I beg to move,
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, thanking His Majesty for His Most Gracious Message, communicating to this House that His Majesty has deemed it proper by Proclamation, made in pursuance of the Emergency Powers Act, 1920, and dated the eleventh day of July, nineteen hundred and forty-nine, to declare that a state of emergency exists.
The House has been kept informed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour of the situation at the London Docks. I regret to state that figures today show no improvement. There are 13,528 men on strike and 11,000 at work. The situation is such as gravely to injure the economy of this country at a critical period in its history. Every endeavour has been made by the Government and by trade unionists to inform the men concerned of the facts of the situation, but I think it would be well that in moving this Motion I should state again what is the real point at issue.
The trouble originated in a quarrel between two Canadian unions, the Canadian Seamen's Union and the Seafarers' International Union. With the rights and wrongs of that quarrel we in this country are not concerned, and the only reason why we have been brought into it is because the Canadian Seamen's Union decided to call strikes in foreign ports. The result is that there has been a series of strikes in ports in this country, beginning at Avonmouth and culminating in the strike at the London Docks. I am aware that there has been a lot of talk as to whether this is a strike or a lock-out, or partly a strike and partly a lock-out. The short point is that the original dispute was ended at Avonmouth; the original dispute in London was ended; work was resumed on the two ships in the London Docks, and then, on an alleged breach of undertaking by the Canadian shipowners, the men struck work, and others struck work in sympathy. I think that beyond doubt that is clearly a strike.
Now, I am very well aware of the objection that trade unionists in the dock industry, and indeed in other industries, have to handling cargoes which are called "black." They have a very strong sense of loyalty to their fellow workers. But in the present case this loyalty is misguided and is being unscrupulously exploited. Let me recount some of the facts.
First of all, these strikes are contrary to the decisions of the responsible unions in this country. The Transport and General Workers' Union and the National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers have both directed their men to return to work, and it is inconceivable that the executives of those unions would have ordered their men to return to work if they had considered that these were "black" cargoes.
Secondly, I have received from the President of the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada—that is the equivalent of our Trades Union Congress over here—a telegram which reads as follows:
The strike of the Canadian Seamens' Union is not recognised by the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada as this organisation was suspended from affiliation on June 3, 1949.
Further, the Canadian Longshoremen—who are the opposite numbers of our dockers here—are working these Canadian ships.
Thirdly, the International Transport Workers' Federation, with which both these Canadian Unions which are in the dispute are connected, met and considered this question, and they sent round to dock workers throughout the world this decision:
There was no occasion for unions abroad to intervene in the dispute, and dockers' unions will not be asked to refuse to handle the cargoes of these ships.
Against all this weight of authority certain individuals have taken it upon themselves to settle the question as to whether these ships are "black," and a very large number of dock workers have been deluded into taking action that is injurious to themselves, to trade unionism and to this country. It is utterly untrue to say that there is some great trade union principle involved in this matter.
The suggestion has been made that the whole of this trouble might have been avoided if the two vessels in question had been unloaded by troops and taken out of the docks. That suggestion comes from various quarters, and I was sorry to see that the "Manchester Guardian," which is usually well-informed, took that line today. If that were done it would concede the claim made by the unofficial strike leaders, that they are to decide what ships should be worked. It is not surprising that this has been put forward by Communists and "fellow travellers," for let us just see what this means. It means that a group of irresponsibles can call a ship "black" if it comes from a particular country with which a particular clique happens to be on bad terms. It may be France one day; it may be Yugoslavia another day; it may be anywhere, when a clique chooses to send round to their members over here saying, "Get busy. Call this ship 'black'."
It is quite impossible for any Government to concede that claim. It is quite impossible for the responsible authorities in the docks to concede that claim. Furthermore, it means this. It means that the dock workers in this country are made the tools of other people, and are brought out on strike for reasons which have nothing to do with them, nothing to do with their relations with their employers, and nothing to do with their pay, their hours of work or their conditions.
To concede this right would be to strike a fatal blow at the dockers themselves, and indeed at all transport workers, for it would mean that they would be made instruments to bear the loss from all kinds of disputes, because it is the essence of their calling that they should handle cargoes from all over the world. It would mean, on any occasion that there was any dispute anywhere in the world, that they would be called upon to bear the loss for an issue on which they had no right to say anything.
The Dock Scheme, which owed its introduction to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, has brought untold benefit to the dock workers. In former days there was a small minority of men who got reasonable remuneration and regular employment but the great mass of the men who worked the docks were casual workers, and their wives never knew from week to week what money would come in. I know myself what the results of that system were; I lived many years in the docks. I saw the effect on the men, their wives and their children. We have now got a system by which there is a guaranteed wage and order in the docks. I am quite sure that the vast majority of men approve of this scheme and would hate to go back to the old days. The Government believe that this scheme is essential if the dock workers are to get a proper standard of life. Only those who thrive on discontent and misery would wish to end it.
But rights bring obligations. There is a clear obligation under the Dock Scheme to answer the call and take the work offered. There must be mutual obligations in this matter. Further, the great position attained by the trade unions of this country has been due not a little to the fact that they keep agreements entered into, and the whole position of the unions is jeopardised by breaches of agreements such as this.
While this strike lasts the country is suffering grievous losses. The external trade on which our people depend for their means of life is being gravely injured. The duty of the Government is clear. In these circumstances, the Government advised His Majesty to proclaim that there is a state of emergency. No one likes taking this action, but this action is forced upon us. We have our responsibilities. The Emergency Committee has now been set up, as was announced yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, to take control of the London Docks. Regulations have been made and laid before this House for which later today we shall seek the approval of the House.
I repeat that the cause of this trouble lies outside this country. There is no dispute between employers and employed, and nothing done in this country can affect the original subject matter of the dispute, or any matter of the dispute. The Canadian seamen want to go home. Let the dock workers discharge the cargoes and get to work, and cease to allow themselves to be dragged for ulterior motives into a quarrel which is none of theirs.
I have no desire to controvert anything the Prime Minister has said this afternoon, as far as it went. But he has not really told us very much. We are still completely without information as to what action the Government propose to take. After all, the House is being asked to pass proposals giving the Government powers without precedent in time of peace. I had thought that the Prime Minister, when he asked us to approve this Gracious Message, would at the same time have given some indication of what it was in the Government's mind to do about the situation, which has grown steadily worse. I personally endorse the right hon. Gentleman's analysis of this dispute and how it has arisen, but at times when he was speaking I wished that something of the same kind could have been said from the Government Front Bench a very long time ago.
We have not, in my judgment—I am not blaming the Prime Minister, who has many duties to perform—had since the beginning of this business, one clear and specific statement from any Minister at any time as to where we are. I am not in this connection criticising the Minister of Labour, for whom we all have affection and respect—I shall have something to say later, about his handling of this matter. But this is a Government affair, and when the Prime Minister says—and I agree with him—that it is matter so critical to our whole national life, I should have thought that a fuller and clearer account would have been given to the House and transmitted to those engaged in this dispute by whatever means the Government thought right. After all, there cannot be any Member in this House who is other than deeply concerned that we should have to examine proposals like this at all.
No one would ever want to entrust any Government, even the Government he was cordially supporting, with powers like this in times of peace. At the same time, conditions being what they are, I cannot deny, and do not deny, that the Government must have these powers. We shall vote for them, because, apart from the merits, we have to look behind this dispute, not only at its causes but at its consequences. With the precarious balance of payments with which the country today is confronted, no one can estimate, and no one has yet estimated, what price we are paying for this dispute. There is not only an immediate loss of exports, which is obvious, but also a delay in imports which may be serious. There is also the effect on goodwill at a time when competition is stiffening in the markets of the world. It must obviously be very serious for our export trade.
The only estimate we have had is from the Minister of Transport, who said the other day that in this dispute more than 1,500 operating days have been lost in two months to ships in British ports. That is a very formidable figure, but it is not by any means all the story. The ships lose operating days, but our industries lose goodwill, which may be even more serious. I say that faced with all this the House has absolutely no alternative but to endorse the Government's demand for these powers. I do not think any Government could allow this situation to continue without taking whatever powers they thought necessary to bring it to an end. But having said this, I must add that there are certain features of this dispute which give me grave concern for our national future.
I cannot acquit the Government of all blame in this matter, for reasons which I am going to mention in a moment. But could we not agree about this? All of us who were Members of the House during the war, particularly those who were in the War Cabinet, will agree how very loyal and wholehearted was the contribution of the dockers to the war effort. There is no dispute about that, and it applied especially to the blitzed areas where their work was often very hazardous indeed—they stood by manfully, all of them. I do not think anyone is going to deny that the dockers as a body are as loyal and as patriotic as any others in the country. We start off in agreement on that. And yet these are the men who at the present moment are holding up the flow of trade upon which the very life of this country depends. There must be something radically wrong about this. I speak for myself and I do not know whether others take the same view, but I cannot count it a sufficient explanation merely to say that the Communists have these men by the nose. I have not the slightest doubt that the Communists have done everything in their power to exploit the situation.
We have only to read their Press and their own manifestos to know what they think. One thing that can be said about the Communists is that they do not conceal their actions in this sort of case. They do not want Marshall Aid to succeed, and they do not want Western Europe to be prosperous and happy. It is part of their creed that what they call the capitalist nations are tottering to their doom.
They are making all the trouble they can; but I cannot believe there are many men amongst these dockers who have not thought that if we had a Communist régime they could not strike at all. I cannot believe that that reflection is altogether absent from the minds of these men. There is the maximum of Communist intrigue and manoeuvre, but do the Government really feel that that, and nothing but that, is a sufficiently searching diagnosis of this problem? Frankly, I do not think it is. There seem to be certain special phases of this dispute which the House ought to face. The first is an apparently complete loss of authority by the trade union leaders over their men. It was put very plainly by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) at Question Time the other day. On Monday he said:
… Trade union leaders in this country seem to have lost complete control and seem to be out of touch. They have delegated to a large extent their duties and obligations to the shop stewards who are composed largely of Communists, and there has got to be a very serious revision of industrial control."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1949; Vol. 467, c. 37–38.]
It may not be true of the men for whom the right hon. Gentleman speaks. I am only quoting what an hon. Friend of his said. All I am saying is that on the evidence open to us and the nation as a whole at this time, what the hon. Gentleman said requires some refutation, which has not hitherto been given. On the face of it, it seems to be true that these union leaders have absolutely no control of their men at all. If that is so, it is all the more serious, because collective bargaining—and here I carry right hon. and hon. Gentlemen with me—is an essential element of our industrial life, and unless the authority of the trade union leaders is accepted and respected, collective bargaining will not work. That is why this particular aspect of this dispute is so serious.
I agreed profoundly with the Prime Minister that the observance of an agreement is important to the whole of our industrial life. Of course it is, as it is in international affairs. He and I have often seen the evil consequences of some Power rejecting international obligations and disregarding its signature. It would be a calamity if any such parallel were to develop in our national life. I have read, as no doubt the House has, the many Press reports of the state of mind of the men, and I have read a number of the speeches that have been addressed to them. There cannot be any doubt that in one thing at least, in my judgment, the "Manchester Guardian" was right—although I agree with the Prime Minister about their leader today—when it used the heading "Perplexity on the water-front." That just about describes the situation as far as we can learn it. There has been, for whatever reason, a failure to convey to the men what is the view almost of the whole of this House.
It is a very rare event in our national life when virtually all the parties in this House are in agreement, but it is astonishing that there is a large section of our law-abiding community who should take an absolutely contrary view, and take it, as I believe, with all sincerity. For such a state of affairs to have come about there must have been something wrong at some time. There must surely have been a failure to explain the issues fully in the early stages of the development of this dispute.
I was coming to the position of the unions in respect of that. I do not want to repeat what I have said so often at Question Time, but I believe that insufficient attempts have been made to explain the issues to the men. I now come to the leadership of the unions, which the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Attewell) raised. What about the leadership of the Stevedores' Union? Are the leaders really in agreement with the Government, and if so, what attempt was made to explain the issue to their members? After all, they are a very important element amongst those who are at present refusing to unload ships. I have not the slightest doubt of the excellent intentions of the Minister of Labour, nor have I the least doubt that he has worked his very hardest to try to improve matters, but I cannot feel that he, and still less the leaders of the unions concerned, have made any success of explaining the issues to the men.
That is just it. The right hon. Gentleman says that they went back to work, and he has the full credit for that. But why leave such a long gap? There has been no follow-through. Why weary of well-doing if it is successful? Instead of that, this time matters have been allowed to drift day by day and week by week. No objective, considered policy is being pursued. I would say to the House that the mere fact that this dispute has dribbled on so long without the preparation or launching of any concerted effort to explain the issue at a given time is in itself a condemnation of the way the matter has been handled.
Perhaps I can put it like this. The Minister has given too much an impression in all this business of an earnest and well-intentioned man panting along too many laps behind the event. Sometimes his statements are quite be- wildering. For instance, on one occasion I asked him why it was not possible to make available to the big meeting of strikers the other day some information of the Government's point of view and the union leaders' point of view. He said that it was so difficult for Ministers and others to speak at unofficial meetings. All right, but if that is his view, why did he withhold the troops from the ships until the meeting of unofficial strikers was over? Either they are important or they are unimportant. If they are important, why not make an effort to talk to them, and if they are unimportant why withdraw the troops while a meeting is being held? The two things do not seem to fit together, nor do they seem to square, as has been the case with so much of the Government's action.
How much information have the Government had from the beginning from the Canadian Government? I have no doubt that our Canadian friends put at the Government's disposal all the information they had about this dispute. Have the Government made use of this information at an early stage to enlighten the men, or have the Ministry of Labour put it away for use on a convenient opportunity later on? From what I can learn, there has not been a sufficiently early and vigorous use of the full information which our Canadian friends have made available. Do the men even now know what the story is? The Prime Minister's statement is the first that I have heard in this House—and I have listened to the whole of the Questions on this matter—which attempted to give a consecutive account of what occurred.
There is another aspect in which Ministers cannot be acquitted from adding to the confusion in the public mind. The Attorney-General spoke the other day, as he reminded his audience, not as a politician but as the Attorney-General. He used language at St. Helens last week which, to the best of my recollection, has no precedent in our recent Parliamentary history. I quote his words from the "Liverpool Post." He said:
Unofficial strikes are an act of economic and political treason to our movement and to our country.
Those are very grave words. If they are true, and if there are actions treasonable to our country, what action do the Government propose to take about them? We have not had the slightest hint or
indication from the Prime Minister's speech this afternoon that he has ever heard or read of the Attorney-General's speech at St. Helens last weekend. If such actions are treasonable, how long have they been treasonable? Why did the Government suddenly choose last Saturday up in Lancashire to make a statement which must have been just as true the Saturday before, or even a fortnight ago?
If what the Attorney-General said was true, why did he not say it before? Why did he not come and say it in the House of Commons, where the matter could have been discussed and debated? I should like to know the Government's point of view in this matter. Do they agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General? For all I know, he may be right. The Government may have all sorts of information about foreign activities which are not available to us. I am not challenging them in saying that when somebody in the postion of the Attorney-General, speaking, as he said, in virtue of his office and not as a politician, makes a statement of that kind we must know why he said it and what the Government propose to do about it. We are asked to pass these regulations wholesale, without any explanation about these matters.
Before I close, I want to add my word of sympathy and gratitude, which must surely be that of the House of Commons, to the troops who are called upon to do this work, and to say how much we admire the characteristically cheerful spirit in which they are carrying it out. It is typical of all that we know of them. It must be as hot for the soldiers as it would be for anybody else in this weather to unload those carcases. Nobody can be happy about this business at all. This is not the way to train the Regular Army, the Royal Navy, or the short service men, that they should be occupied in this way, but we have to deal with the effects of the dispute and its consequences.
I shall close as I began. In present conditions, we cannot and do not resist the Government's demand for these powers. On the contrary, we shall support them, deeply as we deplore that they should have become necessary. We shall therefore vote for them. We urge the Government again to spare no pains to ensure that the men are clearly informed as to the issues on which this dispute is being fought. I should imagine that few of us in this House want to see further restrictions of liberty and more regulations. Therefore, these proposals must be odious to us all. We accept that today they are inevitable, but we shall require their removal at the earliest moment the circumstances allow. This stern national necessity—and we accept that it is one—commands our loyalty, whether we be Opposition or Government supporters. May the occasion soon pass, and may the nation rally to its formidable but not insuperable task of restoring the national economy.
I agree that in the circumstances as they are now we have no option but to support this Motion. The position which has arisen makes this Motion inevitable. Like the right hon. and gallant Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), we dislike these rules and regulations and the use of troops. We can be sure that the troops themselves dislike to be used in this way. No one section of the community, however important, is entitled to hold the rest to ransom. That is what now is happening. No section of the community should at this moment increase the difficulties from which the country is suffering. The ransom which has already been paid by the country as a whole must be very considerable. I wish, as the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington said, that the Prime Minister, or somebody replying on behalf of the Government, would give us some estimate of the loss which has been incurred—by demurrage on the ships at a time when shipping is short, the holdup of cargoes which has been necessary and the other loss entailed—so that the dockers themselves may know the cost of their action.
While one feels that one has to support this Motion, one wants to know why we have arrived at the position in which we have to exercise these extraordinary powers. I agree with all that the Prime Minister said, but I wish that he had gone a little more fully into the matter. It is rather becoming the fashion, when any trouble arises, to accuse the Communists of being the sole cause. No one dislikes the Communists and the totalitarians more than I do, because they would take away the liberties that we regard as safeguards. One dislikes their methods and ideas, but it is wrong to attribute all that goes wrong today to the Communists. What the Communist often does is to discover some grievance and to exploit it, to find some sore and to make it worse, in order more quickly to attain his own ends.
The right thing is not to blame the Communists but to try to remove the grievance and to cure the sore. In that case, the Communist would not have any influence at all. I do not believe that the 13,000 men who are out of work are Communists to a man
Nor can I think that they are without some sense of grievance. There is something wrong that they should follow Communist leaders. That is what causes me anxiety. To me, this strike is another symptom of something wrong somewhere, perhaps with the machinery of the trade unions or something of that kind.
Why is it that during recent years we have been getting breakaway unions and unofficial strikes? The trade union leaders seem to have lost the influence that they ought to possess and to be out of touch with the men. Is it, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) the other day, that trade unions have now become so vast that the man at the top has not a clear realisation of the grievances from which the man doing the work is suffering? Is it any wonder that the hon. Member for Shettleston said that grievances often find a better solution through the shop stewards, to ventilate—
I am talking about the present trouble as another symptom of some disorder. We get the unofficial strikes and we wonder why, after the heads of the Government seem to have arrived at an agreement and the agree- ment seems to have been accepted. Nevertheless we hear that at Manchester they are not prepared to follow the lead which has been given by their leaders.
