§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House at its rising this day do adjourn until Thursday, the 7th June."— (Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said there were one or two points which he wished to raise before the House adjourned for the holidays. The first was with reference to the policy of putting down Bills for Second Reading, or for the Committee stage, on the day on which the House was to rise for the holidays. In recent years, he believed, there had been Bills introduced under the ten minutes rule on the day the House was to adjourn, but he could not imagine a worse precedent than that which had been set this afternoon —that of putting down before the Motion for the adjournment Bills in regard to which they could not tell whether they would turn out controversial or not, and thus curtailing the time available for the general discussion, which was one of the most valuable privileges of the House. The whole course and trend of House of Commons rules in recent years had been in the direction of curtailing liberties previously enjoyed by private Members; certainly this had taken place, and he believed it had been necessary. The happy days when a Member was free to make a speech in presenting a petition, or to deal with important subjects on a question of snuffing candles, had long gone by, and really there only remained these two or three occasions in the whole session when a Member, could, untrammelled, discuss any question he liked. He pressed on the Government and the House that this liberty, which did no harm, and did not interfere with the conduct of public business, should be left untouched by His Majesty's present advisers. He was surprised at the suggestion that a Bill should be taken before the House came to the question of adjournment. He did not wish to reopen the controversy that arose at Question time, or to say anything that would embitter discussion; but was it not obvious that all that had been done that day might have been done the day before if Members of the Government then present had adopted the tone of the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the 440 Bill? It would have been a happy thing for the House if that had occurred, if for no other reason than that it would have prevented the Patronage Secretary from using language which was wholly unjustified, and which he would have thought any man in the House [Cries of "Oh, oh," "Order"] — he was perfectly in order — any man in the House would have rejoiced to have the chance of explaining or withdrawing. The hon. Gentleman had done neither. He did not feel much the worse for it, but he did think worse of the hon. Gentleman himself. [Cries of "Oh, oh," "Order."]
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Sir H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN, Stirling Burghs)
reminded the right hon. Gentleman that his hon. friend rose to make a further statement to the House upon his position —to which he adhered entirely—but he was stopped as being out of order.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said the hon. Gentleman was out of order then, but he would be in order now. If the hon. Gentleman desired to qualify or withdraw anything he had said, or to re-enforce it, he would be at liberty to do so later in the debate, but that was his affair. He had done all he could to carry on what used to be the practice of the House, and, if he had failed, the failure was not at his expense, but at that of others who might have set the whole matter right with a few simple words. But this did not touch the broad question of the course the Government had chosen to pursue. Another matter of a different character was of even more importance from the point of view of the day-to-day working of the Parliamentary system. He was unable to be present when the new rule was passed for abolishing an interval for dinner, and he would not now discuss it, but there was one aspect of it to be taken into account. The rule, passed while he was Leader of the House, allowing an interval of an hour and a half—he would not defend the rule, though there was much to be said for it— made meeting at an earlier hour necessary; but not only had the Government gone beyond the rule recommended by their 441 own Committee—of course, a Government was not bound by such a recommendation—but the new rule did throw a heavy burden on the House and interfered with the conduct of public affairs. Let them take, for instance, the Education Bill—a difficult and controversial Bill, which like all such Bills could only be properly steered with one man in charge of it. Delegation up to a certain point was no doubt possible, but the amount of delegation was strictly limited, and the Minister in charge must be present, if possible, during the discussion of all important Amendments. He did not believe there was a more zealous or hard-working Member of the Administration than the Minister for Education. He had sat in the House hour after hour with all the attentive zeal that could have been expected from him; but all men must dine—[An HON. MEMBER: Why?] —even Ministers must dine—and it might be that a Minister, under his impression as to the course of business, might prolong his dinner to an inconvenient length; but how was it possible either for the Minister, or those who took a keen interest in a measure, to be present at all important phases of a debate if literally no interval at all was allowed for obtaining bodily sustenance? He pressed upon the Prime Minister that he should modify the severity of the present regulation [Cries of" No."] Hon. Gentleman who said "No" probably had not had to conduct a difficult Bill through the House. The strain and labour was prodigious, and if in addition to the inevitable strain the unfortunate Minister in charge, and, to a lesser degree, those who held a watching brief in Opposition, had to carry on their anxious work with no fixed hour for a hasty meal, much would be done to break down the health of those chiefly concerned and to militate against effective work in the House. He did not ask the Government to reverse the policy of their rule or to revert to the double sitting with one and a half hour's interval, but he asked them to go back to the older system, or something resembling it. Their Committee, if he remembered rightly, recommended a fixed interval of half an hour during which those who were obliged to be in attendance in the work 442 of the House could get a hasty, but, no doubt, adequate meal. He had frequently found that the opposition to the dinner hour came from Gentlemen who themselves invariably went home to dinner and did not come back till it suited them. He would earnestly press the Government in their own interest and that of the House, in the first place, to form in their own mind a complete scheme of the new rules by which they desired the proceedings of the House to be governed, and, in the second place, to take the House into their confidence as to what their scheme was. When the late Government endeavoured to make certain changes, most of which he imagined would remain a permanent part of the Parliamentary machinery, they laid the whole scheme before the House and had a Second Reading discussion upon it. Only in that way could they see the mutual relations of the various parts of any scheme. Every proposition could not be considered in isolation. They could not deal with one method of shortening their labours without considering how it affected the whole business of the House. They were dealing with a very complicated instrument, and they ought to know whence they cams and whither they went, and what the whole idea of the Government was in modifying the Standing Orders. He had listened to the statement of the Secretary of State for War about the supposed reduction in the Artillery with very great pleasure. He was very glad that the right hon. Gentleman was able to give an absolute contradiction to the unauthorised rumour. Whatever might be said about the reduction of large parts of our Army system, he earnestly hoped there would be no reduction in any part of the system which could not be rapidly reversed. They might drill a man and make him a competent soldier certainly in two years. They could not get an efficient Artillery in two years. It could not be done. Like the staff and the regimental officers, the Artillery could not be improvised, could not be made straight off. Therefore, any reduction in this costly but also necessary element in our war system must be made in connection with the whole scheme of the Army, including the Militia and the Volunteers 443 and the whole of the organised military forces. Indeed, he would rather encourage the Secretary for War in his desire not to embark on any new scheme until he had had a much longer period for thinking it out, and, above all, not to attempt to touch by way of reduction any branch of the service which, if they destroyed, they could not renew except under long years of strenuous work and great expenditure, and which, therefore, would not be renewed until the necessity arose; and when the necessity arose it would probably be too late. He did not give the Government this warning in any controversial spirit. His right hon. friend knew how deeply he felt upon the subject of the Army and the necessity of keeping up adequate Regular forces, if our diplomacy was to be successful and peaceful. He hoped that any scheme of Army reform which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for War or his advisers projected would be maturely considered and that the House should have full opportunity of discussing it in all its bearings before steps were taken which could never be subsequently recalled.
§ *MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said that the Government of which he was a Member did endeavour to do something for the unemployed; and he hoped the hon. Gentleman would press on his successors to do something more.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said he was glad to acknowledge that the tone of the right hon. Gentleman's comments upon the recent changes in the rules of the House left nothing to be desired. The right hon. Gentleman was a great master of the subject; no one was better acquainted with the history of it; and it was with much regret they found themselves without the advantage of the presence and assistance of the right hon. Gentleman when the matter was under review a few weeks ago. They regretted his absence at that time and the cause of it. With regard to the question of the dinner hour, he hoped he did not come under the animadversion 444 which the right hon. Gentleman passed upon some Members of the House who were always willing to give away the liberty of others while securing a large liberty for themselves, who, like the celebrated captain—Fled full soon on the First of June,And bade the rest keep fighting.He admitted that the abolition of the dinner hour was a rather severe rule. Of course, if it was found to be too severe it would be easy to introduce a little relaxation, but in the meantime, he thought, if they could, it was well to adhere to the uninterrupted sitting. The bulk of ordinary Members could adjust the yoke to their neck, but he admitted that the weak point in the arrangement was the hardship imposed on the Minister in charge of a Bill, who must remain in his place. He thought his right hon. friend the Minister for Education was looking rather pale from lack of proper refreshment while the Education Bill was under consideration. He thought they had better leave the matter where it was, but if human nature could not stand the strain then they could make some slight modification in the rule. It was said that the whole scheme should be in possession of the House, but he did not quite see that. It was true that there were certain rules which were dependent upon certain other rules, but they could be adapted to each, other without any such great alteration as was asked for. One principle must be accepted if this House was to do the work which it was asked to undertake, and that was that more work should be done by Committees and that less should be done by the House itself. He believed that the present system was not the best that could be arranged, and involved a great waste of power. That conclusion was forced upon them when they saw the House sitting in Committee on a comparatively unimportant Bill and drawing upon that time which might be better employed upon other subjects. He thought that a movement of that kind would be most desirable and the system prevailed in other countries. He thought that the energies of the House itself sitting as a House should be reserved for the consideration of great questions of public policy. The-consideration of Bills in Committee of 445 the Whole House was not of immemorial usage. On the contrary, it came at a later period. It was a waste of power to set the Whole House sitting in Committee to the consideration of the details of comparatively unimportant Bills. The House should confine itself to the great principles which should underlie legislation, leaving the details of such legislation to Committees sitting upstairs. It was with that object in view that the Government had submitted to the Procedure Committee certain proposals for increasing the number of Standing Committees and giving larger powers to their chairmen. That, he thought, was a matter which the House could deal with separately, and the House would have the opportunity of considering it after the Whitsuntide holiday. Another important point was the manner of taking divisions. His right hon. friend the First Commissioner of Works had formed a plan for accelerating divisions, and was now ready to explain it to the House.
