§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ Mr. REMNANT
I wish to put a few questions to the Under-Secretary of State 1034 for Foreign Affairs upon matters which I know to be of considerable importance to the trading community in this country in reference to the Reciprocity Agreement between Canada and the United States. I do not want to say anything that could be construed as interfering with the rights of the Canadians to make their own treaties, but in this case there are points affecting British interests in regard to which I think the Government ought to have taken the public more closely into their confidence than they have done. We have put numerous questions to the Foreign Office from time to time with the sole object of learning from them the part taken by our Ambassador, representing British interests at Washington. The answers given to our questions have been eminently unsatisfactory; they have been more than 1035 unsatisfactory. In some cases such answers as we have been able to extract have been quite inaccurate. I refer especially to the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for the Ludlow Division of Shropshire (Mr. Rowland Hunt) by the Under-Secretary. The Under-Secretary, in answer to my hon. Friend, stated in so many words that the interests of the United Kingdom and the British Empire affected by the Reciprocity Agreement were of no practical importance.
It will be in the recollection of the House that the Government have this month issued a White Paper purporting to give in the fullest detail an account of the negotiations that have taken place between the two countries parties to the agreement. In answer to a question of mine the Foreign Secretary stated that he had given all the despatches and telegrams received from our Ambassador up to date with certain necessary omissions. Amongst those omissions is a Very important one. They made no allusion whatever to the important offer which President Taft made of the virtual abolition of British preference by introducing complete freedom of trade between Canada and the United States. Then we have the further important question of the adhesion of Canada to our Imperial treaty system, a departure from which is tantamount to separation in regard to international negotiations. In the case of foreign countries like Japan, for instance, we negotiate and make representations. We have done the same with France, but because Canada happens to be a part of the British family the position of the Government seems to be that the United States have a free run to introduce disunion and disintegration of the British Empire. The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Mr. M'Kinnon Wood), when he talks of the British interests affected by this agreement being of no practical importance is quite inaccurate in the description. The hon. Gentleman perhaps forgot when he made that answer the very important points I will put before the House.
We shall have under this arrangement immediately the entire destruction of the preference on British goods of which Canada imported for 1909–10 the amount of £668,000. There is also the reduction of the margin of British preference on other goods, of which Canada imported in 1909–10 £439,000 worth. It differentiates against the United King 1036 by giving Canadian products a greater advantage in the United States than we enjoy on trade amounting to nearly £3,000,000 a year; and greatly widens the area of competition from which British manufacturers have to suffer in the Canadian market by extending to all countries with which Canada has most-favoured-nation treaties the reduced rates she is now according to the United States. If that is not a matter of importance, the right hon. Gentleman had better go and talk like that to the operatives, whose interests he so often boasts he is so anxious to look after, and which he has been appointed to his high office to safeguard. I think British trade is likely to be very hardly hit if this reciprocal arrangement goes through. I sincerely hope it will not go through, and I know there are many inside this House and outside who agree with me on that point. We admire the spirit which is being shown by a large number of Canadians, who are doing their best to delay this agreement and prevent it from being passed so hurriedly, as the present statesmen who are responsible for it seem so anxious to do. Those Canadians are doing their best to prevent the Bill passing until the people of Canada have had full time to consider it. We have always been told by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that reciprocity with Canada was not likely to benefit our trade, and that anybody who attempted it was likely to injure that trade. That is not the highest and best opinion in the United States of America. It was only in 1906 that Mr. Hill, the great railway man, talking about this reciprocity, said:—Canadian reciprocity with the United States of America is still possible, possible largely because of the downfall of the Chamberlain policy in Great Britain. Had that been ratified, had England really granted to the Colonies a preference in its markets based on reciprocal advantages, then this country (the United States) would have felt the double thrust in a decline of business with its greatest and its third greatest customers on two sides of the Atlantic. Canada must now seek commercial alliances elsewhere, and this, perhaps, is the time when reciprocity with Canada may be considered with more favour than it ever can be again by usThen he goes on to show how we have refused the reciprocal offer of Canada by turning our backs upon her, and, in the words of the Home Secretary, by "banging, slamming, and barring the door" in the face of our kinsmen. There is something else behind this. President Taft announced what in his view are the aims of the American Government in these negotiations. They, at all events, desire that this agreement should be simply the 1037 prelude of a great scheme of Free Trade across the Canadian frontier; and, on the analogy of what has taken place in other countries, I venture to think every practical business man must know this can only lead up to complete commercial and political union. Our Ambassador at Washington is supposed up to the present to have been impartial and free from politics, but I venture to say he has done what no other Ambassador would have done on an occasion like this. A strong advocate of free importations into this country—so-called Free Trade—he has not hesitated to urge day after day and year after year that if you have commercial union political union must follow. He has gone out of his way, in the midst of these delicate and critical negotiations, to publish a revised edition of his book, the main object of which is to show commercial union must be followed by political union.
There can, I think, only be one opinion as to the indiscretion of what has been done by our Ambassador at Washington. He is determined, and he has shown it, to take an active and leading part in the negotiations between these two countries, apparently without the instructions of the British and Home Government. We are told we ought not to interfere in any Canadian Treaty with any other Government. Why has our representative interfered in the way he has done all through? When we ask for particulars of what he is doing and for a report to be sent over to this country, all we get is, "You must not ask such questions. It is most improper, and you ought to leave such things in the hands of the Government." I am not content to do that. I think the country ought to be taken into the confidence of the Government in an important matter like this, and I think the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs ought to be particularly careful and not make an inaccurate statement, as he did, when he said that the interests affected are of no practical importance. President Taft, again in his speech at Atalanta, on March 10th, said:—The duties between Canada and the United States are just the same sort of thing as the duties between the various State of America before Confederation.The only possible deduction from that is that Mr. Taft and his advisers contemplate the commercial and economic annexation of Canada as the result of these negotiations. One thing is pretty certain: that these aims cannot possibly be carried out without the withdrawal of Canada from the Imperial Treaty system. 1038 But what I want to ask the Government to tell us to-night is: Are they, or are they not, prepared to denounce the whole of these twenty-four treaties to which Canada is a party? Canada cannot withdraw from these treaties unless they are denounced by the British Government. I have got a statement published in the "Toronto Globe" and other important papers in Canada, and reproduced in the "Times," showing that Sir Wilfrid Laurier has himself declared his intention to ask the British Government to denounce these treaties as far as Canada is concerned. He has gone further, and has declared his intention of bringing the subject up before the Colonial Conference. When I asked to-day whether there was any notice of that, the answer I got was that the Government had no official knowledge of the report. We have had a good many answers of that description. We have had them in connection with Naval and other questions, and they have generally proved to be wrong.
I am convinced, from the information which I have received, that in this case it will be found the information of the Government is wrong, and that at the Colonial Conference shortly to be held this matter will come up, if Sir Wilfrid Laurier comes over—which I very much doubt. I believe his hands are already too full in Canada in answering the attacks made upon him by those who appreciate British attachment to this country. But it will be found that those who come over in his place will urge the Government to allow that matter to be brought up, and will also urge the Government to denounce these treaties so far as Canada is concerned. If the Government are prepared to denounce them, what do they propose to do in the complications that must arise? What will become of this vaunted most-favoured-nation clause which is described by many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and more especially by the Home Secretary, as the key of British commerce, but which, in my opinion, as a matter of fact, is much more likely to become the key of the disintegration and dissolution of the British Empire.
I would ask another question: Do they imagine for one moment that if the greatest of our Dominions does withdraw from these treaties—from our interpretation of our international obligations—that they are likely to get the same sort of treatment for British traders in foreign countries as they have hitherto been able to obtain? Of course, the answer will be 1039 "No." Will not the same thing as happened in the case of the German Treaty occur again, so that we, instead of getting a fixed treaty with the German Empire, are now dependent upon a hand-to-mouth sort of arrangement, which is only extended to us by favour of the German Reichstag—a treaty which at any moment may be withdrawn, and then we shall be thrown back on the general tariff which must result in a heavy penalisation of British trade. I maintain that we have a right to ask the Government to tell us more than they have told us, and to let us know exactly what they propose to do. Will they let us know what our British Minister has done, and upon what instructions he has acted? I venture to hope that the hon. Gentleman who represents the Foreign Office will respond to this bonâ fide desire for information, and thus allay the general unrest that has arisen.
§ 12.0 M.
