omitting the immaterial words:It is hereby declared that it is unlawful for one person"—we will call him A—to attend at or near a place where B works for the purpose of obtaining or communicating information if he so attends in such manner as to be calculated to cause in the mind of B a reasonable apprehension of loss in respect of income.I can only say it seems to me that if a trade union organiser goes up to any employer and says. "We want a rise in wages, and unless you grant it we are going to strike," he is causing in the mind 408 of that employer a reasonable apprehension of loss of income, and I say it is a farce to allow that extended definition to stand.
There is one other part of the Act which deals with strikes and their conduct, and that is to be found on page 22, Sub-section (4)—a little Section which is sandwiched into a local authority Section, a Section which says that certain persons who break their contract shall be guilty of criminal offences. Hon. Members will find that ever since 1875 it has been a criminal offence for certain classes of people to leave their employment without notice. That applied to persons employed in gas and water undertakings, and it has since been extended to electricity. By Section 5 of the Act of 1875 it was made an offence for anyone to leave his employment without notice if thereby he might endanger life, cause bodily injury or expose valuable property to serious injury. There may or there may not be a case for the extension of particular categories, but there can be no case whatever for formulating a new, criminal offence under these vague terms. Anybody who leaves his employment without notice causes grave inconvenience. If you want to deal with this thing at all, deal with it on the lines I have suggested of putting in specific categories of people.
I am sorry to occupy so much time, but I feel that the Clause dealing with strikes and their conduct is by far the most important part of this Bill notwithstanding that the Clauses which follow are important. I now proceed to examine a Clause which has excited a certain amount of controversy; that is, the Clause relating to the political levy. I ask the House to bear this in mind. It is the broad rule of any association of persons acting together for a common purpose that the minority must follow the majority, and that was thought to be the law relating to trade unions until it was decided that trade unions had no power to devote their money to political objects, and thereupon the Act of 1913 was passed. By that Act two conditions were laid down, the first being that of a secret ballot, and the second the separate fund and the right to contract out.
The case for the change over must be based on two propositions. It must be based upon the proposition, 409 firstly, that under the old system there was a considerable degree of intimidation; and, secondly, that under the new system of contracting-in you will avoid that intimidation, or at any rate render it more difficult. It seems to me that both those propositions are wholly untrue. I think trade unionists are fully entitled to resent the charge of widespread intimidation, but supposing it does exist, why cannot you intimidate in just the same way to get people to contract-in? That may be a more dangerous and offensive form of intimidation, but if the will is there the way is easy; but, in fact, there was no intimidation. Just look at these figures: In each of the years 1924, 1925 and 1926 the number of persons who contracted-out was 100,000 In the first year there were six complaints, in the second year 10 complaints, and in the third year 10. Do not let it be thought that those complaints are all complaints about intimidation. They are not. They are complaints about technical failure to observe regulations. I say that anyone who asserts, on these figures, that there was anything like widespread intimidation is completely beside the mark.
The real distinction between the two systems was that under the old system of contracting-out it undoubtedly was the fact that the trade unions got the benefit of the mass of inaction. Under the new system they do not, and the real principle here is whether it is right and fair, or whether it is not right and not fair that the majority of the trade unions who have passed the requisite resolution on a secret ballot should have that right. Again, I quote the words which the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley used in the Debate on the 1927 Bill which puts the whole thing in a nutshell:If you mean that you do not want to give trade unions what I may call the benefit of the inertia of men who are more or less indifferent, then I do not agree with you. I do not think it is unreasonable that a body like a trade union, which has decided upon having a political fund, should have what a great many other bodies, such as limited companies and all sorts of bodies, have, namely, the benefit, such as it is, of the inertia of people of no strong opinions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May, 1927; col. 1644, Vol. 205.]I entirely agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but then he says—
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
4th May, 1927. Then it is said that on the figures we have got since the change over alter the case altogether. I will give the House the figures. The figures from which I am working, which I think are public, have been supplied to me by the Registrar of Friendly Societies. The arithmetic is my own. In the only two years which are available, 1926 and 1927, comparing the number of contributors with the number of members of the unions that have political funds, we find that in 1926 77 per cent. contributed, and in 1927 75 per cent. contributed. Now I come to 1928 and 1929, the first two years of contracting-in. In 1928 58 per cent. contracted in; in 1929 61 per cent. contracted in. Comparing 1929 with 1926, there is a loss of 16 per cent., and, comparing 1929 with 1927, there is a loss of 14 per cent.
I think the detailed figures are very interesting. If you take certain unions operating in a definite area, you will find very much higher figures than in those unions where the membership is diffused over different areas. Let me give an illustration. Take the Durham miners. In 1926, 87 per cent. of them contributed. In 1929—contracting-in—90 per cent. Take the most remarkable illustration, the National Society of Pottery Workers. In 1926, 36 per cent. contributed, in 1929, 60 per cent, contracted in. That is a difference of 24 per cent. The most remarkable figure the other way is that relating to the National Amalgamated Union of Shop Assistants, Warehousemen and Clerks whose membership is about 35,000. In 1926, 97 per cent. contributed; in 1929, 17 per cent. contracted in. That is a drop of 80 per cent., and that is by far the most extreme case that the figures contained.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I shall be very glad to send the hon. Member the detailed figures, and, if I am wrong, I shall gladly correct them. I tried to find out the facts relating to the last case I gave. I find that the amount of the levy in question was the sum of 3d. a quarter; that is to say, Is. a year. The union is spread pretty well all over the country, and, although it has only something like 35,000 members, it has 600 branches, many of them in places where only one or two people are employed. The long and the 411 short of the matter is that any form of canvassing is impossible. All you can do in a case like that is to send them a form to fill up, and shop assistants are very much like the rest of us in that they have a perfect horror of filling up forms, and the result is that there has been a very extreme illustration of the difference in the contributions. If we go on, we shall build up an organisation, and by going on with this system we shall get back to the old pre-Act figures, but the drawback is that it involves keeping up an elaborate and expensive machine. There may be some case for differentiating between various unions. It may be that there should be one rule for the Durham miners and another for shop assistants. On the broad principle here you have an asociation acting within its own powers, and when there is a majority decision why should not the majority have the benefit of that decision?
I come to the case of the civil servants. Lord I3uckmaster, for once, fell into a striking inaccuracy in describing this as a Clause "enabling regulations to be made," because it does nothing of the sort. I take my stand on this principle, that it is an absolutely wrong thing that one Government should endeavour to fetter and control the discretion of their successors with regard to a matter such as this. Of course, the repeal of this Section of the Act will not affect any of the regulations, and therefore we have not merely to consider whether theregulations are sound or not, but whether it is right that regulations should be imposed on a Government. I am not speaking on behalf of the Treasury, but I am merely stating the matter as it occurs to me after somewhat careful study. Whether or not the Treasury, if they get the power, will modify those regulations is a matter for the Treasury.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Not the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because he is not the Treasury; he is only a bit of it.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Do I understand the Attorney-General is contemplating a separate responsibility attaching to the body called the Treasury different from that exercised by responsible Ministers?
§ The ATTORNEY - GENERAL
This matter for 100 years has been within the discretion particularly of what is described as the Treasury, though I do not doubt that in practice, in the case of an important matter of this sort, the decision would be a Cabinet decision.
Let us see what were the excuses, for that is what they were, which were put forward for this Clause. First of all it was said that, of the 300,000 civil servants, there were some 30 employed at a dockyard who struck work. If they struck work it was a very wicked thing to do, but their case is not touched by this Clause at all. They could have been punished then, and they could be punished now. Then it is said that other civil servants threatened to strike; but let me make this matter quite clear. I cannot speak as to the whole range of Civil Service unions, but, so far as I know, there was no Civil Service union which then had strike rules that it could put into operation. That statement is certainly true with regard to all the unions of civil servants which were affiliated to the Trades Union Congress.
It is said that the Post Office servants behaved very badly in that they showed themselves reluctant to volunteer for work; but Ministers at all times have recognised the very natural reluctance of Post Office servants to undertake volunteer work, and, at the time of every railway strike, the Postmaster-General has issued a notice stating that Post Office servants will not be called upon to undertake that class of work. I must remind the House that, so far as the Post Office is concerned, the Postmaster-General issued a most glowing exordium on the way in which the Post Office servants had behaved at the time of the General Strike, and it seems to me to be shabby and unfair to try to justify these regulations on the ground of anything that the Post Office servants did or did not do.
Then it is said that civil servants contributed to the funds of the strikers. It is quite true that they did, but they did not do it by any levy. They gave their voluntary subscriptions, and there is no system on earth that can prevent people from subscribing if they want to subscribe. After all, when the Industrial Court fixes scales of pay for civil servants, the Industrial Court bears in mind 413 the principle of what is called fair relativity to outside work. Consequently, it is plain that civil servants are, at any rate to some extent, and I submit to a considerable extent, interested in the rate of wages outside.
The last ground on which the matter was based by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was this. Both in answer to a deputation and when defending this Clause on the Floor of the House in Committee, he pointed out that some officials, or an official, had made a very foolish speech. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman should not have been too severe on those who from time to time make foolish speeches. The broad general principle, if you consider this thing on its merits, of course remains. I entirely agree that we must keep the Civil Service right outside the storm and stress of party politics. Everybody in every quarter of the House is agreed as to that. [Interruption.] Any Government which introduced what is called the "Spoils system" into this country would not retain the confidence of this House for a day. On the other hand, it is ridiculous to suggest that the same principle which you apply to the head of a Department must necessarily apply to the messenger who carries his messages.
This matter was debated by a Royal Commission in 1914 and by the Blanesburgh Committee in 1925. Both the Commission and the Committee came to this conclusion, that, with regard to individual rights, there was a ground for relaxation of the existing rules so far as certain grades were concerned, and, with regard to the question of the right of association and the right of affiliation, the MacDonnell Commission, in their majority report, which was signed by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and also, if I remember rightly, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), said that the question as to whether relaxation, if any, should be allowed there, should be referred to a body having experience of conciliation and arbitration in the industrial world, and they concluded their report with this sentence:It is only after full consideration of this and cognate matters by a body constituted for this purpose that a satisfactory 414 conclusion can be reached on this difficult and complex subject.With these two reports before them, both of them indicating that, to some extent at any rate, there was ground for relaxation, the Government of the day not merely imposed additional restrictions on civil servants, but sought so to fetter those conditions on their successors that their successors should not be able to carry out the recommendations of that Committee to get this matter considered by an impartial body.
I pass to the consideration of the next Section of the Act, Section 6, which deals with local authorities. It was said that public policy demanded that this Clause should be put in, but public policy demands that you should not lightly interfere with the freedom of contract. Why should you deny to a local authority a right which you give to other private employers? I have heard it said, though I cannot myself vouch for it, that the "Times" newspaper insists upon every member of its technical staff being a member of a trade union; and I can quite well understand the advantage that an employer has in being able to negotiate with one person who can speak for all his fellows. Our objection to this Clause is three-fold. We say, first of all, that the Clause is undemocratic. The local authority is responsible to its own electors, and its own electors ought to decide what the local authority should do. Secondly, we say that the Clause is unenforceable, because it is perfectly easy for a local authority to get round this provision if it wants to do so. Thirdly, we say that this Clause is reactionary, and I say that for this reason. The Mond-Turner Conference made this recommendation:We consider that negotiations between employers and workmen are facilitated by the workmen being members of a union affiliated to the Trades Union Congress, or of trade unions recognised by that Congress as bona fide trade unions.So that, thanks to this Act, a local authority may not do that which the Mond-Turner Conference states is conducive to the efficient control of industry. The cleavage of opinion here is, of course, between those who believe that collective bargaining is a necessary incident of modern life, and those who regard it as a thing which should be, if not actively discouraged, at any rate 415 rigorously controlled. I should say on that Clause, just as on the other two Clauses, that the official pronouncement of the Liberal party which I wanted to state as justifying my claim that we have a mandate for the introduction of this Bill is as follows. With regard to that Clause they said that it wasA pettifogging and annoying interference with the liberty of democratic organisation.With regard to civil servants they said:The restrictions with regard to civil servants are unnecessary, and are in any case trivial.And with regard to the political levy they said this—I cite from a pamphlet called "The Trade Union Bill: an Exposition and a Criticism." After pointing out that the rights of minorities were fully protected by the Act of 1913, and that intimidation, if it existed, would be carried on just as effectively under a system of contracting in, they say:This Section is, therefore, strongly to be condemned on the grounds that it is wrong in principle, futile in practice, and dangerous in effect.Therefore, I feel confident that we shall have the support of my right hon. and hon. Friends below the Gangway, at any rate so far as these two Clauses are concerned. I have been a long time propounding what is, after all, a very dry and technical subject. Some may regard the Act of 1927, which we are seeking to amend, as a bulwark against revolution. Those who were responsible for that Measure should have remembered a very wise saying of Lord Morley:It cannot be worth while to introduce legislation of the most violently irritating kind merely to guard the nation against perils from which its own firm prepossessions would guard it independently of legislation.It is said that, among all the difficulties confronting us to-day which call for urgent treatment at our hands, we should have postponed this Measure to allow time for others. We believe that the Act of 1927 was a Measure unjust to the workers of this country. If we are wrong, there is no case for this Bill at all. If we are right, are we to delay remedying that injustice? The real safeguard against violent changes in our system of Government consists in the be[...]lief, deep-rooted in our national life, that 416 from this House any section of the community may obtain justice and equity.
§ Mr. STANLEY BALDWIN
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months.
I am sure that the House will be grateful to the Attorney-General for his lucid explanation of what he confessed was a technical and a dry Bill. The cheers which greeted him when he sat down showed only too clearly that his supporters feel that a very plausible case has been made out. The Attorney-General, in his closing remarks, and in one or two other periods of his speech, made an observation about the restrictive character of the legislation of 1927—how it was inspired by resentment after the events of 1926—[Interruption]—and he said that, if he was wrong in what he felt to be the injustices done by that Act, and the resentment that was felt by those who suffered those injustices, then, indeed, the case against the Bill would fall to the ground. I agree with that. There is a very profound difference, a difference not only of opinion but of principle, between us on the question of this Bill, and that is exactly what we have to debate in such time as the Government will allow us. I rise to-day to move, not an Amendment, but the rejection of this Bill, because I think that the differences between us on this matter are wider than can be bridged over by any form of Amendment.
It is true, as the Attorney-General has said, that there have been many Acts of Parliament passed by all parties dealing with this very difficult subject, that is, the regulation of associations of citizens inside the State with the object, as must he the object in a democratic country—this is where our views differ—of combining at the same time the widest liberties for the individuals and for those associations, with safeguards that those associations, in the work that they do for their own members and clients, may not damage the State. That is the point of such legislation, and it is in the working out how the regulations shall be framed that there is the widest difference of opinion between hon. Members opposite and those who sit on most of these benches. I agree with the Attorney-General in what he said about collective bargaining, but I will say a word or 417 two on his phrase of the resentment which he considered actuated the last Government in bringing in the Act of 1927. That Act is extraordinarily pertinent to the whole of this Debate, and there are one or two features connected with the passing of the Act on which I wish to address a word or two to the Prime Minister.
However you view the events of 1926, they were, of course, responsible, whether, as the Attorney-General said, from motives of resentment or not, for the legislation of 1927. But the years that followed the War were, perhaps, the most anxious years that the State has ever experienced in the relations of industry and the partners in industry, and labour in the country arising from many causes which it is unnecessary to specify, but which are familiar to most of us. After the election of 1924 there was a Trade Union Bill brought in by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten), and I took it upon myself to oppose that Bill. At that time I risked my whole position, as the comparatively new leader of the party, and I gave as my principal reason—and those who were in the House may remember some of the observations that I made—that I recognised that the atmosphere was not favourable in the country. Things were not happy, but I said, "I will not be responsible for firing the first shot in an industrial war." There was a shot fired next year, and a very heavy shot. But were we actuated by resentment?
I ask hon. Members to remember what happened. I remember being pressed very hard by all kinds of people in the autumn of 1926 to pass drastic trade union legislation, and I resisted it the whole time. I was pressed very strongly to introduce legislation before Christmas, and it would have been extra-ordinarily difficult for anyone in my position at that time, had he consented to introduce legislation before Christmas to avoid introducing far more drastic legislation than ever was in my mind. I was being urged by many sections of the Press, and by a very large and influential number of my own party. I felt that if the country had a little breathing space during Christmastime—and the papers were talking a lot about Christmas—we might come back in a 418 better mood. Exactly what I anticipated occurred and, when we met in January, I found that the atmosphere was so much improved that it was possible to bring in a Bill to which you are all, properly from your point of view, raising your objections, but which at that time commended itself to the whole of the Members on the Government side of the House, even those who would have gone much further than I did, and commended itself at that time to the country as a whole.
I should like to address one or two words to the Prime Minister. We remember well enough that in the last Parliament, owing to the fortunes of what he, no doubt, considers an unfortunate election, we had a very large majority. We were in a very strong position, and I think we could have done almost anything we liked with the time of the House. What did we do with regard to that Trade Disputes Bill? We knew that it was a Bill that touched the Opposition very closely. Any Bill of that nature is bound to. We gave them three and a-half days in which to discuss the Second Reading. We took 14 days of Parliamentary time on the Committee stage. We took three days on the Report stage, we took a whole day on the Third Reading and a whole day on the Lords Amendments. In other words, we gave to that one Bill, recognising its importance, 23 days of Parliamentary time. I asked the Prime Minister at Question time today only for one extra day, making three days for the discussion on the Second Reading. We have had a very long speech from the Attorney-General. I am not complaining of it in the least, but, after all, speeches like that, dealing with technicalities, must be answered, and they will be answered, but they take a long time to answer. It is deep speaking unto deep. It is lawyer to lawyer. Apart from that, there are many Members on the front benches of all parties who ought to make their voices heard on a subject which touches Governments closely. There are large numbers of private Members adequately equipped to discuss the subject of this Bill and, above all, there are Members opposite who have their case to make. They have to prove to the country that the changes for which they are asking are changes which will not hurt the country.
