No. I think that this deals with a slight point, and that it will probably be a matter of interpretation and construction. I think there can only be a discussion of interpretation on this Amendment, and the general Debate will come on an Amendment of greater substance lower down on the Paper.
I beg to move, in page 4, line 4, after the word "union," to insert the words "whether of employers or of workmen or otherwise."
The object of the Amendment is two-fold. We desire to emphasise the bilateral application of the Clause. The insertion of the words "employer or workman" makes it clear that the provision for contracting out with regard to the political levy shall apply equally to organisations of employers as to organisations of workmen. That is necessary because we have certain facts about trade unions of workmen but we have not similar facts with regard to organisations of employers. The facts in regard to the workmen's unions are, that out of 1,155 registered and unregistered trade unions, since 1913 some 292 unions have had secret ballots. Of these unions, 18 have had a majority against the political levy and the remainder have been in favour. The remarkable thing is that we know the small number of persons who voted in these ballots, but we have no information about the organisations of employers. We know in regard to the organisations of workmen that in the registered unions 3,003,373 members were entitled to vote and less than one-third voted. There were 683,272 who voted for the levy and 272,394 against. We know also that of 40 unregistered unions 478,828 members voted for the levy and 305,804 against. We have no similar facts with regard to the organisations of employers.
There have been a number of claims made for exemption. Up to 1925, 104,797 claims for exemption had been made and allowed under the existing law. We do not know whether the organisations of employers allow for exemption and provide a form for contracting out or not. We do know that in the Amalgamated Society of Wood Workers, 15,851 members have exemption forms; in the Amalgamated Engineering Union 10,482 members have exemption forms, in the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers 8,730 have exemption forms, and in the National Unions of Railwaymen 8,197 have exemption forms. We desire to know the facts about the employers' organisations equally with the organisations of workmen. Therefore, we have brought forward this Amendment.
The Amendment goes further. It proposes to insert words which will cover not merely organisations of employers and organisations of workmen but other organisations which may not be organisations of employers or of workmen, such as rings of merchants, who may have political funds and about which we have no facts. This is not the time to argue about contracting in or contracting out. Clause 4 is undoubtedly intended to injure the funds of workmen's unions. It does not concern us whether one party or another at the moment has the advantage of the funds, but we want the members to have the advantage of whatever funds they subscribe. A large number of Liberal trade unionists have written to me on the matter, saying that although they do not agree with the majority in their union they are all in favour of the political fund. Seeing that this Subsection applies to organisations of workmen we desire to provide in this Subsection and in the succeeding Sub-sections of the Clause that what applies to organisations of workmen shall also apply to organisations of employers, and other organisations covered by the legal title of trade union.
The only objection to this Amendment is that it is quite meaningless. The hon. Member says that he desires to make this Sub-section apply equally to employers' trade unions as to workmen's trade unions. So it does. The Sub-section begins:
It shall not be lawful to require any member of a trade union. …
A trade union is defined under the existing Act, and the Committee will remember that this Bill is to be read with the existing Act. Therefore, the definitions in the existing Act apply equally to the same words that are used here. In the existing Trade Union Act, 1913, Section 2 provides:
The expression 'trade union'. … means any combination, whether temporary or permanent, the principal objects of which are under its constitution statutory objects. …
The statutory objects are set out in Section 16 of the Act of 1876.
The term 'trade union' means any combination, whether temporary or permanent, for regulating the relations between workmen and masters, or between workmen and workmen, or between masters and masters, or for imposing restrictive conditions on the conduct of any trade or business, whether such combination would or would not, if the principal Act had not been passed, have been deemed to have been an unlawful combination by reason of some one or more of its purposes being in restraint of trade.
All we are doing in this Sub-section is to alter the method of exemption by providing for what is called "contracting in" instead of contracting out. We are not altering in the least the nature of the body to which the power to contribute to political objects is granted by the Act of 1913, or on whom the restrictions of that Act are imposed. There are to-day a certain number of trade unions of masters which have political funds and which have duly had their ballots and have their provisions for exemption. We are merely altering the method of obtaining exemption. We are not altering the body in whom the right of obtaining exemption exists, or on whom the obligation of the Act of 1913 is imposed. For
that reason, I resist this Amendment, because the words are unnecessary and quite meaningless and would not alter the effect of the Clause.
The Government throughout this Bill have declared their intention to clarify the law. It is the opinion of my hon. Friends and myself that the insertion of these words in the actual Clause which is to apply in future to the political levy would make it quite clear, without any reference to the preceding Acts, and without any lengthy formula. I cannot agree with the Attorney-General that the words of the Amendment are meaningless. They do declare the present law, and I think they clarify it. The form of our words is much simpler than the form read out by the Attorney-General, and I ask him whether he cannot accept the Amendment in the interests of clarification and redefinition, as he desires to attain that object in other parts of the Bill.
I am quite anxious for clarification, but I cannot think that this Amendment will have that effect, inasmuch as there is an existing definition which has worked well for 14 years since the Act of 1913 was passed and which, so far as I know, has never given rise to any difficulty. I cannot think that the introduction into this Bill of 1927 of the words "whether of employers or workmen or otherwise" would tend to clarify the law, seeing that we have already a definition in the Act of 1913. It would tend rather to obscure the law to put into this Sub-section words which are already necessarily involved in the definition of the term "trade union." For these reasons, I am sorry that I cannot accept the Amendment.
Are we to understand from the speech of the Attorney-General that there are already trade unions of employers who have taken a ballot, who have a political levy, and who make their returns to the Registrar-General? If that be so, why is it that when a request has been made for returns of trade unions that have political funds and also of the number of people who secure exemption from contributing to those political funds, employers' trade unions have not been included? It is rather an important matter because, if there are registered trade unions of employers with political funds, we are as anxious at least as hon. Members on the other side to get to know how those political funds are collected and disbursed. Whenever a return has been asked for, showing how many people have claimed exemption, those employers' trade unions have never been included, so far as my memory serves. I want to ask whether, in the event of Sub-section (5) being passed, all trade unions of employers with a political fund will have to make a return to the Registrar-General, and that the results of those returns will be as readily available to the House as are the returns from the workmen's trade unions?
In answer to the second question of the hon. Member, I would say, Yes, certainly. The moment that unregistered trade unions have to make returns of their political fund that rule will apply equally to employers' trade unions as well as those of workmen, so long as they have political funds. The answer to the first question is that there are two employers' unions which are registered, and which have a political fund, and one which is unregistered, and which has a political fund. The two which are registered—I have not got the figures before me—have to make returns in exactly the same way as the workmen's trade unions. The one unregistered one is under no obligation to make a return, because it is unregistered, but it will come under that obligation under Sub-section (5) of the Clause.
As I understand the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown), he is exceedingly anxious on this point to place the employers' unions on an equal footing with the workmen's trade unions. The Attorney-General acknowledged that there were some employers' unions which had political funds. Might I ask him what he proposes to do with regard to those employers and employers' associations who are using some of their money for political purposes without acknowledging that they have a political fund? If he accepts the Amendment now before the Committee would not that be a very strong case to which the employers would have to give heed, and would they not have to see to it that, if they did spend money on political purposes, they should, like the trade unions, acknowledge it, and that it should be made available to this House. As has been said in previous Debates on this Bill, it is a very well-known fact that money is being spent without any public acknowledgment of it.
Before the Attorney-General replies, may I ask for information on the particular point that I put to him. That is, if there are registered employers' trade unions, why have they not been included in any returns of political funds in reply to questions which have been asked, and when tabular statements have been given of the number of persons who pay political funds and of those who have been exempted? Why were not those two registered employers' unions included, and what are their names?
As to the question why they have not been included, I do not even know whether it is a fact that they are not included. If the hon. Member says so, I accept it. There will be no difficulty, if a question is put down, in getting the information. With regard to the names, there are two registered unions and one unregistered union. The two registered unions are the Cinematograph Employers' Association of Great Britain and Ireland and the British Undertakers' Association.
These names give rise to a certain merry feeling on the part of hon. Members. The numbers of the first are, 2,515, in 1925, and of the second, 3,682, in 1925. The unregistered employers' trade union which has a political fund is the National Farmers' Union. Of course, I cannot give particulars about that at present. In answer to the right hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson), I do not know of any employers' trade union which has a political fund which has not complied with the Statute. If there be any such, then the remedy given by the Statute of 1913—that is the application to the Registrar-General, and so on—with which hon. Members are possibly conversant, is open and applicable as much to such a trade union as to any other. Such an employers' trade union is in exactly the same position as a workmen's trade union which fails to observe the law. I do not know that there are any such unions, and the Committee will not understand me as accepting that there are, but, if there are, they will come within the law just in the same way as the trade unions.
I am afraid I did not make my point quite clear. I was not inquiring as to employers or employers' unions, but I was rather stressing the point that it was known that employers, employing firms and employers' associations, were using money for political purposes and that there was no public acknowledgment. We are entitled to claim that if we are compelled to make a return of all money spent for political purposes, as we shall be under this Bill, equal treatment shall be applied so far as the employers are concerned. They ought not to be allowed to spend money for political purposes without public acknowledgment.
I only want to make the position clear. I have no personal knowledge of what the right hon. Gentleman says, but I can only repeat that any employers' association which is a trade union within the definition of the Act of 1876, which imposes restrictive conditions, and so on, cannot legally apply its funds to what are political objects as defined in the Act of 1913 without complying with the provisions of that Act. If it does so, it is in exactly the same position as to liability as any workmen's trade union which does the same thing. This advantage will be given by the Bill we are now passing, that in future unregistered trade unions will be under the obligation to make a return of their figures even though they be unregistered, whereas until the Bill becomes law, only registered trade unions are under that obligation.
I do not think that the Attorney-General fully appreciates the point which has been put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson). My right hon. Friend said just now that it is not altogether a question of employers' associations which are registered as trade unions, but that employers, individual firms and associations of firms are, apparently, under the existing law, fully at liberty to contribute out of their funds for political purposes, and to go to the extent of financing Parliamentary candidates, and actually either to support or subsidise Members of Parliament. I do not know if there are in the present House of Commons men who are subsidised by commercial interests, but it has been notorious in previous Parliaments that there have been such men. It is well within the knowledge of every hon. Member here that commercial firms do contribute to political purposes. The right hon. Gentleman asked for information. I will give him some information. I have here an extract from the auditor to the Sheffield Citizens' Union. Here are some accounts of contributions that have been made by various commercial concerns in Sheffield to a local political association. For instance, we find that John Brown and Company have contributed £100; Cammell, Laird, £100; Firths, £100; Hadfields, £100; and so forth. There is the Sheffield Engineering Trades Association—an employers' association—which I gathered, from the Attorney-General's speech just now is neither a registered nor an unregistered trade union. It is an employers' association and it contributes £200. So I might go on through this list. Here is the Sheffield Gas Company, a semi-public corporation. Out of their funds they contribute to this local political association £100 a year.
It will be remembered that for 40 years before the Osborne decision was given it was regarded as being within the legal rights of trade unions to contribute out of their general funds towards fighting Parliamentary elections, and to supporting Labour Members of Parliament. In 1874, Mr. Alexander MacDonald and Mr. Burt were returned to this House. For 40 years Mr. Burt was supported out of the funds of the Miners' Association. Until the Osborne Judgment, the question of the legality of contributions from the funds of trade unions was never raised. Now, the employers and the employers' associations which are not registered trade unions are to-day in precisely the same position as the trade unions were believed to be before the Osborne decision was given. The Act of 1911 placed obstacles and difficulties in the way of trade unions to which employers, either individual concerns or associations of employers, were not subjected. What we want is this—I do not know if it will be covered by the Amendment—that employers shall be placed in exactly the same position as the trade unions in regard to contributions to political funds.
The argument put forward by the Government and from the benches opposite is that individual members of a trade union ought not to be compelled to contribute to a political purpose unless they express their desire to do so. Here are these limited liability companies who, out of their funds, make contributions for political purposes. There may be, no doubt there are, a considerable proportion, or at any rate some proportion, of the shareholders of those companies who would differ in their politics from the purpose for which the organisation exists to which these contributions have been made. What is sauce for the goose ought to be sauce for the gander also. If trade unions are going to be put under this illegality to contribute out of their funds to political purposes, then the employers' associations ought to be in precisely the same position. No limited liability company or association of employers ought to contribute until a poll has been taken of the shareholders in the company and the majority have agreed that such a contribution shall be made. At the same time there ought to be a conscientious objectors' clause. Every shareholder who objects to the funds of the company being devoted to political purposes should have an opportunity of being exempted from it.
I have listened to the whole of the right hon. Gentleman's argument, and I think it is clear that this proposal is not in order on this Sub-section. It deals with trade unions, and any trade union of employers is subject to its provisions. What the right hon. Gentleman seeks to do is to extend its provisions to other bodies that are not at present trade union.
I explained to the Committee before the hon. and learned Member came in that the Amendment now before the Committee was a matter of interpretation rather than one of substance, and that I proposed to allow a general discussion on a later Amendment to leave out the Sub-section.
My name is not associated with the Amendment, but I gather that one of its objects is to throw a little light on the dark places of the employers' organisations. I was amazed when the Attorney-General said that there were only three employers' organisations who are registered as having a political fund. What about our old friend the Federation of British Industries? I do not know whether it is a genuine trade union or not, but certainly—
I did not say that it was a trade union. What I said was that I was unaware whether it was a trade union or not, and I am trying to find out from the Attorney-General whether it is a trade union or not. It appears to me that by some technical or legal device large numbers of employers' organisations are escaping the liability of rendering an account of their political funds, and if that be so, and, obviously, it is so, I think it is incumbent on the Attorney-General to address himself to that question, and see whether it cannot be remedied. The Attorney-General has said that everything in this Clause which applies to trade unions applies also to the trade unions of employers. I want him to turn to the Schedule and to observe the
language in which it is framed. It says:
I hereby give notice that I am willing, and agree, to contribute to the Political Fund.
Employers' organisations are almost invariably composed of companies, not of individuals, and the language of the Schedule throws an illuminating light on the frame of mind of whoever drafted it. He was not thinking of employers' organisations; he was thinking of individual contributors to trade union funds, and, obviously, one Amendment which will have to be made is that the Schedule will have to be framed so that it can be utilised not only by individual trade union contributors but by companies and corporations who contribute to a political fund. Let me put one other point to reinforce my argument. Many hon. Members sitting on the Labour Benches, as is well known, receive a certain amount of support from trade union funds, and under the provisions of this Bill these funds are to be audited and disclosed to the public. The figures just given by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) show that employers in many cases make contributions to election expenses of hon. Members opposite, or in some other way contribute to their support in this House. I am not suggesting that there is anything secret about it, but if this requirement as to publicity is to apply to funds given in support of hon. Members of the Labour party by trade unions, something should be done—
That would be so if I were applying my argument as to trade unions to bodies which are not trade unions. I do not say that, for example, the Federation of British Industries, which may or may not be a trade union, is guilty of it, but whether the employers' organisations are trade unions or not, they ought to be compelled to publish a return of their expenditure on their political fund. We want to know something more about the employers' organisations.
I certainly bow to your ruling, and will not pursue the matter any further. In conclusion, I invite the Attorney-General to tell the Committee how he proposes to alter the Schedule in order to make it suitable to cover the members of company trade unions. The words as they stand are, obviously, unsuitable, and I should like to know whether he has any proposal for amending the Schedule in order to meet the contingency I have described.
I have not troubled the Committee very much on this Bill so far, and I only propose to say a very few words now. From what has already passed in the Committee, and I think for your guidance, Mr. Hope, as well as for the guidance of the Committee, we ought to have a definition of the words "trade union," and I suggest to the Attorney-General—
I was going to suggest that the Subsection should contain a definition of the words "trade union," and it is a matter that I strongly recommend to the Secretary of State for War, who has a long Parliamentary experience of these matters. I am surprised that the Government are resisting this Amendment. The justification for the whole of the Bill, until we reach Clause 4, is that it is only a just retribution for what occurred last year timing the so-called general strike. But that does not apply to this Clause. This is the first Clause in the Bill which has nothing whatever to do with the events of last year. The earlier Clauses have been introduced for penal purposes, or, if you like, to prevent a recurrence of what happened last year. This Clause does not deal with strike action at all. It deals with constitutional action. What is to be said of a Government which makes this applicable only to the working men's organisations? Now I come to the question of trade unions, on which you, Mr. Hope, have already called one or two Members to order. Are we to understand that the wording of this Bill generally means that no individual firms or associations of firms are trade unions? I shall be glad if the Attorney-General will give the Committee his views on that point. The Federation of British Industries has been mentioned. Is that concern a trade union or not? Let me quote another body, with which I have had some dealings—the Associated Chambers of Shipping. Undoubtedly, they incur a certain legitimate expenditure on what may be called political work, in circularising Members of Parliament and other ways. There is nothing wrong in what they do. But are they a trade union? Will they be expected to fulfil the same obligations under this Clause as working men's trade unions? Then, there are the brewers, the drink trade generally, and associations of that sort. My reading is that they are trade unions. Have the Government considered the matter in that light?
If I am right in supposing that such bodies are trade unions, do they come under this Clause, and, if they do, has the Government recognised what that means? Then—if I dare venture to tread on holy ground—what about the oldest and most powerful trade union in this country, the legal profession? There we are outside the realm of shareholders; we get into the realm of wage-earning and salaries. They are individuals associated in an organisation for the protection of their rights and the furtherance of their interests. I have no doubt it has done very well in the past for its members. Does it come under the heading "trade union"? What do the lawyers in the House themselves think about it? The hon. and learned Member for Bassetlaw (Sir E. Hume-Williams) has been very outspoken on this Bill, and he is one of the few legal luminaries on the Committee who has endeavoured to make this Bill a little clearer to hon. Members on this side. Is he a member of a trade union? Has it a political fund? Is it registered as a trade union; and, if so, does it come under this Clause? These are points that should be cleared up. If they are not, we have every right to go to the country and say to our constituents that the Government are not acting fairly in this matter.
I apologise. For nearly a fortnight I have been bottled up on this subject, and I find it very hard to restrain my indignation when I consider what the Government are doing. Let us get to grips with this matter. Are the wealthy corporations of employers to be allowed to spend any money they like on a political fund and the unions of the poor men to be penalised? That is what it will mean if the Amendment is not accepted.
I want to put one or two questions to the Attorney-General in regard to the two trade unions to which he referred as being registered trade unions with a political fund. I find from recent statistics which have been issued that the number of employers' associations registered as trade unions was 94 in 1924 and they are excluded. What I would like to ask is, how it is that out of this number of 94 there are only two with a political fund? In the same report is a list of employers' associations concerned with labour matters in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and there is a note which makes it clear that the Chambers of Commerce, Agriculture and Shipping, and all associations of Poor Law, commercial or technical bodies, are excluded. There were at the end of 1925, 2,403 of these associations. Are we to understand that they are entirely excluded from the Bill?
I do not want to make a debating point, or to try to place the learned Attorney-General in any difficulty; but I ask him to give us a little further enlightenment of Subsection (5) of this Clause. We want information in regard to these unregistered organisations. On the opposite side to what we understand is a Labour trade union, we have that vast and important organisation known as the Federation of British Industries. It is equal to a trade union in every respect, but it is not registered. It carries out all the functions of a trade union. It protects its members and I think it contributes towards political funds. In all respects it is equivalent to an ordinary Labour trade union, but it is not registered. Can the Attorney-General tell us if this particular organisation, as an example, comes under Sub-section (5) of this Clause?
I want to put a further question. I tried to follow the learned Attorney-General's definition of a trade union, but I am not perfectly clear on the subject. One of the most powerful trade organisations in this country is the Licensed Victuallers' and Beer Sellers' Protection Association. It is well known that that vast organisation carries on a considerable amount of political work. It has its representatives in this House and it is common knowledge that there are at least 30 Members on the Government side of the House who are directors of brewery companies and are members of this organisation. Therefore, it is a very powerful political organisation. I believe it spends many thousands a year in political work. Can the Attorney-General tell us whether, under this Clause, that Association will be compelled to make a return of its funds and to issue to all its members a form to enable them to claim exemption? I think that probably some of the opposition which we are giving to this Clause would be considerably lessened if we knew that the Clause would apply to such organisations.
I wish to put a question to the Attorney-General. The Durham Coal Owners' Association is for practical purposes a trade union. Whether it has a political fund as such I do not know, but I do know that in 1922 it issued an order to all its members to raise a levy of 2s. per 1,000 tons of coal raised to be used for political purposes in fighting the Durham Miners' Association. If the Coal Owners' Association raises such a levy in future, will it be treated in the same way as any other trade union?