§ SIR CHAELES DILKE (Gloucestershire, Forest of Dean)
asked whether the Secretary for War intended to give an answer to the Question of the Leader of the Opposition as to his scheme of Army reform.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
said his right hon. friend the Secretary for War had left the House, thinking that it was not necessary that he should say anything, as the Leader of the Opposition had expressed satisfaction with the Answer he had given to a Question on the subject. But opportunity would be afforded for raising the subject next week on the War Office Vote.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (MR. HARCOURT,) Lancashire, Rossendale
said he was directed a short time ago by the Cabinet to devise some new method of taking divisions. He approached the subject with three principal objects in view—the shortening of the time; the avoidance of structural alterations, as far as possible; and the minimum of departure from the traditional method of dividing the House. He had a great antipathy to the use of 446 any mechanical contrivance. He had an equal antipathy to any approach to secrecy in taking the votes of the House. The whole basis of his scheme was that the process of the voting should begin from the time that the question was pat from the Chair the second time, and that during the whole of the division the Chamber should remain open. When a division was challenged the Speaker, instead of saying, as at present, "Strangers will withdraw," would say, "Clear the lobby." Strangers would not be turned out of the seats under the gallery; but the lobby outside would be cleared of strangers. After the lapse of two minutes the Speaker would put the Question the second time, naming the tellers, and the counting would immediately commence. There would be another interval of four minutes, when by direction of the Speaker the doors giving access to the two lobbies would be locked. That meant that all the Members taking part in a division would have found their way into the lobbies in six minutes. In each lobby there would be three recording clerks instead of two, so that the names of Members voting would be taken more quickly and there would be a more rapid stream of Members towards the tellers who counted them as they passed through the exit doors. That was the whole process, which would be tried, experimentally, for a few weeks after Whitsuntide. It was quite clear that under the scheme there was the possibility of what he would call "plural voting." A Member could vote in his own name both "Aye" and "No" in the same division. But that would indicate a state of mind which he hoped would be as uncommon as it was undesirable. It was clear that a Member could not vote twice in his own name, but it would be possible, he admitted, for him to vote once in his own name and once in the name of some other hon. Member. That, however, would be such a grave fraud and such a breach of the honourable obligations that existed between Members, that he could not suppose that such a breach of Parliamentary law would happen. There was one other obvious difficulty, which was that while there would be no difficulty in the exit of Members from the "No" lobby, because the door behind Mr. Speaker's chair, which would give 447 access to the library without hon. Members crossing the floor of the House, would remain open, the exit from the "Aye" lobby might become somewhat congested by the fact that those who were leaving would come into contact with the stream of Members coming in. The exit would not be so congested as at present, because there would be the interval of six minutes instead of two in which Members could find their way to the House. In the event of serious inconvenience being felt he would suggest that hon. Members leaving the "Aye" lobby should turn with the incoming stream into the House until the congestion had been relieved. He saw a way of obviating that congestion, but not before the Autumn recess. It had for a long time been regarded as impossible to open a door into the lobby near the Post Office, but he had found a way in which that could be done. He would abolish the Peers' staircase to the gallery and ask the Peers to share with hon. Members a staircase from the top of which a door would open into their gallery. Having abolished the Peers' staircase a direct exit from the "Aye" lobby into the lobby would be made through the new service door he proposed to drive at that point. At the same time he would be able to make a much needed improvement in the quarters of the telegraphic staff.
§ MR. HARCOURT
said he would not like to prophecy what the actual saving would be, but there would be a great saving to individual Members. No doors would ever be locked in the House, except, for the first two minutes interval, the tellers' doors and after six minutes the four doors leading from the House to the lobby. All the other doors would remain open. He asked the House when they resumed after the Whitsuntide recess to give this system a fair, a friendly trial, and if it did not prove the success he hoped, he could assure the House that no pride on his part would prevent him from seeking some other solution. He thought it right to take this opportunity of thanking all the officials of the 448 House and expressing his appreciation for their kindly and courteous asssistance.
§ *MR. BARNES (Glasgow, Blackfriars)
said he rose to call attention to a question of urgent and public importance, namely, the question of unemployment of large numbers of the industrial population throughout the length and breadth of the land. He made no complaint of the President of the Local Government Board in his personal capacity. His complaint was that the right hon. Gentleman's promise to introduce a Bill to deal with this question had not been fulfilled. Four months had passed since the pledge was given, and in spite of the utterances of the right hon. Gentleman he ventured to say, allowing for the opening up of the weather, which always conduced to greater employment, the question of the unemployed was just as acute now as it was four months ago. The right hon. Gentleman had been good enough to say a Bill would be introduced this session. So far as it went there could be no complaint with that, but they wanted some definite assurance that that Bill would not only be introduced but introduced in sufficient time to enable time to be given for its consideration, so that it could be made effective and serviceable for dealing with the distress which many of them believed would be upon us this next winter. In the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman himself, and in the opinion of all reasonably minded men and women throughout the country, the Act of last year greatly needed amendment. He was well within the mark when he said that about eight times as many men had registered their names in books provided for that purpose as had been found work. The Act did not, either, in an effective way embody the principle of national as against local responsibility and control in regard to this matter. He submitted that large industrial centres like Leeds and Glasgow, which were steeped in poverty and submerged with municipal burdens of all sorts, were not in a position to deal effectively with their many unemployed and should not be asked to deal with them. As a plea for the Bill's not being introduced they were told there was no hurry; that the number of unemployed was less. Only to-day they had heard that the number of 449 paupers in a certain district was less than last year. Since he had taken an interest in political matters he had become accustomed to hear these optimistic stories from right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench, but he was afraid they were not true. Had it been so the pauper would ere now have ceased from troubling and the wicked unemployed agitator been at rest. He admitted that unemployment was less at the present moment than it had been; that the staple trades were fairly prosperous. But there was one aspect of this question which had not been given the attention it deserved, namely, that the economic conditions of the present time tended to throw out large masses of men not affected by the figures at all. Large numbers of men were being thrown off the land by the landlords, and there were other large unorganised bodies of people to whom it was poor comfort to be told that there was plenty of work in the staple trades and that therefore they ought to be content. Attention had been called to the fact that a very large demonstration of workmen promenaded the streets recently and passed certain resolutions in Hyde Park. But there was more remarkable evidence as to the number of unemployed in the Board of Trade figures compiled from the returns of the Trade Unions. They showed that the unemployed were 4 per cent. of the industrial population. That meant that out of an industrial population of 10,000,000, 400,000 were unable to find work. The calculation was based on returns from skilled trades, many of which protected themselves. Probably the actual number of unemployed at the present moment in this country was nearly double 400,000. He would not say they were all able to work or willing to work, but, at all events, there were 800,000 people who might probably be trained to work if the Local Government Board and the other responsible departments would exert their efforts in that direction. Some of the unemployed he admitted were unemployable — to the greater discredit of Governments, Liberal and Tory, who up to now had actually acquiesced in a condition of things by which large masses of people had 450 been subject to that process of deterioration which came from idleness. Recognising that some of them might be unemployable, the Labour Party asked the Government to take steps to reclaim them, if possible; and, above all, to stop the draining of the country districts, and to stop many of those other processes at work which tended to create large masses of helpless and hopeless people. He and other hon. Members sitting near him were bombarded from day to day by letters from their constituents and from all sorts of societies and semi-public bodies urging them to take action in this matter. As to the remedies the Labour Party had to propose, he quite apprehended that they might have laid themselves open to the charge of having urged the Government to do something whilst they themselves were not prepared to point out what that something should be. He would first remind the House that they were not yet in office. If they were he thought they would have shown a little more alacrity in tackling the matter, whatever their remedies might be. But he quite admitted that if they were going to criticise the Government for inaction they ought to throw out some idea at least as to the steps that were necessary to be taken. He would submit to the President of the Local Government Board that he should call a conference of all those Governmental authorities that could contribute anything in a direct way to the solution of this problem. There were the bodies concerned with the questions of re-afforestation, erosion of the sea-coast, and canals. There was also an authority which had been entrusted with some power in regard to afforestation. If the right hon. Gentleman would call a conference of all those authorities and suggest any practical step as a result, it would do something to allay public anxiety and satisfy some who thought that everything was not being done towards a solution of this matter that ought to be done. Then there was the Amendment of the Act of last year. He did not wish to hold back from the Leader of the Opposition and the late Government all the credit due to them for having passed that Act. Whatever might be the defects of its machinery, it recognised for the first time 451 Governmental responsibility for an acute social problem. The Labour Party desired that that Act should be amended. They were willing to take the Act with all its defects as the basis upon which something better and more substantial could be built. It was a mere skeleton. Let them put flesh and blood upon it. For instance, they asked that the power originally in the Bill to enable local authorities to pay wages out of public funds should be re-inserted. Some said that if that were done greater evils would accrue than those they dealt with. That was a very abstruse economic consideration. A great deal more might be said for than against it. Thousands in West Ham and other places were starving for want of employment, and that being so, he was quite willing to allow the working out of the policy of saddling the local authorities with the burden of paying wages out of local rates to be settled by the logic of events. The question of unemployment, however, was far too large to be dealt with adequately by the local authorities. It was a problem which West Ham, for instance, had to deal with because it was so close to London. Its close proximity to London attracted to it large numbers of people from the agricultural districts, and although London benefited as the result, it contributed nothing out of its immense resources and wealth to help West Ham as it ought to do. This question was not merely one for local treatment, but also one for the Government. He put in a plea in the hope that something might be done in time for next winter. He knew it was a big subject, and that the Government had immense difficulties to face. That was no reason why the subject should not be tackled. He appealed, then, to the President of the Local Government Board not to have regard to improved conditions only as affording a reason for delay, but to have regard to that fact as giving him a period of comparative calm in which he could deal with this matter, and not to leave it, as it had been left so often before, until acute crises were forced upon them. Let the right hon. Gentleman deal with the matter at the present time, when the prosperity of the staple trades of the country 452 was such that help and hope could be given to many thousands of their poverty-stricken fellow citizens outside this House.