What is wrong at present? We are asked as a House to approve of all these extraordinary powers, which, as the right hon. Gentleman said, we hope will not be used for more than a few days. Even under the Act they cannot be used longer than a week without coming back to the House. Let us not be content with merely getting over this difficulty and putting this matter right, but use this as an occasion to inquire further into what may be far more deep-seated causes which give rise to this sort of thing. As we did on Monday, my colleagues and I will support the Government on this occasion for those reasons.
I rise to express the support of my National Liberal colleagues for the Message before the House. To those of us who followed closely and welcomed the development under the establishment of the National Dock Labour Scheme, the circumstances which have made necessary the declaration of a State of Emergency not only cause us the gravest concern but are also a matter of very great disappointment. Whatever the details which have caused the trouble in the docks may prove to have been, the fact remains that the terms of the scheme and its related agreements have been broken.
On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. I want to raise a point with regard to the recognition of the parties taking part in this discussion. Is it in Order for an hon. Member of a party which has already been represented to take part in these discussions before other leaders have been called?
The hon. Gentleman seemed to criticise my selection of speakers. I am calling various party leaders first of all. I am quite entitled to do so, and that is what I am going to do.
I was about to try to help the hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scollan) by suggesting that this discussion might be postponed to a later occasion when we shall have ample opportunity and space in which to discuss it. However, I shall not interfere with Mr. Speaker's Ruling on that point of Order. I was about to say—I hope that the hon. Member for West Renfrew will listen to this very carefully—that the whole purpose of the National Dock Labour Scheme was to make permanent and very great improvements in the working conditions and, therefore, in the way of life of an extremely important section of the community. The scheme was honourably negotiated over a very considerable period and freely accepted by all those concerned.
At the time it was brought into operation it was pointed out in this House that, because of the unavoidably spasmodic nature of dock employment, which depends on the time of arrival of ships in port, the decasualisation of dock labour must entail relatively heavy increased costs. It was confidently believed, nevertheless, that if the scheme was loyally honoured these increased costs would be more than offset by the full implementation of the scheme. I doubt that the experience of the last two years in certain ports has borne this out, and it will be tragic if the action of a certain section of the workers results in the entire breakdown of the scheme.
It may be that there are flaws in the structure of the scheme. It is certainly very clear that the relationship between members of the unions and their leaders must cause very grave concern. When the time comes it will be extremely necessary to ask more questions—the time is not now—about exactly what part the Government have played and how effective that part has been during these recent weeks since the first stoppage occurred in the docks. Whatever these points may bring out in the future, the immediate thing is that obligations freely accepted must be honoured, and in whatever action the Government may take with this objective they can count on the support of every person in the country who has at heart the true interests of the nation and, above all, of the whole community of dock workers.
I urge the Government, however, to act, now that they have got the powers and to act quickly before the issues in the minds of the men involved become much more obscure than they are now; and, what is most important of all, as has already been urged to take very much more effective steps to bring to the men involved a full realisation of the distortions and lies which have led them, through misplaced loyalty, to take this action.
I rise to oppose the acceptance of this Message. I am of opinion that the Government and the Dock Board are responsible for the situation that exists and that they could clear up the situation, if they so desired, without bringing His Majesty into the picture at all. Before I go on to make my general observations, I want to correct something which was said by the Prime Minister. In a reference to the suggestion that soldiers should clear these two ships, he said that this proposal was being put forward by Communists and "fellow-travellers." That is not true. The suggestion was made in this House by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), and a little afterwards my hon. Friend the Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) asked the Minister why, if he was as anxious as he seemed to suggest to end the strike, he did not accept the suggestion of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. To suggest that this was put forward by the Communists and "fellow-travellers" is obviously stretching things very considerably, though not so far as the Attorney-General did.
In a moment. I am certain that four years ago not one of those triumphant hon. Members on this side of the House who were going to wipe out the Tories, ever dreamt that they would be associated with the Tories in such a business as this. The "Red Flag" is buried deeper than the 40 crypto-Communists to whom the Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred on one occasion in this House. Any one of these men could repeat with the poet:
My head's unbloody,
Safe, unscarred and whole.
To keep it that way,
I have sold my soul.
In regard to the point which was being made by the hon. Member, he will see in column 2174 of the OFFICIAL REPORT the statement by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), about which there is no dispute. Then the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) said this:
Would the Minister acknowledge that fact, and give consideration to the point made by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), that if these two ships were unloaded by Service personnel—which was his proposal—the whole matter could be finalised in a few days?—[OFFICIAL REPORT 6th July, 1949; Vol. 466; c. 2175.]
On the following day I said:
Surely the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) yesterday appealed to the Government to send troops into the docks?
MR. PIRATIN: As my name has been brought in, may I say here that I said nothing of the kind?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th July, 1949, Vol. 466, c. 2355.]
This revolutionary Socialist who is so anxious to have the dockers defeated—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] So he is—having had his opportunity to prove that what I said was correct and what the Prime Minister said was wrong, I shall now get on with my speech.
It has been said—and many hon. Members have referred to it here—that the Communists have something to do with this great manifestation of the dockers. [An HON. MEMBER: "So they have."] What happened? When the Bristol men were out, did the London dockers move? The dockers did not move, it was not their affair. There were two boats lying in the docks, but the dockers were given to understand that they did not have to unload them and were not called upon to unload them. When the Bristol men were out and asked the London dockers to support them, they said, "It is not our affair." Will the Minister deny that? And then, when the Bristol men were defeated, pressure was turned on the London dockers. Is that true or is it not?
The London dockers were faced with the fact that the Dock Board had carried through a cunning policy of "divide and conquer." They defeated the Bristol men, then they put pressure on the London dockers in order to force the London dockers into the same position as the Bristol men had been forced into. But the Dock Board reckoned without taking into account the courage and tenacity of the London dockers and, whatever else may be said, these men have given an admirable demonstration of working-class loyalty and working-class resolution. Now, in a final effort to break them, we get this abominable proposal—a disgrace to any Government composed of men who rose to power out of the struggles and sufferings of the working class. And not all official strikes. It is only since we had the Labour Government that unofficial strikes have been referred to as treason.
They will not be. When these Emergency Regulations were first introduced by a Coalition of notorious, hardfaced men who flooded into this House after the Coupon Election, the Labour Party opposed them vigorously, and the leader of the Labour Party then said:
We cannot put into the hands of this Government or any other Government, whether it be the type of the present one or a Labour Government, permanent legislation of this kind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th October, 1920; Vol. 133, c 1407.]
The Labour Members voted against the regulations, yet under the Labour Government of 1924, it was proposed to use them against the dockers, not in London but throughout the country. At that time the country was struggling to get on its feet, its economy was in a bad way, the strike of the dockers was doing incalculable harm—that was the burden of the Tory song, as it is the burden of the Labour and the Tory song today. But was it Communists who were responsible for the wholesale disruption of the economic life of the nation in 1924. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] No, it was a gentleman by the name of Mr. Ernest Bevin who was the leader. The fate of the nation was not his concern; his concern was the dockers and the demands they were making and to which they were fully entitled. I was supporting them, and everybody with any intelligence on this side of the House was supporting them.
Is the hon. and learned Member incapable of understanding that the Tories were not concerned in the least little bit whether the demands were good or bad, right or wrong? All we were getting was that it was disrupting the economic life of the nation—just what we are getting today—and the leader was Mr. Ernest Bevin.
Two things about that strike bear on the present situation, one a cardinal principle. One of the best traditions of the working class has always been a hatred of blacklegging. It is the attempt to force them into blacklegging which has incensed the dockers today. It should be noted that every morning they go to the dock gates ready and willing to work. The call is made at one dock for a crew of men to work the "Beaverbrae," at another dock for a crew of men to work the "Argomont." There is no response, so the dock gates are kept locked and the dockers are refused the right to work on the other ships. Every morning that has been going on. Where is the need for emergency legislation when we have a Government and a Dock Board to settle a problem of that kind?
If the strike of the Canadian seamen is no affair of the dockers, why are they not allowed to work in the other ships while measures are taken to bring about a settlement of the Canadian dispute? Why, if it is no affair of the dockers, are not the ships taken out of the area? Why are not the dockers allowed to go on with their job? This is not done, yet everyone knows that dockers—
I should like to ask the hon. Member, when he makes the statement that the dockers are refused employment, if he realises that they are only asked to carry out their agreement to work and unload any ship?
That is understood, but it is also understood that that agreement does not involve working in "black" ships. [Interruption.] No, there never was an agreement that involved the dockers working on "black" ships. All right, if there is a question about that—
Please. Surely hon. Members are intelligent enough to understand this. The agreement which calls upon the dockers to answer a call to work a ship does not involve working on "black" ships.
Please, please. Well, I say it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] All right then, I say the ships are "black." The Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister say that the ships are not "black." That indicates clearly that there is a difference. Then why not take the difference outside the ambit of the London dockers, and let the London dockers get on with the job they are willing to do while the question of whether the ships are "black" or not is being decided? [An HON. MEMBER: "Their own representatives have decided that."]
In the 1924 strike, the strike committee sent out a short message to every dock committee. Brief as that message was, the evil business of blacklegging achieved double mention. One short paragraph—this is important from the point of view of the attitude of the dockers today—contained these words:
Where safety men have been allowed to remain in, they only may do so as long as blacklegs are not introduced.
A second paragraph read:
The Council places on record its appreciation of the lead given by the Railwaymen's Union in their determination to prevent blacklegging, and welcomes their co-operation.
That statement, sent out to every dock committee, was signed by Ernest Bevin. If there is one thing that was hammered into the trade union movement of this country more than another, it is opposition to blacklegging. That must be taken into account.
Here it might be noted that the London members of the then General Council passed a resolution supporting the dockers. That resolution contained a sentence or so which expresses my viewpoint today. It said:
We also share the natural resentment of the workers directly concerned … arising from the stubborn attitude of the employers.
That applies equally today as it did when that message was issued. But while the strike was going on, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald was not idle. He was making preparations for dealing with the strike in just the same way as preparations are being made today. The fact that it was an official strike in 1924 did not make any difference; preparations were being made all the same. After stating the case to the House as the Prime Minister of the day, Mr. MacDonald said:
… if the need continues, I hope the House will enable us to get what we require as emergency legislation.
SIR. W. MITCHELL-THOMSON: Will these proposals come under the Emergency Powers Act ….?
THE PRIME MINISTER: That is a matter which is being explored, and no time is being lost to consider the best way to proceed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1924; Vol. 169, c. 1753.]
That was an official strike in 1924, yet preparations were in hand; but they did not come into operation because the leaders of the strike, very anxious that such an action should not be thrown upon
the Labour movement, made a compromise agreement and brought the strike to an end. But everyone who knew the leader of that strike, Mr. Ernest Bevin, knew his furious rage against the Prime Minister and his principal lieutenant, now the Leader of this House; and in 1925, because of that, Mr. Ernest Bevin got up at the Labour Party Conference to make an out and out onslaught on MacDonald, but he was howled down by the delegates. I happened to be a delegate there and I went over and commiserated with him.
Considering his attitude then, how can he be a party to what is going on today? True, he served the dockers well, but at the same time it should be remembered that the dockers—these much-defamed dockers—built him up and gave him the opportunity to become one of the foremost men in the trade union movement—[Interruption.] I have already remarked that he served the dockers well—that is always remembered; what is forgotten is that the dockers built up Mr. Bevin and gave him the opportunity to be one of the foremost men in the trade union movement.
What a shameful thing it is that he and others, whose main task it should be to protect the workers, should now be ready to destroy them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] I do not know any one of the men affected, not one of them, but as a proletarian I offer them my tribute of praise for their loyalty and determination. While we have men such as these, the cause of the working class, whoever else may betray it, is safe.
We are told that this is a Communist conspiracy, that the Communists want chaos. Never was there a statement so false or so devoid of even the first element of truth. The Communist Party has a policy. It is the only policy that can take this country out of the dollar trap and free it from the menace of chaos that is now threatening. Surely, hon. Members are able to understand that if we wanted chaos, all we have to do is to sit quietly by and let the Chancellor go ahead as he is doing. What the Americans call a "smear" campaign has now become the last ignoble resort of Labour and Tory leaders alike. The latest and most grotesque manifestation of this was the Attorney-General's utterly incoherent, irresponsible and dangerously neurotic speech. Either he is ready for jumping out of a window or he is qualifying for the mantle of a Hitler or a Goebbels. But I would remind him that this type of lying slander is not new. It is always in evidence when an old system of society is in decay; when new forces are seeking to replace it.
I shall make one or two quotations to show how this type of campaign can be worked and the evil it can do. After the religious revival at Blackpool, I am sure that the Labour leaders will appreciate these quotations. I have already put one of them before the House on an earlier occasion. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, could say:
… we are made as the filth of the world and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.
The Attorney-General is busy on the job of getting after Paul and the rest of them. And in the Acts of the Apostles—[Interruption.] The New Testament is something the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) will never read. In the Acts of the Apostles we are told that after Stephen, who was endeavouring to serve his people—the propaganda had been there—had testified.
they gnashed on him with their teeth … cast him out … and stoned him.
It was the Attorney-General of that day—
No. The hon. Member should remember that it was the high priests who were responsible for the propaganda then. It was the Attorney-Generals of that day and the like who made it possible for such happenings. The outstanding example of what lying propaganda can do is given in St. John:
Pilate said unto him, 'What is truth?' And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, 'I find in him no fault at all. But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?' Then cried they all again, saying. 'Not this man but Barabbas.' Now.…
Now Snyder—I beg pardon.
Barabbas was a robber"—
We cannot make reference to the words of the Saviour of the Christian religion to support a political attack; many of your predecessors, Sir, have made that Ruling repeatedly, and I suggest that the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) should be ordered to withdraw his references to the Saviour of the Christian religion.
I am coming near the end and I have only one other quotation to make. This is considered to be the finest literature in the English language, and I do not see why hon. Members should take exception to me quoting it. I am quoting to show what evil, lying, propaganda can do, and did. What I want to say to those gentlemen, to hon. Members who so readily, nay eagerly, bear false witness and who seek to use this method of terror against the working class, who accuse the people of Eastern Europe of totalitarianism because they put an end to the robbery of the capitalists and the landlords while themselves using the most brutal totalitarianism against the workers is this, and I quote again, this time from St. Matthew:
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness …. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
That expresses, better than ever I could hope to do it, my opinion of those who would betray their country, those who would betray their class, for a handful of lousy, dirty dollars.
I do not want to comment on the last part of the speech to which we have just listened, except to say this. I respect the opinions and deep emotions of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). I only wish he would respect some of ours. The words which he has just been quoting are, to some of us at any rate, not merely the most classical examples of literature, they are the Word of God, and it is a pity that that Word should be spoken in this House in the tone the hon. Member has used. We cannot, of course, all agree about religious or political matters, but if debate is to proceed upon decent and even dignified lines, we must learn to respect one another's opinions and not to arouse deep emotion when nothing has been said to provoke it in that way.
I thought I had made it clear that in my opinion what was said was a gross breach of taste and a serious menace to democratic discussion in this House. I do not think I could make myself plainer than that. As a matter of fact, it is a concession to the hon. Member for West Fife, with whom I find myself in disagreement so profoundly, that I must add that there were parts of his speech before he allowed himself to be drawn into that particular error which I thought required a little more answering than that to which I have just referred.
As far as I am concerned, I am sure the House will recognise that I start from the proposition, as I think we all do, that in the present economic situation of the country, whatever the merits or demerits of this particular dispute, the dockers, like everybody else, are public servants. They are not primarily the servants of an employer or in dispute with an employer; they are people who owe a duty, as we all owe a duty, to the community, and to see our country, after so much has been suffered in its behalf in the last few years, threatened to be brought down by a squalid dispute which concerns no one in this House, in this city or this land is a tragedy we should all try to avert. As that is the uppermost emotion I feel in this matter, I do not find any difficulty in supporting the Motion which has been proposed.
But as my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) pointed out, what is under discussion is something far more serious than that. It is the headlong collision between a substantial section of the community and the almost unanimous opinion of this House—a clash which is sought to be supported in the last resort by unconstitutional action. Unless this House sees it defeated, we might as well dissolve our Parliamentary institutions in the future. We may as well face the fact that, however much our sympathy goes out to any section of the community and however worthy we think its individual members to be, either this House asserts its democratic authority at the present time or in the long run, we are going to see the end of Parliamentary government. For that reason I could not find it in my heart to vote otherwise than in favour of the Motion.
Having said that, while I must support the Government on the issue which has been raised, I cannot congratulate them on the way in which they have chosen their field of battle. I cannot congratulate them on the fact that the issue has been raised at all. I cannot congratulate them on their method of approach to the whole question. If what is uppermost in men's minds is not the public interest but whether some goods are "black" or "white," I have no doubt that the Government's opinion of this matter, supported by so much argument, is the correct one, but I should have thought the veriest tyro in trade union affairs, let alone the experienced trade unionists who make up the Government, would have known that, if ever there was an occasion for explaining the true nature of the issue in time to men of this kind, it was an occasion when there was at least a danger that they might be driven to abandon work on the ground that the goods they were asked to handle could have been plausibly called "black."
I should have thought it was elementary in circumstances of that kind either that the Government ought to have avoided the occasion of the issue altogether or else they ought to have explained in time why on this occasion the dock workers were going to be asked to overcome feelings as deepseated, as stubborn and as strong as we all know these feelings to have been. Yet, so far as I can tell, absolutely nothing has been done. We have been constantly taunted on these benches with the superior skill with which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite think themselves capable of handling labour disputes, but we are here faced with a total breakdown of control. I must say, as a Conservative, that if my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) had been Minister of Labour, as he would have been but for the tragedy of 1945, I cannot conceive that a man of his experience in negotiation and of his tact would have been guilty of the ham-handed way in which this dispute has been handled.
I am about to remind the House in due course of one of two experiences of this kind, of which I dare say hon. Members opposite will be rather sorry to be reminded. What we are faced with in this connection is a complete loss of moral leadership by the Government in a field where they have constantly claimed to be superior to ourselves. "We are the masters now," said the Attorney-General on one occasion. He is not the master any longer.
I should like to ask the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) whether he would like to include loss of moral leadership by the trade union leaders along with that of the Government?
I was talking about the Government. It is not my function to criticise trade union leaders, but it is part of my function to criticise the Government. What, for instance, are we to
make of the Attorney-General, that attractive and kaleidoscopic figure, who speaks now as a private individual, now as the Attorney-General of England and now as a partisan leader of a political faction? Who said these words:
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.