I would like to know whether bookmakers' associations come under this Clause. Bookmakers have recently been brought in under the law and they are forming powerful associations. They circularise Members of this House and money so spent is spent obviously for political purposes. I wish to know whether they come under or will come under the provisions of this Bill. If this Bill is passed and it is made impossible for trade unions to subscribe to political funds in the way that they have done hitherto, it is only right to expect that the prohibition should apply all round. As has been said, we shall insist that what is to be sauce for the goose shall be sauce for the gander.
I was asked whether two out of the 94 registered employers' trade unions have political funds. I have made inquiries from the Registrar and I am told that that is accurate. I was also asked whether certain named bodies, the Federation of British Industries, the Licensed Victuallers' Association and the Bookmakers' Association, are trade unions or not. Obviously it would be most undesirable that I should—it is in fact not possible for me to do so—pronounce here as to whether a particular body is or is not a trade union. Such a pronouncement would involve very careful consideration of all their rules and activities, and it would be very unreasonable that I should express such an opinion, which could only embarrass whatever the particular body was, when it is not my function to decide.
In the event of a challenge, the Registrar would decide under the Act of 1913. In the case of an action in the Court, it might rest with the Court to decide. It would depend on circumstances. What I am trying to make clear is that this Bill makes no difference at all in the definition of a trade union. One hon. and gallant Member who spoke said that we ought to put in a definition. In Clause 8 we have one: The Bill has to be read as one with the earlier Act, and if hon. Members look at the Act of 1913, they will find a trade union defined. This Bill makes no alteration in what is a trade union. This Bill makes no difference in what are political objects. They are defined in Section 3 of the Act of 1913. The only differences that the Bill makes are, first, that it requires contracting in instead of contracting out in order to render the member of a trade, union liable to pay a political levy.
Members of trade unions, whether workmen or employers. Secondly, the Bill provides that in future unregistered trade unions shall be under the same liability as registered trade unions are now under, of making a return of their expenditure, of their political fund. If the bodies which have been named are trade unions, on which I do not express an opinion, and if they spend money on political objects, they can do so only by complying with the Act of 1913, and their liability remains unaltered. The only change is that in future they will have to make a return if they happen to be trade unions. I hope that that statement makes the position clear.
If a coal owners' association which was a trade union, made a levy far purposes which are political objects as defined by the Act of 1913, then at present they can only do that after they have had their ballot and out of their political fund. They must have a separate levy, to which anyone could object to contribute. They will remain in the same position in future, except that in future, instead of levying on everyone who does not object, they can levy only on those who say that they are willing to subscribe. As to whether the particular fund is being used for a political object or not, of course one requires to consider exactly for what the fund is being
Does the right hon. Gentleman not see the point? It is all right in a trade union when an individual, one person, signifies his intention under the old Act not to seek exemption or under the new Act to agree to pay. When one individual does that, there is no difficulty. But in an employers' association or a limited company, how is it possible to contract in or contract out? Will it be done by the Secretary or the President or by individual members? How can a number of shareholders holding shares in one firm contract in or contract out of an employers' trade union?
Is it not the case that unless it is within the memorandum of the Articles of Association of a limited company that they shall have the power to do so, it would be a misfeasance by the directors to apply money to a political fund, and that the auditor would surcharge the directors for so doing?
|Division No. 150.]||AYES.||[4.45 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Gardner, J. P.||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.||John, William (Rhondda, West)|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bllston)||George, Rt. Hon. David Lloyd||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Gibbins, Joseph||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)|
|Batey, Joseph||Gillett, George M.||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)|
|Bondfield, Margaret||Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Kelly, W. T.|
|Briant, Frank||Greenall, T.||Kennedy, T.|
|Broad, F. A.||Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Kirkwood, D.|
|Buchanan, G.||Groves, T.||Lansbury, George|
|Clowes, S.||Grundy, T. W.||Lawrence, Susan|
|Cluse, W. S.||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Lee, F.|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Lowth, T.|
|Compton, Joseph||Hamilton, Sir R. (Orkney & Shetland)||Lunn, William|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Hardie, George D.||Mac Donald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon)|
|Dalton, Hugh||Harney, E. A.||Mackinder, W.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Harris, Percy A.||March, S.|
|Dennison, R.||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Maxton, James|
|Duckworth, John||Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)|
|Dunnico, H.||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Mosley, Oswald|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Hirst, G. H.||Murnin, H.|
|Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington)||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Paling, W.|
|England, Colonel A.||Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)|
|Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Snell, Harry||Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen|
|Ponsonby, Arthur||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip||Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Potts, John S.||Stephen, Campbell||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Purcell, A. A.||Suillvan, J.||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Sutton, J. E.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Riley, Ben||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)||Westwood, J.|
|Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W. R., Elland)||Thomas, Sir Robert John (Anglesey)||Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.|
|Rose, Frank H.||Thomson, Trevelyan (Middlesbro, W.)||Whiteley, W.|
|Saklatvala, Shapurji||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)||Wiggins, William Martin|
|Salter, Dr. Alfred||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plalstow)||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Sexton, James||Thurtie, Ernest||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Shiels, Dr. Drummond||Tinker, John Joseph||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir John||Viant, S. P.|
|Smillie, Robert||Wallhead, Richard C.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Sir Robert Hutchison and Mr. Fenby|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Erskine, James Malcolm Montelth||Lynn, Sir Robert J.|
|Alnsworth, Major Charles||Fanshawe, Captain G. D.||McDonnell, Colonel Hon. Angus|
|Albery, Irving James||Fermoy, Lord||Macmillan, Captain H.|
|Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)||Fielden, E. B.||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Finburgh, S.||McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John|
|Astor, Viscountess||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Macquisten, F. A.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Foxcroft, Captain C. T.||Makins, Brigadier-General E.|
|Atkinson, C.||Gadie, Lieut.-Col. Anthony||Malone, Major P. B.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Gates, Percy||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn|
|Barnston, Major Sir Harry||Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Gibbs, Col Rt. Hon. George Abraham||Meyer, Sir Frank|
|Bethel, A.||Goff, Sir Park||Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden)|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Grace, John||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.|
|Bralthwaite, Major A. N.||Grant, Sir J. A.||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)|
|Brassey, Sir Leonard||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Moreing, Captain A. H.|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Morrison, H. (Witts, Salisbury)|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Gunston, Captain D. W.||Nall, Colonel Sir Joseph|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Nelson, Sir Frank|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir F. (Dulwich)||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)|
|Buchan, John||Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.)||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld.)|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Nuttall, Ellis|
|Burman, J. B.||Harland, A.||O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Hugh|
|Burton, Colonel H. W.||Harrison, G. J. C.||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||Peto, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)|
|Calne, Gordon Hall||Haslam, Henry C.||Pilcher, G.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Hawke, John Anthony||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootie)||Preston, William|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth, S.)||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P.||Price, Major C. W. M.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Raine, W.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir J. A. (Birm., W.)||Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J.||Ramsden, E.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)||Herbert, S. (York, N. R., Scar. & Wh'by)||Rawson, Sir Cooper|
|Chapman, Sir S.||Hills, Major John Waller||Reid, D. D. (County Down)|
|Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Hilton, Cecil||Remnant, Sir James|
|Chilcott, Sir Warden||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.|
|Christie, J. A.||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)||Rice, Sir Frederick|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer||Hohier, Sir Gerald Fitzroy||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Ropner, Major L.|
|Clayton, G. C.||Hopkinson, Sir A. (Eng. Universities)||Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Howard-Bury, Lieut.-Colonel C. K.||Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)|
|Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)||Salmon, Major I.|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Hume, Sir G. H.||Sandeman, N. Stewart|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Hume-Williams, Sir W. Ellis||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Couper, J. B.||Hurd, Percy A.||Sanderson, Sir Frank|
|Craig, Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustave D.|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Jacob, A. E.||Savery, S. S.|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Galnsbro)||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Scott, Rt. Hon. Sir Leslie|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Jephcott, A. R.||Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W. R., Sowerby)|
|Dalziel, Sir Davison||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Kidd, J. (Linllthgow)||Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)|
|Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)||Kindersley, Major G. M.||Slaney, Major P. Kenyon|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Knox, Sir Alfred||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Dean, Arthur Wellesley||Lamb, J. Q.||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Drewe, C.||Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.||Sprot, Sir Alexander|
|Eden, Captain Anthony||Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Stanley, Hon. O. F. G. (Westm'eland)|
|Edmondson, Major A. J.||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Storry-Deans, R.|
|Elliott, Major Walter E.||Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green)||Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.|
|Ellis, R. G.||Looker, Herbert William||Styles, Captain H. W.|
|Elveden, Viscount||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser|
|Templeton, W. P.||Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Thom, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)||Watts, Dr. T.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)||Wells, S. R.||Womersley, W. J.|
|Titchfield, Major the Marquess of||Wheler, Major Sir Granville C. H.||Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'dge & Hyde)|
|Turton, Sir Edmund Russborough||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)||Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.)|
|Waddington, R.||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Wallace, Captain D. E.||Wilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Warner, Brigadier-General W W.||Winby, Colonel L. P.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Warrender, Sir Victor||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George||Major Cope and Captain Margesson.|
|Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
I propose next to call the Amendment in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson)—in page 4, line 5, after the word "unless," to insert the words "at any time after the commencement of this Act and." I understand that the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for the Westhoughton Division (Mr. Rhys Davies)—in page 4, line 6, after the word "is" to insert the word "first"—is to be read in connection with it. There is a slight technical difficulty about calling them both, because they are not down in the names of the same hon. Members, but I observe that the name of one hon. Member is down to both Amendments, and although there may be some slight informality, I think the Committee can take both Amendments as reading together. As this is an Amendment of substance, I think it will be the wish of the Committee that there should be a general discussion of the Clause on this Amendment.
I beg to move, in page 4, line 5, after the word "unless," to insert the words "at any time after the commencement of this Act and."
I am sure it is satisfactory to the Committee that we are to be permitted to have a general discussion upon the first Sub-section of this Clause. Before proceeding to deal more generally with this Sub-section, I may explain the definite object which we have in view in asking for the insertion of these words. We are moved generally by the idea of clarifying the position. It is stated later on in the Clause what is to be done with the rules. The rules have to be altered and brought into harmony with this Measure, and they have to be submitted to the registrar. A period of six months is allowed, or, in special cases, the registrar may allow a longer period. What is not made clear is the position of the individual who is going to be compelled to contract-in instead of contracting-out, immediately following on
the passing of the Bill. We are entitled to ask—and I hope the Attorney-General will give the most sympathetic consideration to this request—that immediately the law begins to operate in this respect, it should also operate to the extent of permitting the individual trade unionist to sign his form at once. There ought not to be any restriction placed upon him as to the time at which he should sign his form or as to signing his form immediately. There are many reasons why that ought to be permitted. Some unions have not all their members employed in this country. Those who have experience of the working of trade unions know that it is necessary to send forms and notices to men in Canada, South Africa, Australia and other places. If we have to wait, say, until the registrar has given his approval of the revised rules, it will be a serious task for the unions to get thousands, or perhaps hundreds of thousands, of members to sign these farms within a limited period of time. Therefore, we ask for the insertion of these words, and if I read the Clause as it would be in the event of this Amendment, and the subsequent Amendment in connection with it, being carried, it will show what we are asking. The second Amendment, I may say, is not of very great substance, It is a point which I raised in the Second Reading Debate, and the Secretary of State for War, who replied to me, said that if the Schedule and the Bill were read together the position became clear. I have looked into the matter very carefully, and I think the insertion of the word "first" would clarify the position very considerably. The Clause would then read:
It shall not be lawful to require any member of a trade union to make any contribution to the political fund of a trade union unless at any time after the commencement of this Act"—
and we assume that, if the Government get the Royal Assent to the Measure in the last week of July, the commencement of the Act will follow immediately—
and before the date upon which the contribution is first levied.
We merely want to make it quite clear that once the form has been signed, it has not to be signed periodically. The present words have been interpreted to mean that the form might have to be signed prior to the taking of the levy every year, or every quarter, as the case may be. We want to make it clear that that is not what is required. I do not think from the reply of the Secretary of State for War that that was intended, and all we want to see is that the millions of men who are to come under this Measure should clearly understand what is expected from them. I hope, for clarification purposes, both Amendments will receive sympathetic consideration.
I would like to make some observations with regard to Sub-section (1) of Clause 4 because here we have a complete change of the system under which the political levy has been collected since 1913. Possibly all members of the Committee are aware that, under the Act of 1913, no levy can be imposed without a ballot of the members of the union; that there must be a majority of members voting in favour of that levy, and that every member of the union who is dissatisfied can claim exemption. I think it necessary to remind the Committee, however, that the Third Reading of that Measure was unchallenged, and a very important statement was made by the late Mr. Bonar Law in favour of allowing trade unions the power to have political funds. During the Committee stage, many Amendments were moved, to one of which I will make reference later on, but when it came to the Third Reading I think I am right in saying that no Division was challenged. Therefore, the Measure was to that extent an agreed Measure. I wish to make it clear that those of us who were in the House at that time representing the trade unions were not quite satisfied with the scope of that Act. We do not accept, and never have accepted, the division of our work into water-tight compartments.
As I tried to point out on the Second Reading, I think it is an absolute impossibility to run in these days great organisations of capital, confronted as they are with the numerous questions of social and industrial legislation that must necessarily engage the time of Parliament and that so directly affect the lives of the millions of trade unionists in the unions with which they are connected—it is an absolute impossibility to do your work effectively if you are going to put into water-tight compartments one thing and call it industrial, and another and call it political. All the Members of the Committee must see the position that I am describing. Take any question you like that affects the social and industrial life of the community. Take the question of workmen's compensation. Take the question of hours of labour. Those questions are discussed in conferences with employers; sometimes in conferences between employers' and workmen's representatives, and sometimes in conferences by the employers alone. But who can say, in dealing with such question as the hours of labour or workmen's compensation, when the question is industrial and not political, or when it is political and not industrial? It is a sheer impossibility to draw this dividing line, to have a line of demarcation drawn at many of these very subjects that vitally affect the lives of the working classes. So we have never accepted the position that was stated in the Debates on the 1913 Bill. We agreed to it as a compromise. As I have already said, it eventually became practically an agreed Measure, because there were those representing the party opposite who moved Amendments totally opposed to the principle of the Act as it now is, and there were those representing the party on these benches, who moved Amendments on the other extreme, setting forth our position. Though each side was defeated, as it were, in Committee, when it came to the Third Reading the Bill was practically an agreed Measure.
What is the reason advanced for the change that is set out in this Sub-section? It is the case of the working man who has joined a trade union, and who, after a ballot has been taken and the majority of the members have decided in favour of having a political fund, has not taken the trouble to claim exemption. I am not going to repeat figures that have already been given in the Committee this afternoon, except to say that, taking the 12 years as a whole, and taking the number of men who have been in the unions that have had their political funds, I think it must be admitted that the number that has been quoted repeatedly in these Debates as claiming exemption is comparatively insignificant. I do not think it is a complete statement of the case to say that many members of trade unions did not claim the exemption to which they were entitled, because they might be held up to odium or to ridicule, or be subject to boycott on the part of the majority of the members of the organisations. The argument which is chiefly advanced in defence of this very important change is that there have been abuses in the administration. We have repeatedly submitted questions to the Department concerned, but I think I remember one question being answered which showed that there had been 66 cases of considered abuse and, when they were inquired into by the Registrar, only 33 of the 66 were found to have justification. Even more recently we, have had a question answered, I think, by the Home Secretary, who said that in 12 months ending 31st March there had been 13 cases, of which seven had been found to be justified. One was sub judice, and I suppose we have to take it for granted—although we were not told—that the other six had been found to have no justification whatever. But I want to set this point against the argument that the Government has been influenced by this question of abuse. As I have already hinted, I was through all the Debates on the 1913 Act. In Committee and on. Report an Amendment was moved by Members of the party opposite containing the exact same principle now included in Sub-section (1), namely, the principle of contracting-in instead of the principle of contracting-out. So that it seems to those of us on this side of the Committee who are very much interested in this change that the argument that the change is being made because there have been extensive abuses of the system contained in the old law does not hold good. Therefore, those hon. Members who are supporting the change will have to find an entirely different argument from that.
I think, on the whole, the 1913 Act has worked exceedingly well. We had a discussion a moment ago on rather narrower lines, and I hope that we shall be permitted to return to it before the Committee stage is over, as to the employers not being placed on exactly the same basis as the trade unions. After all, if we have to have further restrictions imposed upon us, if, instead of leaving the dissatisfied workmen in a position to claim his exemption, you are going to put the three or four millions of trade unionists to the trouble of having to sign forms contracting-in, and if, moreover, you are going to impose greater difficulties in the way of the unregistered trade unions—because they are brought in here for the first time—we think that we are perfectly entitled in asking that this change shall be applied equally to the employer and to the workman alike. I am going to give what I think has chiefly influenced those who have made themselves responsible for this change. After all, it is generally accepted that the English citizen is rather indifferent, and is subject to inertia where many of his best interests are concerned. I am not sure that that applies merely to this country. Some other countries have experienced the same difficulties, and they have had to bring in a law to compel the registered voter to turn up at the polling booth, and to exercise the franchise that has been conferred upon him for Parliamentary elections. That is a very clear indication, not, probably, that he was hostile to the party platforms that were being submitted by those on both sides, but merely that perhaps on polling day he did not feel that it was any business of his. In my early days I used to hear very curious reasons advanced why people did not trouble to record their votes. It seems to me that that is the spirit that those who are promoting this change are going to rely on. Knowing that the great mass of the trade unionists may be a little bit indifferent, they are going to trust to that indifference or inertia, and, of course, the punishment can only come upon one of the political parties.
I think I ought to point out that forcing this change upon the trade unions—I have already referred to it as not being made equally applicable to the employers—the effect is not going to be the same on the respective political parties represented in this House One party, that is the party represented on these benches, is going to be in the embarrasing position of seeing to it that its affiliated organisations, representing some three or four millions of trade unionists, are going to be put to this trouble, while other parties are going to be left free to get their funds for carrying on their work in the way that I think is generally known to any man who is a politician, no matter to which party he belongs. I think I know a little bit as to how funds are got by the other parties. I happened to be a member of the Royal Commission on Honours. I remember the experience that I had in cross-examining some of the witnesses who came before us. I must say that some of them were quite candid in the evidence that they gave. They did not seek to hide anything. They told a very instructive story about the sale of honours for political services rendered. Those of us on these benches cannot be expected in Debates like this to agree to this change being forced upon us by a majority that has been sent to this House for an entirely different purpose I have no hesitation in saying that there is not a single member on the opposite side of the Committee who is supporting this change who was bold enough to include a definite statement in his election address that he was prepared to support the proposals contained in the Trades Disputes and Trade Unions Bill, including a reference to this Clause. Therefore, we feel, though we have no hope of getting any change in the principle of the Clause, that we are entitled to have it so clarified that every member of a trade union will know exactly where he stands. For those reasons I beg to move this Amendment.
I was astonished to hear the right hon. Gentleman rather suggest that this Clause was, in some way or other, distinguishing between the workmen on the one hand and the employers on the other. I thought it had been made abundantly clear, in discussions on the last Amendment, that a union might be a union of workers or of employers and that, as far as this Bill is concerned, it makes no distinction one from the other. We recognise, of course, that it is open to any individuals, or any association of individuals, outside a union to make any form of contributions they like. I think it is a pity in these discussions to cause confusion in the public mind, as it will be caused by the suggestion from the Front Bench opposite that there is a distinction here between the union of workers and the union of employers. Might I say to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, as one representing an industrial constituency, that of course I find opinion divided on this question of the political levy, but I shall try sincerely and honestly to give the feeling of the man who entirely approves of the proposed amendment of the law. That man does not so much complain of the levy, which at present is compulsory, because of what it costs him. He is not, looking at it from the purely monetary point of view at all, and I hope that hon. and right hon. Members opposite will appreciate the very much larger mind with which that worker views this question. He seems to discover in this political levy an encouragement of political activity which he thinks ought to be alien to the union. Not only so, but he Jig-covers in that political activity a constant tendency to confuse the sheltered with the unsheltered industries.