Sir GILBERT PARKER
Before I address myself in a very brief way to the subject my hon. Friend has raised, I want to say one word only about the introduction of the Consolidated Fund Bill at this late hour of the night. We who have been here a good many years have looked upon the Second and Third Readings of the Consolidated Fund Bill as an opportunity for a private Member to bring up important questions, which, under the pressure of public business and the procedure of this House, we are prevented from otherwise bringing before the House, and there is no reason why the Third Reading of this measure should have been brought on at this hour to-night. I supposed that we should have an opportunity of discussing it as we have had for the last nine or ten years. I have always raised questions on this Bill immediately after questions, which was considered an opportunity by this and the late Government for doing so, and of all the Sessions on which to take away these privileges of private Members the present is the most unfortunate one, when we have had absolutely no opportunity, from January to Easter, of raising public questions. I had intended, if this Bill had been brought in immediately after questions, to raise a question which I venture to say every Member sitting on that Front Bench would consider one of the gravest questions to which this House itself, either in Committee or in the whole House, could address itself, and that is the question of 1040 Colonial navies—a question which has, to the credit of the Government, been entirely obliterated from every statement made by the First Lord of the Admiralty, and which I consider one of the most important movements which have ever occurred in our time to secure Imperial organisation, or in the history of our Parliament and of the Parliaments of the Dominions over seas. But I will not dwell upon that.
I want to say a word upon the question raised by my hon. Friend. I am sorry to say that I must differ slightly—no more than slightly—from my hon. Friend in addressing myself to this question. In doing so I wish to say that while I shall not agree with my hon. Friend I shall, before I close, point out where the Government have been somewhat culpable. I will begin by saying that I cannot agree that our Ambassador to the United States has not done his duty, or that he has done more than his duty, or that he has done less than his duty. I think it extraordinary that the conduct of our Ambassador in the United States, in view of the statements made from that Front Bench, that no instructions were given to him concerning this question, has been highly exemplary. If he acted without instructions, in the position in which Ambassadors are placed to-day our Ambassador in the United States has worthily upheld the traditions of his office. We have had published correspondence, but it has been entirely one-sided. I do not know whether it is always the custom only to publish the communications of the Ambassador, as in this case. In a great many instances we have not only the communications of Consuls, but communications from the Government to the Consuls. Anyone who knows our Ambassadors in any part of the world knows that they constantly say they are practically deprived of all freedom in negotiation, as they live at the end of a telegraph wire, and they cannot move unless they have direct instructions from their Government. We have never been told that no instructions at all were given, but we have been told that no official instructions were given, and that the United States Ambassador was practically expected to conduct negotiations on our behalf independently of any instructions from the Foreign Minister and from the Cabinet of this country. If it is the case that no instructions at all were given while British trade was being affected by these negotiations, while the preference which British traders and British working men enjoy was in 1041 danger of being reduced or destroyed altogether, the Government are absolutely culpable of neglect of British interests. Had it been the case of an arrangement between France and Germany, or between France and the United States, and it was felt that British interests were being affected, the Foreign Minister would have been soon on the ground with instructions to our British Ambassador to see to it that British interests were not affected, if it were possible to prevent injury being done.
Why this extraordinary timidity regarding Canada? Is it because the Government are always afraid of offending Canada? It is a very laudable thing, but I think I know that country, and its Government is composed of very businesslike men. They look after themselves very well indeed, and they find no fault with us for looking after ourselves very well indeed. The Prime Minister and his colleagues have recognised the extraordinary effect of the preference upon British trade, and yet they leave it, as they would not have left it to any other Ambassador, to our American Ambassador to do this thing off his own bat at a time when at least half the people in this country consider the advantages given to British trade by Canada were of incalculable benefit, not only in a monetary sense, to the future of the Empire and the possibilities it suggested. From that standpoint, if it is true that this Government gave no instructions to the Ambassador of the United States, this Government was so culpable that we would be justified in using every means to bring them to account for it. I believe the traders and working men of this country, if they knew that this duty of the Board of Trade, the Foreign Minister, and the whole Cabinet, was left to our Ambassador without instructions, would have a very different opinion of this situation which has been brought about, I think, absolutely by the present Government. If they had listened to the plea for preference, and had granted it on those things on which it was possible without destroying their fiscal theories, as they could have done, we should not be in the position in which we are to-day. It is because they have consistently and persistently refused to grant, even when they could grant it and still preserve their economic theories, that we say, the present Government do not deserve the support or admiration of men on this side of the House or anywhere who have the Imperial 1042 spirit. Although I give them credit for this development of our Colonial policy, even there the foundation of it was laid by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition in the Defence Committee. That natural evolution and development is a thing which they refuse to consider when it is the case of Imperial trade. That development of reciprocity was as natural as any evolution that ever took place in our Parliamentary history or in our relations with out Colonies. They away with that natural evolution and development in matters of trade, because of hidebound theories behind them, but when they want to take advantage of that natural evolution as in the case of the Navy they do so with complacency. I do not agree with my hon. Friend in the strictures he passed upon Mr. Bryce. I believe Mr. Bryce absolutely observed the character of his office, and I hope all our Ambassadors act as highly as he has done. But that does not in the least affect my judgment regarding the culpability of this Government for not giving instructions to Mr. Bryce to watch over our interests, to watch every step of the negotiations, and to put in wherever and whenever possible strong pressure for those interests which America would be the first to respect and the last to disregard.
§ Mr. MACMASTER
I do not desire to enter into a general discussion in regard to the terms of the agreement between the United States and Canada, because at this hour of the evening and in a somewhat attenuated House, this is not the proper time for such a discussion. I simply desire to refer to two points in connection with the manner in which the agreement was executed. It is within the knowledge of the House from the papers before it that negotiations were commenced in May, 1910, by an approach from the American Government to the British Ambassador. The Ambassador communicated that suggestion to our own Government, and he also was put in communication with the Governor-General of Canada. At that time it was inconvenient for the Government of Canada to take up the consideration of the question. Mr. Fielding, the Finance Minister of Canada, who was primarily charged with the matter, was about to visit this country, and for that reason he could not take up direct negotiations. Therefore, the negotiations were postponed until the autumn. In the meantime the proposition for reciprocity was fairly before the Canadian people, 1043 the Canadian Ministry, and the British Ambassador at Washington, and full communication of the fact had been made to this Government.
The matters at issue were not merely matters of concern to Canada, though these were important, but there were very considerable interests of this country at stake in the negotiations which might be affected, and in regard to these it was remarkable that a more active concern was not shown by the Government of this country. It is a matter of great importance whether our manufactures are to get access to the great and growing Canadian markets on favourable terms in comparison with foreign nations. If this agreement is carried into effect the result will be that Canadian producers of certain articles will enter the United States market on more advantageous terms than the British manufacturer. No doubt that is an advantage for Canada, but it is a disadvantage for those who invest capital and employ labour in this country, so that there was something to safeguard as regards the interests of the people of this country when the Canadian Minister of Finance was about to visit it.
I should like to know whether during the three or four months that the Canadian Minister of Finance was here the subject of reciprocity with the United States came up, whether it was deemed sufficiently important to come up, and whether any British Minister asked Mr. Fielding what was to be the nature of these negotiations between Canada and the United States? It is no answer to say that we have no right to interfere with Canada in the matter of tariffs. This country being directly interested in the concessions made to it by Canada, it would be the most natural thing in the world for our Ministers here to inquire from the Canadian Ministers what were the proposals of the United States, and what was the attitude they were going to take up with regard to them. It would not be infringing Canadian rights, but safeguarding British interests. Nothing took place until November, when after the Canadian Minister of Finance returned to Canada the United States sent two Commissioners there to negotiate. Negotiations took place then with regard to reciprocity of trade between Canada and the United States. I asked to-day the Colonial Secretary if he had any reports as to what took place on that occasion, and he said that 1044 there were no reports except those furnished by the British Minister at Washington. He did not communicate one iota of those negotiations that took place in November, 1910, so that as to what took place there between the representative of a foreign Power and the Ministers of our greatest colony there is an absolute blank so far as the knowledge of the Ministers of this country is concerned. In the January following two Canadian Ministers visited Washington, and our Ambassador there tells us that he introduced them to the President, and that they were received cordially, and commenced their operations on the 10th of January.