419 The reason I say that is this. When we gave all that time for the discussion of the Trade Disputes Bill in 1927, the great advantage of it was that, as the proceedings went on and the Debate was taken part in by so many Members, the country became thoroughly familiarised with the contents of a Bill which, whatever else a trade unionist Bill does, touches the lives of innumerable people up and down the country, and it was well that the country should know exactly what was in that Bill and that they should form their own opinion. The result of their forming their own opinion was that, when hon. Members opposite thought they had the cry of their lives in the country over that Bill—I confess I did not know what the response of the country would be—they were entirely unable in any part of the country to whip up any opposition to it. Part of my contention to-day, and the reason why I am asking the Prime Minister to give peculiar facilities for the Debate on this Bill, is that Members may have time to make their case and explain what I have said. They may be able to convince the country, as they did not convince it in 1927. Part of our case is that there is no great demand. There may be. It is for hon. Members to prove their case. After all, it is not impossible that this Bill, or portions of it, may play their part in some subsequent General Election and, if that be so, it is just as well that people should be made acquainted with the arguments on both sides in ample time, and so I have made these observations largely to try to induce the Leader of the House to give us ample time in which a Bill of such importance as this may be digested by the House, and its contents and the arguments employed made known to the country.
It is always difficult, I quite agree, with Bills of this kind, to tell, until you get down to the country, what their influence is going to be. I have just said I was surprised myself that the Act of 1927 aroused no resentment in the country at large. It may have done in the breast of certain Members, but the extraordinary feature of the industrial history of that year is that, in spite of that Bill, industrial relations became better in the course of that year and the next year than they had been for years. Where there is a feeling of real injustice I agree, 420 in a democratic constituency, a tide rises which no one can oppose. I remember one of those tides perfectly well in the feeling that was aroused in the country, and especially in the industrial regions of the country, at the time of the Taff Vale decision. There has been nothing like that feeling generated over this Bill. The burden of proof is upon those who want, a change, and we want to hear during the Debate, from Members who are able to speak, what claim they have that these changes are really demanded in the country and that they will not do any harm to the State. Those are the points that must be elucidated in the course of this Debate. The Attorney-General said, I know not with what authority—this, again, is a point which should be further elucidated—that the retention of the 1927 Act on the Statute Book was making the industrial situation, as between employers and employed, I assume, worse, and that this Bill would better it. I think we want more than the ipse dixit even of an Attorney-General on a point of that kind. I shall listen with interest to the arguments that are brought forward by those who have a first-hand knowledge of these most difficult and complicated problems.
What are the things in this Bill to which we plain people object, and what are the things on which we want more information and the reasons why certain steps are going to be taken? It appears to us, even after the speech we have just heard, that there will be a material difference in the position of a general strike after the passage of the Bill from what it was before the Bill was passed, and we want to know very clearly whether it will be possible under this Bill to have a general strike of the nature of the one of 1926. This is where we require elucidation. The whole essence of a general strike is its rapidity. A 6.0 p.m. general strike means one of two things. It is either settled very shortly, or it brings anarchy, If it brings anarchy, it does not matter what the Courts decide. It will have run its course for good or for evil, as we judge this Bill, before any opinion can be framed upon it, and all those who may have engineered that particular engine against the State will be immune for all that they have done.
I need not say anything at this stage about a general strike. I hope that, in 421 the broad common sense way in which we all view it, we have seen the last one in this country, and I feel encouraged to know this. I have had occasion to study both the speeches and the writings of the Prime Minister on this subject, and there is no doubt in my own mind from all I have read that he feels the futility and the folly of the weapon of the general strike as keenly as anybody in the House, and no one could have spoken more strongly on the subject. I say that gladly because, after all, it is those who have the responsibility of the great position which he holds now and which others of us in this House have held who know the danger that may come to the State, and come as in a moment, and the need for an effective means of meeting it. We disagree with the view put forward by the Attorney-General on the question of intimidation. Intimidation, of course, is a detail in this Bill which can far better be discussed by hon. Members on this side who have had some experience in cases of this kind and by hon. Members on the other side who can speak from their own experience. That is one of the things which needs thrashing out in this House and for which time is required.
But when we come to the political levy, we join issue completely with every word which the Attorney-General has said. We all know that minorities, in many ways, must suffer, but it has always seemed to me a grave injustice that the onus of collecting money for a political party should not be on those who collect it and on those who want it, and that those who belong to other political parties should be in a position that makes it of the easiest nature for them to go their own course without molestation. We all have our own experiences. I have received a large amount of correspondence. Many men have spoken to me up and down the country on this subject, and it is a kind of moral pressure, because, after all, it is a case of the two loyalties. We all have a loyalty to the State, but a man has a loyalty—and it is a very good loyalty—to his own fellows who work with him, and it is a very hard thing for him in any way to feel that he is throwing them over. That is a kind of pressure which, under the old system of contracting-out, hit him very hard and made it very difficult for him 422 either to claim or to get the exemption to which, I think, he was tally entitled. I am quite sure that the party opposite would have no desire to feel that they were being partly financed by Liberals and by Conservatives. It would be no satisfaction to me to be financed by members of the Labour party, although I am quite sure now that a good many members of the Labour party might finance me without feeling disturbed in their minds. Similarly, we on this side of the House feel very strongly that the present regulations should be preserved for the separation of political funds and for the protection of the ordinary funds of a trade union, knowing quite well how, under reckless leadership, if complete freedom is given, money saved through the years may all be expended in some moment of reckless folly by some hotheaded political fanatic.
With regard to civil servants, I should like to make one or two observations. The Government must declare their policy clearly. As I understand the Attorney-General, the whole question of regulations is left in the discretion of the Treasury, who may abolish all of them as they have existed from the time of the 1927 Act. With regard to the civil servant, what I feel is that he himself—and I am not speaking of the minority of ardent politicians of the extreme left wing; I am thinking of the ordinary man—must be protected from any difficulties that may come to him from that double loyalty of which I have spoken. If you enter the Civil Service of your country, it ought to have the first and last claim upon you all the time. If you have a double loyalty and you may be called upon to do something which conflicts with your loyalty to your country as a civil servant of your country, I think that you put a man in a most unfair and a very difficult position. He ought to be relieved from that, and nothing in this Bill ought to alter that which was brought to pass in the Act of 1927. I do not agree with the Attorney-General that that alteration was shabby. I regard it as an alteration which saved a man from a horrible moral dilemma—[Interruption.] It is a moral dilemma to ask a man to decide at a moment which of the two loyalties he will observe, loyalty to his employer, the State, or loyalty to his own colleagues. 423 That is a most unfair situation and one in which none of us would enjoy being put.
The Attorney-General said a word about that part of the 1927 Act which deals with local authorities and their servants. He brought in again the term "collective bargaining" and seemed to think that it was a legitimate object of the local authority to compel people to belong to a union in order that collective bargaining might be enforced. I take the other view. I am entirely in favour, as I said before, of collective bargaining, which has become a necessity in industry as at present constituted, but I deny the right of any local authority to go outside its sphere, or what I contend is its sphere, and dictate to any man whether he shall or shall not belong to any union or to any political union. That is an interference with the liberty of the individual subject which I believe to be absolutely wrong in principle.
In the same way, the extension of the illegality of the lightning strike to water, gas, electricity and other essential services has been called for by the increase of what may be considered essential services under the administration of local authorities. There is no man who, apart from the heat of political association, thinking it out quietly by himself, can justify the sudden suspension, without notice, of the necessary services of the ordinary and common people of this country. The thing is wrong, and what appeared in the Act of 1927 ought not to be relaxed.
There have been any number of strikes in the last two years. We want evidence in this House from Members who are able to speak, that industrial strikes have been impeded or prevented, or that any injustice has been done in the conduct of one, by a single line that appears in the Act of 1927. We have not had any evidence. It may exist. I do not know. I ask for it. I want it in this House, and you may depend upon it that the country will ask for it, too. The country will ask for it, because the country had made up its mind in 1927 about that Act. If the Act is going to be changed, you will have to convince them, as well as this House, that the change is necessary for their own well-being and the wellbeing of the country.
424 The Attorney-General, in the early part of his speech, touched upon one point which I meant to touch upon at the end of my speech. I am reluctant to stand in the way of the many Members who will want, and who have claims, to speak on a matter of this kind. I have on that account had to run briefly over those points where we object to this Bill and make clear why we object to them. I have a deeper objection than these detailed objections to individual Clauses. After all—and it is a commonplace, which the Attorney-General admitted—this is a time when we are doing all we can, and the Government have been doing all they can, to bring together the parties in industry, trying to get an atmosphere of good will in which both sides may try to solve the most difficult industrial problems which this country has ever been up against. I ask myself, Is a Bill like this going to help that, or to hinder it? The Attorney-General says that it will help rather than hinder. I think that it will hinder rather than help, and I will tell you why. It will turn men's minds from agreement to strife. It will turn their minds again to the arbitrament of force.
What are we all trying to do in international affairs? We are trying to get disarmament, a very slow and difficult process. Why are we trying to do it? Because we cannot trust fallible human nature with this great weapon, the great armies of Europe. That is the sole reason, and that is applicable at home. If it be possible, and if it be possible legally, to bring armies industrially into clash, there comes some time when the hot-heads and the fools vote, and the thing is done. I say, make it as difficult as you can for them. Have your sanctions. That was what we had in the Act of 1927, and nothing, in my view, has happened since then to make us change that Act. The onus of proof is upon you. If you can bring evidence to this House that there is injustice and unfairness to the workmen on the industrial side in industrial strikes, let us hear about it in this House. Tell us what you want to be done. But we shall want something pretty clear and pretty precise.
I think that, democratically, this is a retrograde step. We are only 10 or 12 years old in our new democracy in this country. Our steps are toddling, and 425 we have a long way to go and a lot to learn. We are feeling our way. We are trying to do what has never been done before—make a successful Empire of a full and complete democracy. That is our task. Democracy is subject to many things that may afflict it, that may delay its prospects, that may harm it, and there is nothing more dangerous than to have in democracy people who have power without responsibility, whoever those people may be. By giving these concessions, as we see them in this Bill, to a limited class of the community, you are setting up—I apologise for using Latin, but there is no English word to express it—an imperium in imperio, and you are getting a body which in some ways is independent of the State, and yet can hit the State in a vital place. I think that for some years yet the State needs protection for her own development—that protection that we gave in the Act of 1927.
The House may give a Second Reading to the Bill. They may say that they have no objection to the principle. They may think that they can make, and they may be prepared to make, alterations in the Bill to bring it more into conformity with their own opinions, but if you do not agree with the principle you cannot compromise. It is the principle that we object to. We believe that there is danger in this Bill to the individual liberty of the subject and we believe there is danger, or there may be danger, a possible danger to the State itself in certain circumstances. The alteration proposed constitutes a challenge—a challenge in which no one can be neutral. You must take your side in a struggle like this. I am quite confident that in addressing these few words to the House I am speaking the convinced opinion of the whole of my party, of a large number of Liberals in the country, of a large number of men who voted Labour at the last election, and who will vote Labour at the next Election, and of the majority of that class, to which I do not belong, which swings from side to side, now at one election, now at another. In this matter we have the consciousness that behind us is the national will. You do not represent in this matter either the nation or a class. You represent a class within a class, and that is political Labour and 426 no other labour at all. We have a consciousness that we are the interpreters of the will of the people.
§ Mr. NORMAN BIRKETT
My first duty—and it is a very pleasant duty—is to join in the congratulations which have been extended to my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General on the speech which he made in presenting this important and intricate Bill to the House. For expository power, lucidity of statement, grasp of details and, above all, for its tone and temper, my view is that the speech was a great Parliamentary performance, and nobody rejoices in that circumstance more than I do. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down was, in a different vein, a very remarkable speech, too, and a very significant speech. Perhaps it may serve a useful purpose if for a moment or two I contrast those two speeches in order to show to the House the difficulty which it must feel in discussing a Bill of this nature. The Attorney-General exhibited not the least remarkable quality of his speech in an extraordinary skilful avoidance of the most vulnerable parts of the Bill. I was about to say that it was very striking, certainly it was very significant, to mark the contrast between the speech that he made and the Bill itself.
In one of the passages of the speech, a very moving passage, he spoke of the political genius of our people, and said that in times of difficulty and stress they would find the more excellent way. He spoke of the weapon of the strike and the lock-out as being barbarous, and pictured the day when industrial peace and concord will be established throughout this land. I am entitled to ask, where is it in this Bill? Those very excellent sentiments, which found an echo, without the smallest doubt, in every quarter of the House, irrespective of political and party divisions, would have been very much better if in some degree they had been implemented in the text of the Bill. Nobody knows better than, the hon. and learned Gentleman of the need that exists at the present moment for someone to take in hand the unwieldy mass of trade union legislation, to codify it, to compress it and to make it intelligible to all the thousands who have to read it. The opportunity which the hon. and learned Member had on this occasion of doing something constructive, of doing something to make the place of the trade 427 unions in our national life more important and more valuable than it is, has been lost, and it may never recur.
I will cover very briefly the ground that the hon. and learned Gentleman covered with regard to the details of the Bill, but in the first place, I would point out what it is that makes it difficult to consider the Bill as it ought to be considered, and as it deserves to be considered. I dare aver that I speak the mind of the majority of hon. Members opposite when I say that they dislike the Act of 1927, and that they believe that it was conceived in a vengeful spirit. It is enough for my purpose to say that they believe that it was conceived in a vengeful spirit. They believe that in many of its Sections it is aimed directly at crippling the legitimate powers of trade unions, and they say: "It is our punishment, or what is thought to be punishment, for the events of 1926. Therefore, believing those sentiments as we do, we shall never rest until that Statute is repealed, or virtually repealed."
On the other hand, as I understood the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, he says: "You must not touch the Act of 1927. It must remain in its entirety. To touch it or to amend it is akin to an act of sacrilege." [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That may be my gloss upon the speech: [Interruption.] Very well, let me say quite frankly that it is my gloss upon his speech, and I submit that it is a gloss which I am entitled to make. The tone of the speech one could welcome, but I hope that I do no injustice to the speech when I say that the main burden of it was that the Act of 1927 ought to remain unimpaired. My only point in contrasting the two speeches at this moment is that it seemed to me and to those who are associated with me that in these circumstances there is some danger that the true interests of the community may be overlooked in the mere clash of feeling as from 1927 to 1931, because this Bill is an amending Bill, and, as I shall hope to show, in many matters it really endeavours to repeal the Act of 1927,
Before I examine the provisions of the Bill, I would draw attention to one remark made by the Leader of the Opposition, and it is a factor which hon. Members in all parts of the House must con- 428 sider with the greatest care. He said: "One of my main objections to the present Bill is that it will promote industrial strife." For my own part, I think there is one overmastering cause of industrial strife, and that is when large bodies of men, citizens making their contributions to the common weal, feel that they labour under a strong sense of injustice. I know of nothing which brings the law more into contempt than where there is a well-founded belief that injustice does exist. In these circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman said, in making a plea for more time from the Prime Minister, "What we desire is a full, careful and detailed discussion." I have risen this afternoon to state that which has been announced in the Press as to the attitude which we propose to take. For our own part, we do not desire to place any obstacle in the way of that full and careful examination of the matter which the right hon. Gentleman so much desires.
With regard to the Act of 1927, what was the action of the Liberal party in this House on that occasion? [HON. MEMBERS: "Divided!"] It is said that the attitude was divided. I do not know that that is peculiar to the Liberal party. Let me remind the House of their attitude. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), speaking in the country on 21st April, 1927, said:I object strongly to it because it is stirring up fresh strife before we have recovered from the effects of last year's disturbance. Things were settling down in the labour world. That was satisfactory, and it is a great misfortune that this welcome result of the disillusionment of last year should be upset by a challenging Measure. The General Strike was crushed in a few days, without any special legislation, purely by the common sense and common will of the nation. From every point of view the Trade Unions Bill is a grave blunder. Trade is improving very gradually, very slowly, and it is only by good will and co-operation amongst all classes of the community that this improvement can be accelerated. Why then provoke ill-will, anger and conflict.If my right hon. Friend to-day says that he desires to give the fullest facilities for the consideration of an amendment of that Act, nobody on this occasion can accuse him of inconsistency. Let me read one further quotation from a letter published in the "Times" on 11th April, 1927, from Lord Grey of Fallodon: 429There is every sign that the step which the Government has taken in introducing the Trade Unions Bill is a mistake fraught with real peril to the interests of the country. The troubles of last year inflicted incalculable loss on the whole nation, inclusive of every class. The final outcome, however, has been a reversion to reason. … The rank and file of trade unions felt the leadership of last year had been a mistake. An extremist leadership had been discredited. The advocacy of class war was declining or failing in effect.The speeches of Lord Reading in another place were most striking contributions in condemnation of the language and uncertainty of the Act of 1927. May I summarise what were and are our main objections to the Act of 1927? The Attorney-General has already dealt with many of them, and, apparently, they are common to the supporters of his party and the Liberal party. May I summarise them in this way? It was felt at the time that the proposals were inopportune and untimely; secondly, that without doubt Sub-section (1) of Section 1 of the Act of 1927 with its definition of the illegal strike went too far; thirdly, that in Section 1, Sub-section (2), criminal offences were and are undoubtedly created which offend against the very first principle of criminal jurisprudence, that your criminal law must be certain, that a man must know of a surety that if he does this thing be offends against the law. The speeches of my Noble Friend Lord Reading, with his great position and experience as a former Lord Chief Justice, condemned the Act in that Section upon that ground in absolutely unmistakable terms. Then, fourthly, Section 1 of the Act defining illegal strikes certainly deprives trade unions of powers which they had possessed and exercised for many years without challenge or suggestion of illegality and, indeed, it was felt in many quarters, and is still felt in some quarters, whether by inadvertence or advertence it matters not, that the definition enshrined in that Act of Parliament could actually in certain circumstances make illegal an ordinary industrial strike within a trade or industry.
