I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In view of what has just been said about the acoustics of the House, I think I must begin by way of apology for my voice. 1 shall try to make it heard in every quarter of the House, but it is still suffering a little from the effects of influenza. I must ask the House to bear with me in that respect.
I learn from the evening newspapers which settle policy for hon. Members opposite, that this Bill is to be the subject of fierce and bitter contest at every stage. I certainly do not complain of that. There may be some who think that hon. Members on the opposite side of the House might be more prudent to reserve such intellectual powder and shot as they have got for the more fundamental matters which the House has to consider from time to time, but I would not presume to advise on a matter of that sort.
If the hon. Gentleman will wait and listen, if he understands he will see why. The language of hyperbole has been so lavishly used about this Bill; the campaign which has been conducted against it by the Conservative Party in the country outside has been so characterised by political misrepresentation and chicanery, and so divorced from the facts relating to this matter, that I think I ought, at the very outset, to try to put the- matter in its proper perspective and explain, if I can, in a sentence or two, what this Bill does not do, and what it does. Those who say, as Conservative propagandists outside this House have said— we shall wait to hear whether they repeat it here— that this is a Bill which is intended to legalise and encourage the. general strike are saying that which is. completely false. This Bill will legalise nothing that was illegal in 1927.
In so far as this Bill improves, as it undoubtedly will improve, the atmosphere in industry— [Interruption]. Hon. Members should try to view this matter with detachment, and free-from political prejudice, and they would do well to remember that for 20 years the Act of 1927 has been a sore, a small sore, it may be, but a running sore, which has debilitated our industrial body politic, and, to the extent that we remove it and improve the atmosphere in industry, this Bill will make strikes even less likely than they are at the present time. If this country should ever be faced— and I hope it will not— with the misfortune of a recurrence of a general strike, then at least this Bill will avoid a conflict with the law which, in existing circumstances, the law would inevitably lose with grave constitutional results.
Those who say, as Conservative propagandists outside this House have from time to time been saying, that this Bill is an attack upon the freedom and liberty of the individual, are saying something which they must know to be completely untrue. This Bill, in fact, restores certain hard-won and important individual freedoms, and it does so without threatening the liberty of any one in the slightest degree. Those who pretend, as Conservative propagandists outside this House have pretended, that this Bill is designed to compel people to contribute to political funds when they do not desire so to do, are saying that which is a grotesque travesty of the facts as established by previous experience. On the other hand— and let me say this quite frankly— this is really quite a modest little Bill. I am not going to pretend to the House— and I give hon. Members opposite the point at once— that this Bill is intended to make any great contribution to the building up of a new Heaven and a new earth. Of course it is not. This Bill plays only an indirect, and, in some senses, a psycho- logical part in the Government's programme, but what it will do— and at least it will do this— will be to remove from the Statute Book an Act of Parliament, the perpetuation of which, in existing circumstances, is an undoubted and historical injustice.
Quite frankly, looking back at the 1927 legislation now, one can see that it very largely failed to achieve the purposes for which its supporters hoped and which many of its opponents feared. It had no practical effect whatever on the exercise of the right to strike— not a scrap. It imposed some inconvenience on the organisation of the trade unions. Also, although it resulted in what I suggest to the House was a wholly unjustifiable but not really significant diminution in the political funds of the trade unions, it did nothing to prevent the trade unions and the Labour Party going on from strength to strength. What it did do— and this is its importance, because we must get rid of this, if we are to maintain and strengthen the better feeling between both sides of industry which manifested itself during the war— was to create among the great mass of the working people of this country a bitter sense of injustice, a feeling that the courts of their country had been turned against them, a belief that the law had been vindictively manipulated to their disadvantage, and a feeling that their hard-won right to withhold their labour if they chose, which, after all, is the inalienable right of every free man, had been whittled away. It is to remove that sense of injustice, to do away with these unwarranted restrictions upon the rights of individuals as individuals, or in association together, that this Bill is presented to the House.
May I very diffidently express a view and a hope about the conduct of our discussion of this Bill? We all look forward to many important contributions from hon. and learned Members of this House, but I hope the fact that I, as Attorney-General, am moving the Second Reading of this Bill will not give a legal complexion to the whole of our proceedings. This discussion, if I may say so, ought not to become a kind of lawyers' holiday as did the Debates in 1927 and 1931. Never was so much legal advice given by so many at so small a cost, unless, indeed, it was to the professional reputations of those who give it, for never was confusion worse confounded, or obscurity more obscured than it was at the end of the 22 or 27 days of the discussion of the original Act in 1927. The House is, of course, entitled to be advised on the legal implications of this Bill, and, for my part, I shall do my best, as I am sure will other hon. and learned Members, to advise the House on the legal aspects of the matter, with complete detachment. But, at bottom, the matters involved in this legislation are matters of common sense and of policy. I am very conscious of the fact that a legal qualification gives one no particular or special right to speak about these matters.
May I, then, at the outset, refer to matters which are of a non-legal nature? I shall do so quite shortly, with regard to the circumstances in which the 1927 legislation came to be passed. I do it not intending for a moment to revive old and, I hope, out-worn antagonisms, nor to discuss the merits of the matter as at that time, but in order to show the House, if I can, that the reasons, if any there were, which supported the 1927 legislation have long since ceased to have any kind of practical reality. So much so, indeed, that anybody who looks at this matter now with detachment, objectively, unbiased by any preconceived theories, must realise that the 1927 Act is as clear and as iniquitous a piece of discriminatory class legislation as was ever placed upon the Statute Book. What were the reasons and the motives behind the 1927 legislation? There were, I suggest, three. Each one194—they may be none the worse for this—was, in some sense, a motive of fear. There was, first, the very natural, right and proper fear of a repetition of that tragic occurrence—
The hon. Member is entitled to complain that he is unable to hear because of the chatter of other hon. Members, but it does not entitle him to refer to them as a group of political nondescripts.
I was saying that the first motive behind the Act of 1927, and what was put forward as the primary motive then—it will be very interesting to see whether, in this Debate, it will be a matter to which primary importance is attached—was the general strike of 1926 and the fear of a repetition of that occurrence which had caused such damage to the community. People were, very properly, naturally and rightly anxious to ensure that there should be no repetition of a general stoppage of that kind in this country, and, accordingly, the Conservative Government at that time took the view, rather I suppose on the King Canute principle, that the proper way to prevent a general strike occurring in future, was to prohibit it by Statute, by an Act of Parliament.
That was the main reason. It was not the only reason. There were other reasons and motives behind the 1927 legislation which were, perhaps, less laudable; certainly they had nothing whatever to do with the general strike. I think the House will agree with me when I say that there were probably two of them of main importance. One was' the fear which may have been right or wrong—I am not attempting to discuss the merits of the matter—of the growing power, both in political and in industrial matters, of the trade unions. There were those at that time, though I do not suppose there are many now, who had not perhaps fully recognised that, with the growing economic complexity of our national life, with the increasing intervention of Parliament in economic and in industrial matters, it was inevitable that the trade unions should concern themselves more and more with political problems; and there were those who disliked the growing interest of the trade unions in political matters.
Then there were those who were afraid of the increasing power of the trade unions in industry—their amalgamations, their increasing membership, and so on. I think it is right to say that there were not many important industrialists who took that view, but there were at that time in this House not a few who believed in liberty, not the liberty in which we believe, but the liberty of the employer at a time of great unemployment to exploit as he chose the unorganised workmen whom he might choose to employ. Those people, rightly or wrongly, feared the growth of the trade unions in those respects. Then, of course, there were the others, who viewed with some dismay the increasing power of the political Labour Party. They laboured under the odd delusion that the Labour Party was being built upon the hard-earned pennies of honest Conservatives, who were too timid to declare their true political colours and were being bullied by horrid, nasty trade unionists into supporting the political funds of the Party to which they were so much opposed.
Those were, as many hon. Members will remember far better than I do, the three main reasons and motives behind the 1927 legislation at the time it was introduced. Where are they now? Where is a single one of them? I suggest to the House that they have all disappeared into the same kind of oblivion which surrounds most of the lawyers and most of the politicians who were responsible for putting this piece of shameful legislation on the Statute Book. One has to realise, as, indeed, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) said about this matter, that the atmosphere today is very different from the atmosphere on the morrow of 1926, or the atmosphere on the morrow of 1927. it is not only that the trades unions and the trade unionists have demonstrated, if any demonstration were needed, their essential loyalty to the State. Only the other day, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford was referring to the inestimable debt which we owe to the trade unions for what they did for the country during the war.
I will deal with the dock strike. It is also the case that we have realised, because of our experience of unofficial strikes during the war, that it is utterly impossible to prohibit strikes and prevent them by processes of the criminal law. Because of that very' fact, and many others, most people nowadays realise that it is in the interests, not only of industry but of the State to have strong and powerful trade unions of which all the workers in industry are members, and which are able to guide and to lead their members. I would have thought it would be difficult to find any stronger argument against the continuance of the 1927 legislation than our experience of unofficial strikes during the war. I shall come back to this matter in connection with the actual legal implications of this Bill.
As for the other reasons for the 1927 legislation, I can pass them by in a word. There was, indeed, some reduction in the political funds of the trades unions. I will give some more information about that in a few minutes. The trade unions have increased their membership enormously, and increased198—and it is very fortunate that they have increased—their influence and their power both in industry and in political matters. So far as the growth of the Labour Party is concerned, well, here we are and here we are going to remain for a very long time to come. There is this final circumstance which hon. Members opposite may find it impossible completely to disregard, however much they seek to divorce themselves from the facts of this situation. Since 1927. this matter has been submitted to the verdict of the people. I am not going to use the word "mandate ". It was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford himself who said, shortly before the General Election, that this very matter ought to be submitted to the verdict of the people—that was at a time when he took the view that the verdict was going another way—and that the verdict of the people ought to govern the way in which it was dealt with in the new Parliament. Well, here we are, in the new Parliament, and it will be, perhaps, for hon. Members on this side of the House to see that the view which the right hon. Gentleman then expressed is implemented, and that the verdict of the people is fulfilled by the repeal of this Statute.
I come at once to the legal effect and the legal implications of this Bill. It is a repealing Bill, and it may be for the convenience of the House if in dealing with it, as I shall try to do, in as non technical a way as I can, I take each of the material Sections of the 1927 Act, and try to indicate what their effect was, and what the position of the law will be when they arc, as they will be, swept away. The main object, or what was alleged to be the main object or purpose of the Act—1 am far from committing myself to the view that it was the main purpose of the Act—as it was presented to the House in 1927 was achieved by the first Section which prohibited certain kinds of strikes.
Although at that time Lord Birkenhead, Sir Douglas Hogg, the then Attorney-General, Sir Walter Greaves-Lord and others who advised the Government, took great pride in this Section, said that it was one of the most carefully considered and carefully drafted Sections that had ever been presented to Parliament—and I am mentioning this merely to explain my difficulty in telling the House the effect of it—one of our greatest Lords Chief Justice, Lord Reading, said of it:
The language used is more vague and indefinite than the language of any Bill I ever remember seeing.
Therefore the House will bear with me if I am not able to make the effect of this legislation very clear. The general effect was this. It made a strike illegal if it had any object other than or in addition to the furtherance of a trade dispute in the industry immediately affected by the strike, and was intended or likely to coerce the Government, either directly or by inflicting hardship on the community. It further made illegal any primary strike—I am using the word "primary" in contradistinction to a sympathetic strike—which was not in furtherance of a trade dispute but was intended to coerce the Government. That was the short effect of the Section. In practice, its effect, of course, was that it prohibited not simply a general strike—although no doubt it prohibited that— but went far further and it prohibited any sympathetic strike on a considerable scale. Nowadays one has to realise and that is why one is so anxious to avoid strikes of any kind, whether they be general strikes or limited strikes—that any strike is likely to inflict a degree of hardship on the community. The effect of the Section, therefore, was. to confine legal strikes to those which were in furtherance of a trade dispute in the industry immediately concerned
That was the legal effect, but let me say at once, and I think the whole House will really be with me on this matter, that that Section is so much dead wood upon the Statute Book, and the sooner we get rid of it, the clearer our law will be and the more easy will it be to deal by law with such strike situations as may arise. If we could not enforce the far more specific prohibitions against strikes which are contained in the war-time legislation, at a time when the unions are not merely not behind the strikers but are opposed to them, and when the whole community is united in hostility to the strikers—that is the point referred to by the hon. and gallant Member who spoke of the dock strike, and one could call to mind a number of other instances which, unfortunately occurred during the war—if we cannot prohibit unofficial strikes of that kind by the processes of the criminal law, it is, I venture to suggest, manifest that we cannot prohibit a general strike, when, ex hypothesi, the unions would be behind the strikers, as would a very large section of the population, because after all trade unionists and their families and friends do represent a considerable section of the population. You might as well try to bring down a rocket bomb with a peashooter, as try to stop a strike by the processes of the criminal law. The way to stop strikes is not by a policeman but by a conciliation officer, not by the assize courts but by the arbitration tribunals. It is a striking commentary upon this Section that in the only case in which it has been sought to apply it to an actual strike-, the decision of the judge and jury at the assizes was upset by the Court of Criminal Appeal on a point of law, with the result that the strikers were able to go away and laugh at the law. As this Section is a piece of mere dead wood upon the Statute Book, we propose to get rid of it.
From one point of view it is quite academic to discuss what the law will be in regard to this matter when this particular Section is repealed, but the House is entitled to know our view upon it, and I will endeavour to explain it. Let me say at once, quite frankly, that it is a matter which is not free from doubt. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members say "Hear, hear," but the learned advisers of the Conservative Party in 1927 had no doubts about the matter. They had no doubt in 1926; there was no lack of confidence then. Lord Birkenhead, Sir Douglas Hogg, the then Attorney-General, and Sir Walter Greaves-Lord all pledged their professional reputations that the strike was illegal. Sir John Simon, as he then was, in the notable series of speeches which he delivered, took the same view, and one should add that that great lawyer, so much respected in our profession, Sir Frederick Pollock, also adhered to the view, without any doubt at all, that the general strike of 1926 was illegal. Confronted with those great names, I speak about this matter with a great deal of hesitation and diffidence, and I hope that the House will not consider me guilty of impertinence if, in the face of those very eminent opinions, I suggest that there is an element of doubt about the matter. I think myself that a question of fact is involved. A revolutionary strike always was, and always will be, illegal. Nobody has any doubt about that; an industrial strike may, in certain circumstances, be illegal under the 1927 Act, but, when that Act is repealed, will be legal. The difficulty or doubt arises in regard to the intermediate field, and it is there that I think the question of fact is involved.
I should have thought that the word "revolution" was sufficiently understood in the House. I am talking about a matter which I should have thought would be within the competence of any Member of this House. A revolution, as I understand it, is an attempt to overthrow the constitutional Government of a country by force. A strike which has that purpose and effect, is quite clearly, illegal; nobody doubts it.
I hope I may be allowed to intervene further, for we are at the very crux of the matter here. Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman does not suggest that we are to understand by a revolutionary strike, a bloody revolution with arms? What I have understood to be a revolutionary strike was a strike like the late general strike. If the hon. and learned Gentleman has a different interpretation, let him say so. I should have thought that a revolutionary strike was like the last general strike, namely, a challenge to the authority of the State.
It will be of interest to the House to know what the hon. Member thought about the matter, but I am not going to follow him into any discussion of the general merits of the 1926 strike. I cannot think that that would be a very useful pursuit at this time.
When we approach the circumstances of the general strike of 1926 we get, as I think, into that intermediate field between, on the one hand, the obviously revolutionary strike, which is intended to overthrow the Government by force or by non-constitutional means, and, on the other hand, the normal industrial strike. Let me repeat that I am only putting forward my own view; I am very conscious of the fact that lawyers may take different views and my view may very easily be wrong, but I am putting it forward for what it is worth. It is when we get into that intermediate field that I think some doubt arises, because it is a question of fact in each case. If, examining the circumstances of a particular strike, you find, as a matter of fact and looking at the substance of the matter, that the real object of the strike is not to further a trade dispute—and I am using now the language which Lord Loreburn used in one of the cases—but that the trade dispute is being used as a kind of camouflage or cloak for sectarian or political ends, then, in my view, the protection created by the legislation of 1875 and 1906 goes, and the ordinary law as to breach of contract, and so on, applies to the matter.
That is not to say that the strike is illegal, far less that it is criminal, but that is the first stage. If, after that first stage, looking at the actions and intentions of any particular body of men involved—the leaders perhaps or any other men taking an active part in it—you find, again as a question of fact, that the object is to overthrow the Government, to coerce the Government, or to obtain a change in the law by unconstitutional means, then I think that an indictment lies against those men for criminal conspiracy. But these are questions of fact. These are not questions for the Attorney-General or any single one of His Majesty's judges to settle. These are questions that, according to the great and very wise and safe tradition of English law, are best submitted to the good judgment and common sense of the 12 men on the Clapham omnibus—in other words, to a common jury of the common people. They are the people who should decide ultimately whether or not particular persons indicted before them have had criminal intentions in regard to a strike or not.
I am very conscious of the fact that I am taking too much time already, and I do not want to keep the House too long. Will the hon. Member forgive me if I do not give way? I have expressed my view of the law. I have said that if the facts are as I have indicated, a criminal prosecution would lie.
Of course, I do not want to suggest for a single moment, that any Covernment in their senses would attempt to suppress a strike by means of a criminal prosecution. Mr. Baldwin's Government in 1926 did not do so. They had no doubt the strike was illegal; they did not attempt to suppress it by the processes of the criminal law. Looking back on it now, it is difficult to imagine anything that would have done more to exacerbate the situation. You cannot settle these great human movements, wrong and misguided as they may be, by putting a few people into prison. That only makes martyrs of those people. That is not to say, of course, that it is not the duty of the Government to deal with any strike situation which may arise. Of course it is. And it is a duty which the present Government will loyally discharge. In 1920, in contemplation, as a matter of fact, of the possibility that a general strike situation might arise, Parliament passed the Emergency Powers Act of that year, giving the Government all necessary powers to deal with any such situation, short of this: that the Government were not to be allowed to declare that the strike itself was illegal. Those powers were operated in 1927, and they continue to exist. If the Government of the time, faced with any emergency of this kind, found that their existing powers were not adequate to deal with the situation, then they could come back to Parliament and ask for whatever additional powers were necessary in the circumstances of that situation.
That is the genius of our flexible Constitution. We can adapt it to meet any situation as it arises. It is only when you have a rigid system, rigid laws in regard to such matters as are provided for by the 1927 legislation, and you have to operate a law, the operation of which is going to bring the law into conflict with the people against whom it is directed, and the operation of which will inevitably result in a defeat for the law, that constitutional danger arises. I be lieve, myself—though 1 do not know whether hon. Members will agree with me about this—that it is a principle of great and vital constitutional importance that the respect for the law in this country, the maintenance and strengthening of the rule of law in this country, does in very large measure depend on excluding from the Statute Book laws which are manifestly unenforceable, in the circumstances with which they purport to deal, and which at the same time cause resentment, rightly or wrongly, on the part of a large section of the population. We commend the repeal of the first Section and the consequential Sections of the 1927 Act dealing with the right to strike. We commend the repeal of those Sections to the.House in the confident belief that they would do nothing to make a general strike or any strike more possible or more probable, and that they will certainly do nothing to' weaken the respect for the law and the maintenance of the rule of law in this country.
Now may I pass at once to the third Section of the Act—the second as I have said is consequential—to that part which deals with intimidation? Let it be said at the very outset—because, if hon. Members will forgive me for saying so, propaganda outside the House has sedulously sought to obscure the fact—that intimidation always was, and always will remain illegal. Under the law as it stood before 1927, under the law as it was laid down in 1875 and 1906, you had to have something concrete, something tangible; you had to have actual violence, or a threat of violence against a man or his family likely to cause a breach of the peace. That was the criterion, and that was the law as it was operated from 1906 to 1927. But the 1927 Act interfered with the law, which had been operated quite easily, quite clearly, quite effectively up to that time, by introducing a new definition of intimidation. It was quite an artificial definition, as I shall invite the House to say. It was this: intimidation was to "cause in the mind of a person "—1 pause for a moment there to indicate the obvious legal difficulty of applying that subjective test in the criminal courts of this country
'' to cause in the mind of a person a reasonable apprehension of injury,
including injury to his business, occupation, or other source of income. Hon. and learned Members on the other side of the
House will agree with me about this, that the text writers who study these matters— perhaps it is of more interest to the text writers than to any practical lawyer-have been able to make very little of this Section, and 1 do not profess to make much of it myself.
Let me take a few examples of how I think the thing would work in practice, though it has not been much operated. Suppose you had a strike in which some men stay out. Suppose one of the strikers going along to a friend; going along, at all events, in a perfectly friendly and peaceable way to a man who had thought it right to remain in work; and suppose he said, "Look here, Tom, if you stick out we shall be beaten, and if we are beaten. they will bring all our wages down, and you will lose money in the end, the same as the rest of us." Perhaps hon. Members may think there is nothing very terrible in that, but that is intimidation under the terms of the 1927 Act, and that conduct would be punishable on indictment. [Hon. Members: "No."] It often happens—hon. Members opposite may think it wrong; I am not discussing the merits of the matter, whether it be right or wrong—that members of a trade union, finding that they are being called upon to do a particular kind of work with a non-unionist, object. They are perfectly entitled to object. If they go on strike about the matter, it is perfectly legal for them to do so. Strikes have been occasioned by circumstances of that kind. But if before "they go on strike one of them, the secretary of the union or an official of the union, goes along to see the non-unionist, and says, in a perfectly friendly and peaceful way, "Look here, Bill, come and join us," and points out the advantages of trade unionism to the industrial worker, and says, "Come along and join us, and become a member of the union, for if you don't we shall refuse to work for old Tom Noddy, the employer," that would be intimidation. [Hon. Members: "No."] It would. Hon. Members opposite are surprised, which goes to show that they do not really know the implications of this Act. They have not bothered to acquaint themselves with the law which they are so anxious to support. That was the Chester case, decided at Chester quarter sessions.
I am not dealing with hypothetical matters. It is astonishing that it should be legal to strike about such a matter, and not legal to seek to avoid a strike by peaceful persuasion of a man. It is perfectly legal to boycott a man who is staying in, and not striking with his pals, by refusing to speak and associate with him—leaving the pub when he comes in to have a drink and so forth. It is perfectly lawful to do that, but to go up to him beforehand, and say to him, in a perfectly friendly and peaceful way, "Look here, George, if you don't come in with your pals and join us in this strike, which is so vital to our interests; if you stand out against the lot of us the result is going to be that we are not going to have anything to do with you; we shall no longer be your friends," that may be an indictable offence at assizes under this law.
