HC Deb 05 November 1909 vol 12 cc2156-79

I wish to dissent from the statement made by the hon. Member who has just sat down with regard to Scottish legislation. I hope that the Prime Minister will adhere to the programme which we have been led to believe will be followed, and that the Scottish Temperance Bill will be taken immediately after the adjournment. I say that because, although I am not one of the ordinary Scottish Members, it might be said of them even with greater strength than of the hon. Member who has just spoken, that they have been supporters of the Government, and have been very patient with regard to Scottish legislation. Both the Scottish Members and the Scottish people have a very strong opinion on this matter and fully expect it to be dealt with. I rose, however, to refer to another matter which is infinitely more important, that is the question of the unemployed and of unemployment. Winter is now coming upon us again and large numbers of people all over the country who are strong enough are in a very perilous state in consequence of being unemployed, and not being able to get work. I know perfectly well that the problem is not so acute as it has been, and that their is a drop in the numbers of those who are unemployed. But still, I believe, that somewhere about seven per cent. of the members of the trades unions, according to the Board of Trade, are unemployed, which involves very keen and widespread suffering all over the country; and we on these benches, and I am sure Members on both sides of the House would be glad if the Prime Minister or someone in authority could assure us that the most sympathetic consideration would be given to the action of local committees outside with regard to the spending of the grant that has been made. I want to raise, specially, a case in regard to Glasgow. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that a certain statement was made last July in a Debate with reference to the allocation to Scotland of moneys under the unemployed grant, and the statement was made by the Lord Advocate, who was interpreted, at all events, to mean that any moneys spent by the Scottish distress committees, moneys spent prudently and wisely, I think he put it, would be made up as soon as the grant was made in September. We have now got out of September and October and into the inclement weather of November, and we shall soon be in mid-winter. I did not see the deputation which was here from Glasgow the night before last, but I gather that they urged that action should be taken, and claimed that part of the money devoted to unemployment should be allocated to them. I understand that even now no part of the £200,000 has been granted to the Glasgow Distress Committee, and I ask that some statement should be made to-day to reassure those in Glasgow that as far as possible this money shall be used for the purpose for which it was granted.


I have also some complaint to make with reference to unemployment, though not exactly on the same lines as those followed by my hon. Friend. I wish to refer to the unfortunate fishing industry in Shetland, which has been suffering for a long time past from a grave disaster. For a good many yeans past the herring fishing having failed in Norway, the fishermen there were at a loss to understand the reason of that failure, until at length they came to the conclusion that it was caused by people pursuing the practice of landing whales on the Norwegian Coast, and cutting them up and using the blubber for various purposes. The fishermen, satisfied as to the result of their inquiries, took the law into their own hands. Getting no satisfaction from the Legislature they burned down the stations on the Norwegian Coast and prevented others from being erected. As a result of that the Norwegian Legislature passed an Act absolutely prohibiting any whales being landed in Norway. The result of that has been most disastrous to the fishermen in Shetland. The Norwegians came over there and started stations, and the business of herring fishing on that coast has been going steadily down. On the West Coast of Scotland at this moment the herring fishing at a number of stations along the whole of the West Coast—Whalfirth, West Sand-wick, North Roe, Ronasroe, Hillswick, Walls and Papa Stour—where a large number of men were formerly employed, there is now no livelihood for anyone, and the people are in a very serious state of distress owing to these operations. In 1903, several hon. Members and myself approached the Conservative Government, and the then Secretary for Scotland, now Lord Dunedin, who was exceedingly sympathetic in the matter, appointed a Commission to inquire into the whole of the circumstances of the case. Of the members of that Commission one gentleman was personally interested in one of those whaling stations, another was known to take a strong view antagonistic to them, and a third was supposed to be absolutely impartial. They went to the district, and spent several weeks there. They made close and minute inquiries into the whole of the circumstances, and their views were embodied in a Bill which was submitted to this House by the then Secretary for Scotland (Lord Dunedin). What I claim to be a most discreditable transaction came about.