I represent a county where the industries are almost wholly unsheltered. They are industries engaged in world competition, and these industries realise more and more that they are suffering enormously from this confusion of sheltered and unsheltered industries. In a sheltered industry I can see something in favour of the political levy and of the political activities proceeding from that levy. I quite realise that by marshalling all the forces of the workmen, those belonging to the sheltered and unsheltered trades, the political pressure resulting from combined political action may assist the arbitrary or conventional wage of the sheltered industry. But if, on the other hand, I am in an unsheltered industry, if I realise that there is a condition precedent to the prosperity of that industry that I should enjoy the greatest possible freedom, arid that in that industry I must take the economic wage allowed by world conditions, if I realise that I cannot have the conventional or arbitrary wage of a sheltered industry, I begin to realise how much I suffer from this political levy and from the political activity following upon it. That is the mind of the man in the unsheltered industry.
Let me say to the right hon. Member opposite that in my view this political activity was directly responsible for the general strike. Can there be any doubt that that stoppage arose from a confusion in the minds of the miners as to what the attitude of certain sheltered industries would be? You had a distinguished leader of the Railway Union preaching the solidarity of Labour up to the point of the stoppage, but immediately the stoppage came, he took his stand on purely economic grounds, realised that he represented a sheltered industry, and relieved his men of all obligation to stay out. Had the miners' leaders taken up the same economic position, there would have been no stoppage. Had the railway leader, instead of misrepresenting the position and speaking as a politician with the miners, maintained the economic position with them which he maintained with his own railway men, there would have been no stoppage.
I bow to your ruling, but I shall be strictly relevant when I say that that political levy was directly responsible for the confusion of mind which brought about these consequences. Therefore, it is a mistake for the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Amendment to pretend that the men in the unsheltered trades complain of the proposed amendment of the law. I can speak for the shale miners and for the coal miners in my county. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh !"] Yes, I am glad to say that with greater assurance than many Members opposite could, and I am bound to say this, that the men in these unsheltered trades welcome this proposed change in the law.
I think it would be convenient if I were to say at once that we are going to accept these two Amendments. The right hon. Gentleman opposite thinks they will clarify the Clause. I am advised that they make no difference to the Clause as it is, and, therefore, I very willingly accept the Amendments in order, as the right hon. Gentleman thinks, to clarify it. I thought I had better say so at once, because I hope the general discussion will not be stopped, and that another Amendment might be moved for the purpose of continuing the general discussion.
I do not think, if it can be done with the consent of the Committee, that there is any objection to continuing the general discussion on Amendment No. 136—in page 4, line 6, to leave out from the word "has" to the word "notice" in line 7, and to. insert instead thereof the word "given"—which is an Amendment of considerable substance, as it proposes to leave out certain vital words. I, therefore, suggest that we might pass these Amendments, if nobody objects to them, without further discussion, and then have the general discussion on Amendment No. 136.
I beg to move, in page 4, line 6, to leave out from the word "has" to tile word "notice," in line 7, and to insert instead thereof the word "given."
The Clause would then read:
It shall not be lawful to require any member of a trade union to make any contribution to the political fund of a trade union unless at any time after the commencement of this Act and before the date upon which the contribution is first levied, he has given notice in writing in the form set out,
and so on. That is a machinery Amendment, and I wish to put before the Committee very strong reasons why it should be accepted. We have, in connection with the different trade unions, built up a method of administration, and it varies according to the nature of the trade and the means or method of collecting contributions. We have, for example, that form of trade union which collects contributions by means of a house-to-house canvass; we have another form of trade union whose method it is to collect contributions from the place of work; and we have others again who have a regular system of bringing members to a branch meeting room. and making the collections
there. This Clause, unless our Amendment is accepted, is going enormously to complicate and derange the whole machinery for collecting levies, and it is going to add an enormously unnecessary burden to the cost of collecting levies. The original Clause is so drafted that it might have been quite definitely designed to upset and dislocate trade union administration, and if it is not so designed, I am bound to say that it seems to me that the Government can scarcely refuse to accept my Amendment.
Let me give a concrete example of the forms through which our unfortunate collectors and shop stewards have to go in order to collect the money. In the first instance, taking the case of my own union, what are the methods adopted for collecting the political levy Other unions have, as I have explained, varying methods, but this will give some indication of the dislocation caused by the present Clause. We have the political fund exemption notice, which is supplied to the members in our case through the branch secretaries. We have in the rule book a rule again embodying that Section which refers to the political fund. In some of our large branches, there may be a branch meeting room for 500 or 800 people. The members will not all turn up for the branch meeting, but there are stated hours at which members may come in to pay their levy. They pay their levy on a card, and the card has different columns. It is not for the collector or the shop steward to say what is to be placed on that card; that is already in the possession of the member. The amounts to be paid are already inscribed on the card, whether for the purpose of the political levy or of the ordinary contribution, and they are stated and entered in separate columns.
Therefore, while it is quite clear from the point of view of book-keeping what goes to the political fund and what goes to the industrial fund, it is in fact a simple operation for the collector to do the whole thing and to put his signature against it on the card which the member presents. The member knows perfectly well what he has to pay, and when he has to pay it, as a consequence of the form of card with which he is supplied. The collector, having taken the money at the branch meeting or at the works or in a house-to-house canvass, has to enter it in his collector's book, and he proceeds to fill tip a form which has to be sent to his branch. That branch form is again a very detailed and businesslike form, which contains separate lines for every item, properly analysed, which has been taken in at the time of the collection of the levy, and that form is sent to the branch secretary, who from that form has to fill up another form, which goes to the head office, and then again the same analysis takes place in regard to the method of allocation of the money collected.
I want to put it to the Committee that while we have conformed to the law in every particular, we have tried to evolve a system of administration by which all the several forms of money to be collected can be received on the one card, and can be sent up to the head office in one return. The returns are scrutinised by auditors, and they are subject to the Registrar-General. I do not suppose it is possible in the whole world to find another political fund which is so scrutinised, which can be so traced to its source—every farthing of it—as the political fund of these trade unions. Under the Clause as it now stands, trade unionists who have been accustomed for years to that form of administration are to be asked suddenly to change their methods. They themselves must get a form and ask to be allowed to contract in, and when they have done that they have to post it. According to the words in the Clause it has to be:
delivered at the head office or some branch office of the trade union.
Why should that be necessary? Why should there be this attempt to interfere with the present methods by which the union communicates with its members or its members communicate with it? The Amendment has been moved in order that we may retain the existing machinery for collection. I am not now assenting for one moment to the practice of contracting-in. I think it is a perfectly monstrous thing to suggest that we should reverse the ordinary process. If people want to get exemption from Income Tax, they have to contract out. If they want to escape vaccination, they have to apply to contract out. It is only where working people are concerned that that principle is to be reversed.
I am not arguing that, however, but am simply pointing out that when a man contracts in he is still asked to do something more, something he has never had to do so far. He will have to fill up a form, address an envelope, and convey it to some place other than the place where he normally meets his collector; and although we hope this is not the intention of the Government, we are inclined to think that they are simply deliberately piling difficulty upon difficulty for trade unions. We ask, therefore, that it should be made possible for this form when filled up to be handed to the collector or shop steward, as is the practice now, whether it be in the branch meeting room, in the shop or in the house—wherever the money is regularly collected.
Next I want to ask a very definite question with regard to the meaning of certain words in the Schedule. They very definitely suggest to our minds that the form when filled up operates for one year only and must be renewed every year. I cannot attach any other meaning to the words, if they are read strictly as they are printed. It may be that the punctuation is wrong, but after the colon it goes on to say:
I also understand that after delivering such a notice of withdrawal I shall continue to be liable to contribute to the political fund until the next following 1st day of January.
I would like hon. Members to notice that word "until." It seems to me that, in conjunction with the context, the sentence can be read in a way which conveys the impression which I have just stated. [Interruption.] However, I understand that words have been accepted which will show that it is not the intention that it shall be read in that way, though, in fact, it has been so read by a large number of people who seem to understand how to read these documents, and that was why I called attention to the point.
There is one other point with Which I wish to deal, and that has reference to a speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. I see it was not a speech; it was a letter. In this letter, which he wrote to one of his constituents, the right hon. Gentleman said:
577,000 members of trade unions voted against the adoption by their union of a political levy, but only 110,000 are exempted
from payment by successful notices of dissent. 467,000 who do not desire political levy are now forced to pay it, which shows that the existing law is insufficient to give protection.
I challenge that statement. I say it is a most unfair statement to make, and a most unfair method of handling figures. Everybody knows that when a ballot is taken on any subject there will be a majority and a minority on the first issue. The same thing happens in a meeting when there is a show of hands. There will be a majority and a minority on the first vote, and then, when the resolution is put again as a substantive motion, it will probably be carried unanimously, because those who had been in the minority do riot consider it sufficiently important again to manifest their dissent. It is the same with trade unions in connection with amending rules and compiling industrial programmes to be submitted to employers. There will be a majority and a minority, and very often after a point has been discussed and has been carried by a majority the minority will acquiesce; and if people do acquiesce they cannot by any stretch of imagination be described as having been forced to adopt the policy. It is a misuse of the English language to call that forcing people against their will, and I wish to make a very strong protest against that misuse of language. Those people who have protested are, in fact, exempted, and those who have not asked for exemption forms, in spite of the million forms distributed by the Conservative party, and have not filled them up are the people who have acquiesced in the decision of the majority.
May I ask one question for the purpose of elucidating a point? The hon. Lady called attention to the wording of the Schedule, and suggested that the exemption form operated only for a single year. Is it not the case that the contracting-out form at present in use operates only for a single year? [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] Has it not to be renewed every year?
May I assure the hon. Member that as far as concerns the organisation with which I am connected, if a member has once put in an exemption form, although it may have been 10 or 12 years ago, he is not asked to repeat it.
One would almost think, from the arguments of the hon. Lady and of preceding speakers, that this "right" to have the political levy was something that had been hallowed by immemorial custom. Nothing of the kind. The Act was only passed in 1913, and shortly afterwards there came the War, which prevented any alteration being attempted. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, it prevented any strong objection being taken. But a very strong feeling against the political levy has been growing up amongst vast masses of the people. There seems to me to be something fundamentally wrong in the view, which appears to be held by hon. Members opposite, that when once a ballot has been taken they had a right perpetually to take from a man without his consent any sum of money, however small, to be used for political purposes. It is no use saying that the man can get a form of exemption. The moment a man has to make use of a form of exemption he is stripped of the protection of the Ballot Act, because he has to declare to what party he belongs. In many cases he does not trouble to apply for a form of exemption, because of the inertia that possesses people. What the party opposite is claiming is the right to recruit its funds by these small contributions; though they are only small sums individually, the aggregate is very great. I say no party ought to be put in the position of being able to levy something in the nature of taxation on a large number of people. I know hon. Members opposite think they have that right, because what were the analogies which the hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Bondfield) gave us? She quoted the case of Income Tax. I wish the payment of Income Tax could be put on the same basis as we are now proposing, and that a man should have to contract in in order to pay.
The wrong thing about the Act of 1913 was that it contained this element of compulsion. I repeat, you have no right to exercise compulsion over a man's politics any more than over his religion. The agitation which led to the passing of the Ballot Act arose because it was alleged that rich landlords and large employers of labour victimised their men on account of their political opinions, which were disclosed when they voted openly. Surely, it is an' intolerable thing at this date in the world's progress that we should have to take action to reverse that mediaeæval process, as now practised in the trade union. A trade union is an organisation formed with the object of securing better pay and improved conditions of work, and it is composed of men of all political opinions, of Communists and Conservatives, of Labour and Liberal men and women, of "pinks" and "reds," and all sorts of people, and if they are going to be asked to contribute to a political fund, it ought to be a separate operation. I do not think there is anything in the hon. Lady's point that the notice must be handed in at the head office or some branch office. In my view, it will be quite sufficient if a man hands his form to his shop steward or anybody else and it is received in fact. The whole point is that the document shall arrive at the head office, or a branch office. I do not think the Amendment is of sufficient importance to make it worth while to insert it in the Bill. I submit that there should be some formality before a political levy is imposed upon any man. There should be some solemnity attached to so doing. It has been said that employers' associations are not included, but these associations are voluntary and their contributions are voluntary, and that is the fundamental difference.
The hon. and learned Member says the employer association make voluntary contributions towards the political expenditure. Will he kindly give me a single instance? Is it not a fact that all this expenditure comes out of their general fund?
if the employers come under the 1913 Act, then the employers' associations are trade unions under that Act, and will undoubtedly come under this Bill and they are just as liable to its provisions as workers' unions. There may be many other bodies which do not correspond to trade unions. What the hon. Gentleman said about the sale of honours was perfectly sound—
The fundamental thing in political funds in this connection is the voluntary principle. Under the present compulsory system a crisis was bound to arise as has arisen. In March, 1925, the Prime Minister moved an Amendment to the Bill I introduced in which he approved of the justice of this proposal, and the Labour party divided against it.
I do not charge my mind with any such expression. I know this point was contained in a great many of the documents and manifestos of the Conservative party at that election; it was also a burning subject with the Coalition Parliament of 1922 and it passed the Second Reading by a large majority. A large number of working men were in favour of it, and we were asked to rescue them from the unfair position in which they were placed. I, personally, was urged never to give up this point, and the working men in March, 1925, felt it very severely when it was decided that this matter was not going to be proceeded with at that time.
I could satisfy the hon. Member by looking up a great many letters I have received. When you come to the law of evidence, you require to get witnesses together, and this is not a court of justice. Nevertheless, there are innumerable cases which were put before the Scarborough Conference. I know the case of a Belfast boilermaker which was before me the other day. He was a member of the Boilermakers' Union. He had contributed to his union for between 20 and 30 years.
I wish to continue my argument. The boilermaker I referred to said that his union had received a large amount of money from him, and he only got three weeks' unemployment benefit for his union was bankrupt, and he asked, "Where has all the money gone?" This man protested against the use that was being made of the political fund. I could give any number of cases of working men protesting in the same way. If we do not protect them, they will say that they are being taxed for the benefit of the Labour party and that they had better go over to that party because the Conservative party do not know their own minds and will not stand by their own friends. We are not going to tolerate that. We are going to rescue the working men who support the Conservative party on this question in enormous numbers. We are going to rescue a large number of working men who are not trade unionists but who object to trade unionists interfering with them in regard to their work. We are going to rescue them from this particular form of oppression, and but for the intervention of the War we should have done this much earlier than now.
I have listened with a great deal of interest to the hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) who has been entertaining the Committee with his views on the political levy. I notice that he proposes to rescue the poor workers and he told the Committee that he has been trying to do that for a good many years. The hon. and learned Member told us a very interesting story about Belfast boilermakers. Although I am not a boilermaker, I am very much interested in the ordinary law on this question and the hon. and learned Member brought back to me in his speech something very interesting and something which cuts right across the policy of the Government. He stated that the Belfast boilermakers were opposed to the political levy and would not pay it. Is he aware that when the scale for Income Tax assessment was reduced from £150 to £120 per annum that the Belfast boilermakers, in the shipyards, brought all the forms received from the Income Tax authorities into the works and made a bonfire of them during the dinner hour, and announced their intention of refusing to pay?
The Government did not give them a contracting-in Clause for the purpose of avoiding this tax. There are a good many people in the suburbs who object to the roads being made up; some object to the Army and Navy and others have objected to the excursion of the Duke of York to Australia. Is the Government going to give them an exemption form which they can send to the Surveyor of Taxes in order to secure exemption? It is simply playing with the question for the Tory party to say that there has been oppression and that they are going to free the employers' associations from oppression exactly in the same way as the workers. Will the hon. and learned Member in charge of the Bill tell us how many of these forms F.568 have been sent by the Registrar of Friendly Societies to members of the employers' associations, and if they have been sent, how many have come back? They were sent to all unregistered workers' trade unions and they gave returns unknowingly, in the belief that they were compelled to do so. When the Attorney-General introduced this Bill, he dealt with this particular subject and said the machinery of the Act had broken down. If that is so, will the hon. and learned Gentleman say how many cases there were in which the Registrar of Friendly Societies had to take decisions in the County Court under the terms of the Act? I think I can safely say that, during the whole administration of the Act, not once has the Registrar had to take such action. On the contrary, if you read the decision of the Registrar of Friendly Societies in the case of the Shop Assistants' Union, you will find that he said that all the accusations made against trade unions in this respect were untrue, and as he is a very fair-minded man, I have not the slightest doubt about it.
Another reference made by the Attorney-General in the same speech was that the Registrar of Friendly Societies was responsible for this Clause. I want the right hon. Gentleman to clear that point up and let us know whether that is so or not, because I have yet to learn that the Registrar of Friendly Societies has ever made any representations of that kind and if he has the Government ought to let us know. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Kidd) used a very remarkable argument in which he said the unions were divided on this question. He argued that the sheltered trades favoured a political levy as against the unsheltered trades who were in opposition to the whole trade union movement.
Coming to another side of the question, namely, the intimidation by implication suggested by the last speaker, the theory is that the ordinary British trade unionist who differs in politics from the Labour party has not sufficient courage to go to his branch secretary and ask for a form of exemption. I have had a little experience of this, and I say that that is sheer humbug of the worst type. I go so far as to admit that there are many trade unionists opposed to the Labour party, but I know that many of them will not apply for the exemption form, for a reason suggested by the last speaker. The last speaker said that the present position reverses the principle of the. Ballot Act, but I know members opposed to the Labour party who pay the political levy fur the purpose of voicing their opinions against us in their unions. If they did not do that, they would not have any right to take part in the discussions, and that accounts for their very large number. As to the other type, probably, in so far as there is any number, I suppose their sense of decency is higher than the political morals of some people, and they have not the cheek to ask their fellow members to exempt them from a sum of about a farthing a week, which really represents the position. I was never in agreement with the. Act of 1913, and I never believed in the Osborne judgment, which was understood to be largely bad law. It was Judge-made law, but, nevertheless, bad law. Shortly after the Osborne judgment, we had a great turn-over in the political complexion of the London County Council, and at that time the London and North Western Railway were reputed to have contributed £500,000 to the funds of the Municipal Reform Association, but I do not remember that at any time either the Liberal or the Tory Government took any steps to prevent that kind of thing, and there is nothing in this Bill that is going to prevent it.
This afternoon, endeavours were made to define what were and what were not employers' associations. The Licensed Victuallers' Association was quoted, and the Chairman suggested that it was not an employers' association or an employers' trade union. With all respect, I think the Licensed Victuallers' Association, as an organisation, has spent more money for political purposes than any other employers' trade union except the Federation of British Industries. Many Members of this House know that they regularly get an invitation to go to their annual function, and have a good twenty-five-shilling dinner at their expense. If that is not for a political purpose, I do not know what is. If the Government were really serious in the arguments they used on the introduction of this Bill, they would withdraw this Clause at any rate. I would remind the Committee that the whole burden of their former arguments was that this Bill was introduced owing to the events of last year. No events took place last year to justify the introduction of Clause 4, and I do suggest that the Government should act democratically, if they can, though it is exceedingly doubtful if they ever will do so. I hope they will withdraw this Clause.
It appears quite clear now that the rule of the Labour party is to say that it is a great act of unfairness on the part of the Government to wish to change this contracting out to contracting in. Personally, I am very glad that we have now got, to a definite issue, clear of all these difficulties of definition, and can discuss the question quite freely on both sides of the Committee. I have risen because at one time I did not take by any means the same view that I take to-day of these two things. Originally, before the last general strike, I had always hoped that the unions themselves would be in a position to deal with these questions, and I thought it was far better not to interfere with them in questions of what then appeared to be internal administration. I regret to say that circumstances have so changed that I have been compelled to alter my opinion, and, accordingly, I shall vote with the Government on this Clause. Originally, the unions concerned themselves mainly with industrial questions, and, while they concerned themselves with industrial questions, they were fully entitled to claim some special privileges, because they could present the case in such a way as truly to represent all their members on industrial matters. So long as they did not stray into political paths, that presentation was given with a certain amount of confidence and fairness. As time went on, the change became more pronounced, until there was a definite set in a political direction. One does not want to examine into those conditions in any way, but I do not think it will be denied that that set to-day is so definite that very large numbers of members of the Labour party consider that the future of themselves and the future of their party is in a political rather than an industrial direction.
