HC Deb 20 February 1906 vol 152 cc282-302

Order read, for resuming adjourned debate on Question [19th February], "That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:— Most Gracious Sovereign, "We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—(Mr. Dickinson.)

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


(continuing his speech), said that hon. Members would recollect that last night the Prime Minister expressed in very felicitous terms the hope that they had enjoyed a very pleasant hour of relaxation. He sincerely trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would remember, when the business of the House came under the consideration of his Government, that business was expedited, and the health, not only of the Members but of the numerous staff, was greatly benefited by the short period of relaxation. Returning to this miserable Chinese labour question, he confessed it was a matter of surprise to him that hon. Members opposite had still found it in their hearts to brazen the matter out. The hon. Member for West Birmingham put a number of questions to the Prime Minister, and he should have liked now to put a few to him, if the right hon. Gentleman had been in his place. After his trip to South Africa a meeting of a great gold mining company was held in London, and the chairman then stated that the mining companies had done their part and it now remained for the Government to do theirs, and very shortly after the Government introduced their scandalous proposal for the introduction of Chinese labour. The hon. Member had said he was not responsible. Who was if not himself? Then after the Prime Minister had very wisely forbidden the importation of further batches of Chinese labour, there was an immediate outcry among the mining companies and the journals they control, one of them stating amongst other terms of reproach that the action of the Prime Minister had falsified the pledges of the hon. Member for West Birmingham. Surely that looked as if he was responsible for the whole matter, and his action in leaving his office and leaving his work to Mr. Lyttelton very largely went to show his responsibility and culpability. The right hon. Member throughout by his questions and speech, thought he had placed the Prime Minister in a difficulty, in a cleft stick, just as Mr. Balfour thought he had placed the Liberal Party in a difficulty by suddenly and unexpectedly resigning office at a time when he believed there was a serious difference of opinion among prominent members of the Liberal Party with reference to Irish affairs, and with just as poor a result. The action of Mr. Balfour only precipitated the downfall of the Conservative Party, and the speech of the Prime Minister had amply satisfied his Party, and would satisfy the country. We were to have no more Chinese coolies imported until full self-government was granted to the Colonies, and even then we would not be content to allow them to do just as they pleased in the matter, and the Government would not sanction the introduction of Chinese labour on such terms as had been imposed under the late Government. The right hon. Member for Croydon saw no difference between the proposal of the Government that they would out of Imperial funds defray the passage home of any Chinese coolie who wished to return home for any reason, whether because he had been seduced to the mines under false pretences, or because of ill-treatment, insufficient wage, or any other reason, and the Ordinance of himself and his friends, under which a poor Chinaman, out of his shilling a day, might return at his own expense. At the time the Ordinance was under discussion it was repeatedly shown that this clause must be inoperative, as it would be impossible for the Chinamen ever to save sufficient for such a purpose. After all, we were only imposing on the Colonies and the mine owners the same restrictions that we placed on the Boers—"that no slavery or apprenticeship partaking of the nature of slavery should be allowed within the Transvaal territory," and he thought the matter could very well rest there.