This Bill was unanimously approved by both the fishermen's representatives and the representatives of the whaling companies. It was a fair and moderate compromise, and I think was generally accepted in the Shetlands. The Bill came on in the House, but at that time there was a contest in Bute, and the present Lord Salveson was a candidate. Owing to the influence he was able to bring on the Conservative Government, and the Bill being deliberately blocked by the hon. Member for King's Lynn, the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, in his place in this House, said in view of the opposition he could not pursue the Bill any further. The present Government, when they found that the industry had grown and attained greater magnitude, brought in a Bill which was exceedingly unsatisfactory. It gave those whaling stations a great deal more than the previous Government had offered. Still, it was all we could get, and probably if we had not got that the evil would have been intensified to a very much greater extent than at the present time. In the Shetland district the herring fishing has been falling steadily, especially on the west side, where those whale hunters pursue their abominable operations. The Government are not able to find from the Fishery Board whether there is any direct connection between the destruction of whales and the falling off in the herring fishery. But we have got the practical experience of the Norwegians to go upon, that the fall in the herring fishery in their case was due to the whaling stations on the coast of Norway. I hope the Government will send a Special Commissioner to Scotland to inquire into the facts, and endeavour to allay the discontent which has arisen. There is no doubt about the facts, and I have put frequent questions in regard to them. I do not know whether we are going to meet again or not this Parliament, but it seems somewhat unlikely that I will get an answer at all to the questions I have put down. The worst of it is that it is not the Leader of the Opposition who dropped the Bill of 1903, who is blamed by my friends the fishermen, with whom I have the deepest sympathy; it is not Lord Salveson, who at that time was a candidate for Bute, who is blamed—it is I who am the unfortunate person to get all the blame, because the Conservative Government dropped the Bill. It is very hard. And when the Government's Bill proved exceedingly unsatisfactory, I am still the person who is blamed. When I cannot drag answers to questions out of the Secretary for Scotland it is still I who am to blame. The people are complaining, with reason, that their interests are being neglected, and I do think it is the duty of the Government to have some independent inquiry. It is not very much to ask for. There is one other question on which the Member for Ross-shire (Mr. Weir) asked a question yesterday, namely, the control of the Moray Firth.

I see that a number of questions are also put down for the next fortnight with regard to that. I think the hon. Member for Ross-shire has done exceedingly good service in bringing this question before the Foreign Secretary. The object of that Bill, which had been before the House for a good many years, and which I am thankful to say is an Act of Parliament, is to prevent foreign trawlers landing their fish in England. By means of a Scotch Order they are prevented from landing them in Scotch ports. I think the Government deserve great credit for passing that measure. I believe that owing to the restrictions which foreign countries place on the landing of undersized fish, they will not be able to pursue their calling in the Moray Firth with very great profit to themselves in the future. The question which my hon. Friend addressed to the Foreign Secretary was whether he would not enter into negotiations with Foreign Powers with reference to this matter, in view of the universal feeling in Scotland, and in view of the fact that the German Government, we have every reason to believe, are exceedingly desirous to protect certain breeding grounds in their own districts and the destruction of immature fish.

We desire to ask the Foreign Secretary if he could not enter into reasonable negotiations to see whether it would not be possible to enter into agreement with those powers in the North Sea, known as the Convention of the North Sea, to see whether we could not do something to prevent this indiscriminate destruction of fish in a variety of sheltered spots in the North Sea. If we do not do that, with the increase of modern appliances, steam drifters, motors, and other means year by year there can be no possibility of doubt that in the course of a few years it will be infinitely more difficult to catch fish to anything like the extent we do now. They are not like the sands of the sea. They must have time to breed and to recuperate, and also have time to develop and become fit articles of food. As matters stand now, millions of fish are destroyed every year. It is impossible to sell them, and most curious evidence was given before the Commission a few years ago for the poorest districts in London—namely, that the poorest people in London, though they are more or less in want of food, will not touch those undersized fish. They say it is impossible to cook them or make use of them. We claim, and we have every reason to believe, that foreign Powers would be only too willing to enter into negotiations with us on the subject; and that this unrestricted fishing might be very considerably diminished. On these grounds I trust that the Foreign Secretary will give this matter his attention.


I do not wish to draw a red herring across the track of the hon. Member who has just spoken, but I wish to direct the attention of the Prime Minister to the serious condition of things which now prevails in Dublin. The judicial position of things in Dublin is a very difficult one. A vacancy has occurred in the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal in Ireland as constituted under the Judicature Act consists of the Lord Chancellor and two Lords Justices. Nobody else can officiate in that Court except the Lord Chief Baron or the Lord Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench. It is necessary in all final appeals in Ireland, as in England, that three judges should sit to try them. The position taken up by the Government was that the King's Bench Division was over-manned, and for two Sessions in the last Government a Bill was introduced for the purpose of reducing the judicial strength of the King's Bench Division. That Bill of the late Government was not carried, but although the Bench remained over-manned the principle was accepted. Then came a vacancy by reason of the death of one of the puisne judges. That office remained vacant until the Government, for reasons which I will not discuss, thought it necessary to promote a Member, who was appointed to the vacancy, in spite of the fact that the King's Bench was overmanned, and out of all proportion to the needs of the Division. I ask the House to recognise the distinction between the over-manned King's Bench and the Court of Appeal with its narrow margin of three judges, with the right to call on the Lord Chief Baron and the Lord Chief Justice to supplement an occasional vacancy, or in cases of sudden illness, or things of that sort.