Who said that? The Attorney-General of England, the individual or the leader of a partisan political faction? And who said this:
The way to stop strikes is not by a policeman but by a conciliation officer"—
Who said that? The man who is seeking today to introduce regulations a whole section of which refers to the police. He went on:
not by the assize courts but by the arbitration tribunals …. You cannot settle these great human movements, wrong and misguided as they may be, by putting a few people in prison. That only makes martyrs of those people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1946; Vol. 419, c. 200–203.]
I ventured to say at the time those words were uttered, that they were utterly irresponsible and mischievous words for an Attorney-General of England to speak. I said that they tended to bring the law into contempt. Who is the Attorney-General, at St. Helens, to criticise the unfortunate dockers because they happen to hold the same irresponsible and mischievous views which he encouraged at that time?
To be perfectly fair to the Attorney-General, he did refer in the course of that speech to the remote possibility that at some time a Labour Government might have to invoke the Emergency Powers Act, but I told him at the time how empty and vain was the distinction which he sought to draw, because his words which I have just quoted, were a frontal attack upon the power of the law to deal with things of this kind. Now those words of the Attorney-General have come to roost, and we find the Attorney-General of England indicting the dockers for irresponsible conduct when it was he who first invoked the spirit which they are now pursuing.
I wonder how many hon. Members remember the name of the "Jolly George"? The "Jolly George" was a ship which the dockers refused to load some few years ago. They refused to load it because they did not agree with the foreign policy of the Government of the day and they were encouraged and promoted in doing so by a gentleman who was at that time known as "the dockers' K.C." What is the difference in principle between the "Jolly George" and the "Beaverbrae," I should like to know? What is the difference between "the dockers' K.C." and the Foreign Secretary? I suggest it is about the same. If people found their political careers on acts of lawlessness, they must expect to reap acts of lawlessness in consequence.
I am not among their legal or political executors. I am concerned with the right hon. Gentlemen who are now asking this House to accept Emergency Regulations to fulfil the part which ought to be fulfilled by the ordinary law of the land, which they themselves have been guilty of gerrymandering and interfering with, in the course of a political campaign of revenge. Those are the people with whom I am concerned.
It is true that circumstances alter cases. It is true that the principles which they then followed were unpatriotic and unworthy of men of public spirit, were mischievous and irresponsible, and that the principles which they now seek to pursue are wise and public-spirited principles which we cannot do other than support. But the time has come when it is necessary to say that an administration composed of these men is an organised hypocrisy and that the country ought to turn instead to that party which, with all the failings which all human institutions no doubt possess, and despite temporary unpopularity, has none the less pursued through the centuries a consistent course of adherence to the principle of the maintenance of public order and the rule of law.
The Government of the day faces one of the most distasteful tasks that any Labour Government could possibly face. I believe that it is only with courage and right-thinking that we shall surmount the difficulties which confront us. I have been very disappointed at the speeches which have been made this afternoon, with the exception of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I should have thought that, at this grave moment in the history of our country, those who believed the Government's proposal was right would have said so and left it at that, and would not have turned around and attempted to drag in all the past history of 20 or more years in order to discredit the Government of the day in doing a task which is both difficult and necessary.
That shows to me, clearly, and to every one of us who has listened today, that the party opposite are prepared to pursue in every difficulty a partisan policy and not a national policy, and I feel sure that, when they look back at their action, some of those who have spoken from the other side of the House will feel ashamed of the things they have said this afternoon. I am also disgusted at the conduct of the Communist Party in this House this afternoon. I know very well that many people support the Labour Party and Socialism purely on Christian grounds. I have never accepted that as the only basis, but I think we can have respect for those who put that forward if they are sincere. But nothing appears to me to be so disgusting as the obviously insincere quotations from the Christian Scriptures that we have had this afternoon.
The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) referred to 1926, and he asked this House to believe that if the responsibility had rested in the hands of a Tory Minister of Labour then things would have been much better. It is only necessary to go back over the history of 1926 in order to see how foolish is that assumption. I have heard—and it was a classic occasion—the hon. Member for Oxford describe what he was doing in 1926. He said he had the honour, and the great pleasure, of acting as a dustman in the City of Oxford in 1926. I do not think I should be allowed to describe that in the same way as the workers outside would describe it, and therefore I shall refrain from saying anything more on that matter. The issue before us is very clear—
I have been with the hon. Member on many occasions in the Lobby, and I have no doubt I shall be with him in the Lobby again. There are only two Lobbies here and we have to choose which one to go in; and anyone who comes with me will be in the right Lobby.
What is the position with which we are confronted today? Clearly and simply it is this; our position in the world after the most terrible conflict in history is that we cannot afford official or unofficial strikes—
—nor lockouts, I agree with that. The trade union movement at the present time has the greatest responsibility of any movement in the history of this country, and those who are supporters of the trade union movement must recognise that it has that responsibility. If any large body of men break down, discredit and disrupt the trade union machine, they have done a grave disservice not only to this Government, but to the country as a whole. On that basis I feel we should appeal to the dockers and everyone concerned to end this trouble at once, to return and do the job which they have contracted to do, and carry out their agreement. What is the actual issue involved?
In the National Union of Railwaymen we have often discussed the principle of whether or not we should refuse traffic on the grounds that it was "black" traffic; that we had some objection to carrying it. Always we have decided as a point of principle that we would not be involved in every dispute in the country. On that basis that if it was a decision of the official trade unions that the official trade union movement should decide what traffic was to be moved and what was not to be moved, that would be anarchy enough; and the Union to which I belong have never subscribed to that policy.
But what is it with which we are faced now? Not that the trade unions should decide, but that individuals should decide what is "black" traffic and what is "white" traffic, or what is any other coloured traffic. I say that such a proposition would end in anarchy and disaster. No Government worth its salt and hoping to rescue this country from the difficulties with which it is confronted can fail to accept such a challenge. That is the issue with which we are confronted. Even if the National Union of Railwaymen did decide this matter it would mean taking upon our shoulders the troubles and difficulties of every other section of the organised working-class movement in this country. But what we are asked to do here is to take upon ourselves the right to decide every issue for the whole world. I say that it is senseless nonsense for any body of men to try to justify such a stupid principle which is bound to end in disaster.
This issue is a simple one. The most amazing thing is that members of the Communist Party should suggest that the troops should be called in. Whenever the dockers refuse to load a ship, or whenever the railway staff refuse to deal with a parcel, are the troops to be called in on the instructions of the Communist Party? A great tribute was paid to the troops, and I have every sym- pathy with them in their difficult task, but is it to be the policy of the Communist Party that troops are to be used by the Government of the day for the purpose of coming in on every dispute and moving traffic?
As the hon. Member has raised what I suggest is a quite meaningless diversion about the Communist Party, may I ask him whether he knows the facts of the dispute in Canada; whether he knows about them at all?
Before my hon. Friend answers, he also should remember, with regard to the facts of the Canadian dispute, that every longshoreman in Canada is now working; and they should know more about it than the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Platts-Mills.)
The facts with regard to the dispute in Canada were clearly given by the Prime Minister. He stated that the official trade union movement in Canada had decided against the very principle that it is attempted to foist upon us here today. But even if the dispute were a genuine one, I deny the right of a small body of men, having no responsibility to anyone, to decide what they shall do in this country. If it was a question of the trade union movement making it an official dispute I could understand, but not this position, that someone outside, without any responsibility at all, should deal with this matter.
Our duty is clear. It is to appeal to everyone concerned in this dispute immediately to recognise what is involved—to recognise the common-sense way of doing our business and allowing the country the possibility of getting over all the enormous difficulties which confront us. That is the situation.
I was very sorry to hear the line taken by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). He take the line which he did. He criticised the Government and said they had failed to do something which they should have done. The Tory Party are criticising the Government. Their attitude can be exploited down on the docks. It can be twisted and turned about everywhere. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that if, this afternoon, he had thought first of his country, he would have left the matter after saying what were the facts of the situation, and given his support to the Government of the day.
I have listened to the Government case in the House on a few occasions. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has given us as clear a statement of the principles involved as could possibly be given. He has dealt with the dispute from beginning to end. The facts in this issue have been put over by the Government. Let us go one step further. I hope that the Government, on this occasion, will accept the advice of the Tory Party. I hope that they will take all measures open to them to make certain that every man concerned in this dispute understands it. I hope that the Government will use Government money—the resources of the nation—for that purpose. That is a point which hon. Members opposite have always disputed. They have told us, "No propaganda. Nothing should be done in any circumstances which savours of anything connected with politics." But now they ask us to do this, and I hope that the Government will get on with the job efficiently.
What an extraordinary proposition was put up by the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington. He criticised the Government for not making speeches and for not dealing with the matter in a forthright manner. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has dealt with the facts. I challenge anyone to say that what the Attorney-General said was not absolutely correct. He said that this situation is being exploited and that those people who are exploiting the situation are doing the most harmful thing it is possible to do to the country. Has the right hon. Gentleman opposite any praise for the Attorney-General? Not at all. Sneers are the order of the day. The Government face a difficult task. They deserve the full support of this House today. I warn the country that unless we are prepared to face this grave issue and to carry through the difficult task of upholding the principles involved, whilst making every effort at conciliation, then I see nothing but disaster in front of the nation.
I do not propose to discuss the general merits of this matter, but it might perhaps be for the convenience of the House if I made some reference to its legal implications. Before I do so, I should like—although I do it with some diffidence—to make some reference to my own speech to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) was good enough to refer. I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman has read what was perhaps not a full account of what I said. I do not complain about that in the least. I made a very long speech about this and other matters. I do not suggest for a moment that what was reported in any of the newspapers was either inaccurate or inadequate. But I made a long speech and what I said on these particular aspects of the matter was, I think, better understood when considered in its context. Perhaps I might indicate what I did say and then come to the passage to which the right hon. Gentleman drew special attention.
I emphasised—and I was at pains to do this because I believe it to be true—that of course the strikers were not Communists; that, on the contrary, they are loyal, hardworking honest Britishers, and that it was just because they had a strong and admirable sense of solidarity with their fellow-workers and of loyalty to the working-class that the Communists were able to mislead them into thinking that these ships were "black," and that, therefore, they ought to strike. I then went on in very considerable detail. I do not think that this was reported. I do not complain about it, but I do not think that it was reported. I explained the reasons why in my view it was not right to think that the ships were "black."
Then I drew attention to the consequences to trade unionism of unofficial action of this kind and to the danger to our economic position that a stoppage involved. I spoke generally about democracy and emphasised the mutuality of it, and the individual responsibility of every citizen in a democracy no matter what the Government—whether he likes it or not—to pull his full weight. Then I said this:
And now so far from pulling their full weight, the men who take part in these strikes are unwittingly striking a blow at their unions, at their Government and at their country which endangers all that we have done and hope to do. These unofficial strikes are an act of economic and political treason to our trade unions,
our Socialist movement, and indeed to our country. Let us all realise in time that if we allow this alien totalitarian ideology to spread, its agents to destroy our trade unions, our negotiating machinery, and to subvert our democratic system, we shall have ourselves to blame for the chaos, the misery and the tyranny which will ensue.
I do not think that I spoke in nearly such strong terms as the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) used a few minutes ago about the same aspect of the matter.
I do not think anyone who heard that speech could have dreamed for a moment that I was talking about legal treason on the part of individuals. I was talking about the duties and responsibilities of all citizens—whatever their political views may be—in a democracy. Indeed, I even went so far as to say that if, by any unfortunate and calamitous mischance, the Tory Party got into power, I should do exactly what we expect from the Tories now. I should do my best to operate their policy to the best advantage of the country, although I thought that it would be a disaster if they got back into power. I made that point in both speeches—and not for the first time, by any means.
Am I to understand that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was speaking as Attorney-General, as a legal man giving a legal opinion? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us how it comes about that an unofficial strike which upsets the nation is economic treason to the nation, and an official strike which upsets the economy of the nation is not treason to the nation?
I did not say anything of the kind. Consequently, that is a hypothetical question with which I do not think I can usefully deal. But I did refer to what I propose to refer to now—to the legal implications of what is—
That is true. At the beginning of my speech I said that as Attorney-General I was particularly interested in constitutional trends and developments. I thought we had to face the fact in this country now that there was a trend towards the totalitarian ideology which I believe the hon. Member who has just interrupted supports.
On a point of Order. I ask for the protection of the Chair, to which as an hon. Member of this House, I am entitled, irrespective of my political beliefs. [An HON. MEMBER: "What are they?"] My point of Order is this. Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman entitled to attribute to me a point of view which he well knows I do not possess?
I want to clear up this matter of the quotations. I must say that I checked the quotations as far as I could, and of course I fully accept what the Attorney-General has told us, but, in the "Liverpool Daily Post," which had the fullest account which I have seen of what took place, there was the juxtaposition of these two sentences, the one dealing with economic and political treason, and the next one, in which he said:
I speak not as a party politician, but as Attorney-General.
The juxtaposition of these two sentences strike me as making it a very grave statement.
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for pointing that out. I do not want to accuse the "Liverpool Daily Post," a paper of which I have long knowledge and the most friendly associations, of any inaccuracy about it, but, in fact I have my speech here and the phrase in which I referred to being the Attorney-General comes at the very commencement of it. Subsequently, after some other references, the reference to the economic and political treason came practically at the end, and in between these two passages there were a number of pages. I have not got the whole thing here, but I have four pages before me. That is a transposition of the order in which I made my speech.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend allow me? The other day, I used a somewhat strong epithet in regard to the speech which is now under discussion. I should like to say to my right hon. and learned Friend that I used that epithet on the basis that the report of the speech which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has just read out was the correct one, and I feel bound to take this opportunity, in case I do not catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, later on, of saying that, after the account of the speech which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has now given, I should not have made use of that epithet, which I now think was unjustified.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his generous withdrawal. The two sentences were placed in juxtaposition; not the one immediately following my statement that I was speaking as Attorney-General went on to refer to the legal aspects of the strike.
Perhaps I might now leave my speech, which I venture to think is of no very great importance in regard to the real merits of the matter which we are discussing, and pass on to the advice that I ought to give to the House on the legal implications of the situation. So far as the legality of the strike is concerned, we ought always to remember this distinction. We have to remember the difference between action which amounts to a breach of the criminal law and that which amounts to a breach of the civil law. I said in my speech, and there cannot be any doubt about it, that the strike was illegal in the sense that it exposed those who took part in it to action for damages for breach of contract. It may well be that, so far as the seamen are concerned, they have committed an infringement of the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, but I am more concerned with our own people in the docks here than Canadian seamen.
Neither the Dock Labour Scheme, the provisions of which form the general contract under which registered dock workers are employed, nor the particular employment by individual shipowners, entitles the men to pick and choose the ships on which they will work; and, in refusing to work a particular ship if allocated to it, in breaking off work on ships on which they were working or refusing to work on other ships, the men are committing breaches of contract under the Dock Labour Scheme. I think that that is clear, and that that is the position under the civil law.
It does not necessarily follow, of course, that there are breaches of the criminal law, and in general—and I am saying now what I said on the occasion of our discussions in connection with the repeal of the Trades Disputes Act, 1927—in general, strike action does not involve a breach of the criminal law. The right of the citizen, subject to the contracts into which he enters, to withhold his labour, either individually or collectively, is, of course, one of the things which goes to make up the liberty of the subject which we so justly prize. But, like all other freedoms and liberties, it is put into jeopardy when it is abused.
While, in general, strike action does not involve a breach of the criminal law, there are two exceptions to that. Of one of them at least, I informed the House at the time of our discussions in 1946—a strike which is not confined to industrial objects, which is not related to some genuine trade dispute, but which is designed to subvert the Government, overthrow it, to achieve political results by unconstitutional means, in the way which the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) suggested a few minutes ago. That that kind of strike would unquestionably be illegal, and those who could be proved by appropriate evidence to have participated in it would be open to a charge of seditious conspiracy. That is a question of fact, and I will only say that no one would believe for a moment that there was any such intention on the part of the great mass of the people who are taking part in the present stoppage—loyal citizens with a great record of patriotism in the last war and since.
May I put one point to the learned Attorney-General? The right hon. and learned Gentleman has just dealt with possible criminal action at common law. Is he going to say a few words about the position under the Conditions of Employment and National Arbitration Order?
That is the second case. I said there were two, and that is the second. I have just dealt with the position in the first case from the aspect of the common law. I only want to add this, on the general position under the common law. I do not depart from what I said in 1946, and I do not think there is any intention of this kind, which would be criminal on the part of the mass of the men engaged in the present stoppage. On the other hand, of course, the position in regard to other individuals is being carefully watched.
May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman a question, as I was the first one to raise the matter? I speak as a non-lawyer but as a Member of this House who is entitled to ask for information. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that, in his opinion, certain people had rendered themselves liable to penalties under the civil law. Does that mean that they are going to be proceeded against?
The right hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. I was careful to say that under the civil law, which is the phrase I use to distinguish it from the criminal law, there are no penalties involved except action for breach of contract, but that is not a matter for the Government at all.
Now, I come to the other case, that of the Conditions of Employment and National Arbitration Order, which was made under the Defence Regulations in 1940. Under that order, strikes may in certain cases be illegal if the disputes to which they refer have not been previously reported to the Ministry of Labour and a certain time allowed to elapse in which the Minister has the opportunity of referring the matter to the National Arbitration Tribunal. That, of course, was one of the purposes, I do not say the only one, but perhaps the more important one of the order, to ensure the use of an agreed method of settlement by arbitration of issues, arbitral issues which were capable of being solved that way.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend allow me? Is he aware that under the Arbitration Order, and I take it he is referring to Order No. 1305, the Arbitration Tribunal has no means of enforcing their decisions?
Their decision is, in fact, an advisory one. I believe it is loyally accepted in the cases which are referred to them, but the kind of case that has arisen here is not really one which it would be possible to refer to an arbitration tribunal. We cannot settle the dispute on the Canadian ships by any action which we can take in this country, and even if the matter had been referred to the Minister, it is very difficult to see that he could have referred it to the arbitration tribunal. I cannot speak for my right hon. Friend, of course, but I can say that when this wartime legislation was introduced, it contemplated very different circumstances from those existing here. But, having said that, I am far from saying that the order could in no circumstances he applied to the present case. The House will not expect me, I think, to indicate in advance the view I might take on any particular facts.
That is all I have that is useful to say about it, except, perhaps, that I am very reluctant to use the order against ordinary individual strikers who are, as I have said—as the great mass of the men involved in this stoppage unquestionably are—loyal and sincere citizens who have been misled into this action by a misconception of the true facts, so long as those who have misled them succeed, under advice, in keeping outside the operation of the law. But if legally appropriate evidence were available of the commission of criminal offences on the part of those people upon whom the real responsibility for this stoppage lies, there would not be any hesitation in applying the law in the ordinary course.