He was glad to note such a favourable expression of opinion in favour of old age pensions, but he thought the hon. Member for the Wirral Division of Cheshire had not made a good suggestion in saying that the pensions, on account of financial difficulties, might be deferred until those in need attained a stilt greater age; in the words of an election ballad, the fact that "the pension will come when we're all of us dead," did not offer many attractions. Surely it would be far better to commence with such a sum as we could afford. Even a few shillings a week would make an enormous difference to many a one and save many a poor person from the workhouse and the lunatic asylum. The remarks of the hon. Member for Water-ford, the Leader of the Irish Party, describing in touching and feeling terms the state of affairs in Ireland, might have been applied to Scotland, except that the position was much aggravated by the deer forests in Scotland. The hon. Member for Sutherlandshire had not in the least overstated the case against the deer forests, rather the contrary; in the last twenty years over a million of acres had been added for this senseless, cruel sport. He could understand sport if it meant the killing of wild animals that might endanger the lives of people, or he could understand sporting for the purpose of food, but to rear and protect unoffending animals for the purpose of killing them was compatible with neither civilisation nor Christianity, and its only purpose was to make a short holiday for a few wealthy persons who came with their motor drivers, for whom they had to find a French name, and flunkies of all sorts. Vast territories had been depopulated. Highlanders, who had done so much to make the Empire what it is, who had colonised the waste places of the earth, who had fought the Empire's battles by land and sea, saw their country a desert. Where once were many happy homes there was now nothing but the abomination of desolation. The policy of the Tory Party was well defined on this point by a distinguished Tariff Reformer— Let us be real free traders. Let us get our mutton from New Zealand, our wool from Australia, and leave our Highland glens and straths for sport with the noblest animal on earth—the red deer. All over England they saw the same thing on perhaps a more aggravated scale, where thousands of acres were given up to the breeding and rearing of harmless pheasants or rabbits for the purpose of being slaughtered. It was a short-sighted policy on the part of the landlords, because it was only population that gave value to land. In the early days of New Zealand settlement land was purchased, if not for an old song, for a bit of tobacco or a blanket; that land, owing to population, had now become of great value. In his own constituency the evil had been still greater within the memory of persons still living; hundreds of cruel evictions had taken place not even for the purpose of sport, but for the more sordid and contemptible purpose of getting a few extra shillings by turning the people's homes into big sheep and cattle farms.

His hon. friend the Member for Spen Valley was a notable temperance reformer, and had given the House wise advice. Personally, he put land reform far away before any other reform, but he was content to wait, feeling sure that the Government had the matter thoroughly at heart. He rejoiced that an important Crofters Bill occupied a portion of the King's Speech. It had long been wanted, and the Scottish people were looking forward to it with keen interest and anxiousness. He could not sit down, however, without reminding the Government of another very important and constantly increasing class in Scotland, viz., the cottars and fishermen, who had the greatest difficulty in getting a small piece of land for a home where they could do some work when not engaged at their usual occupations, where their wives and families could live in some degree of comfort. It was a disgrace to the country that such men could not obtain land except on the most extravagant and ruinous conditions. Close to the most important town in his constituency fishermen were forced to live under the most insanitary conditions, while there was any amount of land quite close, but unobtainable. The right hon. Member for East Fife, now Chancellor of the Exchequer, hid given a distinct pledge that for the purpose of obtaining land for such men the Government would introduce legislation for the compulsory purchase of land. The Allotment Act in Scotland had been a dead letter. He trusted that when the Government had this matter under consideration they would not hand such powers over to the country parish authorities, who, for many reasons, were unfitted to deal with it, but endow the Congested Districts Board with ample powers and funds. He especially desired to bring under the attention of the Secretary for Scotland the sympathetic attitude of his predecessor towards the nursing question. Many districts and soma islands with populations running to 400 men were quite without medical or nursing attendants of any sort. He was glad to note that the Member for Waterford made the demand last night for powers of compulsory purchase; he wished he had forced his views on the House when the Irish Land Purchase Bill was going through, there would be no difficulty then in dealing with the evicted tenants. The matter of land reform was of vital importance to the wellfare of the nation and as such should be dealt with at the earliest possible moment.