The appointment of Sergeant Dodd to the vacant puisne judgeship meant that the principle of the measure was abandoned for the time being, but in 1907 the Government passed through the House and through the other place an Act of Parliament, the 44th of the 7th of Edward VII., which provided that the two next vacancies after March, 1907, should not be filled up. We are therefore faced with this condition of things, that a Lord Justice has died, and has been dead for three weeks, and unless the Court of Appeal can draw upon the strength of the King's Bench Division by taking either the Lord Chief Baron or the Lord Chief Justice the business of the Court of Appeal, so far as final appeals are concerned, cannot go on. I think we have a right to ask, Why the delay in filling up this position? We are told that a distinguished Member of the Ministry is to be appointed. One can only congratulate him heartily on this side of the House upon the fact that he has been selected for the appointment, and that he is to be translated. An hon. Member below the gangway says that is not right, but it is common knowledge that the division he represents has met to select his successor. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] I shall obey your ruling, but I venture to submit we have demonstration from facts which are public property that steps have been taken to fill the vacancy when the time arises. My protest is this: Why is not that vacancy filled at once and the administration of justice allowed to go on in Ireland?

I do not know whether I shall be corrected from below the gangway, but I believe that in Ireland litigation is a very favourite pastime. Therefore, I submit it is a grievance to Irish litigants that the Court of Appeal should be left under-manned possibly for weeks or months longer if the Government are not going to advise a certain course to be taken with regard to all of us in this House. I submit the matter is one which urgently demands the consideration of the Prime Minister. The winter assize circuits are now going out and they will take four of the King's Bench Judges out of eight, which leaves four for the administration of justice of which one is required to deal with criminal cases in Dublin, leaving three judges only during the whole of the period of the winter assizes, to act; and for some weeks to deal not only with jury cases but also to take questions on points of law which require two judges to sit and to deal with other cases. If you take one from the Court of Appeal you reduce the King's Bench to two, and by that you inflict great hardship on litigants in Ireland and a grave scandal on the administration of justice in Ireland. If there is need to fill up this vacancy, why in the world do you not promote one of the judges of the King's Bench Division to the Court of Appeal, and so carry out the spirit of the Act of Parliament? I venture to submit that this is an opportunity, and the only opportunity, for raising of protest in the interests of the good administration of justice in the United Kingdom against leaving open an appointment which has already been vacant three weeks, and which will remain vacant probably twice as long if we are to have what we are told we shall have, in the month of January. This delay brings condemnation on the Government. I hope the Prime Minister will see his way to make the appointment and to run the risk of a bye-election in the Exchange Division.


With regard to what has been said on the Court of Appeal in Ireland, I desire to say that I am quite sure that the people of Ireland are very well able to look after themselves, and do not require the assistance of the hon. Member above the Gangway. But I rise for the purpose of joining in the appeal which has been made to the Government by the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow (Mr. Barnes) with reference to the provision of work for the unemployed. There never was a time when the outlook was so gloomy than the present for the unemployed, not only of this country but of Ireland. Any person who is placed in the position of having to look after some means for providing work for these people finds himself in a difficult position. I happen to be chairman of a distress committee in Ireland, and when I found a grant was to be made by the unanimous wish of the House, I immediately set my committee to work to obtain a register of names of those unemployed in Dublin, and I should like to tell the Chief Secretary, through the Prime Minister, that in less than a month we discovered over 2,000 men, chiefly heads of families, out of work, representing 9,000 people affected. The Chief Secretary, I think, will pay a compliment to the work of the committees in Ireland. They have obtained from the inspectors the satisfaction of knowing that their work has been administered in a satisfactory and proper manner. The people affected will be greatly disappointed if the grants for the relief of distress are not immediately placed at the disposal of the distress committees and it is hoped that the sum will be such as will enable the committees to give practical assistance to those who need it. At the present time employment in Ireland is very scarce. I do not think I ever knew such a hard season as we anticipate the coming season will be, and I do appeal to the Chief Secretary to help us to get the money to put these men to work. We do not want charity for these men. We want money to enable us to put these men to work. I have faith in the appeal to the Chief Secretary. He has always been sympathetic, and assisted the Lord Lieutenant in this direction, and I thank him for the able way in which he has assisted us in the past. I hope he will also assist us this year. It is no use relying on assistance to come from private individuals; we want the Government to come to our assistance, so that we shall be able to get to work immediately in the endeavour to relieve distress.