§ MR. WALTERS (Sheffield, Brightside)
did not think that a partial or even a substantial revival of trade would really effectively deal with the phase of this question which was the most difficult one for local authorities. The real problem consisted in the undue proportion of unskilled workmen. During the acute depression of 1904 something like 85 per cent, of the unemployed workmen were unskilled. At Leicester to-day they were working full time and even overtime. The manufacturers were so busy that they could not execute orders. And yet at the same time the Leicester workhouse was overcrowded with men who were out of employment, and there were hundreds, almost thousands, in Leicester who were unable to obtain employment. What was the reason of this? It was because a very large proportion of those people were labourers. They were not shoemakers or hosiery makers. There was an immense number of men in that city who had not been trained to any industry, and he believed they would find that to be the case in every large town. The fact was that our industries had been passing through a transition stage. We had been putting down machinery and thus reducing the number of unskilled men needed. And we were contributing to that difficulty at the other end of the scale. We were turning out tens of thousands of boys from the elementary schools with a smattering of more or less useless information, who became errand boys, and then casual labourers, and finally drifted into the ranks of the unskilled and unemployable workmen. However great might be the revival of our staple industries, the problem of the employment of the unskilled would become more serious year by year. He believed we should have to return to the system of apprenticeship and entirely revise our elementary school methods by making the local education authorities and the State responsible for the apprenticeship of every boy to a trade and turning him out at eighteen or nineteen years of age thoroughly equipped to take his place in the ranks of industry. 453 In that way a vast mass of unskilled and unproductive workmen would be removed and replaced by competent skilled workmen able to take their place in the industrial development of the country. They would never solve this question if they left it to the local authorities. It was no solution to say, "There are so many thousand labourers unable to find employment; you must find them temporary relief works." They might raise subscriptions and be permitted by law to spend money out of the local rates in order to find temporary employment, but the following year the problem would be just as acute. Therefore they must not approach this question with mere palliatives, but must attempt to deal with it in an effective manner. They would have to depart from their recognised economic laws and pay a large sum of money for the neglect of former years. During the transition of industry and the displacement of labour by machinery and from other causes they had created a large class of unemployed, and they were now paying the penalty for breaking nature's laws. They had in the past been neglecting the boys and girls and the men and women of this country, and the sooner they faced the problem the better. They would have to put aside temporarily their sound economic doctrines and be prepared out of the National Exchequer to provide the money necessary for the purpose of putting an end to all this misery and suffering. It would be far more humane to take these thousands of unskilled workmen, who were constantly tramping from town to city and from city to town in the vain effort to find employment, to Salisbury Plain and shoot them rather than allow the present system to continue. If Parliament was not prepared to do that then they must intervene and deal with them and try to find them employment. Some argued that they should be put upon the land. He had himself for twenty-five years been associated with the land as a practical agriculturist, and therefore he did not take such a glowing and optimistic view as some people. Although he did not think if they took 1,000 artisans from Leicester, Sheffield, or London, and put them on the land that the venture would make a profit or even pay, they could at 454 least turn those men from unemployable shattered bits of humanity into men, by the expenditure of money and employing them on the land. In that way they would be able to build up their manhood, restore their physical and moral vigour, and thus give them a chance of once more getting back into the ordinary ranks of industry. They had a great problem to face and they must face it courageously and bravely. They must realise that they had made colossal blunders in the past, and they were entitled to ask the Liberal Government to break away from their traditional practice in this matter and to spend a few millions on creating men and women out of the shattered hulks of humanity. They were entitled to expect that this Government would have the courage, enterprise, sagacity and determination to deal with this most serious state of things, under which thousands and tens of thousands of men and women were living in poverty, misery and wretchedness, and do something to work out for them a real social salvation.
§ MR. THORNE (West Ham, S.)
said they were all very much surprised that the Government had not thought it worth while to introduce a Bill dealing with the unemployed problem. Why was it that the Chief Secretary for Ireland could get £4,250,000 for building 25,000 cottages for Irish labourers, while the President of the Local Government Board could get, nothing for the unemployed? A good deal of discussion had taken place about the number of men out of employment. In his own district a committee had been established for a long time, and there were now 4,782 men on the unemployed register. In reply to a question the President of the Local Government Board had stated that there were 4,000 less paupers in West Ham than there were twelve months ago. He would give the House some figures he had been furnished with by the secretary to the board of guardians. For the year ending March, 1904, the number of poor people relieved in West Ham were in-door 3,584, out-door 11,132; for 1905, in-door 3,692, out-door 15,840; and for 1906, in-door-3,830, out-door 17,929, showing an increase of 6,000 over the number in 1904. Those were the figures which had 455 been given to him by the secretary to the West Ham Union. He did not know where the President of the Local Government Board got his figures from.
§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. JOHN BURNS,) Battersea
From the same source.
§ MR. THORNE
said that that seemed somewhat singular. During the last year the municipality had absolutely refused to do anything for the unemployed. The amount spent in 1902–3 to relieve the unemployed before the Act was passed was £22,202, in 1903–4 £4,942, 1904–5 £22,412, and 1905–6 under the Act £5,645, making a total in four years of £55,201. That proved what a tremendous number of men were out of employment in West Ham through no fault of their own. At the two Thames iron works, one of which was in West Ham and the other in Greenwich, less than 1,000 men were now employed, although when in full swing the works employed 4,000. The President of the Local Government Board had said that the building trade was improving. It might be quite true that the painting trade had improved during the last two months, but it was only temporary. He thought the Government ought to do something immediately to relieve the misery and suffering which existed in all the large industrial centres. The President of the Local Government Board was absolutely opposed to farm colonies, although the colony they had adopted in West Ham had built up a large number of men. Something would have to be done to meet the immense displacement of labour due to the introduction of scientific methods in all the great industries. The question would have to be tackled, and unless the Government grappled with it the people would have to grapple with it themselves. As the late Prime Minister had said, there was a limit to human endurance; as far as he was concerned he was willing, if the Government did not 456 do anything, to advise the unemployed to take the line of action suggested by the President of the Local Government Board in 1886—namely, to go and help themselves. The Government in 1886 absolutely refused to do anything for the unemployed until that happened. If a few windows were broken no doubt there would be more done, and the Government would recognise that it was their duty to do something on behalf of the people who were starving throughout the country. He hoped the Government would introduce their Bill at the earliest possible date, because, unless they did so and gave it every possible facility, there was no chance of its being passed this session, and when the winter came round the localities would not be able to deal with the question at all. A circular, dated May 26th, had been sent out by the Local Government Board to the local authorities asking for information in regard to the work of the Distress Committees. The secretary of one of the Distress Committees had shown him a copy of it this morning. That circular called for returns to be made to the Local Government Board by June 9th, but it was impossible for the local authorities in two weeks to tabulate all the information which was asked. He thought that the circular had been sent out weeks ago, but nothing appeared to have been done until a little stir took place recently in regard to the unemployed.