Is it not a remarkable thing that these negotiations, which were known to have been resumed on 10th January, were brought to a conclusion between the 19th and 21st of that month—negotiations that affected not merely the tariffs but affected the trade and interests of this country, and were construed as affecting seriously the relationship of Canada to the United States of America. What took place between the 10th January and the 21st January? It is quite apparent that our Ambassador knew very little. The only thing he knew was what the Canadian Commissioners told him. It does not appear that he was present at the negotiations. The statement of the Canadian Ministers was made to the Canadian Parliament. If he afforded assistance in the negotiations it could not have been much more than supplying the pink ticket by the Serjeant-at-Arms to traverse the corridors in this House. The Commissioners conducted the entire negotiations, so that our Ambassador seems to have taken no active part in them as representing this country. The only information he apparently had of what was going on was what he got from the Commissioners. On 10th January he writes to the Foreign Secretary:—I have been in constant communication with the Canadian Ministers and with the representatives of the United States.Whether he was dry nursing the Canadian Ministers or not, or what he was doing, we are left to draw our own inferences. And he says:—I gather from them (the Canadian Ministers)——That shows he got his information from them——that the difficulties incident to any general reciprocity still appear serious.Mark the date—the 10th January. And mark the observations, "general reciprocity" and "still appear serious." Was 1045 general reciprocity proposed? At that time it was not known in this country or by our Government; at least, it does not appear from the despatches that the proposition of the President of the United States would appear, not only from the reciprocity between the Dominion of Canada and the United States—in other words, that there should be reciprocity not merely in respect of natural products but in respect of manufactures. The proposition of the President of the United States would appear, not only from the sentence I have read, but from the statements made, to have been really an offer to our great Dominion of Canada to wipe out the tariffs between the two countries. It was on account of that the "serious difficulties" were heard of. I ask Ministers, did they know of that at the time? Were they aware of the fact that the proposal was made to put the Dominion of Canada practically on the same basis as New York, North Carolina, or any other State of the United States? Why was that important fact withheld from the Government of this country, or, if it was not withheld, why was that fact not communicated to this House? For there was a proposal of general reciprocity between Canada and the United States, because President Taft after the 21st January, in making a tour of the South, in order to commend the agreement to the people of the United States, said that he had instructed the Commissioners to offer Free Trade to the Dominion of Canada, which is general reciprocity on manufactured articles as well as on the natural products of the country. If that had been the fact would the Prime Minister or any Member of the Government say that we should have been indifferent to an emergency of that kind? Will they pretend, although Canada had a right to make a treaty with the United States, that if a reciprocal tariff had been put into effect they were to be mere bystanders in this country while Canada and the United States made a bargain which would prevent any interchange between Canada and this country, save at a ruinous disadvantage, and with the contingency that in the operation of that sort of tariff arrangement there must be assimilation of tariffs between people living under the same conditions, and consequently an extension of the higher tariff of the United States against the products of this country? A serious situation was presented there, and if it has been avoided it has not been 1046 by the Ministers of this country, but evidently because Canadian Ministers could not consent to a general reciprocity treaty because it would blot out the advantages they get from the revenue for the support of their Government. The Canadian Government has not got an Income Tax and depends on the money derived from tariffs a general reciprocity agreement would have deprived the country of that source.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
The hon. Gentleman is not allowed to enter into the merits. The only thing he is entitled to do is to criticise the action or inaction on the part of His Majesty's Ministers.
§ Mr. MACMASTER
On the following page I find, on 12th January, a telegraphed despatch from Mr. Bryce stating:—I understand that the negotiations with Canada are now progressing in a more favourable way, owing to the friendly spirit displayed by both sides.Evidently they had got from the adoption of a general tariff down to the question of natural products. What I am endeavouring to do is to call attention to the grave situation which was there presented, and that Mr. Bryce was acting as our Ambassador apparently without instructions from this country, as one of my hon. Friends has pointed out. In the old days an Ambassador was far from the seat of Government, and he had to act off his own bat. In these days of speedy written communication and of cables it was perfectly easy to instruct the Ambassador what he should do, and it was obligatory on the part of the Ambassador to have communicated the fact to his Government that a general offer of reciprocity had been made. Therefore I do not entirely agree with my hon. Friend (Sir Gilbert Parker) who last spoke upon that subject. I do not think our Ambassador (Mr. Bryce) was entirely blameless in that connection. I do think, knowing the relationships that existed between this country and Canada, and the great concessions that had been made by Canada respecting tariffs to this country, that it was his bounden duty, even if he had not instructions, to communicate to this country the grave fact that a general reciprocity had been pressed by the United States upon Canada. That being so, what is the duty of the Ambassador? Of course, he should have instructions, and that is an obligation on the Government. If he has not got them is he to stand by simply? 1047 It appears to me that Mr. Bryce was simply a bystander, and it will not be denied that his writings establish the fact that he was favourably disposed to a commercial union between Canada and the United States. Not only that, but in his writings he states in the clearest terms that that commercial union would naturally lead to a political union, in which, he indicates, the country would find its greatest advantage. So that the gentleman representing the interests of the United Kingdom and of the Empire was not only without instructions from home, but was standing there favourably disposed towards a treaty that would create the very commercial relations that the United States were seeking to get. Some-people will say that this is a good thing for Canada. I will not go into that at all. What was the construction put upon the bargain by the people of the United States themselves, by the most powerful man in the House of Representatives (Mr. Camp Clarke) and by the public Press? It was that the bargain must lead to the absorption of the Dominion of Canada in the United States. In the "Philadelphia Ledger," and the "Journal of Commerce," of New York, it was stated that that was the natural result that must happen. Though knowing something of the circumstances, the development, and the prosperity of Canada, knowing how it has grown from a state of comparative poverty to the position it is in to-day, I will abstain from discussing these matters. I wish to concentrate attention on the fact that an event has taken place which will doubtless affect history for all time, and not only were our Government idle in the matter of representations and took no interest in the matter, but our Ambassador took no interest in the agreement, and, judged by his writings, sympathised with the contract that was being carried out. In these circumstances I do not think the Government has much to congratulate itself upon in the agreement—an agreement that may well be designated later on with the appellation "disaster," by which it was characterised by one of the most responsible statesmen (Mr. Balfour) in this House.
§ Mr. MARTIN
I wish to protest most vigorously against the suggestion that this agreement will have any effect whatever in bringing about a political union between the United States and Canada. I think 1048 I can claim to have some knowledge of Canada as well as hon. Gentleman opposite. I can say that in forty years during which I have been familiar with Canadian affairs, the only time I have known any sentiment at all in favour of annexation with the United States were during very hard times when some Canadians were in favour of it to get the American markets to help them over the hard times. This treaty gives Canada the United State markets, and thus the only argument in favour of annexation between the two countries disappears. Hon. Gentlemen opposite suggest that this Government should have interfered in connection with this treaty in order to protect British interests. They point to the fact, which is true, that this country gets a preference from Canada. It is not entitled to that preference; it is given voluntarily by the people of Canada, or rather by the Liberal party, and it was opposed vigorously at the time by the Conservative party and by the manufacturers of Canada. That British preference depends entirely upon the continuance in office of the Liberal party in Canada. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Absolutely! The Government, it has been suggested——
§ Earl WINTERTON
Has the hon. Gentleman read Mr. Borden's declaration on the subject? If he had done so, I do not think he would have made the amazing statement that he has done.
§ Mr. MARTIN
I am familiar with the action of the Conservative party ever since this question was started by the Liberals, and I say the preference has been constantly opposed by that party. They voted against it.
§ Mr. MARTIN
They voted against it when it was introduced. They and the manufacturers of Canada have consistently opposed that policy all the way through. It has been suggested that the Government would have been protecting British interests by instructing our Ambassador at Washington to interfere in connection with this treaty. Hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about the disruption of the Empire. There is really only one thing that will ever have any effect in Canada in the direction of disruption, and that is by taking the course that has been suggested by the hon. Gentlemen opposite. The only way Mr. Bryce could 1049 have interfered would have been by protesting to the Canadian Ministers against entering into or accepting the proposals made to them by the United States Government, and so interfering with their policy, which, in their opinion, was going to be of such great benefit to the people of the Dominion. Conduct of that kind on the part of Mr. Bryce would have been resented most bitterly by the delegates that were in Washington representing Canada and by the Canadian people.