If these two matters are considered, first, the attitude taken by the Liberal party on the introduction of the Measure, and, secondly, the objections taken to the merits of the Act, which have of course persisted from that day to this, 430 it is quite clear that it would be very difficult for Liberals to say that, they would not give the House the opportunity of considering it. As it happens, the loose, ambiguous and vague language, of Section 1 of the Act has not had to be interpreted in the courts. I am not at all certain whether it would not have been a very wise proceeding to have been counsel in the case as the proceedings would have been very prolonged because the difficulty of construing with any certainty the language of the Act is a task of the greatest difficulty. That was the view, and is the view, taken with regard to the Act of 1927. My own personal view is that there is no likelihood at all of a recurrence to what was miscalled a general strike. My personal view of the matter is, that if ever there did come into this country what could be truly termed a general strike, a revolutionary strike, it would not matter at all what was the nature of the Act of Parliament upon the Statute Book or how fierce were the declarations. Therefore, I say that in regard to an amending Bill a discussion in some respects becomes academic. Nevertheless, it is a matter of the gravest importance, when the Government of the day present a Bill to amend an important Statute affecting trade union laws, that this House should consider with the greatest care its provisions and all matters arising therefrom.
Let me come to the terms of the Bill. First of all, I look at Sub-section (1) of Clause 1, which is to be substituted for Sub-section (1) of Section 1 of the Act of 1927. It says:Any strike or lock-out of which the primary object is an object other than that of furthering purposes connected with the employment or non-employment, or the terms of the employment, or with the conditions of labour, of any person (whether or not employed in the trade or industry in which the strike or lock-out takes place) shall be illegal.In justification of this Clause the Attorney-General said that what it did was to restore the pre-1927 position. I am not at all sure that that is a full, complete and accurate way of stating it. What this Sub-section clearly does is to define the area of illegality, and I suggest that by implication the area left undefined is legal. If you examine this Clause from that point of view it at once becomes quite clear that you would always have the utmost difficulty in 431 deciding, let alone proving with any precision, what was the primary object of a strike. Motive would enter into it, but it is quite clear that in practically every strike you would have as one of its purposes a purpose that was connected with the employment or non-employment, or the terms of the employment of any person. One of the purposes of the strike would be the furtherance of that purpose. It would not matter at all whether some form of pressure upon Parliament entered into it. That would not appear as a purpose in furtherance of the employment.
The question has been asked already, and has been repeated this afternoon, what would have been the position of what was called the general strike of 1926 under the terms of this Sub-section? I speak with considerable humility, and no doubt an official answer will be given. The question has been raised for some days in the country, and has been raised again expressly by the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin). But with humility may I attempt an answer, and have it corrected in due course? The argument would run in this way: The general strike, so-called, of 1926 was called by the Trade Union Congress for the purpose of furthering employment in the mining industry. The pressure upon the Government, whether to continue the subsidy or not, was incidental; it was not a primary purpose. The primary thing was to further the purpose of employment. It would seem to me that under this Clause such a situation would be legal, and, for my part, if it becomes a question of considering what circumstances would come under such a definition, I cannot think of many cases in which you could have an illegal strike. For example, it would appear that a strike to coerce the Government to reduce Income Tax or avert war might be an illegal strike under this Clause. A lock-out of employers to compel the Government to reduce Surtax might not be popular, but it would certainly be illegal; and a strike to prevent an unpopular Prime Minister being conveyed by rail from Dover to London would be illegal.
Apart from matters of that character, It appears to me that under this definition—and I do not, think the Attorney- 432 General will deny it—it is very difficult to find circumstances which come within the area of illegality. I did not understand my hon. and learned Friend really to challenge that position. But he says, as I understand, that the answer is this: "We do no more by this Clause than to put the position as it was in 1926." There was something said with regard to the doctrines that were enunciated in certain quarters at that time, that in any event what was called the general strike of 1928 was illegal, and that therefore you did not need the Act of Parliament. If that is the argument—I am not certain that I understood it—with great respect it does not seem to me to be sufficient.
The position plainly is this: No one wants a repetition of the offence of 1926, but I think that the country wants to be assured that if you are taking upon yourself to put a Statute on the Statute Book, you should make it plain, if you can, that that situation is unwanted and is prohibited. That is to say, whether the strike of 1926 was legal or illegal, one must make up one's own mind about, it. and I think the House ought to recognise that, apart from legal refinements or apart from extraordinarily difficult questions of law, the country in general says: "Well, whether it was legal or whether it was illegal, we do want something to protect us against a repetition of that kind of thing." But at the same time there is another equally cherished view held by the people of this country, and certainly held on the Liberal benches, and that is that in doing that you must avoid taking from trade unions their just and earned rights. That is the task of difficulty.
It is for that reason that I said I regretted very much, after the sentiments of the learned Attorney-General, which found such acceptance in every quarter of the House, about the new era in industrial matters—that that opportunity has not been taken, for in my view a better way to deal with that matter and to avoid injustice to the unions, and to protect the country, is to proceed in a wholly different way. To Sections 4 and 5 of the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act of 1875, reference has been made. The learned Attorney-General explained why he proposed to omit from the present Bill Sub-section (4) of Section 6 of the Act of 1927. Section 4 of 433 the Act of 1875 makes it a criminal offence to break a contract of employment when you are dealing with water. Section 5 of the same Act makes it a criminal offence to break a contract of employment when you are dealing with gas. The Act of 1919 extends the provision to electricity. So what you have at this moment, with regard to three key industries, gas, water and electricity, are prohibitions based on this, that it is a breach of the criminal law to break your contract of employment.
It seems to me, and this is a matter which the Liberal party has advocated through its industrial committee for a very considerable time—the hon. and learned Gentleman will not think me unkind if I say that I am not at all certain that he did not himself take part in the proceedings by making the very valuable contribution which he can make—that in a matter of this kind it is not enough for one party to say, "You put this Act on the Statute Book in order to try to punish us, and we will take it off." I could have wished, therefore, that instead of this Clause which seems to me to have the effect that I have mentioned, it would have been a magnificent thing if the procedure which I have indicated, which quite manifestly cannot be done against the will of the people but must be by consultation and conciliation, and by exploration extended to other industries in the country—it would have been a magnificent thing if the procedure I have indicated were adopted, so that the era of concord and good will in the key industries of the country would be more easy of attainment.
There is another matter of very great importance in connection with this definition. If I am right in the interpretation sought to be put upon the Sub-section in this Bill, Sub-section (1, h) of Clause 1 of the Bill really becomes of very great importance. Sub-section (1, h) deals with the declaration of illegality made by the High Court. It is given in the Bill in the form of a new Section:In any proceedings in the High Court in which the legality of a strike or lock-out under this Act is in question, the Court shall have power to declare that the strike or lock-out is or is not …. illegal.If I am right in my interpretation of Sub-section (1), this Clause becomes a Clause of very great importance indeed. The view which we take about this Clause 434 is that as it stands it is much too cumbrous and too slow. I was very glad indeed to hear the learned Attorney-General give expression to the view he did about that matter. I welcomed that declaration because I do not think it would be difficult to substantiate the fact that the Clause as it stands is really unworkable. It is new, and of course it is impossible to speak with any certainty as to its effect, but I cannot but think that before any declaration of illegality under this provision would be granted by the High Court, a very considerable time must elapse. The general strike, so termed, lasted for nine days. I cannot think that you would have a very firm and strong chance of getting a declaration of illegality under this provision in less time than that, because the fact must be faced that without the smallest desire to delay proceedings the judges of the High Court, when declaring illegality, would have to bear this all-important thing in mind: "Upon our decision in this matter of illegality rests this question—Are men throughout this country to be prosecuted for illegality?"
The point of this declaration, as distinct from the Act of 1927, is this: You cannot instigate criminal proceedings until the illegality has been declared by the High Court. Under the existing law a man may be haled before the local justices, and it is perfectly true that this House protected that man to the extent of saying, "Well, but we shall not allow him to be prosecuted until the Attorney-General has considered the matter and consented, but you may hale him before the justices." It may be said that the justices in one place would give one decision and the justices in another district give another decision, and that all over the country you would have that which our system of law has always sought to avoid, namely, differing standards with regard to the criminality, not with regard to the punishment. Therefore, in order to avoid that manifest difficulty, there is some danger that you are falling into the further extreme, and that what you are really saying is that this procedure shall first be instituted for illegality as laid down. The evidence on one side is brought. I will not say that in nine cases out of 10 it will be wrong, but in many cases there comes an instant demand for adjournment for evidence in rebuttal of the evi- 435 dente brought. The judge in the High Court, who has no other interest in the matter than to do even-handed justice between the parties, grants the facilities in order that all material may be before him.
The period of nine days is not a period which is any too long. I observe that Lord Buckmaster, speaking with great experience, appealed for three weeks to a month, and that other distinguished Law Lords have given similar expressions of opinion. That is a difficulty to be met. I think the phrase is used wrongly, "Well, by this Bill therefore you legalise or license illegality and give immunity therefrom, because the provision of the Act says that until that declaration of illegality the funds must still be protected by the Act of 1926." A man may act with immunity until the declaration. I say to the Government that, so far as the Liberal party is concerned, they desire to see substituted for this Clause in the Bill words which will have the effect of satisfying the country. Whilst I fully agree about the difficulty of definitions, if the Bill goes to Committee we shall endeavour to provide such words and to fight for them. Secondly, that cumbrous and slow procedure with regard to the declaration of illegality is one in regard to which we shall be glad to co-operate in order that its drawbacks may be taken away.
I do not desire to detain the House much longer, but I must make a reference to other matters which have been referred to. There is Section 4 of the Act of 1927, the contracting-in compared with contracting-out. The learned Attorney-General referred to a political pamphlet of 1927, published by the Liberal Publication Department. That pamphlet, no doubt, he read at the time. I think it was just a little touching, because he seemed to have preserved that relic of his degenerate days. Do not let us be frightened by words. It will not be the first time one has got to explain away rather a difficult utterance. I must say that my hon. and learned Friend did this for me this afternoon. I have often wondered what a man in the witness-box thought when you suddenly confronted him with a letter, the existence of which he had forgotten and which 436 he could not remember ever having written. I have now some glimmering of what it feels like. "Wrong in principle, futile in practice, and dangerous in effect"—we can eliminate the third, as he has not proved that contracting-in is dangerous in effect. As far as I followed the figures given by the Attorney-General, they seemed to be very convincing for maintaining contracting-in.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The hon. Member obviously refers to this:This section more than any other in the Bill will have the effect of creating a feeling of hostility among trade unionists and damaging the prospects of industrial peace.
§ Mr. BIRKETT
My right hon. Friend will correct me if I go wrong, but he did not quote that passage before. I do not propose to read the whole of that pamphlet, but I was proposing to deal with the quotations from the pamphlet which the hon. and learned Gentleman made. It is no good quoting a damaging admission made in 1927 if the facts of 1931 do not support it. It is clear that you can say, "Look how inconsistent you were, what a false prophet you were, what a time server you were!" But it can be said, "Well, but you must not ignore the facts of 1931." Therefore, I would submit that it has not been dangerous in effect and that the figures placed before the House this afternoon were a complete justification for contracting-in. The argument that it has been futile in practice was again destroyed by the hon. and learned Gentleman, because he gave figures showing that in well-organised unions it made no difference. Indeed, the figures were better in the well-organised unions. Was it wrong in principle? The doctrine we have to consider is this:Any member of an association that is acting within its powers in spending money on political objects must he hound by the decision of the majority of that association if he does not give notice of his dissent.It is easy to state a proposition and say, "Give me an answer, yes or no. Is it right or is it wrong?" It does not, in my view, state the position at all. You must remember, when you state your proposition and ask people to agree or disagree with it, that, when you are dealing with a trade union, you are dealing with an association with a unified 437 purpose in industrial matters and widely divergent purposes in political matters.
A proposition so stated seems to me much too broad. You want some such covering words as these, "Any member of an association which is acting within its powers, which have been carefully defined by Act of Parliament to protect minorities,"—as indeed they have. Therefore, as a matter of principle, I do not see that principle can be invoked in that matter or on that side but the principle which can be invoked in order to maintain contracting-in, on which we in this party feel strongly and will contend to the uttermost, is this, that, when you have an association of people and you give them certain powers and certain protections to minorities, you ought to be scrupulously careful to see you do not place any members of that association in a position where they may be subject to pressure or to intimidation. I do not bring any charge of intimidation on the Floor of this House. I am content to base my argument on this, that you must in matters of this kind avoid the very appearance of it. We say in this matter that, in practice, there has been nothing here which justifies your saying that contracting-in so far has been a great injustice. If it were the case, it would be listened to from these benches with the greatest sympathy and care, but it cannot be said that, in practice, a grave injustice has been done and, in principle, it seems to me the argument is all the other way. On this matter, which we regard as a vital matter, if this Bill goes to Committee, we shall insist with all the power we have that Section 4 of the 1927 Act, which it is sought here to repeal, shall be reinstated in this Bill before it goes to the Statute Book.
I will say a few words about Sections 5 and 6. Perhaps the House will forgive me if I do not go into detail about them, but put it in this way. So far as Clause 5 about civil servants is concerned, we believe, in short, that it is right and in the interests of the community, and not wrong to those whom it affects, that the Civil Service should be kept quite aloof from politics. I rather gather that the argument of my hon. and learned Friend this afternoon was that that might be said with justice and force with regard to the people at the top, but not with regard to the people in a lowlier capacity. 438 He said the same principle ought not to be applied to the head of a Department and to a messenger. For the life of me I cannot see that. You do not alter the principle by altering the status. There is a difference. It may be politically expedient to do one thing in certain circumstances and not in another, but it ought to be put on that ground. It has been put here on the ground of principle. There are Members of this House like the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. W. J. Brown) who are expert on the facts and details of this matter. I can only state, the principle having been invoked, the principle which I should invoke. It seems to me that, if you can show no real hardship against the people intimately concerned, and at the same time a salutary and beneficial principle, which gives security to the community and to the State, that the Civil Service should be aloof from politics and not affiliated to any political party, then that is an important matter which we here, if this Bill goes into Committee, will seek to restore.
Finally, as to Section 6 dealing with the powers of local authorities, which it is sought to repeal, that Section says that we will not permit a local authority to make it a condition of employment that a man shall join a union or shall not. It will no doubt be said with great force that it is a very wise, useful and helpful thing in industrial peace that all employed by a big employer shall be members of the same union, for purposes of conciliation, the joint industrial council, and so on. However that may be and whatever methods may be devised for that end, it seems, in principle, a very serious invasion of the elementary rights of freedom. [Interruption]. If an attack is made on the lawyers and professions, I can conceive no one better able to repudiate it than my hon. and learned Friend. [Interruption.] I must have been misunderstood. I am not suggesting the hon. and learned Gentleman said it. He attacked the Section while I am defending its reinstatement in this Bill on the ground that its removal is an invasion of an elementary right of freedom, namely, that a man shall be able to work and not have a condition of that kind imposed upon him. [HON. MEMBERS "What about the lawyers?"] This is not the occasion, nor 439 am I the person to make in the House of Commons a general defence of the Bar. We on this side take a strong view on this Section, and we shall do what we can in Committee to see that it is reinstated. I pass to intimidation. I consider there is a good deal to be said for definition. I have heard a case quoted here by my hon. and learned Friend. It is the only case, it was considered with very great care, and there is a good deal to be said for a close examination of this matter.
Let me conclude with this general expression of view. The party to which I have the honour to belong is a party which in the past has been honourably associated with trade union legislation. It is a party which has recognised in the past the very great and very honourable part which trade unions play in the organisation of our country. We desire sincerely that the beneficent work of the trade unions should not be impaired but rather extended. In the past, when the rights of trade unions were attacked, it was the Liberal party who was found to defend them; when the rights of the trade unions are attacked now it will be the Liberal party who will defend them. My hon. Friends must not think, because events give larger experience and perhaps bring about a modification here and a modification there, that that in any way alters the basic attitude we take to trade unions. It was the great mission of the Liberal party when they were attacked to defend them, and I hope that when the true and legitimate rights of trade unionism are in danger this party will still be found taking that attitude. It is because I believe that this Bill as it stands is a Bill which may be amended and reformed in the matters and in the manner which I have indicated that I desire to say that we, for our part, do not propose to take any steps which would prevent the full examination of this important question.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
I wish, in the first place, to say how much the British trade union movement owes to the Attorney-General for the manner in which he has presented the Bill, and I should like then to deal with three points mentioned by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Nottingham (Mr. Birkett) in relation to the Liberal attitude on the 440 political levy, on the rights of civil servants, and on the position of the local authorities in connection with the Bill. I think I cannot do better than call the attention of the Liberal party to a publication called "The Nation and Athenaeum." In an article in the number for 17th January on the political levy, they take credit for the fact that in 1913 the Liberals gave the provision for contracting-out, in order to safeguard the interests of those trade unionists desiring by a majority vote to take part in political activity. This article also says:The Conservatives always disliked the Act of 1913. They have an instinctive knowledge that the politically indifferent are really Conservatives, and they feel it to be an injustice that their political opponents should derive financial support from people who cannot he bothered to fill up a form refusing to contribute. They have, never been shocked by the idea that shareholders in limited companies should have their money used for political purposes without their consent.That is a Liberal publication, and it takes the Conservatives to task for being so eager to oppose the poorer party collecting its penny or so per week while it takes all the credit to the Liberal party, for being so broadminded as to desire to be helpful to this struggling party through the Trade Union movement. As to the matter relating to the Civil Service I am at a loss to understand the sense of proportion of those who say that the civil servant is in a separate class or category of industrial or clerical work from any similar classes of workers in other industries. I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham will forgive me if I say that his speech in that respect will be interpreted as disqualifying all labourers, artisans and engineers working in Woolwich Arsenal or in Government dockyards in membership of their separate trades or general workers organisations and as meaning that such a worker could only mix with his fellow-workers in the branch room, and must not mix with them in trade union activities.