I want to enforce and support the question raised by my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Nield) in regard to the vacancy in the judiciary in Ireland. And I should like to remind the House that when the late Government were in office, this question was repeatedly raised by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway who were never tired of impressing it upon the House that the judiciary in Ireland was considerably overmanned and ought to be reduced. The Government of the day, represented by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover, to a limited extent accepted that view, and introduced a Bill which proposed, not only to reduce the Bench by two members, out also to deal with the question of salaries. That Bill was never passed, but the Government, acting upon the principle of the Bill, when a vacancy occurred, declined to fill it up. When the present Government came in they were, without protest, so far as I know from Members below the Gangway, allowed upon special and remarkable grounds to appoint a Member of this House to be a member of the Bench in Ireland. We were told that he was necessary to deal with land cases; but for some time now that distinguished judge has been taking his ordinary share in the administration of justice in the country, and the excuse for his appointment, which was not accepted with a very great amount of belief at the moment, was very soon destroyed by the fact that he took and takes his ordinary share in the administration of justice. What has happened now? Now the Bench in Ireland has been deprived by death of one of its most brilliant ornaments. It is, I imagine, impossible to fill up in the full meaning of the word the vacancy caused by the death of Lord Justice Fitzgibbon; but, I suppose, the vacancy must be filled up, and it is doubly necessary that a vacancy in the Appeal Court should be filled up, because the court can only be constituted by two justices of appeal, and although it is possible to bring in certain other members of the Bench in Ireland that is a possibility which always existed, and has no more force now than at any other time. Well, my hon. Friend referred to the fact that it is common knowledge that the Government intend to appoint to that vacant office the distinguished right hon. and learned Gentleman who is Attorney-General for Ireland. As to that I need hardly say nobody here would make any comment, except to offer him in advance congratulations on his appointment.

It is not in the smallest degree with the intention to reflect directly or indirectly upon the selection of the Attorney-General that I rise to support my hon. Friend. I rise to support the moral which is to drawn from this remarkable state of things. I recall that last night we concluded Debates on a subject, which, according to Members of the Government, is so sure of commanding the attention and support of the people—the Government are never tired of telling us so—and yet this vacancy is to be allowed to remain in the Higher Court of Ireland, and the right hon. Gentleman and learned Gentleman is to be kept in this curious position of suspense between a judgeship in Ireland and membership of this House, and for what reason? The reason is perfectly obvious. It is not for convenience. It is not because it is right to keep a vacancy of this kind open so long, but because the Government know perfectly well that they dare not submit to the arbitrament of the electors of the Exchange division. Because a vacancy must not be created in Liverpool at the present moment for the convenience of the Government, what amounts to a very serious inconvenience to the administration of justice is to be allowed to continue. Because the Government have so little confidence in their own popularity and their measures they are determined, until they are obliged so to do, that they will not submit the question to the electors.


It is customary on these occasions, when particular questions are going to be raised, that some kind of notice should be given to the Ministers responsible in order that they may be present to answer. Candidly, I really cannot pretend to carry all the details of what has happened in connection with the herring and whale fisheries of the North of Scotland mentioned by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Cathcart Wason), though I have the greatest possible sympathy with the persons engaged in those occupations. So far as I can gather, the complaint of the hon. Gentleman was that he had been made the scapegoat for other people's offences: because the late Tory Government failed to pass a Bill dealing with the subject, the whole blame was cast upon him. The hon. Gentleman's shoulders are very broad, and I think he can bear, without unnecessary inconvenience, that unmerited obloquy. I can only promise him to bring the matter before the Secretary for Scotland. The other point raised by the hon. Member for Blackfriars (Mr. Barnes) was of more general importance, dealing, as it did, with the question of proper provision being made for the unemployed. There, again, I should have been rather glad if some previous intimation had been given that that topic was going to be raised, so that the President of the Local Government Board could have been present. My views are well known. They were stated with the greatest clearness over a year ago. I need hardly remind the hon. Gentleman that we are keeping a most careful watch on this problem. We regard with sympathy all the attempts made locally to provide for the special necessities of the case, and we shall not be slow to render promptly such assistance as the Government are able, from the resources which the House has placed at its disposal. With regard to the request of the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Bottomley) that the Report of the Public Accounts-Committee should be considered, I rather hesitate to impose upon the House at this stage of the Session so laborious a duty. If the hon. Gentleman can bring evidence that a substantial portion of his fellow Members share his view, and are prepared to make a House, some time at the end of this month, to go into the matter, I shall give it my most respectful attention.

The only other point is in regard to the judiciary in Ireland, which has been raised not by Irish Members, but by a right hon. Gentleman sitting for a Metropolitan constituency, who concerns himself with the administration of justice in the Sister Island.


It is contempt of court.


I should not have referred to the matter but for the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Long). Both hon. Gentlemen seem to-know a great deal more about the matter than I do. They have both assumed that a particular appointment has not only been contemplated, but is on the eve of being made. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has been charitable enough to impute to the Government that their sole motive is the fear of facing a bye-election. I hope it is not necessary for me to repudiate any such motives, as I do. It has never entered into our minds at all. There would be a very good reason for the slight delay in filling up the vacant place, were my right hon. Friend appointed, in the fact that we have not yet concluded the consideration in this House of the Amendments to the Irish Land Bill; and there is no one more capable of giving to the Chief Secretary the same skilled advice as the right hon. Gentleman, who has been cognisant of the Bill in all its stages. I should have thought that a little political generosity, not to speak of chivalry, would have been sufficient to have saved this most unworthy imputation, and to account for my right hon. Friend remaining on these benches during the last remaining stages of this Bill. I entirely agree with what has been said by both hon. Gentlemen with regard to the overmanning of the King's Bench Division in Ireland. The Government have, I assure the right hon. Gentleman, got the fact clearly in their minds, and I hope that arrangements will be made before long, or in the course of time to bring about the discontinuance of that, and to reduce the number of the judiciary to proportions commensurate with the demands of the business of the country. I am sorry that the suggestion should have been made that has been made, for I do not believe there is any man in the House who commands the respect and consideration of his fellow Members more than does the right hon. Gentleman, and no one whom the House would less suspect of being a party to any arrangement with the particular object suggested.