One could go on giving lots of examples of this kind, but I am not going to take up the time of the House, except to give one which is outside the industrial field, because I think that it ought to be remembered that this law laid down in 1875, and amended in 1906 and extended in 1927, does not deal only with matters connected with trade disputes. Anybody who, in order to compel someone else to do or not to do something which he is legally entitled to do, intimidates him, is guilty of an offence, whatever the thing may be. It need not have anything to do with a trade dispute at all. The intimidation Section of the Act of 1927 uses the words, "to cause a reasonable apprehension of injury." Take the case, if hon. Members opposite can imagine such a shocking case happening, of someone who wanted to influence votes in a General Election, who, speaking with all the authority of a great political leader over the wireless system of this country, said: "The Gestapo will get you if you don't watch out. There will be a political police, I assure you of it, if you vote Socialist." Such a man, if there were such a man, would be liable to be fined 40s. at the instance of some timid housemaid who had been caused a restless night. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but this really is a serious matter. I do not think hon. Members on this side of the House ought to allow politicians on the opposite side of the House to be exposed to danger in that way. Let them say what they like on the wireless system of this country; it only makes more people vote for us.
So we propose to repeal this Section of the Act. We propose to repeal also the provision of the Act which would prevent people, it may be political canvassers, attending at a man's home in order to communicate information to him, or peacefully to persuade him. Let this be quite clear. When this Section of the Act is repealed, the law will be amply strong enough to deal with any question of improper pressure or intimidation which may arise. I am going to read now the language of one, who spoke with far more authority than I can do—the Conservative Home Secretary at the time. He said on 2nd June, 1926, in the middle of the general strike—he had referred to the words of the Statute, but I will not bother the House by reading them all out. [An HON. MEMBER: "The 2nd June was not in the middle of the strike."] I am sorry, it was about that time. This was after the strike, but the mining strike, I think, was still going on. Sir William Joynson-Hicks, a lawyer, and Home Secretary, speaking, no doubt, with all the advice and authority of his Department responsible for the administration of the law in this particular, read out the words of the Section of the relevant Act. He said:
These are the words which are the charter, so to speak, of peaceful picketing. They are limited, and much more closely limited than has been thought to be the case by a good many people, sometimes lawyers and sometimes not lawyers. Any person, even today, who attempts to prevent any person from working by using violence or by intimidation either of him or his wife or children, or who injures his property, is guilty of an offence, and so is anybody, in spite of the Act of 1906, who persistently follows a workman from place to place or follows him with two or more other persons in a disorderly manner. Those are still offences under the Act of 1875, and they are in no way excepted by the Act of 1906. I hope that hon. Members will realise the seriousness of what I am saying. The law is that you cannot compel a man to listen. If a workman does not choose to listen, you have no right to stop him. You have no right to compel a man to listen. That is continued under the Act of 1906. If he likes to listen you may impart information, or try to persuade him to strike or not to work. But if he says, ' I do not want to speak to you or to listen to you/ and you continue to do it, it is an offence under the Act of 1875."— [Official Report, 2nd January, 1926; Vol. 196, c. 819.]
Speaking some time later he said:
If a person watches or besets the house or other place where such other person resides, or works, or carries on business-."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th August, 1926; Vol. 199, c. 19.]
it was a criminal offence and he added if a number of men persistently beset the house of a miner who desired to work, and watched his house from time to time, watching him going in and watching him coining out, that was an offence under the law as it stood. Of course, the fact is that up to 1927, the law had stood unaltered since 1906. During those 20 years there had been, unhappily, many strikes, some of them large, some of them small, many of them serious; but I think I am right in saying—I am certain that I shall be corrected if I am wrong—that no Home Secretary responsible for the peace, order and good government of this country has ever come to the House of Commons and said, "These powers are inadequate; I must have additional powers in order to deal with this intimidation which is taking place." I think that we ought to remember that this attempt to extend the law relating to intimidation was not only inept, as I have ventured to suggest, but entirely unjustifiable. I want to remind the House of what Sir John Simon said about this matter at that time. No one can suggest that Sir John Simon was taking a view especially marked by any particular favour towards the trade unionists. He said:
Everybody here who remembers the events of a year ago must take pride in remembering that the feature of the general strike which impressed foreign observers beyond any question was the general orderliness of the whole operation.
That is certainly the feature which particularly impressed foreign observers and it was not due solely to the police or to public-spirited members of the public who lent their aid; it was due also to the counsel and guidance of trade union leaders and it was due to the general spirit of reasonable orderliness among the men who were out themselves.
Then he said this, and I hope we shall remember it when discussing the matter at this particular time:
We really do a very grave injury to our own national reputation if we do not always remember that that was the feature of the general strike which particularly impressed the world.at large."— [Official Report, 4th May, 1927, Vol. 205, c. 1643.]
There was not a shred, not a tittle, not a rag of evidence to support the enactment of these new rules and this new definition of intimidation.
Let me come at once to Section 4 of the Act, which deals with the political levies. This is the Section over which hon. Members opposite have tried with indifferent success—if they will permit me to say so—to work themselves up into a political frenzy. Hon. Members know that that Section was never intended to protect the workmen against having to pay a farthing per week. That is the amount involved, and that that Section was ever intended to protect the workmen against having to pay that political contribution is really the purest political bunkum. Nobody believes it now, and nobody believed it in 1927 and it is manifestly not so. If the number of those who do not wish to subscribe to political funds is as large as hon. Members opposite invite us to believe, then clearly they are numerically strong enough to protect themselves and to come out in their true political colours without fearing any improper pressure or bullying by trade unionists of different political views. The figures of the Registrar of Friendly Societies demonstrates that there is not a rag of evidence to support the view that anyone was being compelled to contribute to political funds against his will. The truth is, of course—and I confess it quite frankly—where you have any large body' of people you come up against a certain degree of human inertia, which prevents certain numbers taking any particular action. They just cannot be bothered filling in a form, whether it is a form to contract in or contract out. They cannot be troubled doing it, they cannot be bothered and they let the thing go.
The question here is very simple, whether the trade unions, which by a majority have decided to have a political fund, should benefit if you like from that human inertia, as I have called it, to the extent of throwing the onus on the dissentient minority to declare their objection to contribute to particular political funds, or whether the onus should be put the other way, and whether the majority, who have already voted in favour of the political fund, should be required to go further, and fill in a form showing they wish to make a particular contribution. In any ordinary organisation like a club or a company—a company having power under its articles to devote money to particular purposes—the minority have to toe the line. They do not get any opportunity of contracting out at all, but in any organisation where the minority are entitled to exemption from the view of the majority, the normal practice—I would almost say the invariable practice—is to throw the onus on the minority to claim the benefit.
What are we to do next? Are we to say that it is the law of this country, if people have not got a conscientious objection against being vaccinated, that before vaccination takes place everybody has to fill in a form to say they want to be vaccinated? I do not see any difference, in principle, between the two cases in that analogy. This Statute which we are inviting the House to repeal put the onus the other way—on the men who wanted to pay a political contribution. Let me say at once that that Section is the only Section of this Act which, in part, did achieve its purpose. We did lose the benefit of that particular element, the inertia element who could not be bothered to fill in a form, and, as a result, the contributions to the political funds went down. The position differed in the different unions, and it is very difficult to compare a position like that, because the membership of the unions has increased very greatly, on the one hand, and, on the other, during the past six years, there has been little political organisation and canvassing. [Interruption.] Hon. Members mistake me. J was referring to political canvassing on the trade union and Labour side, not on the Conservative side. Hon. Members will find, if they look at the figures—and I am not going to bother the House with more than two or three cases—that the position differs greatly in the different unions, and I tried to see why from the figures themselves. As far as one can judge, where there is a union with a membership widely dispersed, and where there is not active political organisation, canvassing and so on, subscriptions go down. Where there is a well-knit union, with the members closely associated, and the political organisation is good, the subscriptions keep up. The figures differ very greatly in different unions. Because I want to be quite fair with the House, I will give three instances and show the net result.
The Locomotive Engineers' and Firemen's Union had a membership of 48,00a in 1927—I am leaving out the odd figures for the sake of convenience—19,000 of whom contributed to the political fund. In the year 1945—I think the latest figures are for that year—it had a bigger membership at 68,000, but the political fund did not go up in proportion to the numbers, though it did go up almost in proportion, for it increased to 23,000. Another case, and it is quite an interesting one, is that of the Shop Assistants. They had a membership of 34,955—and I am giving the odd figures here because it is a rather remarkable case—and there were no fewer than 33,950 subscribers to the political fund in 1927. Why? Surely, not because they were being coerced to give. I cannot think of any way in which a large trade union could really effectively bring pressure upon persons so widely spread out over the country as the shop assistants. Yet that was their subscribing membership, and the reason for it was this: They just would not be bothered, if they did not want to contribute, to fill in the form to contract out. There was that high figure of contribution to the political fund, and there is a drop there. The membership has gone up by 97,000 in the last year, but the contributors to the political fund have only gone up to 40,000. The reason for that is exactly the same. Here is a union which is widely dispersed, the members of which cannot be canvassed and invited to fill in a form to contract in, so that they do not bother and the subscription is not paid.
Another. rather interesting instance is that of the Agricultural Workers' Union. They had astonishing figures in 1927, when they had a membership of 29,591, of whom 29,590 contracted in, leaving only one who took the trouble to fill in the contracting out form. The membership went up to 110,000, but contributions went up only to 72,000, not in complete proportion to the increase in membership. There, again, it is obvious that that cannot be accounted for by pressure upon, or by intimidation of, members of an industry which is so widely dispersed as the agricultural industry. What was the reason, what was the excuse, for providing this system of contracting in instead of contracting out? It was said that when you had contracting out you had a list of those who were in political disagreement with the majority of the union. and that they became marked men. That is equally possible when you have contracting in. You can have a list if you want one, and you can still mark your men if you want to mark them. Therefore, there is not the slightest validity, if that is the reason, for this difference in
procedure. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman opposite is indicating that that was not the reason, but at all events that was the reason which was put forward in 1927—that you had a list, that men were marked, and that they could be intimidated. The right hon. Gentleman who now sits for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) said at that time— as one would have expected him to say, fairly and frankly—this about that argument:
Let us see what alteration it is that the Government propose. Docs it 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 want to intimidate, can still do it."— [Official Report, 25th May, 1927; Vol. 206, c. 2080.]
On that ground the right hon. Gentleman refused to vote for the particular Clause under discussion in the 1927 legislation. We propose to invite the House to go back to the old method, which is the logical and normal method. In future, if anybody prefers not to contribute to the political funds of his union, all he has to do is to sign a form, and once and for all he is free from the obligation to contribute. If pressure is brought to bear upon him he has the right to go to a very powerful, independent and impartial tribunal in the form of the Registrar of Friendly Societies.
Now I come to Section 5, which prohibits established civil servants from belonging to trade unions. By that Section established civil servants were not allowed to belong to trade unions of which outside persons were members, or which were themselves affiliated to outside bodies like the Trades Union Congress. There was not a shadow of justification for it, so far as the general strike was concerned. The. right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) made that perfectly clear. The civil servants made their position clear. They sympathised with the strikers, and did what they were legally entitled to do.
They contributed to funds for the miners wives and their children, but they took no active part. On this point, I want to emphasise that the right of civil servants to strike is not in point in this legislation at all. The 1927 Act did not forbid civil servants to strike, and nothing that we propose to do now will make it any more legal than it is today for civil servants to take strike action. It is true that civil servants perform, in their various degrees, services which are essential to the State, and that some of them stand, by reason of the very nature of their employment, in a particular relation to the community. I take the opportunity of making it quite clear that this Government, like any Government as an employer, would feel itself perfectly free to take any disciplinary action that any strike situation that might develop demanded. To take a completely hypothetical case—supposing a special section of the Civil Service, for instance, prison officers, disregarding the machinery of the Whitley Council, went on strike, the Government would undoubtedly take disciplinary action by exercising their right, as an employer, of instant dismissal without hope of reinstatement. But it is no good laying down prohibitions of that kind by Statute—
The point that the Attorney-General is making is that the first recourse of a public servant should be to the recognised conciliation and arbitration machinery existing in his profession, and that that ought to militate against the strike weapon ever being employed. But would the Attorney-General recognise the corollary to that, and give to the police, who are now denied it, the right to have a union and proper conciliation and arbitration machinery?
The police stand in a different position. They are a disciplined service. Their position has been considered, and the proposals we now make do not involve any alteration in that position. I am dealing now with the ordinary civil servant who has recourse to the Whitley machinery, just as police officers have recourse through their Association, to other means by which they can make representations in regard to conditions of their employment. I was saying that we cannot deal with these matters by statutory prohibition, but if we could, the 1927 Act clearly ought to apply to non-established, as well as to established, civil servants. There are now far more non-established civil servants than established civil servants; even in normal times, they are almost as numerous as the established civil servants, and perform equally important functions. But we do not think that statutory prohibition is the right method; we do not think we can secure loyalty and allegiance from the Civil Service by the device of cutting them off from association with others with whose terms and conditions of employment their own are often closely related.
Now I come, finally, to Section 6. This was the Section which made it illegal for local or public authorities to make membership of a trade union a condition of employment. It is sometimes of advantage—many industrialists find it so— especially where you have negotiating machinery of a particular kind, to ensure that all employees are represented by a union which is on the opposite side on the conciliation machinery. Many ordinary employers take that view. We see no reason why democratically elected local authorities, or responsible and statutory public authorities, should be. discriminated against by the law in this matter. Their position is not different from the position of any other employer, except perhaps to this extent: that their responsibilities to the electors in so far as local authorities are concerned, and to the Government in so far as public authorities are concerned, makes it more likely that they can properly be entrusted with discretion in this matter which is left, apparently, without disadvantage to the ordinary private employer.
Nor do we think it right that the mere fact that a man is employed by a public authority or by a local authority should make it a criminal offence if he breaks his contract, even though such breach of contract may result in serious inconvenience to the public. The question is not one as to the character of the employer, but as to the nature of the employment. Parliament has provided that in the cases of gas, water and electricity, a breach of contract may in certain circumstances result in a criminal offence. If it is necessary to extend those provisions to other services, that can be done, but we do not see that there is any reason to make this question depend upon whether the employer concerned is a local or a public authority. We propose to ask the House to repeal Section (6) and go back to the ordinary law as generally applicable in industry as a whole.
That is the whole matter. I am conscious of the fact that I have taken up the time of the House too long, and for a good deal longer than I had intended to do. I shall not hide from hon. Members that two views seem to be taken on the other side of the House about the 1927 Act. One hon. Member opposite permitted himself, if I may respectfully say so, in a most friendly way, the grotesque extravagance of calling the 1927 Act the charter of the working man in his home; and Mr. Strauss, whose services were lately so regrettably rejected by the electors of Norwich, has improved the shining hour in the meantime by preparing a brief for hon. Members opposite—I confess 1 have found it exceedingly useful myself— the tone of which is perhaps characterised by the statement that, if we repeal the 1927 Act, the state of the law of this country will be unworthy of any civilised country. On the other hand, "The Times," taking, one may think, a more objective view of the matter, referred to the 1927 Act as being admittedly a punitive Measure. It is not a good thing to have punitive Measures on the Statute Book. It is a good thing that political parties which seek to put them on the Statute Book should know that in the due course of time they will be taken off. So we are to take this one off, and we are to restore the law to the condition in which it was as the result of a century of orderly, deliberate, constitutional growth, as the result of the decisions of Parliament, usually after inquiries by impartial Royal Commissions, the decisions 'of Liberal Parliaments and Conservative Parliaments, Parliaments which, like this Parliament, but perhaps unlike the Parliament of 1927, are not afraid of the industrial liberties and the personal freedoms which, by this Bill, we invite the House to restore.
The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General, in his opening observations, expressed the hope that the discussions on this Bill would not be carried on throughout by members of the learned profession of which he is such an ornament. I have done my best to respond to his suggestion, and I offer myself, a mere layman, to make some observations upon the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech and upon this Bill. I would, however, like to re-echo his appeal and express the hope that our discussion will not all of it be in the legal stratosphere, but will be upon the issues as they seem to the layman who attempts to apprise himself of this problem.
The hon. and learned Gentleman's statement that this is not a fundamental Measure which the Government are bringing forward at the present time will, I should imagine, cause the country the very greatest surprise. At this time innumerable problems are pressing upon the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council, most reluctantly, I am sure, is obliged to refuse us Debates every day on almost every subject. The Coal Bill has to. be sent to a Standing Committee. At this time of great difficulty, we are given only Thursday to discuss the food situation. Yet the hon. and learned Gentleman says that this is not a fundamental Bill; it is not really awfully important, he says, but we may as well get rid of the 1927 Act now, and get it over. If that is the position, there could not be a worse time than the present to bring a Measure of this kind before the public.
I certainly did not use it, whatever my thoughts may have been. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General was not, of course, a Member of the House during the Debates on the 1927 Measure. If he had been, I think he would have realised what a remarkable statement he made when, at the outset of his speech, he said that, in actual fact, the 1927 Act had had no practical effect on the right to strike. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman reread those Debates? I have had that turgid and rather unpleasant experience during the last few days, and I agree with him that there was in those Debates an animosity—indeed. I do not know whether the right word to use might not be bitterness—which, happily, has been absent from our proceedings since that time, and which certainly I shall try to avoid introducing, however controversial my comments may be. If the hon. and learned Gentleman will re-read those Debates, he will find that the greater part of the case made against the 1927 Act at the time was precisely that it would have practical effects upon the right to strike, and when the hon. and learned Gentleman says that it had no such effect, he demolishes 40 per cent. of the criticism which was brought against the 1927 Measure at the time. I must remind the House of what was said about the 1927 Act. I remember it very well. It influenced a good deal some of us who were then on the Back Benches on the Government side.
There were statements made by all sorts of woeful prophets as to the effect which this Measure would have on the right to strike and also on future industrial relations in this country. I think it must be admitted in all parts of the House that, whatever else may be said about the 1927 Act, none of those woeful prophecies has been fulfilled. I will give one or two quotations. Sir Henry Slesser one of the chief speakers for the Opposition, said of the Measure:
It is, as I said at the beginning of my speech, imposing on this country a system of industrial servitude.
Does anybody believe that, in fact, that has proved a true description of the 1927 Act, however much one may happen to dislike it? Sir Henry Slesser went on to say:
I do honestly believe that in this Bill tonight we are taking a step, the result of
which may be catastrophic."— [Official Report, 2nd May, 1927; Vol. 205, c. 1389.]
Have they been catastrophic? ' Hon. and right hon. Members on the benches opposite look quite well and reasonably healthy, and, so far as I am able to judge, their organisations are in no particular state of catastrophe at the moment. Mr. Clynes, who was very much respected by all sides of this House, said that the Bill was
motived by the idea of reducing the trade unions to impotence in their relation to employers of labour."— [Official Report, 2nd May, 1927; Vol. 205, c. 1339-]
I have no doubt that Mr. Clynes believed that at the time, but is anybody suggesting that that is what happened in fact after 1927? [An Hon. Member: "Yes."] Does the hon. Member really say that since 1927 the trade unions have been reduced to impotence? Surely, it must be admitted by all that that is a gross exaggeration. I will give one- further quotation and it is from the speech of Lord Snowden on "the Third Reading of that BUI. He said:
The effect of the Bill will be to hand over the trade unions to the employers and to take away their bargaining power.
Everybody knows, in fact, that that has not happened. I only repeat these charges in order to show that the fears that were then uttered were absolutely unfounded. The trade unions have as high a membership at the present time, and their bargaining power—has it been diminished? If so, when was it diminished, how was it diminished and in what dispute was it diminished by the Act of 1927?
The hon. and learned Gentleman quite rightly quoted the tributes that were paid by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) to the work of the trade unions during the war. I would associate myself and my hon. Friends with those tributes. If hon. Members will try to read impartially, so far as one can be impartial on the subject, the discussions in 1927 and look at those woeful prophecies, I believe it will be clear to them that, had those prophecies been fulfilled, the trade unions would never have been able to fill the part which they played in the war, and to which we are all perfectly willing to pay tribute.
What about the great bitterness, and the industrial disputes which were going to take place after the 1927 Act? That was the other main burden of criticism which runs all through the speeches of the critics of the Bill at that time. Between the great war and the general strike of 1926, the number of working days lost in industrial disputes fell below 8,000,000 in only one year—rather a tragic fact. [An Hon. Member: "Why? "] I am not going into the why of it. I am only dealing with the facts. It may have been the fault of the employers or of the Government. That is not relevant to my argument. Those are the figures. Since the general strike, only in one year, 1929, and by a very narrow margin, has that figure been reached. Between 1933 and the outbreak of the war the number of working days lost in a year exceeded 2,000,000 in only one year. Those are the comparative figures, 8,000,000 and 2,000,000. I give them only to show that the other main line of attack on the Bill was absolutely unjustified and was disproved by the events which followed after.
If the fears which were uttered in 1927 in respect of the ability of the trade unions to use the strike weapon after the Bill was passed, or in respect of industrial relations, had been fulfilled, I could have understood the Government coming down to the House with a Measure to amend Section 1 of that Act. In fact, and this cannot be challenged, the fears that were then expressed have been disproved. Nor can I understand—I say it respectfully because I am treading on the fringes of the law and I must be careful—the attitude of the hon. and learned Gentleman or of the Government to the declaration that the general strike is illegal. I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that, as I understand the position at the time of the dispute of 1926, the law in respect of the general strike was in dispute. There was more than one point of view. There was the view expressed by Lord Simon and others, the view expressed by Sir Henry Slesser and others, and the views of 'the right hon. and learned Gentleman who is now. the President of the Board of Trade.
I am asking the Government, Is it really desirable to go back to that uncertain, or, if you like, disputed, state of affairs? What will be the material advantage to the country of doing so? I should have thought that all public advantage lay in a firm statement of the law to the effect that the general strike is illegal.
The hon. Member says that that makes all strikes illegal. I am coming to that point. That was not the view of the Labour Government in 1931. I ask, first of all, whether we agree that it is to the advantage of all that the general strike should be illegal. Who wants one? I know that many responsible leaders of the trade union movement do not. I have seen the statement of Sir Walter Citrine saying what a heavy additional responsibility the trade unions will have if this Act is repealed. Many of us know Sir Walter Citrine very well, and we do not regard him as being very far to the Left. I can think of some of my hon. Friends whom I regard as well to the Left as Sir Walter Citrine. I ask the Government what public advantage will be served by this course of action? What are we to get? Sir Walter Citrine says that he will get very heavy responsibilities.