§ MR. A. DEWAR (Edinburgh, S.)
said his hon. friend behind him had a thorough grasp of this subject, and he had given him some real light in regard to it. He doubted whether his hon. friend had given sufficient, importance to the land question in relation to the problem of the unemployed. He himself regarded land monopoly as largely responsible for the unemployed condition of labour in this country. To the freedom of land, he thought, they must ultimately look for relief. He asked the House to consider where men went to escape from the poverty of our well-organised country, with its enormous wealth, palaces, churches and schools. Men turned their backs on the poverty here and went right away to the Far West. If one chanced 457 to visit a community of that description two conditions would be found—land was cheap and labour was dear. Land might be had for nothing, and labour could not be had for love or money. Away in the Far West if a man desired to have his boots blacked he must do it himself. It was in this country, where land was retailed at so much per square yard or square foot, that unemployed was found. The poorer the population the dearer the land, and the more acute the unemployed problem. His hon. friend doubted whether the putting of the people back on the land would cure the evil. He himself agreed that at this time of day it would probably be difficult to get them back on the land, but if they were put back he thought there was sufficient evidence to show that it would largely settle this problem. In February, 1905, the then Colonial Secretary commissioned Mr. Rider Haggard to go to America to inquire into the condition of the Salvation Army colonists in Colorado. He was struck by the facts contained in Mr. Haggard's report. The Salvation Amy, he reported, about seven years ago purchased two large estates of several thousand acres; they put on these estates in small holdings, not agriculturists, not men with a little wealth, not men accustomed even to the tilling of the soil necessarily, but unemployed and penniless people who were found in the slums of large towns. The Salvation Army gave them land at £20 an acre repayable at £1 per year; they gave these people implements and stock, the price of which was spread over a period of five years. Mr. Rider Haggard reported that he interviewed every one of these colonists and he gave an account of their income. He also reported that he examined the Salvation Army books, and that he found that on the average the settlers were worth sums varying from £200 to £400. That money had been made since they settled there, and they had over and above discharged their obligations to the Salvation Army and others.
MR. BUEDETT-COUTTS (Westminster)
In a protected country.
§ MR. A. DEWAR
The report reads like a fairy tale, and I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman should express surprise.
§ MR. A. DEWAR
said he was obliged to the hon. Gentleman for the interruption. He would deal in a moment with the question of protection. In the meantime his point was that these people who went out in a state of destitution had, according to Mr. Haggard's report, succeeded in these holdings. The hon. Member opposite said that that was in a protected country. He would give an illustration in a non-protected country. It occurred to the present Secretary for Scotland that it was strange that Denmark should be agriculturally so much more prosperous than Scotland. Denmark, as the hon. Member knew, so far as agriculture was concerned, was an absolutely free trade country. It had half the area and half the population of Scotland, and its climate was not so good as that of Scotland, and yet while the agriculturists of Denmark were prosperous, those of Scotland were not, or, at all events, not so prosperous as they would like to be though they regarded themselves as quite equal to the Danes. The Secretary for Scotland sent a deputation to Denmark, composed not of ardent land reformers, but of farmers, landlords and factors—quite a representative body. The deputation reported that rather less than eighty years ago, Denmark was in the condition Scotland was in now. High rents and low prices, and migration from the country to the towns so alarmed statesmen that they started legislation for the purpose of bringing the people back to the country, and small holdings were set up. The result was that most of the farmers were absolutely prosperous, they owned their own holdings, and they sent over to this country every year £17,000,000 worth of butter, bacon, and eggs. There were 7,000,000 acres of land lying derelict in this country. Protection could not be credited with the prosperity of Denmark. Surely it must be security of tenure. He 459 knew that the cry "Back to the land" came loudest from the owners of derelict farms. But the question was—On what terms? Were people to be asked to go back to the land so that in times of prosperity the rent went up, and in times of prosperity it did not come down? That was the record of the past. There was no hope of getting the people back to the land so long as that system obtained. The position of the agricultural labourer in this country did not compare favourably with that of the labourer in Denmark, or of the Salvation Army colonist in America. The best he could hope for was that he might be able to save enough to pay his doctor's bill. He knew that the President of the Local Government Board did not require any advice or stimulus in this matter. He hoped and believed that the right hon. Gentleman would not only apply the much needed palliative recommended by the hon. Member for South West Ham, but that he would go to the root of the matter, which, in his opinion, was the land.
§ MR. KEIR HARDIE (Merthyr Tydvil)
expressed his sympathy with the speech of the hon. Member for South Edinburgh, and also with that of the hon. Member for the Brightside Division. He was certain that if only a larger proportion of our youth learned a trade under the old apprenticeship system, one inevitable outcome would be an almost immediate reduction of the hours of labour to eight per day. That itself would have considerable effect on the unemployed question. Now, as to the general question. There was a general assumption that because trade was improving there was no great urgency for dealing with the unemployed difficulty. But according to the returns published recently the number of skilled workers who were receiving assistance was 3.8 per cent., which meant that at the very lowest average 5 per cent, of the workers of the country were out of employment; and that 5 per cent, represented a total of not less than 500,000 workers, to whom ought to be added the wives and children and relatives dependent on them. Therefore it was a safe assumption that, despite the improvement in trade, 1,250,000 or 1,500,000 of the population were 460 suffering poverty and hunger, and in some cases were being driven to suicide solely for lack of an opportunity of working for their living. That would appear to justify prompt action on the part of the Government. A Bill had been promised for dealing with the matter, and he thought that those who were interested in this question were justified in complaining that this Bill, which was so urgently required, was apparently to be postponed until the dregs of the session had been reached. If a choice had to be made between the Plural Voting Bill and a Bill to amend the Unemployed Act, surely the Unemployed Bill should obtain precedence, but such had not been the case. On April 11th the President of the Local Government Board stated that one reason why the Bill had not yet been introduced was that he had asked for reports from the various distress Committees, and until these had been returned he could not take action. The earliest reference he could find in the minutes of the Central Distress Committee for London of any such report having been asked for was May 11th, a month after the statement was made that the reports had been asked for. The Local Government Board seemed to be pursuing a dilatory course in obtaining the information which was so necessary to enable them effectively to amend the existing Act. The right hon. Gentleman also stated in April that out of £62,000 received by the Central body they had £22,000 in hand, and the organisation was blamed for holding it back. Inquiry had shown him that every penny of that sum had been earmarked for works already in hand, and therefore it was not true to say that the central body had been neglectful of its duties. He made two suggestions as to remedies. He found, from returns received from eight of the large centres of population in England, including London, that out of 49,625 persons after the Unemployment Act of last session was passed, who registered themselves asking for employment, work was found for only 8,655. Only about one in every six persons applying for work could be set to work owing to the limited financial resources at the disposal of the Distress Committees. His suggestion was that, first of all, a very short Bill—a Bill practically 461 of one clause—should be introduced immediately to widen the powers of the local authorities, to try experiments—not to tie them to any one method, but to any scheme which obtained the approval of the Local Government Board in dealing with this question of the unemployed. The present power was inadequate. It was tinkering with a question of the gravest difficulty. If the Government were really anxious to do something for the most unfortunate class in the community —the strong and able-bodied men who were denied the chance of working for their living—now was their opportunity. Let the Chancellor of the Exchequer set aside £1,000,000 for the purpose of helping the local authorities generally to deal with the unemployment problem. That required no Act of Parliament. It was a matter entirely and absolutely under the control of the Government. Let them devise a scheme to enable the local authorities to carry out experiments other than those which they were now doing. The claims of the unemployed were not so clamant during the summer months as in the cold, dark days of winter: but he was sure he was practically interpreting the general feeling of the House when he said that the Government would be failing in their duty if they allowed this opportunity to slip past without providing machinery which would enable the local authorities to deal with the unemployed difficulty. There were tens of thousands of sturdy fellows, mostly unskilled labourers, but who had fought their country's battles, who were trudging the streets begging for employment. They had a new Government, a reformed Government and a Liberal Government, and the country would judge harshly of it unless these claims were attended to. He hoped, as one outcome of this discussion, they should have an assurance from the President of the Local Government Board that more energy would be put into his Department in order to find a remedy for this problem, and that something practical would be done in the way of finance, and in appointing District Committees to find work for the unemployed.
§ *MR. HORRIDGE (Manchester, E.)
said he did not rise for the purpose of making a speech of any length, but he wished to add his voice to that of others in order to impress upon the Government the desire which was felt not only upon the benches opposite but upon the Ministerial Benches, that they should tackle this question, which in his judgment was the greatest problem before the country. There were always from 3 to 6 per cent. of our working men unemployed even according to trade union statistics, and these did not represent the real amount of unemployment, because over and beyond there was the unskilled and un-organised labour. In East Manchester, the winter before last, there were hundreds of men walking about who would rather starve than ask for Poor Law assistance. The ex-Prime Minister always paid the greatest attention to this question, but the Bill passed by the late Government wanted vitality put into it. It was only a skeleton that provided machinery for dealing with the unemployed. What the present Government had to do was to provide the funds to make it a real, working, living Act. There was no action which would bring the Government more credit in the future than dealing with this question of the unemployed. He suggested that they should pass a short Act so that next winter something practical could be done. He did not see that there was any great obstacle in the way of passing a short Act which would make the former Statute effective and in that way doing something effective to deal with this great difficulty.