The Government have shown great patriotism and have looked after the interests of the Empire in allowing Canada to do as she liked with regard to her trading relations with the United States. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have said that this preference has affected the British preference. The hope of this country with regard to British preference lies in Canada in the party which to-day is supporting the arrangements with the United States. The Free Trade sentiment in Canada which is behind the Government in their action in this matter is part of its policy, and has already demanded—and the demand will undoubtedly be met by the Government—the increase of the British preference from 33⅓ per cent. to 50 per cent., and the people will be glad to see 75 or even 100 per cent. If the manufacturers of this country want to have preference continued they cannot demand it. The Government cannot ask Mr. Bryce to go and demand it from Canada. This is not the first Government that gave Canada the right to make her own treaties. The Conservative Government of 1904 allowed Canada to make a treaty with France which gave a preference to French merchants as against British, and did not interfere in any way, and it would be quite out of place for this Government to do so. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have praised up the patriots, as they call them, in Canada who are opposing this treaty in the interests of this country. I can tell hon. Gentlemen opposite that the patriots they refer to are not thinking of this country. They are the manufacturers of Canada who depend for their profits upon high tariffs, and these patriots and manufacturers, most of them in the Conservative party, and some of them in the Liberal party, are raising a tempest in a teapot in their own interests because the Reciprocity Agreement is overwhelmingly supported by the people of Canada.
Sir GILBERT PARKER
I understand, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you gave a 1050 ruling that only the action of His Majesty's Government could be discussed, and I ask your ruling as to whether the hon. Member is not far exceeding that limit?
§ Mr. MARTIN
I am only attempting to follow the arguments advanced from the other side that men like the manufacturers of Canada are the only patriots, and that they are taking action in the interests of the manufacturers of this country, whom they really hate like poison. There are no manufacturers in the world who are so desirous of getting protection against the manufacturers of this country as the manufacturers of Canada are, because the Canadian people prefer English goods to those of any foreign country. It is protection all the time against the British manufacturers that the Canadian manufacturers want, and the patriots the hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about are patriots for the dollars and the cents now pouring into their pockets owing to high tariffs in Canada. They fear that Canada will return to Free Trade, or practically to the conditions of Free Trade that existed before 1878; they are afraid of losing the hold they have had upon the consumers of Canada for so many years. That is the reason they are trying to prevent the carrying out of this treaty, which they are unable to do.
The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. McKinnon Wood)
I observe that in the criticisms of the Government coming from the Opposition Benches there are many shades of opinion. The hon. Member for Gravesend (Sir Gilbert Parker) differed seriously from some of the arguments of the hon. Member for Holborn (Mr. Remnant), and the hon. Member for Chertsey differed from the hon. Member for Gravesend. They did agree, however, on some points. The hon. Member for Holborn gave certain figures, but he gave us no statement as to the basis upon which those figures rested, and, therefore, it is quite impossible for me to deal with them, if, indeed, it were possible to do so without some opportunity of studying them. The hon. Member for Holborn (Mr. Remnant) made a complaint that the Canadian Government would require us to denounce twenty-four treaties to which Canada is a party, and he quoted a sentence from a speech made by Sir Wilfrid Laurier. I would remind the 1051 House that the Secretary of State for the Colonies has already stated that that statement has been contradicted——
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
The hon. Member asked if we had received any notice as to the discussion of this question at the Imperial Conference, and the reply was in the negative. The question of denouncing those treaties will be dealt with when Canada raises the question, but I will not take up the time of the House by considering it to-night. The hon. Member also complained that an answer he had received was inaccurate, but it was perfectly correct. We were then dealing with the action taken by the British Ambassador. We pointed out that he had reminded the negotiators of the importance of considering British interests, and the Canadian negotiators had replied that no serious harm would be done to any item of British commerce. That was a statement of fact. If any one looks through the speeches which have been made by hon. Members opposite, the gravamen of the charge against the Government will be seen at once. The hon. Member for Gravesend was careful not to blame the British Ambassador, and he said the blame lay upon the Government for not instructing our Ambassador in regard to the negotiations. Instruct the Ambassador to do what? To put a spoke in the wheel of the Canadian negotiators. I say without any hesitation that to have adopted any such course, to have watched and hampered the negotiators in carrying out the desire of Canada, with a blind idea of protecting British interests, would have been the most shortsighted and foolish thing the British Government could have done. What are the causes which have led to this Reciprocity Agreement? Canada approached the United States some years ago, but the United States were not then prepared to deal with the matter. Mr. Fielding in the Canadian House of Commons pointed out what had been the history of Canada in regard to reciprocity. He stated that from 1854 to 1866 reciprocity existed, and that from 1868 onwards there had always been a strong feeling in Canada in favour of reciprocity with the United States of America.
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
I have the authority of Mr. Fielding. What is this-Reciprocity Agreement the result of? I have little doubt what are the causes on the one side it is the result of a very natural desire on the part of Canadian farmers and others to get a freer market for their natural produce. It would be a very serious thing if the British Government interfered with that, and such action on our part would not increase the loyalty of the Canadian farmers. It is, on the other side, the result of a feeling which exists in the United States; the people are revolting against the increased cost of living which is the natural consequence of protection. These two causes, namely, the Canadian desire for a freer outlet for her products and a revolt against the burden of protection amongst the people of America, are the causes which have led to this reciprocity proposal. Are we to interfere with that because there may be a little damage done to certain articles of British trade, although I do not believe that will be the result? I accept the statements of the Canadian statesmen on this subject. They are prepared to meet us with more preference. I accept those statements. But, even if they were to do some little harm to British trade, I think it would have been a most serious thing for the British Government to have given instructions to their Ambassador to interfere with the right of Canada to obtain a free outlet for her products. In all these case where a great dominion has the right to make its own arrangements, it is the duty of the British Ambassador to give assistance, but not to carry out negotiations. That is no part of his duty. It is quite true Mr. Bryce did not from time to time inform us in detail how the negotiations were proceeding—because it was not his business to carry out the negotiations in detail; but, when the negotiations were concluded, he gave us full information. I cannot help thinking the complaint that we did not instruct the British Ambassador has no other meaning than that we did not instruct him to put a stop, as far as he could, to the Reciprocity Agreement which the spontaneous and voluntary act of Canada brought about.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I have a matter of great public importance to raise, and I believe this is the only opportunity I am likely to have of doing so. I put down a Question to-day to the Attorney-General which was not reached. It asked him whether he is aware that Mr. Henry Twist, an official of the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners' Federation has recently threatened Richard Gaskell, Joseph Hamer, Thomas Watmough, and Richard Hart, miners working at the collieries of Messrs. Cross and Tetley, Bamfurlong, with the loss of their livelihood unless they resign their membership of their own trade union and join the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners' Federation; and whether he will instruct the Director of Public Prosecutions to take action in the matter? The matter which I have to bring before the notice of the House is simply an isolated instance of what is going on on a very much greater scale all over Lancashire and in many other industrial districts, and I wish to take this opportunity of protesting against it. The Attorney-General very courteously sent me, after Questions were over, his answer, and in it he stated that he was not aware of the facts, and did not propose to take any action in the matter. I wish to protest in the most emphatic manner possible against this non-possumus attitude on the part of the Government. This is a matter of the greatest urgency, and of life and death to many thousands of working men in this country. I hope you will allow me, for the purposes of argument, to state the facts of the case. I said that this attitude on the part of Mr. Henry Twist was merely an isolated action among many others on his part, and on the part of other officials of the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners' Federation. I have had sent to me by working men many copies of a short circular which I propose to read to the House. It is as follows:—Fellow Workmen.—Since our last appeal a number of men have joined the Union at these pits, but there are still a considerable number outside. It is the intention of the Federation, and of the branches, that every man and boy working at these collieries shall be inside this society. The Federation has stopped pits employing 2,000 men to force one man to join, and what the Federation has done at other places they are determined to do here unless all join.—HENRY TWIST.May I ask the House for one moment to consider what this means, and to review a position in regard to which the Attorney-General refuses to take any action whatsoever. The miners who belong to trades unions other than the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners' Federation are not going 1054 to be allowed to earn their living unless they resign their membership of their trade union and join the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners' Federation. What is that Federation? I submit that it is a political body; it is a body which supports one political party in this House.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I do not quite see how the Noble Lord connects this with action or inaction on the part of the Government. Will he show first what the Government might have done if they had the power?