MR. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)

said he regretted troubling the House so early on the seamen's question, but he desired to ask the President of the Board of Trade a question with regard to the proposals of the Government to introduce two Shipping Bills He did not know the right hon. Gentleman's intentions, but he ventured to suggest to him that it would be desirable if the Government would follow the recommendations of the Committees appointed by their predecessors—the "Manning and Mercantile Marine Committees"—which Committees sat for over two years and received evidence from shipowners, seamen and captains, and after exhaustive inquiry recommended certain alterations in the Merchant Shipping Act with regard to the manner in which vessels should be manned. Seeing that the Manning Committee, on which shipowners sat, unanimously arrived at certain recommendations, he did hope the right hon. Gentleman would embody those recommendations in his Merchant Shipping Bill. With regard to the Mercantile Marine Committee, for over eight and a half years he had the privilege of speaking on behalf of the seamen in this country, and brought before the House many of their grievances, with the result that the Government appointed a Committee, presided over by the late Sir Francis Jeune, which after careful inquiry recommended that the food scale should be altered. Indeed the Committee drafted a food scale, and he endeavoured to persuade them that it should be made compulsory; but the shipowners on the Committee said that if the Committee did not recommend that the scale be made compulsory, they felt sure the shipowners would adopt the scheme. That was over four years ago, and he was very sorry to say there were not more than a hundred shipowners who had adopted the scale recommended by the Committee. That, he thought, went to prove that ship-owners generally would not adopt the recommendations of any Committee unless there was some little compulsion; he therefore hoped the scale recommended by the Committee would be made compulsory by his right hon. friend. On previous occasions he had explained to the House the many hardships inflicted upon our merchant seamen, in consequence of the class of food that had been supplied in years gone by, and he was sorry to say in some instances was supplied to-day. With regard to certificates to cooks, of whose incompetence on merchant ships they had heard so much, the Committee recommended that all such cooks should pass a Board of Trade examination, for which certificates should be granted, and that no shipowner should be allowed to employ a a cook without that certificate. He trusted his right hon. friend would also embody that recommendation in the Bill. Then, with regard to inspection of seamen's food, for which, in 1891, the House passed a Bill. When the Bill left the House it was to apply to all merchant vessels, but he regretted that in another place Amendments were inserted with the result that it only applied to vessels employed in certain trades. The effect was that provisions that had been condemned on vessels bound for voyages through the Suez Canal round Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope were taken on vessels bound for ports in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. That was a very wrong thing. The Mercantile Marine Committee recommended an extension of the Act of 1891, and he hoped his right hon. friend would be able to see his way to embody that recommendation also. Then, with regard to certificates; seamen had very good reason to complain of the present form of continuous certificates of discharge. He did not know why sailors and firemen should be treated differently from any other class of working men. Another workman would consider it very hard to have to produce, before he could get employment, a book giving a record of his previous services. The main objection of seamen to these books was that the captain might at the end of a voyage decline to report, which was tantamount to an inferior discharge. Many instances had been brought to his notice in which men with five or six years good record, because they had some petty grievance with the captain or any of the officers, had had their books marked "decline to report," with the result that the men had difficulty in obtaining employment. Then he hoped the President of the Board of Trade would consider the question of making some alteration in these books. The seamen demanded that the character should be taken out of the book entirely, because it was no guarantee whatever. As a matter of fact he reported one instance to the Board of Trade two and a half years ago, in which three firemen went on shore in a port in Russia and were absent from the vessel for three days drunk, and the captain entered the offence in the official log, fining each man 15s. At the end of the voyage the captain made a bargain with the men, that if they would agree to that item being put into their account as cash received from him, he would give them a very good discharge, and of course the 15s. from each man went into the master's pocket. He only mentioned that case to show that the character generally entered in the men's book was no guarantee that they were good or bad men. Another important question deserved the attention of his right hon. friend. A good deal had been heard in the last three months regarding the employment of foreign seamen on British ships. From the national point of view it was a question of the greatest possible importance. Year by year the number of British seamen had been steadily declining and they had been largely supplanted by Lascars and Chinamen. The foreign grievance certainly was a bad one, but the British seamen had far more to complain of from the competition of the Lascar and the Chinaman than from the employment of the foreigner. Of course they were told that the Lascar was a British subject. He should never for one moment think of condemning any Lascar or even objecting to his employment; but he did say that neither Lascar nor Chinamen should be used for the purpose of displacing British seamen in their own country's vessels. We did not employ Lascars in the Navy, and no man would seriously suggest that Lascars should be employed on our war ships, yet if we went on year after year continually increasing the number of Lascars and Chinamen employed there would be no employment left for the Britisher, and then, if this country embarked in a great naval war it would be found that they had done a very wrong thing in allowing its maritime population to disappear entirely from British vessels. The Mercantile Marine Committee suggested the only true solution of the question. It was nonsense to talk about British ships limiting the number of foreign hands employed to percentages, because it would not work out in practice, but what we could and should do was to embody in a Merchant Shipping Bill a clause that no foreigner should be employed on a British ship unless he could speak and understand the English language. It was a disgrace that at the present time on a vessel of 1,600 tons, carrying twelve or fourteen men as sailors and firemen—probably twelve would be foreigners of eight or nine different nationalities, and not able to speak or understand a word of our language. He could not for the life of him understand why shipowners—