With that I have no quarrel, and, indeed, from the point of view as between one party and another, there could be no quarrel with it; but it does make this difference, that, whereas formerly they had certain privileges so long as they held an industrial position, when they cut out that position and proceed to take up another position, their opponents are entitled to ask whether they are justified in holding any longer the privileges which they had before. Industrially it has been proved in this country that when they could speak solely on one side for all the workers in the unions, and the employers gathered together in their association could speak for their side, that the two bodies could be brought together, and, therefore, it was not unreasonable to ask, in these conditions, when the great bulk of the people employed in a, particular industry so decided, that only union people should be employed in that industry, because it was far better manages in that way, and that has been practically the course pursued in the coal trade, with few exceptions. When, however, you introduce a new set of rules, and make a new orientation in your policy, does the rule hold any longer, and would it be just to say in future that the union is entitled, as a union, not only to say to employers on the other side, "We speak for all the men on our side, and, therefore, you must employ no men but men in the union," but to advance a step further, and say, "You must employ no men in the union unless they belong to one particular party"? That is the end of a policy which orientates itself solely in politics, and pays less regard than it has done in the past to industrial conditions.
I remember that, when travelling in Australia, I met with a very forcible example, where in one great city it became impossible for any man to get employment under the municipality unless he presented a ticket from the Labour organisation. I hope it will never come to that in this country, but it could take that direction if—[Interruption.] I do not mind answering hon. Members if they will put their questions one at a time. If the whole policy is set in that direction, then, as I have said, we on this side have a right to ask whether the unions are entitled to continue to hold their privileges. That is how it has appeared to me in recent times, and that is why I am going to change my opinion and vote for this Clause. I have carefully watched, since the last general strike, the whole course of the political direction of the majority of those who control the unions in this country, and, as one interested in industry, and keenly anxious to see industry continue in such a way that the prosperity of the country can go on, I have been hoping that there would be some unequivocal and definite declaration on the part of those who really manage the unions in this country—and hon. Gentlemen on the Labour Benches know perfectly well what I mean by that—that there would come from the leaders of the Labour party some perfectly firm statement as to what their view would be now if they were presented with the same set of conditions which the last general strike presented to them. If that declaration Bead been definitely made, a large number of Members on this side of the Committee would have been content to leave the future of the unions to be settled by the unions themselves, and this Clause would not have been voted for by a number of us on this side of the Committee. That declaration has never come—[An HON. MEMBER: "What has this to do with the general strike?"] We feel that the direction has changed to the political side, and that it is no longer just to leave the matter in the position in which it is at present.
You have in every union practically three bodies. You have the keen politicals on the one side, who in many cases run the union, whether they are in a majority or whether they are in a minority. Those members, as a rule, are members of the Labour party. You have then a number who have contracted out deliberately, because their feelings are equally keen against those who are in control; and you have in the middle that large indeterminate mass whose feelings in the main are industrial only, and who care very little about politics on one side or the other, but whose only interest is the interest of the workshop and the home, in so far as the home is affected by the wages and conditions in the workshop. Hon. Members on the Labour Benches are claiming today that the whole of that indeterminate mass ought to be levied by them for their own peculiar political privileges. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That is a sort of thing which we on this side cannot accept. We think that, because a man is not prepared to contract himself out, you have no right to say that silence gives consent to his remaining in. Personally, I felt it very difficult to change my view on this matter, but the course of events—and one cannot fail to see in which direction those events are setting—compelled one to alter one's view to meet changed circumstances. I regret it very much indeed, but as I can only see, under present conditions, a definite set towards the political side, and a dropping to a large extent of the real industrial questions which affect so much the future of industry, I have felt compelled to change any views.
I, for one, and I am sure every other Member on the Opposition benches, could not quite understand what was meant by the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Ellis) when he gave as his reason for supporting this Clause relating to the political levy the fact that no general declaration against a general strike has been made. We had it quite definitely from. the Prime Minister himself that the purpose of this Bill was to deal with the general strike of last year, and no speaker in these Debates has sought in any way to show what connection the general strike of last year has with Clause 4 of this Bill, which deals solely with the political levy.
It has nothing whatever to do with the Prime Minister's declaration. Some of us rather expected that there would be Members on the opposite side of the Committee who would exhibit some little sense of shame at the meanness of this Bill. I, for one, do not benefit by one farthing as the result of a political levy, and three-fourths of the Members on this side do not benefit by one farthing as the result of a political levy. I suggest that it is the acme of meanness, and is, indeed, contemptible, for a political party which derives its funds secretly, which derives part of its funds illicitly, which in the past has sold honours as a means of filling its party coffers, and every hon. Member of which has part of his election expenses indirectly contributed to—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Every hon. Member opposite has part of his election expenses indirectly contributed to in so far as the headquarter's organisation of the Party supplies literature, posters, speakers and canvassers. The whole of the central machinery of his party is used on his behalf to bring him into this House, and the central fund has been largely contributed to by shameful methods. Speaking for every Member on this side, nothing would please us better than a public audit balance of the sources of income of all the political parties. If every penny subscribed to the expenses of every political party in the House was subjected to a public audit it is not we who would be ashamed. Discussions have taken place in public upon the sources of the funds of political parties. In another place admissions have been made by Noble Lords and in the Press—the "Morning Post" and "Daily News." Hon. Members who direct the affairs of the other political parties have made public admissions, and if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) would but speak as to the sources—
Voluntary contributions—touts living in London going about selling knighthoods and baronetcies, filling the party war chests of both the Conservative and the Liberal parties.
I hope the hon. Member will give me the names and addresses of any of these people touting for the Conservative party, and I shall do my level best to prosecute them.
The Earl of Selborne, a member of the Conservative party, speaking on 31st August, 1917—[Interruption]—you will have some of that money left yet—quoted particular cases in which offers had actually been made of honours in exchange for payment. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) gave instances of the bestowal of honours used as an inducement to transfer the allegiance of members from one party to another in 1919.
Will the Patronage Secretary publish a full balance sheet of his party organisation, and will he allow it to be subjected to a complete audit? If so, I will withdraw every statement I have made. I will not pursue the matter further, but it is mean and contemptible for political organisations which derive their funds from the illicit subscriptions of rich men—[Interruption.] Prove it by the publication of a balance sheet. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Russian money?"] The Labour party have no Russian money.
Would it not be useful for the purpose of this Clause that all these statements should come out so that we can test whether they are true or not? Has it not been asserted frequently that the money given by the Russians to help the miners in the last dispute was for political purposes? Why not have it fought out on the Floor of the House?
The charge has been made against the Labour party that it has got its party funds by compulsion and tyranny, and by methods which will not bear examination in the light of day. I took it that I was entitled briefly to examine the records of the party whose members make these charges.
I should like to make one or two references to the speech of the real father of this Clause, the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten). There was one statement I missed to-day which he has consistently made in the country without a particle of proof, that the Labour party is the richest of the three parties. He does not know which is the richest, because his own party will not publish a balance sheet. He said his chief reason for supporting the Clause was the element of compulsion that existed in the political levy as it has hitherto been operated. To the amazement of the Committee he went on to prove another point by declaring that there were some 7,000 to 8,000 Belfast boilermakers who declined to pay the political levy. How can he have it both ways?
The hon. and learned Gentleman cannot get out of his dilemma with a cheap joke like that. He cannot stand up and declare that this is rotten with compulsion, tyranny and oppression and in the same speech say there are 7,000 or 8,000 men in one City alone who have declined to pay the political levy. But what is this political levy used for? Not only for Parliamentary purposes, for the purpose of fighting political elections, not only for securing better administration and better Factory Acts—I cannot say whether that is an industrial or a political point but it is one reason why workmen are being driven into the political field of action—it is not only Workmen's Compensation and Factory Acts,. but local administration. They have to pay for sanitation and for better health administration in the local bodies. They have decided to send representatives on to those bodies to see that slums are cleared away and better housing conditions provided. The chief union in my city have agreed to pay 2d a year per member for political action, part of which is spent upon local bodies, education authorities, parish council and town council work, to see t hat public affairs are properly administered, and the balance is for political action
Of course always for one party, because long experience has taught them that administration by the other parties has meant slums and poverty. This miserable sum, this incalculable fraction of a penny per week is spent on political action and not a man has objected, despite the fact that Conservative organisations have sent canvassers—paid for by whom?—to every door to get people to sign exemption forms. They cannot get one exemption form in that union. Then the hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire has the hardihood to talk about the tyranny of this 2d. a year for the betterment of social conditions. Two pence per annum And his party financed—how? Nobody has told us. The Patronage Secretary will not publish a balance sheet. No Patronage Secretary has hitherto offered to publish a balance sheet. Give us a publicly audited statement of all the accounts of all the parties, and the Labour party will stand to lose nothing whatever.
This Clause does stand on a different footing from any other of the Clauses of the Bill. All the other Clauses are, in fact, the direct result of the industrial events of last year. They represent changes in the law which we have not before considered, and which we should not, but for those events, have now thought necessary. This alteration on the contrary, has often, during my short time in this House, been the subject of a full-dress Debate, and also the subject of a great many Resolutions and a great deal of controversy in our own party. All the other Clauses of this Bill do deal with the relationship of trade unions to the community. They deal with the rights of a trade union to coerce the community by withdrawal of labour, with the relations of a trade union to the services of the Crown, with the relation of public bodies to the trade unions. Even the Clause dealing with intimidation deals in fact, with the public, because it limits the right of intimidation by unionists of non-unionists and of members of unions. This Clause alone deals with the domestic relationship entirely of one trade unionist to another. I do feel, therefore, that one is entitled to consider this Clause separately from the Bill, and I feel further, that any disagreement with this Clause is not incompatible with complete support of the Bill as a whole. The general proposition which the Attorney-General has advanced, that no man should be compelled to pay a subscription to a political party with which he has disagreed is, of course, unanswerable. It is a truism, and like most truisms, it does not really expect to meet the arguments in a particular case. Nor I think, can one be at all impressed by the only argument which has so far been advanced from the Socialist benches—the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston)—that it is a mean and contemptible attack by the party of the rich on the party of the poor.
That argument, if the hon. Member carries it to a logical conclusion, will land him in a certain amount of difficulty. It means first of all, that the attack is going to have some effect, that this alteration in the law is going to make some difference to the subscriptions trade unions receive by their political levy, and that difference you can only explain at the worst, from the point of view of hon. Members opposite, by admitting that in fact subscriptions hitherto have been paid under intimidation, or at the best by admitting, as did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson), that a great many of those subscriptions come to the trade unions and through them to the Labour party owing to the indifference of trade union members. Is that the argument which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite are going to advance? What has become of that ardent support of the Socialist cause, that crusading enthusiasm which we were told imbued the whole of organised labour in the country? Has this disappeared? What has happened to that army which we are always told is burning with hatred of the Conservative party, longing to engage in mortal combat with it, and only restrained by right hon. Gentlemen, as they tell us? Has that army dispersed? Is it going to disperse because they are presented with a form for signature once and for all? The argument is ludicrous. We know perfectly well there are other means of collecting besides the political levy. The Divisional Labour party and the Independent Labour party itself have their collections. They are no less enthusiastic or no less keen, although they may be a little more painless in their extraction than the collectors of trade union funds. If, in fact, some difficulty, which I, for one, cannot see, is put in the way of the real sympathiser with the Socialist party paying the political levy owing to this Clause, then so much more will be available for the operations of the collectors of the Divisional and Independent Labour party. How am I, or anyone else on these benches, to judge into which a these two hands that money will be of the most use to the Socialist cause and of least dis-service to the cause of the country? I think the argument against this Clause rests on an entirely different ground.
One has, first, to discuss the question as to what, quite apart from the question of intimidation of trade unionists, of Socialism, or anything else, is the ordinary theoretical basis upon which collections such as these would be taken, and, secondly, to see whether, if for some reason that theory has to be abandoned to meet a practical grievance, the alteration proposed is really going to meet the case. As to the proper theoretical basis of a collection of this kind, let us take the ordinary analogy of the social, non-political club. An idea is current among members that some of them would like to start some outside activity or provide some outside recreation which is not directly connected with the ordinary business of the club. A general meeting is held of the members. The majority decide in favour of starting that activity and paying for it; but it is felt that there are certain members of the club who will not be able to take advantage of the facility provided, and it would, therefore, not be fair to make them pay an increased subscription. The ordinary common-sense thing would be done. It would be, that at the time of the members of the club were notified of the decision of the club a form would be sent to them which would allow the member who did not want to subscribe to contract out I am sure, if I were a member of a club and that was done, I should feel no grievance whatsoever. As far as that goes, the analogy with the trade union is complete. The fund is raised for a legitimate purpose. A majority of the members of the trade union decide in its favour, and, theoretically, at least, the law does provide a perfectly simple way in which a man who does not wish to take advantage of that facility and sees nothing to be gained by it need not subscribe to it. But here a new factor is introduced, and it is the new factor of intimidation. In a club, of course, that does not arise, because those who might want to intimidate have not the power to do so. If I did not want to subscribe to this activity, and the committee of the club wanted to intimidate me, my response would be to leave the club and join another. It would be no loss to me, whereas the club would suffer a loss, not only of my subscription, but of my presence. In a trade union the position is very different, because there, if you have got the will to intimidate, you have also got the power. A man cannot leave his trade union and join another. Leaving his trade union, or being forced out of his trade union, may mean a loss of employment, and the loss of the only employment in which he is trained and for which he has got the skill.
I do not think, really, the hon. Lady's interjection was a very useful one. What I was pointing out was, that in the case of a club I could leave it, and that in the case of a union where the intimidation got so bad that my life became intolerable in it, I could not leave it without, at the same time, in a great many cases, sacrificing my chance of employment; and so the analogy in this case is no longer permissible. I do say it is a perfectly fair case for Parliament to say intimidation has got to stop, that it has got to such a point that the correct basis must be abandoned, and we have got to make a practical alteration to meet a practical grievance. If I were convinced, as I am, that intimidation does exist, and if I were convinced, as I am not, that intimidation was widespread, and also that it was absolutely ineradicable, and that there was no hope of that intimidation disappearing altogether, then I should say that some alteration was perfectly desirable. Let us see what the alteration is that the Government propose. Does it, in fact, meet the case? Does it, in fact, take away from those who may have the will to intimidate the power to do so? In my opinion, I must confess it does not. You still have the knowledge, which is the essential preliminary to intimidation—you may change people and you may mark them in instead of out; you may tick them off with a red pencil instead of a blue pencil—that, in fact, there are two lists still there—the list of those who pay and the list of those who do not pay. Although, in some cases, there may be intimidation, and although men may have to come up for examination, yet the opportunity does still exist, and there are many ways in which the trade union leaders, if they do want to intimidate, can still do it. Therefore, it seems to me, the Clause, as drafted at the moment, does fall between two stools. You abandon the original, the correct method of this collection because you say there is such a system of intimidation in the trade union, because you say injustice is so rampant among the leaders, that it is not fair to leave the members any longer at their mercy. You abandon that, but at the same time introduce a change which does not go far enough and leaves the members, if that case be proved, still at the mercy of these people. I, for one, feel I could go on with the present system until I was convinced that intimidation was widespread, and that nothing would ever eradicate it. I could support a proposal to abolish the political levy altogether if it were proved absolutely up to the hilt that there was no hope of any remedy or of any amelioration. What I cannot support is a Clause, which, at the same time, seems to do away with the possibility of improvement under the first alternative and does not provide the practical remedy which the second alternative would have done.
We have just listened to a very interesting speech, and, if the hon. Member will allow me to say so, the kind of sporting speech we expect from one bearing his name. In addition, I think we had a very practical analysis of the difference between the two methods of contracting in and contracting out. If there is the will to intimidate, there is the desire to bring unfair pressure on individual members, and I am not quite sure that the contracting-in method does not lend itself more efficiently to that purpose, because it will encourage the persistent and inevitable canvassing of members to sign their forms and to express their differences. In a large organisation it will lead to very much more active interest being taken in the question as to whether or not a man is going to take his share in the political levy, than under the present system, where it is assumed that the man is going to support the levy.
I remember very clearly the agitation about the reversal of the Osborne judgment, and that all over the country, quite apart from political opinions, the feeling of the average working man was that if that judgment was maintained, if the law was not to be reversed, it meant the death-knell of the Labour party as a political force, and for a very good reason. The real difficulty of the average citizen in entering Parliament is not so much the time it takes, because, rightly or wrongly, we have payment of Members and payment of travelling expenses, but the heavy fine that is imposed upon a person who is desirous of standing for Parliament. Election expenses are still very heavy, in spite of the fact that the law has been changed. If votes are to be given to what are called "flappers," and all young women of 21 are to be added to the electors' roll, so much more will the election expenses be increased.
It is clear that the chance of the ordinary working man entering Parliament depends upon whether or not he can find his expenses. He might do as, I believe, Mr. John Burns did originally, or as some of his friends did for him, raise the money by a canvass of his constituents. It is clear that the greatest chance of a working-man entering Parliament is to get the assistance of the trade union to which he belongs. It is said that all the trade unions which have run a political candidate and found his expenses have supported him as a Labour candidate. It does not necessarily follow that that will always be so. We have the teachers' organisation. The teachers' organisation are very ingenious. They usually run—I think I am right in saying this—three candidates for Parliament, one Conservative, one Liberal and one Labour. It is not suggested that that is not a very fair way of distributing their favours. It does not necessarily mean for all time that the money will be found for only one political party. The real remedy is to be found in the direction followed in some of our Dominions and in some foreign countries, and that is in the reduction of expenses, so that they are not such as to prevent a competent and suitable person from standing for Parliament. That seems to be the right remedy, and far better than causing a sense of injustice, and not affording opportunity for the average working man to enter the House of Commons.
If the Government are really sincere in their desire to remove what, in some cases, may be an anomaly and injustice, it is far better to work in the direction I have indicated. If they succeed in their present purpose, and achieve the result of preventing large numbers of working men from subscribing to the political fund, it will only mean that the right of entering the House of Commons will be limited to wealthy persons or, alternatively, to persons who will have to depend upon subscriptions—it is no use blinking the fact—collected very often in very doubtful ways. Anyone who has collected money for any purpose, whether for a charity, a political cause, or any other cause, knows how difficult it is to collect large sums, and when it comes to an endeavour to collect money for something which is abstract, like a political cause, or the putting of a particular man into the House of Commons, the difficulty is immensely increased.
What the Government are going to do, if they succeed, will be, on the one hand, to increase political pressure upon trade unions, because there will have to be positive action to get people to subscribe to the trade unions or, alternatively, it will mean that many working men who desire to enter the House of Commons, and who are suitable in every way, will find themselves debarred by the question of expense. That will be an injustice, and it will weaken the authority of the House of Commons more than anything else. Some of us are always preaching the importance of political action against direct action as the right way to remedy grievances. The way to remedy things is not to organise strikes, and to bring pressure upon the Government in that way, but to enter the House of Commons. If the result of the Government's proposal is, as I think it may well be, to make it more difficult for one party in the State to find the necessary funds in order to finance the cost of an election, it will play right into the hands of those who are advocating direct action, and preaching that Parliament is a discredited institution and is not effective for improving the economic conditions of the people. For these reasons, I think the Government are making a great blunder. They are unwise in this proposal. Even if it succeeds in achieving the purpose which the Government have in view, it will leave a sense of injustice amongst many citizens.
It may be well if I reply to some of the general statements, and then deal with the Amendment itself. I have some little difficulty in knowing exactly the attitude of the Labour party in regard to this matter. We have had an interesting speech from the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston), the burden of whose argument was that there can be no compulsion in the political levy. He said that it could never be called compulsion if members were only asked to pay 2d. a year levy. He belittled the effect of the levy upon those who make the contribution. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Gardner), revealed another attitude of mind. He compared the levy with taxes and rates. He asked whether the Government were going to send round forms to allow individuals to contract out of taxes and rates. I quote that statement, not because I think it is at all a good argument, but because it does reveal the attitude of mind which hon. Members opposite have got into in regard to this levy. They regard it as a tax or a rate put upon members of trade unions for the purpose of supporting one political party. If their case is that there is no compulsion existing now—that case has been put forward from the party opposite, who deny that there is any compulsion at this moment—then I cannot for the life of me see what it is they are complaining about in regard to this Clause. If there is no compulsion now, so long as the machinery is a fair machinery, they will get exactly the same amount of contributions in the future as they have now under what we do think is a compulsion on some members of trade unions.