The Prime Minister has made some little complaint that notice was not given that the question of unemployment and others would be raised, so that the Ministers responsible could be present. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that on every occasion when we can raise the question of unemployment we on these benches are going to raise it. The right hon. Gentleman might apply to his own Cabinet some of the forcible observations he made last night on right hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side as to their not doing their duty, for a little more consideration might be shown for the men who are seeking employment in different parts of the country. I should like to suggest to the Prime Minister the desirability, when schemes are being sent forward by distress committees, that he should bring a little pressure to bear upon the President of the Local Government Board to give a little more consideration to them. The problem of unemployment is just now as keen as ever it has been. Our registration in South West Ham showed that in March we had 5,300 men out of employment. This represents something like 15,000 persons. At the present time I have no hesitation in saying that between now and Christmas we shall have a similar number if not more than we had at this time last year. There is perhaps, as suggested, a little more employment in different parts of the country, so far as the skilled artisans are concerned, for their unemployment percentage has been reduced from 9 to 7. But where there is one skilled artisan out of employment, there are two general labourers. It will be, I am quite sure, a revelation to Members of this House, and to the public in general, if we could only get a true account of the vast numbers of men out of employment in different parts of the country. I am hoping that when the Labour Exchanges are set in operation next year that the whole of the unemployed workmen of the country will take the opportunity to register their names. If that is so I feel quite sure that between now and next year this Government, or some other Government, will be absolutely forced to attempt to grapple with this problem. When the Labour Exchanges come into operation next year the distress committee will be abolished, and the result will be that the £200,000 already set aside as a help for the various men out of employment will be used for these Exchanges, and that no more money beyond that will be granted next year, and that instead of the Government paying a little more in finding employment for those who need it, they will be saving money. Last year they granted £300,000. Only £200,000 will be allocated to carrying on the Labour Exchanges. The problem is a most important one. I quite sympathise with the question raised by one of the Members for Dublin as to the unemployment there. The economic conditions of the workers in Dublin are very bad. In England they are also very bad, and in West Ham their situation is very bad indeed. In the iron works, which employed between 3,000 and 4,000 men, not more than 300 or 400 are at work now. Take the corporation. Instead of trying to find employment they are, as a matter of fact, curtailing their expenditure. We find now that corporations, instead of spending money on works of utility, are refusing to spend any, and are depending upon the Unemployment Act. I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister to make an earnest appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board to see that when schemes are sent forward by the distress committees they receive more careful consideration. Several schemes have been sent forward from West Ham and other distress committees from different parts of the country, and they have not been passed. I do not say they did not receive any consideration, but at all events they have not been passed. The local authorities are the best judges in these cases. I know it is a very difficult job to find work for thousands of men out of employment. I appeal to the Prime Minister to urge the President of the Local Government Board to do more in connection with this important matter.

1.0 P.M.


I am not going to follow the hon. Member on the question of unemployment, although I am sorry to say that from my experience of London I know there is a great deal of unemployment. I really do not think the suggestions he makes or the criticisms he makes, that municipalities have not borrowed very much more money deserves much sympathy. While this reduction of expenditure has been going on the Socialists have been swept clean out of the London boroughs, and while this Budget is going on you cannot expect much improvement in unemployment. But I rose to call attention to a matter of some importance in connection with the administration of the Income Tax. I wish to direct the attention of the House to a circular which has just been issued. I shall read the first words of it:— In the even I of the Income Tax Clauses of the Finance Bill, 1909, becoming law without amendment, the following additional relief will be allowed. This is an official circular sent round on Income Tax paper. I do not know whether there is any precedent for circulars of this sort being sent round by public offices while Bills are under discussion as to the effect these Bills would have if they be- came law. A real constitutional question is raised because the suggestion is raised "if it becomes law without amendment." I do not know whether there is any rule at the Treasury against converting officials-into electioneering agents. That is really the effect of this circular. I always understood it was recognised in this country that our officials were above party, and it is most unfortunate in this matter that they should be dragged into the arena of electioneering. Let the House consider what the result of this may be. Supposing there was a Tariff Reform Budget, we may have Tariff Reform circulars saying, "If that Budget becomes law the people will have less to pay upon their tobacco." I think it will be seen that a matter of this kind establishes a very dangerous precedent that the officials of a very great Department might be used for electioneering purposes. It is perfectly clear that if I, as a Member of this House sent round a couple of sovereigns to each of my Constituents I certainly should not only be unseated, but I should lose any character I possess as a politician. Does not this amount to exactly the same thing as saying to people, "If you vote for the Budget you shall get £3 or £4 in your pockets"? I happen to know that some of the results of this electioneering circular has been that some waverers have been bought over, not brought over, but bought over to the side of the Budget.