I think there is one point which the right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree with me ought to be made clear so that people who are following this should understand the position that a person who takes part in an illegal lock-out or strike—to follow the words of the regulation—is guilty of a criminal offence under the regulation—if that fact is proved—unless he gives the 21 days' notice in which to enable the Minister to take conciliatory measures. I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman would agree that it is most important that everyone concerned with this matter should know that is the law.
I thought I had indicated that. I entirely agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that that is the law, but, as I said, one seeks to get the more important offenders rather than those who have been misled. Unfortunately—
Can my right hon. and learned Friend answer one other point? Did the London dock employers actually report that a dispute was likely to arise or was apprehended under Order 1305?
That, of course, depends on whether the stoppage is a strike or a lock-out. There is no obligation whatever on the port employers to, report a strike; the obligation is upon those who initiate the action—whether it is a strike or a lock-out—to report the dispute before they initiate the action at all.
I only intervene because my right hon. and learned Friend agreed, I thought, a little too readily with what was put to him from the other side of the Table. Surely, it would be a little difficult to hold that men were legally in the wrong in failing to ask the Minister of Labour, by 21 days notice, to interfere in a matter in which the Minister had already declared that there was no dispute with regard to which he had any power, and when the Minister was saying that the Government and the Ministry of Labour ought not to intervene at all?
I wish to bring to the notice of my right hon. and learned Friend the fact that the Order 1305 was not involved in this dispute, and that the dispute was reported through the regular machine of the National Dock Labour Council.
I think that, strictly speaking, the provisions of the order were not followed by either side. That is my view of the facts as I know them at present. The facts may be open to dispute—indeed, they appear to be—but that is the view I hold, although I cannot say that there was any action here which could be made the subject of an effective arbitration, or which could have been solved by reference to the National Arbitration Tribunal.
Now I come to what was said by the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg). He referred to what I had said to the House in the course of our discussions on the Trades Disputes Act in 1946. Let me say at once that I do not depart by one jot or tittle from any of those parts of my speech which the hon. Member quoted. I do not believe that democracy can be safely rested upon the policemen and the prison; I do not think that is the true basis of democracy. I do not think that we can safely maintain democracy on the basis of penal laws. I think we have got to get—and this is what I hope we shall get in this dispute, and generally—a willing acceptance by the individual citizens in a democracy of their mutual responsibilities to each other. That, in my view, is the basis of democracy. The policemen, the Gestapo and the prison are the instruments of the totalitarian State which I have been attacking in the speeches I have made.
Ultimately, as I think—and this is what I said in the Debate on the Trades Disputes Act—movements of this kind cannot be controlled simply by the operation of the machinery of the criminal law. Persuasion is much more effective than coercion in matters of this sort. It is for all people of good will, on whatever side of the House they sit, and whatever their political opinions may be in a matter of this kind, to say that, great and admirable as is the tradition of solidarity which members of trade unions possess, these unofficial strikes in which that quality is played upon by unscrupulous people, are subversive—this is what I said in my speech, and I shall repeat it—of our trade unions, our negotiating machinery, our industrial democracy, and, indeed, of the whole basis on which our society rests.
Democracy, whether in the political field or in the industrial field, depends upon reliance on elected representatives both in Parliament and in the trade unions, in the Dock Board, the Labour Board, and negotiating machinery, and so forth. It is the precious right of people in a democracy—and this is what distinguishes it from other forms of society—to change their elected representatives when the time comes. But if in the meantime they throw them over, discard their authority, disobey their rulings and advice, that is exactly the kind of conduct which itself destroys democracy and which, if allowed to persist, would, in the end, destroy the opportunity for choosing representatives at all.
I have a very definite interest in this matter because I have been concerned with the industry under discussion all my life. I regret that this discussion today has become a definite attack on the trade union movement. It is true that the men themselves have taken a very peculiar line—one which is possibly not understood by everyone in this House. As one who has been associated with this industry, I can truthfully say that the relationship between those at the docks and their mates and others concerned is definitely stronger than in any other industry in the country.
I have witnessed events similar to those which have been taking place in London during the past two weeks, and I can honestly say that a very few men who have got some character or personality and who have got an axe to grind, as a few have in this matter, can easily persuade thousands of men to strike. All they have to do, as is being done at the moment, is simply to accuse the men of being scabs and blacklegs, and, rather than accept that, the men will put up with the consequences of going on strike. They will not run the risk of their mates saying that they did something contrary to what was done at the behest of the aggressive persons.
I have listened this afternoon to a lot of hysteria. I want to join issue with the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) who spoke for a long time on the docks dispute of 1924. He conveniently forgot to mention the unofficial docks dispute in 1923, because it was definitely like the present dispute—one of Communist Party domination.
Somebody else who does not work at the docks knows all about it! In 1923 I came from Liverpool and attended the unofficial meeting in London, and in the following year to which the hon. Member for West Fife referred, 1924, there was an unofficial strike. He might have been generous enough to the trade union secretary at that time, our present Foreign Secretary, to admit the great effort that he made to keep his union from taking unofficial action in 1923, on the promise that in the following year, on the termination of the agreement on the cost of living basis, he would lead them to get an increase, which he did. While at that stage we did not get it all, we certainly got an advance of 1s. a day and 1s. later on.
This dispute must be handled rather more carefully than it appears to have been handled up to now. This is a very serious position. The loyalties that exist among the dock labour employees throughout the country have been built up by the tyranny in years gone by, which compelled the men to amalgamate and get into a larger union, about which there has been such a great deal of criticism. As one who was in the Dockers' Union before the amalgamation with the Transport and General Workers' Union, I can state that there are, definitely, great advantages in consultation and in the great improvement that has taken place over the years. There has been criticism of that union being too large, but, as one who has been associated with it since its inception, I question very much whether any of the other unions have as much opportunity of settling their grievances as in the Transport and General Workers' Union. The trouble, as I see it, is that it would be better for industry and for the nation if, instead of having two or three unions, we had only one.
The members of the Transport and General Workers' Union have agreed to a constitution. I gather that what the hon. Member refers to is the fact that many of the officials are not elected by ballot. Two years ago the friends of the hon. Member for West Fife, at the annual conference, tried to get the position reversed, and by an overwhelming majority they were defeated.
They were defeated by the elected delegates. As for the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Platts-Mills), what a grand docker he is. What does he know about it? I feel that the dockers, miners and very many other industrial workers in this country could be a lot better off if we had less interference from the legal and professional people.
I refer to the whole lot. I believe that the miners and the dockers can do their business best themselves. If they want legal advice they can easily get it. That is what the professions are for—not to dictate to the workers, who may request their aid from time to time.
The regulations which have been referred to will alter for the time being the employment basis by which responsibility is put on the employers to see that nobody but registered men are employed in the industry. Under the regulations it will be necessary, and certainly desirable if we are to get the industry going and the ships turned round, to bring ordinary labour to the docks to replace those who refuse to work. I suggest that many of those who are trying to keep the strike going—or the lock-out, as they call it—will certainly make use of that if it is not clearly understood that this is a very temporary measure. I say that because it has already certainly been made use of by those who have been utilising this unfortunate position for their own purposes. It has been suggested that the scheme, which the workers value more than anything else, is in jeopardy. Because of that position we should be careful about what is said to the dockers in this respect.
I wish to say something about what should have been said to the dockers. The Government have made a mistake in not having been aggressive in this matter. I am of the opinion that most of the men concerned are not thoroughly aware of the factors involved. I hope that we shall be told, before this discussion ends, whether the information which has been given to me, or the conversations which I have heard, are correct. Is it true, for example, that the strike or lock-out, as they are pleased to call it now, was arranged for, even before the ships left Canada? Is it true that there were on some of the ships at all events, a person or persons whose job it was to see that a dispute was arranged for when they got here? Is it true that before the "Beaverbrae" came to London, definite places were arranged for these men to stay at should they be on strike? If these things are true, it looks as if it has been a splendidly organised effort to disrupt the docks and the economy of this country.
We have reached the time when the Government must not be so indifferent to the action taken in this country by people who are certainly determined to see that the economy of this country is disrupted as far as possible in the interests of other countries. We have heard a good deal said in this House about "ganging up" with America. It seems to me that those responsible for this dispute—and I think it is true to say that those behind it are not necessarily dockers—must be attended to sooner or later. The men at the docks should be given, over the radio, a clear statement of the position, and should be told whether any of the questions which I have asked about the prearrangement of the strike are true or not. If they are true, the men should be told, and if they were told, I believe that the dispute would terminate.
We have to handle this matter very carefully because, as I said earlier, there is a sense of loyalty among the dockers which is not confined to the dockers in any particular port; but it is a very different matter if this kind of dispute spreads through a mistaken sense that someone is suffering an injustice.
I should like to see a little more solidarity by some people in this country with the interests of the people of this country. I do not think that the approach that has been made in this connection is a very good one in view of what has happened in connection with this dispute. I hope we shall be told approximately, so that the men at the docks can be told, what is the cost to this country of their action at this particular stage. We know perfectly well that before the end of this year—some time in the autumn—we shall have to accept a reduction in imports, which is bound to have an effect upon our standard of life if the situation is not carefully handled. We ought to be able to state how much this stupid strike is endangering and worsening our financial position, and how it is likely to cause an even more difficult position in the autumn because if we go on in this way and this dispute lasts very much longer, national recovery will be more and more in jeopardy.
I end by asking those who believe that the dispute is one which should be supported whether they can tell us this: Is there one docker who has been one hour on strike in Canada over this dispute, and if the Canadian dockers have not been on strike, why have they not been on strike? That is the test. If the Canadian dockers had been on strike there might have been some justification for what has happened here, although I do not necessarily agree that there would have been. We must be careful, and I hope that the Government will make that clear statement for which I have asked. I believe it will influence the men. We should handle the position carefully and give assurances that the emergency powers will not be maintained for a minute longer than necessary. I say that, because we must safeguard the position and not let the matter drift.
I share the view which has been expressed on all sides that the proportion of the dockers on strike who are Communists is probably an insignificant proportion of the total. I share the view expressed by the Attorney-General that the overwhelming majority of these men are good, honest, loyal citizens who have been misled by a mistaken conception of trade union loyalty. I regard it as of the essence of governmental strategy in this matter to separate that loyal body of citizens from the scoundrels who are manipulating their trade union loyalties.
I listened with great attention when the Prime Minister made his speech. I wish it had been made earlier. I share the view which has been expressed from the Opposition Front Bench that there has been a failure to keep the men informed, step by step, of the facts of this dispute, and of what the Government must know about what lies behind it. I hope that, beginning with the Prime Minister's statement today, we shall leave no resource unused—of the letterpress, the platform and the radio—to inform the men of what are the facts in this conspiracy. I would urge that the most restrained use be made of the powers for which the Government have properly asked us, and which the House will readily give, except in relation to the real criminals in this matter. That brings me to what I most particularly wish to say.
We are a democracy, and in the conception of democracy, certain freedoms are held to be implicit—the freedom of the Press, the freedom of the platform, freedom of organisation, and freedom of trade union activity. No one of us, on whichever side of the House one sits—excluding those who represent the Communist Party, and what have come to be known as the "Pritties"—willingly wishes to diminish those freedoms. But let us make no mistake about it. When a democracy is confronted by the growth within itself of an organised movement, the purpose of which it is to use the freedoms of democracy to encompass the ruin of democracy, a new situation has to be dealt with. I want some assurance, if I may respectfully ask for it, that the Government are dealing with this, because fundamentally that is the issue here. There is a group of trained, professional, full-time paid agitators—
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I ought not to, but I do.
We face a situation in which we have a body of trained, full-time, agitators whose express purpose it is to use levers within social democracy to break social democracy wide open and to destroy it. Nowhere in the world has Communism come to power as the result of a free election of the people. It has come to power only by the penetration and capture of the instruments of the existing society, and by the use of all those instruments to overthrow the body of which they form a part. When we are confronted with that situation, we have to revise some of our conceptions of what democracy requires. Let me put it this way. If, to deal with the situation with which we are now confronted in the docks, we diminish any one of the freedoms which I have mentioned, we become to that extent obviously less democratic; to that extent we curtail the democracy of which we are proud. But unless we deal with the Communist conspiracy I have described, democracy itself may be destroyed.
That has happened in many countries of Europe. I spent part of this morning talking with a friend from Czechoslovakia, who described to me what happened in February of this year. What happened in February in Czechoslovakia is the classic blue-print for what it is desired to bring about in this and other countries—Communist penetration and then revolution. I rejoice to say that in this country the Communist penetration of the trade unions has not gone nearly as far as it had gone in Czechoslovakia. I rejoice further to say that there is a most welcome, if belated reaction, inside the trade union movement, against Communist penetration today, which I regard as one of the best and healthiest signs of our democracy at the present time. But though it is true that that penetration has not gone nearly as far in this country as it had in Czechoslovakia in February, nevertheless it is intended it shall go as far, if the Communists can contrive it, and it is intended to produce the same results in this country as it has done there
That is the problem that underlines this strike. The Communists have exploited in the strikes, so far, almost every emotion-laden phrase and slogan with which I and other old trade unionists were familiar in the past. They began by declaring the Canadian ships "black," because that word "black" has a particular trade union connotation and a trade union history behind it, and amongst trade unionists it is one of the most emotion-laden words anyone can conceive. Later on they used the phrase "broken agreement"—another emotion-laden phrase with a lively trade union connotation behind it. At a still later stage they declared this to be not "a strike" but "a lock-out," knowing the reaction in the working-class mind to the very word "lock-out." I have not the slightest doubt that today in the docks they are probably saying that the Government have brought in troops to "break the dockers." They use the most emotion-laden words they can find to impel good, but easily misleadable, men into actions which may be disastrous to them and to the whole democracy of which they form a part. I make no bones about it, and I say very bluntly what I think. I think the time has come to declare the Communist Party in this country an illegal conspiracy.
The first interruption was impertinent. The other is frivolous. I beg both hon. Members to desist. What I am trying to say is that, up to the time of the coup in Czechoslovakia it was possible to say that there had been, perhaps, certain limits to which this process of overthrowing States from within could go. Up to the time of Czechoslovakia, it was possible to argue that the countries that were being dealt with were countries that had never known what real democracy was—little Balkan States that had always been governed by terror and the police. But Czechoslovakia was a modern democracy. It was a modern democracy in which, in spite of its democratic freedoms, the policy of using those instruments of democracy to overthrow the normal state of society was used to the fullest extent.
I say that now a new problem poses itself for every surviving democracy in the world. Now, I hold that a democracy has the duty to extend tolerance to all those people who believe in tolerance. I think it is right to concede to all those who believe in democracy the exercise of the functions of democracy. But I do not believe it is right to give the rights of democracy to those whose sole political purpose is to destroy democracy. I am a political Independent, and it does not matter what happens to me. However, it does matter what happens to this country, and so I say—and perhaps there are few other hon. Members in the House who would take it on themselves to say it—I say that, in my considered opinion, we have got to re-think out the fundamentals of democracy in the light of the situation now in this country, and the existence of an organised minority whose purpose it is to overthrow democracy, and to institute the full rigours of a totalitarian State.
We have come to the time when we should declare the Communist Party to be an unlawful conspiracy against the stability of the State. We should prosecute the Communist Party as an unlawful conspiracy against the security of the State, and, if it should be found guilty by due process of law, we should withhold from it the freedom of the Press, freedom of organisation, and all the other freedoms which they are now using for the express purpose of undoing democracy. One does not like to say that. I hope I am as good a democrat as anyone in this House, but there does come a time when toleration becomes weakness and weakness can become fatal. I therefore hope that, though the Government should exercise their powers with great constraint when dealing with ordinary good men who have been misled, they will take an entirely different view of the people who are using the simple loyalties of simple men to underline democracy in this country in which we live.
While my colleagues and I acknowledge with proper respect the Gracious Message, we want to oppose the Motion. I suggest that this is one of those rare occasions when we ought to begin at the beginning. I tried to follow the argument of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown), and, as far as I could understand, what he was really saying was that the only way to save democracy was to turn to Fascism.
The hon. Member for Rugby was not prepared to put before the House the background of the Canadian dispute. He adopted some of the different phrases, such as "squalid" and "sordid" dispute.
Such phrases have been used by speakers on all sides in this Debate. But hon. Members do not know the facts of the story. Hon. and right hon. Members have sought to create the impression that all the background is known and that we are debating on the basis of admitted facts. The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) even said that the facts had been put before the House by the Minister of Labour. He challenged me to deny that the facts had been put before the House. I say they have not been put before the House by the Minister of Labour, because I am sure that he does not know them. The Prime Minister, regard- less of the fact that he does know them—because we have been assured by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) that the Canadian Government had given him the facts—was less than frank with the House.
I propose to put the facts before the House. I do not claim any special knowledge. The facts could have been obtained by anybody, for they are available to all, and have been published here, although not in the capitalist Press. I repeat that I claim no special knowledge, but as a lawyer I have sought to marshal the facts. Since the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) has challenged my own personal standing on this kind of issue, I venture to do a thing which I have never done before, and that is, but only lightly, to give my own credentials in this field. My first recollection of any political action at all was in 1912, when my mother, a doctor, was attending waterside workers in the greatest strike that ever paralysed the New Zealand Conservative ruling class. I held a dish of water and slipped in under the noses of the mounted special constabulary who had come from the country to bash the dockers. I took that modest part in the strike. I have served my time in the coalmines in England. I have also served my time, deep sea, as a seaman in the Pacific. I have also served my time and passed out as a lumberjack in another part of the Empire.
But let us come to the facts. We know that the dockers in Britain say that these ships are "black." So certain are they of it, as was reported in the evening papers last night, that when a most eloquent Canadian seaman went to them to persuade them that they were "black," not a man went to hear him. They already knew the facts. Now, how do they know? They know because Canadian seamen have been crossing on this run for months past, and because some of them live in London and are married to London girls. They are Canadian seamen, Canadian lads, living in London. They know our dockers intimately; they are neighbours, and the whole dispute has been known to these London docker lads for months past as it boiled up. Therefore, if we say that these dockers are wrong—we not know-
ing the facts—I suggest that we are taking a very dangerous step indeed. "The Times" on Saturday last said:
The rights and wrongs of this issue in Canada are still controversial.
They are only controversial because no one in this country has sought to present them squarely to the public—least of all to this House.