§ Viscount WOLMER
I suggested in my question to the Attorney-General that they might have given directions to the Public Prosecutor to take action in this matter, as I understand it this is a case of clear intimidation. As such, a subject who is unable to protect himself has a right to protection at the hands of the Public Prosecutor, who should take up his case in the Courts of Law. It is for the Government to direct him to do so. If His Majesty's Government are not prepared to go to the rescue of these men who are being forced to join an organisation which is purely political, and with which they disagree, they will find when they come to deal with the matter—as they will be obliged to do—by an alteration in the law as it has been laid down by the Osborne Judgment, they will find that if they are going to acquiesce in this state of affairs which prevails in Lancashire at the present moment, and are-prepared at the same time to repeal the Osborne Judgment, they will be allowing a system of grave tyranny to pass unchallenged and unrebuked by the very powers which ought to protect the liberties of the subject.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
I do not intend to occupy more than a couple of minutes, and I should perhaps not have intervened at all, but for the speech to which we have just listened. The Noble Lord who has just spoken is greatly alarmed about the intimidation which, he says, is practised by Trade Unionists. May I suggest that he should consult the hon. Member sitting upon his right as to the practices amongst the legal fraternity in regard to members of that profession who do not join their unions. What is the complaint made, and what is the object for which the Noble Lord asks the Government to interfere? An attempt has been made to introduce sectarian and party politics into the trade union movement, to disrupt the 1055 trade unions by means of bogus associations, fostered by Tory money and in tended to weaken the influence of the working classes. Needless to say, the trades unionists of Lancashire are going to defend themselves against action of that kind, and if the Noble Lord wants instances of intimidation, with which the Government might interfere, he might in quire into some of those cases where tenants have been evicted from their holdings for daring to vote for Liberal or Labour candidates at election times——
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
On a proper occasion I will be prepared to give the names. When the names were mentioned, hon. Members were not so interested in trying to defend it. The questions I rose to ask the Home Secretary were——
§ Earl WINTERTON
Name. On a point of Order, I desire to ask whether it is in order for the hon. Gentleman to accuse hon. Members sitting on this side of the House of intimidating persons at election times by threatening to turn them out of their holdings. I challenge him to give the names of any persons that he alleges have done this.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
The Noble Lord will not get the names if he does not behave himself. The point to which I rose to call attention was a complaint in reference to South Wales, where the police——
§ Dr. HILLIER
I beg to ask for your ruling Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether it is not the duty of the hon. Member, in view of what he has said, either to substantiate his statement or withdraw if?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I did not hear what the hon. Member said. I was engaged in conversation at the time.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
I shall repeat it, Sir, to give you a chance of giving a ruling upon it. What I said was this, that when small holders and working men were being persecuted by the Tory party and evicted from their holdings for having voted Liberal or Labour, we did not hear of hon. Members opposite doing anything in defence of the liberty of that subject, who are now so interested in the question of trade unionism. It might be unparliamentary, but I leave that to you to decide.
§ Earl WINTERTON
Yes, I was. I with draw the term "cowardly." It is in accordance with the usual practice of hon. Members opposite to make accusations against those on this side of the House——
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
I have just been advised of the term used by the Noble Lord, and it is just as well I did not hear it at first. The matter I rose to call attention to is this. I have been told in information from the strike area in Rhondda Valley that the police there are not observing the 1906 Act concerning picketing. I know the Home Secretary is quite clear upon this point, and that he has already expressed his opinion in the most definite language. I know also that the authorities generally in South Wales state quite freely that the picketing laws must be observed. My information is that the police are in-interfering unduly and unnecessarily with the pickets in the performance of their duty. In thus speaking of pickets, I am not referring to large crowds or bodies of men who are out for the purpose of intimidation. I am referring to the pickets who are officially appointed, and who, in accordance with the suggestion of General Macready, are wearing picket badges to distinguish them from the general body of strikers. My information is that the police are not discriminating between these pickets and the crowds against whom they think they have cause of complaint.
I ask the Home Secretary whether he will give an order that peaceful picketing is legalised and that the police are as much bound to protect pickets as they are to protect strikers, and that pickets have a right to approach blacklegs who are working with a view to endeavour to 1057 peacefully persuade them from doing so, and that so long as that right is exercised in a peaceful manner the police have no right to interfere and are, in fact, violating the law when they do interfere with the men as they have been doing. That is the only point upon which I ask the Home Secretary for an answer to-night.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
I rise only to supplement the observations of my Noble Friend and with the object of placing the facts—with a due consideration for brevity—a little more fully before the House. What happened? There is, as hon. Members may know, a union known as the Constitutional Labour Union.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
I do not know what the hon. Member means by "nonpolitical." There is no point in that interruption. I said it was named the Constitutional Labour Union, and it has recently been formed in Lancashire. Its members are all trade unionists. It is registered as a Trade Union, and it pays the Trade Union rate of wages, and in every respect complies with the conditions as regards employment which are insisted upon by the other Trade Unions. It differs from the majority of the other Trade Unions in one rather important respect. Its members are in general sympathy with the Conservative party. Let me inform the House what happened in this particular case. In the colliery of which my Noble Friend was speaking, there happened to be four members belonging to this particular union and there were seven members of the other union, the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners' Association, of which my Noble Friend has spoken.
Let the case be clearly understood. Four men who belonged to the new trade union (the Constitutional Labour Union) were men who in every respect were insisting upon the same wages and upon the same conditions of labour as were insisted upon by the larger trade union. The four members committed one fault, and one fault only, and that was that they did not share the political views of the large trade union, but adhered to their own political views. No industrial or trade complaint of any kind could be made against them, or was made. What happened under the circumstances? An official of the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners' Federation made a representation 1058 to the manager of this colliery to the effect that unless these four men joined the Labour Trade Union within a specified period every one of them would give up his employment. Well, that threat would ruin the colliery. It happened to be a particularly obvious threat, because this was a colliery which, owing to the tender nature of the roof of one of the main seams, would as an immediate result, if the threat were carried out, be lost. Under these circumstances, the officials of the Labour Trade Union delivered an ultimatum to the manager. And the ultimatum can be expressed almost in a sentence. It is this: "You employ four men who do not share our political views. Unless you dismiss those four men we will close and destroy your colliery." That was the nature of their message.
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
I will attempt to answer the question on the information before me. My information is that if any stoppage took place in this colliery one of their main seams is extremely tender and the colliery would be lost. That is the information before me. If that is so it is clear that the argument which was addressed to the managers of this colliery was one which they could not disregard. The position is this: that these four men are not to be allowed to continue to work side by side with members of the other trade union and they are to lose their employment for one reason only, that they differ from the hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway in their political opinions. Just to continue the story, I may inform the House of what has happened since. The manager of the colliery took the view that these four men were being treated very harshly. There had been no complaint that they were not insisting on the standard rate of wages. No such case arose here. The management were extremely reluctant under the circumstances to get rid of the men, and negotiations took place between the two parties. I am informed that Mr. Twist, the late Member for Wigan, was very active in these negotiations. He extended the period which might be given to the 1059 management to get rid of these men, and finally an ultimatum was delivered. After the time had been twice extended, three of these men were actually compelled to leave the colliery, were given notice of dismissal by the management, and the fourth man, in order not to lose his employment, was compelled to join the Trade Union which he did not wish to join. If I am wrongly informed on those facts—and I can speak only on the authority which I have already stated—no doubt we shall be told so, and that may introduce some mitigation in the position. I am assured these facts are right. If they are right, what do they mean? They mean that men in Lancashire, and at this colliery, and on the direct incentive of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, are unable to-day to earn their living because they will not change their political opinions.
Let me ask the Committee this question. What would be said below the Gangway on that side of the House supposing that someone went and persuaded an employer, supposing a Conservative were to persuade an employer to dismiss three of his employés because they were Liberals? What complaints would be made? Does the hon. Gentleman defend it? I shall be asked, no doubt, what the remedy there was, what step the Attorney-General could take. It is certainly not for me to give advice on legal matters to the Attorney-General; I should be sorry to have the impertinence to do it. But if these facts are truly stated, there is ground for serious consideration on his part. It means that the officials of this Trade Union have approached the management of the colliery and have told the management that unless these four men are dismissed they themselves will all give in notices and the colliery will be closed. The matter is a little bit complicated, and many facts would require consideration.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I find a little difficulty in dealing with the facts as presented, because first of all, the case as stated by the Noble Lord differs very materially from the case as stated by the hon. and learned Member for Walton.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
The case as presented to me by him was, in the question he put, as to whether I was aware of what this official had done in respect of the four 1060 men, and whether I would advise public prosecution in the matter. He was asked how he justified this matter being brought before the House on the Consolidated Fund Bill, and what it had to do with the Government, and the Noble Lord answered that so far as his information went there was, as he thought, a right to prosecute, on the part of the Government, this official of the Lancashire and Cheshire Miners' Federation. I confess that when I gave the answer to him which I did today to the question he put to me, I was quite unable to understand what was the criminal offence which was suggested to have been committed by Mr. Henry Twist, and I am still in difficulty in understanding what is the offence which is suggested when later I come to deal with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Walton.