MR. HOUSTON (Liverpool, West Toxteth)

Do you suggest that I employ foreigners on my ships; for I do not.


thought his hon. friend was a little too previous. He said he could not understand for the life of him why shipowners were so neglectful of their duty as to allow crews to be engaged at Continental ports composed of so many different nationalities and the majority of whom were not able to speak a word of the English language.


You were looking at me, and directing your remarks to me.


did not know that the hon. Gentleman was quite so nervous at his looks, but he assured him he did not intend any offence. He was applying his remarks generally to gentlemen interested in ships. He said it was a scandal, and considering that numbers of men had been sacrificed in consequence of the employment of men who were entirely ignorant of our language, he had justification for speaking a little strongly. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not confine the operation of the clause to ports in the United Kingdom, because where we were suffering most from this grievance was at Continental ports. Right hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side had said during the General Election that what was wanted was more work for the British working man. He had generally said less work and more pay. But if they Were so anxious to provide work for the British working-man let him assure them that every year 40,000 men were discharged from British ships at Continental ports between the River Elbe and Brest, and 40,000 foreigners were taken on in their place. He should have thought that those who were interested in shipping and were strong tariff reformers would have looked into that question, because charity should begin at home, and a man should put his own house in order before attacking any one else. Those 40,000 foreigners spent the whole of their earnings on the Continent. At the port of Antwerp there were three men called shipping masters, each of whom made an income of over £6,000 a year in the war of blood-money extorted from the, seamen, because those crimps had a kind of agreement with shipping people on this side that they should have the monopoly of supplying the men, and when a man went to seek employment on a British vessel in Antwerp, he was referred to a certain person and when he applied for a berth, he found he was unable to get it without paying a fee of from 10s. up to £1 for the privilege of having a job on a British ship. This had been going on for twenty years. That was why no British seaman or fireman could get employment, because he refused to pay this extortionate fee, and it largely accounted for the number of foreigners who got employment there on British ships and could not speak English, but were willing to pay this blood-money for the privilege of employment. He believed that could be stopped by applying that clause of the Bill to the Continent, providing that if crews were engaged at Continental ports they would have to comply with the law, and satisfy His Majesty's Consul as to their knowledge of the English language. He would suggest that a clause should be inserted in the Bill that a master, when engaging a crew abroad, should first try to obtain seamen who could speak our language; but if unable to do that, and he satisfied the Consul he had made every effort, then perhaps the master should be allowed to make the best arrangements he could under the circumstances. He believed that if his right hon. friend embodied in the Bill such a clause it would go a long way towards remedying a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. He wished to say a few words regarding the extension of the Workmen's Compensation Act to seamen. He did not know what might be the intentions of the Government, but he hoped there would be no mistake about giving justice to the poor unfortunate sailors and firemen, whom he wished to see included in the Workmen's Compensation Act and not dealt with by any special Act. For over twenty-six years he had pleaded hard for a simple act of justice to the sea-faring community. He did not understand why the seamen were left for so long outside the original Act. It was very remarkable that the right hon. Gentlemen the Member for West Birmingham had not insisted on seamen being included in the Compensation Act, because as far back as 1884 he introduced a Bill proposing to apply the Employers' Liability Act to seamen. He thought, therefore, he could rely on having the support of the right hon. Gentlemen.