Right hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench "are no doubt very in fluential and important, but they are not eternal. What are any of us but ships that pass in the night? Who will follow after them? The Foreign Secretary him self had cause to refer at a recent inter national conference to the activities of Communist propaganda
I must have touched a sensitive spot—directed against the British Government in all parts of the world. Everybody knows that such propaganda is active in the trade union movement today. There is no dispute about that. If there is, I have another quotation here somewhere from the Foreign Secretary. At the moment, their point of view is represented here only by two hon. Members opposite, who are, if you like, a cloud no bigger than a man's hand; but who can say what the future holds? I am going to tell hon. Members some of the impressions that we get who sit in Opposition and have the privilege of gazing upon the phalanxes opposite, and what passes through our minds. We believe that there are at least a score, and perhaps 30, hon. Members opposite whose point of view is much more sympathetic to that of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) than it is to the point of view of their own Front Bench.
Would the right hon. Gentleman allow me to make it clear that when I or any of my colleagues get to the Government Front Bench the people who are represented by the other side, the capitalists and the landowners, will have disappeared, and that there will be no need for a general strike?
We all admire the hon. Gentleman greatly, but will he mind our saying that there is still a majority in this House who, while respecting his form of paradise, would rather not share it just yet? I do not think there is any dispute in any part of the House that the powers granted are immense and they will be greater, if not in law, in impression, as the result of the repeal than they were before. To many they seem to create a state within a state. We shall of course vote against them, but it seems strange to me that the hon. Gentlemen opposite should be urging us to vote for them at a time like this. I cannot help thinking that the day will come when they will regret the advice they are giving to this House now.
I should like to refer to one matter which the Attorney-General, for some very surprising reason, never dealt with at all. Perhaps it was a convenient lapse of memory because I am sure after that remarkable speech he could not forget anything on purpose. He never said a word about the Bill introduced by the Labour Government in 1931 to amend this much-abused 1927 Act. This is rather an important Measure to us. The President of the Board of Trade, who was at that time Solicitor-General, was then responsible for advising this House as to the law. He made it clear then—and I must ask the House to follow this rather intricate argument, but I think it is important that, in his opinion, the general strike would have been illegal under the terms of the Socialist amending Bill of 1931, as it undoubtedly would have been illegal under the Act of 1927. May I just quote what the right hon. Gentleman said:
'' Prior to the year 1926 the material Sections of the Acts, apart from the common law, were Section 3 of the Act of 1875 and Sections 1 and 5 of the Act of 1906. The criterion of illegality applied by those Sections was whether the act done was an act in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute. The question is, therefore, Was the calling of the General Strike of 1926 an act done in furtherance of the miners' lock-out. In my opinion it was, because undoubtedly
one of the objects was to assist the miners, and the fact that there were other objects was not at that date material in my view.… May I now proceed to the position under the Act of 1927? There is no doubt in anyone's mind that the General Strike would have been illegal under the Act of 1927. Under the pro posed Bill—
that is the Bill of the Labour Government of that day, 1931—
the strike of 1926 would, in my opinion, have been illegal and for this reason, that though it may be said that it was in some degree in furtherance of a trade dispute, yet, looking at the substance of the matter as the Act would demand, I have no doubt that a Court of Law would have held, had the present Bill then been law—
that is the Bill of 1931—
The right hon. and learned Gentleman really cannot get away with it like that. The right hon. Gentleman says, "fifteen years too late." He came down to the House at that time and I remember his speech. I have the greatest respect for his integrity and sincerity and cannot believe that he presented a Bill in which he did not really believe. He told us then—and he was quite sincere—that he was presenting a Bill that made a recurrence of the general strike illegal.
Are we to believe that the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members on the other side of the House now prefer to accept a Bill with provisions similar to the 1931 Bill?
Though we have many qualities, it is not we who are proposing the Government's legislation, and I am asking the Government respectfully, but I think with reason, why they are not reintroducing the Bill of 1931. I thought I heard an hon. Member say, "It is different now; we were not in power then." Is the position then, that when you are in office but not in power you say a general strike is illegal, but when in power and in office you say you do not know whether a general strike is legal or not? I think we are entitled to some little clarification, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman, or somebody from the Government Front Bench, will be good enough to tell us what is the national advantage in the Government changing their point of view between 1931 and today.
I come now to one or two other aspects to which I must briefly refer in connection with this Bill. First there is the amendment to the 1927 Act which has reference to the question of intimidation. I want to say a word to the hon. and learned Gentleman about that. He made very great play, and very skilful play, with the intimidation position under the Act of 1927. As I say, I have no legal training and 1 do not know whether it is good law to say that extravagant cases are typical, but I should have thought not. The hon. and learned Gentleman did speak with great skill and I do not wish to detract from that. I am going to ask whoever replies from the Government side why, if the intimidation provisions were, in all respects, so bad in the Act of 1927, they embodied a part of them in their own Bill in 1931? There must be some cause why it was good then to put them in, and now to leave them out. Perhaps there is another reason for all this. I can just visualise discussion in the Cabinet when the Government were saying, "What shall we do? Shall we amend the 1927 Act or shall we just repeal it?" and I can imagine the Lord Chancellor who, after all, spoke even longer than the Attorney-General did today when he introduced this Measure in 1931, feeling slightly embarrassed and saying, "I did, after all, recommend the 1931 Bill very warmly to the House. Let us get fairly near it. Since I said all these things in 1931 I am committed, and it is rather difficult to unsay them all a few years later." I can imagine the Prime Minister, with his natural fairmindedness coming down perhaps on the same side, and the right hon. Gentleman the then Leader of the House saying, "We have so little time, we are so hard pressed; let us make it sharp and swift."
"Vengeance is mine," said the Lord President. There it is, and there is about the same reasoning for the method in which the matter has been presented.
I am afraid I have omitted one subject which I cannot leave out, because the hon. and learned Gentleman dealt with it and I must answer some of his remarks upon it. It is the question of the political levy. I thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman put that more fairly than I have yet heard it put from the benches opposite. The effect of his argument was that there is always a certain unwillingness on the part of members of a political party to line up, a feeling of '" We do not want to be bothered about it." I do not know that I entirely disagree with that description. It is not so very wide of its mark. But I must remind the House again of the arguments which were uttered when the 1927 Act was being passed. We were given two mutually contradictory arguments. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) objected at the time that this Section was an endeavour to cripple the Labour Party. All I can say is that they look pretty healthy cripples. The other argument was that it did not matter at all, but was rather a nuisance, because the trade unions would have a lot more work to do in preparing forms. We are being told today that we must do something against the inertia of people who will not sign forms. May I ask the Minister who is to reply just one question? Does the Minister of Labour suggest that any member of a trade union who wants to subscribe to the Labour Party funds, is in any way prevented from subscribing by the existing law? It is no great thing to ask that supporters of any political party, should fill in a form just once. If anybody happens to be a Liberal, or even a member of this party, he probably has to fill in more than one form. Why should hon. Members opposite be placed in a more privileged position than supporters of those parties? If anybody wishes to subscribe to a party on this side of the House, they have to sign their names. I can see no great hardship in asking those who wish to subscribe to the Labour Party funds to sign their names like everyone else.
I turn to the question of the Civil Service. This is a matter which I beg the House to treat with the utmost seriousness. If there was one thing about which we did agree in the 1927 Debate it was the importance of keeping party politics out of the Civil Service. I was worried by something which the hon. Member for Luton (Mr. Warbey) said the other day in a question. He was very lightly dealt with by the Under-Secretary, who was very tactful and diplomatic. The hon. Member asked that before the reforms in the Foreign Service—which were before the House when I was Foreign Secretary—were accepted would the right hon. Gentleman the present Foreign Secretary consider supplementing the existing service with persons whose political views are in sympathy with the present Government? The public has great confidence in the integrity of civil servants, and that confidence will be destroyed by the introduction of political parties into this question. I would say to the hon. Member below the Gangway that if a civil servant, representing his union, is allowed to speak on any and every political question on the agenda, say of a Labour Party conference, and is allowed to play, if elected, a full part in the executive of that party, then you cannot restrict the rights of other civil servants, who may also represent the views of some of their colleagues, to take part in the conferences and councils of a Conservative, Liberal or even Communist Party. Once the Civil Service is brought into politics in this way, it will be impossible to keep politics out of the Civil Service. If anyone can produce an argument to show how that is to be done, it has not yet been presented.
With regard to Section 6, I do not agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman's presentation of the case. As I understand it, the question at issue is whether local and public authorities ought to be allowed, by law. to compel their own employees and those of their contractors, not only to join a union on pain of dismissal, but also to join a particular union chosen not by the employees but by the local authorities. Whatever advantages there may be in employees belonging to some union, I can find no reasons for compelling them to join a particular union. I have never heard it suggested that the Government, for instance, should do anything of that kind in respect of its own servants, and I do not think that the Government would regard it as either desirable or necessary. I cannot see, therefore, why a local authority, which is, in a' sense, a microcosm of the Government, should be given that power, and it seems to me to be a power to which we should object. This Section applies to other public authorities as well as to local authorities, and before this Debate closes, I think we must have a clear statement from the Government as to their intentions in regard to the nationalised industries. Of course, we understand that that creates a new position in respect of the powers of the Government regarding certain branches of the Civil Service. It is a position in respect of which we ought to have a statement by the Government, which could act by regulation in this matter. We ought to know in detail what their proposals are.
As the hon. and learned Gentleman said, it is true that trade unions occupy a privileged position today. We on this side can claim that in the past we have played a part in building up those privileges. It was we who gave the unions the right to strike, and made collective bargaining a reality. I have already referred—not in hostile fashion—to trade unions. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford paid a tribute to trade unions, it was one which I, personally, wholeheartedly shared, but I assure the House that if you give special privileges to certain sections of the community, and lay down those privileges by law, so you should also lay down the limitation of those privileges. If the hon. and learned Gentleman, speaking for the Government, thought that, in some respects, the 1927 Act was unfair upon unions in its working, he could have brought an amending Bill before this House, and we could have discussed and examined it. The Government have done nothing of the kind. This is another piece of legislation with its faults which we are all learning to expect from hon. Gentlemen opposite. I cannot see that this Bill in any way assists—if anything it is calculated to hinder—the fulfilment of the great tasks before the country today.
It will not grow more food, it will not build more houses, it will not export more goods, it will not get any more coal, and it will not increase the wellbeing of the people of this country. It is just purely Party politics for the narrowest Party ends. It is unworthy of the hour and unworthy of the men who sponsor it.
This is my maiden speech and I am sure I shall receive the courtesy of the House which it is in a position to give to a Member on this occasion. I am tempted to forego the notes on which I have spent my morning, and to reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), but I shall have to keep to the points to which I made up my mind to refer this evening.
I think Disraeli once said in reference to Christianity, that it suffered more from its stupid friends than from its lively enemies. One could apply this in an inverted form to trade unionism and say with historical justification that trade unionism has gained more from its stupid enemies than from its liveliest friends. In the records of the trade union movement one can find repeatedly evidence that hostile and ill-advised checks to the growth of trade unionism have reacted to its advantage and to the confusion of its opponents. The legislation we are dealing with today is one of the best illustrations one can give of this fact. As a trade unionist I would like to tender my warm thanks to the Government for introducing this Bill; it is a belated act of reparation. It is calculated to undo a very serious injustice inflicted upon the trade union movement in a spirit of reprisal about 20 years ago. The House should be reminded that this Bill would not have been brought forward now—this is very important and it is a reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington—if the parties represented on the benches opposite, and their leaders in the late Government, had allowed their commonsense to override their prejudices and suspicions concerning the trade unions. Ever since the 1927 Act was passed the trade union and labour movement has demanded its removal. There is one thing in which the trade union movement of this country has been consistent and that has been the perti- nacity of its demand for the repeal of this particular Measure. Only those who work inside the trade union and labour movement can fully. measure the depth of the. resentment this Act has caused, or understand the strength of the determination of trade unionists to have it abrogated.
I would remind the House that during the war years, when the trade union objections to this Act found most resolute expression on the part of the Civil Service unions, who were particularly and unjustifiably penalised by its provisions, the Trades Union Congress refused to make the demand for the repeal a dividing issue. With the country fighting for its very life at the time, the T.U.C. General Council, instead of taking advantage of the national emergency and pressing for the repeal of this particular Measure and making it an issue for the home front, sought to find a solution of the difficulty by way of agreements with the other parties opposite. As the House will recall, the T.U.C. General Council through its Secretary, Sir Walter Citrine, approached the Prime Minister of the Coalition Government with proposals for an all-Party agreement to amend the 1927 Act on two of its Sections only—not a general repeal such as we are dealing with today, but the repeal of two particular Sections, 5 and 6, which are those applying to the Civil Service unions and to matters in regard to local authorities.
Let me remind the House of the sequence of events. The T.U.C. in 1939 sent a deputation to the Prime Minister of the day, the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain. His reply was to the effect that the amended legislation would be so controversial that it would be impracticable to take up the matter in wartime. He expressed the hope that the trade union movement would not press for reconsideration of any of the provisions of the Act, but would concentrate upon the supreme task of winning the war. He declared that he was well aware of the support which the trade unions were giving to the national war effort, and expressed the view, in so many words, that the records of the unions in this respect would proportionately strengthen their claims with. regard to the repeal of the 1927 Act when the war was over. Those were important sentiments, uttered by Mr. Chamberlain himself. This was equivalent to putting the unions on a probationary period while the war was on.' They resented it, and all the more because they had been urging the abolition of this crippling and disabling Measure ever since the Act itself was passed. The T.U.C. declared in no uncertain terms that the retention of this Act upon the Statute Book, at a time when the country was staking its whole resources on a war for freedom and democracy, was itself a mockery and a denial of the ideals for which the nation was fighting. With some knowledge of the inner councils of the trade union movement on this question, we hoped for better things when the Coalition Government was formed.
Now I come to a crucial point. The T.U.C. had to bring the matter up again when the Civil Service unions, particularly the Union of Post Office Workers, raised it in a somewhat challenging form, and they proposed to the Congress that Congress should admit them to reaffiliation. But the T.U.C. took up the matter in a restrained and conciliatory spirit. They asked the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), and his Cabinet colleagues to consider again the possibility of agreed Amendments to the 1927 Act and on these two points only—the position of civil servants in relation to their fellow trade unionists outside, and the right of local authorities to make trade unionism a condition of employment in their service if they wished to do so. The unions as a whole were content for the time being with these two reasonable and limited Amendments.
What was the answer? They were told by the Prime Minister of the time that they should first of all find out whether they could persuade the Conservative Party to agree to these two Amendments—I am speaking factually. So they entered into discussions with the Leader of the Conservative Party. While these discussions were going on, the leaders of the Liberal Party insisted that they should be consulted too. To both parties the T.U.C. suggested that they should agree to amend Sections 5 and 6 of the 1927 Act in the sense that I have indicated. They could not get the leaders of these Parties to agree, and the former Prime Minister, wielding as he did overwhelming and political Party influence at that time, declined to go beyond the limitation his Party had imposed upon him in this particular matter.
The letter from the Prime Minister of the Coalition Government sent to the T.U.C. is on record. He said that the overwhelming mass of Conservatives would not support the T.U.C. proposals. Let me emphasise again that no more was proposed than that the Act should be amended to permit civil servants' unions to reaffiliate to Congress and to allow local authorities, if they so wished, to make membership of a union a condition of employment in their service. No other issue was raised. I do not believe that even today hon. Members opposite appreciate the spirit of reasonableness and restraint which the unions observed in dealing with this matter at that time. Let us not forget that the civil servants' unions, resentful as they were at the slur that the Act cast upon them, did not claim restoration of their full liberties as citizens and trade unionists; they said they would be content with such Amendments as would enable them to rejoin and associate with their fellow workers in the Trades Union Congress and explicitly disclaimed any wish to raise any question of their relations with the Labour Party, or their right to build up political funds as other unions have a right to do.
The right hon. Member for Woodford, as Prime Minister, said there was no possibility of securing their consent even to this Limited Amendment and I trust the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington had regard to that fact to which I noticed he did not refer in his speech. The former Prime Minister also added that the question was one which should be submitted to the electorate. I quote textually the paragraph, of his letter to the T.U.C. in March, 1945. This is what he said:.
I fear there is no possibility of amending the Trade Disputes Act, as desired, by agreement in the present Government and House of Commons. I have ascertained that the overwhelming mass of Conservatives would not support such an Amendment. In view, therefore, of the approaching General Election, it would seem to me this question is one which should be submitted to the electorate, and that their verdict will govern its treatment in the new Parliament.
This is the position we have reached. The electorate has given its
verdict as between the Conservative Party and the party led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. There is one distinguishing feature, that the Baldwin Government of 1927 had no mandate whatever from the electorate to pass the 1927 Act, but this Government has a definite mandate from the electors to repeal the 1927 Act. This Bill gives effect to the long sustained determination of trade unionists to get a redress from Parliament for the injuries which an earlier Parliament, in what we know to have been a most vindictive and punitive temper, inflicted upon the unions. Trade unionists like myself believe that political antagonisms, intensified by the rise of the Labour Party since the present century began, have dictated more than one of the attacks made upon the trade unions. We remember the Taff Vale Judgment, and the Osborne Judgment of 1908-9, when a blow was struck at the growing political influence of the trade unions to engage in political activities of any kind. It struck at the relations between the unions and the Labour Party.
That Act of 1913 did restore to the trade unions some political rights, the rights that other bodies of citizens enjoyed without interference, the right to contribute financially to the support of the party of their choice, the right to spend their own money on lawful political objects. But the 1913 Act limited the political action of the trade unions. It required them to take a ballot of their members before they could add political objects to their statutory objects and before they could collect any contributions at all from their members for the political objects. It required them to keep their political fund separate from all their other funds and did not allow the use of any of the union's general funds for political purposes. The 1913 Act required the unions to allow any of their members to contract out in respect of their political contributions.
Hon. Members opposite feel that these were reasonable restrictions. We take a different view. They see, and have seen for generations past, that the work of trade unions necessitates an active interest in political affairs. Out of the necessities which brought the T.U.C. into contact with the House and with Government Departments, and which exposed its officers to the possibility of such treatment, came the decision of the trade unions to have a party of their own. At the beginning of the present century the Socialist and working-class societies helped to quicken the social conscience of the country and in due course the Labour Party was formed.
Trade unionists believed that they had as much right, and more reasons, to engage an and spend their money on political activities, as any other voluntary association. The Government of the day took the view that the trade unions must not be allowed this measure of political freedom. But if trade unions are affected by legislation, if wage earners are affected by legislation passed here,' they have the same right as other citizens to organise themselves for political purposes. The 1913 Act encouraged members of trade unions to stipulate that none of their union funds should be used for political purposes. That was a loophole which the parties opposite used at the time to promote disunity and dissension inside the trade unions, by spreading among trade unionists political prejudices and encouraging them to withhold their support from the party their fellow trade unionists had founded. It was not only the question of subscriptions to pay affiliation fees to the Labour Party that was involved in the 1913 Act. The whole of the political work of the unions—their approaches to Government Departments on matters affecting their industries, and their interest in local government affairs— was disabled to some extent by the encouragement given to some trade unionists to cease paying union dues in support of the political work of their organisation.
I know that it was said in defence of the 1913 stipulations about the political levy, that a member of a union who makes known his political attitude by applying for the form to contract out, exposes himself to intimidation. There is a short and simple answer to this allegation. It was officially stated that in 12 years following the 1913 enactment, only 66 complaints were made by trade unionists about the way they had been treated in claiming exemption from the political contribution. Half of these cases were found, on investigation by the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies, to be without foundation. The remainder of the cases concerned minor violations of the Act's procedure. There was no victimisation of.trade unionists involved in contracting out. There is abundant evidence that the overwhelming mass of the members of trade unions at that time wholeheartedly agreed to make political contributions. But why should trade unionists be required by law to go through any such procedure as the 1913 Act laid down? No other Act of Parliament requires a body of people to take such action before exercising their right to contribute to a common fund for political objects if they wish to do so. No Act of Parliament ought to impose upon a particular body of citizens—the trade unionists of this country—an obligation which no other body of citizens has to observe. The grievance trade unionists felt under the 1913 Act was enormously intensified by the 1927 Act.
I do not want to go into the details of that Act, but I should like to point out that the 1927 Act struck at manifestations of trade union solidarity in almost every one of its Sections. It struck in the very first Section at the right to strike. It said, in effect, that only those workpeople who were directly concerned in a trade dispute could legally stop work, and only in the industry where the dispute occurred. Other industries, other unions, other bodies of workers, might have a vital concern, though an indirect one, in the issues raised by a particular trade dispute. But the 1927 Act forbade them to take any action in support of and in sympathy with their fellow trade unionists directly involved. That Section was aimed at the massive solidarity of the trades unions, which is one of their strongest features, and, I do not hesitate to say, one of their finest attributes. The country learned to depend on this solidarity during five years of desperate war. It was the rock upon which the Government of this country built the organisation that produced the munitions of war, and nourished our Fighting Forces in all the lands, in the air and on all the seas.
Hon. Members opposite profess great fear of a general strike. I do not believe that this country—I speak as a trade union officer of 25 years' standing—will ever see one, and certainly not for political purposes. The only possibility arises from the stupidity and vindictiveness of some hon. Members and their reactionary friends among the employers. In this connection one piece of danger will shortly be eliminated by the disappearance of the mineowners, that hard-faced set of individuals who bred great ill-will and fostered bitterness in the coalfields, not only for decades tout for generations. The right to strike in pursuance of a trade dispute is the mark which distinguishes slaves from free men.
Again, workers in the Civil Service were deprived of any right of association with unions outside the Service. If any body of citizens has a right to complain of an insult and an injury inflicted upon them by Parliament, it is the workers in the Civil Service. They were told by the Act of 1927 that they must not belong to any union outside their own field of employment, if it had political connections of any description whatever. They were told that the only kind of association that would be tolerated for them inside the Civil Service was one which had no political connections and no political funds, no political programme and no voice in Parliament. This outrageous abridgment of the political and industrial freedom of a loyal, public-spirited, self-sacrificing body of citizens, has been resented by them, and equally strongly resented by their fellow trade unionists. The Measure now before the House will put an end to the treatment of civil servants as if they were themselves lepers or in danger of contracting an incurable disease from contact with lepers outside. By what process of reasoning, by what standard of justice, do hon. Members opposite deny to the postmen who deliver their letters, the rights of free association they claim for themselves?
Further, the Act struck at trade unions in public services. It denied to local authorities the right to say that their employees should belong to trade unions. This was a most illogical provision. There is a Fair Wages Clause, which was agreed to by this House, which is observed by Government Departments and local authorities. That Fair Wages Clause has long been recognised as the standard of relationship between contractors and their employees and public authorities. Surely, it is only consistent that, in a revision of the Fair Wages Clause, which has been in operation for half a century, with revision and extension at different stages, and which was approved by Parliament in 1942, to come into operation at the end of the war, the local authority should have the right to require its employees to belong to the trade unions which have brought about the betterment and improvement of the working conditions they enjoy. Moreover, war legislation, emergency orders of every description affecting the conduct of industry, lay down the same stipulations about the observance of trade union standards of wages, working hours and conditions of employment.