Let me come at once to what was said today by the Prime Minister, that this is a dispute between two Canadian unions. The S.I.U., the Seafarers' International Union, is not a Canadian union; it never has been a Canadian union, and it could not, by its very nature, be affiliated to the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada. I will deal with that in a moment. By contrast, the C.S.U., the Canadian Seamen's Union, is a Canadian union—a bona fide union—and is officially recognised by the Labour movement of Canada as the seamen's union. I say that, in spite of the Prime Minister's announcement today that on 2nd June of this year he received a telegram from someone saying that the C.S.U. had been suspended. That, too, I will deal with in a moment, if I may. The other union, the S.I.U., far from being a genuine or bona fide union—and least of all a Canadian union—is a strike-breaking gangster organisation, the conduct of whose members is as infamous and murderous as that of any Pinkerton's Gang that ever operated in America. These are strong words, and the House may rest assured that I would not use them unless evidence supported them. Let me call my evidence at once.
Is not the hon. Member aware that members of the "Beaver-brae" have been threatened with violence by members of the C.S.U., and that the letters threatening violence were placed in the East Ham Police Court?
Let us see these letters. If these documents are so easy to produce, let us have them. Let some journalist see them. Why have they been concealed from the House and the whole country? For my part, with great respect to the hon. Gentleman, unless he says that he has seen these letters with his own eyes, I do not accept this story. It is a typical cock-and-bull story.
There is the evidence of the murderous and violent gangster conduct by the S.I.U. throughout Canada. I now call my first witness, the President of the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada. I should add, by way of explanation, that demarcation disputes in Canada are more violent and vicious than they have been in England, by virtue of the close association with American unions, and because of the history of the American Federation of Labour. It so happens that it has been established throughout the labour movement there for years past that no A.F. of L. union will be permitted officially to operate in Canada if there is already a Canadian union catering for that section of the workers. Unions that attempt to do this are called "dual" unions. The S.I.U. is such a "dual" union; it is regarded as "black" by the trade union movement in Canada and therefore cannot be affiliated to the T.L.C. At the 63rd Convention of the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada, held in October of last year, the president, a man not unknown to our Prime Minister, recalled that in 1945 he had written to Mr. Green, President of the A.F. of L., in these terms:
Dear Sir and Brother,
Finally, to sum up this situation once more: The Seafarers' International Union have some 300 members in two locals in the Province of British Colombia. They have not sought affiliation to this Congress until I received a telegram to that effect this week.
The Canadian Seamen's Union, desiring to stay with our Movement was chartered by The Trades and Labor Congress of Canada in 1936; has over 7,000 members East and West and Great Lakes; is recognised by the Government of Canada as the bona fide union for seamen; is certified as the exclusive bargaining agency for the seamen of all Government-owned and operated shipping"—
that is, in Canada—
and you seriously ask this Congress to now put this organisation out as a dual organisation and take in exchange this 'corporal's guard'"—
this is his description of the S.I.U.—
on the Pacific Coast that has been quite satisfied to stay on the outside of our Movement.
The President of the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada, having dealt with
and reminded the Congress of what he did in 1945, then turned to 1948, and in a section of the committee's report, recorded as being unanimously concurred in by the Congress, it was reported:
This Congress has also gone on record that the Seafarers' International Union of America is a dual organisation in Canada.
That means that it is "black" in Canadian trade union and working-class practice: it is a poacher.
This decision was made at the 1947 Convention held in Hamilton, Ontario, and appears in the proceedings of that Convention.…: 'Therefore be it resolved—That this Convention of the Trades and Labor Congress of Canada instructs the Executive to inform the Trades and Labor Councils of this Congress that the Seafarers' International Union is a dual union and cannot be given affiliation in any Trades and Labor Council;
'And be it further resolved—That the Executive be instructed to once more inform the American Federation of Labor that there is only one bona fide union for seamen in Canada—the Canadian Seamen's Union, and to ask the Executive of the American Federation of Labor to take action to curb the irresponsible actions of their affiliate, the Seafarers' International Union of North America'.
That was the judgment of the Congress of the Canadian equivalent of our T.U.C. last October.
Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that the C.S.U., which is concerned in this dispute, was invited by the Trades Union Congress of this country to go to the I.T.F. in Brussels, to which they are affiliated, and get the matter threshed out there; and that the President of the C.S.U., who was in this country at the time, stated that he could not go to Brussels, although he stayed in this country for a fortnight before returning to Canada?
The hon. Gentleman can make his point later, if he is called. The fact is, the C.S.U. representative declined to go to Brussels on some harebrained expedition when his union was fighting for its life against Canadian ship owners.
Let us turn to the evidence which shows that these are vicious, murderous gangsters. In the "Vancouver Sun" of 29th June, we read of the murder gangs of the S.I.U. There is a headline: "Three stabbed." It then goes on to say that four C.S.U. seamen were stabbed and that five S.I.U. seamen were arrested for the stabbing. On 21st May, David Joyce was arrested in Vancouver for threatening two C.S.U. seamen with his revolver. At Halifax, in Nova Scotia, seven C.S.U. pickets were shot by an American gentleman not unknown to our Prime Minister—a director of the S.I.U., who is now facing trial for attempted murder by shooting.
Is it in Order for the hon. Member to make an allegation in relation to a case, which he has admitted to be pending, where a person committed murder? Ought not the hon. Member at least withdraw his absolutely ridiculous allegation that the Prime Minister knows this man whom he alleges to have committed murder?
Further to that point of Order. I know nothing whatever about it, but I want to know whether our Rule about referring to matters that are before the courts is not limited to those matters which are before our courts. The fact that a matter is before a court in another country does not, surely, prevent us from referring to it in this House?
I am quite happy not to do so, because I have not said he has committed murder but that he is facing a charge of attempted murder. None of the shots was successful; it is only that one man was shot in the eye and six were seriously wounded. Mr. Henry Pilgrim is awaiting his trial in Nova Scotia.
Should he not be asked to withdraw that statement, which is obviously produced for no other reason than to create prejudice when he is purporting to give a legal recital of the facts?
The hon. Member must take responsibility for any statements he makes. I did not myself put that interpretation on his words, but in any event he must take responsibility for what he said.
You can rest assured, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I am fully responsible for what I say. If I have made a mistake in this, I will correct it at once. On 17th May, Mr. Hal C. Banks, a director of the S.I.U., was arrested for being in possession of a gun at Montreal. He was arrested with four other members of the S.I.U. This is the gentleman I meant to describe as known to the Prime Minister, because on the day before he was arrested, he signed a wire to our Prime Minister with the most deliberate blackmailing threat, saying that unless the Prime Minister would break the resistance of the British dockers, he would tell the American Federation of Labour, to which his union is affiliated, to stop the longshoremen on the American-Canadian coast. I did not say that he knew the Prime Minister, but said that he was known to the Prime Minister. If the Prime Minister has received that telegram and has not disclosed it to the House, then I suggest that he is being less than frank.
This shows one of the acts of pressure that has led to the Government's attitude towards these dockers. It came from Mr. Hal C. Banks, this armed gangster who was arrested in possession of his tools of trade with four other members of his gang, the so-called S.I.U., who actually intervened in that way by sending the wire. I do not want to go on with these details. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] Let me simply add that in the first week of June, three C.S.U. men were killed in Los Angeles, and the American police have been unable to find the murderers.
I am doing it now. I do not want to go into any more details, save only to say that no Member here can produce a single example, except hearsay about some letters in London, about any violent action by the C.S.U. men. We know that the Labour movement repudiates these acts of violence, but not so the gangster unions of the Pinkerton Agency type, the strike-breaking gangsters, so well known in America. [Interruption.] No, but our Government tried to sponsor such gangs in Berlin.
What does America think of the S.I.U.? Let us see what happens in Los Angeles when the police were unable to find the murderers of these C.S.U. men. Every longshoreman in Los Angeles put on a black armlet and went on a mass deputation to the British Consulate, demanding that the British Consulate should take some action to try to protect the British seamen from these gangsters. On 12th June the Quebec Provincial Federation passed a resolution at their convention deploring the S.I.U. methods being introduced into Canada, and calling for a judicial investigation into the activities of the union in Canada. Perhaps that was not brought to the attention of the Prime Minister. The greatest union in Canada, the automobile workers, gave 1,000 dollars to support this strike. Each man then mulcted himself a dollar to make a 50,000 dollar contribution to the strike fund of the C.S.U.
This was a wage dispute. The employers on the East Coast were seeking to break up the hiring hall system, the system whereby every man went on the ship through the union box. In our country the hiring hall system is nowhere better known than in Natsopa, and no one has done so much to introduce it as the Minister of Labour. That is what the strike was all about in this dispute in Canada. The men's wages were threatened to be cut by some 20 to 30 dollars per month—[Interruption.] If anyone wants to challenge these facts, let him do so. I have pointed out that no Member in this House, or the capitalist Press, has given a single one of these facts.
While this issue affecting wages and conditions was under negotiation, the S.I.U. did not have a single member sailing deep-sea from the eastern Canadian coast, yet they made an agreement binding their seamen sailing on ships deep-sea. What happened was that the S.I.U., having made the agreement with the employers, set out to find strike-breaking crews, scouring the ports of eastern Canada for all the scum to make up crews, many of whom had not been to sea before. These people volunteered to sail Canadian ships in any port in the world, and crews were actually flown over to ships where crews were on strike.
The hon. Member does not know what he is talking about. I have got all my facts from the records of the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada and from Press articles which have recently appeared in the Canadian Press. So against that background the C.S.U. called a strike. The first ship to arrive in London after that was the Canadian Pacific Railway Ship "Beaverbrae" on 4th April, followed by the Argonaut company ship, which, as we now know, arrived on 10th May. The dockers were already informed about this issue, because they knew the Canadian seamen by meeting them every month when their ships turned up in port. They knew their wives and families, because some of them live here—and nine more are married to London girls than were married two months ago. From 4th April onwards, first one ship and then two ships lay idle, because the dockers would not touch these "black" ships. This had not the least effect on British trade or British security. It was not a ripple on the surface of British commerce. The two ships lying idle did not affect the thing one scrap, nor did it interfere with the working of the dock scheme or the dignity of the Dock Labour Board.
If this had continued the two ships would have remained unworked but the Port of London would have been worked as before, and, in due course, the Canadians would have settled their dispute and the ships would have moved on. But then the dock owners and the ship owners decided to try in the West of England what effect it would have if they refused to allow the men to work the rest of the ships unless they worked the Canadian ships. We know that there was a total stoppage in Avonmouth and Bristol, and it then spread to Liverpool. The dispute ended when the ships were got rid of, but the employers, and the Dock Labour Board knew that they had only to ask the men to work all ships in London to guarantee what would be virtually a total stoppage. They went into it with their eyes open, and the Government knew what they were doing.
I challenge the Government to deny that they were warned by the Dock Labour Board what it was going to do, or that they knew the effect would be a total stoppage in London. "The Times" of Saturday put it correctly when it stated in an editorial, after remarking that the ships lay there unworked:
On 24th June the London employers decided to adopt the same tactics in London that had resulted in the widespread stoppage at Avonmouth.
If ever a statement completely gave away the situation of the employers and the active backing of the Government, who showed they knew how to turn the police and the soldiers on to the dockers in London a year ago, that newspaper statement did it. It was indeed madness for the employers to stop all work at the docks, when it was vital in our interests that that work should go on.
What was the reason for the policy? I suggest that the Government had one motive, to destroy the international solidarity of the militant workers and to destroy militant trade unionism in Britain. I will tell the House the reason for that. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkdale said a moment ago that we in Britain are facing severe cuts and shortages. I warn this House that we are facing a slashing of the standard of living of the working people in Britain that will carry us to a position as low as the worst-paid and worst-fed people of Western Europe. I warn the country that we are coming to a position when unemployment will be worse than it was in the 'thirties.
The knowledge that that is coming has made the Government work in collusion with the employers, to try to smash militant trade unionism before it comes. The proof will be before our very eyes in the coming months. This is not a matter our sons or grandchildren will see; it will be proved before our very eyes. But this is one of those occasions when one can speak with confidence and without fear—
Very well, we shall be able to judge. The C.S.U. have been suspended. Indeed, it was suspended by the committee of the Trade and Labour Federation, but it has still I believe to be submitted for ratification by the Federation as a whole, which will come up at a later date. It is put in this way by the "Star" of 18th May—not the English "Star." I am sorry that I cannot give the actual reference. I meant to check it, but failed to do so. This is from the Toronto "Star" and here is what the heading says:
Sacrifice C.S.U. or break up,
That is T.L.F. problem.
The fact is that the A.F. of L. command most of the unions affiliated to the Canadian Trades and Labour Congress and threatened to withdraw every one of their members. These unions keep the Canadian Trades and Labour Federation going, and they threatened to break the
Federation unless the Federation suspended the C.S.U. from membership. It was under that tremendous pressure that the Trades and Labour Federation committee decided temporarily, as a gesture of appeasement to the A.F. of L., to suspend the Canadian Seamen's Union from membership. The "Star" says:
One of the difficulties in deciding on the suspension order"—
that is the suspension order of the executive which I believe has not yet been ratified by the Federation—
is to find specific charges of violation of the constitution to support the suspension.
I have not heard a single violation ever suggested by the C.S.U., and none has been brought forward publicly or in any other way. We know the way in which the A.F. of L., with the employers, is tied to the American State Department. It is very clear that it was a struggle between the A.F. of L. and the other unions in America to decide the future of the C.S.U. It was the American unions battling over the fate of the Canadian Trades and Labour Congress, and John L. Lewis called out the Canadian miners who are in his union, and put them on the C.S.U. picket line in the fight against the A.F. of L. and the longshoremen. What has taken place in America has proved that the longshoremen of Canada and the A.F. of L. are entirely in the pocket of the State Department of the United States of America. If the Prime Minister adopts the attitude that the conduct of the longshoremen is sound proof of the views of the Canadian working classes, then all I suggest is that he has got a lot more to understand about the movement which he has graced for so long.
May I say this in conclusion? These facts, which have been concealed, were known to the employers, the Dock Labour Board and the Government. I do not say they were concealed by the Minister of Labour, because I do not believe he knew the facts, but there are others on the Front Bench who know all these facts. The only way in which the House can deal with this issue with any hope of solving it and without plunging the country into far worse difficulties, difficulties that are adumbrated when one sees what happens in Italy and France—[Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Members think that I have some influence on what happens in France?
If that is meant for me, as it apparently is, let me tell the hon. Member that I have 57 years' membership of a trade union and that I know infinitely more about it, and about the history of trade unions in Canada and America, than ever the hon. Member could know or thinks he knows. I ask him now: What has all this got to do with the dockers' union here? Is he not aware—[Interruption.] You keep quiet.
It does not do to have too many interruptions. They only engender heat. We are dealing with a very serious matter, and it will be better to let the hon. Member now addressing the House finish his speech.
I cannot claim to have been for 57 years a member of anything at all. I would draw attention to the Motion which stands in the name of my hon. Friends and myself, as being the only constructive policy that has been put before this House at all; and the Government would have to be quite big and brave to adopt it. It is a policy which now can immediately solve the whole issue of this deadlock, this dead lock-out. The policy is embodied in these words:
That this House condemns the action of the National Dock Labour Board in calling on dock workers to work ships where a trade dispute is in operation, and locking them out for refusing to do so, thereby violating long established customs of the industry and trade union principles; lays upon the Board the responsibility for the resulting injury to trade; and calls upon the Government to insist that the National Dock Labour Board end their lockout and permit the dock workers to work the undisputed ships.
That, with all respect to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, is the one course that could immediately solve this issue in the interests of the country and of the dockers.
I think the House has been looking at this problem with a sense of unreality. All the trade union organisations in the country are perturbed that the Government, whether it be Socialist or any other—in this case Socialist—should have invoked the Emergency Powers Act. It affects not only the dockers but other sections of workers throughout the country. I happen to be a member of the National Dock Labour Council. Since the Minister made the announcement on Monday, the dockers of the North-East coast, which is the responsibility of my trade union have been asking the question: "Does this mean that the dock labour scheme has come to an end?" There has been no explanation given from our Front Bench.
My right hon. Friend says that he made an announcement, but the dockers of the North-East coast do not buy HANSARD every morning. They are not on strike, but they could very easily come out. I want to say without any hesitation that the Ministry of Labour, from beginning to end, have handled this problem in a very clumsy way indeed.
I want to bring to my right hon. Friend some evidence on this matter. On 15th June, which was a month ago, I wrote to him, with reference to this stoppage, about a Canadian trade union official attempting to get into the docks in my constituency in Hull. Immediately the information was given to me I sent it on to my right hon. Friend. Yesterday afternoon, not having had any reply apart from a postcard acknowledging receipt, I telephoned to the private secretary saying that I was hoping to intervene in the Debate and wished to refer to this case. I got a telephone reply saying, in effect, "It's not our pigeon; it comes under the Ministry of Transport," and that if I wrote to someone, a gentleman at 55, Broadway, S.W.1, I should get some information. If that is industrial relations, Heaven help us. If we handled the dockers that way we should get them into a state of perpetual stoppage.
It came from the local people, asking the position of the man who was attempting to get on to the docks. Later, I got back to it, after waiting a month and after a state of emergency had been declared. This stoppage was not new, nor was the background of the stoppage. They were not unknown to the Minister. He sent a letter stating that this union official was to have a card to show to the police. That letter was not signed by the Minister, but by a private secretary. We know what a card means. Here is one which I hold in my hand. We all have to get a card.
I am suggesting, as the Member of Parliament for Central Hull, and as this dock is in my constituency that I was entitled to a reply from the Minister without waiting for a month and then getting a reply referring me to someone who is not a Minister, whom I do not know even now, at an address in London. If that is industrial relations, as I said before, Heaven help us.
We have been accused of making mischievous speeches, and probably I shall be accused of making one too. The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) has been saying that the Foreign Secretary built up his present position and status by being a lawless gentleman. We have heard suggestions from the other side that trade union leadership is discredited, and no longer matters. I suggest that that is what they would like. Even during this stoppage, the friends of hon. Members opposite, through their newspapers, have been suggesting that trade union leadership is discredited. It is possible to shout "stinking fish" so often that it has its effect some time in some places.
What I have not heard in this House today is any praise for the 110,000 dockers who have remained loyal out of the 120,000 and have worked the ships. If there had been careful handling and common sense from the industrial relations department of the Ministry of Labour from the beginning it is possible that the stoppage in London would not have taken place to the same extent. What happened? Two ships were in dispute. The dockers went to sign on under the dock labour scheme. I made my maiden speech in this House on the dock labour scheme, and I said that the dockers would not be regimented. What applied then applies today. These dockers are being asked when they go to the call point, to go to the Canadian ships first. If they refuse to go to the Canadian ships, they are turned down as having broken the contract.