He has changed since then.


said some of his hon. friends seemed to be sceptical on the point, but he wished to assure them that he had yet some confidence in the right hon. Gentleman, because he remembered one speech which the right hon. Gentleman delivered in 1884, in which he said he would never rest night or day until justice was done to the seamen. He, therefore, felt full of confidence and hope that having a Liberal Government in office and a good friend on the Conservative side of the House in the person of the right lion. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham the tide was running strongly in favour of the seafaring men, and that they would get this act of justice which had been fought for for so long. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out years ago, as a reference to Hansard would show, that one seaman out of every sixty-six met with a violent death on board ship. No other trade or occupation in the country could equal that. There were hundreds of unfortunate seamen crippled and maimed for life. Seamen were a class of men who had no home or habitation, and when misfortune befell them the only place of refuge was the poor-house, and the ratepayers had to pay for their accommodation; whereas, shipowners avoided rates, except on their offices. Let it not be supposed, however, that shipowners were opposed to seamen having the benefits of the Compensation Act. He believed there were in the House nineteen hon. Gentlemen representing shipping, and at least twelve of them were in favour of the seamen having the benefits of the Compensation Act He appealed to his right hon. friend to extend the Act to seamen on the same basis as it was applied to other workmen. One or two little clauses might be necessary to meet the case of ships and seamen, but there was no great difficulty in the way, and he did trust some measure of hope would be held out to seamen that justice would be done to them; and he was sure they and their wives, children, and relatives would bless the Government.

MR. BOTTOMLEY (Hackney, S.)