The hon. Member for Wallsend (bliss Bondfield) did me the honour of repeating a portion of the speech with which she honoured my constituency the other day. [HON. MEMBERS: "An excellent speech!"] A very excellent speech, no doubt. I was not able to be present, but I will accept the assurance from hon. Members opposite that it was a very excellent speech. Of what did she complain? It is well that the Committee should understand the point that I was trying to make then. This is the point. There are 577,000 members of trade unions who have from time to time voted against the imposition of the political levy, when that question came up in their respective unions on a secret vote by ballot; but there are only 110,000 who, for some reason or other, have made their dislike of the political levy effective by a form of dissent. There are, therefore, 460,000 members of trade unions who are now contributing to the political levy although when the ballot was secret they voted against it. So far we are agreed as to the facts, but it is not so easy of agreement when we come to the deauctions which are to be drawn from the facts.
Hon. Members opposite say, and the hon. Member for Wallsend especially stressed the point, that that 460,000 who have not dissented have loyally accepted the decision of the majority, and have thrown in their lot with the majority. There are others who think that some of those would have dissented had they been able to do it in secret in the same way that they were able to vote in a ballot, but for one reason or another, in some cases intimidation, in other cases a reluctance to separate themselves from their immediate work mates, they failed to obtain the right to be relieved of that levy. The right hon. Member for Burnley gave reasons why they acquiesced—very possibly from indifference. He claimed that he is entitled to have on his side, for the support of one political party, the whole of the benefit which came from the inertia of members in paying to a party which they do not politically support. If there were no way better of obtaining an expression of desire than the way in the old Act, I would agree with the right hon. Gentleman; but we have found an alternative. We have found a perfectly fair alternative, and that is that those who wish to subscribe should do so in the way which is ordinarily done in ordinary business life, by signing a form and saying that they are willing to do so. They sign once, and once only. Having signed the form, they become subject to the political levy. It seems to me that there is no difficulty in finding a proper and fair method of ascertaining their wishes, and that we have found it.
The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Stanley) thought that that method might not be effective. It may not be effective. In that case, he would go further. He would have been willing if he were satisfied that there was intimidation, to repeal the power of trade unions to have a political fund at all. That is a very much longer and greater step than the Government are proposing to take.
The hon. Member will find that I used the words, "if he was satisfied that intimidation existed." I accept his qualification. In that event, he would go further. I am not prepared to wait so long for absolute proof. There is no necessity for doing so, if you can find a fair method of ascertaining the wishes of those who either wish to subscribe or wish not to subscribe. I claim that we have found in this Bill a perfectly fair method of ascertaining whether they wish to subscribe or not. Of course, when hon. Members object, they can only object on the basis that they are receiving subscriptions which they would not otherwise receive. It indeed is admitted, that they are now receiving money which is not a really voluntary contribution. If it were a voluntary contribution, those who contribute would sign the forms, and hon. Members opposite would receive for their party exactly the same as they are receiving. They cannot get away from that dilemma. To draw an analogy with a club is, to my mind, entirely wrong, because, as my hon. Friend pointed out, a club is an institution which a man, if the rules are changed in a way he does not like, can resign and leave. He need not remain a member. In the trade union, as hon. Members opposite will admit, it is a different thing. In a great many occupations, unless a man is a trade unionist, he cannot get employment.
I do not know whether the hon. Member is at all familiar with the practice of ticket showing which certainly takes place in a good many employments. I need not pursue that matter. I can hardly believe it is seriously denied. Let me state the proposition again. The position is different from that of a club. A club is an association which a man joins or ceases to be a member of without detriment to his living or to his employment. A trade union is not in that class. A man will run a risk of less likelihood of employment if he ceases to be a member of his trade union. That is a proposition which cannot be denied.
I do not propose to deal with individual unions. There is another point with which I wish to deal; it is the argument that what is done with the workers' unions should also be done with the employers' unions. There is no doubt that the Bill does apply equally to the employers' unions as to the workers' unions, and that those employers' unions who have a political fund will have to comply with the conditions of the Bill in exactly the same way as the workers' unions. The right hon. Gentleman went further. He produced a list of subscriptions of various companies and associations in Sheffield which had subscribed £100 here and £50 there for political purposes.
I will take it as £100. Let us examine it for a moment. These companies were either authorised by their memorandum of association to subscribe their funds to political objects or they were not. I am not talking of employers' trade unions, which come under the Trade Union Acts now. That is not what the right hon. Gentleman was talking -of at all. He was talking of that larger body who, being limited companies or associations, subscribed to political funds, and his argument was that they also, like the workmen's trade unions, ought to come under the Bill. I want to put this point to the right hon. Gentleman. A company is either authorised by its memorandum of association to make the subscriptions or it is not. If it is so authorised, those are perfectly legal payments just as a subscription by a private individual for similar purposes would be perfectly legal payment. Unless you propose to say that no single individual, be he workman or employer, can make a subscription to a political object, you cannot differentiate those companies from private individuals, whether they are workmen or employers. If, on the other hand, they are not authorised by their memorandum of association, they can be restrained by their members from making payments which are not within the scope or the authority of the directors. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that no shareholder of a company need remain a shareholder. It is totally different from the case of a trade union. A shareholder has a thousand different investments which are open to receive his savings. The trade unionist has got one union which he can join, or at most the choice of two or three, and no others; whereas a shareholder in a company, a Inch is using the funds in a way which although legal the shareholder does not like, can leave that company at any moment. Therefore, there is no analogy whatever because there is no compulsion whatever upon the shareholder to remain.
I have been a secretary of the Rhondda Miners' Federation for the last 20 years, and ever since the political levy came into existence, we have over 100 exemptions which were provided from the beginning, and those men have worked—every one of them—in our collieries up to the present day, when work was available. They have not been intimidated or driven out of the industry at all.
What will be the position of a firm which was a member of a price-fixing association? If it were not a member of that association, it would not be able to get any materials or carry on business? Is not that a much severer penalty than anything in the trade unions?
I am glad to hear those 100 men have had the relief for which they asked, but because one union does not put difficulties in the way, it does not follow at all that some men are not finding difficulty in getting their relief. The hon. Member asked me for a case just now. I have had put into my hand a notice by the Stepney Borough Council which shows clearly that workpeople employed by them in some of their departments will certainly suffer if they were not members of a trade union. I cannot understand hon. Members who challenge a speaker for an individual case and, when an individual case is given, object to hearing it. I was saying that if a worker was not a member of a trade union he was hampered in his endeavours for work. The Stepney Borough Council warns its employés that instructions have been issued by the union concerned to all its members employed in the undertaking not to connect any installation carried out by non-union labour. That is a compulsion which would affect a man who was not a member of a trade union and, if that does not differentiate his position from that which he holds in a voluntary club, I do not know what a difference is.
The Amendment which is actually before the House is one which I cannot accept. It seems to me to be based on an entire misapprehension a the Clause as it now stands. The Clause permits the practice, which the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Bondfield) indicated was current in her union, to be continued practically unaltered, because it will be in the form in the Schedule to the Bill. There is no necessity under the Clause as it stands for the individual to deliver the form himself at the head office. As I understand it, the practice has been for shop stewards or others to collect the forms at the works. There will be no difficulty in continuing that practice as long as the forms ultimately reach the head office or branch office of the union.
I am not surprised that the difficulty is felt, but I am advised that it is the case that "he has delivered at the head office" means either by himself or by his agent. As long as the forms reach the head office or the branch office, that will be a compliance with this Clause. The object is that there should be a record at the head office of the union of the forms that have been signed.
I am sorry if I did not make my explanation plain. I believe the Amendment has been moved under a misapprehension as to what the Clause says. The fear expressed by the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Bondfield) was that this compelled the individual himself to hand in to the branch office or the head office the form he had signed, and that it would interrupt the practice now carried on of collection by shop stewards or secretaries I desired to correct that idea. But there is a material difference between the effect of the Amendment and the Clause itself, and the difference is this. If he has given notice in writing there is no provision that it should go finally to the head office. If the Amendment is accepted it might never be recorded at the head office.
I think the right hon. Gentleman's attempted explanation justifies the Amendment still more. What we want to do is to make it perfectly clear in the Bill itself that the practice which has so far obtained of collecting the forms by the ordinary trade union method shall be continued. It is perfectly clear, after what the right hon. Gentleman has said, that that course will be no longer possible under the words of the Subsection as they now stand. I want to make a few observations upon some of the statements which have been made by the Secretary of State for War. When the announcement was first made that the right hon. Gentleman was to be in charge of this part of the Bill I wondered why the head of one of the fighting services should be selected to deal with these proposals. From one point of view an explanation can be supplied, namely, that this is another attack by the Government upon the privileges and rights which trade unions have hitherto possessed, and it is quite appropriate that the defence of these proposals should be in the charge of the right hon. Gentleman. The first part of this Bill deprives trade unions to a great extent, if not altogether, of the right to strike. This part of the Bill is an attempt to cripple their political action. The defence of the first part of the Bill by the Government is that a general strike should be prevented. What is the alternative to a strike? The alternative is that some other method should be adopted for securing the just demands of labour. In the first part of the Bill the Government are taking away the right to strike, in this part of the Bill their intention is to cripple the political activities of the Labour party.
The right hon. Gentleman asked the reasons why the Labour party are opposing this alteration. If, he said, there has been no compulsion on trade unionists to refrain from contracting out of the payment of the political levy, then trade unions will continue to get the same amount of funds from the political levy as they have hitherto enjoyed. It is not the fear that there will be any reduction in the contributions of trade unionists to this particular fund which is the ground of our objection. The ground of our objection is that it is an unnecessary and irritating interference with a practice which has been in operation for 14 years, and which has been found to work quite well. It means an unnecessary change in the rules of trade unions who have a political fund; it will cause a great amount of expense to the trade unions, and the Government have made out no case whatever for the change. What would be a justification for the change which the Government are proposing; that trade unionists under the present system are intimidated from applying to withdraw from the political levy? The right hon. Gentleman has not produced a single ease where a member of a trade union has been intimidated or has suffered in any way because he has claimed exemption from the political levy. I ask the Government, and we have a right to demand it as a justification for this proposal, whether such cases have occurred?
I have seen a little pamphlet, it was given to me yesterday, which has been widely circulated in many constituencies, issued from the headquarters of the Tory organisation giving one alleged case. I
will read it to the House. It is said to be a sworn declaration by a member of the Durham Miners' Association. There is no name, the name of the lodge is not given, and there is no date to this alleged sworn declaration. It is not even supplied by the man himself. It is quoted from an article written by Dr. Shadwell which appeared in the "Times." This is the alleged sworn declaration:
I have repeatedly made application to the local finance secretary of my lodge for exemption to pay contributions to Socialist funds, but have failed to receive it. He informed me that he had sent my application to the Durham headquarters and had had a reply to the effect that if I do not pay this contribution I should, in time, lose all benefits of the association, as per Rule 49.
On the face of it that is utterly false. Is there any responsible trade union official so foolish, knowing what the law is on this question, as to write to a man and say that if lie seeks to take advantage of his legal right he will be deprived of his trade union benefits under a certain rule. The whole thing is preposterous; and the only justification the Government can bring forward for the proposed change in the law is based upon false evidence like this! Surely, if there have been cases of intimidation the Government could have produced them. The right hon. Gentleman repeated this afternoon the speech which he delivered on the Second Reading of this Bill, a speech which I understand from the hon. Member for Wallsend he has been repeating for the benefit of his own constituency. He quoted figures, and said that when certain ballots were taken as to whether trade unions should have a political fund or not that something like half a million men voted against it. When were those ballots taken? That is very important.
I think the right hon. Gentleman himself was in the House when the 1913 Act was passed, and he will remember that the Labour party were then very small in numbers. The Labour party was very young in those days. At the General Election before 1913 we polled only half a million votes, but at the last General Election we polled more than 5,000,000 votes. What do those figures show? They show that since 1913, since those ballots were taken, there has been a revolutionary change in the opinion of trade unionists in regard to political action and the political levy, and that is the real explanation of the fact that while 14 years ago only half a million trade unionists had been converted to realising the need of political action by trade unions, there are 5,000,000 to-day, and only something like 170,000 have claimed exemption from the political levy.
One of the most important contributions which has been made to the discussion this afternoon was that made by the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. O. Stanley). He pointed out that if there has been intimidation under the prevailing practice, that intimidation will not be destroyed by the change which is proposed by the Bill. He pointed out that those who are not paying the political levy will still be open to intimidation. Therefore, the Government are proposing a change which can have no practical results at all, and which can only have the effect of causing irritation and putting trade unions to very considerable expense. The most interesting part, and at the same time the most foolish part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was his attempt to draw a distinction between the political activities of employers' associations and the political work of trade unions. He said that if a company is permitted by its articles of association to engage in political work they have a perfect right to do so. Let me draw the analogy. Before 1913 trade unions were believed to have a legal right to indulge in political action, and to have a separate political fund for that purpose. Therefore, and this is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman's point, if a company in its articles of association is entitled to make contributions from the funds of a company to political purpose, by what sense of justice can the Government deny to trade unions the similar right to incorporate in their rules and to pay out of their general funds for political action, just as employers' associations do?
There is one further point I want to make. The Government are attempting to justify this change as a greater protection to the minority. It is said to be a protection to a minority which is opposed to the political policy of the
majority of the members. Have minorities no rights? I mean minorities the other way. Suppose that you had a vote in a union and 400,000 voted for political action and 500,000 voted against it. The 500,000 are preventing the 400,000 from using the machinery of their trade union for the purpose of carrying out what they believe to be necessary in the interests of the trade union. The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Ellis) made a very interesting contribution to the Debate, and gave the reason why he had altered the view he formerly held and was now prepared to support the proposal made by the Government. It was that he objected to what he described as the increasing importance that the trade unions are attaching to political action. I believe that when I spoke on the Second Reading I attempted to justify the claim of the trade unions to demand from every member of a union a contribution for political work. May I bring to the support of that position an authority which I think will be accepted by hon. Members opposite?
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 overlap, and representation in Parliament. is absolutely necessary to trade unions, even if they confine themselves to the most purely industrial forms of action, and the moment you touch representation you reach the very heart and centre of controversial political affairs, because the dispute as to representation raises every question of general politics and party politics which can he imagined.
Who gave expression to that view? The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has just left the Committee. That was his defence of the Bill of 1913, of which he was not merely an eloquent defender but a most powerful advocate. There, I say, is the justification for compulsion on every member of a trade union to contribute to a political fund, because of the advantages that he gains from the political activities of the trade union. It is said by hon. Members opposite that this fund is used for only one particular party. That is perfectly true. Of course, it is. It could not be used for any other political party, because there is no other political party that looks after the interests of trade unionists. I have been in this business from the very beginning.
I was a delegate to the first conference at which the Labour party was formed. Why was the Labour party formed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Heaven only knows!"] I am not Heaven, but I am going to inform hon. Members why the Labour party was formed. It was formed because of the conviction on the part of the trade unionists of this country that they had nothing whatever to hope for, in the way of industrial and social reform, from either of the two then existing parties. An hon. Member asked what had become of the enthusiasm of the Labour party for the financial sacrifices which had built up the Labour party? Hon. Members will get the answer to that question at the next General Election.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. T. Johnston) was taunting the party opposite as to the sources from which its political funds come, there was a chorus of protests, in which practically every Member took part, that they were under no financial obligation to the party funds and that they provided their own election expenses. Is that a thing of which any Member of Parliament ought to be proud? If hon. Members rightly understood the purpose of Parliamentary representation, they would be ashamed to confess that they provide their own election expenses. It is the pride of the Labour party that our election expenses are provided, and before the institution of the payment of Members our maintenance here was provided, not by the contributions of rich men but by the pennies and shillings of poor working men and women, who believe in their politics and are prepared to make sacrifices for them. Whether this Clause becomes law or not, that enthusiasm and that willingness to make financial sacrifices for principles in which they believe will still be the motive force of the Labour party in this country. It is not because we are afraid that our financial resources will be crippled that we oppose this Clause. It is because the Clause is unnecessary; it is because it is a part of a deliberate and organised attack by the party opposite upon the trade union movement of the country. It is hoped that by the Bill trade unionism will be crippled, industrially and politically. It is because this Clause will be irritating and expensive to the trade unions that we oppose it, and not because it will financially embarrass our party.
One has listened with a great deal of pleasure to the,intense expression of belief by the right hon. Gentleman in the principles of his party. One listened, not with quite so much pleasure but with rather intense amusement, to his extraordinary claim that the principles of that party were apparently the only principles which either were or ought to be held by a working man. That claim, which is not only ill-founded but quite contrary to all reason and fact, is one that is the basis of the assumption of hon. Members opposite to exact contributions from trade union members. Before I come to deal with what the right hon. Gentleman said, there are one or two points that I should like to illustrate. The right hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson) said that he defied any Member on this side say that this proposal for dealing with the political levy was mentioned in his election address at the last election. All I can say is that not only in my election address in 1924, but in all my election speeches in 1923 and in most in 1922, this subject was mentioned very clearly. Notwithstanding that fact, in 1924 rather more than half the registered electorate in the division voted for a candidate who had declared himself whole-heartedly in favour of this Clause arid if I adopted the same method of calculation as the trade unions and the Labour party adopt I suppose I should be entitled to say that I represent 45,000 electors, all of whom were in favour of this Clause.
I do not propose to adopt the same method of calculation as the Socialist party adopt at their own conferences, but I want to point out one other matter in answer to a point that was raised by the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) and the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris), who said that the idea of this Bill was to deprive a certain section of the community of all right to representation. The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green seemed to think that the compulsion of the Act of 1913 was necessary in order that Labour Members should get into this House. In my own division I have been opposed by a member of the Socialist party at the three elections I have fought, and it has been the proud boast of my opponent on each occasion that he received not one penny from the fund of the Labour party, but that the whole of his organisation and election expenses was paid by collections which were made in the constituency. If that can be said of one constituency in regard to the supporters of the Socialist party, surely it can be said of others.
One shilling, which hon. Members opposite seem to think is a despicable sum of money. I pass from that to the point made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley with regard to intimidation. He said it was impossible to supply a solitary case where there was any suggestion of intimidation. I will give one which is illustrative of two or three things. It is illustrative of the way in which the Act of 1913 has been worked, and also of the inconvenience and indignities which are placed upon men who obtain exemptions under that Act. I read from the OFFICIAL REPORI of 14th March, 1924:
There is a Lodge known as the Ouston E.Pit Lodge in Durham in which between 90 and 100 members claimed exemption. They paid their quota for the whole year. At the end of the year a notice was sent to the effect that they might claim back the money which formed the political levy and this is the way in which it was done. They
were told they could obtain it at the cooperative hall at Burtley and they were told they could receive 1s., which was the political levy. Twenty-four attended. They were paraded in a line one after another. They had to file past the table and the money was handed to them with the Chairman of the Lodge looking on so that he could mark every man.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1924; cols. 2758–9, Vol. 170.]
The committee and the executive officers of the lodge were also present on that occasion. The facts of the case were put before me. There are hon. Members here who are acquainted with that district, and they know quite well what the procedure was. I made that statement in the House of Commons and there has never been any contradiction since the statement was made in March, 1924. That illustrates more things than one regarding administration. It shows, in the first place, how the Act of 1913 is administered in Durham. Notwithstanding the fact that a man has claimed exemption from the political levy, he is compelled to pay that political levy for a whole year and then he is compelled to claim back the money—which should never have been taken from him—and he has to claim it in circumstances which, as hon. Members opposite know, are contrived to make it so inconvenient for him that many men do not make any claim. I give another illustration. In the Shop Assistants' Union a man who claimed exemption and who was told that he had exemption said: "When I pay my contribution, then I do not pay the amount which is referable to the political levy," but he was told that he would have to pay the same contribution as the others. When he asked how he was to get the benefit of his exemption, the union said, "When it comes to transferring the money from the general fund to the political fund, we do not transfer any of your money to the political fund."
Then it is a clear illustration that the Act ought to be altered. If that is in accordance with the Act—and it is certainly the practice whether it is in accordance with the Act or not—the result is that the man who contributes to the political levy is charged less for his ordinary trade union benefit than the man who does not contribute to the political levy. In other words, the man who wants' to keep his political con science free has to pay more for the trade union benefits to which he is entitled, whatever his political opinions may be. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley said there was no difference between a limited company and a trade union. Hon. Members opposite know what the trade union policy is and know that there have been strikes for no other purpose than that of producing 100 per cent. membership of particular trade unions in particular industries. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] The newspapers have teemed with cases of that kind, and only within the last few months there has been an instance. There has been either a strike or a threatened strike within the London area, because a local council would not discharge a man, not on the ground that he was not a trade unionist but on the ground he did not belong to the particular trade union to which the electrical trade union thought he ought to belong. It has been the boast of hon. Members opposite on political and other platforms that trade union membership, in order to be effective, must be 100 per cent. They have been striving for 50 years to get 100 per cent. membership in industry. Thus, they are trying to arrive at a position in which no man could earn his living in any industry unless he was a member of the trade union belonging to that industry. The statement made by the Secretary of State for War is a perfectly clear answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley in regard to the case of the shareholder in a limited company. There, a free choice is offered. In the other case it is not a free choice, but a choice between starvation on the one hand, and membership of the trade union on the other.