Surely the hon. and learned Member does not mean to say that the engineer's labourer, at 38s. or £2 a week, is a class unto himself and that he must be kept from association with other industrial workers because, forsooth, he is employed in a Government Department. It is 441 really too ridiculous for words. To my mind, according to that theory the postman who delivers the letters, the general telegraphist, the linesman who carries the telephone wires along our roads, the general labourer, the general worker employed in this way all must be put aside and not allowed by law to associate with their confreres in the trade union movement. That I think is stretching the matter too far. Then the local authorities we are told—from the Liberal benches of all benches—are not to have the power to act in common with other employers. Take the case of a Whitley Council for the gas industry or the electricity industry. The private employers in that industry can say "We agree that in order to carry out effectively the agreements arrived at under the machinery of the Whitley Council, we shall insist on membership of the unions which have entered into those agreements to ensure that the agreements will be honoured." But the municipality or other local authority representing the public service in that self-same industry must say to their colleagues on the employers' side "We cannot do that kind of thing."
To carry that matter one step further, I would like the House to see a notice of a kind which in 1924 we could publish in any works and which we could then enforce, but which we could not enforce to-day. This refers to cases of public undertakings making agreements with trade unions, in order to demonstrate the value of Whitleyism and the need for complete and effective association, that disciplinary action, if necessary, might be taken by the employers as well as by the workmen in the industry concerned. It was necessary to have that complete organisation in 1924, and in this kind of notice a public undertaking could give a description of their desires in that respect and give the name of the organisation representing the workpeople in those works. The Leader of the Opposition wanted proof of certain things, but he himself, as an employer of labour must know, that we are gradually drifting because of the uncertainty and the growing dissatisfaction at the false lip-service given by people who profess that they desire to see harmony and development in the great industries of this country and an understanding between the employers and the representatives of organ- 442 ised workmen. When they say that, they must know that because of their own communications there is growing up a degree of uncertainty and suspicion which is likely at any moment to break down the machinery brought into existence for the purpose of that understanding.
The Leader of the Opposition said that we must prove our case, and prove that the changes which we desire will not harm the country. The Attorney-General mentioned the discussions which took place between the members of what was known as the Mond-Turner group—the representatives of the great captains of industry on the one hand, and of the trade union movement, through the Trade Union Congress General Council on the other. The trade unionists gave away a great deal of what were looked upon as prejudices in the past when they entered into those negotiations, and that was done with a desire to see whether it was not possible to promote such an understanding as would make strikes and lockouts wellnigh impossible, while industry was recovering itself. That conference deliberately said that in the interests of industry and of the country, it was necessary that there should be complete organisation on the part of the employers' associations, and a complete recognition of trade union membership on the industrial side, and that they could not make their own machine effective because of the fears and doubts which surrounded the trade union position in connection with this Act of Parliament as it stands.
If I am asked for proof I would ask the Conservative party to consult interests which are in membership with them, from the employers' side, and I am sure they will get an answer which will satisfy them to the extent that they will welcome the principle of a drastic reversal of the policy dictated in the 1927 Act—remembering the circumstances in which it was dictated. I have a notice here put up by a large employer of labour which I feel I ought to read:I regret to hear that the notice posted some time ago on the works, appealing to all workmen to join the union voluntarily has not had the desired effect.In that notice, I stated that I was prepared to arrange with the union to bring some form of pressure to bear on the non-union workmen.The notice continues as follows:The association in January agreed that the new wage agreement was made with the 443 union on behalf of its members. Therefore, the non-union workman has nothing to do with the same.In future, we propose to pay the full percentage payable under the new wage agreement only to workmen who are members of the union.The union will supply us with a list of the workmen and their occupations who are not members of the union, so that after the next ascertainment personal notice will he given to each man that a reduction in percentage will be paid of not more than 5 per cent.I hope that every workman will join up at once; otherwise, I shall take steps after the next ascertainment to make a difference in the percentage payable between the members of the union and the non-unionist.That is from quite a big undertaking. The peculiar set of circumstances that is arising is this: The trade unions enter into an agreement, and the more they try to stabilise that agreement in order to secure a settled policy for a period, recalcitrant members for various reasons may dissociate themselves from their organisation, having secured the benefits of the trade union machinery. An employer must then surely be told. Let us see where the intimidation comes in. You may have that going on to such an extent that the trade union is bound to write to the undertaking and say, "We can no longer guarantee the carrying out of the agreement with you, because numbers of our men have since broken away from the agreement by leaving the organisation." The employer has the choice of two things. Some employers have said to us, "Give us the names, and, law or no law, we will put them outside the agreement; and you honour the agreement so far as it applies to your members."
Can a public authority do that? Let me tell this House that only recently, because of a long stabilised period settling wages and bringing a decree of contentment and certainty of continuous work, a few wanted all the benefits and left the union. Would you say it would be intimidation for us to compel them to come back to their union and honour the obligation into which they had entered? I have had a local authority or a department of a local authority suggest to me recently, "Why do you not bring the men out on strike?" Is it fair to ask a union to bring its members out on strike in order to create a position that will 444 enable a local authority to deal with men with whom it cannot deal because of the Act of Parliament.
The local authority cannot say to those men, "You are outside the agreement." The local authority are definitely directed by the Act that they must not make any difference. So far as wages and conditions are concerned, they must not discriminate as between union and nonunion members, so that the trade union can, in the interests of the State, enter into arrangements and agreements under the principles of Whitleyism, the man who is willing to pay can go on paying, he can carry the man who declines to pay and can give him all the benefits, and you say it is intimidation to put up the proposition to the employing side who are parties to the agreement that if they continue to employ such a man they must employ him on conditions outside those named in the agreement. They have not got that freedom or anything like it.
Remember that this country is the oldest trade union country in the world, that industrial organisation showed evidence of its existence in this country first as purely industrial organisation, that throughout the pages of industrial history there has been nothing but praise for the hardiness of the British artisan, for his devotion as a craftsman, for his superior ability, for his matchlessness as compared with similar classes of worker throughout other parts of the world. He has done it constitutionally. There has been no violent, revolutionary, political action or strike against the State in this country. There never has been, there never can be, there never will be, because we have the fullest and the freest franchise in the world. There may be political revolutions by constitutional methods. The only way that you can take that power away from them is by taking their vote away from them. You do your best to cripple their use of the vote by denying them reasonable facilities for making their contributions by majority decisions towards building up a fund in order that they might fight independently for the political implementation of their industrial desires.
The right hon. Gentleman opposite smiles, but let me rut it to him: Can any worker discuss wages or working conditions without those wages and working conditions, scene time or another, con- 445 flitting with the Acts of Parliament that control the conditions of his labour or industry? Not one. He must have the political instrument to implement politically such safeguards as are necessary to protect him against the employer who would otherwise risk human life and limb rather than give protection for the man while he was so employed. It is so much moonshine to talk about a general strike being a revolutionary strike and about the fears of a revolutionary strike in the future. The worker is only likely to break loose when he has been constantly driven down and harassed in every direction.
Really, if I were a Conservative, I would be among the first to advocate compulsory trade unionism, because many of the firms to-day insist upon trade union membership. Some members of some firms ask the unions to notify them quarterly of the men who are lapsing or likely to get into arrears, and they make representations to those men that it is in the interests of the industry that there should only be a representative putting of the case for discussion, rather than that chaos and discontent should enter and show themselves in every corner or among every single unit employed there. There is no hardship.
Will anybody tell me that employers do not compel other employers in a similar industry to join their association? I know that even under one of the joint industrial councils the employers' side excluded from its employers' association a very great undertaking because it declined to carry out a national agreement that had been entered into with the workers' representatives. That great organisation sought re-admission, promised to carry out the national decision, and came back again into the association. Nobody ever shouted against that. Is the country to-day calling out against the cotton employers in the cotton district? When we speak of sympathetic action, if the members of a family are being attacked in a manner that leads other members of the same family to fear that that is only the commencement, that it will swing round, and that they will be taken separately, are the other members of the family to [...]ay they will do nothing and to see themselves beaten in consequence?
446 Employers have the power to close the works. The workman must not stop outside the works gates if it is a sympathetic strike to assist a member of his fraternity, or his own union perhaps, that is in trouble. So, the employers in the cotton industry, because of a dispute in one locality, affecting a few thousand men, say to those men, "Unless you return and agree to do double the amount of work that you are now doing, we will lock out 200,000 workmen and workwomen who are not parties to the quarrel and who have nothing to do with the quarrel. We have nothing to do with the quarrel, only we expect that if those members of our association can impose their will there, it will be easier of adaptation to us, and because of that likely effect on us, reducing our employed staff by 50 per cent., we will have a sympathetic lockout."
The great Press of the country say nothing, but let it be 10,000 workmen in dispute, and let another 200,000 workmen say, "We can see the effect of this, although not immediate; it is coming our way, and we are going to step in and finance you and back you because your cause is ours," in the same way that those employers are saying that their cause is the cause of those who are in trouble, and the Press of the country would say, "The tyranny of the trade unions! The intimidation of the trade unions! By brute force, by bullying, by threats, by picketing and keeping free people in this country from going to work and earning their livelihood." Oh, yes. Some of the employers are very free with their competitors, are they not? Do they not constantly jam them out when it suits them? They do not just ask them to be passive. They are very active. They can do that, but we in the trade union movement, of course, must not do anything of the sort, because we are only workmen.
Something was said as to our objection to the law in regard to a political levy. I represent a union that has 300,000 members. It is a union that has 90 per cent. of its members contracting-in, but that is not an argument for the retention of contracting-in. When contracting-out was the order, from 2,000 to 3,000—say 3,000—contracted-out. That was no intimidation. They met in their lodge rooms. They had their political convic- 447 tions, whether Tory or Liberal, or it may be convictions that were neither one nor the other. I know of nothing that interrupted them, but we kept records of that small number. Now that we have filed away in index form, say, 280,000 cards and have increased the secretarial staff, the "Morning Post" or some national paper begins to trounce you for taking such a large percentage of 6d. per week contribution for management, and then they say that it is to keep the agitator comfortably well off, instead of which it is imposed by the Government, which says to you, "Keep 280,000 cards; follow them up."
I should like somebody on that side of the House who was responsible for the Act of 1927 to say if they would like the Government to carry that out in the event of the provisions in this Bill not being carried. If they did, I wonder it the country realises that, in order to fix their spite upon trade unionists, they would have to employ two or three thousand civil servants. In our office we have 280,000 names indexed, and we are expected to keep going through them and taking out the names of those who have died and to trace those who may have left the union. A time will come when all that machinery will be useless and wasteful, and the discontent will remain. What became of all the talk in 1919 when Whitley Councils were started? You surely do not want to break up that machinery.
We have been twitted and taunted from the Conservative side of the House about strikes and lock-outs, and to-day we are sarcastically told that there has been an absence of strikes. It is said that things have gone on so well that it is a blessing that the 1927 Act found its way on to the Statute Book. The Act has not been the cause. The task of the trade unions to keep their agreements honoured has been much more difficult. If the Conservative and Liberal parties desire to see a complete understanding in industry, they must have complete confidence in the trade unions of the country; but if there is to be one law for the employers association to enable them to ride roughshod over the country, and if the terror of the law is to be held up to the industrialist fighting to retain 448 his few shillings per week, he will naturally wonder what is to be his share of industrial prosperity and what is to be his reward for any sacrifice he may make in coining to a complete understanding.
Members sometimes speak as though the trade unionist were a criminal and as though all he thought about was how much he can get in wages. Goodness knows he deserves from industry enough in return in the form of wages to keep him in decent manhood and to keep those for whom he is responsible, but here is one law for one side and another law for the other. I have a case here—it is true that it is nearly six years old—in which the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons sued a veterinary surgeon for £4 4s. which was his four years annual subscription. The defendant submitted that the college was an examining body purely and simply. The solicitor for the college said that the idea of the subscription was to protect the profession from unqualified persons. The judge said that the law was as clear as day, and he was surprised that an educated man could object to it. Judgment was given to the plaintiff.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
I am not talking about the political levy at the moment. You will not allow a local authority to tell a man whose trade union has entered into an agreement that, in order to retain the benefits of the agreement, he must retain membership of the organisation. The law does not allow the employer to say that, but it allows the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to sue a member who gets into arrears with his contributions, and it says that, so far as the workman is concerned, he shall be discouraged from paying up his arrears so that he can play his part in honouring an agreement to which his union is a party. This Bill does not go so far as the British trade union movement could have expected, in the sense that it is not a complete repeal of the Act of 1927, but in so far as it is a repeal of that Act, the British trade union movement will be thankful for the Measure. Trust should be reposed in the trade unions, and you should not use the force of numbers politically and temper your 449 decisions with the harsh thoughts that you gathered as a result of 1926. Hon. Members should remember the appeal of their leader when he urged peace in industry and peace in our time, when, in 1925, he spoke against a private Member's Bill dealing with the political levy. Everybody in the State would like to see that degree of confidence again established in order that the greater problem of our economic difficulties might be tackled with understanding, with some assurance that that confidence will not be destroyed by the menace of the reactionary elements embodied in the 1927 Act, but that those elements will be removed as completely as it is possible to remove them. That can be done by supporting the Bill presented to the House this afternoon.
§ Sir J. SANDEMAN ALLEN
We have listened to-day to an extremely interesting address from the Attorney-General in presenting this Bill. It is difficult after listening to him to identify the Bill with his beautiful description, but after having sat many days listening to some leading counsel in this country, I realise the greatness of that forensic art which omits every point which is distracting, and which brings into great relief every point which is in sympathy with the case they are making out. Consequently, I appreciated the subtlety and ability with which the Bill was drawn up, and the subtlety and ability with which it has been presented. Those of us who try to look at things from a practical, matter-of-fact business point of view, have to look beyond those subtleties, and go straight to the root of what is going on. The first question everyone asks in the country to-day is, "Why is this Bill being brought forward at all?" It is generally admitted, except in certain circles, that there is no general demand for the Bill. The country is generally satisfied with what is going on, and there is no doubt that the Government have with reluctance bowed to the dictation of those in whose hands they are, and that a certain number of the political leaders of the trade unions are dissatisfied with the present state of affairs, because they feel that their powers outside the legitimate business of the trade unions are restricted. They see that the funds to a certain extent are vanishing, and they realise the 450 position in which the 1927 Act has put them as to ordinary funds.
A more important question is, why this moment of economic depression, when the country is struggling for its existence is selected by the Government to thrust on an unwilling country a highly contentious Measure which arouses all those bitter thoughts of the troubles that disturbed us years ago, the embers of which have practically died away? That is the real question which we ask ourselves. Many of us feel that the Government have realised that the country is tired of the blunders and the unhappy way in which they have handled matters for the last 18 months, and are impressed with the evidence of their incapacity to rule, as is shown by the growing tide of unemployed, the terrible state of trade, and the general confusion, and that they consequently desire to propitiate certain elements. By the way that this Bill is drawn up, it seems that they are looking forward to the time when they will be in opposition, and hope that, if not the right, the power may be given to them of once more bringing the country to the danger which it was in because of the General Strike of 1926.
I do not agree with the views that have been just expressed, but I know many trade unionists, and they have felt that the Act of 1927 was a harsh Act and which restricted the trade unions and reflected discredit upon them. Many of us who were working behind the scenes in connection with that Act know perfectly well that the earnest desire of those who brought it forward was that it should not be harsh; indeed, it is not harsh in its terms. Their desire also was not in any way to reflect on the trade unions in their legitimate sphere of action. If anyone is reflected upon, it is those who took advantage of their position and made a most improper use of their power in defiance of the Government of the country. Therefore, it was wise, as the Leader of the Opposition said, to wait before anything was done.
At the same time, do not let us forget that the country was determined, and is still determined, that no opportunity should be given for an event like that to occur again. On the other hand, the country recognises—how can we do anything else—the immense value and importance of trade unions in connection 451 with the work of this country. Everything should be done to help and to encourage them to develop their full activities within their proper sphere. This has not been a matter of party politics, because every party, by legislation and by administration, has recognised the position of affairs; but do let us remember that there is nothing out of the ordinary in the position of trade unions. They are a part of the nation, and as much entitled to their rights and liberties as any other part of the nation, but they are no more above the law or entitled to special treatment than are any other members of the community. It is in this respect that I think the Bill goes wrong.
I propose to refer to three leading points in the Bill on which I base my opposition to the Second Reading. I submit that the principles on which this Bill is founded are unsound and the negation of the principles of liberty and justice for the individual and the nation upon which our Constitution and our progress are based; and I submit therefore, that the Bill cannot be accepted for further consideration. I cannot conceive that consistent people can admit that its principles are sound; and if they cannot admit the soundness of the principles how can they agree to giving it a Second Reading with the reservation that there are details which call for further consideration? I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham (Mr. Birkett). It was a most interesting speech, but he rather indicated that he would not object to the Bill having a Second Reading, and that all the points with which he dealt were points of detail which would come up in Committee. As we followed his speech through those details we found that by the time every detail had been dealt with there would be nothing left of the Bill. It is not the practice of this House to act in that way. If a Bill is regarded as unsound in principle or if the bulk of it is unsound, the custom is to throw it out on Second Reading. Why waste the time of the House by giving a Second Reading to a Bill of which the principles are unsound? If a man intends to oppose the Bill root-and-branch in its details, 452 the only honest course he can take is to stop it now by voting against its Second Reading.
The Act of 1927 is quite clear to my mind, and to the minds of most of us who have studied this question in chambers of commerce and elsewhere. I am not an employer in any sense of the word. For years I have had nothing to do except to do my best to help in public life; it is in that capacity that I have studied this question, in association with many others similarly situated. As far as one can see, under that Act the character of the strikes which are legally permitted is perfectly clear, the nature of the intimidation prohibited is equally clear, the form of the political levy is equally clear, and the protection given to trade unions and their funds in their normal and proper sphere of activity is also equally clear. An illegal strike is clearly defined in the Act as one having an objectother than or in addition to the furtherance of a trade dispute within the trade or industry in which the strikers are engaged,"and," please note it is not "or" as some people have mistakenly assumed,designed or calculated to coerce the Government either directly or by inflicting hardship upon the community.It is important to note that not only a genuine industrial strike but a sympathetic strike outside an industry is permissible so long as it is not calculated to coerce the Government or inflict hardship on the community. Those who now desire, and by this Bill propose, to alter these terms, calmly and deliberately demand the right to defy the Government of the day, duly elected by the people, and to inflict hardship on the whole community. With what object is this to be done? In the interests of a particular section of the community. Therefore, those who are pressing for this Bill stand before us naked and unashamedly avowing that they wish to defy the Government and are indifferent to the interests of the nation and the community as a whole, but intent on benefiting a particular section. I think that is a very serious position. The more we study this Bill the more clearly we see that it will produce those results. We have had an able exposition of the Measure by one lawyer and an able criticism of it by another, and there are many people much 453 more qualified than I am to deal with this question of strikes. I speak only as a man in the street who has studied this matter, but I feel perfectly satisfied that this Bill will lead us back to the quagmire and the trouble in which we were before, and with the addition that now such activities will become legalised in a way in which they were not recognised before.