The working of the National Arbitration Tribunal is conditioned by the same principle. Quite a large proportion of the cases dealt with by that Tribunal have been concerned with enforcement on particular employers of the principle of trade union standards. Is it not in the last degree illogical and inconsistent for Parliament, which has thus reinforced in countless ways the practice of collective bargaining, and safeguarded the achievements of collective bargaining in improved conditions of labour, to say to local authorities that they must not insist upon their employees joining the unions which secure those improvements? This provision of the 1927 Act is not merely an encouragement to blacklegging; it is a direct incitement to blacklegging. It flies in the face of the purpose Parliament has had in enacting legislation which recognises the practice of collective bargaining and enforces the results achieved by collective bargaining in the form of trade union agreements establishing recognised standards.
The Government are giving the House an opportunity to be logical and consistent, as well as just and fair, in dealing with the trade unions. This 1927 Act, which the Bill we are discussing today will sweep from the Statute Book, is a tissue of ill-considered, ill-natured and ill-intentioned provisions, which in my humble opinion the Parties opposite should be ashamed to defend or seek to justify. Arrogance and stupidity make a disagreeable political mixture. They are the congenital diseases of a number of the opponents of the trade unions and the Labour Party. Let hon. Members opposite, indeed the whole House, make amends to the great body of organised wage-earners who have been insulted, injured, humiliated, by this earlier legislation. Let the parties opposite help to put this overdue Measure of reparation on to the Statute Book. I trust that in this, my maiden speech, anything I have said, any divergence I may have made from the strict rules of the House, may be forgiven I have said it from the depths of my heart and out of the profundity of my convictions.
It is my privilege and pleasure to be the first hon. Member in this House to congratulate the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. O'Brien) on his maiden speech. I am sure that we are all full of admiration for the eloquence he showed, and impressed by the obvious sincerity of his views, and we were interested in all he said as one who is a trade unionist himself. I can well remember the occasion when I was walking to this House to make my maiden speech. On the way I met a Member of the then Government, and I told him of my nervousness, and how I wished that I had his experience in speaking. He said that he did not want to discourage me— I was the youngest Member in the House at that time—but that he himself, in spite of 30 years in the House of Commons, felt physically ill before he made a speech and had a good drink when it was all over. It is not for me to encourage the hon. Member to excesses of that nature, but I am sure that every one in the House will agree with me that he has earned some slight celebration tonight if he is so minded. I am sure that they also agree with me that we look forward to hearing him many times in the future.
Now, I am afraid, I have to part with the hon. Member because I myself rise to oppose this miserable little Bill, the size and appearance of which, to my mind, are all too true indications of its value and usefulness to the country at this particular moment. I listened with great interest to the arguments put forward in support of this Measure by the learned Attorney-General. It is obviously not for me to cross swords with him on the legal points of his argument. But I would like to deal first with one or two of the non-legal arguments which have been produced, in the Press and elsewhere, in favour of the repeal of this Act, before I go on to the actual Sections of the 1927 Act which it seeks to repeal. I notice today that the mandate still seems to be the theme song of His Majesty's Government. It is true it came out rather coyly today from the learned Attorney-General, and it is quite obvious there is no limit to the use of this argument either by this Government or any other Government who have been successful in an Election. I do humbly suggest however that it does reduce the proceedings of this House to a farce if, on all and every occasion, the electoral mandate is to be used as an excuse for neither listening to nor attempting to answer any criticisms, of arguments, which may be put forward against any particular Measure.
Several important questions have been put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) which deserve an answer I myself think that the House is entitled to an answer to these big constitutional questions which he put, and I think the country has the right to demand an answer other than possibly a parrotlike cry about the electoral mandate. May I now deal with the argument that the right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen are pledged to the repeal of the 1927 Act? I find no difficulty in believing that they are pledged to repeal this Act, because there is no doubt that their pledges and promises covered a very wide field of our national life during the course of the Election. They are, no doubt, pledged to do many other things besides, which there seems little likelihood of them carrying out. I very much doubt whether one per cent. of the electors in this country have the least idea of what all the Sections of the 1927 Act do or do not do. In fact, I really do not see how they could know. I have tried to take an interest in this Act. A month ago I asked our own Vote Office for a copy of the 1927 Act and I might have been asking for a spare copy of Magna Charta for all the hope that they held out of obtaining a copy. It was not until the end of last week that I managed to obtain a copy at all. I do not think it is unreasonable then to assume that the electorate, who gave this great mandate, are on the whole completely ignorant of its provisions. I myself do not think they are even particularly interested in the 1927 Act.
During the course of the last Election I think I addressed close on 200 meetings, and I can honestly say that I was only asked three questions about the Trade Disputes Act of 1927. Each one of those questions referred to Section 5 of that Act which deals with the civil servants. Certainly during the 12 years I have been in this House, I have not received one letter or one complaint, about the unfair provisions contained in this Act. I cannot believe that, in the eyes of the majority of the people in this country, this 1927 Act is the unfair harsh and penal Measure which some hon. Gentlemen opposite would have us believe. Judging by my own postbag, certainly the demand for the repeal of this Act is negligible compared with the demand for dried eggs, houses, and almost any other commodity, in this country today. If the Government were looking for some useful job to fill in their time and the time of the House, they could far more profitably be employed at this particular moment in dealing with some of the commodities which are in such very short supply.
Another argument which is advanced against the 1927 Act is that it was a punitive Measure. I am not for one moment saying that the Act did not come into being as a result of the general strike. The general strike did reveal a certain obscurity in the law as to when or when not a strike was legal. It showed up certain undesirable practices in the matter of intimidation. It showed up a possible weakness in our British Constitution with a Civil Service which might, possibly, have conflicting loyalties in a moment of crisis. I do not think anyone can claim that an Act like the 1927 Act which sought to clarify the law as to when or when not a strike was legal, to abolish certain undesirable practices in the matter of intimidation, and also to strengthen the Constitution by demanding the undivided loyalty of the Civil Service, can accurately be described as a punitive Measure.
I now come to the 1927 Act itself, and those Sections which it is now the object of the Government to repeal. Those who have studied the Act know that Section 1 tries to define what constitutes an illegal strike. There is no question but that the position was obscure at the time of the general strike and prior to the passage of the 1927 Act. As I understand it, that Act did make it quite clear that any strike the object of which was to coerce the elected Government of the day to some particular line of action, and was not a furtherance of a trade dispute, was illegal. I would say to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite that if they consider that the law as amended, or as
a result of the 1927 Act, is punitive and unfair over this question of when or when not a strike is legal, they should openly come forward and amend this Section, and make it quite clear where we stand now and in the future as to whether a general strike, a coercive strike, will be illegal. The question of the legality of a general strike is a matter of such constitutional importance that it cannot be left in any position of obscurity or doubt. This has to be answered definitely one way or the other and we cannot shilly-shally about it. In the words of a popular American song:
If it ain't wrong, it's right.
I do feel that we do want a direct answer from the Government on that particular point. To me it appears quite futile, and an unnecessary waste of time, to be putting back the law into the position of obscurity which it occupied in 1926, which, as I understand it, is what the Government are asking us to do today.
Now, a word or two about Section 3 of the 1927 Act, which deals with intimidation. It is extremely difficult for the lay mind to comprehend fully the law on this subject. I listened very carefully to the learned Attorney-General, but I am afraid I am still rather vague about the position of the law on that point. As I understand it, one of the effects of the repeal of this particular Section will be to legalise in the future the picketing of a workman, his wife and children in his home. I know the home is not quite what it used to be, and that the Englishman's home today seems to be all too often regarded as the lawful playground of the collector of statistics, the political canvasser and the commercial tout and newspaper reporter and so on, and I do not know whether it is much more objectionable to have an odd peaceful picket or two round the house, than to have men arriving to inquire of the wife why she has not had more babies, or, possibly, some other person to solicit support and subscriptions for the very newest and latest peace movement. I think it is a quite unnecessary waste of the time of this House to be engaged in adding one more to the number of people who besiege a man in his home today. It even seems to me to be something of a paradox that a Socialist Government should be actually engaged in nationalising industries where trade disputes have been most frequent in the past, and are most likely to occur in the future. When all is said and done, the unfortunate victim of peaceful picketing would probably not be guilty of a more heinous offence than his laudable desire to continue to work for the State, in spite of what his colleagues may be doing.
I want to deal briefly with Section 5 of the Act, which is concerned with the Civil Service. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington said the impartiality and integrity of the Civil Service had for long been the strength of the British Constitution, and the admiration of other countries who are less fortunate in this respect. The wholesale repeal of this Section, to my mind, will do nothing to stimulate those admirable virtues, but may well lessen public confidence and trust in this great service in the future. After repeal of this Section, a man in the Civil Service may well have two loyalties—one to. the Crown and Government of the day, and the other to the Trades Union Congress, with whom his union may be affiliated, and who may be working actively against the Government of the day and opposed to its policy. Such a man may well be working, in working hours, for the Government and, out of working hours, against the Government. No one can seriously consider that to be a desirable state of affairs. I can well see that a civil servant employed in a Government Department in Whitehall, is in a very different position to a manual worker in the Civil Service, who may be employed in the Post Office or an ordnance factory or even in a nationalised industry. In the first case, it is absolutely vital that the Government and the country can count upon his undivided loyalty. In the second place, it is obviously a question not so important. Soon, there is no doubt, the whole question of the relationship between the State and the trade unions in nationalised industries will have to come up for considerable review and be clarified, and I suggest that then, and not now, is the moment for the Government to decide which branches, if any, of the Civil Service, can safely be excluded from this Section without dangerously weakening the British Constitution.
I would like to say a word now about Section 4 and the vexatious question of the political levy. As I understand it, repeal of Section 4 will reverse the present system of contracting in to one of contracting out. One of the effects, as indicated in the Press by the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle), may be to double the membership and subscriptions of the party opposite. I feel that to get this question in its proper perspective, we have all got to recognise, as, indeed, we all do, that, at the moment, the party opposite can rely upon a large and belligerent majority in the trade union movement. Other parties can only count upon the support of a small and largely passive minority, and this very fact, to my mind, is one of the main arguments at the moment—I am not saying what may happen in the future, when the support of the unions may well be transferred to other parties—for not reversing this system from contracting in, to contracting out. There are, today, many widely divergent views in the world as to what constitutes democracy, but I think the definition generally accepted by most people in this country is that democracy is a form of life or government, in which minorities not only enjoy the same freedom as majorities but are, if anything, given special consideration for the very fact that they are minorities, and I, there-fore, say that anything which runs counter to this definition can be said to be undemocratic.
I recognise that a case could well have been made out, say, up to 1914 or even until 1924, with the, arrival of the first Labour Government, for a system of contracting out. The trade union movement of that time was not the powerful political force in the country which it is today. Its representation in this House was restricted to a small handful of hon. Members, but no one today can claim that the trade union movement is politically insignificant or that its representation in this House is in any way inadequate. There seems to be no question, to my mind, that any advantage which might lie in the system of contracting in or contracting out should go to the benefit of those parties which represent only small minorities in the movement. Another argument which was put forward by the learned Attorney-General was that it really was less bother for a small minority to contract out, than for a large majority to have to go to the. trouble of contracting in, but I feel that we have to remember, on this question, that it is not only a case of the physical effort of obtaining a form and filling it in that we have to consider.
There is a moral effort to be taken into consideration, with due respect to the learned Attorney-General, in this case which I consider by far the more important of the two. In every walk of life and more particularly in politics there is a certain moral effort required and very often immense courage to hold opinions which are different from and unpopular with those men and women with whom one has to live and work. It is always far easier, especially in politics, to swim with the stream, or if you are what the Left Wing textbooks call "politically stagnant," to drift with the stream, than to stand up to or fight against the stream of popular opinion. The repeal of this Section is a definite stab in the back to democracy. In my opinion, democracy can ill afford many such stabs today. I cannot help feeling that there must be many hon. Members in all parts of this House who are not such hardened politicians that they do not feel some slight qualms about the Vote which they are being asked to give on this Bill tomorrow night.
I feel that the Government in the introduction of this Bill stand in rather the same position as a soldier who goes on parade with dirty boots—an unfortunate position in which I myself have been, and in which hon. and gallant Members may also have found themselves. When one is in that position, and when the sergeant-major tells you that your boots are not only the dirtiest boots on that parade but on any other parade which he has ever attended, one is very stupid and ill advised to try to pretend that they are clean. It is quite true that one may, possibly with some hope of success, explain that one was on guard the previous night, and had not had time to clean them that morning, or that blacking had run out in the canteen, but no such excuse has been offered by the Government for the introduction of this grubby little Bill, soiled as it is with party politics and with the very unpleasant suggestion of almost certain financial gain to the party responsible for it. In those circumstances, I sincerely trust that this House will accord this Bill the treatment which it so richly deserves in the Lobby tomorrow night.
I would like first to congratulate the Government on bringing forward this Measure, and to thank the learned Attorney-General for the excellent speech which he made in introducing the Bill. I must confess that at one period of his journey I myself was intimidated, and I shall have to ask him privately for some definitions of intimidation before I feel perfectly free.
I have long awaited this opportunity being presented to the House to assist in taking the controls off labour. The party opposite are always in favour of taking off controls, and I thought this would be an excellent opportunity for them to add one more to the controls that they wished to take off. Apparently there are some reasons why they are not too enthusiastic about this, however, although I do not feel that the enthusiasm for voting against this Bill is as real as the speeches have tried to demonstrate. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) told us that before the 1927 Disputes Act we were losing 8,000,000 working days a year. I am sure it was not because he lacked resources, but had he been willing to calculate the 2,000,000 unemployed that we had at that period, and for years before and afterwards, he would have found something like 50,000,000 working days a year were lost because there was no employment. It is extraordinary how hon. Members opposite fasten upon the days lost through strikes, when one considers that the days lost through enforced idleness and through men being denied access to opportunity have been the result of the social system which they support so intensively.
Again, with regard to this question of the right to impose a condition of employment on members of trade unions, I am unable to see what is wrong with it. The Attorney-General may tell us that it is intimidation when a man is told that he should belong to a union, but candidly I am unable to see it. Let us take any ordinary avocation of life. How many people voluntarily pay their Income Tax? If a man is able to escape paying his Income Tax, he does so. I do not think there are many people who are anxious to pay it. Perhaps one could have a contracting in or contracting out Clause. On the question of men being willing to receive all the advantages and benefits of wage negotiations, I have never known a non-unionist who was not willing to accept all the advantages. Judging by the railways there is a large number of people who try to ride without paying their fares.
Now let me come to what I think is the background of the 1926 dispute. I was fortunate enough to be a leading actor in the negotiations leading up to the 1926 dispute, and subsequently I remember vividly before the war of 1914–18 the Free Labour Organisation that was running in this country. Mr. Collinson was the director of it, and the object was to find money to fight the trade unions and to organise what labour was available. Those who were street-corner loungers and public-house loungers were taken to places where men had withdrawn their. labour, and overnight they were turned into props of England's pride. During the war of 1914–18 the Federation of Employers and the Federation of British Industries, two very powerful organisations, had assumed very great importance. The Federation of Employers was the economic organisation, and the Federation of British Industries was, more or less, on the commercial side advertising their wares abroad. In the country itself, the Federation of Employers assumed tremendous importance. They were handling all the questions of labour and conditions in every industry, and after the war they came into consultation with most of the industries and advised them how they were to deal with claims in respect of wages and conditions.
I myself took part in many negotiations, but I always found a stumbling block. The point that was always argued was that of international competition. Then there came the organised labour movement of this country and the trade union movement, which is not an accident or an incident, and which has not grown out of the perverseness of character of a few individuals, but has grown out of the economic and social conditions of our time. Whenever we were told about the international competition, we knew that there were bad conditions and low wages abroad, and we knew that British industry was, to some extent, adversely affected. We immediately took steps, through the International Labour Office, for promoting and assisting in promoting conventions throughout the whole of the civilised world, fighting against bad conditions of labour and rates of pay so that British industry would not be unfairly handicapped when our goods competed in the international market. We took that stand definitely.
That did not prevent the Federation of British Industries—I think there have been some changes among the representative men whom I knew fairly well; I hope that had some influence—from using a fresh technique in dealing with labour disputes. They were no longer dealing with the small organisation that was not powerful enough to defend itself. Immediately after the war of 1914–18 there were disputes, first with the National Union of Railwaymen, then with the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, then with the great engineering industry, then with the textile industry and the building industry, and back again to the miners in 1925. There was a mass attack upon the standard of labour at that time. They were no longer dealing with small ones. We had my old friend, a former Member for Derby, Jim Thomas, who led the railwaymen in 1919 in order to try to defend a wage of£2 a week. Then there were my old friends Bob Smillie and Frank Hodges, who in 1921 were trying to defend the minimum wage of£2 or two guineas a week. The attack had to go on with the engineering industry, textiles and building and so on back to the miners in 1925.
Before 1914 the Free Labour Organisation run by Collinson was definitely attacking the standards of labour of the people of this country. Capitalism in all its viciousness was turned upon those standards. I know of no industries where there has been voluntarily offered to the men who have made the wealth of the country, an opportunity to participate in the fortunes of the industry. Every time there has been a demand for any improvement, it has had to be marshalled by the union, and there has had to be agitation and the threat of a strike in order to obtain any material improvement. Working men and women are not fools. In the trade union movement we have men and women with an extraordinary degree of intelligence. Men and women who were educated discussed this general tendency, and asked where it was leading. One after the other, the workers in the big industries—the railwaymen, the miners, the engineers, the textile workers, the builders and again the miners—asked where was the end of all this, and they said there must be a halt called at some time or other. There was a triple alliance formed to fight the first struggle, but they were not powerful enough. The Trades Union Congress decided that it was necessary for the whole of the organised labour movement to call a halt to this attack upon the standards of life; otherwise, we were in danger of going into a morass from which there might have been no escape.
It is important to understand what led to the strike. The T.U.C. were so concerned that they established an industrial committee on this matter, and it was a very high powered committee because I was its chairman. The Trades Union Congress appointed this committee to watch over the negotiations and events. Mr. A. J. Cook was the secretary of the miners, Mr. Herbert Smith was the president and Mr. Richardson from Durham was the treasurer. Our task was to keep in touch with all the consultations which took place in order that the Trades Union Congress might be adequately informed, and in order that they might report to their affiliated societies exactly what had happened. Those who think this is a legal dispute should realise that, fundamentally, it was humanity that was causing this response. We got the response from the people. As a member of the general council, the circumstances necessitated that my colleagues and I should be leading actors in one of the greatest and noblest dramas in the history of our country. Despite all the pain that had to be endured afterwards—with all the ragged and fragmentary conditions and the victimisation which took place afterwards—it definitely called a halt and demanded some special consideration. Deep in my heart I possess a glowing pride in the part I was privileged to play, in serving trade unionism in that day. There were mistakes. It is a wonder we did not make more. We might have shown greater wisdom, but I marvel at the wisdom we did show. We were so tactful, so conciliatory, so willing to come to terms and so ready to resign ourselves to the acceptance of conditions which were universally recognised as bad and unnecessary. That was the attitude of the great trade union movement of which so many people have written and spoken.
There are many hon. Members in this House with wider and much more intimate knowledge of coalmining than I have, and, therefore, they have had firsthand experience of the hardships and perils. They have spent their lives in the coalfields. They have been beset by poverty and often overwhelmed by tragedy. They know the background, and they will be able to give more precise information than I can. But to say that I have never been in the coalmines would not be telling the truth. I was an organiser of my union for many years. I was organising building trade workers, and I was in the Welsh valleys and other valleys. When I remember the Welsh valleys I am reminded of the book "How Green Was My Valley," and of how uninviting and dark were the caverns beneath it. The men had to come out on strike to defend a wage of£2 a week because of the development of capitalism to try and drive them down. Men of great courage, discipline and comradely spirit faced danger and lived in very bad conditions. I have seen their houses. There is no amenity for them. The marvel is that the men and their families have tolerated what they have had to tolerate. It was that background which was responsible for the great upsurge of humanity and the response to the call that was made to come out in defence of the miner.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) was, I think, Chancellor of the Exchequer then and we remember his part in connection with the "British Gazette." Many of us recall reading that, when it was flown over from Paris every day, speaking about insurrection, and about the question of a social revolution, trying to convey to the minds of people in this country that we were out for a social revolution. I was one of those concerned and believe me if we had wanted to use the organisation for a social revolution, we would have done it in a totally different way. It was purely a trade dispute. It was definitely on that plane, and it was kept to a trade dispute. Great men and women of the trade unions movement, men of great experience, great negotiating experience, and great knowledge were there with their unions, all come to the aid of the miners in this trade dispute. Do hon. Members think they were out for insurrection at that time? But the propaganda against us was definitely bad, and in a moment I will quote something that was spoken at that time, which I think was very bad.
I want to stress and emphasise strongly that the motive was profoundly human, a highly social one. It was trying to prevent the degradation of the standard of life. It extended over hundreds of thousands of workers. It was very likely to come on again unless it was stopped, and it could not be stopped by argument, it could not be stopped by good reason, it could not be stopped by splendid advocacy, and it could not be stopped by honeyed words. The only possible way to stop it was to cause sufficient inconvenience in industry to compel the other side to sit up and listen. [Hon. Members: "Blackmail."] That is perfectly true. My own industry have been compelled to come out in disputes from time to time. It was no use coming out for a month, five weeks, six weeks or two months; because the inconvenience would not be felt. When the railway men came out transport was at a standstill and immediately the thing was felt. Therefore, it is not a question of the justice of the claim of the particular industry that fits into the mosaic of our national life, but the amount of inconvenience they are able to cause.
In July, 1925, the mine owners demanded a series of wage reductions varying from 3s.to 15s.per week in the mining industry, according to the district, the abolition of the mimimum wage and probably longer hours in the pits. The Miners' Federation flatly refused that, and were supported by the Trades Union Congress. We had many meetings with the unions I was present at many meetings to see what could be done to assist in promoting settlement. We were very anxious for that. I will tell the House in a moment what happened in 1926 when we brought the present Lord Samuel, then Sir Herbert Samuel, back from Italy with a view to interpreting his own award in the hope that we would be able to get a decent settlement. Then it was decided that we should call a meeting of the affiliated unions. Pledges were given to assist the miners, materially and financially, in the event of a stoppage. As a result, the Government gave the miners a nine months' subsidy. I believe the figure was roughly£ 5,000,000, put up for the purpose of paying the difference for this period of nine
months between what would have been the ordinary wages and any loss that the owners might incur. At any rate, that was how the matter was stated to the public, but behind the scenes and in many secret ways I personally believe the organisation went on to promote the most reckless kind of class war one can ever imagine. I would like to read what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford said in the House on 10th December, 1925:
We were also impressed with the fact that the country as a whole was not sufficiently informed about the character and immense consequences of such a struggle as that with which it was confronted. It is quite clear that a conflict of this kind, launched in this way, might easily cease to be a mere ordinary industrial dispute about wages and conditions and might assume a character altogether different from such industrial disputes. If that were to ensue. then it is quite clear that such a conflict between the community on the one hand, with the Government at its head, and many of the great trade unions on the other, could only end in one way, namely, by the community, at whatever cost, emerging victorious over an organised section of its citizens, however valuable, important, and even numerous that section was. We considered, therefore, that should such a struggle be found to be inevitable at the very last moment, it was of supreme importance that it should only be undertaken under conditions which would not expose the nation needlessly or wantonly to perils the gravity of which cannot possibly be over-estimated. We therefore decided to postpone the crisis in the hope of averting it, or if not of averting it, of coping effectually with it when the time came. Accordingly, we entered upon an agreement with the employers to pay them for a period of nine months the adverse difference, if any, between the ascertained wage and the minimum wage, whatever that might be."— [Official Report, 10th December, 1925; Vol. 189, c. 733.]