Where a shipowner sets to work to cut down rates in order that he may prevent another shipowner from earning money, from earning his livelihood, or where a shipowner—he may be a millionaire shipowner—is enabled to work in that way so that he may divide a combination, that is a threat made as a threat by the one against three or four, which would have the effect, if carried out, of preventing them earning their livelihood. No one suggests that that is a criminal offence. Necessarily there is the same sort of case if a baker sets up a baker's shop next door to another baker and proceeds to undersell so that it will have the effect of ruining the man who has been in the street for some time. I am pointing out that the fact is that the one person is threatened in his livelihood, and of course you cannot prevent that kind of thing by a criminal prosecution. All I can say with reference to the suggestion emanating from the Noble Lord (Viscount Wolmer) that it was intimidation, is that in my opinion it is not intimidation. Intimidation has been held in law to mean not a threat of this character but some threat which must be accompanied by a fear of actual physical violence. The answer I give to him is that there is no prosecution I could direct the Public Prosecutor to institute in respect of the offences mentioned in the question he put to me. I do not therefore understand of what he complains in regard to the action of the Government. In regard to what fell from the hon. and learned Member for the Walton Division (Mr. F. E. Smith) the position is changed. He stated facts of which I know nothing beyond what he tells me.
1061 If the facts are true in all details as stated by him—and I must make this observation that we only have the one statement, and although the hon. Member gives it with all fairness, he knows that there is always another side to every question—if the facts are true it seems to me that they disclose a very unsatisfactory state of things and one which I think most men would entirely condemn. That is a totally different thing from saying that there is ground here for a criminal prosecution. I am sure the hon. Member knows as well as I do that there is no class of case in which it is more difficult to locate what is the particular offence committed than this class of case. He said it might be a conspiracy. Conspiracy is not by any means an easy crime to prove. In these circumstances, so far as my view of the law goes, I submit that on the facts stated by him, it would not be a criminal conspiracy. I agree with him that upon the facts stated by him, there is a very reprehensible state of things, but that does not entitle me of justify me in stating to the House that there is ground for a criminal prosecution or for instituting a public prosecution. We may all differ upon what is the right kind of warfare to indulge in upon these occasions, but I must say on behalf of the Government that nothing that has been stated by the Noble Lord (Viscount Wolmer) or the hon. Member (Mr. F. E. Smith) is sufficient to warrant my directing the Director of Public Prosecutions to institute a prosecution.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I wish to call the attention of the House to two other matters connected with another Department of the State. The first is in connection with the proposed school holidays for children throughout the county of London to celebrate the Coronation, and the effect of such closing of the schools on the necessitous school children. I wish to direct the attention of the House to the fact that a circular has been issued by the Local Government Board informing local authorities that during the festivities connected with the Coronation if they spend money illegally in putting up flags, and such expenditure is surcharged by the auditor, the surcharge will be remitted. In connection with that circular there is a very grave divergence of opinion as to whether the Local Government Board has really any power to anticipate illegal expenditure in this way. I am not sufficiently a lawyer to be able to say whether that is so or not, but I do know that a considerable 1062 amount of discussion took place at the Poor Law Commission on that very point, and that there is a considerable weight of opinion against the theory that the Local Government Board can beforehand definitely authorise local authorities to spend money illegally. But the Local Government Board having determined that it would make legal illegal expenditure on Coronation junketting, I think the House ought to have something to say as to whether the feeding of necessitous school children is not of even greater importance than paying for the putting up of flags, and as to whether we ought not to insist that in regard to these children—there are from 50,000 to 60,000 of them—the same authority shall be given to the education authorities to feed them as is given to the county authorities to have flags or junkettings.
I do not wish to say anything generally in regard to the expenditure on the Coronation except this, that I cannot imagine any Member of the House wishing it to take place and at the same time to starve children to celebrate so auspicious an event. I cannot imagine that the King and Queen would want to go to Westminster Abbey and know that the London children whose parents are unable to feed them were going without food in order to celebrate the Coronation. I cannot understand any man in this House with a heart wanting that. There is only one way to prevent it unless some millionaire comes along and puts up the money to do it, and then none of us can complain. Until that is done there is only one way that the difficulty can be got over, and that is by the Local Government Board recognising that the children need food even during the Coronation festivities, and giving the education authorities the power which I am quite certain every member of that authority wishes them to have. I am sorry the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Hoare) is not here, for I feel quite certain he would have supported me in this matter at any rate. He knows as well as any member of this House the number of children that have to be fed, and the necessity for feeding them. In London we did not put the Act into operation until we were literally compelled by the starving children to do so. Everybody connected with education knows that the stoppage for this week's holiday means a large number of children going without food. I wish to appeal to the President of the Local Government Board, who knows the 1063 conditions as well as any man in this House, whether he, having sent out the circular in regard to flags, will not respond to the almost unanimous feeling on this side of the House, and let the education authorities know that those who wish to feed the children may feed them without any fear of what the auditor may do.
That is all I wish to say on that question, but I wish also to add something about the administration of the Unemployed Workmen Act. Hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to be, I think, keenly interested in the administration of that Act. It is their own Act, one that they brought in and passed, and one which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London, when a deputation waited upon him, told us we all ought to be grateful to them for having passed. I do not want at this time of the night, or rather the morning, to be discussing the value or the merits of that Act except to say this, that it was quite in line with the policy of the hon. Gentleman opposite who has occupied the office of President of the Local Government Board. I would remind hon. Members on both sides of the House who it was that took the first step. It was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain) who took that first step towards taking the unemployed, the ordinary unemployed, out of the Poor Law. I think that fact ought to be remembered whenever we are discussing the unemployed question in this House, and the right hon. Gentleman who is now President of the Local Government Board was, in my opinion, one of the very small group of men who compelled the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, in 1886, to take that action. From that time onwards, we had all kinds of schemes for putting these people to work until the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand Division (Mr. Walter Long) brought in the Unemployed Workmen Act—which was preceded by the London Unemployed Fund. That Act at the first had to be administered purely by voluntary funds. When the present Government came into power in 1906 we commenced to have Government Grants, and that is the point that we want to remember in connection with the administration, because when I asked the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, some few days ago, whether he had sanctioned a particular scheme of work he answered me by saying 1064 his sanction was not necessary and that the Central (Unemployed) Body could carry out what work they pleased. It was very much like Pharaoh telling the children of Israel to make bricks without straw, because he knows perfectly well that the Central (Unemployed) Body cannot get funds except by voluntary means, and voluntary funds have altogether failed since the Government gave Grants at all, and they are absolutely depending upon his sanction for any works they undertake.
What has been happening during the five years since 1906? There has been a succession of Grants from this House, and this year, I believe, the smallest Grant, or at least the very smallest expenditure, has been made, something, I think, under £100,000. London, I admit, had the biggest part of that Grant. But here are the facts, and no amount of argument can get over them, if it is sought to prove that our proposals are not the right ones or that other people's proposals are not the right ones. There are in London at this moment 25,000 men registered as unemployed. That is distinct altogether from the men who are not found situations by the Labour Exchanges. These 25,000 men represent a very considerably larger number of individuals, if you put the number of their wives and families on to them. Out of that number there is a certain fraction, under 4,000, I believe, who have obtained work during the present winter up to March 18th, and at this moment reductions even in that number are being made. Some 150 left work on Saturday, and at present there appears to be no possibility of obtaining any other work for them.
In these circumstances, I have asked twice, I think, but at least on one occasion, what proposals are to be made by the Government to the Central (Unemployed) Body, or by anyone, as to how these men are to be dealt with, and the answer I received was that negotiations were proceeding between the Department and the Central Body. I have tried to track down these negotiations, and all I can discover is that at this moment there are under 4,000 men at work on what I may call normal schemes, and I submit to this House, which has spent a considerable amount of time discussing "Dreadnoughts," which has spent a considerable amount of time discussing the army and trade, and what may happen from Germany—as one who has studied this question as much as anyone in this House, I 1065 say that your greatest danger lies, as a nation, not in the fear of a foreign invasion, but in the physical, moral, and mental deterioration of the great masses of the people in every industrial centre. It may be pointed out to me that the Board of Trade Returns only show that some 3 per cent. are out of work, but I beg to point out to the House in reply to that point that the great bulk of the men I am talking about to-night are not included in that return at all. They are men who for the most part never have regular work of any kind, and for the most part men who earn very low wages indeed, and have a very difficult job to keep themselves going in the best of times.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
May I remind the hon. Member of the answer I gave to someone earlier in the Session. I have seen the same thing happen in Germany, where they have Protection. In my opinion the German Government deal with the evil in a very much different way from what we do. At the present moment, so far as I can see, nothing, apparently, is going to be done. I want the House to remember that these 25,000 men are registered as out of work. There has been a scheme put before the Local Government Board for their sanction which would have at least taken a fair percentage of these men; it would have taken quite another 500 off this list had it been carried through. It was a County Council scheme. I want the House to understand that we are not free agents. We cannot start any kind of work we please or deal with the unemployed in the best manner, or in the manner in which I would like to deal with them. We had to take the law as we found it, and that is the point I want to urge, because I do not want it to be said afterwards that I am in favour of more relief works for the unemployed.