I pass on to intimidation. The Chambers of Commerce, in their report on Industrial Unrest in 1926, referring to the change in the scope and character of the operations of trade unions since 1871, stated:The way in which subsequent legislation, and particularly the Trade Disputes Act of 1906, has operated is an illustration of how far the present state of affairs is removed from what was in the mind of Parliament when the 1871 Act was passed. One result of the 1906 Act has been that a small section of the community has been enabled to inflict incalculable damage and loss on the rest of the community without being in any way responsible for the harm done. Peaceful picketing, as contemplated by the Act of 1906, has been largely replaced by a system of intimidation, sometimes physical, against the worker himself and frequently directed against his wife and children.Among other important recommendations in the report we find:The right of peacefully inviting any person to work or abstain from working should be confined to a limited number of persons visibly identifiable and he exercised only at the entrance to the premises where the trade dispute exists and in no other place.The report went on to urge conciliation arrangements. The 1927 Act did not go quite so far as was suggested in those recommendations, but it prohibited intimidation of any kind, whether by causing fear of personal violence or of being driven out of employment or of similar injury to the worker's wife or children. Surely it is an elementary principle of sound government that we should protect every member of society, and yet we find that by this Bill intimidation by threats of interference with the future livelihood of a worker and his wife and children, if he is man enough to fulfil his engagement or to do what he considers is his duty—one of the most cruel forms of intimidation—is now to be legalised. I say advisedly "to be legalised," because the cancellation by this Bill of protection against this intimidation has the moral if not also the techni- 454 cal effect of authorising this form of intimidation.
With regard to the political levy, it has been denied that there has been any intimidation or any coercion in connection with it. All I can say is that the evidence on that point differs in different places. I am not prepared to say more than this, that I have met many who have suffered. I have met many who have had more experience of this question than I have, because, as I have said, I am not an employer of labour, and I have no doubt whatever that the effect of contracting out has been penal in many cases. The statement that complaints have not been made is no evidence at all. A man would be a perfect fool to complain if he were afraid to take the hold course of contracting out. We have not only these facts before us, but we have the illustration of the present state of affairs submitted by the Attorney-General, showing that there is no ground of complaint; and, apart from that, there is the question of principle.
We have had a lot of nonsense talked about clubs and societies, as if political levy in connection with a trade union was the same thing as the membership of a club. It is something quite apart from the ordinary business of a trade union. I can quite understand that certain funds may have to be used in the general political interests of any concern, but immediately you bring party politics into it you are touching a totally different matter; and to compel any man to contribute a penny to a political party which he may regard, perhaps, as dangerous to his country and to which he is entirely opposed is a monstrous outrage on the rights of individuals. The provision for contracting out does not affect that principle at all, because the thing is wrong from start to finish.
Others can speak on this subject more fully than I can, but I would like to say this. It is a strange coincidence that at the time when a working man is to be practically compelled to support out of his wages a political party to which he may be bitterly opposed it is proposed that the owner of a motor car is to be prohibited from assisting with his own services and property the political party in which he believes. This is, indeed, party legislation run riot; it is a direct 455 attack on the freedom of the people as a whole to have and to maintain in Parliament the representatives they desire. The rest of the Bill is no better, but I take my stand on the three points I have sought briefly to deal with giving my reasons why I, in common with those associated with me on this side, consider that the Bill is unsound in every sense of the word. Therefore, I support the Amendment that it should be read on this day six months.
§ Mr. BOWEN
The hon. Member who has just sat down stated that he recognises the value of trade unions in their proper sphere, but then proceeded to show the limitations of that sphere which should exist according to his own point of view. Apparently, he is unwilling to allow trade unions to have a viewpoint upon their own sphere of interest. I want to show that trade unions cannot, in this respect, be limited by a declaration that there is a certain circumference within which they may operate but that they may go no further, because industrial history has shown the necessity for trade unions to expand more and more in the matter of industrial action and definitely have connection with political interests. Experience has shown that the trade union action years ago, confined as it then was merely to the protection of their members' interests, demanded a very close concern with the development of industry itself. The time came when it was necessary for them to expand their interests into seeing that factory laws and other laws should be amended for the protection of their people in industry. If the hon. Member desires an answer to his question as to the limitation of our sphere of influence, it is to be found in the very large number of trade union members who sit on these benches, where it is definitely shown that the members of trade unions, at any rate, regard it as being absolutely necessary that they should be directly represented in the House of Commons where industrial questions form such an important part of the business.
I have been much interested in the legal examinations of the various points of the Bill. I understood the Leader of the Opposition to say that he regarded this Measure as one which would require 456 to be discussed among lawyers. I should like to bring the House back to the fundamental reason for bringing in the Bill at all. When the Leader of the Opposition says that we must prove a case for a repeal of the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act of 1927, we reply from these benches that the right hon. Gentleman has never yet substantiated the case for that Act at all, because it was imposed upon the country without the slightest mandate, by the use of a majority which has been described as being so powerful that the right hon. Gentleman could have done what he liked with it. The right hon. Gentleman chose to use that majority, and he said that in using it in the way he did he was interpreting the feelings of the country. We beg to differ from the right hon. Gentleman when he claims that he represented the feeling of the country when he proposed to attack and cripple trade unions.
The Act of 1927 is one which has caused considerable rankling in the breasts of those people against whom it was aimed, and against whom it has operated very badly, so much so that there has been an insistent demand and desire for its repeal. The question as to whether there is a strong feeling in the country in favour of this Bill has been raised. If the Opposition invite Members on this side to raise a strong feeling, we can quickly get up a demonstration. There is no difficulty whatever about that. Those on these benches who represent the workers know what they are talking about, and we claim to know more about industrial conditions and aspirations than many hon. Members opposite. Therefore, I claim to be fully qualified to speak in regard to some aspects of this Bill, although it would be presumptuous on my part to attempt to argue legal points with regard to the exact interpretation of certain words, and such like.
I would like to express my personal pleasure in listening to the presentation of this Bill by the Attorney-General. I think he explained it most admirably, and he conveyed to the House most lucidly and eloquently the real feeling that is behind the objections to the Act of 1927. Why was the Bill of 1926–27 introduced? Why was it placed upon the Statute Book? That would be a long story, and it would probably not be in 457 order for anyone to recount all the events which led up to the introduction of the Bill of 1927. It is sufficient for me to say, in passing, that the trouble which arose was a sympathetic desire to assist the miners in their sore distress. The trade unionists of this country will never apologise for having done that. They conceived it then to be right—and they consider now that it was right—to support the miners in their serious difficulties in 1926. The sympathies of all workers lay with the miners on that occasion.
All sorts of questions have arisen since then as to whether the stoppage which took place was an organised attack upon the State and whether it was directed against the interests of the State. It was nothing of the kind. It was simply a demonstration in an organised Loran in which the workers responded to a sympathetic appeal made to them by the miners for assistance against the attitude taken up by the employers. If the Government of that day backed the employers instead of the workers, they cannot complain if we say that they backed the wrong horse when they talked about interfering with the Constitution. The Act of 1927 was introduced and placed upon the Statute Book with the direct intention of limiting the power of trade unions and preventing them from having any further general strikes, as they were called at that time, although the Leader of the Opposition has stated that he could not contemplate a repetition of that kind of thing in any event. The hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham (Mr. Birkett) also stated that he could not contemplate a repetition of such an event. If there is a feeling of that kind on the Opposition side of the House, and if we say that a general strike is not a possibility, what is the necessity for retaining the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act of 1927 in order to impose all sorts of restrictions and penalties should such a thing eventuate? We think that the Bill of 1927 was devised with a cold, callous, and deliberate intention of securing revenge. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That may not have been the intention of hon. Members opposite, but the strong feeling of the workers and members of trade unions in regard to the Act which we are endeavouring to repeal is that it was a vindictive Act, and one of the most 458 spiteful measures that was ever placed upon the Statute Book.
An examination of trade unionism shows that the solidarity of labour, as it has been called, is not accepted by hon. Members opposite so much as the solidarity of capital. We think that you cannot divorce one from the other. It must be recognised that trade unionism in this country has come to stay, and it must have a definite place without any restrictions being placed upon it. You must rely upon the common sense, good management and sound business acumen of the trade unions of these days for the necessary solution of industrial difficulties so far as they are concerned, with every desire on their side to avoid strikes, and certainly not to encourage intimidation, but in all possible ways, as is their general practice, to deal with industrial questions ever from a peaceful and co-operative point of view.
I should like, after that general statement, to refer to a provision of the new Bill in which I am particularly interested. I refer to Section 5 of the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act of 1924. Seven Civil Service associations were affiliated to the Trades Union Congress up to the year 1927. They were interested, as affiliated bodies, in the events of 1926. None of them had any of its members out of work; every one of their members, except about 30 who have been referred to this afternoon, remained at work. It is true, however, that my own organisation, the Union of Post Office Workers, as one of the seven, was interested in the movement at that time to the extent of lending its moral support and sympathy to the miners in their difficulty, and to the Trades Union Congress in its attempt to support the miners; but not one of my members left his work. It is true, too, that members of my organisation contributed to the Miners' Relief Fund to the extent of some £30,000. That was common knowledge, and I am making no apology for that either to-night. I venture to suggest, however, that, if civil servants had not been attached to the Trades Union Congress, if they had not shown sufficient sympathy with the miners to subscribe £30,000, along with other organisations which subscribed certain sums, they would not have been included in the Act.
459 What did the Leader of the Opposition mean when he spoke about a, dual loyalty? He meant precisely the same as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who at that time was Chancellor of the Exchequer, 'and to whom I took a deputation representing thousands of civil servants and other workers in the Civil Service, to tell him what we thought about the proposal to include us in the Bill which we knew was coming. This afternoon the right hon. Gentleman challenged the Attorney-General as to whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer was the Treasury, or part of the Treasury. My hon. and learned Friend replied humorously that he was a bit of the Treasury. My experience has been that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping was all the Treasury, and we could get very little satisfaction when we were placing our case before him. When this Bill goes through its further stages, as I hope it will, it may be interesting to see what the right hon. Gentleman said to us at, that time. We asked him to show us in what way civil servants had been disloyal to the Treasury, to their job, to the State, or to anybody else, and we still make that challenge to gentlemen opposite to show us in what way we have been in any way disloyal at any time.
My organisation or its constituent, parts had been affiliated to the Trades Union Congress for 30 years or thereabouts. Can any Member of the Opposition call attention to any strike of those people in that period, or to any mischief to the State that they were up to during the whole of their affiliation with the Trades Union Congress? It may be asked, why did we join the Trades Union Congress? There were days when Post Office workers were too weak to speak for themselves, when they were denied the opportunity of combination at all. Not so many years ago it was not possible for them to hold a meeting without some official being present to take a report of what transpired. In those days they were glad to have the support of an organisation which was more virile than they were at that time, and, as time went on, they were still glad of its support in order to voice their grievances and assist them in other ways. The time came when we could 460 give to it a little moral support by our affiliation to it.
At the same time, it must be borne in mind that we could not in any circumstances transfer to the Trades Union Congress or any other body powers which the unions or associations could only hold in so far as their rules were definitely laid down, and the point must be definitely established here that in 1926 no power or authority was given to the Trades Union Congress by any Civil Service association to govern its affairs. I say that quite deliberately, because I find that it is very necessary in anticipation of what may be repeated in the House during the progress of this Measure, and of what is probably going to be repeated, by Conservative Members at least, outside the House. I have in my hand a copy of "Conservative Hints for Speakers," of the 8th January, 1931, and, in a review of this Bill, referring particularly to Section 5, I read this:During the General Strike it appeared that nearly a third of the civil servants were federated to the Trades Union Congress, who were conducting the General Strike, and were receiving orders from the General Strike Committee as to the extent to which they should carry out their duties to the State.I give a definite and absolute denial to a statement of that description, and can only say that, if it is repeated, it will be repeated with the full consciousness of a definite statement from our side that it is untrue. Nothing of the kind happened at all; but, because the Government of the day allowed themselves to believe that it happened, they wreaked their vengeance upon Civil Service associations by attempting to terrorise their members. They did not say that such-and-such an association must be declared illegal in consequence of disloyal or any other acts during the incidents of 1926, but what they said was that civil servants must not join such associations so long as they had political objects or were affiliated to any other body which had no Civil Service connection as was laid down in the Regulations; and so tightly did they draw the noose that they choked the organisations for some time with extended Regulations, which were put into the Act and which must be adopted by the Treasury.
On this point, I think it must be said that there are. I will not say constitu- 461 tional difficulties, but constitutional requirements disclosed in the White Paper which show that the Treasury has power to lay down certain regulations. Indeed, the Attorney-General, Sir Douglas Hogg as he then was, said that Section 5 was not necessary to frame regulations, because they had power under existing Treasury regulations. If that is so, although the Attorney-General at that time said they desired to have the decision of the House of Commons in so important a matter, it simply rubbed it into civil servants to bring the question here to be determined by the House at the time the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Bill was being considered in. order to impose a restriction upon them which he said could have been imposed by Treasury regulations.
The Bill is designed, so it is stated in the White Paper, to restore to the Treasury that power which it had, not to require it to lay down regulations such as are laid down in Section 5, and if, as I hope, this Measure gets through the House with Section 5 definitely eliminated, the Government of to-day will exercise its influence upon the Treasury to such an extent that the regulations will be so altered that there will be a complete restoration of the powers of those associations which they had prior to 1926.
What have hon. Members opposite to be afraid of in regard to the Post Office? From time to time they pay lip service to the great work done by civil servants of all grades in all Departments. I speak for my own. I say my own advisedly. When I am doing my outside work I represent people who work in the Post Office. Here I am not allowed to represent them. They must not have political objects. I must get here by hook or by crook. I must get here like any other person, quite rightly in present circumstances, and I am not making any complaint at the moment. I am here. I remember bringing a large number of my friends to one of the Committee Rooms upstairs during the time when the Government of the day were getting their Bill through, and we had a record attendance, but the representatives of the Government of that day Scoffed at the idea that the Civil Service Associations would not rest satisfied if Section 5 were imposed upon them. 462 Neither are they satisfied, and neither will they be satisfied, because in their submission it, is an unnecessary restriction of the liberty to which they are entitled as normal citizens.
Let us examine that for a moment. When speaking about civil servants there are many confusions of thought. Some people will think of the hierarchy of the Civil Service. Civil servants go right down to very low grades, as measured by rates of pay. Section 5, however, makes no distinction. It definitely says that no civil servant may join a trade union which has a political object or may be affiliated with anyone else. My organisation must not affiliate with the Trade Union Congress. But if my organisation battles with the Postmaster-General, at the industrial court or elsewhere, on a question of wages, he uses all the knowledge he possesses as to the rates and conditions of outside people. In effect, he says: "You are much too good to associate with them." But, when it comes to a question of pay he says, "You are no better than they are, and therefore, you shall be paid no more, and sometimes less." In those circumstances, if we have no right to go to the Trade Union Congress, it should be explained to us in what sense it can be held that a charwoman in the Past Office, by being affiliated to the Trade Union Congress, or by having a political object, is a menace to the State.
In what way can it be held that any other body in the Civil Service, in the exercise of their limited freedom as citizens, can exercise themselves politically as they might desire to do, and what man in this House can declare that none of them have a right to have political consciences and to exercise them? In that respect, the Treasury regulations impose restrictions which come down the Departments to such an extent that, not only must they not take part in Parliamentary politics, but there are many other restrictions imposed upon them in various other ways, and, if they go beyond the bounds, they are liable to be held in check or to be pulled up and censured and, if they repeat the offence, are liable to discharge. That is the regulation. The Civil Service, in a large majority of cases, have agitated for years for an extension of civil rights. The Bill 463 cannot in the circumstances provide for that, I understand. We are asking, however, that the House shall assist in restoring to the civil servant that limited freedom that he had in 1926. As to whether the work of the Post Office people is worthy of consideration in that connection, I can only remind the House, as the Attorney-General told them, of the statement made by the representative of the party opposite, on 19th May, 1926, when he praised the staff in the Post Office for the work they did during that difficult time.
My final point is that the attitude of the Opposition in holding that the civil servant must hold aloof from all kinds of politics ignores a very fundamental thing. First, let me admit that there is no desire or intention, nor has there ever been, to bring the Civil Service, as it is called, into politics, but there is a desire that there should be a very substantial measure of freedom given to those people who make up the Civil Service. The civil servant, whether he be in the hierarchy of the administration, or in the middle class grades, or whether he represents the lower grades, has to pay rates and taxes. Equally, he should be free to express his views and opinions as to how those rates and taxes should be spent. Unless that is done, you definitely rob him of the rights of a British citizen to declare how public money shall be spent. Therefore, I rejoice that the Government have introduced this Measure, that it is providing for the repeal of Section 5 and is making an endeavour to improve the conditions of the trade unions to the position prior to 1927, and I hope, whatever may be said opposite, that, if we cannot get agreement, there will certainly be a clearer understanding when this battle is finished that what has been said in regard to the imposition of the Trade Union Act of 1927 on the Opposition side does not carry weight in the worker's movement.
§ Lord BALNIEL
Into whatever the Government touch they introduce an element of uncertainty, difficulty and discord. We have just come to the end of a coal strike which was the result, directly, of legislation by the Government, and now there is being introduced a Trade Disputes Bill which brings un- 464 certainty to all those engaged in industry and may eventually end in chaos in industry. It is obviously the most important Measure which the present Government have brought in. One has only to look at the names upon the back of the Bill to see what the Government think of it. It must affect millions of workers in this country directly, and it may affect every single person in this country. It is because of that fact that I think we should have had more opportunity for discussing it at length on the Floor of the House. It is highly improper, and, I imagine, entirely without precedent, that a Measure of such importance should, not only be sent upstairs, but, as rumour has it, be sent upstairs to a committee of which the chairman is to have kangaroo powers of choosing amendments. Because of the fact that it affects so many people, I think that it should be simply treated just as the Bill in 1927 was simply treated.