On the cold wording of the agreement that is correct, but surely it is not beyond the wit of man to get over that. It is only by the grace of God that it did not happen in my port on the North-East coast. If it had done so, I would have asked my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour to send the troops in and get the cargo from those two ships. By removing cargo in that way we should have removed the sore, because behind the dockers' trade union loyalty, is the fact that the docker will not pass a picket. Whether the strike be right or wrong, if pickets are put out, no docker will pass the pickets. We have had proof of that in dockland history through the years.
If my right hon. Friend had done what I appealed to him to do in a Question on Monday and if he had, even at that late hour, gone on the air on Monday night and explained the position of the Government and how they were compelled to put these regulations into operation, I do not think we should have had the spectacle of another 3,000 dockers joining the others yesterday. Even today the dockers do not know the real position. It may be said that it has been published in the newspapers, but which newspaper do they take. Is it the "Daily Worker," the "Daily Herald," "The Times" or the "Daily Express"? A view is expressed in each of those according to the viewpoint of the newspaper. I am not complaining about that, but I believe that some influential Member of the Front Bench should go on the air and tell the country the background to this dispute and what the results will be to the country if it continues. I am convinced that if that were explained to the loyal men, who cannot even get a hearing at the meetings and who will not pass a picket, it would help them to get together and end this deplorable state of affairs.
These Emergency Powers Regulations apply not only to the London docks but to the country. If men in another dock area says they do not like regimentation, do not like the proposed buffetting about, or refuse to be directed to a ship by the Dock Labour Board tomorrow morning, they will come within the regulations, and that could be serious. It could start with one or two men refusing to go into the hold of a ship, and before we knew where we were, we could have the whole port stopped and immediately blanketed by this regulation. Again, I appeal to Ministers to get on the air immediately and explain to the country what this means, and to appeal to loyal trade unionists working in dockland to continue.
The suggestion that has been made by some hon. Members that Communism is behind this is all wrong. There is something underlying it all, a feeling of frustration among our industrial workers. We are now coming to the end of 10 years of great weariness among industrial workers. A man goes home at night, and hears the complaints of his wife about standing in queues—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The Opposition may say, "Hear, hear," but the Opposition are responsible for the background to all this, and the memory of unemployment between the wars. That is felt by the workers. Underlying everything is frustration and fear. When such a man goes into a workshop in the morning, he is ripe fruit for agitation from anyone who cares to tell him that there is something wrong with his job. That is demonstrated in unofficial industrial disputes. That is the background of the docks dispute, and when those who belong to the Communist Party come in, they find it easy to talk to those men and get them to stop. Because of the ingrained loyalty of the dockers who will not pass a picket, it is easy to stop a whole dock, a whole port and then a whole port area.
Again, in sincerity I appeal to the Front Bench to explain to the country over the air—scores of thousands have an oppor- tunity of hearing a live broadcast—what the dispute is and what can happen to our country if it spreads. In the trade union world in 1949 the country comes first. It is no use the Front Bench asking the trade unions to sit on safety valves, to stop this and relax that or do something else unless they are prepared to show the way. Here is an opportunity to show the way. I ask the Front Bench to broadcast to the country and let the people have the facts.
On a point of Order. I wish to put a question to you, Mr. Speaker. Does this discussion finish after the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) has spoken and a representative from the Government Front Bench has replied? If it does, I want to know on what basis arrangements are made for hon. Members to speak? When women Members have been called upon in Debates, they have often been called upon at the last minute. In other circumstances, they are not called upon at all. I have a contribution to make to this Debate. I have been here the whole time and I have stood up every time an hon. Member has sat down, but nobody has taken any notice. Is it because I do not come and argue the question behind the Chair with whoever is in the Chair? I am totally dissatisfied with the attitude which has been adopted and disgusted with the way the Debate has taken place.
The hon. Lady is mistaken. I regard every Member as being a Member of Parliament, and my selection has nothing to do with sex or anything else. I thought that Liverpool was an important place and that its voice should be heard, and I therefore called the hon. Member for the Kirkdale Division of Liverpool (Mr. Keenan). We cannot call more than one hon. Member from one town. I hope I have made a fair selection all round.
You were not in the Chair, Sir, when the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Platts-Mills) made his speech, and when he gave the House the benefit of certain facts which he said he had gained. I appealed to the Chair then, pointing out that I was also in possession of facts from the other point of view. Are we to have no chance of putting our points of view?
May I make a plea that this Debate should be continued after the two Front Bench speeches? Many of us have come here not so much to speak but to listen, and we are learning more and more as the Debate goes on. It is extremely difficult for us to decide whether to vote for this Motion or not, and it would be most unfortunate if the Debate were closured.
I should like to have your guidance, Mr. Speaker. I am not concerned about speaking, because somebody must be disappointed in a Debate of this kind, but what I want to know, in view of the serious situation confronting the House in coming to a decision tonight, is whether we are to take it that the Debate is being finished now by speeches from the Opposition and Government Front Bench, or whether the Debate will go on?
There is obvious action which hon. Gentlemen opposite can take if they do not want the Debate to come to an end. If the Government move the Closure, they can vote against it. The House can thus show very clearly—I am not expressing any opinion whether hon. Members are entitled to speak on this matter—whether or not it wants a Division. There is no reason why hon. Members opposite should vote for the Closure. It is for the House to say. Hon. Members can vote against the Government, and I hope they will.
Would it not also be possible for the Chief Patronage Secretary to note the desire in all parts of the House that this most important Debate should not be concluded prematurely?
On that point of Order, Mr. Speaker, may I seek your guidance? I understand there may be a possibility of further Debate when we come to the second Motion to be put before us which concerns the regulations themselves. If that is so, it may help out a number of hon. Members. Will that be the case?
I do not know whether this is the right time to ask the question, but since the point has been raised I had better ask now how wide will be the Debate on the second Motion? Will it not be confined to the actual Regulations before the House. That would make a considerable difference.
One of the difficulties in addressing the House of Commons is that all hon. Members feel that this is a particularly difficult audience, because it generally consists of hon. Gentlemen who wish to address it themselves. I have never felt this difficulty more than in rising tonight. I assure the House that I have no part in any desire to curtail the Debate, but it was thought that it would be convenient if I made some observations at this point to supplement the statement made on behalf of the Conservative Party by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden).
This Debate, as I said just now, has been useful and helpful. Indeed, many of us feel that it would have been a good thing if we could have had it some weeks ago, because a great deal of information new to many hon. Members has come out during the Debate. Although perhaps in war there comes a fashion of concealment, which is quite proper where operational matters are concerned, in most difficulties and maladies it is still true that one of the best cures is the open air cure. Therefore, I think the House has done a good action in debating this matter from so many points of view.
The Prime Minister, who introduced the Motion, had the sympathy of all hon. Members of the House in discharging what was obviously a difficult and distasteful task. Indeed, our only criticism of him might have been that the task was so distasteful that he clearly thought he would get rid of it as soon as he could, and did not give us any great detail either about the matters which have led to this dispute or the surrounding problems. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington made it quite clear, as I shall make it clear once more, that we on this side of the House give our full support to the Government in the introduction of these regulations, and we shall give that support in a way which, after all, is the most effective—in the Division Lobby.
At the same time my right hon. Friend made, as he had every right to make, some helpful suggestions, asked some important questions, and pointed out some useful lessons. I repeat now that while we shall give that support today, when all this is over—and we hope it will be over soon—we think there is a great deal of examination, and rather searching examination, which should be made into all the problems revealed by the circumstances of this unhappy dispute and by the remarkable statements made on many sides by hon. Members in the Debate today.
My right hon. Friend drew certain criticism from some quarters of the House, and the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) in a speech which, otherwise, I thought contained a great deal of good sense, criticised my right hon. Friend on a rather peculiar ground and in a rather confused way. The hon. Member said that we ought at so critical a moment to give support to the Government without making any criticisms or suggestions—we should be blind and apparently dumb—because the Government are in such a great difficulty. I cast my mind back to the months that ran between September, 1939, and 1940, and even in the following years, when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen sitting on the Bench opposite will agree that this was not the view they took of the duties of an Opposition. My right hon. Friend has carried out exactly what is the proper duty of an Opposition at such a critical moment, to give general support to the Government, to make suggestions and ask questions which may be constructive and helpful, reserving the right to have a more searching inquiry at a later date.
I think that was supported by other hon. Gentlemen who have spoken with great knowledge, because one of the main suggestions made by my right hon. Friend was that there had not been brought to bear on this occasion all that power of propaganda and explanation which is one of the few advantages we get from our new mechanical invention. The hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) supported this strongly, and he has great knowledge and experience in this matter. The speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Captain Hewitson), who holds an important position in the trade union world, revealed a lack of contact between the Ministry of Labour and himself which left hon. Members aghast at the degree of confusion which it revealed. As the Debate proceeded, my right hon. Friend was more and more justified in his broad criticism, and his suggestion that we must try to bring the light of explanation and reason on to this matter and not that of too much excitement or hysteria.
One good thing has come out of this Debate. In spite of rather foolish things which I have heard said by people of no great importance to the effect that this is all the result of a Communist agitation, we have now general agreement that this is nothing of the kind. This is a confusion of thought on the part of a fine body of men who have got themselves into a difficult position because they have been exploited by malicious men. The flames have been fanned by wicked men, but that is all the more reason why men of good will should try to put out the blaze.
It was because my right hon. Friend and other members of my Party felt that the speech of the Attorney-General at St. Helens was capable of producing just the effect which the Attorney-General did not wish to produce, that it was criticised. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has since explained to us the circumstances in which it was made and has given us in detail the form of the speech which, of course, no report of a whole column, however accurate, can give exactly. If I may say so, he explains his speeches very well; I sometimes think he would be wiser if he took a little more care in composing them because we all know from experience that, however long the handout may be, a paper cannot be expected to give even to very distinguished gentlemen the column which it gave on that occasion. Sometimes the Attorney-General falls into language which, when he sees it afterwards, I think he regrets.
For instance, in a perfectly admirable passage today upon the difference between democracy and tyranny he used an expression which made two former Home Secretaries look rather surprised. He said that a policeman is the instrument of the totalitarian State. That is not quite fair on our London "Bobby." Of course he linked that with the Gestapo and other things, but these are things which it is dangerous to say. He began his speech with this phrase, which he admits might rightly have been taken by the Press to cover the whole—
I speak now not as a party politician, but as the Attorney-General holding an office in which I have a special responsibility for protecting the legal rights, liberties and interests of the subject.
When that is the preliminary phrase of the whole speech it is not unnatural that other statements in it are interpreted in that light and that the audience and the reporter, therefore, did not quite realise the change in character of statements made later in the speech. I will not press that further except to say this: words like "treason" are very dangerous, even when used in a symbolic and metaphorical sense from the mouth of a Law Officer. In any event, I do
not think the House wants to discuss in detail the legal position.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman repeated his view which he had given in an earlier Debate on the Trade Unions and Trade Disputes Act as to the law of what might be called "subversive action." But everybody agrees that this strike, this lockout or this dispute, is not of the character of what was being considered in 1926 or legislated against in the Trade Disputes Act. What has happened is that by confusion, by bad leadership, or by misunderstanding, a large number of men—but not by any means the majority of those employed in the London Docks and, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman so rightly reminded us, a very small minority of those employed over the whole country—have got themselves into a very difficult position.
I do not want to say anything except what might be helpful, because what we want to do is to get out of this position. Nobody wants the matter to be aggravated and then to drift into a position where both sides may begin to think of things they would not have thought of when the situation first arose, so that it becomes a bitter, long, drawn-out dispute, if the matter can be settled while preserving the very proper rights and conditions which must be preserved if there is to be order, and not confusion, in the docks in future. Nobody wants merely to stand on his dignity. I quite agree with what the Prime Minister said, and the Minister of Labour has repeated, that the Government cannot give way on great matters of principle; but we must not misinterpret courage and forcefulness as being obstinacy.
If there is a way out I hope it will be found, for, after all, these regulations will not solve the problem. There is no plan under them by which we can get this matter settled. They merely provide for certain things which may have to be done to protect the community, but they do not solve the problem; indeed, they present all kinds of new problems which must have been present in the minds of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were considering what they propose to do now should the dispute continue. I will rest there, because I do not wish, and it would not be wise, to say anything unhelpful rather than helpful.
If there is one reason, as I understand it, why these men have thought that their loyalties were involved, it was because of the Canadian seamen who were employed. I understand that they felt, in that case, that they owed a duty of loyalty more to those men than to anything else. I understand that at one point this matter was practically settled. Indeed, it was settled. The ship began to be unloaded again. It was only because of publicity or the management or the handling of the affair, which lead to further misunderstanding, or a false statement by one set of men—a false statement never has any success unless there is some degree of suspicion upon which it can work—it was only by some further very tragic mistake, if we may call it that, that this whole matter was not settled by the settlement of this question of the immunity of the Canadian seamen employed upon this particular ship.
I suggest that if there is any possibility of finding a settlement which reserves fully all the rights which the managers of the docks and the Government have felt it right to maintain as a precedent for the future, I hope that that will not lead them into a position which which would avoid the issue by the settlement of merely one of the problems which has lead up to all this difficulty and thereby remove it from the ambit of dispute. I only throw out that suggestion, because I think it may still be possible to re-open matters on those lines.
In any event, this is a melancholy occasion. None of us can feel very happy about today's Debate. None of us wants unduly to press blame or praise here or there. All of us are conscious of the difficulties of these times by which men are open to be misled and are the easy prey to agitators; but all of us feel—I hope I may say this without any sense of trying to make any partisan point—that this does not reflect very happily on what we had thought was really one of the great achievements of the joint efforts of managements and trade unions in the organisation of the docks scheme. One of the tragic features is that this incident has resulted from what is really one of the great advances in the industrial field. Indeed, the irony is that if there had not been a docks scheme there would not have been this difficulty; a particular ship would have been called "black" but there would have been no general stoppage. Surely we must in due course learn the lessons of this tragedy and apply them, however distasteful they may be in any particular quarter of the House or of the community.
I only wish to reassert and reaffirm what my right hon. and hon. Friends have said. We feel critical of the handling of this matter; we still feel that much more can be done by way of explanation and the clear light of reason, but in so an important a question we once more repeat that we give our full support to the action which the Government propose that the House should take today.
I am grateful for the opportunity of speaking, because I represent a constituency in which some thousands of men are now out on strike. I should like to begin by reminding the House that my father was an 1889 dock worker. He remained a dock worker all his life, took part in the 1912 dispute, to which the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Platts-Mills) has referred, and at the age of 14 he joined me into his own organisation. I say with great sincerity that all my life I have been associated with the dock workers of London. I know no finer men nor greater trade unionists, and that is why I feel so desolate today about the plight with which we are faced, because I feel, for the first time, that this is one of the few occasions when the dock worker of London is wrong. I am not the type of person who courts popularity by going to my constituency and telling a man he is right when I know in my heart that he is wrong. On this occasion he is wrong. He has got to be told that and the reasons why he is wrong.
Much has been said about the allegation of Communism, and I have been accused by the Communist Party of being one of those who has raised this question of the "Red bogy." I want to make just this one point. I agree that I have always been anti-Communist, and I hope that I always shall be. But the position as I see it is this: that whilst in Russia no strike is allowed because it is sabotage against the State, as soon as one mentions sabotage here one is immediately called a "Red bogy." That has been told to my dockers; they have been told that I have raised issues which are irrelevant and should not even be considered. One of the things about which I am most upset is That hon. Members like the hon. Member for Finsbury and the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Solley) have had applause from men who do not know who are their real friends.
I want to give a history of this dispute from the knowledge I have gained from personal experience with my colleagues in the House. My trade union experience taught me not to interfere in any industrial dispute. Until last Friday week I kept out of this dispute and wanted nothing to do with it. I was hoping, as, I think, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour was hoping, that it would be settled by industrial machinery. Much criticism has been made of my right hon. Friend, but I know that he tried desperately hard to ensure that the normal industrial machinery should settle this dispute. His policy from the beginning has been one with which I entirely agree. He took a lot of brickbats at the Despatch Box which really were not justified.
With regard to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Captain Hewitson), if I may say so, I think he asked for the Conservative Party to applaud his speech. Such a course was most unwarranted and most unnecessary. A man with his experience of the trade union movement should know that this Labour Government has done far more for the workers in four years than any other Government, and that, because of the policy of full employment, there is no longer that unhappiness and feeling of frustration which once existed. There is far more happiness amongst the people today than ever before, and the docker has no feeling of frustration.
At the beginning of this dispute there was no question of it being a culmination of a number of things for which they went on strike. This was a straightforward issue of the dockworkers of London being asked to touch ships which in their estimation were "black" and they said "We have never yet touched 'black' cargo and we are not going to start now." From that moment the five gangs on the "Argomont" and the "Beaverbrae" refused to touch those ships. Consequently, the Dock Labour Board said that under the terms of contract they must send other men to those ships. They directed those other men to go on the ships. The other men, not the five gangs on the "Argomont" and "Beaverbrae," when asked, said, "That job is not our job, send us to our job."
They claimed, with some logic—and one must accept their point of view—that they were willing to do their own job but the Board were insisting on them being locked out. We have to make the dock worker of London see that, while we accept their argument of a lock-out—and I recognise that men working in one wharf will not go to another wharf because it is not their job—it must be decided whether the ships on which the disputes started, the "Argomont" and the "Beaverbrae," are genuine "black" ships, or not. If they are, I am behind the London docker and will fight for him all the time. But I am convinced by investigations I have made of this issue that it is not genuine, but completely and utterly "phoney" and that our dock workers are being exploited.
I am not giving way yet. May I say to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) that I listened to his speech with interest? While he was talking I felt extremely sorry for the general secretary of the National Stevedores' Union, because, while the hon. Member was urging that these men should be supported in this lock-out and dispute and so on, the general secretary of the "Blue Union," as we call it, who is a member of the Communist Party and professes he is a Communist and is proud of it, is asking the men to go back. I felt rather sorry for the general secretary of the "Blue Union" and I do not know what they will say at their party meetings.
My experience in the trade union movement, now for nearly 20 years, has always taught me only to interfere in those matters which personally concern me and, as a Member of Parliament, I had no right to interfere in that matter, but last Friday week in this House of Commons I and three other hon. Members were lobbyed by men I know personally and for whom I can vouch.
Consequent on the story they told me, and which I did not believe, we were asked to go aboard the "Beaverbrae" and we went aboard that ship. What I have to relate—and I have said this to our London dock workers, and later on I will explain why they have not believed me—I do not ask hon. Members to believe, but I make the invitation to them, including the hon. Member for West Fife, to go aboard the "Beaverbrae" to see whether it is true. When we went aboard, in the light of the allegations made, this is the first thing we discovered, and it is fundamental to the argument of whether the dispute is genuine or "phoney."