Another suggestion made from the other side was as to the use of a political fund. I am not going to follow the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) into all the irrelevancies of his speech but I am going to point out why the considerations which he was putting forward are irrelevant to this discussion. We are not concerned in this Bill with the way in which the Socialist party spends its money. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] If we are not concerned with the way in which the Socialist party spends its money, in what way is there any relevance in any point as to the way in which the Conservative party spends its money? Nor are we concerned, except in one direction and in one instance, with the way in which the Socialist party gets its money. That being so, where is the relevance in raising points as to how other political parties get their money? Hon. Members if they have read the Bill know that what I am saying is justified up to the hilt. The only question with which the Bill is concerned is the question of whether money subscribed for purely trade union purposes should be used for political purposes. There is another question, and that whether the money is collected by the trade unions from people other than those who are willing to give that money to the political party. That is the sole question with which we are concerned, and the position of hon. Members opposite is that while we are trying to see that no man shall have his political freedom interfered with, they are opposing the Clause tooth and nail, because apparently in their opinion political freedom is impossible for the working man. It is a thing which they deny to him, because they say that the worker can support only one party and that is the Socialist party.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Burnley was at some pains to justify his position with regard to the political levy. He pointed out that there was no marked distinction between political questions and industrial questions. On that basis the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley suggested that before 1913 it was believed that trade unions had the right to use their money for political purposes, and he made the demand in the end that whatever the Statute said, they ought to have the right to use their general funds for political purposes. Before 1913 men of all political opinions were encouraged to belong to trade unions. If they belonged to trade unions, they subscribed for trade union purposes; and the attempt made by the trade union leaders was to use that money subscribed for purely trade union purposes for the purposes of one political party.
I do not care whether it was by a majority in a ballot or not. It is quite true that for some time before 1913 some hon. Members opposite, who had, at any rate, a sense of the decency of appearances tried to make out that the Labour party was a party without politics. They argued that there was no infringement of political liberty by using the money of trade unionists for these purposes, because the Labour party was a purely industrial party and not a political party.
I can refer to speech after speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "Quote them."] I could refer to speech after speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ince (Mr. S. Walsh) who is sitting on the Front Bench opposite in which he pointed out that although he was a Socialist in principle, as a Labour candidate for Parliament he was not a Socialist candidate but was purely an industrial candidate.
May I intervene to say that the hon. and learned Gentleman cannot find a speech in which I ever used the expression that I was an industrial candidate. Not only has such a speech no existence on paper, but it never had any existence in fact. I never used the words and I defy him to find any speech made by me at any time in which I have used those words.
I do not carry about in my pocket the cuttings of all the speeches the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ince made at the elections of January and December, 1910, but I have most of them in a place from which I can produce them, and I will undertake to produce this statement by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ince. I stated on more than one occasion in the Ince Division that the right hon. Gentleman was a Socialist and in reply to that he said:
I am a Socialist, but I am not fighting this election as a Socialist; I am fighting it as a member of the Labour party.
I have given that undertaking and I shall fulfil it.
May I ask the hon. and learned Member to remember what he said two minutes ago? He then used the expression that I said that I was a Socialist, hut that I was standing as an industrial candidate. I say that I never used that expression. It is a phrase I never used in my life. It certainly does not exist in fact, and he cannot produce any report to show that I used the expression. I defy him to do so. He now says the expression I used was that I was a Socialist, but that I was standing as a Labour candidate. That is quite a different thing.
I must really ask hon. Members to allow the hon. and learned Member to finish his sentence, if only for this reason that I myself, in the Chair, may understand what this matter is all about.
If the hon. Member assures me that, in having imputed mendacity to the hon. and learned Member, all that he means is that the hon. and learned Member is inaccurate, that is an unfortunate way of putting it.
Sir W. G REAVES-LORD:
We are getting on to rather fine distinctions. There is apparently a difference between saying that a person is lying and calling him a liar. There is also, apparently, a difference between,saying that a man is an industrial can idate and saying that he is a Labour candidate. I rejoice that we can go out and say in the country that when a man describes himself as a Labour candidate that means that he is not an industrial one. [Interruption.]
I think if you, Mr. Chairman, had been present during the earlier part of the discussion you would have seen that I was following up an argument which is directly relevant to the question we are discussing. I was answering a claim which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley when he asserted a right on behalf of the present Socialist party to use the money of trade unions for political purposes, and I pointed out that, in the early history of this matter, there was a time when the pretence was made that the party opposite was not a political party. I then used an illustration with regard to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ince. I am glad now that he concedes by inference, and not only by inference but by words, that his view was that, although he was a Socialist, he was fighting that election as a Labour candidate. That being the position, I have proved the first part of my case, that the whole basis of taking the money of trade unions was a claim that the Labour party was a party distinct from any other political party. Under these circumstances we find that, a little before.1913, the then Labour Representation Committee adopted Socialism as one of its objects. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson) says that there is no clear-marked line of distinction between the industrial and the political sections. The distinction to-day is that money which is raised by the political funds of the trade unions is used for a political party which has a broad political line of distinction between it and both the other two parties in the State. Therefore, there is no question of a fine distinction as to whether the Workmen's Compensation Actt is political or not. The main, broad, clear distinction is that the Labour party to-day is definitely a Socialist party, and therefore, every penny that is taken from the trade unions for that party is used for one political party, whereas the majority of trade unionists do not belong to that party at all. [Interruption].
I now intend to deal with what was said by the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. O. Stanley). He likened membership of a political party to membership of a, club which took upon itself certain social activities. I do not regard my political faith as a mere social activity. Political faith is as closely akin to religious faith as anything one could conceive. If there is anything which the party opposite would not tolerate for one moment it would be if they were placed in a similar position with regard to religious opinion and religions propaganda in the trade unions of this country as they are placed in at the present time with regard to certain sections of political propaganda. They know perfectly well that every one of them, women as well as men, would rise at once and say that, if a similar position arose in regard to religion; if a majority laid it down, as a matter of law, that a man or a woman who became a trade unionist was liable to subscribe to any religious faith—they would regard that as intolerant action of the worst possible kind. But that is the position with regard to political faith at the present time in the trade unions. As the law stands to-day, and as the position is in trade unionism, directly a man becomes a member of a trade union he becomes by that fact alone liable in law to be levied for political purposes.
Whatever may be the merits or demerits of the case, no hon. Member is entitled to persistently interrupt, and I must ask the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Greenall) to desist.
If hon. Members opposite had not interrupted me, I should by now have stated the effect of the present law. The law is that, if to-day a man joins a trade union in which there has been a ballot 10 years ago, he becomes by the fact of joining the trade union, liable to be levied upon for their political fund unless—[Interruption]—hon. Members opposite seem to think that one is going to close one's remarks without stating what is exactly the position; that may be their habit, it is not mine—unless, within a month of his joining, he sends in a form to the secretary of his union claiming exemption. Hon. Members opposite know that perfectly well, and, if they do not know it, I would refer them to the report which appeared in the OFFICIAL REPORT of March, 1924, where they will find an instance given of where a man was kept by the National Association of Shop Assistants more than a, month trying to get his form. The result is that, if a man does not send in his claim for exemption, he is liable to be levied till the end of the year, and if he does not send it in at the end of the year, be is liable to be levied for the next year. There was a case given where a man spent the amount of the political levy in postage stamps before he could get his exemption. The difficulties under the present law are twofold. They arise from the fact of initial liability. They arise, in the second place, from the fact that there is no effective provision for the separation of the political levy from the other subscriptions which are taken. They arise from the fact that there is no effective method of book-keeping. One thing proves that more than anything else. If you compare the affiliation fees of the Labour Party Congress and the affiliation fees of the Trade Union Congress you will find, time after time in the case of unions where there are large exemptions, that the affiliation fees of the Labour Party Congress are paid as though no one were exempted from the political levy. That I demonstrated in 1924 and 1925. That difficulty of bookkeeping will he removed by this Clause. Initial liability will be removed by this Clause. In addition to that, from the moment a man joins a trade union, there will be complete individual political freedom. That will not injure the trade unions, but will strengthen them, and because of that I support this Clause.
We have had a number of speeches from lawyers while this Bill has been under discussion, but I think the Committee will agree with me that there has not been a more intentionally provocative speech, a more intentionally misleading speech, a more intentionally inaccurate speech, and a speech which, if it was given to the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) acting as a Recorder, he would without the slightest hesitation disregard.
On a point of Order. I do not readily rise to a point of Order, but I do in this case because I want to know whether it is in order to impute intentional inaccuracy to an hon. Member.
I beg to say that if the hon. and learned Member were sitting in a judicial capacity, and a speech like he has just made were offered, he would disregard the statements made as valueless, as worthless, and as not according to the best practices of decent pleading. I suggest that to quote a speech of his own in 1924 as conclusive and indisputable proof that a certain thing had happened—well, I do not know that I have ever heard such special pleading in my life. Hon. and learned Members opposite know the law and ought to be able to dissect evidence, but think of the shreds of evidence as to the bad working of the political levy that have been produced as instances to prove that the whole of the trade union movement does not work the political levy in a proper manner. The hon. and learned Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) did not produce any evidence. He said all kinds of unkind things about the trade union movement. As a matter of fact, he has been saying them so often in this House that it has become second nature to him. I remember very well that the last time the hon. and learned Member spoke on the political levy, the Prime Minister was very definite that this was neither the time nor the place to cause troubles in the industrial world which would be difficult to heal, and the Prime Minister told the hon. and learned Member that he had no mandate. When the hon. and learned Member made his speech in introducing his Bill, he uttered the same kind of accusations, with exactly the same lack of evidence, and I suggest to him that, were he sitting in a judicial capacity, he would not accept general statements as evidence. He and his hon. Friends have plenty of opportunity of getting evidence, and they should not produce half a dozen cases, but remember that there are 3,500,000 people involved.
If they would produce half a million cases, they would prove their case. I think it would be as well if we recited the history of the exemption objections. Let me give a typical case of how the statement that we are not working these exemption objections properly is supported. There is a right hon. Member of this party who was once the general secretary of a large trade union, and a complaint came from the North that this union was not carrying out the law fairly and squarely, that a number of people had made applications for exemption and were not being treated decently. He made inquiries and found that a member of the legal profession had got hold of a book of exemption forms from the Tory party and had gone round to people asking them to sign. They had signed them, and he had got 25 names in a book. To follow that, this same kind Tory lawyer sent the book to the union and applied for exemption on behalf of his clients, and because the union said, "We will not accept applications for exemption from you, as the law specifies that a member who wants an exemption must apply for it," this good, kind Tory friend of the poor member of the working class was terribly upset.
I suggest to the hon. and learned Member that not only ought he to know the law, but be should give over lecturing us who do know the law, at any rate with regard to trade unions, a little more than he does, because we have been administering it and have to know it in order to save ourselves from getting into trouble. The lawyer who sent in these application forms ought himself to have known that the application must be made by the individual, not his agent.
I feel that we ought to have the best evidence that is available as to the way in which this fund is being administered. At December, 1925, the number of exemptions in trade unions was nearly 105,000 out of 3,143,000, and I feel, as one who has administered the Act, that it is foolish, that it is humbug, to tell us that we victimise these people. Do hon. Members opposite know our machinery as well as we do? In my own union, with a membership of nearly 100,000, if one member makes an application, or if a thousand members make an application, there is one clerk who gets to know the people who have made the application. We do not make a speciality of going about and trying to find scapegoats. While we think these people are misguided, we do not penalise them or force them out of the union. We want them inside the union, not outside, and a dissatisfied member is not an asset to any trade union. We do not want dissatisfied members; we want members inside the union who are content to be working along with us and who allow us to work along with them. The Chief Registrar said that from 1913 to 31st May, 1922, there had been 68 complaints, of which 26 turned out not to be complaints within the meaning of the Act. That gives a total of 42 complaints in the whole of that period. It is not that there has not been the opportunity among the trade unionists who have not got a political conscience, as hon. Members opposite put it, but these people have not made their applications for exemption. Every facility has been provided. Lodges have been canvassed and books and application forms sent out, and I make the definite assertion that men have even been paid by the political party opposite to try to get men to sign these exemption forms, but in spite of it all there have not been more than 104,000 exemptions out of a total of 3,500,000 members. Thereupon the party opposite said, "This serves no useful purpose, this machinery is no good, we shall have to try to get something else," and so we have this Bill introduced with the deliberate idea of harassing the trade union movement. It is not the case that we in the trade union movement have not played our part properly, as I can
show from a statement made by a learned gentleman who was once a Member of this House and is now a Judge All members of the legal profession are not hastening to attack trade unions. This is what Judge Atherley-Jones said:
I have known something of the working of trade unions for a considerable number of years, and although I cannot deny that occasionally pressure has been brought to bear, yet I can say with absolute certainty that, so far as the general conduct of trade unions in this country is concerned, and in the way in which they manage their business, there is a singular absence of all lawless proceedings and of all desire to oppress those who happen to differ from the majority.
I would refer the hon. Member to a speech I made in this House recently in which I said that, though the 1906 Act gave wrongful opportunity to trade unions, those powers had not been abused to anything like the extent that had been expected, for the simple reason that the vast majority of working men and trade unionists are decent citizens, and do not take advantage of such an opportunity even if it is given to them.
Perhaps I am not used to taking evidence and sorting it and making it fit in, but I cannot square the two statements of the hon. and learned Member. I cannot believe that we are an honest and decent lot of people, and that at the same time we are always coercing people, as he says when he is making a speech. I repeat that according to the statement made by the learned Judge whom I have quoted there is in the trade union movement a singular absence of all lawless proceedings and of a desire to oppress those who happen to differ from the majority. As a trade union secretary I have administered the 1913 Act and have issued exemptions to members who are still members of the
union; though they differ from us in politics we do not want to drive them out of the union. We do not want to make dissatisfied members. We would be bad trade union officials if we gave them any opportunities to cause trouble. I will read this further extract from what the learned Judge said:
I absolutely deny that there has been adduced one shred of evidence in this House or outside to establish that trade unions have applied coercion to the members of the dissenting minority. The life blood of trade unionism, especially in recent years, has been its political work.
It is because we want to make the lifeblood of trade unions' political work that some of us are in this House.
I would ask the Attorney-General to remember that there are people in this country—some of them are inside our trade unions, and we are fighting them every day—who do not believe in Parliament, and if, with the assistance of the Tory party, they can make Parliament impossible, what is going to be left? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon once wrote. a book called, "Parliament or Revolution." I was very much impressed by it. Temperamentally I am not one of the quietest chaps, but when I sit down and think a thing out I ask myself, "Which will be the most lasting?" and I say unhesitatingly "Parliament." But what is to happen if you harass those who engage in political activity? You have made it almost impossible to have a strike, you are going to make it difficult to raise a political fund in order to send men into the House of Commons. What is going to happen? You will force people to the view that the Conservative party do not favour political action by the working class, and if they are once convinced of that, there is a great deal more trouble ahead than the Tory party think they have got rid of by introducing this Bill.
I was delighted to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. O. Stanley). It was a speech such as we on this side dare not make. If we had suggested that by passing this Clause we shall be leaving just the same loophole for coercion that there is to-day, it would have been taken as a threat. If in a union of 100,000 people 70,000 sign the political form and 30,000 do not, or 10,000 do not, cannot we coerce them? Cannot we use exactly the same repressive measures that hon. Members, without evidence, attribute to us to-day? The best thing the Government can do is to carry out the principles of the Prime Minister when he asked for "Peace in our time." As it is, the trade unions have their hands full with the task of trying to keep things on an even keel. They have enough to do to keep people quiet, and you are not making it easier. You will add to the suspicion of men who are already suspicious enough. I ask the Attorney-General to leave the trade union law as it is. If there is coercion or intimidation, you have made provision for meeting it in the other Clauses. In one Clause you have made a declaration of what the law is, and in another Clause you have fixed the punishment.
Why go out of your way to make things more difficult for us in the conduct of trade unions? Take the law as it is laid down in the Clause where it says that a member cannot be required to make a contribution to the political fund unless before the date upon which the contribution is levied he has delivered a notice of his willingness to contribute. Sometimes the date is at the beginning of the year and sometimes it is at the end of March, but every year a contribution is levied, and I suggest to the Attorney-General that the law could be construed as requiring that an application must be handed in every year.
Well, it bears that construction. Read the Clause:
It shall not he lawful to require any member of a trade union to make any contribution … unless before the date upon which the contribution is levied he has delivered at the head office …
and so on. Every year a contribution is levied, and this Clause says that it shall not be legal for him to be called upon to pay unless he has delivered a notice before that date.
I do not want to interrupt the argument, but I think the hon. Member ought to know that at the beginning of this afternoon the word "first" and other words were included in the Bill at the request of the right hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson) in order, as he himself said, to make it quite clear that there was no need for more than one notice; and so it is difficult for me to follow the argument of the hon. Member, who is still saying that it is not clear.
I accept that statement with pleasure. I do not want to make it any more difficult, and as the right hon. Gentleman assures us that that is not so, we will work it in the best way we can. Finally, I say that one day the Labour party will be sitting on the benches opposite. There is no doubt about that. I do not say when that will come about, but what I do say is that you are now setting us an exceedingly good precedent, because the Government say that it is in the best interests of the people that this is being, done. When we assume office we may insist that all political funds must be examined and audited, and that no political funds must be used for any purpose in connection with societies unless there has been a ballot. I think what the Government are proposing is a mistake, and it is not going to bring that peace in our time for which the Prime Minister expressed such an ardent desire.
When my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Macquisten) introduced not long ago a Bill dealing with this question I was strongly opposed to it, but since that time I have had more experience of political life and of trade unions, and I have now entirely altered my view and I am going to support this Clause. If there is anything which confirms me in the view that there is justice behind this Clause, it is the speech which has just been made by the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Mackinder). I have great respect for the hon. Member's opinion and his sincerity, but same of the views he has expresesd this evening have impressed me very much as to the distorted view which hon. Members opposite have taken of the Government's proposals in regard to the question of the political levy. What is our case We say that an injustice is being committed. We say that there are many instances in which people are being deprived of their money for no good reason and against their will. Hon. Members opposite say that we do not quote any instances. The hon. Member for Shipley says he wants half a million cases. Suppose the hon. Member came with a case for a reform in connection with some great cause in which he asserted people had been in-treated and sent to prison and the thing ought to be put right. Supposing the hon. Member said "There are dozens of cases of hardship" and suppose that we replied: "When you come to half-a-million cases then we will listen to you."
What I said was that since the year 1913, when this political levy was made lawful, there have been less than 40 cases substantiated, which proves that there is no case for this Clause. There were less than 40 cases among 3,500,000 people, and therefore a substantial case has not been made out.
I do not agree with that argument. If there is any case of injury which can be put right, it ought to be dealt with. There are many reasons why only a few cases have been brought to light. It is useless to argue that there are not many of these cases. I am not going to talk about intimidation or coercion. I confess I have not come across many such cases in my experience, but I will give an example of the kind of injustice which exists. A case was brought to my notice in which a schoolmistress goes to the secretary of her union and says "I want to contract out of the political levy." The secretary replies: "That will give me a lot of trouble, and it is a very small sum. must you really insist?"
I do not see what bearing that statement has on the case. What I have just stated is the kind of instance which is happening in every trade union in the country, and I am not overstating the case. The majority of people are not politicians at all, and do not belong to any political party. The vast majority of them do not trouble about contracting out because they do not wish to make a fuss about it, and they do not like to go to the secretary of their union and make a complaint about a miserable shilling a year. That is the attitude of the majority of trade unionists. A great many inuendos have been put forward by hon. Members opposite as to the sources from which political funds come, but I hope those statements are not true. Even if it be true that the Conservative and Liberal parties have been living on the sale of honours, would that justify the Labour party, which claims to be a party of enlightenment, living upon money taken from the poor people against their will? Is there any justification for that? There is no sense or reason in that view.