§ *MR. CROOKS (Woolwich)
rejoiced that an opportunity, however limited, had been afforded to the House of dealing with this question. He hoped the House would forgive some interruptions of which he was guilty earlier in the evening when the House appeared to be discussing somebody else's dinner instead of discussing the question of finding dinners for the unemployed. Of course he knew that the House, like the War Office, was throttled by tradition, but there were limits to human endurance, when hon. Members were compelled to listen to an academic discussion of no practical 463 value, although they knew that questions of such importance as those which concerned the unemployed were awaiting discussion. He did not wish to alarm the House by stating what the unemployed would do if their wants were not attended to. He wished he could; but the unemployed, he was sorry to say, had no sense of their rights as Englishmen. If they had, matters would be very different. He had never said, as had been stated, that the last Act of Parliament was not worth the paper it was written upon. What he had said was that it would form a capital "jumping off ground" for this Government to do some real good with. He had said in fact that it was a very excellent starting point. His grievance was that they never seemed to get beyond the stage of investigation and inquiry. We had been going through a period of distress for the last seven or eight years, and there were some few Boards of Guardians, over one of which he had the honour to preside, who had thought it their duty to keep the working man up to the working point and to prevent his being starved, by finding work for him, if he was capable of doing it, and had not sunk to the ranks of the unemployable. They had been working in that direction for a year, and he supposed that next week when the auditor of the Local Government Board came down, he would sit in judgment upon them, because they had tried to keep body and soul together in these poor workmen. They had been attacked in this matter and criticised for malad-ministration, but his Board of Guardians had tried to do this work, whether it was within the law or without the law, and it seemed hard that they should be the first to be put upon for trying to break through the old bad traditions of the Poor Law. There were more people claiming relief than there ever were before at this time of the year. It was no use to attempt to compare the figures of January with the figures of May, or vice versa, as some hon. Members seemed to wish to do. The unfortunate thing about the whole question was that this Act of Parliament seemed to have been misconstrued. It was the intention of the late Government to endeavour, as far as possible, to stop recruiting the ranks of the unem- 464 ployed, and the man who was just out of employment would, it was thought, be so dealt with that he would be saved before he parted with everything he possessed. But nothing of the kind had happened, and as a matter of fact very little had been done. Funds were urgently needed for the keeping of the genuine unemployed in a state of working capacity. The Relief Committees had he complained, dealt with cases upon sympathetic lines. If a big, strong man came up, and wanted help, the Committee said, "He is big and strong and can find a job anywhere;" but when a weak man came along, who wanted not work but hospital treatment, looking after properly, and building up, they dealt with him under the Unemployed Act. That was manifestly unfair to everybody concerned. They wanted the best men, and not the worst men to be saved. In many districts, however, the weakest creature got all the sympathy and help under this Act when he ought to be helped in another way. They wanted the Local Government Board to recognise that there were three classes of unemployed working men. There was the genuine working man, the unemployable, and the tramp, and these ought not to be confused when steps were taken in regard to the unemployed. If a Congested District Board in Ireland could deal with certain districts where employment was so bad that the people were impoverished, why could we not have the same thing here? It had been pointed out that the Act killed charity, and he was not very sorry for it. He lived among what he might call, but what he ought not call, his own poor, because the poor belonged to the nation and not to Poplar or West Ham or any other district. He had to hear people say, "Do you call that a working man? Why, he is a loafer." His answer to that was that they had no right to call any man a loafer until they had offered him work and he had refused. He had asked the Government over and over again to give them work to offer to every decent honest man who wanted it. If a man refused work, let them kick him out and deal with him in another class with proper discipline. But to dole out charity, plenty 465 of soup and plenty of blankets for the cold weather, did no good when the weather got warm. They all knew the story of the old lady driving home through the rain and cold, and saying—Hurry home, go on and tell the cook to make some broth, and distribute some blankets among the villagers; poor creatures, they will want them this cold night.But when she got home it was a different story. It was—Butler, have you sent out the broth and blankets?" "No, ma'am." "Then do not trouble now, it is not so cold as it was.To his door men and women came every day; men and women with an everlasting desire to keep themselves up, but who from somebody's neglect came to him and said, "For God's sake, can you help us?" Only this day a young man came to him and said—I have been to the guardians, Mr. Crooks, and they can do nothing for me. We have no food at all, and I have to go into the house.He said he was sorry to hear it, but it was not the guardians' fault, but the fault of the law, and he was told—We have sold everything, and now my wife has gone back to her home, and I have gone back to my widowed mother, and here I am, an able-bodied man, crawling about begging and praying somebody to give me something till I can find a job somewhere somehow.No wonder the streets of London were full of unemployed under these circumstances. A man came to him in October and said—I have just lost my job; can you get us a start?" "No, I am very sorry, I can't.He met him in November.Can you get me anything?—No.Again in December he met him.Can you give us anything to do?—' No.' 'No, you are like everyone else; when you want our suffrages you can do anything, and when you have got, them you can do nothing.He met him again in March and said—Well, old chap, how are you getting on?" "How do you think, no thanks to you?" "Have you got a job yet?" "No, and don't want one.What had they done with that man? They had sapped his manhood. He believed the way out was to get men on to the land. If any of the thousand and one things happened that threw men out of work there was nothing 466 they could turn their hand to so rapidly as agriculture or horticulture. He submitted that these men ought to be taught the rudiments of agriculture. There was land enough in this country, but he would not quarrel about that, because as they had been told the land in this country was protected. But suppose these men were given a couple of years' training on the land they would at all events be fit to go out to our colonies and settle and become Empire builders in the best sense of the word, for they would have a knowledge of what they would be doing. There might sometimes be something to be said for a change in the Ministry when they saw the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, with all his energy, initiative and capacity still bound up tight with the red tape of his office. When they saw such a thing as that how were they to get reform? The official of one Government was just the same as the official of another. Every letter he had received from the Local Government Board during this Government was couched in the same official language as those he received during the last Government. His right hon. friend had the biggest job of any Member of the Government. They expected great things from him. There were thousands of willing workers for whom work could and ought to be found, and they depended on the right hon. Gentleman to find the means. The world was filled with willing people, some willing to work and the others willing to let them. Comparisons were odious, but some statesmen loomed larger than others in the public eye. not because they did better work than the plodders, but because they made it appear that they did. Whoever heard of the Colonial Office before the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham got there? All he asked his right hon. friend to do was to give them a short Bill to enable money to be raised at once to pay for work which willing workers were ready to do. The question of Crown Colonies could; be left for awhile.
§ *MR. JOHN BURNS
said it was perfectly natural that working men and the Labour and other Members of 467 Parliament should be concerned, as he was, about the short and simple annals of the unemployed. And it was more natural, if it could be so put, that they should be concerned at the fact that so many were unemployed and at the plaintive appeal of the unemployable whose position had been seen recently in this and other large cities. Pathetic as the condition of the unemployed was, that of the unemployable was infinitely more pathetic. Anything that would help the unemployed to get work and the unemployable to emerge from their present condition, in which everyone sympathised with them, demanded attention. But sympathy for these two classes in the social state was not confined to any one section. It was common to all, and if the Government, on whose behalf he was proud to speak, was to be judged not only by its palliative proposals but also by its proposals for organic change and preventive legislation, it had given no cause for either criticism or blame. They had been told by a number of speakers that much more could have been done and must be done; but all those statements were made on the assumption that nothing had been done or attempted, and that the Government was indifferent to the needs of those on whose behalf hon. Members had spoken. The hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow had complained of non-fulfilment of a promise to amend the Unemployed Act, and of optimistic utterances about trade, the unemployed, and the diminution of pauperism. The proportion of unemployed, economically and industrially capable men, both skilled and unskilled, in Great Britain or Ireland was smaller at this moment than it was in the case of America and many other of our industrial competitors in the markets of the world. Because he quoted such facts it was said that his statement was optimism to cover up irresponsibility and neglect. Let the House listen to optimism. He would quote the hon. Member himself. He had in his hand a journal called the Amalgamated Engineers' Monthly Journal for June, 1906, and in it he found this remarkable sentence—During the past month employment in nearly every branch of industry remained good and continued to improve. In the engi- 468 neering trade the tendency towards improvement was maintained. The percentage of trade union members unemployed was 2.7 at the end of April, while at the end of March it was 2.8.That meant that in a society, of which he had the honour of being a member, of over 100,000 skilled men, there were only 2 per cent, unemployed, and what was more, he believed that if the society could get 10,000 or 15,000 more skilled and capable men employment could be-found for them.