If I had any idea that the right hon. Gentleman or the Government were going to bring in really preventive measures I think I would be much more patient than I have been in the matter, or than I am just now, but when I know that all they are proposing, even if they got time, is to bring in an insurance scheme against unemployment. I cannot sit still without raising my voice in protest. I protest because you have, at the present moment, ample powers if the Government agree to spend the money to deal with, or 1066 at least palliate the misery which there is around us. The scheme which I wish to bring before the House is a scheme which has been prepared by the Central (Unemployed) Body in conjunction with the local authority at Herne Bay, and let me point out that whenever you start to find work you are up against a great difficulty, and that is you may start men to do work which will displace other men. The right hon. Gentleman has always laid it down, as did the right hon Gentleman the Member for the Strand Division (Mr. Walter Long) and Mr. Gerald Balfour, that whatever schemes were undertaken, must be schemes that would not afterwards be carried through, and, as a matter of fact, could not be carried through without the help of the Government and without the help of the unemployed.
I mention these facts to show that this scheme at Herne Bay comes within that category. They made very big efforts on their own part to deal with the difficulty, but with very little effect. Herne Bay, as I understand from a letter sent to the Central (Unemployed) Body, suffered from coast erosion for a considerable number of years. They prepared a scheme which would cost £33,000, and I may say that that letter came to the Central (Unemployed) Body in response to a circular letter that the Central (Unemployed) Body sent to every local authority in England asking if there was any work that could be put at their disposal. They put this scheme of £33,000 before the Central Body. They said, "Our rateable value is such that a penny in the £ brings in only £159." They said, further, "We are prepared to pledge our credit up to something like £4,000 to help get this work done, that is to say, we will find the material;" and then in addition to that they agreed to find housing accommodation for the men. The Local Government Board were asked to make a grant of the balance of the money, but not to make the grant all at once—to let the work be carried out in sections so that even if there had been a year of breakdown the total amount of money would not have been lost. The real object of doing it in sections was to spread it out as much as possible. The proposition was put before the Local Government Board, and I have here the whole of the correspondence from beginning to end, and can find no single word condemning this scheme.
All I can find is that the Local Government Board maintain that there are 1067 plenty of other schemes nearer London, and that they would prefer to finance those schemes. There was, however, one objection stated at the beginning, and that was that the work being so far away from London it would cost too much money to bring the men backwards and forwards. The Central Body offered to get over that difficulty, and brought the cost of transit for the men down to a lower figure than the cost of transit of men on many of the works nearer London. It worked out in this way: With the men who go to work on the various jobs in and around London, in the London County Council parks, it cost 3 per cent. of the total cost of the job to pay railway fares and tram fares alone. But this job at Herne Bay would entail a cost for travelling of less than 3 per cent., therefore that difficulty was got over. With the exception of that difficulty there has been, so far as I can find in this correspondence, no real objection to the scheme, saving that the Local Government Board imagined that there was plenty of schemes nearer London into which the money could be put. I want to point out to the House that this "plenty of other schemes nearer London" means that less than 4,000 men are employed. Therefore it is no answer to us to say that there were these schemes, because even with all the schemes up to date, including the schemes which have only just been put in hand, there are only to be 4,000 men employed. We are entitled to ask the Local Government Board whether they think that 4,000 men out of 25,000 are all that are entitled to any help under this Act. Further, I would ask this—whether it is not a fact that the Local Government Board have always laid stress on this, that the work should be of such a character that it should not interfere with the ordinary work of the community. Is there any job that would less interfere with ordinary labour than that I have mentioned.
It may be argued that the Central (Unemployed) Body have already helped to carry through a piece of work in connection with land reclamation at Fambridge, and that it cost a great deal of money. But no one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman that that expenditure of public money, which resulted in such a very small addition to the funds of the Central Body was carried through from its inception under the supervision and authority of his 1068 own inspectors, and that the man who was placed in charge was the very best expert that could be obtained, and that no one from beginning to end ever blamed the workmen for failure. The right hon. Gentleman knows, too, and his Department knows quite well, that only two years ago at Burnham-on-Crouch a similar piece of work was carried through, and under the estimated cost. Therefore there is no reason to think that the unemployed workmen who would be sent down to this job, specially selected for it, would e incapable of doing it. The job at Burnham-on-Crouch and the work that the men did at Garden City, and the work that the men did—not what the sea or river did—at Fambridge, prove conclusively that that in the main the men are capable, when properly led, of doing this kind of work. In proof of that the Central Unemployed Body twice over carried the scheme. I admit that the other day they gave up the battle with the right hon. Gentleman, but thirteen distress committees have appealed to their Members in this House, and I will read them out.—[Interruption.] After all you really have discussed all kinds of subjects to-night, and 25,000 men out of work in this Metropolis are worthy of a little attention, even at twelve minutes to two o'clock in the morning. I do not want to read the names of the thirteen; I will have mercy on you—more than you have on me very often. There are thirteen boroughs of London that have appealed to their Members in this House, and who have appealed to the right hon. Gentleman.
I do not see the President of the Board of Trade there, but he sits for the other side of the borough that I represent, namely, Poplar. I sit for one half and he for the other, and he knows perfectly well, as I know, that our Constituents on both sides of the border are in many cases living just now just on the border-line of starvation; and I cannot help but think that while you have the Unemployed Workmen Act this kind of work, this piece of work was just the piece of work that ought to have been carried through. One other word in conclusion, because I want, if I can, to get the House to realise what this business of unemployment means. I put a supplementary question to the right hon. Gentleman to-day in regard to measles. I do not know whether the House is realising that 200 children are dying in the Metropolis every week just now. I venture to say that if an inquiry is set on foot it will be found that these children 1069 are in the main from the districts where there are most casual labourers and most unemployment, yet no one, so far as I know, is taking any trouble to see that this evil is grappled with. You may discuss Empire, you may discuss Tariff Reform, you may discuss all the "isms" as much as you please, but in the last resort this commercial system you live under at present all the time produces this kind of difficulty, this kind of evil.
If you had Tariff Reform you would have casual labour just as you have it to-day; shipowners would be just as greedy and just as selfish to get their ships tumbled out at the earliest possible moment as they are now. Therefore I ask the House to remember this—that these children, in my opinion, are being murdered by the social conditions under which they are living. Measles and other zymotic diseases the poor children succumb to much more quickly than the children of the rich. My own child when it caught measles the other day got through it in a few days, but the people in the next house, people who are underfed and whose children were never properly fed, their children are now under the earth. There will be hundreds more unless something is done. It is because I feel that very strongly, and because this House, instead of wasting time on unimportant questions, ought to settle down to the condition of the people question, that I raise the matter. The right hon. Gentleman himself sprang from the class that is suffering. Then let him produce a scheme that will get rid of the destitution from which men and women are suffering.
§ Mr. FRED HALL (Camberwell, Dulwich)
It is not often that I find myself entirely in accord with the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), but I should like to join in his appeal to the President of the Local Government Board with reference to the feeding of children during the Coronation week. I do not think that this House is aware of the fact that the cost during that time will be very small indeed. The total cost, which I have on very good authority, will amount to about £1,300 in all. When the children are given a week's holiday in the ordinary course of events, I think it would be the unanimous wish of this House that these children should not be debarred from being fed. I speak of the necessitous children. With regard to the question of finding employment for 25,000 men, we on 1070 this side of the House are entirely in favour of finding employment for the whole of them. We are not desirous of dealing simply with the question of relief works, but we are in favour of a reform of our fiscal policy which will give employment.
§ Mr. FRED HALL
I only ventured to suggest means by which continual employment might be found for those who at the present time are unfortunately debarred from finding the necessary work that should devolve upon them. I cannot help thinking that hon. Members below the Gangway opposite must be aware of the fact that some radical change must be brought about in order that such employment can be found, and I venture to say, without going into the question contrary to your ruling, Sir, that the suggestion I have thrown out will be thought of even by the hon. Members below the Gangway.