May I ask the hon. Gentleman if he has given any notice to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or to the Secretary to the Treasury, that he was-going to raise this question? I know absolutely nothing about the circular. We have no information about the circular at all.


I only received the circular this morning. I understood some official of the Treasury was sure to be here. I heard so much criticism in previous Parliaments because of the absence of Ministers from this House that I think the Prime Minister is a little hard upon me.


I only suggested that you should have given notice.


I am sure I shall have some sympathy from the Chancellor of the Exchequer in bringing this matter forward, because I remember, when the Old Age Pensions Act was going through its various stages in this House he expressed the strong wish that no party capital should be made out of that particular measure I cannot say that there has been very much result from that particular appeal, because I know one or more constituencies where, very soon after that measure became law, tea parties and bun fights were given to persons over 70 years of age, and thanks were returned to the Almighty—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh."]—I am stating deliberately what happened. I agree it was a most blasphemous proceeding, but it is what happened. They thanked the Almighty because he had granted pensions to the old people, and further expressed their gratitude that He had chosen the Prime Minister to be His humble instrument.


I join in that prayer myself.


That is only one of the methods adopted. The latest is to appeal to the shade of departed statesmen. May I point out that in the circular to which I have referred no particular mention is made of the diminution of the advantages which certain people will experience if the Budget becomes law, and there is a most marked silence as to any increase in taxation. Then there is the special allowance in regard to the Income Tax of £10 for each child. On this point the circular is wholly unnecessary, because in the assessment notice the same point is taken. Therefore, for the purpose of giving information, it is wholly unnecessary, and can have no other abject but that of electioneering. I submit most strongly that it is a most discreditable thing that the impartial officials of a great Department should be used to assist the Government to pass the Budget into law.


Might we have the circular?


We have heard in this Debate speeches about the spending of the rates, about "spooks," and the Socialists being swept out of London. If all the statements of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Peel) have as little foundation as his statement about the Socialists being swept out of London, then they do not merit much attention. At the county council elections a Socialist polled a heavier vote than was polled by any other candidate in London, and the Socialists have more members on the councils of London than they ever had before. The only party which suffered most seriously was the Municipal Reform party, of which the hon. Member for Taunton is the leader. But these recriminations do not help us forward. The point about the unemployed question is that this will probably be the last winter in which the Government will be called upon to give doles to assist localities in dealing with the unemployed. We all anticipate that owing to legislation, which is now on the point of going through this Session, and other measures which have been promised next Session, the method of grappling with the question of unemployment will be much improved. But all that does not help us in regard to this winter, and the point I wish to press upon the Prime Minister, and through him upon the Department which is specially responsible for dealing with this question is that the condition of unemployment this winter is worse than it was last winter. The percentage of unemployment in certain trades is undoubtedly smaller than it was before, but it should be borne in mind that every succeeding year of trade depression exhausts more and more the resources upon which these people have to fall back for relief and assistance. That being so the need for more action on the part of the Government is all the more necessary.

I know that a good many of our large towns are faced with a more difficult position in regard to unemployment at this moment than they have been for years past. Mainly owing to financial limitations not one-third of those registered as being entitled to receive work can have employment found for them. That is chiefly due to the lack of financial resources, and if the distress committees in big towns, and in such places as Merthyr—where owing to the closing down of one of the ironworks those out of employment will be called upon to suffer a great deal—could only rely upon a more sympathetic interpretation of the claims sent in to the Local Government Board, they would be stimulated to increased activity. From all over the country there are complaints made that there is so much red-tapeism attached to the grants from the fund provided by the House that local authorities are discouraged in attempting to do anything practical for meeting the difficulties of the unemployed. What we wish to press upon the Government is that the grant for this winter ought not to be dealt out in the grudging and niggardly spirit which has hitherto characterised the administration of the Department, but will be distributed as generously as the needs of the different cases demand, and as the practicability of the schemes submitted seem to justify.

May I respectfully appeal to the Prime Minister to place before the Cabinet the claims of those women prisoners who are still being fed by forcible means. I know there are difficulties in the way of any change in the procedure which the prison authorities are pursuing, but surely those difficulties can be overcome as other difficulties have. It must be revolting to every man who thinks upon the subject at all to reflect that women, whether of the working class or any other class, are being subjected to the indignity which forcible feeding implies. I hope the feeling of the House will be that for any offence which these women have committed in connection with the political movement in which they are engaged, the punishment which they inflict upon themselves by suffering hunger and thirst for three or four days is quite sufficient to meet the claims of justice without adding to it by taking a course which unquestionably, under the circumstances, involves great risk both to the health and the life of the prisoners who undergo it.