I think that is a very illuminating statement. One of the most fantastic of the assumptions is that the nation is something apart from the working people. Nine-tenths of the people of this country either work for wages or depend upon wages for a livelihood. Who are the nation? I think it is a fantastic assumption to say that the community has to be preserved against itself. It is difficult to assume that the employers, the wealthy and privileged alone are the nation. Economic changes have long outmoded the outlook that the employers, the wealthy and the privileged are the nation. We are living in a different world altogether. The workers are educated. They
have had long training in methods of democracy. We have trained them in democracy, in discipline and in understanding and loyalty to their trade unions, to their co-operative societies, to their political organisations. They are very well-educated, and I would say they have, generally, a higher level of social consciousness than those who oppose them.
When the national dispute took place, it was in fact an active response to a challenge, and was permeated with the comradeship of the people of mutual aid and sacrifice. Men came out on strike when it meant their livelihood would be in jeopardy, when it meant additional debts to many, and to others who had not previously incurred debts it meant debts would be established. It meant privation, and very often hunger. In spite of all that, they came out in their millions, a mighty upsurge on behalf of the miners. Whatever Act of Parliament you may put on the Statute Book, you will never be able to legalise sympathy out of existence. Sympathy springs from deep down in the hearts and minds of men when they feel injustice is being done. They came out as a protest against the terrible conditions. One of the most glorious sights in life is when you see a man standing up, without resources, defying all the agencies around him in order that he may defend all that is his for his wife, his children and his home. Is there any grander sight than that? I love to see a man do that—I would rather see him do that than cringing, crawling, and begging for help.
Here were these men, beset with poverty, living in terrible conditions, sacrificing their jobs by the million and standing up in defence of a great human principle. May God grant that it will always be so. I feel that very intensely. The House knows as well as I know that a strike against intolerable conditions is one of the most glorious sights of life. Thousands of men with settled, permanent and well-paid jobs joined in the strike, including many railwaymen, some of them station masters, who were on the point of being pensioned. They came out in defence of the miners. Those who have not been in and out of the working class movement are unable to understand this, but these men came out in defence of the miners in 1926. There was a great display of force—we saw the soldiers being mobilised in the parks, but we would not allow them to be used. We kept clear of that.
I am sure hon. Members will believe me when I say that I felt this matter very strongly. I felt that it was a wonderful thing. I regretted its necessity, as everyone did, and we tried our best to prevent it, but we did not succeed. Millions came out in the general strike in defence of the homes of a million miners, in a grand battle. The Government took provocative action, with its display of force, but I do not propose to dwell upon that. In spite of the taunts that were made at the time, and have frequently been made since, the unions held steadfastly to the conception that it was, and must be, considered as an industrial dispute, and that it should be kept to the traditional course of such a dispute. There is no need for me to emphasise that my colleagues on the Trades Union Congress were able men—they are now—and those who think that this Bill will make them into chartered libertines who will ride roughshod over every other interest ought to look at where they come from. They feel a deep resentment against this piece of legislation, and they have asked us to put it right. I hope we shall put it right.
We were not seeking a social revolution by any means. No doubt this great dispute came to a ragged conclusion. Many of those who took part had lost their jobs, though the only thing that could be charged against them was that they came out in defence of the homes of a million miners, whom they were trying to assist in preventing further degradation. They came out for 10 days, and in many cases when they went to get their jobs back they were unable to do so. Many of the bigger unions were able to use their power to see that their members were restored, but some were not. Had there been any general understanding and wisdom on the other side the dispute would never have taken place.
I remember the negotiations with Lord Samuel, who was Chairman of the Coal Commission. He was in Italy writing a book, and we sent for him to come home. I took part in the conference we had with him in a house in a London square with the miners' representatives, seeking to interpret the conclusions in his own Report. He was frustrated, as we all were, because at the back of it all I believe there was a definite willingness to engage in a struggle and prevent a reasonable settlement being arrived at. It was thought that we were down and out, that the time was opportune to go a bit further, and fasten the chains of servitude more firmly upon the people. I believe that that was the feeling and sentiment of that time.
But it was not true. It served as a great rallying time, it made plain to the trade unionists who were their most bitter opponents. It embittered civil servants, and particularly the postal workers, and it showed how vital were political organisation and activity, and the political levy clause. It showed the importance of that, and I want to see it reinstated. I want to see more money coming in. I want to see the position that we now occupy confirmed. We shall confirm it, not only by money but by understanding. I was chairman of the Trades Union Congress in Edinburgh next year, and I made a speech that became famous, and was responsible for efforts being made to see what could be done to surmount the difficulties. Perhaps many hon. Members will never have heard of it, but we did engage in some discussion to see how far it was possible to discuss conditions, between workmen and employers, with a view to further general progress.
It was my task to assemble the somewhat battered ranks of labour—they were battered, many of them were soured and bitter, many of them were not too polite, and we were put to great inconvenience because we had not triumphed. This Act gave the unions and the Labour movement a wonderful stimulus. We had multitudinous meetings throughout the country, and hundreds of thousands of workers pledged themselves definitely never to let up until this Act was repealed. The Act has been a source of burning resentment, and if ever an Act failed in its purpose I believe this one did. It failed because it was impossible to abolish sympathy by Act of Parliament. Deep down in the hearts of men will ever rise protest against oppression and injustice. It is to the greater glory of mankind that it is so.
I am a very proud man to-night, having taken some part, during my life, in assisting in organising workers under very difficult conditions, helping to build up an organisation, calling attention in a disciplined way to things that were wrong, enlisting public sympathy and support, and presenting and marshalling facts and arguments before employers. I have helped to try and improve the lot of the people, and the action we took in 1926, and the spontaneous response of millions of people in this country, was one of the most glorious things I ever witnessed.
This Act was a vindictive Act intended to chain us further and hold us still deeper down. Now, thanks to the electorate and thanks to the Labour Party and this Government, we have an opportunity of re-establishing the old position, and I am very glad and proud of it. I sit down in the full knowledge that this Act will surely be repealed, and I hope that it will redound to the credit of this country and the world at large that this act of justice has at last been performed.
I welcome the opportunity of speaking tonight, and while other hon. Members have spoken purely from the political standpoint and others purely from the trade union standpoint, I want to approach the matter from the industrial standpoint. If I criticise some of the points made by the Attorney-General it is simply because I am seriously concerned with the effect on industry. I should like to assure the Attorney-General that my criticisms have not been stimulated by any propaganda from the Tory Party. I opposed them successfully on two occasions in my constituency, and indeed their propaganda usually fills me with a good deal of misgiving and mistrust.
I am concerned with what may happen in consequence of the total abolition of this Act. I think it is true to say that in the last six years there has been greater understanding between employers, employees and the trade unions, than ever before, and it is a vital necessity that there should be a continuation of the full co-operation of the three groups in industry. Indeed, in my own factory I have never yet operated without having a full agreement with the trade unions, because I have found that extremely helpful and extremely valuable. Nevertheless, the Attorney-General today spoke about the majority of the factories of this country being closed shops. Mine are not closed shops, because I believe it is an imposition on the liberty of the individual to be compelled to belong to something to which, maybe, he does not want to belong. Let the propaganda and the work of the trade unions be such that they can attract all the workers into the unions for their protection where protection is necessary. Where intimidation has indeed taken place—and many hon. Members on the Government side know this is true as well as I do—is in some of these closed shops, where there are men and women who did not want but had to belong to a specific trade union otherwise they could not work. Do not let us take this a step further, by imposing a general condition that a man or a woman automatically belongs to a political party unless he or she will contract out. I think this is most improper. Many workmen today, and quite rightly so, belong to all political parties, the Labour Party, the Liberal Party, the Tory Party, and, of course, the best of them are Independants. I am concerned as an employer and I try to be a good employer, with the significance of the political levy, in particular. I do not run a political party fund, so the finance of myself being involved does not arise. It is true, or has been true, that the Tory Party have had great moneys paid into their political fund, but there has been no compulsion. Let us give them credit for that. I do not give them credit for much. I cannot. But let us give them that much credit.
I do, but there has still been no compulsion. I ask the hon. and gallant Member not to attempt to carry me away on this kind of argument, because I shall have to attack his party for the same reasons of political advancement being a reward for belonging to a political party. Do not take me off on that, or I shall have to give an election address. I say with all sincerity, we have heard speeches on the Opposition side, and rather nasty ones, about the fact that a lot of houses have not been built and that there is a food shortage. This has been public political propaganda against the Labour Party and the Labour Government. I am not entering into that. I am wishing the Labour Government well. I do not think the Government have had time enough yet to get on with the tremendous tasks they have before them. [An Hon. Member: "Or the food."] The hon. Member does not look as though he has gone hungry. I do say this, that in wishing the Labour Government well, I wish that whoever is to answer this Debate for the Government will tell me whether or not something is to be introduced subsequently to give the men and women of the trade organisations absolute political freedom without form-filling in any shape or form; so that we may take away the lists of those who contracted in previously and the lists of those who have contracted out now. I hope we shall be told that something is to be done to give real political freedom to the factories and workshops. Without it we shall have—as there has been—intimidation in many factories and workshops of workpeople to join a specific union. There will be the possibility without this protection of taking political affiliation to the point of intimidation. There is this possibility, and it is a dangerous possibility and not one worthy of this Government.
The Labour Government and party have a great chance today to attach many people to their party by good government, not by the imposition that will come from the total abolition of the 1927 Act. Get your affiliation because you are worthy of it. Get your money for your political funds because the people say you are worthy of having those funds. The Labour Party does not have to fear the folk of the Conservative Party—not for one moment. The Labour Government have the greatest opportunity that any Government has had in recent years, certainly in this century. Do not throw it away. Attract by good government the kind of people you want into your party and do not impose this contracting-out clause. It is no good the, Attorney-General saying that when intimidation occurs one can appeal to the Registrar-General of Friendly Societies. He may be the most admirable man in the country, but the ordinary man in the workshop, the turner, the driller, the grinder, does not know anything about the Registrar-General of Friendly Societies, who is to give him protection in contracting out. Political intimidation takes place. It already takes place in here. I have had experience of that personally from Members of the Tory Party, but, thank God, they do not get away with it. Indeed, it was Labour Members who came across and gave me and my kind a good deal of help.
It would take up the time of the House a little too much, but I will give the House some facts. I remember my introduction to this House of Commons in 1942 when I fought a by-election, and how quickly I was challenged on the Floor of this House on the Public Accounts Committee Report—a horrible and shocking experience for any Member of this House to have to go through because of some of the actions and pressure of right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Members of the Tory Party. When the true facts were known I was not only given complete exoneration but credit for my workers and myself for having done a most creditable piece of war work. It was this Government which gave justice in that extremely important matter which affected the livelihood of so many. With the help of the A.E.U. in particular—I take great pleasure in publicly thanking them for their assistance on that particular issue and this Government for all the help they have given to some 3,000 of us. But to abolish in toto the whole of the 1927 Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act does fill me with great misgiving in respect of the political set-up that may take place in the factories and industries of the country.
There is one further point which I wish to deal with. I gave a promise and a pledge with regard to Section 5 of the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act in respect of civil servants and their free right to decide whether or not they want to affiliate with the T.U.C. I would support the abolition, absolutely and totally, of Section 5 which interferes with their right as to whether or not they shall belong to a trade union organisation that is tied up with other organisations outside the Civil Service. I believe that Section. must be and should be abolished, as it interferes with the liberties of the individual, which are dear to so many of us. I hope that before it comes to voting, the Government will give some kind of assur- ance to protect free political affiliations of the individual, because there are millions of people terribly interested and worried and indeed affected by this one particular Section in the Act— that of contracting out.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to make my first speech in this House on a subject which is so very dear to my heart. I decided on my election that I would try to make my maiden speech on the repeal of the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act. As it turned out, I am afraid that I backed a loser, because I have had to wait a long time under very great provocation at times from Members of the opposite benches who have taunted me and many other hon. Members with being a solid phalanx voting without thought for the policy we promised when we placed ourselves before the electorate.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Grantham (Mr. Kendall) has tried to examine this Bill impartially, but he has one or two misgivings with which I would like to deal as impartially as it is possible for one who feels strongly about the rectification of what he believes to be a great wrong. So far as compulsory trade unionism is concerned, I say quite definitely that I do not believe in it, and I do not think there are many members in the Labour ranks who do believe in it. We want to convince people who are eligible for membership that our organisation is worth joining, because any union that can rely on voluntary membership is in a much stronger position in its activities than a union which has to resort to compulsory membership. It is very rare, if it exists at all, for members to be forced to join a union, although there is, as has been mentioned by the Attorney-General, a feeling of distaste on the part of people who have to work alongside others who are getting all the benefits but are not prepared to pay for them. That is a difficult problem, and it is only natural that we should feel some distaste and misgiving against people who are getting all the benefits for which we are striving and yet are not prepared to pay for them. Being human beings, we cannot help that feeling.
There is freedom in the union of which I am a member—the Railway Clerks' Association. We have an annual conference which decides our policy, and time and time again we have defeated resolutions asking for compulsory trade union membership. We turned them down because we think they are wrong. I say frankly with regard to the clause, which, it has been said, gives powers to local authorities to make membership of a trade union compulsory, that it does not. All it does is to remove the prohibition in the Act of 1927. I have been a member of a local authority for 17 years, and we have steadfastly resisted, although we have a Labour majority, any attempt to make membership compulsory on the part of our servants. I am speaking personally, but I think that any local authority which makes a condition of service compulsory upon membership of a trade union is making a great mistake. It is only in rare instances, if any, that compusory membership does exist. On these things I agree with the criticism of the hon. Member.
Now let me come to matters on which I disagree. I am devoting myself particularly to the speech of the hon. Member for Grantham, because I think that he is trying to view this matter impartially, so far as possible. He is afraid of a compulsory political levy. I want to ask right hon. Members and hon. Members if they can give me instances in this democratic country of ours of any organisations where, after having taken a majority decision, the individual members of that organisation have to take an individual, personal step to do something which they have decided to do as an organisation. Before trade unions can join the Labour Party we have to engage in an educational campaign to try to convince the members that the Labour Party is worth joining. My union is a black-coated workers' organisation, which sometimes considers itself a little above the ordinary black-faced workers. We find great difficulty in trying to convince them that they should belong to the working class movement. We have to engage on an educational campaign, and we have to get a ballot vote in order to join the Labour Party. We hamstrung ourselves in 1927 when we passed a resolution that we must have a two-thirds majority before we could join the Labour Party.
We got it eventually by active propaganda work among our membership. We convinced our people that the Labour Party was worth joining. The Labour Party is the child of the trade union movement. The trade union movement have tried the Tory Party and the Liberal Party for generations, and then they came to the conclusion, after long experience, that if they wanted anything done in the way of legislation, which was going to benefit the workers of this country, they must form their own political movement. We on the railways are particularly affected by legislation, and from time to time have had to come to this honourable House for their assistance. We are grateful to Members on both sides for the help given to us in the past in order to get things remedied which we thought were wrong. If that is the case it is natural that we should want to join that particular party, but to do so we had to get the majority of our members to agree. I want to ask if any Member knows of any other organisation where, after having a vote and deciding on a course of action, it is necessary for every individual to take steps to confirm it. Why should it be if we are a democratic people who believe in majority rule?
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) went to Preston recently and unsuccessfully tried to get the Tory candidate returned. He used a phrase which caused me some surprise when I read it. It was to the effect that the restoration of the principle of contracting out, as against contracting in, would be constitutionally wrong. He has been in the Diplomatic Service, or at any rate he has served in the Foreign Office. He has done wonderfully well, if I might say so— I hold him in very great respect— and he has learned the use of words. I was surprised to learn that he used a word like "constitutional" with regard to the position of contracting in and contracting out, because, very humbly, I suggest that the constitutional position is, that the majority having decided to affiliate, then all must affiliate. That is democratic rule, but we go beyond that.
In our anxiety to be fair we say, although we have decided as a majority to go into the Labour Party, it would not be fair to compel people who have other political views to pay their levy even if they do not want to. Therefore, we take the extra step which is repeated in very rare cases— the Attorney-General mentioned vaccination, and that is one. in- stance where one can object, but there are very few cases in this country where it is given to the individual to depart as an individual from a majority decision—of agreeing to a member contracting out against the wishes of the majority. Can anyone quarrel with that? The hon. Member for Grantham spoke about the fear of having a list of those who contract out. May I say to him—and I know from 25 years' experience of running a trade union—that we have not, generally speaking, the slightest idea who is contracting out and who is contracting in? It is only the branch secretary who keeps the books who knows, and Members of this House, who are members of a trade union branch, know that that is a fact. We are not curious about it. We do not know who they are and we do not take any steps to find out. They are entitled to their opinion, and if they think that the Tory Party, although it is inexplicable to most of us, is the right political party to support, then good luck to them. They are entitled to contract out.
My last point is with regard to the general strike. I took part in that general strike and it is one of the proudest things in my life. I am a member of the Railway Clerks' Association. We never in our 50 years of history found it necessary to declare a strike for our own objects. Yet we came out on strike in 1926 in defence of the miners. Do not hon. Members opposite think that there must have been something exceptional to justify a course of action like that? Do they remember what happened? In 1925 there was nearly trouble, and the subsidy was granted to the coalowners in order to prepare for the "show down "in 1926. They left the position so that no self-respecting trade unionist in 1926 could do other than come out in support of his brothers in the mining industry who were being attacked. That is what we had to face at that time and we came out. I am the national treasurer of my association. We spent£ 242,000 in that strike which was more than the wealth we had in our coffers at that time. Do right hon. and hon. Members think we would lightly engage on a thing of that kind, losing the wealth that we had accumulated over the years and creating the misery which was created unless there was some principle at stake? High class stationmasters were sent out to work in country stations and kept there for over two years for having gone on strike. That is the kind of thing that happened as a result of our battle for solidarity at that time.
I hope and believe that we shall not have a repetition of that kind of thing. This is not a Bill to authorise a general strike, for we do not want a general strike. I do not believe there will ever be another; I cannot imagine that there will ever be a Government which will deliberately work for it as did the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wood-ford (Mr. Churchill) and my illustrious predecessor who represented the division of Walton—F. E. Smith, who later became Lord Birkenhead. In my view those two were the chief people who engineered the strike in order to try to put the workers where they wanted them, and because I cannot believe that that will ever happen again, I do not think there need be any fear of a general strike. I shall go into the Lobby tomorrow night with a happy heart, firstly, because I have got my maiden speech off my chest, and secondly, and most important, because, although I am a new Member of this House, I am already beginning to be jealous of its traditions, and I firmly believe that those traditions will be sweeter, better and cleaner by the removal from the Statute Book of this obnoxious Measure.
The hon. Member for Walton (Mr. Haworth) can give another reason for happiness and that is that his maiden speech was an extraordinarily good one. It is not often that, in a maiden speech, a Member indulges in the cut and thrust of debate and deals with the arguments of speakers who have preceded him. The hon. Member was full of his subject, and delivered his speech fairly, sensibly and persuasively. It is my pleasure to congratulate him and I hope we shall hear him often in the future. I also take this opportunity as an old Member of the House of congratulating the Attorney-General. I congratulate him even more sincerely as an old member of the Bar and as an old King's Counsel. His speech was not only a Parliamentary triumph; it was a forensic triumph. While I am in the congratulatory mood may I also congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden)? Those of us who remember the atmosphere in the House on the 1927 Measure, are entitled to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman for introducing into this Debate an air of reasonable inquiry, instead of the passion which there was in the Chamber in that year.
The effect of this Bill will not be to create any new position. It will be to' restore the position as it was under the Acts of 1906 and 1913, for which my predecessors in the Liberal Party, which then formed the Liberal Government, were responsible. They voted against the 1927 Bill, because they regarded it as unnecessary, ill-timed, and ill-advised and, what is more— as so many Members of the Labour Party at that time regarded it— as containing a certain measure of political punishment and vindictiveness. I think the Members of my Party at that time were right. Their view, which was the view expressed by the Attorney-General today, was that a general strike, in the sense in which the hon. and learned Gentleman defined it—and his definition was the clearest I have yet heard from any legal adviser—was that what was illegal before 1927 will remain illegal when the 1927 Act is repealed. When a strike is aimed at the Constitution, when men bring pressure to bear by combining together— instead of using ordinary constitutional methods to bring down the Government, to change the view of the Government— to endanger the community there is no one who would not say that that, under the law of England, has been a punishable offence.
That was a view which was taken by eminent members of the legal profession, and also by the Conservative Government. The Attorney-General at that time, Sir Douglas Hogg, now Lord Hail-sham was careful to explain, when introducing the 1927 Bill, that Clauses 1, 2 and 3 were really declaratory of the existing law. He said that the Bill was not making any new laws, but was purely making clear, beyond a peradventure, what was the general view at that time. I want it to be clearly understood that my colleagues and I, and, I believe, Members on all sides of the House, regard a general strike, in the sense that was used by the Attorney-General, as a revolutionary com- bination to achieve an object other than the settlement of an industrial dispute, or an improvement in wages and hours, as not only being illegal under the 1927 Act, but one which will still be illegal when that Act has gone.
I commend to the House the words of another very eminent lawyer, who was Prime Minister and leader of my Party. Great lawyer though he was, I do not think that he was more precise in this respect than the Attorney-General has been today. Lord Oxford and Asquith said that what distinguished a general strike from all others was this: "That it is a blow not struck by one combatant at the other, but one which is directed, whether in intention or in fact, by its inevitable results at the very vitals of the community." There is not one of us who. would say that such a strike is legal under the Common Law of England.