said he had been returned to the House of Commons by a London constituency with the largest majority in the metropolis to give an independent, and he trusted an intelligent, support to the Government. That mandate compelled him at this early stage to inquire how far the Government programme justified the hopes, expectations, and promises, upon the faith of which he, at least, was sent to Parliament. If the Government programme justified those hopes and expec- tations he recognised at once that his sole duty in this House was to be a loyal, dutiful, and orderly soldier in the Prime Minister's great army. If on the other hand it should appear to him that the programme fell short of those expectations, then he was confronted with the choice of two alternatives, one of which would be to tell his constituency that he had been deceived, and that he had innocently deceived them; and the other alternative would be to adopt the course of stepping in where angels feared to tread and endeavour to render a little practical assistance as a man of business and a man of affairs to His Majesty's Ministers, who appeared somewhat baffled at the problem of putting some of their promises into legislative shape. He felt compelled to adopt the latter attitude when he looked at the composition of the Ministry, and he hoped the two great legal luminaries to whom the financial trade interests of this country had been committed would not resent any assistance which the humblest supporter of the Government sitting in the remotest corner of the House was bold enough to offer. He wished to consider for a moment how far the promises made to his constituency wore likely to be fulfilled. Much discussion had taken place as to the exact issues upon which the recent election had been decided. Speaking for himself, and on behalf of a constituency fairly representative of the other metropolitan constituencies, he wished to state that the first and foremost of those issues was that of Chinese labour in the Transvaal. Secondly, there was the question of educational reform, then pensions for the aged poor, the question of the unemployed, fiscal reform, and the future government of Ireland. He happened to be one of those hon. Members guilty of the bad taste of publishing some of the cartoons to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had referred. Little did he know at that time that instead of depicting Chinese serfs in chains with their hands tied behind them he ought to have painted them basking in the glory of the electric light and disporting themselves in the luxury of a Turkish bath, and, that instead of being confined in compounds, every Chinese coolie should have been depicted as possessing three acres and a cow. He had no hesitation in saying that the Chinese labour Ordinance in South Africa had brought about a condition of things there contrary in every respect to the spirit and constitution of the government of this country. They had been told that economically the Ordinance was a failure. They knew that politically it was dangerous, but was it necessary to remind the House that morally it was a pestilence? How many Chinese women were there? With all respect and humility he urged the Government to give some attention to this matter when considering other modifications. The Prime Minister had told them that he would cut a short route to the solution of this question by giving the right to every one of these Chinese coolies to go home if for any reason he was dissatisfied with his lot. If that were a genuine promise it seemed to him that there was little else to argue about, except the moral aspect of the question to which he had referred. As a practical man he wished to ask how was the Chinese serf to have this right communicated to him? It certainly should not be left to the mine managers, but it should be embodied in a notice drawn up in this country, in the Chinese language, with the approval of the Chinese Ambassador, and it should be exhibited in every part of the mine, and in every compound in which the Chinese were confined. That was the only practical way in which they could give effect to the promise of the Prime Minister. He gathered that the Government had decided not only to concede this right to the Chinaman to return to his own country if he desired so to do, and to modify the punitive conditions, but he understood that the Government had also determined to stop all further importation of Chinese workmen into South Africa. In addition to this they were about to send a Commission out to South Africa to inquire into the question of the future electoral basis of self-government for those Colonies. He was quite satisfied with those promises, and the sooner they reached finality in this matter, and ceased to unsettle everything connected with this industry, the better it would be for all concerned. With regard to education, he was horrified to hear an hon. Member reintroduce the sectarian religious element into this controversy. An hon. Member had said, that if the principles of the Liberal Party were to be enforced, it meant a new religion for their primary schools. If the Government did not boldly tackle this subject in the light that the State was the secular parent of the child there would be a great deal of discussion and opposition to whatever measure might be introduced. It was no part of the duty of the State to undertake the religious teaching of the child. Just in proportion as sectarian discussions were introduced so would they be undermining the educational system, and if they insisted upon giving religious teaching it should be out of school hours. There were a good many aspects of the education question, but there was no indication in the King's Speech of the lines upon which the proposed measure would proceed, and therefore they must possess their souls in peace. With reference to old-age pensions it would be sheer hypocrisy for any hon. Member to deny the expectations which had been aroused in the minds of the electors upon this subject. He was bitterly disappointed at the admission of the Government that, whilst their sympathies were with this scheme, they could not find the means of giving it practical effect. He could not help thinking that it would have been better before arousing the expectations to which he had referred if the means of carrying them into legislative form had been considered. The statesman or politician who said that there was not the means at hand to provide a very substantial solution of this problem was unworthy of the title. Reference had been made to a graduated income-tax, and it had been stated that the mere interest on the South African war loan would have gone a long way towards solving this problem. If the Government had not the means to carry such a measure into effect what would they do if war broke out again? Would they say that they could not afford to fight? No, for the first thing they would tell them would be that they had the ships, they had men, and they had the money too. Therefore, he saw no practical difficulty in finding every man of sixty-five years of age and upwards a substantial pension to alleviate his old age. Were there no other sources of taxation open to them? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham was right in saying that the basis of taxation should be widened. Could they not obtain the opinion of the learned counsel who now represented the City of London as to whether there were any funds held by the City Guilds which belonged to the poor? Could they not tax the unearned increment for the benefit of the poor? Could they not tax racecourses and racehorses?

MR. CROOKS (Woolwich)

And bookmakers.