§ MR. BARNES
said the right hon. Gentleman was not quite fair. He admitted that there was full employment in the staple trades, but he and his friends were pleading for the unattached men, whose numbers were increasing through the tendency of industry to-day.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
said he was coming to that. He only wished to show that it was unfair that when he made a statement similar to that which he had quoted it should be regarded as optimistic and as made to cover the non-fulfilment of promises. He believed that if from some region 10,000 capable and skilled engineers could be got at this moment, employment could be found for them in taking the places of men who by virtue of their skill and education were driven — and here was the irony of the situation—to work overtime; whereas if there were more skilled and better educated men at command that overtime would cease. But the President of the Local Government Board was not responsible for the dearth of skilled labour. It was due to generations of neglect and of mistake. They had got to rectify that; but it could not be done by amending an Act of which hon. Members below the gangway took a less optimistic view last year, when it was said that it was not worth the paper it was written on and would prove to be a delusion and a snare to those who expected it was going to provide a new heaven and a new earth for those who-were out of employment.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
said he was not responsible for the change. The hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division had complained that there had not been that amount of hurry and haste to grapple with this matter that he would have liked to see. He had never said there was no hurry. On the contrary, his action had been to make the Act as good as it was possible to make it by administration, by attention, and by the energetic application of regulations. I Figures did not affect him. What weighed with him was the difficulties of the situation and the need, concurrently with palliative measures and financial provisions for next winter, of legislation and change of a preventive character that would render all soup kitchens and farm colonies unnecessary in five or ten years and in that direction the Government had done all that could be reasonably expected. He would ask hon. Members below the gangway not to forget the admirable speech of the hon. Member for Brightside, which, if it were true, and a great deal of it was true, released him and the late Government and the present Government from some responsibility for not being able to grapple with this question all at once. In less than three months he had received four deputations, revised the regulations, and visited all the farm colonies and public works that he could. His investigations had revealed to him the sad fact that 95 per cent. of the men in the ranks of the unemployed, and particularly of the unemployable, were unskilled labourers, and that 90 per cent, were town labourers, born and bred, who had been displaced by stronger men from the country, who had often left work in rural districts and created a lack of labour there. No Amendment of the Act would provide for that difficulty. No doubt the opening up of the land to keep on the land the men who come into the towns would reduce the difficulty; but he could not be held responsible for the land system. It came in with William the Conqueror, and it would not be terminated by John Burns next year. The hon. Member for Brightside had raised another point. They all knew that in London and in all 470 large towns thousands of lads were employed as messengers—telegraph and newspaper messengers, and so on—and these lads grew up, through no fault of their own, without skill, and at the age of eighteen or nineteen were turned out of their employment. These boys provided the ranks of the unemployed with large numbers of recruits; and the House had to devise methods in order to see whether they could not revert to the old-fashioned system of apprenticeship as well as diminish this class of labour as soon as possible. The hon. Member for South Edinburgh had said that the land question was at the bottom of the question, and he had asked the Government to copy the Salvation Army method of colonies. Personally he was by nature an optimist, but he tempered his optimism with investigation of the facts. He rode 800 miles across the American alkali desert last November in order to look into the condition of these Salvation Army colonies at Fort Romy and Fort Amity. He walked six miles from the nearest railway station at four o'clock in the morning with a pocketful of stones to keep the skunks off. He made a personal examination of those two colonies, and as the hon. and learned Member had been apparently impressed by Mr. Rider Haggard's report, he would also read a passage from it. The report stated—The result was an utter failure of these 18 families who went, and but one remains at Fort Romy to-day,and this man, now a sheriff, was an ex-policeman of Battersea, whose wife and family received him and their neighbours to tea. Because they did not at once adopt experiments of that kind the Government were surely not to be condemned if with some degree of caution, with more knowledge, with some experience, they did not rashly embark on the expenditure of hundreds of thousands of pounds of the ratepayers and taxpayers' money to bring about a condition of things in England similar to what he had seen in America.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
replied that the hon. Member must not get into the habit of choosing the line of country for other people to follow. No interruption of this kind was going to sweep him from the path he had chosen, for he was dealing with a point that had been raised by an hon. Member. Substantially, however, the hon. Member for South Edinburgh was right. Land was at the bottom of the question; but they had to prevent the people coming off the land rather than take men, destroyed and demoralised by town life, back to the land to suffer great disillusionment and disappointment. He was giving instances in which this was being done with disastrous results. In addition to the land, there was taxation, rating, the freeing of the building trade and other industries which were now disproportionately burdened. He would be unworthy of his position as a Labour Member and as a Minister if he did not say that concurrently with the opening up of the land system, the alteration of our system of taxation, the giving of greater freedom to industry and commerce, and the keeping of men on the land, they had to encourage the unskilled labourer to follow the example in proportion to his means and opportunities of his skilled brother workman, the trade unionist. He should be encouraged to make provision out of his small or large wage, and, above all, when he had money he should be encouraged not to misspend it, not to divert it to less worthy ends than the donation, fund or unemployed benefit fund, which enabled the engineer, the weaver, the spinner, the bricklayer, and the carpenter to tide over depressed times without charity's demoralising touch or the Poor Law's demoralising aid. As far back as the middle of March he had an interview with the chairman and officers of the Central Unemployed Committee, and he asked for a report from the chief unemployed body in London. This in the main was a London question. [Cries of "Not at all."] Well, let hon. Members make it twelve miles from Charing Cross and he was right. This Committee had done their best, and the report would be forthcoming by June 8th. The hon. Member for Woolwich had said that the Local Government Board officers were to-day as they had been before. 472 That statement was not wholly true. In some matters they might be, but in so far as the officers were right in protecting public money he was going to defend them. In so far as these officers were preventing ambitious politicians or Labour Members, or members of municipalities from using public funds to obtain popularity at the expense of the ratepayers or taxpayers they were doing their duty, and as a Minister he was going to commend them for taking that particular line. The example of the Congested Districts Boards in Ireland had been quoted by the hon. Member for Woolwich. He saw that the hon. and learned Member for Waterford smiled at that. If the hon. Member would ascertain the opinion of the majority of the Irish Members as to what the Congested Districts Board would do with this question, either in Ireland or in England, he would not be so anxious to see that particular model copied.
§ *MR. JOHN BURNS
said that he personally went over to Ireland two years ago to look into this question, and he now said that he would not touch the Irish Congested Districts Board with a 100 feet scaffold pole. The hon. Member for Woolwich had said that there would be a disposition on the part of the present President of the Local Government Board to act as his predecessor had acted. He reminded the hon. Member that when the action of a Minister was circumscribed by a defective Act, when the Government had been only a few months in office, when the necesary experience had not been obtained to justify the Minister in amending it, when the Act had not provided the machinery by which it could be properly worked, the Government were compelled by responsible duty to see to what extent the Act could be amended, or, alternatively, to provide means to tide over the next winter.
§ *MR. JOHN BURNS
But the hem. Member ought, to ask for his request to be fulfilled decently and in order.
§ MR. CROOKS
No one more regrets to make an intervention than I do; but when I am told that I did not ask for a thing decently and that municipal persons are spending money for cheap popularity, I might have interjected "Steamboats"; hut I did not.
§ *MR. JOHN BURNS
said that lie was not going to allow the debate to degenerate into a personal controversy. If a moral could be drawn from the steamboat incident it proved that in providing unemployed steamboat men with work they could make mistakes, incur great expense, and run a risky experiment. The difference between the hon. Member and him was that he was willing to confine his experiments to a reasonable area. The hon. Member wanted to embrace the whole of the United Kingdom. He declined to follow the hon. Member along that very dangerous path. Distress committees to the number of 120 were set up under the Unemployed Act. Five were in Wales, from which there was no evidence of serious trouble; nine were in Scotland, and these had £7,000 from the Queen's Unemployed Fund, and he was glad to find it had been sufficient, with a balance of £600 in hand. In Ireland there were nominally twenty-one committees in existence, but actually not one in active operation. This was not the fault of the Local Government Board; it was due to defects in the Act only to be demonstrated by lapse of reasonable time. In England there were eighty-four distress committees, and outside Manchester, and perhaps Leeds and Sheffield, and five or six other districts, there was no trouble or apprehension for the future. The London unemployed distress committees had received £93,000 from the Queen's Unemployed Fund; they could have received £86,000 from the halfpenny rate, they received £25,000 only. Things were bad in Poplar, West Ham, Edmonton, Tottenham, and one or two other places, but there was not, he was glad to say, a great demand for the amount which was not forthcoming to the extent expected from the voluntary funds, and 474 of which he could say it would not be forthcoming to the same extent next winter as last winter. He only mentioned this to show to those who had been critical that if the Government had amended the Act generally on the lines suggested throughout the country by hon. Members below the gangway distress committees would have had in some cases more money than they needed, others would not have wanted any money at all, and five or six necessitous areas would not have had sufficient. The Government were fully alive to the need for amending the Act or providing some alternative. They did not intend to depart from their promise contained in the King's Speech, but they could not, they would not, make amendments on some of the lines suggested during the last three months. Their business was to take the worst districts first and adapt or adopt remedies by a Bill or by administrative action for next winter so that the four, five, or six necessitous districts would get more from administrative help than they could get from the legislative changes advocated by several speakers. He could assure hon. Members below the gangway that the Government did not intend to depart from their promise or to adopt every suggestion that was made, but they intended to keep their pledge and to see that these districts in the coming winter should have means by which they would not be in a worse position than they were in last year. He had been to Hollesley Bay, and he was going there again. Had the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil any suggestion to make in regard to Hollesley Bay?
