HC Deb 13 July 1905 vol 149 cc570-3
MR. ARTHUR HENDERSON (Durham, Barnard Castle)

I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury a Question of which I have given him private notice—namely, whether he has considered the appeal made last night, on the Motion for the adjournment, by the Labour Members, and whether he is prepared to grant facilities for passing the Unemployed; Bill by extending, if necessary for that purpose, the session beyond its ordinary length or by holding Saturday sittings.


In my view, the only possibility of passing the Unemployed Bill in the course of the present session is that it should pass as an uncontentious measure, which I hope might be arranged if both sides were prepared to make some concessions the one to the other. I ought to add that the task of the Government, or any Government, in dealing with this question has not been facilitated by the fact that some hon. Gentlemen opposite who are greatly interested in this measure have stated it to be one which makes it an obligation on the State to provide labour for the unemployed out of local funds and desire to extend it to public funds, and to be one intimately connected with the nationalisation of land. That is no description of the Government measure, and we do not, at all events, desire to carry out those principles. And if hon. Gentlemen consider that those principles are embodied in the Bill, it may well give other hon. Gentlemen, who do not agree with them in this, serious cause to pause. I believe that if more sober and wise counsels prevail, and if this Bill were treated as a machinery Bill, and amended so as to become a machinery Bill, it is not impossible that some arrangement might be made to pass it as an uncontroversial measure.


Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to bring influence to bear upon those who are opposing the measure on his own side?


I do not propose to try to influence one side more than the other. It hon. Gentlemen opposite are prepared to treat it as a mere machinery Bill, and if it be amended as a machinery Bill, I think it possible that we might be able to pass it in the present session. Otherwise, I have no hope of its being parsed.

MR. SHACKLETON (Lancashire, Clitheroe)

When the right hon. Gentlemen says "a machinery Bill," what part of the Bill does he propose to drop?


I think I ought to have notice of that Question; but I may say at once, without futher reference to the measure, that evidently that part would have to be dropped which enables labour to be paid for out of the rates.

MR. KEIR HARDIE (Meithyr Tydvil)

Is it not a fact that all the opposition to that part of the Bill which is now proposed to be dropped comes from some five or six Members on the Government side ["No"] headed by the Member for Chelsea; and will the Prime Minister bring his influence to bear on those Members to withdraw their opposition.


Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to put down the Amendments which he thinks necessary in order to enable the Bill to pass?


NO, I have already stated that that must be a matter of arrangement between the contending critics of the Bill as it stands. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil has described the Bill, I think, or rather mis-described it, as one which makes it obligatory on the Government to provide labour for unskilled workmen, and said that we should always have the unemployed in our midst as long as private property in land is permitted. If those are the principles embodied or embedded in the Bill, I venture to think there is not the slightest chance of the Bill passing this session, or any session, in which the present Government, and I suspect other Governments, have control over the public business of this House.


Is it because of opinions which I am supposed to hole or to have expressed that the Government is now going to drop the Bill? As s joint of personal explanation let meassure the right hon. Gentleman that although I hold strongly that so long as land and capital are private property we are bound to have the unemployed with us, I have welcomed the Bill, not because it would compel the local authorities to provide work, but because it provides the means whereby the local authorities might provide work for those who would otherwise starve.

MR. CROOKS (Woolwich)

May I asked whether, as this is a Government Bill, the Prime Minister is prepared to use the power he possesses to push his own Bill through the House of Commons, and never mind what interpretation we put on it? If he does, we will lend him all the help we can.


The hon. Gentleman is one of those who have certainly not assisted the Government in pushing on their own Bills in the past. ["Oh!"] It will be found, for instance, that the hon. Gentleman voted against the closuring Resolutions of the Aliens Bill.


Yes, Sir.


The hon. Gentleman was quite right from his own point of view, and I am not quarrelling with him; but the hon. Gentleman can hardly complain that I do not necessarily welcome him as an ally on the point of public business.


The Government must remember that they would not have got the Second Reading of their Bill but for my intervention, and therefore they did welcome me as an ally. I ask the Prime Minister whether that miserable abortion the Redistribution Resolution—["Order"]—is to take the place of an important piece of legislation which has caused most of the labour men worry and trouble for the last twelve or fourteen years. Let me say publicly and openly—["Order."]


The hon. Member must put what he has to say in the form of an interrogation and not of a speech.


Then will the right hon. Gentleman move that I be suspended from the service of this House if I object to every piece of legislation until we get satisfaction over the Unemployed Bill?


I am sorry the hon. Gentleman thinks so ill of the Redistribution Resolutions I would remind him that at a meeting which he attended last Saturday the Bill was described as a Bill that was not worth much.


Not by me.

MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)

Is it not reasonable that we should be told what portions of the Bill the Government now consider it necessary to omit in order to get the Bill?


I have stated the lines on which, and on which alone, I think there is any chance of passing this Bill. Whether those lines will be accepted on both sides of the House I have at present no knowledge. I can only suggest the general principles on which an arrangement might be made.