Forgetting all about Communism, let us go back to the time when the Canadian strikers said that the strike was over. They said that on Thursday, 23rd June; that the strike would be over at 11 p.m. that date. They said to the other strikers, "We go back to work because we have met the High Commissioner for Canada at his offices and came to an agreement on the following points:
Those were the main all-important points. Those men said, "The agreement has been concluded. We want you to go back to work." The following morning they thanked the London dock workers for their support and the London dock workers went on to the "Argomont" and the "Beaverbrae" and worked all day on Friday, on the Saturday and some, even, on the Sunday. But, on Saturday afternoon, the same strike leaders who had said the strike was over said, "The strike is still on because the agreement has been broken."
I say, with all the responsibility carry as a Member of Parliament, that that was a deliberate lie engineered to ensure that this strike should be continued because the London dock workers were involved. It is not enough to say that; I agree, one has to prove it. These men, the Canadian strike leaders, Doucette, Arland and McNeil, who told their colleagues to go back to work on board the ship, in actual fact did not meet the High Commissioner for Canada. They went to his Office and saw the secretary, and the secretary said that she would put the points to the High Commissioner. The High Commisioner phoned Captain McMurray, who is the managing director of the shipowners, and told him what the men were asking for.
As a consequence, a meeting was held on board the "Beaverbrae" between these three strike leaders, Doucette, Arland and McNeil, with the captain of the ship, Captain Kennedy. They discussed the problem and came to the following decision. This is in the official log book and I read from extracts which bear the signature of the captain to prove that it is all true. A photostat has been taken by the Press and the log book has been photographed, I understand. The extract from the log book says:
and then gives details of the crew and when they joined—
members of the crew were called together in their messroom by the master to inform them they were being re-engaged on a mutual agreement that they be repatriated to Canada as members of the crew at current rates of pay based upon their original Articles such pay to commence when they rejoin the ship. The men will be signed off on arrival at Montreal. On completion of the present voyage … the owners undertake to prefer no charge against the undermentioned in respect of any matters arising out of the strike whilst the vessel was in London. This was agreed and accepted by all the men present.
This was the agreement on which the leaders said, "Everything is all right. Go back to work." I say that agreement still stands and has never been altered or broken. Why is it that they said the strike was to continue? When we went on board we asked to see members of the crew—
The hon. Member is misleading the House. The agreement with the High Commissioner, whether it was put by the secretary or not, laid it down that there would be no victimisation, which meant that when the ship went back these men would still be employed on the ship. After they had that agreement they said, "We will go back to work, the strike is over." When the captain interpreted the agreement he said, "You go off the ship and finish."
That may be so, but the point they had in mind, and I accept the argument, was that they wanted to be sure that there would be no victimisation in Canada. It is in the log. I beg hon. Members to believe me; if they do not believe me, they can see it for themselves. It says:
I am authorised to state that the owners undertake to prefer no charge against any of the undermentioned in respect of matters arising out of the strike whilst the vessel was in London.
Here is the assurance given. After we had seen this document, I was shocked at what had happened afterwards, because this is an agreement not to prefer a charge against any one. The captain, quite frankly, was just an ordinary type of person, and in a private off-the-side comment, he said, "I do not care what union they are in, so long as they come back to work and let us go back to Canada. I am fed up." I quite sincerely appreciate his point of view. When I had seen him, I asked if we could see the crew.
I thank my hon. Friend; that is a fair point. The answer, I understand, is that the Canadian strikers said there is no guarantee that they will not be prosecuted when they get back to Canada.
They said there was no guarantee—that is one thing. I was intending to come to that point later, because I want to deal with the evidence we got from the crew, and I will relate the whole story to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, if he will allow me. After we had heard from the captain of the ship, I asked to see the crew. My trade union training has taught me not to believe that what the employer says is always right. Although it was a wonderful story, which seemed to be genuine, I thought I would find out what was the point of view of the people who were down below and I therefore asked the captain that my colleagues and myself should be allowed to interview the seamen on their own, without the captain being present. He agreed to that.
The first point I want to make is this: these seamen were not what we call "scabs." They had been on strike for over three months and they only went back to work when these three men, Doucette, Arland and McNeil, told them on the Friday that the strike was over and they could go back. No one can suggest that they were blacklegs, although that is what is being said now, and the Communist Party have issued a pamphlet against me saying that I received all my information from blacklegs. I did not. I and my three hon. Friends obtained our information from men who had been on strike.
They told us, on the question of this agreement, that when they had met the strike leaders they were not told by the strike leaders that there had been a meeting on board ship. All they were told by the strike leaders was that there had been a meeting with the High Commissioner for Canada and that this had been arranged through them. These men said that when they came aboard ship they were shocked to learn that in actual fact there had been a meeting with the captain which was entered in the log book. They said they were perfectly satisfied with that entry in the log book as it was the official log book, and I understand it is the bible of the sea. They were quite certain that there would be no victimisation in Canada, because they went on to say that they did not know of any instance where the State would prosecute them if the owners did not prefer a charge.
They then brought out the question of the allegations upon which I had written to the Home Secretary. I will give the men's view on this—and this is what these crews tell us now, and it may be asked why did they not tell us before; and the answer is that the men have been afraid to say anything. They said that this ship, the "Beaverbrae," had on board, when it left Canada, at least one man, named McNeil, who had no right to be a member of the crew in any way, but because the Canadian Seamen's Union operate a rota system by which men are placed abroad ship and given a specific job, they had insisted that McNeil should go aboard the ship. There was a row, an argument, and eventually he was taken aboard ship.
McNeil is a Communist and a paid agitator, which can or cannot be proved by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, who should know all this information. These men have put this in writing and they say this is true. Immediately the ship berthed in London, McNeil left the ship and took over complete charge of this strike. He had never been on a deep-sea ship in his life and had no right to be aboard the "Beaverbrae." Now, the Communists say this is all nonsense; this is a red bogy. After the ship had arrived in England and had been here only a short time, two days as a matter of fact, Doucette told the men that rather than stay aboard ship, 200 homes were available for the men. Every one of the homes to which the men went were homes of people who were Communists in this country. An elaborate organisation had been set up to receive these strikers. Honest, genuine Canadian seamen who were on strike over a particular issue do not come ashore and find equipment available for them like this—telephones, offices, homes available, the whole rig-out, the whole machinery. We know what it is like in our local party organisation when we run anything and how hard we have to work. Let me tell the House that the Tory party, with all the millions they have, are nothing to the Communist Party so far as organisation is concerned. They work when most of us are sound asleep. They certainly organised this issue on behalf of the Canadian Seamen's Union in this country.
The question is, why does it happen over here? We have heard from the hon. Member for Finsbury the history of the Canadian Seamen's Union in Canada. It is extraordinary to me how hon. Members of this House know so much about other countries but do not know very much about their own. This is the paramount argument: if only half of what the hon. Member said about the C.S.U. is true, why in heaven's name are not the Canadian longshoremen on strike today, every man jack of them?
I saw the London dockers and I asked this question: is there a single London docker who would get up and say he was a better trade unionist than the Canadian longshoreman? Not one got up and said he was, because they are decent, honest men and they would not suggest that. I then asked them this question: if that is so, why is it that the Canadian longshoremen are not on strike? Why, in Canada, are they still loading these ships? The answer is that the whole thing collapsed in Canada. There was no strike in Canada. These ships were loaded by legitimate labour and sent here, and because the C.S.U. saw the thing had failed in Canada, as they and the Communists could not perpetuate it, they tried to perpetuate the problem over here; and they came and involved our men in this strike.
My own people are resentful here; they do not know what has happened to them under this Labour Government. Ninety-nine per cent. of them vote Labour. They do not know where they are, because they believe their principles are affected. They say this is a lock-out and not a strike. What we must do is make this perfectly clear; we have got to get into the minds of our men that this dispute is a "phoney." How in heaven's name can we do that? I have been to meetings myself and told them. There has been meeting after meeting. What are we going to do? If we do not deal with this issue the strike will go on, because the London docker will fight if he believes his principles are at stake, and if we do not overcome this now, this Government will be in grave trouble.
Do not let us hesitate at giving concessions. What about setting up an independent inquiry immediately to go into this and to give a completely factual report by independent people to prove that what I have said is right? If it permeates the mind of the London docker that he has been taken in by the Communist element in this country, he will turn round on that element and destroy it utterly and ruthlessly, and I warn the hon. Member for Finsbury and the hon. Member for Thurrock that if and when the docker knows the facts of this dispute, instead of cheering them they will be chasing them and shouting after them.
The hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Mellish) has made a contribution which was heard with the greatest interest by everybody in this House. I think that all felt, whatever their political differences might be, that he had taken personal trouble to find out the facts and that he would not be lacking in courage in telling the truth as he saw it, either in this place or in places where it might be more difficult.
I do not believe there is anybody in the House today who is happy about our proceedings. In an admirable speech, my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), in opening for the Opposition, distinguished, I thought, two separate questions, and I want to make quite clear how distinct I think those questions to be. I shall give my unhesitating support to the Government in the Division Lobby tonight having regard to the state in which we now find ourselves. But I think it equally important to make it absolutely clear that we shall have later to have a further and very much deeper inquiry to find out by what negligence, and worse, of the Government we reached the stage we have now reached; and I think that in supporting the Government in the Lobby tonight we should make it absolutely clear that we expect a further Debate on how we reached the position which renders these emergency powers now necessary.
It is important neither to exaggerate nor to under-estimate the part that has been played by the Communists in this affair. As the hon. Member for Rotherhithe made clear, they have played a very considerable part indeed. But I think it is the common opinion of everybody in every section of the House that the great body of dockers are as patriotic as any other section of the community; and that it is quite insufficient, in order to account for the position in which we find ourselves, merely to mention what the Communists have done. Having said that, let me make it quite clear, like the hon. Member for Rotherhithe, that we should be quite wrong to minimise their part. They have been deliberately organising trouble in our ports, just as they have in the ports of Australia, and I hope that the Government are in touch with the Government of that great Dominion in order to get the knowledge that they have of the nature of this Communist plot.
I do not suppose that there is anyone in any section of the House who thinks it is very necessary to answer the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Platts-Mills). I would say one thing about his speech. I think there is something a little nauseating in a man pretending to be concerned with liberty when he defends every tyrannical abrogation of liberty in Eastern Europe on every possible occasion; and who defends Communist tyranny everywhere and at all times. The Government cannot be congratulated on the contributions that they have made, by speech, during the period that the proceedings outlined in the last speech we heard were taking place.
I would refer again for a brief moment to the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General. I should like to say that I, relying on the reports of his speech in "The Times" and in the "Observer," came to the conclusion, even without hearing his explanation—perhaps because I was a lawyer—that when he said, though he extended the passage a little this afternoon, but these words were included:
These unofficial strikes are an act of economic and political treason to our movement and our country
he was not making a statement on the law.
Nevertheless, I would say two things to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The first is that it is rather dangerous for a Law Officer of the Crown, speaking at such a serious moment, to think that he can divide his speech into two parts; one of which is a serious statement of law and the other is not. If the latter includes such legal words as "treason," he is very liable to be misunderstood. But I say at once that for my part, even without having heard his explanation, I came to what he tells me was the true view; that in that passage he was not making a statement regarding the law. Nevertheless, I think that passage deserves severe criticism, and I suggest it for this reason. I think it is unfortunate that, at a time when hon. Members in all parts of the House want to make an appeal to the dockers to go back, any Minister should put patriotism second. I think that by putting treason to the movement before treason to the country he was saying something very unfortunate, and rather totalitarian.
Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman would allow me to say I was working up from the smaller things to the greater things. I made it perfectly clear—and I wish that the hon. and learned Gentleman had taken the trouble to read the speech more carefully—that this was a time when we ought not to have regard to sectional interests at all. Trade unions, the Socialist Movement, the country—that is what I said; leading up from the lower to the more important things. Nobody who heard my speech could have the slightest doubt that that was what I was saying.
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman gives me that assurance, of course I accept it. All I ask him to believe is that the statement which I have read out—which admittedly is not the complete statement, but which also admittedly is not an unfair report—does strike many readers as on all fours with his other very unfortunate statement in the 1946 Debates, "We are the masters now." If it is considered that it is proper for a party to say, "We are the masters now," it may not strike some of the Communists and the "fellow travellers" that it is very improper for them to say the same thing, and to act upon it.
I pass from the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to the speech of the Prime Minister, which was reported in "The Times" of 4th July of this year. He talked about the "sickening hypocrisy of the Communists," and went on to give a very frank description of life in Russia as he saw it.
I was going to say that the Prime Minister was presumably giving an account of things in Moscow as he now saw them. I do not mean seeing with his eyes when I say, "as he now saw them." I say that, if he sees them thus now, there was no earthly reason why he could not have seen them in the same way for the last few years; and certainly at the time when the party opposite were talking about, "Left calling to Left" or "Left understanding Left," and all the rest of it. When the hypocrisy of the Communists is referred to, there may be those who think that there was at least a lack of candour about the present leaders of the Socialist Party in only making these belated statements about Communism after these events had developed—and, of course, to some extent in the last year or so.
There was one other matter to which I think my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) quite rightly drew attention. It was the case of the ship known as the "Jolly George." Over that ship the right hon. Gentleman who today is the Foreign Secretary took great pride in the claim that he had been able by industrial action to defeat the foreign policy of the Government of the day, responsible to an elected House of Commons. Do not let anybody think that that is only something that concerns the dim past. Actually, in the last few months, as I pointed out to the House the other day, no less than three Ministers of the Crown—namely, the Leader of the House, the Minister of National Insurance who, at the time he made the speech, was Chairman of the Labour Party, and the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State, speaking in Paris—had all referred to this incident in public speeches. What did they say? I am paraphrasing what they said, but if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen will examine the quotations, they will find that what I say is not unfair. They said, "How badly the Russians are behaving, and how ungrateful they are, having regard to what Ernie Bevin did for them in the 1920's."
Let hon. Members examine the implication of those speeches. They were saying that it was quite proper, by industrial action, to thwart the will of a Government responsible to an elected Parliament. If that was right for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, on what grounds can it be held to be wholly and wildly improper when it is practised by the Communist Party? I would beg hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to think of the implica- tions of some of their speeches and to realise why it is that, if some of them are belatedly waking up to the nature of Communism, they are in such a very bad position for contending with it.
I must give one more quotation because I think it is vitally important that the country should realise why it is that the Communist menace has developed into the menace that it is today, as is belatedly being recognised by many hon. Members opposite. I will read this quotation by a writer of some of the ablest Communist literature written in this country. He wrote:
It is impossible to establish Communism as the immediate successor to capitalism.
Then, a few words later:
Hence Communists work for the establishment of Socialism as a necessary transition stage on the road to Communism.
That is from the present Minister of Food. I believe that these matters ought to be known and understood by the country. I wish more people would read the works of the Minister of Food.
If it had the slightest relevance to the matter under discussion, of course I should. It has not the remotest relation to this discussion. If the hon. Member thinks that it has, no doubt he might catch the eye of the Chair and develop his theme.
I can give the work. I cannot give the context. The quotation is from "The Theory and Practice of Socialism," published in 1936 by Gollancz. If the hon. and learned Gentleman wants to read a lot more to the same effect, let him read the same author's, "The Coming Struggle for Power," which, after I have fully read it, I shall lend to him if he will promise to return it and if he cannot obtain a copy himself.
Another matter which I think has been mentioned by many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides this afternoon is the power—as some people think the greatly declining power—of the trade union leaders. I do not propose to revive a controversy in the concluding stages of which I had the honour of contending with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General some three years ago when the 1927 Act was being repealed.
The matter which I should like to bring to the attention of the House, and especially to trade unionists in this House, is that, since the repeal of the 1927 Statute, the decline in the influence of trade union leaders has been continuous and great. At present we have the position, as the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said in his opening speech, that both the unions concerned are advising the men to go back, and the men, by an overwhelming majority, are taking no notice whatever of that advice. That, I suggest to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, ought to give them thought, and they might try to inquire why that is the case. I do not believe that the Transport and General Workers' Union, which is one of the unions concerned, has ever declined so rapidly in its influence as it has since it obtained the power after the repeal of the 1927 Act to enforce the closed shop in London Transport, for example.
Might I point out that the officers of my district office, every morning since the strike started, have addressed the men outside the dock gates and put the facts before them?
I gladly yielded to the hon. Member because he obviously had a point which he regarded as of importance. I am not casting any doubts on the bona fides of the trade unions. I am pointing out the decline in the influence of the trade union leaders. I say that that might have been foreseen by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite if they had thought the matter out more deeply. I think perhaps it is not too late to think a bit about it even now.
There is a further feature which I think the House ought to observe, quite irrespective of party. The information regarding the probable developments of this strike has, throughout, been infinitely more accurate in the "Daily Worker" than it has in the "Daily Herald"—infinitely more accurate.
I read the "Daily Worker" because I think it is profoundly important that everybody in this country should know, as far as possible, what the Communists are doing and saying. Another great advantage of reading it is that one learns very often what the "Daily Herald" is going to say six months later.
I have given the reasons why I think this Government are not in a particularly good position to fight the danger of which some of its Members have at last become conscious. There is the fact that many of the most prominent Members of the Government were themselves once expelled from the party for forming a common front with the Communists. There are many other facts of a similar nature. These facts are not irrelevant to the dangers we now have to face. They are worthy to be considered by everybody who desires freedom and its survival, in whatever part of the House he sits. I say that, while my hon. and right hon. Friends will certainly support the Government in the Division Lobby tonight, we hope that there will certainly be an occasion, and not very distant, when we can examine why it is that we have drifted into the disastrous position where these Emergency Powers become necessary.
I do not want to cover the whole field, but there are a few things I want to say. First, with regard to one or two things the Attorney-General said. He explained what he had said about an illegal strike or illegal action, and that, in fact, anything that had taken place at present was only illegal in the sense that it was a breach of contract.
The learned Attorney certainly referred to three things, breaches of contract, the common law criminal position, and Order 1305. I do not think there is any misunderstanding between us. I merely spoke elliptically. He had said in a speech that at the moment most of the dockers have in no way been guilty of a common law crime. As to Order 1305 he was not very clear, but he plainly did not want to use it, and it seemed to me, as a lawyer, that he did not know how he could use it if he wanted to.