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
said that as showing they were in earnest in their desire to do their best to enable the experiments to be conducted, he had this very day sanctioned the doing by the central unemployed body of what he decided should be done when he visited the place many weeks ago. Hollesley Bay was to be continued as a kind of training school, and every effort to fit men for migration or emigration or to assist them to resume their normal stride in the labour market had his energetic sympathy. 475 There was not one of the labour works he had not visited to learn facts and gather experience to build upon, with a view to a system that would get for the unemployed the maximum of good from the rates and generous subscriptions. No effort would be wanting on his part to assist experiments being tried. They did not want more sympathy than they possessed for the unemployed; what they did want was to take occasion by the hand and lose no opportunity by palliative and preventive legislation to reduce the number of unemployed, and to diminish the number of unemployable. Hon. Members below the gangway seemed to forget that the Act was only a temporary one; that there was a Royal Commission to inquire into the various means adopted outside the Poor Law for relief of distress arising from want of employment; that there was a Report from the Vagrancy Commission, and that there was a Committee on Agricultural Settlements. In many ways, in reference to many subjects, the Government had given evidence of their sympathetic consideration, and much of the criticism had been unfair, unjust, and due to ignorance of facts. Let Members say if from their constituencies representations had not received all the attention his Department could give to them. For himself, he gave attention to the subject with the knowledge of a man who was himself once out of work and to this day was haunted by the spectre of unemployment, though he did not feel it so much as some, thanks to a sturdy Mark Tapley disposition. The Government did not want to be reminded of duties and responsibilities; they wanted to reduce the number of the unemployed and unemployable in the future. He rejoiced that the summer was before them, that trade was better, that in Poplar and West Ham there were 12,500 fewer persons receiving out-door and in-door poor relief than there were at the beginning of last year, and 8,000 fewer this month than three months ago.
§ *MR. JOHN BURNS
said the clerk of the union supplied his officers with the 476 statistics. No one had ventured to question the cold column of statistics which appeared every week in the newspapers, and which the Labour leaders had hitherto accepted as the unimpeachable truth. The summer was before him, and he would continue his work, not too much influenced by percentages of pauperism and of trade union members out of work, not influenced by speeches, not diverted from duty by deputations or demonstrations more or less unrepresentative. He held it his duty to devote all possible time to the subject, not to proposals from doss-house economists and soup kitchen reformers, and men who would dot England with pauper compounds where celibate unemployed labourers should be detained for training. He was not at the present moment disposed to ask for compulsory powers of detention for the unemployed; he believed there was a more excellent way to reduce the number of unemployed and unemployable, and in the task of providing this more excellent way, he would from now to the end of his six years in office continue to work. In the next years of his office he intended to wait. There was a very good verse in the Bible on this subject which said: "Let resignation wait." Hon. Gentlemen who suggested that during the last six weeks they had been over-worked should not judge officials as to what they should do during the next two, three, or six years. It would, he contended, be found that more good would be derived from permanent, sound, economic, and organic changes in a year than from nine out of ten of the illusory, transient, and in many cases unscientific theories which had been proposed. Whatever could be done by his Department, would be done. He was grateful to the House for acknowledging that the Government would do their best in this regard and that they would keep their promises. He hoped that hon. Members who had earned their holiday would spend some of it as the President of the Local Government Board had done in visiting the farm colonies, which they should have visited before venturing the criticisms which they had made that evening.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
said there was a matter of vital 477 importance to Ireland that he desired to call attention to. Everyone who was at all acquainted with the Irish situation must be aware that most happily Ireland was at the present time in a state of profound peace. Not only was there no ordinary crime to speak of, but there was no political excitement or turmoil, and he thought everyone would admit that the man who would recklessly interfere to break that peace and to revive again scenes of turmoil and disorder was nothing short of a criminal of the worst kind. He desired to call attention to a man who at this moment was engaged in that work—a man whose life had been devoted to work which was described more than twenty years ago in a court of law by an eminent lawyer now in another place as devil's work. It was unnecessary for him to recall the history of Lord Clanricade. He was the cause of a state of misery and desolation and turmoil and crime over a large section of the country. His proceedings were so infamous that he had never heard his conduct defended in the House, and indeed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Armagh, whose absence they all regretted, on one famous occasion, in defending Irish landlords, said he declined to defend the action of Lord Clanricarde. At this moment his estate was almost a desert and his land was lying idle. In one parish alone there were fifty evicted farms. One of his colleagues, who was now a Member for Galway, who was foremost in the agrarian struggle, had experience of living in the parish where there were fifty of these desolate homes, while the evicted tenants were on the roadside waiting for a chance of restoration. It was hoped that this district, which had been stained in the past with misery and crime of all kinds, would be changed by the Act of 1903. But that was a voluntary Act, and those who knew Lord Clanricade prophesied that however beneficially that Act might work in other parts of Ireland, it would never be allowed to work in his district. Lord Clanricade had refused to enter into any negotiations for the sale of his land. He had refused all overtures by the Estates Commissioners for the restoration of evicted tenants, and as far as his agri- 478 cultural property was concerned there was no hope whatever of a settlement until compulsory powers were obtained. Lord Clanricarde was a permanent absentee. He had only been once in Ireland, and that was to give evidence in an action against him by his own agent. He did not even go over to Ireland to attend the funeral of his father or mother. His house was permanently shut up, and as far as his tenants were concerned he was simply a spectre that haunted them day and night. These people had lived in hope and patience, and his hon. friends had preached patience and preserved peace in the district. In the last few days Lord Clanricarde had inaugurated a new campaign—a most unprovoked campaign—the direct and as he thought premeditated consequences of which must be to plunge the district once more into turmoil and crime. The whole town of Loughrea was owned by this man. There was a young man in the town, a tenant of Lord Clanricarde, an energetic man, who had built up a valuable business by industry and ability. Quite recently a few months ago, this young man who had never had any dispute with Lord Clanricarde as to rent or anything else received an extraordinary document from Lord Clanricarde's agent. He had created a valuable business and if he was evicted he could not get another house in the town or a plot of land in which to build a house because it was all owned by Lord Clanricarde. The other day this letter was received by this young man—Dear Sir, I have been glad to see from time to time the signs of your doing a good trade. I have often mentioned you as a capable and energetic man of business, and that it would be well for the country if there were more traders, like you, with push and determination to succeed. As a tenant you have given me every satisfaction. Holding these good opinions of you, it is with regret that I feel it my duty to send you this notice to quit. I have been agent on this estate for many years and have always tried as far as possible to prevent tenants being evicted. I do not believe that you desire to cause any annoyance or injury to any one, but you are Secretary to the Lochrea branch of the Irish National League, and I feel bound to use the argumentum ad hominem in the shape of this notice now served on you.The letter was signed by a Mr. Tener. The result of that action was that Lord 479 Clanricarde was going to confiscate the value of the business created by this Young man; that his Lordship was going to do his best to ruin him because he was the secretary of a branch of the Irish National League, although he admitted that this young man bore an excellent character and had shown ability and enterprise in the conduct of this business. Now, that was a scandal. It was more than a scandal; it was a crime. He dared say that many hon. Members had read in the London newspapers the day before a telegraphic report from Loughrea, in which town for the first time for years there was an account of an Irish eviction accompanied with violence and turmoil. It was stated that hundreds of policemen had been drafted from all parts of the country; that bailiffs had appeared with scaling ladders, hatchets, and crowbars before the house of this young man. Of course the population assembled also. The young man endeavoured to barricade his house and to prevent the eviction. A disturbance took place. The Chief Secretary had said the other day that there was some stone-throwing and that a policeman was injured. He regretted all that as much as any man living; but the wonder was not that there was that disturbance and turmoil, but that it was not ten times greater. He said deliberately that if this kind of thing went on they would have violence and crime breaking out in Ireland again. He would do all in his power to prevent it; but if it was to be prevented the Government must put a stop to such devil's work as that sanctioned by such men as Lord Clanricarde. The Chief Secretary might say that he was obliged to supply the forces of the Crown in executive matters of this kind. In that connection he should like to recall from the history of Ireland the case of Thomas Drummond, who was also a Scotsman, like the Chief Secretary, and who was full of sympathy for Ireland. At the time that Thomas Drurnmond had charge of affairs in that country the position was far more difficult than it was now. In those days the cry of ascendancy and of supremacy was far more persistent than it was to-day, because then it had not been broker down by the proceedings of the Land 480 Courts and other methods. Thomas Drummond had to deal with the tithe question, which had led to more or less tribulation in Ireland. And, how did he deal with it? He came to the conclusion that the system was an unjust and iniquitous one, and he refused to sanction the use of the forces of the Crown to collect what he regarded as an unjust imposition. He said—If you want your unjust titles, go and get them.But he refused to grant the forces of the Crown for the purposes of recovering them. He was of course denounced, and he was told that he was violating all the principles of law, but he stood firm, and when he died a statute was erected to his memory. His name up to the present day was one of the most revered in Ireland. The position of Lord Clanricarde had been dealt with by previous Governments. Sir Michael Hicks Beach, when he was Chief Secretary for Ireland, had to face an exactly similar position to that which had now occurred. He was faced with the question of whether the forces of the Crown should be put at the disposal of the landlord in carrying on a wicked unjust and inquitious proceeding of the kind now under discussion. Sir Michael Hicks Beach issued a pronouncement to the effect that he would use pressure within the law to prevent Lord Clanrincarde and others pursuing the course which he proposed to do. The right hon. Gentleman sent for the landlords and brought them up to Dublin Castle. What passed nobody knew, but it had the result of putting a stop to a great number of these scenes, and prevented the forces of the Crown being used in this way. He asked the present Chief Secretary and the Government to emulate the examples which had been set when there was only one landlord in Ireland who took this course, and he was Lord Clanricarde, and he did ask that constitutional pedantry should not stand in the way of the Government in stopping his cruel course of action. If Lord Clanricarde was allowed to go on, he would plunge a whole district into a state of disturbance, and possibly of crime. This state of things had been brought about by Lord Clanricarde's conduct. He had no doubt that they would 481 have homilies preached to them upon the evils of crimes which would be due to the action of this one man. He asked the right hon. Gentleman to interfere in this case and prevent these proceedings from going forward. He wanted to make another appeal, and that was that the Chief Secretary should convey to the Prime Minister the request that he would at once deal with this subject. The other day they introduced a Bill dealing with town tenants, as distinct from agricultural tenants, who were already protected by the Land Act. That Bill was carried by an enormous majority, but owing to the action of the clock it was impossible to send that Bill to a Committee. He asked that the difficulty which in consequence existed in the way of the Bill coming before a Committee should be removed and that the Bill should be referred to one of the Grand Committees. He hoped the Chief Secretary would make his request to the Prime Minister, and he was sure there would be no discussion upon the subject.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. BRYCE,) Aberdeen, S.