The present Bill is unintelligible to the layman. It is, in spite of what the learned Attorney-General said, a gross example of legislation by reference and cannot be understood by the average layman; nor can it be said that the explanation of the learned Attorney-General made the matter any clearer to the House. He made a very brilliant speech. He scarcely used a single word of more than two syllables and not a word a child could not understand, but I think that the position in regard to what the Bill does is absolutely uncertain in the mind of every Member of the House. He did not touch upon the one fundamental aspect of the Bill. The speech which he made would have been an admirable speech on the Second Reading of the 1927 Bill. It had very little to do with the Bill under consideration.
The Bill which he has introduced today is entirely unwanted by this country. It is, I believe, more than that. It is a Bill which is profoundly disliked by the hon. Gentlemen who have their names upon the back of it. I think that I could find quotations from every single one of them showing that they disapproved of the general strike, that they thought it futile and nonsense and so on and so forth, except perhaps the learned Attorney-General, for these things happened before he figured so prominently 465 before the public, and, to use his own metaphor, the fatted calf had been killed for him. One cannot help wondering—though I cannot say what his genuine opinions are—if in this particular case he has not allowed political expediency to overcome his proverbial sincerity.
When hon. Gentlemen who have introduced this Bill speak in no unmeasured terms about the folly of the events of 1926, I believe that they realise what was the real public opinion on that occasion. I believe there was profound gratitude throughout the country for the Act which we brought in and for the fact that it was definitely laid down once and for all that what happened in 1926 was illegal and could never be allowed to occur again. That is proved by the fact that the agitation against our action, which was so carefully and so assiduously encouraged by hon. Members opposite, fell completely flat. We now see how "this monstrous smirch on the Statute Book," and so on, as the present Prime Minister called it, is going to be repealed, how the pledge of repeal has been whittled down to the present position of amendment, on the ground, as we have realised, that the Government never fulfil more than 50 per cent. of any pledge that they have ever given. Even so, in some ways, it seems to me that this Bill goes in a retrograde direction. It seems, in some ways, to be more extreme than our Bill. For instance, under Clause 1, which makes illegal any strike, the object of which is not the furtherance of a trade dispute, would it not be illegal for a strike to be organised to protest against the sending of a Communist to prison? I think that that is the case. If it is the case, this Bill goes incomparably further than the 1927 Act. None the less, I think that this provision is more dangerous than would have been the complete repeal of the Act.
The decision of the Courts in 1926, as hon. Gentlemen know, was to the effect that the strike of that year was illegal. But ever since then that decision has been questioned and denied by hon. Gentlemen. There remained, then, the uncertainty as to what was the exact legal position. If the Act had been repealed and not amended, we should have been going back to that uncertainty. By this Measure of amendment there is no uncertainty. Clause 1 means that what took place in 1926 is definitely legal and that legal authority is given to what the 466 present Prime Minister described as the "last resort of an idiot." That is a very important point and one to which the learned Attorney-General did not address himself. That is the point which was asked by the Leader of the Opposition. Under this Bill, is what happened in 1926 made legal or is it not? That is a vital point and we expect and demand an answer. We are not concerned with the legal definitions of a general strike. The question with which we are concerned is: Are you making legal what happened in 1926?
As I read Clause 1, I realise that the primary object which is mentioned would obviously, in the case of the general strike of 1926, have been stated to have been the furtherance of the demands of the coal miners and nothing further than that. If the events of 1926 are repeated, what will be the position of the Government? What will the Government do? The great danger of a general strike, or whatever you like to call it, is the sudden paralysis of the vital forces of the country. The safeguards which we devised to try and obviate that trouble are being abolished by the present Bill. and in their place a most cumbersome process is being introduced by which the courts have to decide the legality or the illegality of a strike and by which the learned Attorney-General, as is somewhat cynically said in the Bill, is to be made a party to the proceedings. Lord Buck-master, as has been stated, said that these processes may take three or four weeks, and, if it goes on for any length of time, that undoubtedly illegal strike could uninterruptedly proceed along its course until the time that a dispute could be forced to a decision without any person at any time being made responsible for any acts done in its progress. In other words, by the time the courts had decided the legality or illegality of the strike the damage would have been done and the country, whatever the verdict, would have had no redress whatsoever for the blow against industry and the State. This Bill has been called "The General Strike Enabling Bill," almost "The General Strike Inciting Bill."
§ Lord BALNIEL
It has been called that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who has called it that?"] The "Times," in a leading 467 article on the 2[...]th December. The hon. Member who spoke last from the Government side said that a general strike is an impossibility. If so, why this Bill, which takes away safeguards?
§ Lord BALNIEL
We are asked by this Bill to restore to the General Council of the Trade Union Congress certain powers. Those powers were used in 1926, and our party considered that they were improperly used. The only possible reason for the restoration of those powers is that they may perhaps be used again. This Bill means that those responsible for using those powers in an improper way shall have the full justification of an Act of Parliament. Is this country in any way worse off because those powers have been taken away?
§ Lord BALNIEL
Is the country worse off because we have been prevented from having another general strike? The safeguards which we gave are to go. What harm has the Act done? The hon. Member who spoke last said that it was vindictive, and the hon. and learned Member who spoke from the Front. Government Bench said that it was spiteful. Let me remind the House of the four principles that were laid down by the Attorney-General during the passing of the Act. He said:The first proposition is this, that a general strike is illegal, and no man shall be penalised for refusing to take part in it. The second proposition is this, that intimidation is illegal, and no man shall be compelled by threats to abstain from work against his will. The third proposition is this, that no man shall be compelled to subscribe to the funds of any political party unless he so desires. The fourth and last proposition is this, that any person entering the established Civil Service must give his undivided allegiance to the State."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May, 1927; col. 1306, Vol. 205.]Those are the four principles which the hon. Member says are vindictive. Does he really say that they are vindictive? Can any hon. Member opposite honestly say that those principles are vindictive?
§ Lord BALNIEL
The second one, which is terrible, is as follows:Intimidation is illegal, and no man shall be compelled by threats to abstain from work against his will.9.0 p.m.
I would like to hear any hon. Member opposite, and I would like to hear the Prime Minister get up and dare, before this House, to defend intimidation. If he does that, then I might accept the fact that the Bill is vindictive and spiteful and introduced merely because of the general strike. Until they do that, I say that those words are untrue and should never have been used. What hardship has our Act created that it should be abolished? It is fantastic to suggest that protection against intimidation is a hardship. It has been said that the Act prevents strike. It has not prevented any legitimate strike. The fact that there has been no hardship is proved by the fact that the agitation has died down completely, except in regard to a purely partisan matter, the question of the political levy. We all know that the political fund of hon. Members opposite may have been lowered as a result of the Act. I have a suspicion that certain hon. Members opposite consider that the political levy is the most serious and most important part of the Bill. It seems to me to be monstrously unjust that even a Socialist should be compelled, or virtually compelled, to supply money, against his will, to the party which he supports. It is intolerable that a Conservative or a Liberal should be forced to contribute to the funds of a party which they distrust profoundly and whose policy they believe will bring chaos to their industry and ruin to their country. I would ask any hon. Member opposite to get up and defend a position so intolerable and so unfair as that.
This is what it comes to. The general strike may be made legal, our position of security may be jeopardised, women and children may be intimidated, but what does it matter so long as the coffers of hon. Members opposite are saved, and so long as their return to this House is facilitated? If we had introduced a Measure for our party's financial advantage, similar to this Measure, no one would have cried "corruption" so quickly as hon. Members opposite. If the political levy had been a levy towards 469 the funds of the Conservative party, would hon. Members opposite have introduced it?
§ Lord BALNIEL
There can be no answer except that you would never have introduced it, and that fact shows the dishonesty of any such Measure. At any time to have introduced such a Measure would have been disgraceful for any Government, and at the present time it is quite inexcusable. A Measure which brings this uncertainty into industry is being introduced at a time of national crisis, when it is absolutely vital that all that we can do to help industry and nothing to harm industry should be done. I do not believe that the morality of the country has sunk so low as to accept without protest a Measure so scandalous and unfair as this, and I very much hope that the conscience of the party below the Gangway on this side of the House will not be laid at rest so easily as we were told by the hon. Member for East Nottingham (Mr. Birkett), but that they will support us in the Division Lobby against a Measure which they know to be most improper.
§ Mr. BROOKE
The Noble Lord repeated the complaint which was made earlier in, the Debate by the Leader of the Opposition that only two days have been allowed for the Second Reading Debate of this important Measure. The hon. Member went on to say that the Labour party only fulfils 50 per cent. of its pledges. I suggest to him that the reason for the difference in the amount of time granted by the Government in 1927 and the amount of time granted by the Government for the discussion of this Measure to-day is the fact that in 1927 the party opposite had hardly any other Measures of social reform to introduce, whereas we have many pledges yet to fulfil, and we need the time which would otherwise be given to the consideration of this Measure in order to carry our pledges into effect. That is one of the 470 reasons why only two days are being given for the Second Reading of the Bill.
The hon. Member also said that the Bill is unwanted and that hon. Members who have spoken in this Debate did not believe in the justice of their case. Some of our speakers who have taken part in debate represent some of the largest trade unions in the country. The hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday) spoke on behalf of 300,000 members, and another hon. Member on this side spoke on behalf of nearly 100,000 members. I speak as a representative of the woollen textile industry, and I can assure the hon. Member that the members of my trade union, and its allied trade unions, have been very anxious that this Bill should be introduced at the earliest possible moment. It is needed more than ever to-day by trade unions; and I will tell the hon. Member why. We are introducing this Bill not only because the trade unions are asking for it, but because, in so doing, we are fulfilling the pledges which have been made since 1927; the very definite pledges made by every Labour candidate in Great Britain at the General Election of 1929. In the policy and programme of the Labour party during the General Election a very definite and unequivocal pledge was given that, if the party was returned to power, one of the first things it would do would be to repeal the Trade Disputes Act of 1927. Therefore, having laid our programme and intentions before the country and having been returned as the largest single political party in this House we have a mandate to carry out the pledge which we gave. At any rate, there is this difference between us and hon. Members opposite. When the Conservative party introduced the Bill of 1927 they had no mandate from the country, and when the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) introduced his Bill the present Leader of the Opposition stated definitely that they had not been returned to carry that Measure. I am sure that the country will not be misled by the argument that the Bill is not wanted or that the Government are attempting to put it through without having the authority of the country.
There is as great resentment to-day against the Act of 1927 as there was when 471 it was introduced. In almost everyone of the large basic industries of the country the workers are being faced by the employers with demands for reductions in wages, for longer hours or a worsening of their conditions, and now, when we have to face the realities of the position and the realities of the Act of 1927, the unions are finding themselves seriously handicapped in deciding upon any action they may take to meet the demands made upon them. The members of trade unions are feeling a sense of injustice under the Act of 1927, and they are keen and determined that if possible this Government shall repeal what is considered to be the iniquitous Act of 1927. The reasons for this have been given by the Attorney-General in his very remarkable Parliamentary performance this afternoon.
The intelligent Workpeople of the country recognise that in the industrial system, as constituted to-day, the only means they have of improving or defending their conditions is the right of withholding their labour, the right of one section of workers to combine with another section to withhold their labour, and by combination and co-operative power to secure concessions from their employers or defend attacks made upon their present conditions. It is their only effective weapon, and its use during the past years has been responsible for the high standard of conditions which the workers enjoy to-day. It has been said that the Act of 1927 did not materially affect the legal right of a single trade unionist; that it was merely declaratory. Those who are engaged in the day-to-day work of trade union administration know that that statement is not correct, and I will substantiate this by a quotation from a speech made by the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne). Speaking on 3rd May, 1927, he said:We must all appreciate the fact that any trade union leader must naturally show hostility to this Bill. It makes modifications in privileges which have been long enjoyed by trade unions, and it proceeds to curb certain powers which, they have used now for many years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd May, 1927; col. 1507, Vol. 205.]I support this Bill because it seeks to restore to trade unions the privileges and powers which the right hon. Member said were being taken away and because it seeks to give them these powers we 472 regard it as vital that it should be passed and become the law of the land. One a the great services of this Bill is the removal of the very repressive limitation in Section 1 of the 1927 Act, a Section which limits a strike to workers engaged in the particular industry in which the dispute takes place, and also deals with the illegality of any dispute which may inflict hardship upon the community. Section 1 of the 1927 Act makes any large-scale dispute impossible, whether it is a sympathetic strike or a large-scale strike confined to the workers in the particular industry concerned. That was a new feature which was introduced into our penal laws in 1927 for the first time. It. was directed only against combinations of workmen; it was not directed against combinations of employers. One section of employers can help another section in a dispute or lock-out, or one section of employers in a particular industry can help another section, as we see in the cotton industry to-day, where those not actually concerned in the immediate dispute are coming to the aid of their fellow employers without incurring any legal disability.
We believe that the Bill will restore a sense of justice to the workers and bring about equality as between the employers and the workers. Section 1 of the 1927 Act denies to the workers the elementary right of withholding their labour if they so desire, in defence of their fellows. Incidentally, I believe that that Section in the 1927 Act reveals the attitude of mind and the whole intention of the Government of that day. The Section shows the real purpose and spirit behind the Act. The idea was to reduce trade unions to impotence in their relations with employers; and to-day, under the law as it is, before a trade union can take large-scale or effective action it is faced with unknown legal pitfalls, because the law is full of ambiguities. The position was referred to by the hon. Member for West Nottingham. He stated that the position of a trade union to-day i[...] indefinite. In the case of a dispute, if the men respond to the call of their union, they are not certain whether or not they are committing an illegal act. The hon. Member said that the illegality of their acts was not defined clearly in the law. But that illegality has to be decided by some court of law. 473 Therefore, it seems to me that if any trade union to-day decides to take large-scale action, if the union wishes to be safe and free from the penalties of the law, the only course for it to adopt is to obtain a legal decision. When that legal decision is obtained the court will have to decide many difficult and vexed questions. The court is called upon to decide whether the dispute is confined to a single industry; it is called upon to decide what is a trade or what is an industry; it is called upon to decide whether the dispute is going to inflict hardship upon a substantial part of the community; and it has to decide what is a substantial part of the community. That is an almost impossible task to put upon any court. Whatever decision is given in a case of that kind, it is likely to be coloured by the political prepossessions of the judges or the jury.
The position to-day is this: Each of the great industries in this country is faced with claims by the employers for reductions of wages. We have had it in the case of the coal industry. We have the cotton industry in the midst of a dispute now. Then there is the claim from the railway companies for a reduction of wages. There is also a demand that the distributive workers should accept a reduction of wages. In the dyeing and finishing section of the textile industry an ultimatum has been presented to the men that they too should make further sacrifices of wages. The workers in these different industries are not as free to-day to oppose these demands as they were in 1927. The trend of economic development in industry is all towards large scale organisation, and if the workers are to be compelled to fight in separate organisations they are not going to have the same chance of success as they would have if they had the same powers to combine as they had before the Act of 1927.
As a matter of fact we as a Government, like the previous Government, are urging employers to rationalise and to amalgamate, and are saying that there should be larger amalgamations and more central control of capital. But the Act of 1927 prevents labour from doing the same thing; it destroys any hope of solidarity in the trade unions for purely industrial purposes. Because the Bill gives back to the trade unions the rights that were previously enjoyed, whereby 474 one section of industry can help another section, I am going to give it my wholehearted support.
I would like to make one or two comments upon the political levy. This question has aroused unusual interest and controversy. The position of the Labour party remains the same to-day as in 1927. So far as the organisation with which I am concerned stands, our position now is stronger than it was before 1927; that is to say, a larger number of our members have contracted in to pay the political levy than were contributing in 1926. But I welcome the repeal of Section 4 of the present Act, because I believe that it places unnecessary restrictions upon the trade unions. No one can deny the need for trade unions engaging in political work. All kinds of large scale organisations, whether of employers or of workmen, are confronted with social and industrial legislation which intimately affects the everyday lives of millions of trade unionists. In our administration in the trade union we are daily faced with such questions as the hours of labour, workmen's compensation, factory legislation and other questions which are assuredly industrial in their character. At the same time they are also political questions. It is essential that trade unions should have the right to be represented in this House by those who can discuss these questions. I would remind the House that the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), when the Trade Unions Bill of 1913 was being discussed, said this:I should have no hesitation in saying that it is quite impossible to prevent trade unionists from entering the political field. The spheres of industrial and political activity are often indistinguishable, always overlapping, and representation in Parliament is absolutely necessary to trade unions[...] even if they confine themselves to the most purely industrial forms of action. The moment you touch representation you reach the very heart and centre of controversial political affairs, because a dispute as to representation raises every question of general politics and party politics which can be imagined.The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) made a similar statement in 1927, which has been quoted to-day by the Attorney-General. He said:I was a humble Member of the Government which passed the Act of 1913, and I was clear then, as I am clear now, that 475 it was absolutely necessary to secure the political activities of trade unions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May, 1927; col. 1644, vol. 205.]Therefore, we have an authoritative opinion from both parties sitting opposite that it is essential that trade unions should be represented in this House, but what we find is the party opposite, to which the right hon. Member for Epping now belongs, making it as difficult as they can for trade unions to send representatives to this House. As a matter of fact, there always has been discrimination between the treatment of organisations of employers and organisations of workers in this respect. If a company of employers to-day is entitled by its articles of association to make contributions from its funds for political purposes, I ask by what sense of justice or fairness can the same right be denied to organisations of workers when they incorporate in their rules, as the result of a secret ballot of their members, the provision that they should have a political levy and give those who do not desire to contribute the right to contract-out and not to pay the levy?