I agree that difficulty arises, as it arose under the 1927 Act, in distinguishing precisely when a strike which, in its initiation is legal, may become illegal as time goes on. It is largely a question of fact as to when it ceases to be legal and becomes illegal. I do not think that under that Act or, indeed, under any other, the position can be made absolutely clear and definite. I would prefer to leave it as it was before the 1927 Act came into existence. A mere declaration, under an Act of Parliament, that a step is illegal, or likely to be punishable as an illegality, will not prevent men who are deeply moved by a situation, and who are determined to take tremendous risks, from striking. I think the "Manchester Guardian" put it extremely well when it stated that an Act of Parliament will no more stop men from acting illegally under such circumstances than the Treason Act stopped Cromwell and his soldiers from taking the action they did.
I remember another illustration, which was used by Mr. Philip Snowden, as he then was, in one of his greatest Parliamentary efforts in that Parliament of. which he was a Member. He asked if such a situation arose, and it could only arise when feelings were deeply moved, when there was something tremendous at issue, and the whole of the trade union movement came out in support of it, how could you then put five million men in the dock, and prosecute them? But, nevertheless, let it be clearly understood that a general strike, in that sense, is illegal and wrong, and that any person refusing to take part in it can be protected.
The Attorney-General was absolutely right about intimidation, which was illegal before the 1927 Act came into being. A threat of any kind against any man to compel him to do something against his will has always been illegal, and a criminal offence, under the Common Law of this country. Section 3 of the Act added practically nothing of any value. My view is that if Sections 1, 2 and 3 were removed, the law would remain just as clear and just as effective as it was prior to the 1927 Act.
I come now to Sections 4, 5 and 6, and I will begin with Sections 5 and 6. Section 5 prevents civil servants from being associated with the Trades Union Congress, or with any political party. We feel that civil servants, like anybody else, should be allowed freedom of association. We feel, however, that they should not, owing to the very circumstances of democratic government in this country, affiliate with any political party. It would be better if they did not do so, because of the changes of parties and the changes of Government. We prefer, however, to leave that to their own judgment rather than to prevent them from enjoying the right of every free British man to choose his own associates. I do not think there is any danger in giving this right to the Civil Service. I think the last, and indeed the only, time on which there was a strike among civil servants was as long ago as 1890, when the letter-carriers in the Post Office struck at one of the London offices. That took place before they were affiliated with any other trade union. Section 6 makes it legal for a local or public authority to discriminate in certain ways between a unionist and a non-unionist. Again, I cannot see any real distinction at the present time between a local authority employer and any other employer. The only thing I suggest to the Government is that possibly, since the decision in the case of Moscrop v. the London Transport Passenger Board, they might perhaps think it more helpful to them if this Section were to remain on the Statute Book. Undoubtedly, it helps in the case of difficulties caused by breakaway unions and unofficial strikes. However, for reasons to which I shall refer later, I think no great harm will be done if this Section is repealed.
I come to Section 4. It is on this Section that I and my colleagues have received most letters, from every part of the country. I would remind the House that it was in 1913 that we put on the Statute Book the provision concerning contracting-out. Section 4 of the 1927 Act reversed that position, and instead of contracting-out, there was contracting-in. The Attorney-General said, quite rightly and fairly, that contracting-in did show a difference, but he then said that it was right that advantage should be taken of the inertia of some people. He said it was right that, the trade union having decided by a majority in a secret ballot in favour of a political affiliation, the action should be binding upon the minority, but that under the 1913 Act, complete freedom was given to the men to contract-out, and that provision worked extraordinarily well. Then came the 1927 Act, which reversed the position, and said that before a man paid he must agree to do so, and that he must hand the money in for the particular political purpose. Experience shows that the moment that new system was introduced the political funds fell. I should have thought that, for the sake of the trade union movement and the Labour Party, hon. Members opposite would have preferred to have a voluntary payment, made by somebody believing implicitly in the political faith of the trade union, to taking advantage even of the inert person who does not bother. Surely, it is much better to have enthusiastic men contributing towards your political funds than to rely upon the fellow who does not care. I agree that under both systems the fellow who does not care need not subscribe.
This matter has sunk deeply into the minds of the people I ask the Government to put down an Amendment to retain Section 4 as it is now. To do so will do them no good and it will not do them a great deal of harm. It will, at any rate, maintain in a clear and better form the democratic principles in which they and I believe, that a man should be absolutely free to decide to what political party he will belong and to what political fund he will subscribe; and when he has made that decision, he will put his hand in his pocket willingly and knowingly to make the necessary subscription to help his party to achieve its objectives. I do not intend to go into the figures now, because the Attorney-General dealt with them so fairly, but there is one that I will mention. This is a matter of really vital importance, since the Labour Party gets most of its support from the trade unions. The figures given in the report of the 40th Annual Conference, in 1941, are rather striking. I quote from the statement of receipts: Labour parties, subscribed including arrears,£ 5,839; Socialist societies,££ 72 9s. Id.; trade unions,£ 38,513.[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to hear those cheers. Those were voluntary subscriptions under the 1927 Act. I press the Government to adhere to that scheme. I do not think that any deep principle is involved in the Clause. I agree with Sir Herbert Samuel, as he then was, when he said that there could not be any deep principle. It is only a question of which is the truer, better, more democratic and fairer method. I suggest to the Attorney-General and his colleagues that before we part with the Bill they should consider an Amendment on the lines I have proposed.
I finish on this point. We shall vote for the Second Reading, but that will not be enough. When the Government say, "We have cleared the decks, we have removed the festering sore, we have done away with the punishment and we have now got a clear sheet, we can go back to 1913," that will not be enough. My party has had a long and honourable record in this matter, beginning with the Charter of 1871. In 1906, we removed the objections that had been created by the Taff Vale judgment. That was one of the first Acts we introduced upon coming into power in the full flush of victory. Then again, after the Osborne judgment, it was the Liberal Party that brought in the Act of 1913, to which we are now to go back. But it will not be enough to go back to 1913. Tremendous changes have taken place since then in the social and economic organisation and in the position of trade unions. Still greater changes are about to take place.
When the legislation has been passed nationalising mines, transport, electricity and other industries, what is to happen to the old Section 5 of the Act of 1927? I do not know how we are to draw a distinction between a miner working for the Government and the Permanent Secretary to the Home Office.
I am suggesting that men will be employed in tremendous numbers under the Government and that when there is an industrial dispute between them and their employers it will no longer be, as it has been in the past, a dispute between two sets of subjects with the Government holding the balance and watching the interests of the community. It will be a dispute between a set of subjects and the Government themselves. A very serious situation might arise.
The right to strike must remain. 1 would never be a party to abolishing that right. I think it is fundamental that an individual man shall, if he so desires, be free to withhold his labour. What is to be the position? We are now starting upon what we rightly call a new era. We are passing legislation that will have a tremendous effect upon working conditions. I would warn the Government that if their machinery breaks down the whole thing will come collapsing around them and that the position will then be far worse than if we had never started. I would refer again to strikes and say that strikes are evil things. Nobody likes them, least of all the strikers; who are the people that suffer most. The next who suffer are the little tradesmen whose customers are out on strike. During those long strikes in South Wales, how many little grocers or butchers went out of business? The next who inevitably suffer are the community. Nobody likes strikes. They are a bad way of settling a dispute. They are almost like war, to which we ought not to resort except as a final and extreme measure when everything else has failed and honour itself is at stake.
I appeal to the Government, and indeed to all who support them in this House, that when they have got this Bill, have made a clean slate and have gone back to 1913, let them not rest there. There is a great work which the Government can do, and do now. I ask them to do it as early as they can. Bring in a New Charter in which the whole position will be defined as clearly as possible. Let them put in it the best machinery they can possibly devise for settling disputes. Disputes will arise; they are inevitable. The machinery has to be efficient, effective, and quick moving Above all, it must have the confidence of everybody. It is not beyond the wit of man to devise it. Let them do that, and I am sure that they will carry with them the good will of all men in this House who desire industrial peace, so that we may use our best endeavours, co-operating together, to maintain this old land once again in the forefront of first-class nations and a leader of other nations in the future.
Hon. Members on the other side of the House have imputed to hon. Members on this side, I think, stupidity and arrogance. It may well be considered both stupid and arrogant for a new Member to attempt to make his maiden speech on so controversial a subject. I should like to express my envy and my admiration of the way in which the hon. Member for Walton (Mr. Haworth) conducted himself in making his maiden speech. I had a particular pleasure in seeing him do so well by virtue of the fact that he is one of my constituents. In speaking upon so controversial a Measure I do ask for an extra measure of indulgence, and in order to deserve it I shall try to restrain myself. To my mind this Bill is a bad Bill because it is inopportune, because its consequences are objectionable, and because, so far as its form is concerned, it constitutes a very bad precedent. The Prime Minister, in his speech on the Address, ended by using these words:
To win through this critical period in our history will require, I think, the continuance of something of the spirit which won the war, a spirit which did not allow private or sectional interests to obscure the common interests of us all."— [Official Report, 16th August, 1945; Vol, 413, c. 113.]
Admirable sentiments, but how lamentable has been the performance as compared with the promise! It is difficult to conceive a Bill worse than this from
the point of view of being designed to safeguard a purely sectional interest. The paramount needs of the country at the present time are food, houses, and the restoration of trade and industry, and to achieve all this I believe that we shall need something of the spirit which enabled us to win the war. What a time, when those are the real needs, to introduce a Measure which is highly controversial, which, as we have seen here this afternoon, rakes up the embers of old controversies and also involves, with all respect to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General, legal points of considerable obscurity. The explanation for the introduction of this Measure may be twofold. Either the leaders of the T.U.C. have demanded their pound of flesh, or, alternatively or possibly in addition, the Government are failing so signally to meet the ordinary common needs that they feel that the dust of this controversy is necessary to act as a smoke screen.
The second reason why I suggest that this Bill is quite inopportune is that as indicated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), we have been confronted, Thursday after Thursday, by the Lord President of the Council complaining about the shortage of Parliamentary time. He has appeared, week by week, complaining that he has no time to allow, for example, for bettering the lot of the old-age pensioner during this winter. For two months he was unable to produce the time for the Debate on Palestine which was promised; and we have had no time to Debate the reorientation of our Armed Forces or the Imperial and Colonial developments which are so very vital at the present time. Each week we have been told that there is no Parliamentary time for these things. In my submission, the introduction of this Bill, which is bound to consume a certain amount of Parliamentary time, makes the weekly performance of the Lord President of the Council even more cynical than we had already thought it to be, and we are driven to the conclusion that the Socialist solution for a shortage of Parliamentary time is just what it is with food— to make it even shorter still.
That is my second reason for saying that the Bill is inopportune. My third reason is that the consequences are as I suggest, objectionable, and the first matter to be considered in this respect is the legality or otherwise of the general strike. Before this Debate began I was in some doubt as to whether it would be necessary to discuss that matter at all, but we have had from at least two hon. Members on the other side what has amounted to an attempted complete justification of the general strike. The hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. G. Hicks) and the hon. Member for Walton have shown very clearly to the House, I suggest, that they are not the least bit ashamed or penitent— [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear"]—and that the Socialist movement as a whole—and I am pleased to hear the cheers—is not the least bit ashamed or penitent about the general strike [Hon. Members: "Not a bit."] That being so, it is very necessary for me to put some questions to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General.,
We do not have to examine hypothetical cases. Here we have a perfectly clear instance of something that happened. I listened carefully to the speech of the Attorney-General but I am in complete uncertainty whether he says that the general strike of 1926 was legal or not. If he says it was, we know exactly where we are, and we know the menace that the people of this country may have to smash once again, and I believe that the people will be ready to smash another general strike just as they did that of 1926. One hon. Member on the other side of the House said that the people constituted the strikers, and asked how they could smash themselves. The reason why the general strike was smashed, was because it was a section of the community attempting to elevate itself above the interests of the community as a whole and impose its will upon the whole community by means which the community considered unfair. If the attitude of the Labour Party on this issue is that the general strike of 1926 was legal, and that they will do it again if they get the chance, then the country also knows exactly where it is. If the hon. and learned Gentleman says that the general strike of 1926 was illegal, great though my respect is for his legal opinion, I think it would be better if that opinion were confirmed by some statutory provision as at the present time it is by Section 1 of the 1927 Act. Thirdly, if he says, as I think he did rather indicate, that he does not know whether it was legal or not, then why not have the matter made absolutely clear beyond a peradventure in some statutory provision? I submit that the public are entitled to a perfectly clear, decisive answer on this point as to whether a general strike is considered to be legal or not.
The hon. and learned Attorney-General said that really there was no point in having it declared illegal by Statute because such a law could never possibly be enforced. That is a doctrine which fills me with a certain amount of astonishment. It may foe true that the enforcement might at a particular period present considerable difficulties, but how much better that people should know beforehand what is lawful and what is unlawful. How much greater is the chance of their complying with the law if they know it in advance. My contention is that under the 1927 Act as it stands there can be no doubt of what the law is. Another speaker made reference to the fact that it is impossible to put 5,000,000 men in the dock. I agree that in the heat of a strike it would probably be futile to attempt to impose the sanction of the law. On the other hand the fact that the sanctions of the law could be imposed is a very considerable deterrent to the leaders. There is no reason why their fear of subsequent penalties might not moderate their conduct in the course of the dispute, and one must remember that the general council of the T.U.C. did not really begin to act reasonably in the general strike until Lord Simon made his pronouncement that they might be liable to the uttermost farthing of their personal possessions for their wrongful acts. Throughout the other consequences of this Bill, I suggest that it is possible to detect the totalitarian bias of the Government, and to those who believe that Socialism can only be efficient if it is coercive that will come as no surprise.
With regard to the political levy to which the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) referred, it should be dealt with, I suggest, as a matter of fact, and not of principle. I think there was something in what my hon. Friend the Member for Walton said on that point, but in fact in 1943 under contracting-in 43 per cent. of trade unionists paid the political levy, while in 1926 under contracting-out 77 per cent. had to pay it. So it is quite clear that there is a very great difference between the two systems. Personally, I do not attach anything like the importance to this particular issue that I suspect my hon. and learned Friend would like me to, but I think it would be most decent and seemly if this alteration had not been proposed. So far as intimidation is concerned, can the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General deny that the effect of the repeal of this Measure will be to weaken the law against intimidation?
I do not understand how my hon. and learned Friend can consider that the repeal of this Act will strengthen the law against intimidation. In any event, in 1930, when the Labour Government of that day made what I suggest was a very much more honest attempt to amend the law on this subject, their proposals in relation to the law of intimidation involved the preservation of a great deal of what is in the 1927 Act. In regard to municipal employees, the hon. and learned Attorney-General is well qualified to speak on this subject, because I understand that the borough which he represents is one of those which refused to employ men who were not trade unionists. The effect of this change will be that the municipal authority can either coerce its employees who are not trade unionists into becoming trade unionists, or it can dismiss them. What a hullaballoo there would be if the converse were suggested. The next step may very well be that those municipal employees who are employees of a Socialist municipality will be dismissed if they are not Socialists. The next step will be a one Party State. In my submission, the saddest thing about this Government is that they, or most of them, know not what they do. The logical consequence of this type of action is to produce a totalitarian State.
With regard to civil servants, 1 would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman once more whether he wants a political Civil Service. I submit that the public are entitled to have a clear pronouncement on that point. An hon. Member on the other side talked about leprosy. He asked: Why should civil servants be regarded as suffering from leprosy in that they were not allowed to band themselves together in support of a political party? If you have organised civil servants, campaigning for one party, how can they do their work properly when the other party is in power? The logical consequence of that would be that when the Government changes, the Civil Service must change too, and that is an evil which I do not think any hon. Member, even on the other side of the House, wants. The third reason why I object to this Bill is its form. It is a type of political short-cut which I suggest is a bad precedent. How easy it would be to repeal this Bill in a precisely similar way, possibly tacking on to it the repeal of Section 4 of the Trade Disputes Act of 1906. People talk about this Act of 1927 as an endeavour to repress trade unions, and about it being vindictive. If there had been anything like that about it, how necessary it would have been to repeal Section 4 of the Trade Disputes Act of 1906 which puts the trade unions above the law in making them not liable for any of their torts. In fact there has never been a suggestion on this side of the House, nor was there in 1927, that that particular Section of the 1906 Act should be repealed.
With regard to the form of this Bill, I suggest that it is a short cut, and the Prime Minister, in the same speech to which I have referred, said that it may well be that, after a lapse of time, we would have to consider other matters in connection with the relations of these great bodies to the State. There is nothing in this Bill, and not one word has been said today, to follow up that very pertinent observation of the Prime Minister. This Bill makes no constructive contribution to the law. I believe its consequences will be a diminution of the liberty of trade unionists and non-trade unionists. It will take up Parliamentary time which can ill be spared, and in promoting sectional interests it will produce discord at a time when we do not want discord.
The present Lord Chancellor, in moving the Second Reading of the 1930 Bill, quoted from "Measure for Measure," the passage:
Oh, it is excellent to have a giant's strength.
But it is tyrannous to use it as a giant.
That is the essence of good democratic government, the temperate and moderate use of power. Because that has been our custom in this country in the past, our democracy has been a success. This Bill which is purely an act of political revenge, stale, out of time, and wholly misconceived, is, in my submission, an abuse of power. The Government in presenting it are doing an ill-service to those democratic principles which they affect to respect.
It falls to my lot to congratulate the hon. Member for Wirrall (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) on his speech. It is an indication that we can expect in the future a real debating speech from him. We do not all agree with what he has said, of course, but, none the less, there were a number of good points in. his speech. We shall look forward to-hearing many more similar speeches on the Committee stage.
I am rather pleased this evening to have the privilege of supporting this Bill. The Attorney-General is to be congratulated on the manner in which he has introduced the Bill. Whilst he was speaking I had a vivid picture of the House in 1927, when the original Bill was introduced, ultimately to become the Act which we are keen to see removed from the Statute Book. That Bill, I have always felt, was full of vindictive spirit. It was a very different House from the present House of Commons, and the spirit of it could be in no way compared with this House. The party opposite were in a triumphant mood then; we have every right to be in a triumphant mood this evening, but I hope the party with which I am associated will at no time express such a vindictive spirit in the legislation it places upon the Statute Book.
I have heard taunts today at those who took part in what has been called a general strike. It was not a general strike in the real sense of the word; it was a sympathetic strike. Many of the general services of the country were permitted to continue. Had it been a general strike, those services would have been shut down. Instead, behind all the activities of those who were engaged in the strike there was a general desire to do the least possible amount of harm. No one was drawn from any service which was administering to the essential needs of the community, whereas a general strike would have been spread over the whole of the industries of the country. Those who withdrew their labour on that occasion were moved more by a moral impulse and sympathy than by a spirit of revenge, and I take off my hat to those men and women who laid down their tools and left their occupations on that occasion in support of the miners who were oppressed by such abominable conditions. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) said that on the occasion when the 1927 Act. was passed numerous prophecies were made by those of us who were in the House on that occasion, but none of them have been fulfilled. Some of us are of opinion that the party which was in power on that occasion, and those of that party who are in the House at present, are very disappointed that some of the prophecies were not fulfilled. I am pleased that many of the prophecies were not fulfilled, but behind the motive of the legislation there was a desire to cripple the trade union movement in this country. However, instead of crippling it, we have seen a far different result, reflected on the benches on this side of the House tonight.
I wish the Party opposite would learn this lesson, for it is a very important one.Right through the industrial history of this country they have been seeking to put obstacles in the way of collective efforts of the trade unions— [Hon. Members: "Nonsense"]—but in every step they have taken they have been defeated. We cannot suppress the moral impulses of men and women and their desire to come together and strengthen their movement against capitalism. They are bound to combine and, as they gain strength from combination, they have other fields to conquer, and will conquer. The obstacle that was put in the way in 1927 caused men and women of the working class to think far more deeply than they had thought before, and our trade unions are stronger today, industrially and politically, and we have much cause to be grateful to those men and women who made their extraordinary sacrifice in that lock-out in 1927.
We must bear this in mind, that the development of the trade union movement cannot be restricted by Act of Parliament. You may cramp, you may crib the activities of the movement, but it is bound to grow and develop, for this reason: The average men and women are conscious that unless they are free to withhold their labour at such time as they think necessary, they become little other than slaves, and that thought will compel them to go forward in their combined efforts to defeat whatever legislation may be placed upon the Statute Book. Personally, I think we have arrived at this stage, that since 1927—when that vindictive legislation was placed upon the Statute Book—there has been considerable education of the mass of our working people, with the result that we have had growing up in our midst far better methods of settling industrial disputes than resorting to the weapon of the strike. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) said that those who are on the Front Bench should bear those facts in mind and, with the State becoming more and more engaged in industrial activity, they should be pre- pared to bring forward a new charter for the trade unions. I would prefer the trade unions to prepare their own charter, which should be applicable to their respective industries. Otherwise, in spite of this being a Labour Government, they will feel that something is being imposed from above and they will be reluctant to accept it. Therefore, it should be developed among the trade unions themselves, and if they can produce a charter—
I should not have pursued this had it not been permitted to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery but it is a broadening out of trade union activity, and this Bill is devised for the purpose of giving trade unionists a measure of liberty and restoring to them liberties which were taken away by the Party opposite. In those circumstances, I think we are justified in discussing it.
The political levy has been discussed by a number of hon. Members. In the legislation brought forward in 1927 the whole procedure was reversed, but, after listening to many hon. Members' speeches, I am convinced that quite a number of those who have taken part in the Debate are not aware of the procedure. Before a trade union can start to collect a political levy, it has to go to the expense of summoning the whole of its members to a special meeting convened for the purpose. Then there has to be a majority of the members of the union, declaring by ballot, not by show of hands, in favour of engaging in political activities. In addition to that, the Act of 1927 compelled each of those who had already balloted in favour of political activities to fill in a form and send it to their union, declaring that they were in favour of those activities and in favour of paying the levy. The average trade unionist asks why he should be compelled to go through a double course such as that and why it is that the man who objects should not have to fill in a form stating his objection, rather than the man who has already declared in favour? The Act of 1927 covers the whole procedure that had been the modus operandi in almost every movement throughout the country.
Before the hon. Member leaves the question of the ballot, will he say whether from his experience there is machinery for renewing and revising the effect of the ballot?
Certainly, these democratic organisations where members can attend their branches and send in resolutions to their legislative body, can always ask for a fresh vote to be taken on any matter of administration. Furthermore, there are appeal committees and annual conferences—all the democratic machinery is available to the members.
I have heard a lot in the Debate about this, that, and the other thing not being legal. I have lived long enough and been in this House sufficiently long to know that it all depends upon what party is in power as to what becomes legal. We are in power and we are going to amend the law to suit our purpose. We are going to amend the law so that our members get back that liberty of which they were deprived by the Party opposite.
I know of nothing wrong in that. We are hoping that the civil servant, as a' result of the Bill, is to enjoy the same liberties as other citizens. He is going to get no licence, he will be able to enjoy the ordinary liberties of a citizen, a thing he has been denied in the past. I hope to have the privilege of seeing this Bill become an Act of Parliament to relieve the trade unionists of the country from the ignominy they have suffered as a result of the legislation of the Party opposite.