I do not think that is quite a fair statement. It may be that there are people who would rather the Socialist party had this money than make a fuss about it. People would rather give a shilling than make a scene about, it. If that is the argument of hon. Members opposite I cannot congratulate them upon the source of their party strength. Another instance given by the hon. Member for Shipley was one which seemed to me to be very curious coming from him. He said, "Here is a question of the people who have sent in their application for exemption from the political levy. They have duly filled up the forms and signed them and have given them to a lawyer to send in. The lawyer has sent them in, and then the union refused exemption on the ground that the law said they must send in the forms themselves."
I gather that the general secretary refused exemption because the forms were sent in by a lawyer. He made that small point There was the will of the people to be exempted, but he took advantage of a little thing in the law in order to get their money against their will. Whether it is in the law or not is not what is important; what is important is that hon. Members really think they have scored something, and are rather pleased about it, when they get these people's money against their will. That is the kind of feeling which the political levy has produced in hon. Members opposite. I deplore it; it surprises me; and the knowledge of how widely that kind of thing exists has entirely altered my view from what it was 2½ years ago, when I first considered this subject. I have had many cases brought to my notice from my own constituency, not of intimidation, but of difficulties placed in the way—difficulties about getting the cards, and cards being sent in which are never heard of again. These are the kind of instances which form the whole strength of this case, which has gone on from year to year, and has not decreased in strength or intensity, but has increased, and which now represents the opinion of a large body of people who resent money being taken from them, either through indifference, as the hon. Member suggests, or even against their will, to support a political party which they do not wish to support.
They may not be Conservatives or Liberals at all. The cases that are brought to our knowledge are those of people who feel strongly, who are real Conservatives or Liberals, and who are glad to bring such instances to our knowledge. They are comparatively few, because those people take the trouble and get exemption; but the strength of the case is in the cases of those people who are not strong supporters of this, that or the other party, and who do not wish it to be known what party they support. They do not want to nail their colours to any mast, having no political convictions, and they do not want to contribute to any particular party. There is a widespread resentment on the part of people who have been compelled for many years to contribute to a political party in this way, and there would be a very wide welcome for this Clause—more, I can say from my own knowledge, than for any other Clause in this Bill.
I do not propose to follow the general course of the Debate, but to ask the attention of the Committee to the terms of the Amendment. The Amendment that we are submitting is completely in accord with the object of the Bill. It does not in any sense conflict with the principle of the Clause, but only seeks to simplify the machinery. The Attorney-General speaking sortie time ago in the House, said there was one principle with which he hoped the majority of the House would agree, and that was that the consent of the member to pay must first be obtained, and, speaking a few days ago at a public meeting, he said the same thing. We agree that this Clause lays it down that the consent of The member must first be obtained to the payment of any contribution to the political fund. Therefore, our Amendment is simply a matter of machinery. The member has to give notice in writing, and we ask that he may be able to give notice in writing to an accredited official of the union, in the ordinary way in which notice has previously been given, where—as the Clause as it stands would require him to deliver it either to the bead office or to the branch office of his union.
By post comes later. In the latter part of the Sub-section it is mentioned that it may be sent by post. We say we agree with hat, and, therefore, it becomes merely a matter of expeditious machinery. We say that, when the man has so signed the form, he ought to be given the opportunity of delivering it to the nearest accredited official of his organisation. It would at a later date find its way, of course, to the branch office, and later still to the head office. It would be definitely in existence, so that it could be checked and vouched for. We are not in any sense in antagonism with what the right hon. Gentleman holds to be an essential principle; it is, therefore, purely a matter of machinery. It cannot be in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman, or in the minds of hon. Members opposite, that they want to put sand or grit into the machinery of the trade unions. One essential condition is that the willingness of the member to contribute should be vouched for by the member himself, and the other condition is that there must be nothing in the nature of compulsion. There is nothing in the nature of compulsion in our Amendment. The man himself delivers his own form, and we say that it ought to be sufficient for the right hon. Gentleman if those two essential conditions are complied with, and that they should allow the machinery to be simplified as much as possible.
Take the case of the Miners' Federation. The Miners' Federation of Great Britain is, under the Act of Parliament, the executive authority for the political fund of the whole of the miners, but the forms of exemption are not sent to the head office of the Miners' Federation here in London, but are sent at the present time, first of all, to the branch office, which is generally very close to the locality where the members work. We only ask that there shall be the same simplification of machinery for the purpose of enabling members to declare their willingness, which exists at present for members to declare their unwillingness to contribute. The Amendment as it stands does not controvert or interfere with the principle of contracting in, and as I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman and his party do not desire to throw sand or grit into the machinery, I hope they will keep their minds open, if not to this particular Amendment, to some words which will carry out the purpose which both they and we desire. If there is a responsibility upon the workman himself to deliver by post, or by other process, that itself would be very detrimental to the working of the machinery. We want the machinery to be simplified in the same way as at present.
I entirely agree that the Amendment does not raise any question of principle, but purely one of machinery, and that neither side desires to throw grit into the machinery or make it difficult to carry out. It is only a question of what is the most convenient way of doing it effectively. I think the right hon. Gentleman is a little apprehensive because he has not quite appreciated the effect of the Clause. I hope I can alleviate his fears. He said it might often be inconvenient for a workman who really desired to subscribe to the fund to deliver the notice himself, or indeed to send it by post. If the Clause stands as we have drawn it, there will; be no such obligation. The provision in the Clause as to postage is only to make it quite clear that, if the notice is duly posted, that is a good delivery, even though by any mishap it was not actually received. The other point the right. hon. Gentleman is anxious about is that he says, apart from sending it by post, the member must deliver it in person. That is a complete mistake. All this says is that the member shall not he liable unless he has delivered a notice. It is open to any person on whom there is an obligation to deliver a document or anything else to do it by his duly authorised agent, and if a member chose to hand a form to an official of the union, a shop steward or whoever it might be, so long as the shop steward delivered it to the branch office or head office, that is a perfectly good delivery. The hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Mackinder) spoke of a case in which a certain notice sent by a lawyer had been refused because the member had to deliver the notice. That was an instance of the same mistake, and the secretary of the union was bound to accept the notice, although it was sent by someone else, as long as it was a person who was authorised to take it. In our law there is a Latin tag, which may be translated "He who does a thing by someone else does it by himself." Anyone who delivers a notice, either personally or through any person whom he chooses to ask to undertake the duty for him, or who posts a notice addressed to his head or branch office, has complied with the Statute. The reason we have to keep in the reference to the head office or branch office is that if you merely have a proposal that he should give notice in writing, supposing the legality of the levy in any particular case were challenged, there would be no obligation to have any record kept at the office of the union. It would be open to them to say, "We do not do that at the office. Our shop steward keeps them and he has mislaid them." Obviously, there would be an opening for abuse, and assuming one passes the principle of the Bill, neither side wishes to have an opportunity for evasion. It is essential to have some office at which the notices have to be collected, and the obvious place is the head office or the branch office, in which case it comes into the custody of the union. Under the Clause as it stands, the right hon. Gentleman can accept my definite assurance that the provision that the member is to deliver at these two places imposes no obligation on him to deliver to any person but only the obligation either to deliver it himself or to send it through any accredited agent or to put it in the post.
The right hon. Gentleman has used a phrase which was in my own mind and which is constantly being used in trade unions. If it could be made clear that it means either delivered by himself or by an accredited agent of the union it would remove our doubts. My right hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson) has handed me this form of words, "or given to any accredited official of the union." We are at one in our purpose, and if those words could be inserted all doubts would be removed.
I am always a little nervous of taking words without consideration. I am quite certain the effect would be the same if we were to say "he has delivered" or "he has by himself or his authorised agent delivered." I cannot offer to put it in at this moment. I have landed myself in a little difficulty by the Amendment I accepted earlier and I may have to make a slight Amendment on Report. But I will consider this with the draughtsman. It will make no difference in the meaning. I am only anxious that it shall be clear, and unless there is some objection, which is not present to my mind at the moment, I will see if something can be done on Report on these lines. I will either put words down or will communicate to the right hon. Gentleman why it cannot be done. It is not altering the effect of the Clause. It is only doing something to meet apprehensions which I can assure hon. Members are without foundation.
I beg to move, in page 4, line 24, to leave out the words "the first day of January next," and to insert instead thereof the words "a date not earlier than twelve months."
The Amendment is for the purpose, really, of enabling a union to proceed with some definite prescience and responsibility, because as the Bill now stands it would seem to leave the withdrawal of the notice to contribute entirely to the caprice of the member of the union. That is to say, a member might this month notify his willingness to pay the political levy, and next month give notice of his intention no longer to contribute. No organisation could proceed with safety if such a condition were possible. It would absolutely be impossible to proceed either with political activities or with industrial activities if you were dependent entirely upon the capricious or irresponsible action of members. When once a ballot has been taken, because that is a condition precedent, and a majority has been secured, members even then have to sign on and declare their willingness to contribute. There should be a definite period of time within which the union could proceed in respect of its political activities. It would then know definitely that within that period it could calculate upon a certain number of members—those who had declared their willingness to contribute—and could take action accordingly for that particular period. As the Bill stands, it would seem that it is left entirely to members to declare unwillingness to contribute at any time, even though a month or a fortnight earlier they had declared their willingness to contribute. The insertion of these words would, at least, give a 12 months' period within which an organisation, having taken its ballot and, having obtained its majority, could take definite and certain action. It is for that purpose, to place it out of the power of irresponsible and capricious members to destroy the whole purpose of the political activity, and to place a sense of definite responsibility upon the members who have declared their willingness to contribute so that they shall know, having once declared their willingness to contribute, they cannot capriciously and without any sense of responsibility put an end to the political activities of the union, that this Amendment is moved.
I quite agree that a definite period ought to be given in which the union knows where it is, but I would like to explain, if I may, how the Bill will work as it stands, and why it does not seem to us that the alternative proposal is quite practicable. Under the Bill as it is drafted, after a notice has been once given, it remains operative unless and until a notice of withdrawal is given, and then that notice of withdrawal cannot come into operation until the following 1st January. The result, therefore, is, that if a capricious member gives notice that he wants to join the political fund—I do not third, many will want to do this too often—but if there should be a member who wishes to join the fund, and then thereafter changes his mind, he will still be bound to continue his subscriptions throughout, the year in which he has given notice and will only become exempt on the following 1st January. It might be as much as 12 months or less, according to the period of the year that notice of withdrawal was given. If the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment were carried into effect, whenever anybody gave notice of withdrawal he would have to go on paying for a fixed period up to 12 months, and the result would be that members would be dropping out all through the following year because each person's notice would terminate at a different period of the year, and it would be administratively very difficult to check or carry out. We think it much more simple if we provide, that once a member has given notice of his intention to join the fund, he is bound to continue to contribute to the fund until the 1st January next following his notice of withdrawal. That means he is bound to go on until the end of the year in which he gives his notice, not until the period of 12 months after he has given his notice. We think that that gives e more definite, a more permanent and convenient form both for the trade union and the Registrar, whose duty it will be, of course, to check what has taken place.
The main argument—I am not assuming whether it is a valid or an invalid argument—has been that many members have had deductions made for them, that they have been indifferent, that advantage has been taken of the inertia of the members on our side, and that we really have no right to take advantage of those who are suffering from inertia. Let that argument he valid for the time being. Surely, it is of all things most desirable that when members sign their willingness to subscribe to the political levy they shall do so with a definite sense of responsibility. Here, indeed, there can be only one argument: "Do you really desire to subscribe? If so, it lies entirely within yourself to declare your willingness. Not one single farthing will be taken from any fund in which you are interested unless you sign your willingness to pay the political levy." When that is done, and the preceding conditions have been complied with—the secret ballot, the majority obtained—only after these two conditions have been complied with, is a member called upon to subscribe to a declaration that he is willing to pay to the fund.
Surely it is, of all things, most desirable that he should have in his mind a responsible sense of what it is he is undertaking acrid that he is, at least, undertaking voluntarily for a definite period that particular obligation, with no feeling of compulsion of any kind. That is the only condition upon which the trade unions can work. There is this difference between the suggestion embodied in the Bill and our Amendment that we make certain for a definite period, which is not too long, that when a man agree, by signing, that he is willing to contribute, his desire that the trade union's activities on the political side shall be made effective, shall be duly observed. The only condition that will enable political action to be taken for people who have expressed their willingness and have themselves voluntarily signed—not people brought in who are indifferent or suffering from inertia—is that it can only be made effective if we fix a definite time within which the responsibility which the member has voluntarily shown himself willing to undertake, shall be determined.
Take the ease of a man joining a union in August, and within a fortnight he expresses his willingness, by signing, to pay the political levy. That willingness can only be carried out, according to the Bill, for five months. I am taking the right hon. Gentleman's argument as being perfectly clear, and that it is the view of the Government, as it is ours, that it is most desirable that when political action is taken on behalf of willing members, whose willingness has been obtained by the process set out in the Bill, effect shall be given to that desire. Effective action will be impossible in anything less than the 12 months' period which we are asking the Government to accept. Putting it at the very most, a man's declaration of willingness may be given in the middle of the year, so that it would have to go on for six months. The caprice that might be exercised during that six months would render the political action of the union impossible. I have been in trade union life as an official probably longer than any man in this House, and I have been on the political side actively from the very first, and, knowing as we do, how difficult it is to maintain continuous political activity, we do say that there should be a definite time limit within which the caprice of a member can be exercised. That would enable us to carry out what the Government say they desire as far as effective, political action is concerned, for willing members. I do appeal to the Attorney-General to meet us on this point.
The right hon. Gentleman has put his point clearly, plainly and very fairly, and the point between us is not a very big one. He says it is important that every one who once joins the political fund should join for a definite period. I quite agree. He says it is important that the trade unions shall know what kind of fund they are to have from year to year. Again I agree. He put the case of a new member who joins in August or in the middle of the year, and gives his notice of willingness to pay the levy. The great bulk of members will not be new members; the membership of a trade union does not change so much as that from year to year. The right hon. Gentleman appreciates that once a. notice has been given it remains operative until it is withdrawn. When once a man has joined a trade union and given notice of his willingness to subscribe to the political fund, he has not to give fresh notice next year. The notice automatically carries on from year to year, unless and until a withdrawal notice is given.
The only point between us is whether it is more convenient that when a man wants to give notice of withdrawal he shall give a notice which becomes effective at the end of the year in which he gives the notice, or whether the notice shall become effective at the end of 12 months after he has given it. It seems to us more convenient administratively, and from the point of view of simplicity, that notice given in any year shall become operative on the following 1st January. That means that on the 1st January in every year the trade union will know to a penny what will be the minimum amount of political levy that it will receive during that year, because in the case of a person who gave notice on the 2nd January, the notice would not become operative until the following 1st January. At the beginning of each year the trade unions will know what the political fund will be, and in all probability they will know pretty correctly long before that. What we provide is, that if any man in any one year gives notice that he wants to withdraw from the political fund, he shall, nevertheless, be compelled to go on paying until the end of the year in which his notice is given, and he becomes free on 1st January of the following year. That is much simpler, and it is easier to work, administratively. I do not think in money there is much difference between us. It is only a matter of convenience, and on the ground of convenience I cannot accept the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman.
On a point of Order. Does the withdrawal of the previous Amendment on which a general discussion was taken, prevent us from continuing the general discussion? If so, it puts some of us at a very serious disadvantage, because we are not so much concerned with a particular Amendment as with the whole implications involved in the Clause itself.
I am afraid that is so. The Mover of the previous Amendment having asked to withdraw it, and no one having objected to the withdrawal, the Amendment on which the general discussion took place has disappeared, and discussion on subsequent Amendments must be confined to the matter contained in those Amendments. There is nothing to prevent us from having a discussion on Sub-section (2), and then it might be possible on Friday to have a general discussion on the Question, "That the Clause stand part." We cannot have a general discussion on an earlier Amendment, and a general discussion on later Amendments.
Having regard to what has taken place, may I ask for your guidance? First we had a general discussion on two Amendments, which the Government were good enough to accept. Then it was understood that if we moved the next Amendment the general discussion would continue. We were not aware that if we withdrew our Amendment that it would limit the discussion on subsequent Amendments. I should like, if we can, to meet the wishes of the Committee and of certain hon. Members who have been sitting here for some time hoping to take part in a general discussion. With that object in view, I suggest that we might spend the hour that is available until the.
I have to consider not only the convenience of the moment, but what will happen if I set a precedent in these matters. Of course, I am anxious to consult the convenience of hon. Members on both sides. What I suggest is that we should dispose of this particular Amendment and then we should start with Sub-section (2), which offers a wide scope, and in the discussion on that I should not rule too closely. Then we could have a general discussion on Friday on the Question, "That the Clause stand part."
|Division No. 151.]||AYES.||[9.27p. m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Cope, Major William||Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootie)|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Couper, J. B.||Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.|
|Ainsworth, Major Charles||Courtauld, Major J. S.||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)|
|Albery, Irving James||Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islington, N.,||Hilton, Cecil|
|Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)||Crott, Brigadier-General Sir H.||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W.||Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||Hohier, Sir Gerald Fitzroy|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney,)|
|Atkinson, C.||Cunliffe, Sir Herbert||Hume, Sir G. H.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Davidson, Major-General Sir J.H.||Hume-Williams, Sir W. Ellis|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Hunter-Weston, Lt. -Gen. Sir Aylmer|
|Balniel, Lord||Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)||Iliffe, Sir Edward M.|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Davies, Dr. Vernon||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.|
|Berry, Sir George||Dean, Arthur Wellestey||Jacob, A. E.|
|Bethel, A.||Drewe, C.||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Duckworth, John||Jephcott, A. R.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Eden, Captain Anthony||Joynson-Hicks, Rt. Hon. Sir William|
|Bowyer, Captain G. E. W.||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Elveden, Viscount||Kidd, J. (Linlithgow)|
|Brass, Captain W.||England, Colonel A.||Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Erskine, James Malcolm Montelth||Knox, Sir Alfred|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Everard, W. Lindsay||Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Looker, Herbert William|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Fanshawe, Captain G. D.||Lougher, Lewis|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'i'd., Hexham)||Fermoy, Lord||Luce. Major-Gen. Sir Richard Herman|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y)||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Lemley, L. R.|
|Buchan, John||Foxcroft, Captain C. T.||Lynn, Sir R. J.|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen|
|Burman, J. B.||Gadie, Lieut.-Col. Anthony||Maclntyre, Ian|
|Burton, Colonel H. W.||Ganzonl, Sir John||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm|
|Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Gates, Percy||McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John|
|Butt, Sir Alfred||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Macquisten, F. A.|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Grace, John||Makins, Brigadier-General E.|
|Carver, Major W.H.||Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)||Malone, Major P.P.|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Grant, Sir J. A.||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Greaves-Lord, Sir Walter||Margesson, Captain D.|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Greene, W.P. Crawford||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.|
|Chapman, Sir S.||Grotrian, H. Brent||Mason, Lieut.-Colonel Glyn K.|
|Charteris, Brigadier-General J.||Gunston, Captain D.W.||Meyer, Sir Frank|
|Chlicott, Sir Warden||Hanbury, C.||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streathem)|
|Christie, J. A.||Harrison, G. J. C.||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred|
|Clayton, G. C.||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T.C.R. (Ayr)|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Haslam, Henry C.||Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)|
|Cohen, Major J. Brunei||Hawke, John Anthony||Nail, Colonel Sir Joseph|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C.M.||Nelson, Sir Frank|
|Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn.W.G. (Ptrst'ld.)||Samuel, Samuel (W'dtworth, Putney)||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert||Sandeman, N. Stewart||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Nuttall, Ellis||Sanders, Sir Robert A.||Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Oakley, J.||Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W. R., Sowerby)||Watts, Dr. T.|
|Oman, Sir Charles William C.||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley||Wells, S. R.|
|Perkins, Colonel E. K.||Shepperson, E. W.||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)|
|Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)||Slaney, Major P. Kenyon||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Plicher, G.||Smith, R. w. (Aberd'n & Kinc'dine. C.)||Wilson, Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)|
|Power, Sir John Cecil||Smith-Carington, Neville W.||Wilson, M. J. (York, N. R., Richm'd)|
|Preston, William||Smithers, Waldron||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Price, Major C. W. M.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Radford, E. A.||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Will'sden, E.)||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Raine, W.||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)||Withers, John James|
|Rawson, Sir Cooper||Storry-Deans, R.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Remnant, Sir James||Styles, Captain H. Walter||Womersley, W. J.|
|Rentoul, G. S.||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)|
|Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.||Tasker, R. Inlgo.||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Rice, Sir Frederick||Templeton, W. P.||Worthington, Evans, Rt. Hen. Sir L.|
|Ropner, Major L.||Thom, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)||Wragg, Herbert|
|Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)||Young, Rt. Hon. Hilton (Norwich)|
|Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)||Turton, Sir Edmund Russborough|
|Rye, F. G.||Wallace, Captain D. E.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Salmon, Major I.||Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)||Captain Viscount Curzon and Mr. Penny.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock)||Hardie, George D.||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Shiels, Dr. Drummond|
|Ammon, Charles George||Hayes, John Henry||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Baker, J. (Wolverhampton, Bliston)||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Smillie, Robert|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Henderson, T. (Glasgow)||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Batey, Joseph||Hirst, G. H.||Snell, Harry|
|Bondfield, Margaret||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Broad, F. A.||Hore-Belisha, Leslie||Stamford, T. W.|
|Bromfield, William||Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield)||Stephen, Campbell|
|Bromley, J.||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Strauss, E. A.|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith),||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Sullivan, Joseph|
|Buchanan, G.||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Sutton, J. E.|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Clowes, S.||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Thomson, Trevalyan (Middlesbro, W.)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Kelly, W. T.||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Compton, Joseph||Kennedy, T.||Thurtle, Ernest|
|Cove, W. G.||Kirkwood, D.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||Lansbury, George||Varley, Frank B.|
|Crawfurd, H. E.||Lawrence, Susan||Viant, S. P.|
|Dalton, Hugh||Lawson, John James||Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Lee, F.||Watson, W. M. (Duntermilne)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lindley, F. W.||Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)|
|Day Colonel Harry||Lowth, T.||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Dennison, R.||Lunn, William||Wellock, Wilfred|
|Duncan, C.||Mackinder, W.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Dunnico, H.||March, S.||Westwood, J|
|Evans Capt. Ernest (Welsh Unlver.)||Maxton, James||Whiteley, W.|
|Fenby, T. D.||Murnin, H.||Wiggins, William Martin|
|Gardner, J. P.||Oliver, George Harold||Wilkinson, Ellen C.|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Palin, John Henry||Williams, David (Swansea, East)|
|Gillett, George M.||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Lianelly)|
|Gosling, Harry||Potts, John S.||Wilson. R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Greenall, T.||Riley, Ben||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W. R., Elland)||Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr. Charles|
|Grundy, T. W.||Saklatvala, ShapurJI||Edwards.|
|Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
I beg to move, in page 4, line 30, to leave out Subsection (2).