Yes, every bookmaker, every bachelor, and every motor car in the land and a thousand other things. There was some irony in the fact that they could coolly and deliberately go and spend £250,000,000 for the benefit of the English residents in the Transvaal and a mongrel crew of oriental and cosmopolitan financiers and plutocrats, and yet they were told that they could not find money for an old age pension scheme. When it was said that one of the principal promises on which the Liberal Party came into power was impossible of fulfilment because they had not the money, it naturally tempted men to cast a favourable eye on fiscal reform. If a Bill were introduced or a Resolution proposed by one of the Labour Members he would undertake that they would be able to indicate to the Chancellor of the Exchequer at least fifty ways in which he could obtain every penny required. The unemployed had also been a very important factor at the recent election. They had no indication of what the Government were going to do to improve the Unemployed Act. He looked in vain in the King's Speech for any reference to the promised appointment of the Royal Commission on canals to which a reference had been made. If a comprehensive system of reclaiming and reviving the waterways of England were undertaken, not only would they give employment to the unemployed for the next seven or ten years, but they would at the same time be assisting to solve the problem of cheap transport. With regard to fiscal reform, he did not hail with as much satisfaction as some hon. Members on that side the reference in the King's Speech to the present condition of exports and imports. The only real test of the prosperity of a country was the condition of its people. The Government would have done better not to trouble themselves about fallacious statistics of imports and exports, but to endeavour to look into the kernel of our social system and try to find a solution of the problem with which we were confronted. Whilst, in one sense, this was the richest country in the world, on the other hand, one-third of our population were living on the verge of starvation. If the right hon. Member for West Birmingham or any one else could hold out the slightest hope of a remedy for that state of things, instead of availing themselves of every opportunity of throwing obloquy upon the right hon. Gentleman, they would best be discharging their duty by examining any proposals which he or anybody else might propose. He trusted, however, that the Government would find some solution for the present social evils less calculated to disturb the industries of the world than the tariff proposals of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. With regard to the Irish question it was hypocrisy to pretend that they had not raised some idea that they had entered upon a new era in regard to this question. They were told that they were going to solve the Irish question by instalments. He came to the House with that conviction, but after listening to the magnetic speech of the Leader of the Irish Party, he almost regretted that he had committed himself to a policy of instalments, because the time had come for removing this blot upon our social system right at our very door. He would suggest that if the Irish Party accepted this compromise and agreed to a settlement by instalments they should insert the usual default clause to the effect that in the event of failure in regard to one instalment the whole should become due. Upon this, matter he for one was prepared to take the plunge. In conclusion, he wished to say that in making these somewhat rambling observations—for if that was not the privilege of a debate on the Address he utterly failed to understand the meaning, of what had been going on for the past, two days—he was only voicing the aspirations of a democratic constituency which was tired of that spurious form of democracy which simply claimed the right to fraternise upon terms of equality with our social superiors; he was actuated by no other desire than to bring whatever ability and experience he possessed to the loyal support of a Ministry which, was pledged to bring about the reforms he had referred to, and if he made the interests of the poor and lowly his first concern it was because he felt that in this way he was not only best serving his country, but was at the same time best proving his loyalty and devotion to His Majesty—his person, his empire, and his throne.

MR. MADDISON (Burnley)

said he had listened with mixed feelings to the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. The hon. Member had told them that he was an independent Member of this House. As a supporter of the Government he hoped they would have his independence rather than his loyalty.




Because the hon. Member had, in flippant language, treated the fiscal question as an open one. He had told the House that if certain other things failed he should fall back on fiscal reform. He had treated the question which had agitated the country lately as a light matter and as one of no concern.


I said that failing any of the measures I referred to, men might almost be tempted to turn to tariff reform.