I crave the indulgence of the House for this, my maiden speech. Two of the charges against the Government are that they intend, by repealing the Trade Disputes Act of 1927, firstly to increase Socialist funds by the imposition of a political levy on nearly 3,500,000 unwilling subscribers, and, secondly, to make intimidation possible. It is my submission that the weight of evidence available proves these charges to be unanswerable.
I hope the House will bear with me if I repeat evidence, which is already well-known, but I feel that if this evidence is repeated often enough we may, at the conclusion of this Debate, receive direct answers to the charges we are putting forward in opposing this Bill. Firstly, we come to the question of the political levy.. It is not disputed that prior to the 1927 Trade Disputes Act, under the old system of contracting out, out of the 32 biggest unions only 78,000 dared to do so. After the 1927 Act, and under the system of contracting in, within one year we find that the figure of 78,000 rose to over 1,000,000. And, finally, on examining the latest figures, given in 1943, we find that the total number not contracting in had risen to 3,375,000. It is when we compare the figure of 78,000 non-contributors to Socialist Party funds in 1927, with the 3,375,000 non-contributors in 1943, that we charge the Government with the deliberate intention of increasing the income of their Party by removing the secrecy of the ballot, thus swelling their funds by the addition of over 3,300,000 unwilling subscribers. If this is not a fact, why alter the existing system of contracting in?
I understand that it is argued by some supporters of this Bill that there is no vital difference between contracting in and contracting out. Let us take the case of a wage earner who does not wish to subscribe. Under the 1927 Act he will not ask for a contribution notice, although, most probably, he will be offered one to fill in. It is so easy for the wage earner under these conditions to take the form away to fill in later, possibly after saying that he will think it over, and then never returning it. But let us take the case of an unwilling subscriber under this 1946 Bill. He will now have to ask for the exemption notice, which will reveal to all the fact that he does not wish to subscribe. He can still take it home and think it over, but that will be no use, as he will have revealed his political beliefs.
In contracting out, there is always a danger that a man will be pilloried for his political opinions by his name being posted at the pithead or factory gate. In addition can we not see a trade union official, on being asked for an exemption form, saying something like this to the applicant, "What do you want an exemption notice for? Surely you want to back up your mates? You will let them down if you contract out. You are doing well here and you may get promoted, but I am not sure what will happen if you insist on not subscribing At all events I have not got a form by me just at the moment. Why not go away and think it over?' Under those conditions what will the unwilling subscriber do? He has to think of his wife and family. Will he insist on being given the form and filling it in there and then in front of everybody, or will he go back home, think it over, and then perhaps summon up enough courage to demand the exemption notice once again, or will he never return? It is my submission that under the present system there is no compulsion to subscribe, and no one has to reveal his political beliefs, but under this Bill the unwilling will be forced to subscribe or else reveal their political beliefs. That means destroying the secrecy of the ballot.
This brings me to intimidation. After all, no one will pay a subscription to a party they do not wish to support, unless the request for such a subscription is backed up by force or the threat of force. The Bill before the House will repeal the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act, 1927, and will restore all enactments and rules thereby effected. I would like to quote Section 3, which has already been
quoted today, because I hope it will lend force to my argument later. Under Section 3 it is unlawful for one or more persons to attend at or near a wage earner's home or his business, to obtain or communicate information, or to persuade or induce any person to work or abstain from working, if they attend in such numbers or otherwise in such manner as to intimidate any such persons, or to obstruct the approach thereto or egress from such place, or to lead to a breach of the peace. Intimidation is defined as:
to cause in the mind of a person a reasonable apprehension of injury to him or to any member of his family or to any of his dependants or of violence or damage to any person or property,
The expression "injury" includes:
injury to a person in respect of his business occupation, employment or other source of income, and includes any actionable wrong.
If this Bill is passed it will therefore become possible to intimidate, to make the wage earner fear damage to himself, his property or to members of his family. If intimidation is not intended, why repeal Section 3 of the 1927 Act?
What is the effect of repealing this Section? What will happen to the wage earner who refuses to support the Socialist Party? Take the case of a man who wishes to exercise that freedom for which our people have fought and died since the dawn of history. He wishes to exercise his right to sell his labour to whom he likes, and to work when and where he likes. Under this Bill he can be visited by 50 or too men either in his own home or where he works. These men, we are told, visit him to "advise" him or "peacefully persuade" him to work or not to work, or to do something which he does not wish to do. Everyone knows why numbers are required for this so called "peaceful persuasion." It is because they wish to obtain their object by neither peacefulness nor persuasion.
Why should, say, 20 men visit a man's home to give information or persuade? Is not one man sufficient for this purpose? I know few people more peaceful than the Lord President of the Council, but if I were a cotton operative and he were a shop steward, and he visited me in my home to persuade me to do something I did not wish to do I should have no hesitation in refusing him. If he wished to employ force to back up his " peaceful persuasion," I should be quite prepared to continue the argument on those lines. But if he came accompanied by other shop stewards in the form, say, of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) and the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce), whilst in the rear, so to speak, was the Minister of Health, despite the fact that the latter suffered so grievously in a physical sense by going without milk in his early years, I should be much more inclined to yield to "peaceful persuasion."
Surely the same applies to the wage earner. Arguments may never persuade, but numbers can easily intimidate. There is the threat not only to the wage earner's career but to his wife and family. Do we not know of cases in which the wife has been jeered and scoffed at by her neighbours, and the children laughed at on their way to and from school? The hardest form of intimidation is to get at a man's wife and children. There are many other forms of intimidation with which I will not weary the House. But I conclude by saying this. The charges against the Government are that they intend by this Bill to swell their political funds by a political levy on over 3,000,000 unwilling subscribers. Does it not remind us of certain Socialist slogans at the recent election such as, "There are fine pickings to be had"? Secondly, that they wish to make intimidation possible and obtain their object by force, or the threat of force. I hope that these two charges will receive a satisfactory reply. I shall be surprised if they do
So much time has elapsed since I last addressed the House, that I feel almost as though I were making my maiden speech again. I sincerely wish I had the confidence of the previous speaker, whom I would like to congratulate, on behalf of the House, on a well informed maiden speech. I know I am speaking for the House when I say that I hope we shall hear him again. I say "well informed," although I do not agree with his deductions, and I would like to know the source of some of his information, particularly regarding the election.
On. 4th May, 1926, on the first day of the general strike, this House, by general agreement, discussed only non-contentious matters. I do not think it is possible to do that tonight. What I propose to do is to make a few points which, 20 years afterwards, should be beyond serious dispute among reasonable people. Any fair-minded person today reviewing and recalling the events which led up to the general strike, and the miners' lock-out, must realise that that lock-out was largely provoked by the stubborn obstinacy of the mineowners. The action of the men, and the workers who came out in their support, was defensive; it was negative action. There was no question of seeking any constitutional change. Any fair-minded inquiry into the conduct of the Conservative Government culminating in the Trade Disputes Act or into the conduct of the Conservative Party culminating in their opposition to this Bill, must lead to the conclusion that the Conservative Party, broadly speaking, is against the trade unions. I do not want to suggest for a moment that the Conservative Party would seek to prohibit or out-law the trade unions. They are a constitutional party, or they were a constitutional party, when they were in power. We hope they will remain a constitutional party in defeat.
The Conservative Party went as far as they dared go without provoking another crisis, and without losing the support which they gained from some sections of the working people of this country. It is not surprising therefore that one of the first actions of a Labour Government should be to repeal the Trade Disputes Act. There is something nostalgic about the present opposition of the Conservative Party. The old order is changing, but stiff, unbending, not attuned to the changing circumstances of the day, the Conservative Party are resisting this to the last ditch. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General that this is not a matter for lawyers. This is not the time for a Debate on the complexities of trade union law; it is a straightforward political issue. Sufficient to say that the Trade Disputes Act of 1927 was a monstrous piece of slipshod, ill-conceived, and misdirected legislation. It was a desperate blunder to discuss those questions so soon after the general strike. It was disgraceful to consider them without previous consultation with the trade union leaders. It was a breach of faith for a Conservative Government to introduce that legislation after a Conservative Prime Minister, in settling the general strike, had said that we would not countenance an attack upon the trade unions, after a Conservative Prime Minister had said it was our duty to forget all recriminations.
The Labour Government could not hold up its head, if it did not take an early opportunity to remove this Act from the Statute Book. As far as I can see, that Act has not a single satisfactory feature. In any case, as has been pointed out repeatedly, one will not prevent a general strike by legislation. If safeguards are wanted, the only safeguards are more efficient machinery for negotiation and a constructive policy for industry. As far as I know, the Act has not made one jot of difference to the general practice of picketing. The provision compelling local and public authorities to have an open shop is quite illogical. Why should the transport workers employed by a municipality be distinguished from those employed by a private authority? The provision regarding contracting in is purely vindictive, and directed at the Labour Party.
A good deal was said about the Parliamentary Labour Party at that time but I never heard it suggested that they were responsible for the general strike. The most illogical, unfair and petty minded provision was that directed at established civil servants. It is fantastic to suggest that postmen will be demoralised and perverted from their duty by contacts with other workers. It is more than fantastic; it. is a slur upon the working people of this country. When we had the first Nazi attack from the air on this country, our fire services were nationalised. Our firemen, fighting fires in the streets of London, and other towns and cities, became, if not established civil servants, at any rate Crown servants. We even had postmen's trousers, summer issue. We were disciplined Crown servants. What horror, apparently, would have been struck in the hearts of right hon. and hon. Members opposite if they had stopped to reflect that the majority of these disciplined Crown servants carried with them an ordinary trade union card bearing upon the face of it direct evidence of their affiliation not only to the Trades Union Congress but to the Labour Party. That card, with all it represented, was substantially responsible for the high morale of the men and women of the fire service in their trying and difficult times. Throughout the war the members of the fire service remained good trade unionists, and the fire service benefited.
I give just one example. I remember when the flying bomb attack was anticipated it was necessary to reorganise the whole of the London fire service. The chief regional fire officer, a very competent and enlightened fire chief, with the approval of the Leader of the House, did the only thing possible. He consulted the trade union officials. He discussed the question with the London committee of the union, and he and I addressed a meeting of trade union representatives. The whole scheme went through without difficulty. The fire services were built up as the front line of the defence to play their part in defeating the menace of the flying bomb. These trade union representatives, through their trade councils, through ordinary trade union negotiations, even through local Labour Parties, had had direct voluntary free association with their fellow trade unionists in London. That experience has stood them in good stead in the fire service, and it has served the fire service in good stead also.
To suggest, after that, that a postman or a civil servant should not be allowed. freely to associate with his fellow workers is crassly stupid or mischievous. I think everyone in this House must admit that Section 5 has been far from effective. We have had several Members of the House who have come direct from the Civil Service. Some have come even with the backing of Civil Service organisations. I know postmen who are also Labour councillors. In the General Election I gained the assistance of Civil Service members, admittedly under some cloak of professional secrecy. So far as I can gather, the Civil Service organisations are very politically-minded. The Union of Post Office Workers, I know, goes much further than the Labour Party. I am always receiving pamphlets advocating direct workers' control, and, so far as the Civil Service Clerical Association goes, I think the noticeable effect of the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act has been the irresponsibility of its General Secretary. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) is more irresponsible and much more of an anarchist now than when he was an active member of the Trades Union Congress.
The time-honoured Tory device of dividing people against themselves has failed to split the working people of this country. Now, in the maturity of political power, they are doing what they inevitably must do—to remove from the Statute Book this sorry and ineffective record of their betrayal by the Trade Disputes and Trade Unions Act, 1927.
I will no: conceal from the House that I rise on this occasion with a certain feeling of diffidence and not without emotion. It is now nearly 20 years since my father introduced the Bill which is now proposed to be repealed, and one good thing, at any rate, which this Bill can do is to give me an opportunity, not often accorded to sons, to say that I am very proud of my father and very proud of his public work. But, more even than my pride in his public work, part of which it is my purpose to defend this evening, is the feeling of pride I have felt in the very-high standards of public controversy which he adopted. There arc some, but not many, in this House who can remember those Debates. I, at least, have read them, and it has been a very moving experience for me to read how, reviled again and again, in language which was not always temperate, and pursued by arguments which were not always well-informed and occasionally were even a little disingenuous, he still continued to fight for principles in which he believed, and, I believe I am right in saying, secured a reputation, even among those to whom he was politically opposed, for his sincerity, patience and single-mindedness in Debate.
I cannot hope to live up to all those traditions, but, at any rate, I should like to begin by congratulating the learned Attorney-General of these days on a full and lucid explanation of the principles of his Bill. The learned Attorney-General came down to the House with an ingratiating smile, a confident manner and a red tie—not too red, but red enough to dispel any doubts on his political orthodoxy—but it seemed to me that he laboured under a fundamental difficulty. He was bound by the terms of his brief, and, in order to secure the need of applause from behind which he expected and deserved, he had to pronounce the ritual words of condemnation, that this was a great discriminatory act of class legislation designed and intended to cripple the trade unions.
But, being a good advocate, he had at the same time the candour to admit that since the Act had been passed, the trade union movement had flourished like a green bay tree and that it was altogether outside of his instructions to disclose the fact that that was exactly what had been intended by the framers of the Act of 1927. He found another difficulty of a forensic kind, too, because, although he was bound to come to the conclusion to which his predecessors—the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, also Sir Henry Slesser, and other lawyers of the Labour Party—had come, namely, that this was an Act which ought to be repealed, he had, at every stage, to recant and repudiate every single proposition of law which they had uttered. So he was driven, stage by stage, to claim that the repeal of this terrible, discriminatory Act was a simple little Measure—or was it a modest one?—not very fundamental to the Labour Party's programme, but still one which he could heartily commend to the House.
Having regard to his difficulties, I congratulate the hon. and learned Gentleman upon his performance. He was assisted, as it seemed to me, by two arguments which have become firm favourites with the Party opposite. The first is the argument that because something is found in the Labour Party election programme, it is therefore sanctified and hallowed by the mandate f the electorate. The Attorney-General referred more sonorously, and perhaps a little more pompously, to the verdict of the people. That is an argument which I should have thought was wearing a bit thin by now. [An Hon. Member: "Why? "] If the hon. Gentleman who shouted "Why" will please wait for a moment, I shall endeavour to tell him. It is, of course, quite clear that the repeal of this Act was included in the little pamphlet already referred to. It was included, but not unduly stressed so as not to make it a main issue. It was discreetly put in so that it might be referred to in what must then have been considered the remote contingency of its being needed. So what? What follows from that? If the case for repealing this Act is a good one, and can be substantiated on its merits, it no doubt entitles hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to introduce Measures which they will support by argument in that sense. But a mandate is no substitute for argument, and it is in that sense, I am afraid, that it has been consistently used by hon. Members opposite.
It seems to me that the argument of the mandate is either superfluous or objectionable. If it be the case that there is good ground for repealing a Measure of any kind, then let the arguments be put forward. They are not much assisted by mandate argument but if the case be that the arguments are weak or utterly unsubstantial, then the argument of mandate is objectionable, because it seeks to put the document in front of the verdict of the House based on reasons which are found in debate. This is not Parliamentary democracy—it is pure Nuremberg. Some Members of this House, who from time to time have visited Germany in recent months, have unfortunately caught an infection from the people of the land. I humbly condole with the learned Attorney-General for being among the most distinguished sufferers from the Nuremberg bug.
But if the argument of a mandate is superfluous or objectionable, what have we to say about the arguments with regard to insult with which the learned Attorney-General sought to buttress his case, and which was followed by numerous moving and eloquent speeches from below the Gangway? It was said that this was an insult to the trade union movement, that their sense of injury was such that they could never bear to see the hated words on the Statute Book and, therefore, in order to gratify this sense of insult the words must be removed. But either the case for removing them is just or it is unjust. If it is just, we do not require any references to insults to support it, but if it is unjust, and if the restrictions placed upon certain acts are just, how can it be an insult to preserve them? Do husbands consider it an insult to their fidelity that they are forbidden to commit bigamy? Do the Brigade of Guards consider it an insult to their loyalty that they are forbidden to commit mutiny? This is a strange argument coming from the Attorney-General, that it is an insult to forbid that which ought not to be allowed in any event. It is a direct attack upon the rule of law. Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer would hardly expect his new governors of the Bank of England to regard it as an insult to their integrity that they are not permitted by his regulations to walk away with the Bank of England funds.
The Attorney-General sought to support his tottering case with a further argument which does not bear much scrutiny, namely, that this was a piece of vindictive legislation inspired by hatred of the trade union movement and anger at the general strike. I think the learned Attorney-General and his faithful supporters below the Gangway rather underestimate the changes which have overcome this country during the last year. They also under-estimate the strength of the trade union movement. The Conservative Party regards the trade union movement as one of the institutions of this country which it is its business to conserve. At the same time, it does not under-estimate the power of that movement, and it considers that the relations between that movement and Parliament, and between that movement and individuals, ought to be clearly defined by law. This is not a hot house plant, shrinking from every blackleg who refuses to join the Transport and General Workers Union, terrified that the Government will coerce it, fearful and apprehensive of the verdicts of the courts. Those days are long past. It is a far cry from the Tolpuddle martyrs and all that, to the Labour Government of 1946.
We are in the presence of the most powerful corporation that has existed in this country since the Roman Catholic Church was disestablished at the time of the Reformation. Here is an organisation which claims more adherents than many members of U.N.O. have subjects. It has gigantic funds at its disposal. It has many of the organs ordinarily associated with government. It has a sort of parliament or congress of its own. It is not quite like this Parliament, because the method of voting is somewhat different. When the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary loses a division in that congress, of course, he puts all his cards on the table, face upwards. They are all aces, five in a pack, and he wins by sheer weight of the cards which are revealed from various portions of his ample person. It also has a Civil Service of its own. it is true that it is not quite as politically impartial as the the Civil Service which has ripened under those biased and vindictive Governments of the Liberals and Tories, about which we have heard so often, the Civil Service of the State. The back benchers opposite are soon going to put an end to that my making every Civil Service appointment a job. As a Labour poster which I saw as I was on my way to the House today says, "Labour is on the job, if you want things done." As the most popular philosopher in Britain might say, "It all depends on what you mean by ' job,' and it all depends upon what you mean by ' being done.' "
Brightest of all the stars in the political firmament of the trade union movement is, of course, its association with the Labour Party. That is a party which, many years ago, no doubt, was a small group of trade union members devoted entirely to the conditions inside industry. But such is not the case today. Here we have a dominant Administration, with a huge majority, committed to controversial politics in almost every sphere of our national life. In the old days it might have been that a Liberal or Conservative trade unionist might have voted for "Old Charlie," although his views were slightly eccentric, and although his foreign policy was open to suspicion. He knew in those days that it was the fact that his union was represented in Parliament that mattered. It is not so today. It by no means follows that every docker wants to support the "Dockers' K.C." in his policy in Greece, for instance. It by no means follows that the Minister for Food will be supported by the members of his trade union on dried eggs. Whereas one could safely assume in 1913 that members of a trade union should want their representative in Parliament, notwithstanding the fact that he had no political views of importance, it might well be the case that such an assumption would be false today. I think it is an altogether unworthy slur on the trade union movement—if the learned Attorney-General will forgive me—to suppose that by 1927 that movement was still so puny and ineffective that it did not require a restatement and reconsideration of the principles upon which its relations with the State were determined.
In circumstances such as these it seems to me no more than reasonable that a Government, quite independently of the trouble of 1926. should want to define the new principles which should govern the trade unions with Parliament. It is true, of course, that the troubles of 1926 were the occasion of the legislation. That is the way in which things happened in this country and elsewhere But it is untrue, and it is a complete perversion of the truth, to suggest that the principles of the 1927 Act were in fact animated by any vindictiveness or— [Interruption]. Members opposite will not be more convincing in proportion as they are more noisy. I regard it as remarkable that the learned Attorney-General did not attempt to remind the House of the principles which, in fact, underlie this Measure. With due diffidence, I desire to supply the deficiency. Those principles are four in number: first, that a general strike should be illegal, and one should be penalised for taking part in it; second, that intimidation should be illegal, and no man shall be compelled by threats to abstain from work against his will third that no man shall be compelled to subscribe to the funds of any political party unless he so desires; and fourth, that any person entering the established Civil Service must give his undivided allegiance to the State.
Those were the principles underlying the Act of 1927. The Government have not declared themselves on one of them, but I venture to make this observation, that unless the Government condemned them all, they would not be entitled to introduce the Measure which is being brought before the House this evening. If it were said for a moment that some of the principles are all right but not others, or that the principles are all right but the performance was ineffective, then, indeed, it might be legitimate to amend the Act of 1927. It might be legitimate to substitute for it a new Act, incorporating all the skill in drafting for which the learned Attorney-General is justly famous. But it would never be justifiable to take that Act away and put absolutely nothing in its place, because not one of those four principles was the law in 1926, and not one of those principles will be the law if this Bill is passed during this Parliament.
I will deal first with the questions of the general strike. I put these questions specifically to the learned Attorney-General: in his view, ought it to be legal, and in his view, will it be legal if this Bill is passed? I will give the House my opinion on the matter, for what it is worth, although I am conscious that I speak in the presence of the Attorney-General himself. I would venture to ask him what is the particular advantage of setting up a state of the law in which, whatever else may be true about it, one set of lawyers will maintain that the general strike is illegal, while another set of lawyers—those animated by Socialist principles— maintain that it ought to be, and is, allowed?
What is the particular advantage, at this stage of the history of our country, of setting up such a state of the law? Of course, I know that one of those Socialist lawyers has turned blackleg—that is the Attorney-General. He has now agreed, so far as I understand it, that everything Sir Henry Slesser said, and everything his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade said, was legal bunkum. He thinks it is for the jury to decide, and I am bound to say that I agree with him. But what is the particular advantage of creating a state of the law in which every one who is a Socialist—except one—takes one view, while all the other lawyers, including so venerable a figure as Sir Frederick Pollock, take another? That is the situation which he has to defend if he wants to defend this Measure.
The Attorney-General's argument then went on into stranger paths still, because he went on to argue at length—indeed, I was beginning to understand why the Nuremberg trial took so long—that you cannot prevent general strikes and you cannot prevent illegal strikes. He cited the dockers' strike and other illegal strikes. Let us examine this argument a little in the light of reason. Does the Attorney-General suggest that the illegal strikes at the docks and other places should now be made legal? Is that the policy of the Government? That would be the conclusion of his argument if it had the smallest bearing on this Debate. If the learned Attorney-General's argument was relevant at all, it would be relevant only if he were bringing in legislation at this moment to make a general strike legal, but, as I understood it, he was at that Box this afternoon to say it was illegal in most of its objectionable forms. What about illegal strikes? Does he pretend for a moment that it would not be a direct encouragement to illegal strikes if they were to be made legal? It is true that you cannot prevent all forms 0f crime by making them illegal. I have never yet heard a lawyer maintain that you reduce the quantity of crime by making it purely a matter of conscience whether you offend or not. There is a law of treason in this country. Most unfortunately that law of treason did not, in a recent emergency, prevent certain traitors from committing treason. The learned Attorney-General was, quite rightly, not slow in prosecuting those who offended. There are objections to making war illegal in international courts, but the learned Attorney-General has been a prosecutor in those courts; and most of us in this House agree that the rule of law demands that where an act ought to be condemned it ought to be condemned by law as well as by fact.