Hon. Members opposite may not be aware that a large number of trade unions do not collect the political levy as a separate contribution. The union which I know best, that is my own union, have a weekly contribution of so much, and at the end of the year they take out of the gross contributions of the members so much per year, 6d. or 1s., for political purposes. It works quite well, and I do not see any reason why it should not continue, as it inflicts no hardship on a considerable portion of the community, namely, the members of the trade unions. It is simply a difference in machinery, and we are moving the deletion of this Sub-section so that when this Bill is passed it will leave us to manage our own business in what we think is the best way for the purposes of our accounts.
I desire to support the Amendment. Different unions have different ways of collecting the political levy. In the organisation to which I belong the members pay their regular contributions, and then quarterly pay 6d. for management, incidentals and political purposes combined. The members pay this contribution quarterly, irrespective of their weekly contributions, and then the whole of the money is forwarded to the general office, and 2d. out of that 6d. is allocated for the purposes of the political fund. The other 4d. is divided in this way: Twopence goes back to the branch for incidental expenses in connection with members who may have got into arrears through illness or a long term of unemployment, who apply for assistance, and assistance is given in this way. The other 2d. goes for branch expenses and for assistance to convalescent homes. We shall find, probably, some little difficulty with regard to the quarterly payments if we have to keep separate accounts. Some would pay 4d. quarterly, and others 6d. quarterly, I am not going to say that it could not be separated. It can be done; nothing is impossible, but at the same time it will upset the machinery of the trade unions to some extent, and cause some difficulty to secretaries of branches, who will have to find out which members are paying 4d. quarterly and which members are paying 6d.
I suppose I am correct in assuming that under this Amendment we may discuss, a little more fully than has been permitted on the last two Amendments, the general question with regard to this Clause. If that be so, I should like to say that, if I have understood the last two hon. Members aright, their organisations have not had a political levy in the ordinary sense. The political levy has been mixed up with management and other forms of expenditure.
I still think that I am correct in what I said, that the money, the political levy, is collected with other moneys, and according to the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Mackinder) after the contribution has been collected by his own organisation the political portion is taken out. Personally, I entirely oppose that principle. If you are going to have a political levy it should be one pure and simple, and not one that is hid, or can be hid, among other funds and payments. We should know clearly when we pay what we are paying for. But I wanted to say a few words, not so much on that point as upon other aspects of the speeches which have been made by hon. Members opposite during the course of the general discussion. Let me refer to the speech delivered by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston). If he will forgive me for saying it, I appreciated it very much, and I look forward and hope to live long enough to see him occupy a higher position in the counsels of his party than that which he occupies now. Yet he in his effort to show how wicked we are on this side and how pure hon. Members are on the other side, said that many of us were supported out of a party fund that was gathered together by shameful methods. If that is true, I ought to be ashamed of myself, because I have been supported entirely out of party funds in my effort to get into this House. The difference lies in this, however, that what money I have had I have had out of the rich, and what money some of my friends on the other side have had they have had out of the poor.
The hon. Member can be assured from me that I never shall take notice of what he says. The only point that I tried to make, and hon. Members opposite can see the humour of it, is that it is far better to get money out of the rich than out of the poor. I do not want to have to remind some hon. Members how they have lived out of the poor, unless they challenge me. My point with regard to this levy is not so much that I have sympathy with those men who have not said that they do not want to pay it Some of them have not moral courage enough to open their mouths. That is not my objection so much. My objection has been unhesitatingly that the political levy has been the source of the destruction largely of the industrial activity of trade unions. I was told by a certain lady a few nights ago that I belonged to the past generation. I do not mind it. The past generation of workmen had as high a consideration of their class as the present. They did not require a political levy to stir them onward. They joined their organisations and kept to them from an industrial standpoint. My objection to a political levy is no because of the want of moral courage on the part of some men, but because by the operation of it my friends on the other side have made their first principle political action and their second principle industrial activity. If we can get rid of that aspect, I for one shall feel that the work of my generation, not of me, has not been in vain.
It seems to me as if we are getting into the sere and yellow leaf of the principles for which we as trade unionists stood in the days when all men of all political parties were welcomed within the ranks. Hence I say that I vote against the continuation of a principle that makes working men's representatives politicians instead of industrial leaders. It is largely because of that, that I take up my attitude against the political levy. I want to call attention to something that was put into my hands only yesterday.
It was issued from Eccleston Square. I have not been in Eccleston Square, and so I do not know what sort of place it is. I know there is some good that can come out of it, but I do not see it. This is a little pamphlet with a beautiful picture of Mr. Pecksniff, and questions and answers. It say:—
Who permits his party to be financed from the sale of honours and secret subsidies from wealthy men?
That is me.
Who is planning to prevent working people from subscribing honestly earned pennies to their own party?
Hon. Members opposite get something out of that.
And I do better than you. I resent this pamphlet because it is an imputation on an honest man that he desires the oppression of men whom hon. Members represent. He does not. What he says and what I would say is that there is no objection to Labour having a political party. The Independent Labour party was nothing until it dragged in the trade unions. There is no objection to a political party for Labour, but let it be an independent party which does not rely for its existence on trade unions. This pamphlet caricatures the Prime Minister as one who is anxious to destroy the lives or the liberties or the uplifting of the workers. What the right hon. Gentleman aims for is what we aim for. We do not aim for hon. Members opposite because we would not have them —[Interruption.] I know I am rather tempted sometimes to be personal, but I cannot help that, and I am going to retort. What I say as a workman, in this House and in the country, is that it requires a political party, if you like to put the workmen's view; but do not bind every workman of every political opinion in your union to follow in your wake. I admit that you cannot make a man like me follow in your wake, but there are many men who have to do so and many who follow because of the fear of what may happen if they do not.
I would never charge branches or officials with oppression of the men. But I do say, and hon. Members opposite know it, that there are other ways of oppression besides the officialism of an organisation. It can be put into operation in a quiet and pressing manner that makes many men follow in the track of the wheels that hon. Members opposite turn round, or along with them. Hence I say that I oppose this political levy because I want to free, if I dare and could, all types of workmen who are trade unionists truthfully and to the backbone, and who want freedom of political thought. Have your own political opinions and party if you like but do not let other men have to help to pay for it when you are strong enough and good enough to pay for yourself. Hence I say that on this general question of the political levy, while I do not bother my head about those who are so fearful, I am concerned about the broad principle for the sake of the trade unionists' future and the opportunities which they ought to have of bettering their conditions and the conditions of their fellows. On that ground I support the policy of freeing them from any political party whether it be this party or the party opposite. I support the policy of giving them freedom of political action while allowing them to combine for the principle of trade unionism on which their progress, their benefit and their continued industry depend.
I am sure the Committee will agree with me when I say that the hon. Member who has just sat down possesses at least one splendid quality, and that is honesty; because he has made the most remarkable confession I have ever heard from a workman. He has told us quite frankly that he gets his money out of the rich; and I presume that he never inquires from where the rich get their money. There is just another remark I wish to make concerning the hon. Member's speech. He has been lecturing us on this side of the Committee to-night.
He has told us that we should leave politics alone and devote the whole of our attention to industrial activities. But, lo and behold, what has the hon. Member himself done? He has apparently left trade union industrial activities and has come to this House, at the expense of the rich, as he himself informed us.
They seemed to know their man, anyhow. The hon. Member has not only opposed the policy of the Labour party on this Clause but he has supported this Bill from the very beginning. He has been consistently an anti trade unionist since the commencement, of these discussions. He has, I believe, spoken on two occasions on this Bill; and the burden of his remarks was that there is a natural division between the industrial and political activities of trade unions. I have been a trade unionist since I was eligible for membership; and I have never been able yet to draw that distinction. I will give a case to illustrate my point which may have some effect upon the mind of the hon. Member. It fell to me in 1916 to lead a strike of women engaged in a laundry in the West of England, and I found that about 200 of them were employed for 65 hours a week at 8s. 6d. per week. That was only 11 years ago. The trade union brought those women out on strike, but the employer defeated our efforts; and when trade unionism failed to emancipate those women, I took it upon myself to agitate that they should be brought under a Trade Board. I turned to political action to achieve that end, and they were finally brought under a Trade Board. Case after case can be quoted where employers have defeated the workers in industry and in which the workers have later secured redress on the Floor of the House of Commons. That is why we recognise that political action ought to be part of the duty of a trade union. Clause 4, in my view, may turn out to be the most important Clause of the Measure. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, from my point of view it is a most important Clause, and I will explain why I make that statement. You cannot have a general strike every week; you do not see a sympathetic strike every day, and it is very rare that intimidation is proved in connection with trade union activities. But with regard to political activities it is the duty of the trade union every day to deal in political activities. This is, therefore, a most important Clause of the Bill.
By means of this Clause the Government are endeavouring to cripple the Labour party; and if they were honest they would tell us definitely that they are seeking to destroy us. They will not, of course, succeed in that attempt. They are introducting a new principle here which does not apply to any other benefit of a trade union. The principle of contracting in is not applied to the sickness or unemployment benefits of a trade union. Why is not the same principle applied to other benefits? There is no contracting in or out in the National Health Insurance or the Unemployment Insurance, or in relation to Income Tax or the payment of rates. What would happen if the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is very foolish sometimes, were to be so foolish as to declare that as from 1st January, 1928, no one need pay Income Tax except those who expressed the desire so to do. There is no patriotic Tory in the land who would come forward to pay Income Tax under those conditions. I say therefore that the introduction of the contracting in principle, in relation to this particular benefit is based upon spite and political malice. Strangely enough the trade union will still be entitled to give legal aid to all its members, Liberal, Socialist and Tory alike, but will not under this Clause be entitled to give political aid to all its members. Let me pass to another consideration in connection with this Clause. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) whatever differences we may have about his speeches on this Bill, delivered himself of a very notable sentence during the Second Reading Debate. The Conservative party have been enamoured of the statements of the right hon. and learned Gentleman on this Bill, and I hope they will agree also with the passage which I am about to quote:
I do not think it is unreasonable that a body like a trade union, which has decided upon having a political fund, should not 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. 1650, Vol. 205.]
I wonder what would happen to a trade union if it joined the Tory party. I am sure of one thing, that if the control of the trade unions in this country were in
the hands of the type of the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, the Tory party would not complain in the least. If Tory leaders of the trade unions exploited the inertia of the members the other way about all would be well I suppose. There is proof of that fact, because I was a member of a trade union before the trade union movement was allowed in law to establish a political fund. I paid my contribution to that trade union when it was represented in this House by a Liberal. [Interruption.] There was no complaint from any quarter then. He was a very intelligent Liberal too, more so than some of those produced to-day. [Interruption.] I take it that if the trade unions had continued to send to the House of Commons Liberal and Tory Members, nothing would have been done by way of introducing a Clause of this kind. It is the independence, the political independence of the workers, that has offended the Tory party and the present Government.
I repeat that the Clause is based entirely on political spite, and is deliberately intended to cripple the Labour party. I have only a few further words to say. I have a suspicion that the Conservatives in this country are becoming alarmed at the growth of the Labour party; they fear its political power and the impress that it leaves upon the legislation of this land. Those who are interested at all in the history of social and industrial legislation in this country will bear me out when I say that up to the advent of independent political thought among the working people of this country the only help financially that they could ever secure from the State or the municipalities was from the Poor Law system. But since the Labour movement became independent in politics, and expressed itself upon the floor of the House of Commons, there have been passed a considerable number of Measures of social legislation which have helped them in distress and secured some financial aid to them. I may run over some of the enactments which have passed through the House of Commons merely as the result of pressure from Labour organisations. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) would claim credit for his party for a large number of those which I am about to mention. The Workmen's Compensation Act was passed through the House of Commons merely because of the agitation of organised labour. It matters very little what Government pass a Measure; it is the opinion created outside this House which matters and not the Government which pass a Measure. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health mentioned the case of Widows' Pensions. I sat here in 1923, and moved a Motion in favour of widowed mothers' pensions, and every Conservative in the House then voted against that Motion except two.
I was just coming to the point at issue, and I was trying to prove that the intention of the Government in introducing this Clause was to prevent the Labour party from functioning in Parliament as the trade unions desire it should. I was trying to point out on this Clause that the Conservatives are jealous of the good work that has been accomplished by the Labour movement for the working folk of this land.
We have been informed that the Tory party is anxious to rescue working men from the tyranny of the unions. I wish sometimes that the trade unions were as strong as hon. Members opposite claim they are. It is strange that hon. Gentlemen who belong to a profession very well organised, very powerful in the State, should talk about freedom; that they, above all, advocate that members of trade unions should not suffer intimidation from their fellows. I know one profession, represented on that bench. If a member of it offends one of the rules of the organisation of that profession, he is neither entitled to employment in the town where he lives nor, as far as I know, in any part of the Empire.
Therefore, it ill-becomes hon. Members on that side of the Committee to criticise trade unions for the action they take in connection with certain people who belong to their organisation. This Clause, I presume, will be carried by the usual majority behind the Government, but there is a day of reckoning to come. That day of reckoning will not be in connection with the passage of this Bill; the working people of this country will realise very soon what the intentions of the Government really are. When we are informed by hon. Members opposite that there is no enthusiasm behind the campaign of the Labour party, I would like to tell the Committee that the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite came to the city where I live the other night and addressed a meeting in a large hall. I want the Committee to compare the enthusiasm of the respective parties. The Labour party, in that very same hall a week before, had a very much larger audience than had the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I know exactly what happened, and I say that we are confident that the vast majority of the working people in this country know full well the intentions of the Tory party. I feel sure that, whatever happens in this House on this Bill, when that way of reckoning comes the Tory Government will know exactly what the working people feel about this Measure.
The hen. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), in the course of a somewhat laboured defence of the Amendment, took upon himself to say that my hon. Friend the Member for the Yardley Division (Mr. Jephcott) had been consistently anti-trade unionist throughout all his speeches on this Bill. I have listened, I believe, to all the speeches of my hon. Friend, and I think it is within the recollection of every other hon. Member present who has had the great satisfaction of listening to those speeches that all of them have been ardently trade unionist. The hon. Member for Westhoughton went on to say, not only in a casual manner, without full consideration, but with great emphasis, that it is the every-day duty of trade unionists to engage in political activities, showing that in his mind at least the trade unions, the craft organisations of this country, are not merely to be used for the furtherance of the interests of the craftsmen who subscribe to them, but are to become instruments at the beck and call of what is now called the Labour party, a political machine in this country.
I think the arguments in support of this Clause, and in particular of Sub-section (2) are extremely simple. I have Iistened to many speeches from the benches opposite, and have fairly tried to glean information which would shake the fundamental principles of the sound convictions which should animate us all, but I have not heard any such argument adduced. I take my stand on one very simple thing. If there is one right which every man has in a civilised society, in a great community such as that in which we exist, it is that he should have secured to him by the accredited Government absolute freedom, politically and economically. Can hon. Members opposite adduce any solid reason why a man, beyond becoming a member of a trade union—which, I think it is agreed, he must become in the ordinary course before he goes out to seek employment—should automatically at that moment become a subscriber to a political fund? [An Mug. MEMBER: "He does not."] It is beyond challenge that when a man to-day joins a trade union he automatically becomes a contributor to a political fund. [Hog. MEMBERS "No."] I think I am stating something which is not a matter of argument.
The hon. Member says he has been here listening all the time to the speeches that have been made, but I gave an instance where a man does not automatically become a contributor.
Will the hon. and gallant Member allow me to pursue my argument and to make it beyond any question of controversy? I say that any man on joining a trade union which has a political fund—and that covers the greater portion of the trade unions—automatically becomes a subscriber to a political fund, and it follows clearly that any man with the right to hold his own political views ought not to be put in that position. That is the fundamental principle on which we ask that a man should have the right to contract in and not to contract out. I think most hon. Members opposite will believe it to be right that a man should have his freedom politically, and if the trade unions grant that fact, they will have greater strength and greater power of political action, because people who feel as they feel—and let us assume that there is a great bias among the workers to follow a political school of thought which is at least called a Labour school of thought—will naturally draw into their ranks people with a genuine political faith, and not, as they have to-day, people who are compelled, who are brought in because they automatically become subscribers to a political faith, and who have ultimately to go out of that faith instead of giving expression to it. I feel there is only one principle involved in this matter, and that is to maintain for the people their right to their political liberty. To support the activities of trade unions as craft unions, to allow the trade unions, if they are so disposed, to throw the weight of the political opinions within the trade union on the side of one political party—that is quite right, that is their own business; but let us do what we can to free individuals from being compelled to support one political school of thought by reason of their having become members of a craft union.
I have long had a great admiration for the hon. Member for the Westhoughton Division (Mr. Rhys Davies), but I did not know until to-night that he was a descendant of the Fifth Monarchy men. They had a threefold creed. Article No. I of their creed was:
The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof;
He hath given the same to his saints.
Article No. 3:
We are his saints.
It would appear from his remarks that he is a lineal descendant of that body, who, in the 16th century, held that everything they did was right and that everything that everybody else did was wrong. He takes to himself, and to those who are associated with him, the credit for all the legislation for the benefit of the people that has ever been passed in the last 20 years, and appears to have a genuine contempt for the members of my party who are on these benches, an attitude with which we must
endeavour to bear as best we can. I suppose the hon. Member rather thought that he was on the other side of the House, standing at the Table as the representative of the Home Office, and was therefore entitled to assume the position of a judge. I would like to remind him also of the Victorian poet who prayed
God give us no more great men but elevate all men,
We can only put up with the judgment of the hon. Member and come to the conclusion that he agrees with the poet's prayer and that it has been answered.
With regard to the Clause—[Laughter]. I am sure the hon. Member, as he trailed his coat, does not mind my trampling on it a little bit. With regard to the Clause, there are a number of hon. Members who think there is a passionate desire on the part of the bulk of the people to subscribe to these funds, whereas hon. Members opposite seem to think that every trade unionist who is not a Socialist is being intimidated into subscribing to the levy. I have here a letter from a Liberal trade unionist from Wales. He says:
I am a Liberal, but we are all agreed down here"—