How does it operate to-day in the union with which I am concerned? First of all, we took a secret ballot of our members, and it was decided to establish a political fund. The majority of our members voted in favour of the political levy, and, notwithstanding the fact that they have already expressed their willingness that we should have that political fund and that their money should be used for political purposes, the majority who voted in that way have again to go to the trouble of signing a form that they are willing to contribute to the fund which they have already decided to set up. If, for instance, we have a union with 20,000 members, and there are 1,500 dissentients, it means in practice that 18,500 of those members have again to be put to the trouble of signing a form in order that those 1,500 should be given the right not to pay the levy. That is an irritating and restrictive proceeding which has never yet been justified by any arguments or facts brought before this House. Certainly, it has never been justified by any evidence of compulsion, because in all the speeches made in this House to-day alleging intimidation and penalisation if a member of a union did not pay the political levy, not a single 476 definite instance has been quoted where any member of a trade union has been intimidated or penalised because he refused to sign the contracting-in form.
The Attorney-General in his speech gave certain figures supplied by the Registrar of Friendly Societies. The figures supplied to me from the Registrar bear out the contention made by the Attorney-General. The figures are from 1913 to 31st May, 1922, and the Registrar's statement was that they had had 68 complaints under the Act of 1906. Out of those 68 complaints 26 were complaints not within the meaning of the Act. I believe the real reason for the insertion of the political Section in the 1927 Act was not to give liberty to the Liberal and Conservative trade unionists to be free from subscribing to trade union political funds—because, after all, that argument was never used in the 1906 and 1913 Debates—but because of the great growth and development of the Labour movement in this country. In 1906 and 1913 it was never imagined by hon. Members opposite that this party in so short a period of time would occupy the seat of Government. I believe it is because we have progressed so rapidly, and that we are now the only alternative to the Conservative party—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]—I have no doubt about it myself. That is the real reason why they introduced Section 4 in the Act of 1927. Because the Bill to-day seeks to give back those rights and privileges which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead said were taken away from the trade unions in 1927, and because we are fulfilling our election pledges and giving a measure of justice to the trade unionists of the country, I support the Second Reading of this Bill, and hope that it will have a speedy passage to the Statute Book.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
We have had a, very interesting day's discussion, although it has been occupied by a very few speakers. Let me add my support to the plea made so strongly from this side of the House that another day should be given to the discussion of this particular proposal. The Debate has been distinguished by two very skilful speeches of two of the greatest advocates at the Bar at the present time, the Attorney-General and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Nottingham 477 (Mr. Birkett). I venture as a humble Member of the lower branch of the profession—so called because I believe it does the most work and gets the lowest fees—to congratulate them upon the great efforts they have made on behalf of the respective cases which were entrusted to them. As I heard the Attorney-General I could see by the support he was receiving from hon. Members on his own side—and this was also the case with Members of the Liberal party when the hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham was speaking—that they were really surprised that such a case could be made out for their respective points of view. The Attorney-General's great skill was particularly shown in the supreme effort he made in avoiding explaining at any great length the meaning and purport of his own Bill. If I may pay a compliment to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Nottingham, I think his skill was particularly shown in the fact that he was able to speak for a fundamentally divided party and able to prove to his own satisfaction that they were united, at any rate, in the course of taking no decided action on the Second Reading of this Bill. That was something which I do not think any other two Members of the House could possibly have achieved.
I wish at once to say, as regards one portion of the Attorney-General's speech, that I have a great deal of sympathy with his point of view. He defended himself against attacks which have been made upon him and criticisms which have appeared in many papers and in speeches, to the effect that he was producing a Measure distinguished by its difficulties and complexities—a Measure which was according to his critics, a sort of super-proposal as regards references to other Acts of Parliament. I do not think that the Attorney-General ought to be blamed unduly severely on that ground. It is, undoubtedly, difficult to produce a Bill of this character without reference to the Acts of Parliament which have preceded it. I think, however, that the Attorney-General has failed in the ideal which he set before himself when he first assumed his great office. When the Attorney-General was in the full flush of his accession to his present position, I remember that he went down 478 to dinner in the City on 16th May, 1930, and delivered himself of this sentiment:It was essential that the Legislature should turn its mind to the necessity of passing whatever enactments it did pass in language which was capable of being understood by the ordinary people of the country.That was a noble sentiment, but I am afraid that the Attorney-General, with a little more experience in his office now than he had then, would not claim that the Bill produced by him to-day has gone any great length in that direction. There were two things which struck me in the Attorney-General's speech, adroit and clever as it was. First, I thought how remote and how divorced it was from the grave circumstances of our time. What an extraordinary thing that, the Attorney-General of this country, and the House of Commons, at a time of grave national crisis should be devoting themselves to this matter; that our chief legal officer, at a time when we have nearly 3,000,000 unemployed, should be spending his time on proposals of this character. The second feature of his speech which struck me—and I think the same thought must have crossed the minds of a great many of those who heard it—was the small part of the speech which the Attorney-General devoted to the rights of the individual citizen and the welfare of the community. We heard a long disquisition about the events which led up to the General Strike. We heard the Attorney-General's views on the 1927 legislation, but the remarkable thing was that from beginning to end of that speech, the Attorney-General of this country had practically no word to say about where the community stood in relation to this legislation or where the individual stood as regards his rights and privileges.
The Attorney-General devoted himself mostly—and in this he showed what a skilful advocate he was—to his version of the events of the General Strike and of the provisions of the 1927 Act. As he knows, I do not wish intentionally to misrepresent him, but as I understand him his argument is this: I want him to interrupt me at once if I am ascribing to him any statement which is wrong or unfair. He argued that, from his reading of the events of 1926, there was no real justification for the 1927 Act. He told us that, instead of that Act being 479 founded on solid reasons, it was founded on resentment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad that the Attorney-General assents to that statement. He also intimated that, as far as he knew, the only part which the leaders played in that unhappy struggle of 1926 was perfectly beneficent and, as I understood, he believed that the only way to deal with the situation which confronted the nation at the end of that struggle was not by legislation or by extended powers, but that, to put it in language with which we are all familiar, the proper course to have adopted at that time was to have killed the fatted calf. I thought that was a very unhappy allusion, because, as regards the fatted calf and the 1926 strike, there was one thing which we never heard and that was a voice crying:Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.Nor did we see any fatted calf as far as the nation itself was concerned. I wish the Attorney-General to interrupt me if he thinks I misrepresent him. He went on to say that this Bill was simply designed to bring happiness and contentment to the country. I have waited for the Attorney-General to make any observations on these statements or to indicate whether he desires to interrupt me, because I have here a statement by a Mr. W. A. Jowitt, K.C., on the events of the strike as he saw them in March, 1927. This is a publication which hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway will recognise by its yellow cover. It was published for the Liberal Industrial Inquiry by Williams and Norgate, of 14, Henrietta Street, and I need hardly tell hon. Members below the Gangway that, of course, Professor Ramsay Muir contributes to this little book. At the end of it there was a contribution, so far as the legal effect of the General Strike was concerned, by Mr. W. A. Jowitt, K.C., Mr. Arnold D. McNair, and Mr. Hubert Phillips.
I hope hon. Members, as a result of my little advertisement of this publication, will read it. I want at once to say that this publication of Mr. W. A. Jowitt, K.C., was a cautious, hesitant statement, and as one would expect after hearing his speech this afternoon, with one eye on the political situation of the time, but I take it that, however versatile 480 our Attorney-General is on political affairs, he is upon legal matters always sound and steady and never moves an inch from his opinions. This afternoon I was very interested to hear him lecturing the House—I hope I am not using an offensive phrase—for using the words "general strike" without giving any definition or making any statement concerning what they meant.
The hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham, to whom I commend this publication, will no doubt observe that in this legal description of the Trade Unions Bill and the events that followed the 1926 strike those words "general strike," without any definition, are used by Mr. Jowitt, K.C., at least 20 times. He gives a definition of a general strike which is very significant, in view of the terms of this Bill, because he describes it, on page 148, as "a very extensive sympathetic strike," and he makes this further observation, which is of some moment to the nation to-day, when they are asked to consider a Bill of this character, that "the sympathetic strike is rapidly becoming general." When we hear that we ought to kill the fatted calf in reference to the general strike of 1926, in the words of the Socialist Attorney-General of the day, what was his judgment of the events at that particular time? On page 137 he said:Where the executive of a union is itself responsible for procuring breach of contract, as in the recent General Strike, its conduct is without question indefensible.That was the judgment of Mr. Jowitt, K.C., in March, 1927, so far as the action of the leaders of the strike was concerned. You may very well say, "Oh, but that is only a judgment so far as the leaders of the strike are concerned, but what we are concerned with to-day is, What is the effect of these proposals, of the 1926 struggle, and of the 1927 Act upon the community? That is a far more important question." Well, Mr. Jowitt, K.C., even came to a definite decision upon that, for in March, 1927, he said, on page 158:The dependence of society on certain key industries—particularly water, light, power and certain forms of transport"—and I pause there, because of course, no one knew better than this distinguished lawyer that regulations had already been made in connection with water and electric light— 481has become much greater in recent years; and recent experience"—that is, the events of 1926—suggests that society, which is primarily a society of consumers, is at present without adequate means of protecting itself.What, therefore, do we find to-day? We find that in March, 1927, Mr. Jowitt, K.C., says that the General Strike was without question indefensible, that it was a wanton provocation, and yet the Attorney-General of 1931 produces a Bill in which he says, "Let us have better and bigger strikes." Mr. Jowitt, K.C., says in 1927, as regards the community, that it is without adequate means of protecting itself. What does the Socialist Attorney-General of 1931 say? He says, "Let London walk."
For the purposes of the Attorney-General's statement this afternoon, an attack has been made upon the 1927 Act. If I wanted any justification, at any rate for the major portion of the 1927 Act, I should invite any hon. Member to recall the speech that was made by the hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham this afternoon. He said, "It is true that a circular has been produced by the Attorney-General in which the Liberal party denounced the provisions in the 1927 Bill with regard to the political levy; it is true that it is a very difficult circular to explain, but I want to tell you that, so far as the Liberal party is concerned, as far as the Conservative part of the 1927 Act in relation to the political levy is concerned, everyone of us"—and that is something to say for the Liberal party—"is going to stand by the proposals of the Conservative Act." What a testimony!
What did he say about another provision which I remember well that at any rate a number of Members of the Liberal party fought very hard, the provision which said that local authorities should not impose upon their servants an obligation to join a trade union, but that they should be left free either to become trade unionists or not? Perhaps the greatest testimonial that that Act has had was given this afternoon in the speech of the hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham, who, I suppose, spoke with the full authority of his party when he said, "That is another provision that we are going to stand shoulder to shoulder for." Take another 482 provision. One of the most important provisions in the 1927 Act was in relation to the Civil Service. We laid it down in that Act that the Civil Service should be kept above and divorced from politics. The hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham, speaking for his great party, said, "We are with you to a man."
On the question of intimidation, I listened to him carefully. Great advocate as he is, he has, of course, learned a great deal of caution, and he said that his party would be glad only to have that matter further examined. If ever there were a testimonial to the great majority of the Sections of that Act, it has been given to us this afternoon by the hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham. I watched with great interest the hon. Gentlemen opposite as they listened to the speech of the hon. and learned Member, and I think that they felt very much as I did, and wondered what was left. It is the provision in the Act which deals with the prohibition of what one may roughly call the general strike. The Attorney-General went to great pains, in a manner for which those of us who have heard him so constantly in the Courts admire him, to put up a case of his own making and promptly to knock it down. He said, in support of his case, that there was uncertainty with regard to the provisions of the 1927 Act as to what they really meant, and what did he do He quoted three speeches in the House of Commons and in the other place which were made while the Bill was going through the two Houses. He did not tell the House, until he was pulled up on two occasions, that after the speeches had been made the Bill was amended.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I interrupt him at this point because of his direct charge of wilful misrepresentation. The speech of Lord Cave which I quoted was made on the Third Reading of the. Bill, when this Section was in exactly its present form. The speech of Sir Thomas Inskip, the Solicitor-General, with regard to Section 1, was made on Third Reading in this House, when this Section was in exactly the form in which it is to-day.
§ Sir D. HERBERT
The point on which I interrupted the Attorney-General was 483 a most damaging statement by Mr. Ramsay Muir, which was made when the Bill was printed and before it had been discussed.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Those of us who followed the Debate in the other place are not unfamiliar with the point which the Attorney-General took so far as Lord Cave is concerned. Immediately after Lord Cave made the statement, he made another statement—which the Attorney-General has not given to-day—in explanation. I ask the Attorney-General how it is that he has put up all those cases in the course of the Debate, and yet has not answered the perfectly plain challenge which has been made with regard to his proposals by Lord Buckmaster, an ex-Lord Chancellor? He has talked a lot about the great abilities and position of Lord Reading, and about the statement that he made when the Act of 1927 was being discussed in another place, but the curious feature of the Attorney-General's speech is that, although Lord Buckmaster made a considered statement in the "Times" many weeks ago, and although the Attorney-General had had full opportunity of replying to it in the public Press, and full opportunity to reply to it to-day, he has allowed this statement—[Interruption]. I have the greatest admiration and respect for Lord Reading, but no one could imagine that the Attorney-General, confronted as he has been for weeks with the statement of one of the highest legal authorities in the land, could possibly have let this Debate pass without giving an answer to that statement. The Attorney-General says that the Act of 1927 is full of uncertainty. He says, "I hope no one will ever think of what I said in 1927, but this Act is full of uncertainty and no one knows what it means; I give you my ideas of it." Yet Lord Buckmaster has stated quite plainly in his letter to the "Times" of 29th December, 1930, what the legislation of 1927 means. He said:The Act of 1927 declared a strike to be illegal if its object went beyond the furtherance of a dispute in a trade or industry in which the workers were engaged,—and so on. He gave a perfect description, so far as he could in a letter of that kind, of the general effect of the 1927 legislation, and the extraordinary 484 feature of the Attorney-General's speech is that, although unhappily there has been a very large number of strikes since the 1927 Act, he has not given a single instance of how that Act has interfered with any legitimate weapon which a trade union can use in connection with an industrial dispute. The right hon. Gentleman failed to do another thing. Day after day since this Bill was produced he has been confronted with a challenge, and has been asked whether under the provisions of this Bill what we call the General Strike of 1926 would have been a legal strike or not. Why has not the hon. and learned Gentleman risen in his place and given a fair and plain answer? I say with every respect to the high office which he holds, but I speak perfectly sincerely, that the public are not interested in the disquisition which the hon. and learned Gentleman gave this afternoon as to where this and that stood with regard to the law of the country; what they want to know is this: Is it passible under the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman has put forward to have a repetition of the 1926 strike legalised and authorised by the law?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I will answer that by repeating what I have already said. The question whether that strike or any strike was legal or illegal depends upon the question, Was it or was it not in furtherance of a trade dispute?
§ Sir K. WOOD
If the Attorney-General gets off with that answer throughout these Debates and in the country I shall be very much surprised. What the man-in-the-street is asking is this, and it is the only question he is asking concerning this Bill: Whether under these proposals the conditions of 1926 will be legalised? I see present to-night, and we gladly welcome him as a very distinguished member of the Bar, the new Solicitor-General. That question was repeatedly put to him in the by-election at Bristol, and he never gave a straight answer. [Interruption.] There is no doubt about this—and I speak on the authority of Lord Buckmaster, and supported by the statement made by the hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham this afternoon—that not only would that general strike of 1926 have been legal if this Bill had been on the 485 Statute Book but, as a consequence, any general strike of a similar nature would be legal. Once again, therefore, the industrial and social life of this country could be brought to an end, under the authority of the law and by a tyrannical dictatorship enthroned over our free Government. The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), who has evidently great conflicts with his own conscience over this particular proposal, said the other day, when speaking in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, that the Liberal party were having great searchings of heart so far as these proposals were concerned, and added:Had it been a mere simple repeal of the 1927 Act, a very difficult situation would have been created.Did the hon. and learned Member for East Nottingham advise him to make that statement? Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, as a matter of fact, the repeal of the 1927 Act, so far as the community and its rights and privileges are concerned, would have been very much better? I see that the right hon. Member for Darwen has now come in, and I will recall what I have said, because I do not want him to go away repeating all over the country the statement he made at Manchester when he said that had this been a simple repeal of the 1927 Act a very difficult situation would have been created. I want to assure the right hon. Gentleman that from the point of view of the community a simple repeal would have been in many respects very much better for them. What may happen under the proposals of this Bill? What I think might happen is this:A universal strike might be raging which, even within the terms of the Bill, would be illegal, but, notwithstanding that fact, no person connected with it would he deemed to have committed any offence in respect of any such illegality.I cannot ask the right hon. Member for Darwen to accept my statements, because I am afraid he suspects me now and then, but those are the words of Lord Buckmaster. Is it not surprising that this afternoon the Attorney-General got up and in his suavest manner said, "Well, I do not know whether, after all, this provision is really quite sound and waterproof. I might have some proposals made which may induce me to alter this."
What are the proposals which we are asked to vote for, so far as the Second 486 Reading is concerned, and to which, as I understand it, the right hon. Member for Darwen is going to give no reply? They amount to this. If there were a lightning strike and it took, as any lawyer knows it might take, many days to get a decision as to whether that strike were illegal or not, not a single union and not a single person would be responsible, even though it were declared to be illegal, for the grave damage which the community and others had suffered in the meantime. In other words, an illegal strike could be openly advocated, conducted, arranged, financed and carried on, and nothing could be done until after a trial had taken place in the High Court and a declaration of its illegality had been obtained. I would remind the right hon. Member for Darwen, in case he goes again to the Free Trade Hall at Manchester, that even when the declaration has been obtained not a single union and not a single leader responsible for that illegal strike could be called to account for the damage and suffering that had been caused. I say this is a monstrous and reprehensible provision.