The Attorney-General was, I think, a little less than frank with the House when he failed to admit to the House that though it is true that a criminal prosecution does not necessarily prevent a general strike, it was also true that the Act of 1927 provided machinery which stopped short of criminal prosecution but let you attach the funds of trade unions. I thought that he was, perhaps, rather less than frank in not telling the House of that. But what are we to make of the difference between his argument in the House today and the statement of Sir Walter Citrine to the Labour Press Service, when he said quite plainly, that he regarded it as important that a brake was necessary on a general strike—although Sir Walter Citrine did not explain whether he meant by "brake" stopping a strike or something to slow it down. Sir Walter said that a "brake should not be a legislative brake." What is the Attorney-General's view on that? Is it the view of the learned Attorney-General that "the restraint and brake is to be found in the trade union movement and in its own responsibilities that devolve upon it?" If that is his view why does he not, instead of bringing in a Bill like this, bring in a Bill in which Clause I legalises a general strike and enacts what Sir Walter Citrine said. He does not do it because it does not match with public opinion. We on this side of the House are not mistaken in claiming that Sir Walter Citrine's attitude on this matter is nothing short of a reiteration of the claims made in 1926, that a general strike of this kind which cannot fail, whatever its merits, to inflict untold harm on the community, should be a matter for the great corporation of which I have spoken and should be withdrawn from the purview of Parliament and the Government.
I turn to the question of intimidation. The Attorney-General claimed that intimidation is and always has been illegal. I venture to dispute that. It is true that the word "intimidation" is forbidden by the Conspiracy Act, 1875; but what he did not explain was that the courts so construe that word as to exclude most of the refinements of mental torture, for instance, intimidation which stops short of actual physical violence. What I wish to ask the learned Attorney-General, and what I hoped he would explain in his Second Reading speech, is: What is the particular advantage in creating a state of the law in which you forbid physical intimidation but the more subtle refinements of intimidation are still alive? What is the advantage of creating a state of the law in which there is some doubt as to what is intimidation and what is not?
The learned Attorney-General asked us to believe that intimidation was a thing that did not take place in this country. That is not so. I would be the first to admit that the great glory even of our disputes has been, on the whole, the orderly way in which we have carried them out. But nothing will alter the fact that under the law, which the Attorney-General is now restoring, between 6,000 and 7,000 successful prosecutions for intimidation were undertaken in 1926. What is the advantage from the point of view of the party opposite in restoring the state of the law where that can take place? It took place for this reason: Because people were under the mistaken impression that the Trades Union Act of 1906 had legalised these acts in trade disputes. It seems an extraordinary state of affairs that the learned Attorney-General should seek now to restore the old period of confusion.
It seems to me that the Government are here in something of a dilemma. Either they accept the principle that all contributions to a political party should be purely voluntary, or they reject it. If they accept the principle that they are voluntary—and surely it will not be denied that they are—how is it going to make a difference to their funds if they pass this legislation? It it does make a difference to their funds, as it will, how can they reconcile that with the principle? The Attorney-General had several shots to justify this extraordinary piece of legislation. The first was that it was only a little one—" A farthing a week," he said, with a sneer. That it was only a little one is a classical excuse for something which can no longer be concealed, but it has not generally been held sufficient to explain away one's shortcomings or their consequences. If what was proposed was a whacking big subscription, no one would mind very much, because no-one would pay it. They would all contract out. But he thinks that he can get away with a little one, and that people will not mind being involved in an expenditure of a farthing a week. That is not a very respectable argument for a learned Attorney-General, one of whose tasks it is to prosecute crimes of dishonesty.
He next used the argument that there was not a rag of evidence that there had been any compulsion. He misunderstood the nature of the case against him. Our case is not that the great bulk of trade unions stood over their members with a knobkerry, if they contracted out. Our case is that contracting out is, itself, a form of compulsion and, therefore, objectionable. The learned Attorney-General seemed to me to admit the fact in certain other passages of his speech on this topic. He said that the minority have to toe the line. He also said that if the minority were as big as we pretend, then it would be big enough to proclaim its intention to contract out. Suppose the minority was not very big; what difference does that make? The learned Attorney-General seems to think that the smaller the minority the less' it matters. That is not the view we take on this side of the House.
In this instance also I am bound to say that the learned Attorney-General seems to have been infected with the virus of Nuremberg and to have come out with swastika spots all over his red tie. [Hon. Members: "Withdraw."] Mr. Speaker, if you wish me to withdraw anything that I have said, I shall always withdraw it, but I shall take my orders from the Chair. We see something indecent in the political spectacle of a party which relies mainly for its own election expenses and salaries upon a political fund which the members are being driven through the Lobbies by the Government Whips to secure, and for which the highest praise which the greatest legal authority in the land can bestow is that he relies upon the forces of inertia to secure the farthings of those who cannot be bothered to contract out of paying them. If hon. Members opposite were members of a local authority they would be committing a serious offence by doing this. It is only because nobody has ever thought of anything so abominable being done in Parliament it has not already been legislated against.
There is much else that I could say— [Interruption.]—and if I get much more interruption I shall say it all. [Hon. Members: "Intimidation."] I hope to take the opportunity in the next two minutes of making one or two points before giving the Minister of Labour the chance of answering some of the serious charges which have been made against his party. I can assure him that we will not interrupt him to the extent which it is the practice of the party opposite to interrupt us on this side of the House. I would say that this is a reactionary Measure in the worst sense of the term. It proposes to take away a piece of legislation and to put nothing whatever in its place. 1 should have thought that even the party opposite would have the sense to realise that they are creating a dangerous precedent, or at least have the sense of humour to appreciate that "back to 1913 "is hardly an exciting slogan for the party of the working classes and progress.
Viewed seriously, which I do not wholly do, the Bill can only be regarded as an attempt if not actually to legalise the general strike at least to make it uncertain whether it is legal or not; and to take away certain of the legal provisions which prevent it; to legalise certain unpleasant forms of intimidation; to permit the party opposite to grow fat on funds which they think are individually too small to excite really vigorous agitation against them; and to allow the Civil Service to associate with one of the two great parties of the State to the detriment of the State. That is the meaning of the Bill if it were treated seriously, but we do not suggest that it is animated by any sinister motive of that kind. It is merely a piece of childish political tit-for-tat. It is animated by no constructive motive and it is inspired by no coherent outlook.
It is an act done out of mere irresponsibility at a moment of crisis in our national and international history. I gladly acquit the party opposite of criminal conspiracy against the State, but their introduction of this Measure at this time is a devastating comment on the fitness of the Labour Party to govern.
The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) is, I say quite honestly, entitled to the cheers of his supporters. He has certainly delivered a brilliant speech, although what it has to do with the subject under discussion I have yet to find out. It was a first class piece of debating, combined with reminiscences of Gillie Potter of Hogsnorton. There was, in his opening words, a reference which, I think, touched the whole House, namely, his references to the share which his father took in the passing of the 1927 Act. Earlier in the day I saw the hon. Gentleman's father in the Gallery, and I say sincerely that I wish he had been here. to hear the defence which his son has put up on behalf of his father. I am sure we were all glad to hear a son ex press appreciation of his father's courage and opinion. May I, with all humility, take the same line, and say how proud I am that my father taught me, as a boy, to be a trade unionist when I grew up, and to put my trade unionism above all else—
My trade union conduct is well known to the Press. I have served too many years for them to have any doubt about that. Those of us who learned our trade unionism in a hard school realise that this is not, as the hon. Member for Oxford said, a childish piece of tit for tat. If it was childish tit 20 years ago, it certainly is childish tat now, but we do not look upon it in that light today. The hon. Member for Oxford— or should I have said, the right hon. Member, because judging by the speech he has made tonight he is obviously working his passage back to the Front Bench—made a good deal of play about contracting in and contracting out. We had a wonderful experience of that during the last Election. There was a lot of talk about the business vote. Some of us objected to a business man having two votes. In my constituency, 3,000 names were put on the register because of this vote. What happened? Less than 200 out of that number contracted in. All they had to do was to fill in a piece of paper, and hand it in. Do Members opposite want it both ways? How many business voters in the City of London took the trouble to contract in?
What is good for the goose is good for the gander. The hon. Member for Oxford made a reference to which we took some objection. I did not quite catch the phrase which brought shouts of "Withdraw" from this side of the House, but I did catch one phrase which I think, on recollection, he will consider was not worthy of him. The hon. Member said that it was indecent that Members on this side of the House should rely on political funds for the salaries they draw—
I know the right hon. Gentleman will not misquote me. What I said, or intended to say, was that it was indecent to seek to swell that fund by instituting a system of contracting out.
Possibly in the heat of the moment the hon. Gentleman may not have said what he meant. I thought he said that we relied for our salaries on those funds. I can say that none of us draws a salary from those political funds. Those political funds pay for the loss of wages incurred by thousands of men and women who serve the country on local authorities, and we want to continue giving those people our support.
If the hon. Gentleman had been in the House during the afternoon, he would have heard more than one of his hon. Friends refer to the balance sheets published by the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress. Perhaps he will read them and find out, and perhaps at the same time he will give us an opportunity of looking at the Tory balance sheet. The hon. Member for
Oxford referred to an illegal strike. Only fools step in where lawyers fear to tread; I am not a fool and I shall not step in where lawyers fear to tread, particularly when there is no agreement among them. I hope other legal Members will answer those legal questions later. There is only one thing I want to mention. The hon. Member said that there would not be mass prosecutions in an illegal strike, but that the funds of the trade union would be attached. If a trade union were opposed to an illegal strike and the strikers went on strike in spite of the wishes of the trade unions, I wonder what funds would be attached then. The trade union funds could not be attached. There is another point that has been made once or twice during the Debate, especially by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Clement Davies), who said that if there exist circumstances that cause an urge among the workers to strike or take similar action, all the laws in the world will not prevent them from doing so. At the present time, I understand the police authorities throughout the country are appealing to everybody who has weapons of any kind, to give them up, not because the police are afraid that those who have them now might use them, but because they are afraid that more unscrupulous persons might get hold of them. It is for the same reason that we want this Act off the Statute Book; it is because some people might be even more unscrupulous than the party opposite have been in past years. I wish to draw attention to some words that were used by a former Member of the House, the right hon. J. R. Clynes, in the Second Reading Debate on the 1927 Act. He said:
The Government have chosen to begin a fight, the end of which will not be seen when this Bill has been placed upon the Statute Book... It will be the duty of the Opposition "—
at that time the Labour Party—
later, when in the natural order of things it becomes a Government "—
that has come about—
Because we prefer to act in the way we have chosen—to repeal the Act. We are responsible for the Measures we bring before the House, and therefore, I think we must be allowed to choose our methods. During the war, as mentioned by hon. Gentlemen earlier, there has been evidence of the growth of good relations and good understanding between workers and employers. I speak not merely as one with a very short experience at the Ministry of Labour, but as one with a long experience in trade union activity, and I speak with all sincerity. In the main, the vast bulk of the employers of this country accept and recognise trade unionism and are prepared to co-operate and work with trade unions. The men who are not, are as much a danger to the employers as are the non-unionists to us. Therefore, to that extent, we are protecting them. We appreciate that co-operation, and nothing that we do and nothing in this Bill will prevent that co-operation going on. But behind it all there is a very important factor.
We believe in conciliation. I have taken part in conciliation for many years. We believe in negotiation and in attempting to settle a matter without dispute. No trade union official I have ever known ever wanted a strike. More potential strikes have been settled than have actually occurred, and sometimes we have got into bad blood with our own members because of stopping a strike rather than with the employers. It has not always been easy to keep the thing moving, but no conciliation, arbitration or similar procedure will be of avail in the long run if there is no power to strike, and if there is dissatisfaction [An Hon. Member: "And lockouts."] Yes, and lockouts. If employers are asking the workers to accept something which the employers think they ought to accept-, and they believe in their case, they will threaten a lockout, just as in another case the workers will threaten a strike. But if that ultimate power is taken away, and the workers are left at the whim of anybody who gives an order which must be carried out, it will not do much good even though it might be given legal effect. Unwilling workers in a job, not getting wages or conditions which they think they ought to get, never give the value they ought to give. A contented workman is the most important thing.
I hope, later, to come back to this question of relations. In the meantime, I would refer to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). I think the speech with which he opened the case for the Opposition was a good tempered one. There was no spleen or bitterness about it, although, towards the end, he certainly put a few questions a little brutally. I will deal with that in a moment. He asked one or two questions which I think should be answered. He referred to local authorities compelling their staffs to join a specified union. If a local authority get the power of saying they desire their workers to belong to a trade union, it is only sense that they should be able to say which unions they should join. [Hon. Members: "Why? "1 Wait a minute and I will tell you. I have been a member of a local authority for a great number of years. We often found some little mushroom organisation growing up, because half a dozen people were not satisfied with the activities of their union. It is right that local authorities should, just like large employers, want to have peace and understanding and good relationship in their offices and should say to their employees, "We want you to join a union." That is the position in the Cooperative Wholesale Society and in the offices of the great London newspapers. Every one employed by the London newspapers is expected to belong to the recognised trade union.
May I digress for a moment to say that we hear a good deal about practising what you preach? If our London newspapers were to preach in their papers the good understanding which they practise in their offices, there would be a better spirit in this country, and a better understanding of trade unionism. It is only right that a tribute should be paid to them. There is some reason why staffs should be told that a particular union is the proper union in certain circumstances. In the main it works. On the other hand it is often the unions which say "So and so should join a union and this is the union he should join." This power prohibits the local authority from saying to their staff that they must all join a union, but it does not prohibit the vast majority coming forward to say that they will not work with someone who is not a trade unionist and facing the local authority with that decision.
The right hon. Gentleman the acting Leader of the Opposition said towards the end of his speech that the bringing forward of this Bill was activated by the narrowest party ends. My mind went back to 1927 and I say that the spirit which he suggests exists now, was the spirit obviously manifest then. There is not the slightest doubt that it was the narrowest party end which was considered at that time. The right hon. Gentleman also made a statement which filled me with alarm. I do not know a great deal about grammar, or the use of phrases and words, but I can just imagine a shudder running down the. back of the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn) when the right hon. Gentleman made use of this sentence, "We gave the trade unions the right to strike.'' Unions do not strike. The right hon. Gentleman will be corrected in the morning. Somebody will write to him telling him that it is the members of a trade union who strike. I am just warning him. "We gave the trade unions the right to strike." Who did? Who gave us the right to breathe? The right to strike is as much our own inalienable right, as the right to breathe. Nobody gives us the right to strike. It is the right of anybody to refuse to work. Incidentally, I remember when the right hon. Gentleman himself went on strike. What is more, I remember one of his colleagues joining in a sympathetic strike with him—and they had a vast volume of support from the country in respect of that sympathetic strike. The right hon. Gentleman took up an attitude which is to his credit. But was that not a strike to coerce the Government? [HON.MEMBERS: "Yes."]
I turn now to some other matters. I understand that it is not quite the proper thing to criticise maiden speeches, but the hon. Gentleman who represents Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) made use of a sentence that just staggered me. He referred to my hon. Friends who have stated that they took part in the general strike in 1926 and have no regrets for it, and he said, with some little spirit of annoyance, that there was no penitence or shame on this side of the House. Of course not. I went all through that strike, and I believe it was the finest example of one man showing sympathy for and comforting another that we have ever seen. I happened to be, at the time, the leader of a printing trade union, and I assert, without any hesitation, that it was never in the minds of any one of us that it was an action that challenged the power of the Government. [Interruption.] I am telling hon. Members what was in our minds; they need not believe it. Right hon. and learned Gentlemen have already heard, that it was the most orderly piece of organisation ever. As a matter of fact in the area in which I was stationed, we had one policeman in the whole district looking after things because we maintained the peace ourselves.
I am reluctant to interrupt, but the right hon. Gentleman has just given an account of the purposes of the general strike. I do not know what authority he attaches to what Mr. Cramp says but here is a sentence of his statement:
In order that the general strike might be successful it was necessary to enforce the resignation of the Government.
I cannot be answerable for what everybody says. I was talking about the rank and file with whom I was associated. Those people still believe in what they did. They believed it then, and they believe it now, and what they did was merely in order to show sympathy to their fellows. This much can be said, and I say it at the risk of misrepresentation even from my own friends, that experience has taught us that general strikes are silly things. The strike was never meant to coerce the Government. But it was not the sensible way to go about things. You cannot settle a dispute by punching a fellow on the nose and talking about it afterwards. The best way is to talk about it first, and then get it settled. After all is said and done, the history of the workers' movement has been a long history of struggle against bad conditions and adversity. The word "striker" is not a name for something objectionable; it is merely the term used to describe a man exercising his rights to refuse to work. If a man has not the right to strike, he will be a serf. If I had the time, I would tell my own experience of the growth of trade unionism in the industry with which I am associated. In 1901, we had to work over 70 hours to earn£1 a week, and 36 of those 70 hours were worked straight off. We never heard any employer say, "You are working too long." It was only when we got the union organised, and struck against that system, that we get a settlement. But I am happy to say that, having gone through that time by showing that we are quite willing to fight, we have got to the point where we can settle matters by discussion and understanding.
That brings me to the point about legislative action. Why do we want a political fund? We want it not simply to push the particular case of our own movement—though if we wished to do that, why should we not? We want a political fund to do the things which can best be done by Parliament. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite cannot have it both ways. They cannot say, "You must not have a strike if things do not go right and you must not have political action." During the years in which I have known anything about this job, we have gradually edged away from the industrial strike into the political field. It may be asked "What have we got by it?" We have got a lot. Some hon. Gentlemen opposite have a tender heart for the fellow who will not pay his contribution. Remember, he gets all that we got for ourselves. Legislation was required to get workmen's compensation, and I say at once that we did not get all this from one political party. A great deal of the social amelioration we have got has come from the Conservative Party, as from the other Parties, but it only came when we had a few on these benches to drive home our case—workmen's compensation, safety and welfare legislation, trade boards for the sweated undertakings. Do hon. Members remember the cases of "phossy jaw" in the East end of London? I had an aunt who made match-boxes in her own home, slaving for 16 hours a day for which she received 10s. a week. It is for things like these we wanted legislation and to protect our young persons, and to provide for unemployment and sickness benefit.
There is still much to be done. We have mining legislation only by Act of Parliament; the workman's right to inspection in the mines; the checkweighmen. Fancy having to go to Parliament to get power to watch someone, to see that the boss is not cheating. I cannot speak from my own experience but some may remember the fight for the Plimsoll line on the ships. Men went down to the sea in coffins, not in ships, until Parliament gave them the Plimsoll line. Recently there has been the necessity for the safety belt for window cleaners. Even those little things require legislation. We want that legislation and, when we get these laws of protection, they protect the non-unionists as well as the unionists. Today, new industries, new processes, bring new diseases, and therefore we want more legislation now than in the past to take care of those industrial diseases, not only to give us compensation but also to give us proper opportunities for the medical profession to be properly trained in those special diseases.
There is no need for me to dilate very much on the question of the sympathetic strike because I think that where it is a genuine sympathetic strike there is no real opposition to it, but it is very difficult to see where a sympathetic strike should begin and end. Let me tell the House of something which is happening today in the hotels in the West End of London. At the very suggestion of having a trade union ticket, men are out on their necks before they know where they are. Yes, in places where the highest possible prices are charged, where employees work unreasonably long hours, 60, 70 or 80 hours a week for from 10s. to 30s. wages, making these up with what money they can cadge from other people; in this industry which this House has decided by passing the Catering Wages Act should be tackled. A few weeks ago a girl cashier in one of these hotels was discovered to be a steward of her union collecting contributions. They sacked her late at night, and when she protested and said she had nowhere to go— she happened to be a girl from Ireland—she was threatened that the police would be brought in unless she got out. I can certify this case for I have investigated it. The explanation was given that they had to sack her to make way for another one of their girls who was coming back from the Services. Ultimately, another girl came and took her job but she came from another hotel and had never been in the Services and had never been a cashier before.
One hon. Member referred to the spirit of Tolpuddle. Here is another case of a hall porter in a hotel, an ex-Serviceman after the last war, 15 years in their service, and then he was caught speaking to the chambermaid because they were discussing joining a union
I will give another case and I will give the name in this one. I shall not budge from what I have said. What we want to do is to get a settlement with those hotels and not show them up. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] And when I say "we," I mean the union concerned. If they do not get it, they will be shown up. Let the House listen to this. Here is a form which was in use and which people
were asked to fill up by one of our West End hotels when they applied there for a job. They gave their name, address, classification and so on and then there is this statement:
You are called upon to pay to the management to defray cost of agreement stamp. In the event of your dismissal, this amount will be refunded to you, but in the event of your resignation the money will be forfeit to the management.
Something has been said about the spirit of Tolpuddle. I want to say that the spirit of this vexatious opposition and intimidation by employers exists today. I will quote further:
I hereby declare that 1 am not a member of any workers' Union that has any connection with hotels or restaurant business, and I promise not to become a member of any such Union without first notifying my employers.
It goes on:
I, the undersigned, hereby agree to enter the employment of Oddenino's Motel and Restaurant Ltd., and should I be absent from business through sickness or any other cause it is distinctly understood and agreed that I am not entitled to any salary during the period 0f such absence. All employees are liable to be searched on leaving the premises.
Oddenino's odds and evens. Odds I win and tails you lose. Those are the conditions.
It is quite obvious that these vital points show that there are organisations of employers banded together in their own organisations, acting in conspiracy to prevent their workers joining trade unions.
I was rising on a point of Order. If the repeal of the Trade Disputes Act has something to do with employers and the unions which serve them, I would consider the right hon. Gentleman was in Order. I do not know whether this Bill which the Government have introduced, has anything to do with that particular aspect. However sympathetic we may be with the Minister—
I have a moment or two left and there are many more cases of this kind which 1 would like to mention. I first want to say this about these poor non-unionists, these fellows who are said to have a conscientious objection to belonging to a trade union. The only conscientious objection I have ever known them to have is to paying to a trade union. This country will be better if we remove from the Statute Book this obnoxious Act. For years at every Labour Party Conference and at every Trades Union Congress there has been a notice of motion demanding its removal. It is our intention to remove it.