said he was not surprised that the hon. Member for Waterford had referred to this question and in language, too, of indignation and regret. The case was one of great hardship, and it was a case of hardship which he heartily wished could be amended by law. The results in the case were most painful. In a district which no doubt at various times had been troubled, but which seemed now to be settling down, sources of discord and disorder had been again suddenly introduced. No one knew whether they would spread or not, but in the meantime there had occurred a painful and regrettable disturbance such as they had not had in Ireland for a considerable time. No one could regret either the hardship or what had happened or the possible results of it more deeply than His Majesty's Government did, and if that were the proper time or the proper occasion he might say a good deal about the conduct which had caused the evictions. That, he thought, might be reserved for another time. What he meant to do now was to make plain the position the Government 482 occupied. The hon. Member, without attacking the Government in any way, had asked the Government to invest itself with, and exercise, what might be called a dispensatory power— a power not to give assistance to these evictions, not to carry out the decrees of the court, and not to put the power of the executive into the hands of the officers of the court. That was a power which might be exercised in some countries. He did not know whether it was exercised in India or not, but there the Government, when any landlord or person in authority was abusing his power, could put pressure on the individual. That was not the postition of the Government of this country. The hon. Member had referred to Thomas Drummond, a name never to be mentioned without a tribute of admiration, and with respect. Thomas Drummond tried to exercise something like a dispensatory power. He appealed to the landlords on the dictum that property, while it had its privileges, also had its duties—a dictum which he should like to see embossed over the door of every landlord's house in Ireland. Thomas Drummond tried to exercise a dispensatory power, and the result was that the courts of law stopped him and said he had no discretion in the matter. A similar desire was entertained by Sir Michael Hicks-Beach when he was Chief Secretary. He did not put it in force, but endeavoured to deal with the landlords, and put pressure on them. Nothing would give him (Mr. Bryce) greater pleasure than to put pressure on Lord Clanricarde, but anyone who knew the history of the past twenty years would know that pressure exerted by him would have no effect. What happened in the case of the intention of Sir Michael kicks-Beach not to put the forces of the Crown at the disposal of the officers of the law? There was the Woodford case, in which judgment was delivered, which showed the state of the law by which the Executive Government was bound. Execution, said the chief baron, did not depend upon the will of the Executive, and once judgment was given, if it was given within the scope of the Court's jurisdiction, it was not competent for anybody in this kingdom, however high he might be placed, to say that execution of that judgment should not be issued, 483 or to prevent judgment from being enforced or giving aid or assistance to those who under the law were called upon to enforce it. That was the declaration of the Courts which absolutely bound the Executive Government, and that declaration was repeated in a subsequent case in the time of the Chief Secretaryship of the present Secretary of State for India, in which the law was laid down that no official or Chief Secretary could refuse to give assistance to carry out the decree of the Court. This was not, as the hon. Member for Waterford suggested, a piece of constitutional pedantry. What he should do if he were to refuse the assistance demanded by the sheriffs would be to disobey the law, to expose whoever disobeyed the law to an indictment, and to set an example of law-breaking, while removing from the House of Commons and Parliament its responsibility for seeing that the law was proper and just. It was the duty of Parliament to make just laws, but while the law stood it had to be enforced. It was one of the most painful parts of the duty of an Executive Government that it was obliged to carry out the decrees of the Courts whatever its opinion was as to the justice of the law. All they could do was to try and amend the law and put an end to cases in which hardship existed. That led him to the appeal made by the Member for Water-ford, who had asked him to convey it to the Prime Minister, as the only person who could give a proper answer to it. All he could do was to undertake to have it conveyed to the Prime Minister. He might say to the hon. Member for Waterford that if the appeal was to have a proper chance of success it would be necessary for the hon. Member to throw some of the deck cargo over, and proceed only with those proposals which could be promptly carried. He might be assured that his appeal would lose nothing in being transmitted to the Prime Minister from any sympathy he himself could give it, for he concurred most heartily with the desire that the Bill should be passed into law. He had expressed his feeling most candidly and purely on this case. He hoped he had conveyed to the House the regret and pain with which the Executive felt bound 484 to follow the course that in obeying the law they must take. He would also appeal to hon. Members from Ireland to do their best to secure that the inevitable horror of a case like this should not spread further over Ireland. The hon. Member for Waterford had said there was only one man in Ireland who could do it. He hoped that was true, and that the mischief would not extend beyond the immediate neighbourhood of that man. He hoped and trusted that the Members from Ireland, who had a deserved influence with their countrymen and knew what the position of the Executive was, and how it could not do what it was asked, would remember that they also should do their part in endeavouring, as far as possible, to preserve peace in Ireland.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said he had listened with great attention to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, and knew, as did every Irish Member, that there could be no other answer than the one given. He did not blame the right hon. Gentleman for the attitude he had taken up. It was the only attitude that an executive officer could take up. The district now under discussion was possibly the most blood-stained part of Ireland. Twenty years ago it was the scene of the most dreadful outrages, and here they had a fire lit in a period of profound peace by the same man who, if he had his due, ought to have been expropriated twenty years ago. It was all very well to appeal to the Irish Members, and he was perfectly sure that no Irish Member would do anything to exasperate the people. But he had been all over this ground and he knew Lord Clanricarde and his agents, and they were the two danger points in that district. It was a very terrible thing that one man, an absentee from the country, who did nothing but draw £20,000 a year out of these poor people, who never gave a single silver sixpence in charity, should have the power to light a fire to consume all the good feeling that had been growing up in Ireland. Long ago, during the terrible events of twenty years ago, he said he was ready to support a Bill for the expropriation of this man out of the country, and if this man brought back Ireland to the state of things 485 that existed then, he thought that the Government should bring in a Bill to expropriate the Marquess of Clanricarde from his propetry.
§ MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)
called the attention of the Secretary for Scotland to the action of Major Ferguson, Chief Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland, who, in a speech made recently at Partick in the presence of the Provost, made a most slanderous attack on the character of the island people of Scotland, alluding in particular to the men of Skye and of Lewis, who were his (Mr. Weir's) constituents. Major Ferguson said that the whole of the local force were recruited from the north and west of Scotland, and desired to know how many recruits came from the islands of Lewis and Skye, because in the Army men from these islands had the character of being very untruthful and would not be at all suitable for the constabulary. The Major added that although they might sometimes tell the truth by accident, the chances were all the other way, and that was a very great stigma upon these island men of whom Lord Roberts had spoken so highly. The late Commander-in-Chief had said that none of the men did better on the inarch to Candahar than the Seaforth Highlanders, and yet the Chief Inspector of Constabulary talked of then in this way ! Seeing that fishing was the only industry in these islands, Major Ferguson's statement would take away any chance of the men getting employment elsewhere, because people would not have them if they thought they were untruthful.
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, and agreed to.
§ Resolved, That this House at its rising this day do adjourn until Thursday, June 7th.—(Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman.)