I would strongly, in the interests of humanity and in the name of that chivalry which has hitherto supposed to characterise the dealings of men with women, appeal to the Government not to insist upon this method of forcible feeding unless the crime be of a very serious and grave character. The bulk of the offences for which these women have been imprisoned are of the most trivial kind. They are instances of an everyday occurrence in connection with political meetings. I read this morning how at a meeting addressed last night by the Lord Advocate there were scenes amounting to almost rioting on account of an organised opposition, and we hear nothing of those responsible being apprehended or being put in prison. The women's movement is surely entitled to as much latitude as is usually allowed in connection with political movements. I hope, therefore, the Cabinet, as a whole, will take upon itself the responsibility of saying that this method of forcible feeding, so repugnant to the feelings of every man, will not be pursued unless there are special circumstances to justify that course being taken.


I want, in the fewest words possible, to support the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Cathcart Wason). I failed to understand the point of the Prime Minister's reply when he said no notice had been given to the Secretary for Scotland (Lord Pentland) that the question was going to be brought forward. It is impossible for the Secretary for Scotland to be here, but there is sitting by the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Advocate (Mr. A. Ure), who is quite familiar with the whole subject, and who, on more than one occasion, has answered questions put by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and myself. My interest in the matter is owing to the fact that I have had the opportunity of discussing the question with the fishermen and the herring packers; and I can say that there is a widespread feeling of resentment, so far as Shetland is concerned. I know the argument. It is that scientifically it cannot be proved that the whaling industry injures the herring industry, but the fact remains that the herring industry is declining, and that the Norwegian Government would not give facilities to these whaling companies. I am not going to say that science is wrong, but I am going to say that the facts are stubborn, and are causing great inconvenience and suffering, especially in Shetland. There is a widespread feeling in Shetland that favouritism is being shown in this question. There is no doubt that a prosecution was undertaken by the authorities in Scotland and that it fell through. The Lord Advocate has given his reason, but that reason does not satisfy the people of Shetland. Whether it is ill or well founded, there is a widespread opinion that favouritism is being shown to the whaling companies, and it is accepted, and stated by many people, that that favouritism is being shown because of the association of the directors of the companies with persons in high places, both here and elsewhere. It is not in the interests either of respect for the Government or of the public life of this country that a community should get the idea that because certain people financially interested in an industry are well placed with those responsible for the government of the country they are freed from conditions which apply to other people, and I appeal to the Government to carry out the request of the hon. Member for Shetland. I have much sympathy with him as the vicarious sufferer for other people's sins, but it is not so much in his suffering that I am interested. I want these people satisfied that the Government are freed from any suspicion that favouritism has been shown to the directors of these whaling companies, who are making large profits to the injury of the fishermen in that particular part of the Empire. The Prime Minister was hardly fair to my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland. I think I am correct in saying that he was called out of the House for the moment, or he would have been here to hear the reply of the right hon. Gentleman. I think he has made a, moderate and reasonable request that an impartial inquiry shall be held, so that these people who, rightly or wrongly, have had their suspicions aroused, shall have them allayed and be assured that there is no foundation for the charge made against the Government.

I should like to refer to the impression made upon my mind by the Debate which has taken place. We hear of evil communications corrupting good manners. I am only comparatively a new Member of this House, but I have always felt that a university training helped a man to have larger ideas and extend greater charity to his opponents than to those who have not been educated upon university lines, but I find to-day we have had an advance upon that theory.


I think the time has passed for that. The hon. Member should have joined in the Debate yesterday.


I want to call attention to the statement made with reference to the judicial position which has to be filled in Ireland. I would like to ask the Leader of the Opposition, with all deference—and there are very few men in this House who have a higher respect for him—whether he thinks it is setting a good example to the class to which I belong to have statements bandied across the floor of the House arousing suspicions that politics in this country is a very dirty game. We accept the statement that certain things can and may be done; but I do not think it is to the credit of the House that personal charges should be made, and it certainly will not improve my appreciation for those who have had a university training to think that they can come down even lower than we would stoop ourselves. One word with reference to unemployment. I would impress upon the Prime Minister the great seriousness of the problem. The Opposition, as the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie) has said, have been given instructions to talk upon unemployment. Talking unemployment, unless you are going to solve the problem, is not only going to create serious difficulties for the Opposition, but also in the maintenance of law and order in this country. There are thousands of law-abiding citizens who, through no fault of their own, are walking the streets, and some of them, I regret to say, are being influenced by statements made by politicians on this side of the House, and notably by newspapers which stand for their party. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition whether he thinks it in the interests of law and order that men should be allowed to raise false hopes, hopes which, when his party is returned to power, must turn into dead sea fruit. Can he expect these men to sit down as quiet, law-abiding citizens? I say it is the greatest menace and danger to law and order to lead these men along a certain line where their hopes will be falsified. If the right hon. Gentleman understands democracy at all, and especially that part which is becoming educated, is it not asking too much to insist that these men shall sit down quietly amid plenty and see their wives and children die of starvation? If we want to prevent the unemployed army becoming a lawless mob we must do something to tackle this question.


