HC Deb 13 February 1895 vol 30 cc637-43

I beg to move the following-Resolution, which stands on the Paper in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House:— That a Select Committee lie appointed to consider and report as to—(a) The extent to which distress, arising from want of employment, prevails; (b) the powers at present possessed by Local Authorities in relation to such eases; and (c) any steps which may be taken, whether by changes in legislation or administration, to deal with the evils arising therefrom.

*MR. J. KEIR HARDIE (West Ham) rose to move the first of two Amendments standing in his name, which was to insert after the word "Authorities" in sub-section (b) the words "or Departments of State." He said he anticipated the Government would lie able to accept the Amendment, which would not in any way interfere with the inquiry, but sought only to widen its scope.


There is no objection on the part of the Government to the substance of the Amendment moved; but the expression "Departments of State" is one not of a usual character and not very definite; and therefore we would suggest that the hon. Member, instead of inserting the words proposed, should qualify the word Authorities, by placing before it the words "Local or Central." To that Amendment the Government will make no objection.


I presume the word "Central" means national?



The insertion in the Amendment of the words "Local or Central" was then agreed to.


then moved the following addition:— To make an interim Report to the House on or before Monday, 25th February, on what steps should be taken either by Parliament or by Central or Local Authorities to meet the distress this winter. He said that this Amendment was not without precedent. On at least two occasions, the House on appointing a Committee, had given instructions for the Report to be submitted by a given date. One of the cases was an inquiry relating to a Bill dealing with the municipal affairs of Belfast, and the other was the case of the Manchester Ship Canal Bill. In both cases the House instructed the Committee to make a Report within a few days of its appointment. He did not ask that the Committee should submit its final Report by a given date. He quite admitted that there was a good deal in the scope of the reference which would necessarily entail extensive inquiries and the expenditure of some time. But there were one or two points upon which a Committee might be able to report within 24 hours of its appointment. The first of these was, as to the powers possessed by Central or Local Authorities. These, presumably, were all known to the officials of the different Departments; and if the Committee examined an official from each Department and one or two witnesses from specially distressed districts as to the extent of the distress, the Committee would then be in a position to make an interim Report as to the powers possessed by the authorities and to make recommendations for dealing with particular localities. There was this danger in the appointment of the Committee—that Local Authorities who were already at their wits end, and might be glad of any excuse for taking no further action this winter; and if they were they would be able to point to this Committee and say: "Until it has reported we cannot be expected to do more than we have been doing." It would be admitted that the distress at the present time was of a kind which no hon. Member would desire to see continued or perpetuated; and if anything could be done immediately it ought to be done. That was the object of his Amendment.


I entirely sympathise with the object stated by the hon. Member. I have always thought that the Committee would make an interim Report, and that it would make it as early as possible. That is entirely the view, as far as the Government is concerned, of the action of the Committee. Of course there will be two classes of questions for the Committee to consider: one is, as to the action to be taken immediately; and the other is, as to the action to be taken permanently. The hon. Member for West Ham must remember that our object must be to appoint a strong Committee, one of the strongest and most representative Committees that can possibly be obtained in this House. Having done that we ought to place confidence in our Committee; and it would not be a wise thing to appoint a strong and powerful Committee and then to exhibit so much distrust as would be exhibited by fixing a date on which they are to do a particular thing. I cannot but think that the Committee would be anxious to report at the earliest possible time, with the object of relieving the present distress. I would, therefore, strongly urge the hon. Member to consider the object of the Government, which I am sure will be shared on the other side of the House, to nominate Members in whom the House will have full confidence to serve on the Committee, and that it would be unwise not to leave power and direction in the hands of the Committee. In these circumstances I do hope the hon. Member will not press this Amendment.

SIR J. E. GORST (Cambridge University)

said, he entirely concurred in the spirit of the remarks made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as well as with the object with which the Amendment was moved. After the pledge given by the Leader of the House that it was the desire and intention of the Government that the Committee should make an early interim Report, all that was desired by the hon. Member for West Ham had been practically attained. As to the terms of reference, the extent to which distress prevailed from the want of employment was a very large question, and concerned not only the Metropolis but also the great centres of industry in Great Britain and Ireland. It was a subject which would tax the power and patience of the Committee in their effort to come to correct conclusions. But as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, there was another question—namely, the immediate relief of distress. So far as this concerned Ireland there did not appear to be much difficulty last night in coming to a determination as to what immediate steps should be taken; and he did not doubt that Her Majestys Government, when they came to consider the condition of Great Britain, would be able to find some steps that could be taken immediately to relieve distress in Great Britain. After the pledge given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the hon. Member for West Ham might consider that the object of his Amendment had been attained, and might leave to a strong Committee to make an early Report