I want as a lawyer to examine what the word "illegal" means. It may mean merely a breach of contract, but I think that to use the word in that sense is somewhat dangerous, because while the right hon. and learned Gentleman and I know—perhaps, it is a little boastful to say we know what the word "illegal" means, because it is one of the most difficult words for lawyers to define—but while he and I know that it is legally justifiable to describe a breach of contract as illegal, it is the fact that, as to at least 99 per cent. of the population, if one says to them that something is illegal, one is understood to mean with varying degrees of clarity, according to their varying degrees of clarity about the law, that that which is illegal is a criminal offence. To say at this rather tense period that something is illegal when one means only that it is a breach of contract to say something as dangerous as words can be. While I have not followed the speeches of the Attorney-General in the country even as well as the reporters, I gather from him that he had been using the word "illegal" in that sense, and if he does not mind a little advice from an old gentleman, let me tell him, "Do not do it again."
I cannot really regard the hon. and learned Gentleman as an old gentleman. When I used the word "illegal," I followed it up by saying "and exposed the participants to an action for breach of contract." It is a little difficult to see how I could have been more clear. But I do not want it to be said by the hon. and learned Gentleman that it is not also illegal under the terms of the Conditions of Employment and Arbitration Order, 1940. I said in terms that, in my view, it was illegal and that I would not commit myself to the action I should take.
HANSARD will enable those of us who like to browse about in the English language, to form some view as to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman meant, if anything. I think what he said was extremely obscure, but I think it meant "No" rather than "Yes" to the idea of any offence under Order 1305. Now, there is no doubt that he said to some audience, probably to many audiences, that there might be illegality involving an action for damages for breach of contract. That is not the way for a public man to talk at this time.
It reminds me rather of the late Lord Phillimore, a very pious old gentleman, when trying an action in relation to the behaviour of a steersman. He said to the captain, "Why did you not go to the steersman in this emergency and say, 'My dear man, do not you realise that by the manner in which you are handling that wheel you are imperilling at once the property of the shipowners and the lives of the seamen?'—Instead of saying, 'Get off that wheel, you damned fool, you are going to run into another ship.'" To talk to the mass of the public now, and say that this is illegal in that it may involve an action for damages for breach of contract is not the way to talk to the mass of the people, who understand at times like this, fairly plain, straightforward language—dockers' language if hon. Members like. Therefore, I would say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, "Do not do it again."
But there is something a little more serious in his speech. He spoke about the "strike." I think it is pretty clear—and I think it was pretty clear in his mind—I hope I am not misrepresenting what was present in his mind—that what is happening in the docks day by day is that the great mass of the dockers turn up and present themselves for work and are told to go to work on the only two ships which the National Dock Labour Board knows they will not go to work on, and that when they refuse they are told they are to have no work for the day.
The Attorney-General referred to that as a "strike." I have spent a good deal of my time at times in examining the definition of a "strike." I am not going to weary the House with quotations, but I do suggest that there has never been in history a definition of "strike" which would cover the situation of this kind, in which all the men are absolutely ready to work and to do all the work they may be asked to do, except two bits of it. That might be illegal in that it lays them open to an action for damages for breach of contract. It might be illegal in that it not only lays them open to an action for damages for breach of contract but also lays them open to dismissal. But to call that "strike"—why, we shall be told next that it is a strike for men to arrive at work half an hour late and to be told by the employers that because they are late, they will be laid off from work for the day.
We shall be told next that miners are on strike because they refuse to work in a particularly dangerous or dirty part of a pit. It is, at its worst, a matter of breach of contract, and for myself—I do not want to go into it here—I am not particularly frightened of breaches of contract. So that my suggestion is that the one thing that should be quite clear is that there is no strike in the London docks at the moment.
But what are the employers doing? The employers are saying to the men, "If you do not do exactly what you are told, and work in the ships which you believe to be 'black,' then we shall lock you out." I think there is a fairish case for the proposition that it is a lock-out, but there is no case at all for the proposition that it is a strike—unless every dispute as to conditions of work, or the refusal of men to do some particular work on a particular spot at a particular moment, is to be a strike. No definition of "strike" I ever heard would allow of any such interpretation for a moment.
As probably many hon. Members want to speak and the Debate has already lasted a little while, I do not want to say very much on the general field except two things.
Surely, the hon. and learned Gentleman will not suggest that the employees are entitled to say they will work only on their own conditions and only if the industry is carried on as they think it ought to be?
I did not make any such point. I should be delighted to make such a point, but I do not want to embark on a general discussion. All I would say is that certainly it can be construed as a breach of contract, but it cannot be construed as a strike. There are many things which are technically breaches of contract, such as the refusal to load the "Jolly George," but which are not strikes. In the same way, there are many things that employers do, completely unjustifiably, but they do not amount to a lockout. I do not think I had better go into the definitions of the two things, because it would take a long time, but the difference is pretty clear.
There are only two or three general things that I want to say. The first is that in trying to examine the merits of this dispute it is a curious thing to find that the workers attend day by day, the employers say "Unload the 'Beaverbrae.'" the workers say "No, we cannot do that," whereupon the employers say "All right. Then you shan't unload any ships." Then in come the troops—and, incidentally, the workers have displayed great restraint—in come the troops, and go to every ship except the "Beaverbrae." When the people who bring in the troops are asked why they are not unloading the "Beaverbrae" they say "Oh, its cargo is not urgent."
So that, at one and the same time, the people who want to blame the dock workers for the loss of production and work are saying to the dockers "The 'Beaverbrae' is so important that you must unload that at once or you don't do anything," and the people in charge who are sending in the troops say "Oh, the Beaverbrae'—it is quite unimportant. It can come at the bottom of the list while we do the others." Of course, everybody knows the reason. The reason is that they want to have a show-down with the dock workers. If anybody wants to have a show-down with any section of the workingclass, I am on the side of that section of the workingclass, even if it has broken a million contracts.
I hope the hon. Member will remember it.
I have heard a great deal of praise of the dock workers this afternoon. I believe it all. I am not quite sure that some of the people who uttered it believe it, but I believe it all. Nevertheless, I think it seems very odd for a large number of people to say "Of course, the dock workers are splendid and loyal people," and then to add "But, you see, they are all being fooled by the Communists. They are being so successfully fooled by the Communists that we, speaking in this House and telling them what splendid fellows they are, cannot persuade them of the truth!" Now, dock workers are reasonably intelligent people and so far as I know there is no magic about a Communist—and I have met a few of them. A Communist tells one something, and one can weigh it up, and believe it or not. A member of the Labour Party tells one something, and one can weigh it up and believe it or not. I may be a bit provocative, if a Tory tells one something, one can weigh it up and disbelieve it. I say let us get away from this hysterical notion that dock workers are believing something that is wrong, and that nobody can persuade them to come out of their trance.
Let the House present to itself the possibility, which I believe to be the fact, that the dock workers are exercising a very level-headed judgment in the matter. They know just as much about it as we do; they are hearing the case from people on one side and the other—I do not know whether or not they are Communists—and arriving at their decision. I should like to say, not so much to the whole House as to members of the Labour Party, that if they go on listening to the "Red bogy" story, which is designed by the enemies of the working-class movement to split the working-class movement, then that movement will be split. I am fairly old and I can remember just the same splitting tactics being worked against the Labour Party at the time when it was ceasing to co-operate with the Liberals and the Radicals. The story that they were splitting the progressive movement as against the Liberals kept the Labour Party back for 20 or 25 years, and if they go on listening to these stories—and they are most absurd stories—about the Communists this, the Communists that, and the Communists the other, they will never smash the Communists, but they will smash themselves.
I intend to be very brief, for the very obvious reason that I have been closely associated with my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Mellish) in this matter. I want to say, quite simply and directly, that I corroborate the whole of the statement he made to the House today; if anything it was an understatement.
I shall refer in a moment to the latter part of the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. Pritt), but first let me say to the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Platts-Mills) that the seaman I referred to is named Van Molderon, who is now on the "Beaverbrae." The statement he made to myself and my colleagues was corroborated by all the members of the crew. We met them without the officers, and I am quite satisfied, as were my colleagues, of the truth of his statement. I do not doubt the truth of most of the hon. Member's statements in his recital about the terrible happenings in the internicine war on the Lakes in Canada. The captain of the "Beaverbrae" and other members of the crew told us that that sort of thing was happening. All I say to the hon. Member is: why is he trying to force the issue in this country so that we too have those types of conditions here? That is the charge I make under that head.
The House must grasp the central fact that the "Beaverbrae" is manned by members of Canadian Seamen's Union. Suppose the shipowners say they want a purser, an engineer and a cook. The Canadian Seamen's Union say which man is to have the job. All the members of the crew who spoke to us assured us—and gave the names mentioned by my hon. Friend—that men were taken out of the rota, and then professional Communists were put in in their place to take over when they came to this country. I do not know how many of my hon. Friends have studied what happened in the case of the Comintern between the wars. One of the common methods used by the Comintern in carrying out its work was the fomenting of strikes, particularly on the Hamburg-America line, in order to put in Communist "stooges" to carry on the work of the Comintern. Where we so often go wrong is in assuming that there is some magic about the Cominform. My goodness me, if we could only see it, this is as simple and as direct, in may ways, as Hitler's technique. We did not believe Hitler until it was too late. I say to my colleagues that we must face that issue with actual evidence shown.
Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that in the early days of the movement it was the commonest thing imaginable for trade unions to select men and send them to certain jobs in particular places in order to build up the trade union movement, and so organise the fight for better conditions.
There is evidence, which I have checked with my comrades of the Social Democratic Movement of Germany, that on the Hamburg-America line—and it is an odd coincidence that the "Beaverbrae" is an old Hamburg-America liner taken over by the Canadians—the Communists fomented strikes to bring the ordinary seamen off in order to put Communist agents on in their place, because at that time it was a vehicle for conducting Communist propaganda against America.
I interrupted the hon. Gentleman once and then shut up. I hope he will respect the workings of democracy, and treat me in the same way.
It is all very well to have members of the Government falling over backwards to preserve democracy. What was Mr. Davis doing in this country when he addressed a meeting of dockers at Canning Town Hall, after the agent of the C.S.U. had failed to make any effect on those at the dock gates? Who is Mr. Pope? What are his other names? He is the step-brother of Mr. Davis. He has a Russia alias, which I dare not pronounce. Or perhaps that is his real name. That is one of the difficulties about all this. All the techniques are so direct, but when one comes close against this thing it seems so amazingly like a penny novel that one gets a little afraid of it. In passing, may I say to the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Captain Hewitson) that the somewhat amazing speech he made this afternoon almost exceeds in usefulness and leadership the great oration he made on the Budget? I am certain that the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Zilliacus) can take encouragement from that speech, because if the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull can remain in the party and on the National Executive of the Labour Party there is great hope for him yet. I repeat that unless we grasp the fact that the C.S.U. has the right, which it insists on, to say who shall be the actual people who are on the "Beaverbrae," then we cannot grasp the whole situation. I say, quite frankly, that if a great shipping company is to come to an agreement with a union that is admittedly Communist controlled and is to give them the right to say who is going on the ships, then the shipowners are failing in their duty both to their country and to the world.
What about the telegram that was sent to Newport and signed by Richard Barrett advising the men on the strike issue, telling them the workers were solid and inciting them to strike action? If the telegram was not sent by him, or if it was a "phoney" telegram, why has he not publicly denied it? The telegram was traced to a barber's shop. I suggest that when a strike which vitally affects our economy can be called by a telegram which the alleged sender denies, there is a case for action and not merely for inquiry. I agree with a lot of things that the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) has said. We cannot fight this wicked and evil thing by pretending that it does not exist. I think the point should be pressed.
The hon. and learned Member for North Hammersmith asked whether there is any evidence of Communists behind the dispute. So far as I can find out—and I have been very close to the men; they come to see me every day—the men who are running this dispute, with possibly one exception, are most likely not members of the Communist Party. What is undoubtedly true is that things are made easy for them—there is always someone pushing up behind. Speeches are prepared, and no one will deny that the C.S.U. is Communist and is working for Cominform purposes. But when we get to this dispute with which we are concerned, the Communists have played a much cleverer game, so far as the dockers are concerned, than on the occasion of the last dispute. If it is not Communist, what about the ballot last Saturday? Why was it boycotted last Saturday? Is that not typical—have a ballot or let us have a meeting in Victoria Park; let us get the right boys to cheer with all the old technique to avoid an expression of opinion?
I want to raise another issue which arises from the central lockout committee, to which I think we are entitled to have an answer. On Friday evening the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Solley) attempted to make a speech in the House. He read from a leaflet, from which I propose to read the latter part. He read the first part, and I propose to read the latter part. In doing so, may I point out that I cannot say whether this leaflet has been merely printed and not distributed. All I can call in evidence is that the hon. Member for Thurrock had it in his possession and read from it. I ask hon. Members to pay particular note to end of it, because of the serious implications. It says:
Let the Government tell the employers either to raise the lockout and allow Port workers to resume their work without black-legging, or take the initiative in ordering the National Board to instruct its sector managers to allocate their registered men to all ships except the two in dispute, and so allow work in the Port to resume as it was prior to the provocative intervention of the shipowners.
I should like the House to be tolerant with me in reading a further extract:
This should be done immediately, and so avoid any prolonging of a situation that cannot possibly be justified, either by the shipowners or the Government. If it is not done"—
and this is the point—
there can very easily be a position where the men themselves will go in and man the bona fide ships in their right in an endeavour to help the Government to make up its mind.
If that is not an incitement to insurrection and the forgoing of all acceptance of authority then it goes very near to it.
I am not going to say that the Communist Party wrote that leaflet. I have it here, and I will give it to the Attorney-General or the Home Secretary. This situation is packed with dynamite. There are wicked men behind it, and we would be failing in our duty if we did not face the facts that there is evidence here of an evil conspiracy. I believe that by the end of the week this strike will be settled, but when it is settled, it will break out again in another form. Already there are signs in other sections of our economy that are vital. I believe the strike in the London Docks has some connection with what is happening in Australia. I have no evidence, but that is my belief.
Already in the London power stations there are the same elements at work. There are the local Communist members and the Communist officers of the E.T.U. I want to say to the Government that we have to see this thing through. The only cure, as I see it, is to start at the bottom, because it is only at the bottom that we can begin to clear this thing out. Do not let us imagine that these strikes are caused by workers who are frustrated. This situation is the result of a powerful conspiracy, the evidence of which is before our eyes if we have the courage to face it.
I am not going to follow the line of my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Daines), because I cannot imagine a more damaging speech being made from either side of the House. This has been, for me, the most unhappy day I have had since our Government, the people's Government, came into power in 1945. Very few of the speeches to which we have had to listen have faced the problem of how to bring an end to the very unhappy and disastrous situation existing in the London dock area.
It is the future of this dispute that I am worried about. The invoking of these powers is a disaster. No trade unionist of considerable experience will deny that statement. As one who has spent many years in industry, working with the trade union movement, I cannot imagine a more senseless and futile move on the part of any Government than the one which we are discussing today. Have not the Government and those who are supporting these regulations realised that this is war against our own people? The nonsense that we have heard today about the Communists is just imbecilic prattle.
This is an old situation to us in the trade union movement. I am calling upon my experience, and I have a shrewd suspicion that thousands of brother trade unionists in this country who are not immediately involved in the dispute are also calling upon their experience. That experience forces me to say that no Government Which had not completely lost the confidence of the organised workers would dream of applying the powers that are under consideration today. [Laughter.] I may have something to say as an old trade unionist to the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg), who is jeering.
Every trade unionist knows that these regulations will not settle the dispute, but can only deepen the anger and resentment among those who feel that the cause for which they are fighting is just. I have hon. Friends here who, like myself, have spent long years in the mining industry. Twice have I seen the tragic consequences in that industry of these emergency powers regulations and of the short-sighted policy of those hon. Gentlemen who, today, are having the happiest day they have had in this House for the last four years. The first instance was in 1921. The imposition of these powers at the expense of the miners was largely responsible for the longest stoppage up to then in that industry. In 1926, we were up against precisely the same thing. Under the noisy and flamboyant generalship of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) these powers were used against us, but with consequences that are very vivid in the memories of those who remember those unhappy days. The consequence was the longest mining stoppage of just over six months, in 1926.
What do the Government expect to emerge from their move? Such experiences as those to which I have referred, and others equally unhappy, have been woven into the very existence of millions of our workers. Those experiences were the warp and the woof of their conscious life; those were the experiences that swept this Government into power in 1945. No trade unionist of experience will dispute that, though it is natural that the Opposition, now a vestige of past tyrannical governments, should do so. No experienced fighter in the working-class movement can be bluffed by the speeches which we have had from the Opposition side of the House today. They have memories of the days when they were so assiduously preparing the ground for their own downfall. The unhappy situation in the London dock area—I am afraid that I am giving this to the Opposition for what it is worth—has turned out to be a greater blessing to the Opposition than all the Woolton millions.
What I cannot understand is why the Government have fallen for this hateful expedient. This is the question which is being asked by millions of loyal trade unionists today: why did the Government fall for it? Let those of us who have had experience in the trade union movement try to figure out how the London situation strikes the average trade unionist. I am referring to the trade unionist who has been such a stanch supporter of the Government up to now. What does he see? He sees that a trade dispute has taken place on two ships, the crews of which are on strike. The London dockers refused to lend themselves to break that strike. They said that they would carry on with their work on all the other ships not involved in the dispute, but the Port of London Authority proceeded to perpetrate the most stupid and provocative act in recent years against not only the London dockers but also the Government. They declared a lockout and precipitated the present unhappy situation. This act of the Dock Board is a social outrage, and I must repeat that in my belief it is a malicious attempt to sabotage the work of the Government. That is my opinion which I am sure will be shared by many Government supporters.
I am sorry to interrupt, but I have been following the argument carefully, and I would like to ask the hon. Member a question. Up to the moment he has not given us the slightest indication of how he would deal with the situation. Will he tell us how he would settle this problem?
I am sorry that my hon. Friend is getting so anxious about a solution. The solution is obvious to any trade unionist of experience, and I will come to it in a few minutes. As a miner, let me tell the House how the situation strikes the miners of South Wales. These miners could easily visualise a trade dispute taking place in two collieries in the South Wales coalfield. The coal owners—or the Ministry of Fuel and Power—tell the miners in that coalfield that unless those two collieries are worked, all the miners in that coalfield will be locked out. It is a simple situation as the miners see it. Let us not forget it, these regulations apply to the miners; not only to the dockers of this country, but to all the workers once they are in operation.
Now, as I have said to the miners that is an exact parallel of what is happening to the dockers. Do hon. Members think that trade unionists are in any way impressed by the legal subtleties we have heard today? If they do, they are living in a fool's paradise. What the amateurs in these matters have overlooked is that the British organised workers will not at any cost blackleg a fellow worker in trouble. To them there is nothing more hateful than the blackleg and the renegade to their cause. In this respect, may I say, quite candidly, that I, as an old industrial worker and a trade unionist, am proud of the spirit they show.