I am sure the hon. Member will not expect me to go into very large general questions such as he has raised. He asked whether the word had gone forth for Unionist speakers to talk of unemployment, and he inquired whether I did not think such a course was dangerous. Well, I know nothing of any such suggestion. I suppose what the hon. Gentleman has in his mind relates to what is undoubtedly the fact, that most of us believe that our method of dealing with the fiscal question in this country would have the effect of increasing employment I think that is true, but I also agree with the hon. Gentleman that if anybody interprets that as meaning that any arrangement of tariffs or anything else, is going to abolish unemployment altogether, he is mistaken. I have never said that. I have never suggested it. Indeed, I believe I have on more than one occasion in this House, and on public platforms as well, done my best to warn my hearers that expectations of that sort, either from this party or from any party, are exaggerated. But I confidently believe I am right in the general view to which attention has been called. Whether it is possible to destroy unemployment wholly and altogether, I do not know, but certainly anything which encourages the employment of capital by starting new works, may, and I hope will, in fact, lead to more employment. More than that I do not hope, and I trust the hon. Gentleman will be content with that statement, which I wish to make in the most clear and distinct terms. When he reproaches my right hon. Friend near me, and the hon. Member behind me, with having used personally abusive language in this House, I think he is mistaken. What the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin said was that he assumed that the present Attorney-General for Ireland had practically been offered a certain position and if he was right in that assumption he was surely equally justified in asking how it came about that effect was not to be given to the intentions of the Government until the time had passed when bye-elections were of account. Can it be said that that is an unfair or an abusive question, or a question which seriously lowers the tone of this House? I do not think it is. When the hon. Member has been as long in this House as I now have been he will realise the fact that when a General Election is in the air, when its shadow has been cast beforehand, people think it worth while to say a great many things which otherwise would have been left unsaid. I will go further, and say I do not think it is an improvement in the life of this country that we should be always under the shadow of a General Election if for no other reason than that it produces the results I have just indicated. My hon. friend called attention to a certain circular. I think he may have been mistaken as to the official facts, I am not a judge of that, but he interpreted a certain document issued by the Inland Revenue Department as indicating that tax-payers under given circumstances would benefit if the Budget were passed. Probably the Government have a complete answer to that, and will give it to us before this Debate closes. Still, I think it was a very fair and legitimate question to ask. I hope the hon. Gentleman will, after this, carry away a rather more favourable impression of our case than he appears to have derived from some of the earlier speeches.

May I say one word with regard to the plea of the Prime Minister that notice has not been given to various head's of Departments to be in their places to answer questions put by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I have bad a much longer experience than even the Prime Minister, and I think he has misstated—quite unintentionally, of course—the practice of this House and of the Government on these occasions. It is perfectly well known that on the Motion for the adjournment of the House any question may be raised. If an hon. Member wishes to raise a question affecting a particular Department, involving details, he would naturally give notice to the Minister, as otherwise the Minister would come down and say: My answer is necessarily, because of the shortness of notice, of an inadequate and perfunctory character, but I shall be happy to look up the details. It is therefore in the interest of the hon. Member himself that he should give notice. But let me put the other side of the question. It has always been understood that every Minister should be within the precincts of the House in order to deal with any question that may be asked, and it is not sufficient for the Prime Minister to say that no notice has been given, and that he himself cannot be expected to be conversant with the details of the Departments controlled by his colleagues. That is not the way in which matters have been generally managed in this House, and I do think Ministers ought to be here when an Adjournment Motion is under debate, in order to deal, to the best of their ability, with matters of which no notice has been given. If no notice is given, and if the matter is obviously a matter of detail, then, of course, it may be disposed of summarily; and the Minister in charge is absolved. If notice is given, and if he shows himself incapable of dealing with the question, the blame falls upon him and his colleagues. That, I think, is the ordinary practice of the House, and I think it is unfortunate on this occasion that it has not been observed by the Government.


May I just say that I take some blame to-myself if any Minister is not here and if subjects connected with his Department are raised. I was under the impression that this Motion would be passed practically without Debate at the commencement of the proceedings. There are two alternatives: You can either put a Motion of this kind at the commencement or at the end of the proceedings. The result of putting it at the end is that there is the difficulty of being able to maintain a quorum of the House, and I therefore put it at the commencement of the proceedings. If I had had any information that any Minister would be required to deal with any subject I should have seen that he was here, so that any information as to matters to which hon. Members desired to call attention to-day should be forthcoming.

Motion agreed to.