MR, J. W. BENN (St. Georges) Tower Hamlets,

heartily concurred in the Amendment of the hon. Member for West Ham, but thought it came a little too late. Within the last few days a plan had been formed by London Members, and was already before the Local Authorities. With the assurance that this would receive the early consideration of the Committee, which would make a speedy Report, the hon. Member might well withdraw his Amendment.

SIR D. H. MACFARLANE (Argyllshire)

said, that whilst the House was considering and discussing the question, people outside were starving, and political economy must be placed on one side to save people from starving. When did the Chancellor of the Exchequer expect the Committee to make a Report?


We are using every possible exertion to get the Committee appointed.


When is it to be appointed?

MR. P. M. THORNTON (Clapham)

desired to bear testimony to the terrible distress that prevailed in south-west London. That morning a number of residents had appealed to him to make known what they were suffering.


said, it appeared to him the Government would have no power or control over the Committee, and to prevent possible accidents, he must press his Amendment, which he hoped the Government would accept, if not in this, in some other form.

*SIR A. K. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)

appealed to the hon. Member to consider the practical point suggested by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He hoped there would be an early Report on what could be done to meet prevailing distress, and also discriminate in determining between temporary and permanent causes. We had to deal with urgent suffering, but the prospect of improving trade was not hopeless, as, on the whole, 1894 was a better year than 1893. Permanent distress would have to be relieved on different principles from temporary distress, for permanently it was absolutely necessary not only to relieve, but to restore. The season distress must be dealt with at once, and if they were not to wait for the final Report, but to have an interim Report, the hon. Member for South-west Ham ought to be satisfied.

MR. J. A. M. MACDONALD (Tower Hamlets, Bow)

desired to emphasise the need for this Committee to report as soon as possible. He represented one of the most distressed districts in London, and knew the urgency of the case. He proposed to amend the Amendment by providing that the Committee should "make an interim Report at the earliest possible date."


said, if it would meet the views of hon. Members and give a further assurance to the public that there was a bona fide desire to deal with this question as soon as possible, he would agree to the suggestion of the hon. Member.

The Amendment of Mr. MACDONALD was agreed to.

SIR T. FRY (Darlington)

said, that before the subject was finally delegated to a Committee, he should like to mention a subject of the deepest importance—the disfranchisement of those who received relief. Severe as the distress was in London, there was much distress also in the provinces. In his own town, owing to the stoppage of some steel works, 500 men were receiving relief, the larger portion of them working in the stoneyards. These men would have their names struck off the register of voters at the next revision. Two years ago, at Middlesbrough, no fewer than 2,000 were so struck off—through no fault of their own. In. Newcastle and Gateshead there were large numbers of men working in the stoneyards owing to temporary difficulties. He hoped the subject of the disfranchisement of men who were obliged to seek relief would have the consideration of the Committee, and that a short Bill would be introduced preventing their disfranchisement.

MR. W. ALLAN (Gateshead)

endorsed what had been said by the hon. Baronet. No man in this country should lose his citizenship because of poverty.


said, he did not desire that the Committee should be involved in political issues. That House would be the best place to deal with this subject, and he would rather reserve it for the House. He did not like the idea of dictating to the Committee what subjects they should deal with, and suggested that discretion to deal with the disfranchisement of those who received relief should be left to the Committee. At the same time he agreed that men should not be disfranchised because they had accepted relief through being thrown out of employment.


thought the House should bear in mind that when a man was obliged to seek public relief he lost that independence which was expected in a voter. If the Chief Secretary as the "central authority" in Ireland, was able to act, with regard to distress there, without the aid of a Committee, why could not the Central Authorities do the same in England?

MR. CYRIL J. S. DODD (Essex, Maldon)

pointed out that persons who received aid from certain local charities were also liable to be disfranchised. His advice on the matter had been sought by several persons seeking relief in his own constituency.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Lough, N.)

stated that, under the Conservative Relief of Distress (Ireland) Act it was provided that no electoral disability should attach to any voter who accepted temporary relief.

Motion, as amended, agreed to.

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