said that nothing had been more significant during the debate on the Address than the failure of the Protectionist Members opposite to avail themselves of the convenient opportunity given to them to show that they had a remedy for the many evils which abounded. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Sheffield could only refer to two strongholds of Protection. One was Birmingham. For his own part, he did not grudge the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham any credit he could take from having a commanding influence in that great city. Sheffield had been referred to as the other stronghold. Were hon. Members aware that in Sheffield there was an actual majority of Free Trade votes recorded? Another significant feature was that there were over fifty workmen in the House, and though, without doubt, there would be some subjects on which they would differ as friends, there was not among them a single Protectionist Member. One moral of the elections was that the working classes of this country distrusted entirely the policy of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. No one could be in public life without being deluged by proposals for remedying unemployment; but of all the mad proposals, those with least reason in them were the proposals associated with the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. The right hon. Gentleman started badly, because there was not a statesman living who was more distrusted by the great mass of organised workmen than he was. That was no doubt very hurtful to his cause. The working classes knew that his proposals were impossible on his own showing without the taxation of food. He was quite aware of the ingenious way in which the right hon. Gentleman adjusted the balance so as to make it appear that the carrying out of his proposals would only cost a farthing per week, but the taxation of food was there, and the instinct was not wrong which impelled the working men to resist the taxation of food. He was not a political economist, but he was sure it was sound economics to keep taxes off the necessaries of life. Such taxes made it harder for the working man to live. Consequently, there would be depression, and that would prevent working men from being such factors in production as they otherwise would be. What had the textile operatives—whose representatives he was delighted to be associated with in this House—seen? Whilst they had stood up for their rights against their employers they had realised that it was possible to increase the cost of production and so restrict the market without benefiting the workman. Taxation of food did that. So long as the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham rested in any degree on the taxation of food, they were doomed to ignominious failure. Protection was parochialism gone mad. Free trade was a great peace-maker. By free trade they meant free imports. Let there be no quibbling about words. In the Address there were references to unemployment. Of all the distressing conditions of our social and economic state, nothing was more deplorable than that men, willing and able to work, should yet be unable to get work. The working classes were not so lost to sense as to suppose that they would improve their position by taxing goods, and so restricting the demand for them. He was glad to see at the head of the Local Government Board a man in whom some of his friends had a pride which it was difficult to express. The right hon. Gentleman's heart throbbed true to the great masses of the people from whom he came and among whom he still remained. He was sure the right hon. Gentleman would attempt no flighty experiments. The means specially devised for the relief of unemployment generally did the least good. The unemployed could not be helped except by something which increased the general wealth of the country. To find mere work was not to solve the difficulty; and he hoped the terrible waste of public money for unproductive purposes would cease. In the course of the debate the hon. Member for the Wirral division of Cheshire, a great employer of labour, and the hon. Member for the Blackfriars division of Glasgow, a great trade union leader, had united in very nearly the same terms in asking the Government and the House not to give old-age pensions tomorrow—they were too wise for that—but to regard this as an urgent and not an academic question—a work for practical statesmanship on the path of ordered reform. He deeply regretted that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil had towards the end of his speech made a dogmatic statement which he himself believed he should carry Members with him in repudiating. The hon. Member has said that three sides of the House were under the control of men whose pocket interests were diametrically opposed to those of the working classes; and that it was essential that there should be one section of the House who represented the workers, the poor, and those who had hitherto been without friends. He took it that one of those sections was the Party led by the hon. Member for Waterford. He did not believe that that Party was controlled and tenanted by men chiefly dominated by their pocket interests. In the weary days of Opposition the Radicals never had more stalwart friends than the Irish Members when they were attacking powerful vested interests. The other section referred to was that appar- ently led by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. He would not like to say that even about them, although their policy very often approached that description. The remaining section was the Liberal section. The Member for Merthyr Tydvil must clearly understand that he, and those who sat with him, had no monopoly of interest in the poor—had no special mandate to represent the poor—and no exclusive possession of independent action for the poor. Independence was a word almost as badly misused as liberty. We were at the beginning of a new Parliament. The Government was led by a statesman who in the dreary days of Opposition had remained faithful. He had shown his faith in the only way it could be shown—by his works in the King's Speech—and he asked hon. Members led by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil not to make invidious distinctions, but to judge men by what they did, and by how they voted. Then together they would achieve some little. It was only a little that Parliaments could do. The great forces that made men were largely outside of Parliament altogether, but that little should be done as well as possible.