I would have liked to devote some little time to the other proposals of the Bill, but I will content myself, as I want to give full opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman opposite to reply, to say one or two final words. What is the question which is on the lips of every thinking person who is considering our proceedings in the House to-night? It is a question which the Attorney-General has skilfully a-voided. Why is it that at this critical moment in the history of the nation we are discussing this Bill at all? We have a Socialist Government in close touch with labour and with a full knowledge of the industrial situation, but instead of coming forward with proposals for dealing with our grave national emergency, with proposals designed to make for the conciliation and better settlement of our industrial disputes, they bring forward a Bill to make disputes and strikes easier. That is not only my o[...]inion. I hold in my hand a letter written by a Member of this House whom we all respect. It is addressed, curiously enough, not to the Government but is an open letter to the Trade Union Congress. In the letter that hon. Member says:I do not disagree with the proposal to return to the pre-1927 position.487 and then goes on to say:My object in writing this letter is to say plainly"—that is, say, to the Trade Union Congress—that you are making a disastrous blunder in pressing the Government to put this Bill in the forefront for the coming Session.That shows that he believes it is not the Government who are doing this, but their masters, the Trade Union Congress. He says:Unemployment overshadows every problem, and all other subjects, including your Bill, are subsidiary. The economic blizzard has sent the figures well over 2,000,000, and still soaring upwards. When Parliament assembles on 28th October the attack on the Government will be intensified. People, whether Labour, Tory, Liberal, or no politics at all, are more concerned over unemployment than all other subjects put together.Then he adds:And every trade union leader knows it.He goes on to say:I venture to suggest that the rank and file members of your own unions, both in work and out of work, are much more anxious about unemployment than about the disabilities of the Trade Disputes Act. There is no doubt that the blizzard has been more severe than anyone foresaw.and he ends with these words:If the Government meets its doom in the country at the next General Election, it will not be because it has failed to repeal or amend the Trade Disputes Bill, but because it has failed to make an impression upon unemployment.The question I put to the Socialist Government is: "What will the people say to a Government, faced with an unemployment crisis of unparalled severity, and a programme loaded with urgent Measures, which sets out to spend months of its precious time trying to alter the law in respect of trade unions." Who was it made that statement? It was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister of this country. Our position is quite clear. I do not desire for the moment to make any further observations upon the Liberal position, but we ask the House of Commons to reject this Bill, as we believe it will be rejected and repudiated by the great majority of our fellow countrymen, because it hampers and jeopardises the principles and securities that lie at the very foundation of order 488 and safety in the State, because it is an outrage on the political liberties of our working people, and because it is a wanton blow at industrial reconciliation.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. T. Shaw)
What we should do without the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) I cannot think. He reminds me of a line of Keats':A thing of beauty is a joy for ever.His loveliness increases. His methods of Parliamentary controversy are unique; they belong to him alone.
§ Mr. SHAW
The Attorney-General made a statement in his speech that Lord Reading in another place, and Sir Thomas Inskip in this place, both made certain declarations. The right hon. Gentleman says, "Oh, but that w as before the Act was amended." When his attention is drawn to the fact that those speeches, both in the House of Lords and in this House, were made on the Third Reading, instead of apologising, he turns to another Lord. That kind of controversy might do here; it did not do in Bristol; and I recommend the right hon. Gentleman to try that kind of controversy in the other constituencies of this country.
§ Mr. SHAW
You will get your chance. The right hon. Gentleman, referring to my hon. and learned Friend's speech, which, whatever else it was, was dignified, lucid and clear, said that my hon. and learned Friend had said, "Let us have bigger and better strikes," and "Let London walk." My hon. and learned Friend said nothing of the kind, nor anything approaching it, and it is a pure fiction on the right hon. Gentleman's part to insinuate that any words of my hon. and learned Friend could bear that construction. If that is what the right hon. Gentleman understands by controversy, then we differ from him as to what controversy should be. The record of his party is perfectly well known to us on this side. They say that there was no malice about the Act of 1927. May I call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that all along the line the Tory party has consistently tried to do what the opportunity of 1927 gave 489 them the chance to do? They were merely carrying into effect an old policy to which the country had never consented, and on which they had been defeated whenever they tried it. They seized their opportunity—[An HON. MEMBER: "They gave you your chance!"] They gave me nothing; I do not expect ever to get anything from the Tory party; I know their record too well. I am one of the men—
§ Mr. SHAW
I am one of the men who helped to produce the Labour party. I am one of the men who saw what it was to have the workers at the mercy of their employers backed by the Government. I have seen the Calvary on which the working men of this country have had to suffer. I have seen men, for daring to join a trade union, dismissed, boycotted, compelled to leave their homes and go out of the town where they had lived all their lives, because they dared to combine with their fellows to help one another. I have known the Conservative party—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. SHAW
The hon. Member's interjection is about as logical and relevant as his interjections generally are. In 1912–13, there was a very considerable agitation in this House when Mr. Asquith's Bill was going through, which gave the trade unions the right definitely by law to enter into political action and made contracting-out legal. That Bill was carried through by Lord Reading and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon). I hope that the right hon. Gentleman still maintains the opinions which he held at that date, when he was so valuable in getting this measure of justice through the House. Let me make a reference to the speech of the ex-Prime Minister. His position seemed to be this: There is no use in trying to amend it. We are opposed to it fundamentally. It cannot be amended. We must vote against it, but we require three days to discuss it. The right hon. Gentleman has a very winning way, and he will get his third day—I think there is no question about that—but why we should spend three days discussing a thing which is so fundamentally had that, whatever you 490 do with it, you cannot alter it, and it must be voted against I leave to the logic of the party opposite. I simply cannot understand logic of that kind. [Interruption.] I think I listened fairly attentively to the speech of the ex-Prime Minister and to that of the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, and I ask for elementary courtesy.
We are told that unless we get extraordinary safeguards the State is in danger. But did not every legal authority in the country in 1926 tell us that the strike was illegal, and, if it was illegal, what was the need for the Act, and what on earth had the political levy to do with the general strike? Was there any connection there? Why drag that in by the hair of the head? Every legal authority in 1926 said the strike was illegal. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley made a very categorical declaration that, in his opinion, the strike was illegal. Lord Birkenhead made the same categorical declaration that that strike, or any strike of a similar character, was definitely illegal. If that was the case and the country had all the guarantees that it could have against the recurrence of such a thing, why a special Act?
If it is said that the 1927 Act was simply intended to make a political general strike impossible why make it impossible, as indeed the Act did, for any one trade to help another in case of emergency? Take, for instance, a trade that I know well—the cotton trade. If there was a strike in one shed it used to be a common practice to send the beams from that shed to another shed, if the weavers did not know about it, in order to get them woven. The transport workers always refused to handle those beams, just as a soldier would refuse to carry ammunition to the enemy. Under the 1927 Act any man who takes action like that is liable at law. He has not the right to say, "No, I will not stab my fellow workmen in the back." Under the 1927 Act, that man is liable. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I think I had better read the Section.It is hereby declared that any strike is illegal if it has any object other than or in addition to the furtherance of a trade dispute within the trade or industry in which the strikers are engaged"—
§ Mr. SHAW
We tried over and over again when the 1927 Bill was going through the House to get a definition of what these Clauses really meant. It was absolutely impossible then, and it is absolutely impossible now, to get any legal authority to say that a sympathetic strike is legal under the law of to-day. Have working men to have no rights? Has not the worker just as much right to cease work if he thinks it will help his fellow-workers as has an employer to close his works if he thinks he can help other employers? There is no law in the land that can compel an employer to run his firm if he does not want to run it. There ought to be no law to compel a man to work if he does not want to work. That is our elementary criticism. We hold that the party opposite have never conceded this willingly to the workers of this country. [Interruption.] I ask for your protection, Mr. Speaker. I think that I am entitled to speak without these continual interruptions.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Secretary of State for War is entitled to make his speech without these continual interruptions.
§ Mr. SHAW
We have to listen quietly to many statements with which we disagree. I am going to repeat the four principles of the Attorney-General, not perhaps in the same words, but in words conveying the same meaning. First, under this Bill any political strike or a revolutionary strike is definitely illegal, but the right to a sympathetic strike on the part of the workers is definitely conceded. Is there anything wrong about that principle? Is there anything in it to which a man thoroughly liberal can object? Is there anything which, either in ethics or in morals, is wrong about conceding the right to a man to help his fellow-workmen even if he is not working in the same trade? That is our claim; it is a claim that we are restoring the right of the man to help his fellow-men while not giving any right to a political or revolutionary strike of a general character. That is our claim definitely put down by the Attorney-General and 492 backed, I think, by cogent arguments from the Bill itself.
We say that when a majority of a union has decided upon a certain policy with regard to the political levy, there shall be a right to the minority to contract-out from the decision, but the minority must do the contracting-out. We heard statements over and over again during the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), and statements from other speakers about pressure being put upon workers in order to compel them to pay towards funds towards which they did not want to pay. There is not a shred of evidence that has ever been produced to prove that that statement is correct. The actual number of cases definitely proved is, I think, about one in a million. Those are the cases which can definitely be put down as having been proved. One in a million, and on that slender foundation there has been built an edifice of statement that the workers have been compelled to pay levies to an organisation in which they do not believe.
I have had something to do with the introduction of the political levy. I was secretary of a branch organisation of 6,000 members. In order to get the levy introduced, we had to take a ballot in which we were forbidden to give any advice to our members and in which we were not permitted to say that in our opinion the levy was good or bad. We were only permitted to put in the envelope a voting paper asking the members to vote as to whether he or she was in favour of taking action to raise a political levy. Not only that, but in a sealed envelope we had to convey to every member, without a request from the member, a plain form en which the member had to sign his or her name stating that he or she objected to the payment of the levy. Out of 6,000 members I think we had 16 persons who signed those forms. There was nothing in the shape of compulsion, and from that day to this the proportion has remained pretty much the same. In spite of the Act, that society maintains the same proportion. But you have forced thousands of people to make a declaration in order to save 16 from having to make one.
Our people have their own dignity and their own self-respect. Do hon. Members 493 opposite think that working men and working women have no self-respect and no dignity? Why should we be forced to do this? Why should you force the members of a union to do things that they believe are wrong and immoral? What business is it of yours to interfere in our affairs?
§ Mr. SHAW
Yes, absolutely wrong and immoral. Unmoral, if you like that word better. Absolutely wrong and unmoral to interfere in our private affairs, affairs which are not yours and with which you have nothing to do. We claim the right to determine for ourselves what we are going to do, and we decline to acknowledge your right to interfere. We do not interfere with your business. If we had the right to go into the Conservative party's funds and to see how they are subscribed and by whom, and what are the results of the subscriptions, we should be pretty well on an equal footing. I do not think you would very much like the disclosure. There are some people with titles, and I should very much like to know how they got them. Why should we be bound to do these things?
You say that there is a difference between trade unionism and political action. Take the case of the textile workers. The textile workers have had to fight for generations for political reform. I went to the mill at 10 years of age, and my father went at the age of seven, and worked all the hours that God sent. One might have been there to-day if it had not been for the fact that the textile workers organised themselves and put all the pressure they could on the Government in order to get an alteration of things. From bitter experience we have found that we could get nothing except what we could extract by pressure.
There have been noble souls in the past who have helped to raise the condition of the workers. There have been men like Shaftesbury, Castler and Francis Place who worked unceasingly to bring about an improvement in the most debasing conditions the world has ever known. Who was it that got the children out after they had been taken from the workhouse and put into the mills? These 494 men brought pressure to bear on Parliament, and, when we wanted a 10-hour day and an hour knocked off the Saturdays, we had to get it through Parliament. For a long time we satisfied ourselves by coming down to London and lobbying hon. Members, imploring and begging them to help to destroy the evil conditions which existed. We have learned more sense. We determined that we would pay our money and send our own men to Parliament, and in 1906 a Workmen's Compensation Bill was introduced which was helped through by my old friend Gill, who is now dead. He was the Labour Member for Bolton because we had paid our pennies per week to send him here. He was helpful in those days in getting alleviations and improvements and in helping the Government who were willing to make the move to make the move a little more quickly. Then we sent Shackleton, who was of great service in trade union Bill discussions.
During all these years, what did we get from the party opposite? When Mr. Asquith introduced his Bill there were hundreds, I think thousands, of Amendments from the Tory side. There was a by-election in Bolton which was thought to be a safe Conservative seat. The Conservative did not win, and a lot of the Amendments disappeared. The Bill went through. I am surprised, almost horrified, to find that even Liberals are now going back on the Asquith Bill which gave us the right to say that so long as no man was compelled to pay the levy the majority view should operate and are prepared to say that they must contract in, not contract out. Why should the majority be driven to do this? Why should not the minority follow the line of ordinary minorities, which is always to contract out? Would you do this in any private business? If a majority of the directors of a company decide on a certain policy, and there are two or three directors in a minority, would you insist that the majority should sign a solemn declaration that they have consented to do this thing in order that the minority might be under no compulsion? Not at all. You only apply these things to the working people; you never dream of applying them to anybody else but the working people.
495 You cannot make us forget our history. We look at things in a different way; I am afraid that sometimes we speak a different language. We look at things from the point of view of those who have lived through these conditions, who know the struggles that have gone on. Fight, fight all the time, in order to get the ordinary, elementary, human right of joining together to guard our own interests! Rich men who can afford to pay for themselves can afford to smile, but what about these people of ours in Lancashire and Yorkshire and in the other industrial counties? None of them can afford to do it for themselves; they must combine in order to do it. One would expect that out of a feeling of gentlemanliness those who were well able to do these things for themselves would go out of their way to help those who were prepared to combine in order to forward their own interests. No sensible person in the world would want to run strikes which were of a nature to disturb and destroy the country, but no sensible person on this side will ever consent willingly to any Act which has in its essence a principle to which we are diametrically opposed—the principle that a man's right to cease to work should be limited. Is there any question that the 1927 Act did that? Does anyone claim that the right of the worker to cease work was the same after 1927 as before? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] If hon. Members claim that, argument is absolutely impossible. Our discussion comes down to bare statements. I say that the rights were not the same after 1927, and hon. Members opposite say that they were, and we cannot argue it any more. If we were giving anything in the nature of a wrong thing, if we were giving anything in the nature of a privilege, I could understand the action of the party opposite; but we are asking nothing but the most elementary fair play. We are not even asking hon. Members opposite to keep their hands out of our business. We say: "You can put them in to the extent that you can insert whatever safeguard you like for the minority, but the minority must contract out." We do not even ask hon. Members to mind their own business. We say that, if they fear that our actions will be detrimental to the nation, we are quite prepared to admit that revolutionary strikes are a danger, and hon. 496 Members can safeguard themselves. But I would add this: "Do not safeguard yourselves to the point of trying to prevent us helping each other in a trade dispute." That is the only thing we ask. Is there anything unreasonable about it? Is there anything in human rights or wrongs that can in any way be hurt by a declaration of that kind? Then we say, with regard to municipalities, that a municipality shall have the right to take a decision that any private employer could take for himself. I could understand this deep-seated demand for liberty on the opposite side if it worked both ways. When I see the Conservative party demanding measures that will prevent an employer discharging a man because he is a trade unionist, I shall be able to understand their position.
Those of us who have worked in the trade union movement, who have known men to be hounded out of their places because they joined a trade union, those of us who have known employers to refuse employment to any trade unionist, look with a certain amount of suspicion at the declarations of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who knew that these things were going on and did not protest, but protested when someone said that no one but a trade unionist should be employed. It does not square with the ordinary ideas of fair play and of playing the game and it is not sportsmanlike. With regard to the Civil Service, I, personally, think a civil servant ought to consider very carefully whether he or she ought to take any part in politics, but that is a matter for the civil servant, and if we make a mistake, surely it is better to make a mistake on the side of personal liberty than on the side of personal repression? What is there wrong in that declaration of policy? Why should not municipalities and the Civil Service have unfettered discretion, on the one hand as to whom they should employ, and, on the other hand, as to whether the servants should take part in politics or not? There is no earthly reason for this strange demand, which I cannot understand, for the limitation of liberty.
Even Liberals themselves have never proposed to go to the employer and say it is an illegal act to lay down a rule that trade unionists cannot be employed, but they are willing to say it is illegal to say that all trade unionists shall be em- 497 ployed. I frankly cannot understand the Liberal position. With their traditions, and with the Act of Mr. Asquith, which was destroyed by the last Government, that they should come and say, in effect, as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Nottingham (Mr. Birkett) said in a charming, but very disappointing speech, that the things that were done in 1912 and 1913 are no longer their ideas, is a very profound disappointment to myself. Whatever the party opposite may say about the opinion of the country on this Bill, one or two facts are crystal clear. The first is that they had no mandate for their Bill, and the second is that we have the clearest possible mandate for ours. There is not a Member on this side who was not pledged up to the hilt to undo the evil of the 1927 Act. We listened to an extraordinary declaration from, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich to-night. For months he insistently and persistently asked when we were going to introduce this Bill, and then when he gets it, he says it is a criminal act to introduce it! The right hon. Gentleman's logic is very closely related to his alleged facts, and neither of them will bear investigation.
We have brought forward this Bill, and we shall press it, because it squares with what we regard as rights that no House of Commons ought to tamper with. We cannot forget tradition and we cannot forget what has gone before. We have worked our way through many difficulties and over many stony roads. We have had to suffer, some of us, because we desired to work with our fellows. We have known what it is—I have known what it was—to be told, "If you take part in trade union work, there is no work for you." We have come through that, and all the powers on earth cannot stop our onward march. You talk about the people. Let me call attention to the fact that after the wonderful letter from Russia produced by a gentleman with the very English name of Im Thurn, we gained 1,500,000 votes, and we need only two more experiences of the same kind to give us a majority in the country. Our party will continue steadily to grow, and it has got beyond the point when it is to be patronised. It has got to the point where it demands—not asks, but demands 498 —the right to work through its organisation, in the way it wishes. If you want to prevent revolution, there is nobody who can prevent it like the people here. If you want to drive the people to revolution, then try to curb the liberties of the working classes. If you desire to have discontent, if you desire that the country should be upset, then try to stop us from doing our own work in our own way.
§ Mr. SHAW
On the other hand, if you desire that, as far as it is humanly possible, employer and employed shall work in amity and with good understanding, and that the country shall work as a whole and as a united country, then you must recognise quite frankly that you will have to depart from the habit of trying to curb our liberties and to curb our responsibilities and to curb our rights. You will have to recognise quite frankly that this Bill seeks to do nothing but what is just, and that nothing less will ever be accepted.
Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Sir G. Penny.]
Debate to he resumed upon Monday next, 26th January.