§ The PRESIDENT of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Burns)
The last portion of the speech of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) referred very properly to an epidemic with which we have been confronted in London during the last two or three weeks. He alluded in a kind way to the children, in whom we all take the deepest possible interest, and who have evoked great sympathy. He properly referred to me as one coming from the class to which these children belong, and he appealed to me to do everything to help the children to recovery of health and to prevent mortality. The hon. Member might have ascertained that I not only have done everything I could do, but that I have strained the law to its utmost limit.
I have called upon the Metropolitan Asylums Board to regard this as an exceptional epidemic, one that requires drastic, prompt and sympathetic attention. They have responded by placing at our disposal 1,000 beds, and I may ask them for another thousand. The officials of the county council, the medical officers of the borough councils, and the whole of my officers are concentrating on this with the special object of meeting in a practical, direct, and prompt manner the very evil to which my hon. Friend refers. I can assure him that were he in my position he would not be able to deal any better with this particular complaint than we are dealing with it at the present moment. My hon. 1071 Friend must pardon me if I remind him of this fact, that the special districts he referred to where this epidemic is most rile are the districts we have specially concentrated upon, so that those who live in densely crowded areas and in houses of more than two or three families—the people who are below what we all regard as the proper standard of life—these are the people who have the first call on benevolent and medical agencies we are able to invoke. I am not going into a general discussion of the unemployment question. That was discussed only a week or two ago. My hon. Friend complains, and he was within his right in so doing, that instead of helping what is known as the Herne Bay scheme——
§ Mr. LANSBURY
On a point of Order. I did not complain that the Herne Bay scheme had not been helped at the expense of some other scheme; I did complain that it had not been helped in addition to the other schemes so that more men might have been employed
§ Mr. BURNS
I am not going to misrepresent the hon. Member. His complaint against me was that we had not assisted the Herne Bay scheme. My answer to that is simply this, and the House will appreciate my reasons. The question is not as to whether a coast erosion scheme should or should not be helped. The question is how best can I spend the money at my disposal for the largest number of men, and do the maximum amount of good for the unemployed whom I have under my jurisdiction. It was to give the largest amount of work to the largest number of men that I decided to abandon Herne Bay, and the reason was this: The scheme was to cost £31,000. I think it would have been nearer £40,000 before it was completed; £26,000 was to be spent on labour and £4,800 on material. The men were to get £537 for pocket money, £322 for boots, £16,000 allowances to their families, £1,000 for railway fares £150 for medical attendance, £1,709 for supervision. There was for heating and lighting nearly £200, and for insurance of workmen, for this is risky work, £286, and then £1,000 for contingencies. In a word, 500 men were to be employed at this relatively 1072 skilled work, where accidents might be possible, and, indeed, would be possible with the type of men we have in the London unemployed; they were to be employed for forty-three weeks away from home. I could give employment, as we have done, to nearly 1,400 men for the natural period of sixteen weeks during the winter—not in Herne Bay for forty-three weeks away from home, but on Hackney Marshes, the River Wandle, and the County Council parks, which was infinitely better for the men themselves, and under infinitely better conditions for them. This scheme, however, brings them for forty-three weeks away from home.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
On a point of Order, or rather, of explanation, the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that under the regulations no man could be kept away more than sixteen weeks.
§ Mr. BURNS
The hon. Member is entirely wrong because the virtue of this scheme in the opinion of the promoters is that 500 men would have been continuously employed throughout the summer, and they asked that these 500 men should be employed for forty-three weeks. I am opposed to that on two practical grounds. We can give, with the same amount of money, 1,400 men work in the county of London. These men, when they have done their day's work in the parks, can go home every night, and, in doing so, can maintain the unity and discipline of a working-class family, a very important element in domestic life for this type of people. What is better still, they have every day an opportunity of hearing from their shopmates what opportunity there is of, resuming their normal employment at their natural work, which they could not secure if they were away for forty-three weeks. We think it is better to give 1,400 men from fourteen to sixteen weeks' work so that they can go home every day and have an opportunity of resuming their ordinary employment, especially when we realise that a good many men do get this opportunity. Here are the figures which bring out that 1,737 men, or fifteen per cent. of the total of the men employed daily in the London County Council parks, leave that particular work for their own employment because they have that opportunity. If you send men down there to Herne Bay for thirty or forty weeks, hardly any of 1073 them will ever resume their natural work, and the result is that men from outside come in and get the ordinary work. If these men had daily an opportunity to attempt to resume their ordinary employment these other men would not possess it.
But the hon. Member says that coast erosion is suitable work—under right and proper conditions, yes. But I have had one experience of coast erosion at Fambridge, where we received an estimate of £4,000 to £5,000, and the cost ended in £26,416, and the value of the ground reclaimed at this tremendous cost was only £1,000. I think with these facts before the House and the experience we have had of coast erosion, that better work can be found for these men in the various parks and open spaces of the London County Council. I think that as compared with the Herne Bay scheme, the House will agree that it is in the interest of the unemployed to provide work for the largest number, and that the Government have done the wisest thing in adopting the alternative which I have submitted to the House.
The next point to which I wish to turn was raised by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley Division (Mr. Lansbury), and the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Fred Hall), namely, the question of feeding the school children during the Coronation holidays. I must be frank with the House on this point. From what the hon. Members said, one would think I had power by administrative order to alter Acts of Parliament, to revoke Acts of Parliament, and to go contrary to the law. I have not that power, and it is not my intention by administrative order to attempt to revoke Acts of Parliament or to suspend legal enactments, because if I did attempt to do so in other matters no one would denounce the bureaucracy of the Local Government Board more than the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley.
§ Mr. BURNS
The hon. Member must not interrupt. He will find, if he has patience, that I will deal with him fairly and courteously. I start out by saying it is wrong for hon. Members to assume that by administrative order I can undo or revoke Acts of Parliament. What are the facts about the feeding of the children? Under the Feeding of School Children Act, which was introduced into this House, and, I believe, supported by a number of Labour Members, it was laid 1074 down that children attending school may be fed by the local education authority. By an oversight, perhaps, of the promoters, holidays were not contemplated when the Act was passed. That is not my fault. It is the fault of those who took an active part in passing that Act through Parliament. But when the Act was passed the London County Council asked the opinion of two distinguished lawyers as to whether they could feed the children at these times under the Act, and these two distinguished lawyers—Sir Robert Finlay and Mr. Danckwerts—said it was impossible and against the law that the children should be fed during the holidays. That was brought to my knowledge, and in the face also of the decision of my own legal officers I could not, by administrative order, sanction in advance the recurring charge for what are known as the ordinary school holidays. Hon. Members will see that this disability, so far as it affects the ordinary school holidays, can only be removed by legislation, and any Bill introduced must be dealt with not by my Department, but by the Department of Education, which was responsible for the parent Act. It was never laid down in the Act that the local education authority should feed the children during the ordinary holidays. My hon. Friend says—What about the Coronation?
There again I have not power by administrative order to anticipate the probable act of the London County Council or of any other body, or their decision on what they should do during the Coronation holidays, whether they extend over one day or three days, or seven days. Certainly, if seven days' Coronation holidays were merged into the ordinary month of annual school holidays, a different condition would exist to that which had previously existed for a one, three, or seven days' Coronation holiday. I am asked what the Local Government Board is going to do about the feeding the children during the Coronation holidays. My answer to the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley is this: That the body for whom he claims, I presume, to speak here to-night, has not yet sent me an application on this particular subject, and when that body does send me an application I shall be prepared to promptly and sympathetically consider it. But until it does send me an application, until a responsible education authority makes a representation to me, the hon. Member will pardon me if I decline to go contrary to the duty and 1075 traditions of my office by sanctioning in advance, in anticipation, that which I have not the legal power to do, and which I have not been officially asked to do by the responsible authority which has the feeding of children within its jurisdiction.
May I put another point? The hon. Member suggested that a circular had been issued. I have issued no circular yet. The order to which he refers has not been issued. An order will be issued probably during this week, applying to county councils and town councils who are education authorities as was not done on the previous occasion. When that order is issued, when it is submitted to responsible bodies, then I am prepared to consider it. The hon. Member knows full well that in considering that question I shall have before me the object of the celebration itself, the children who are likely to participate in it; and he can rely upon it that when application is made to me, decently and in order and at the right time by the proper authorities, I shall be prepared to consider each case on its merits, to consider whether any surcharge that may be made shall be remitted or upheld. I trust the House will leave it to this committee, as they have done on previous occasions. On those occasions, when children have evoked our sympathy and claimed our attention, we have not been reluctant to interpret the spirit of the people generally, in the right way at the right time.
§ Notice taken that forty Members were not present; House counted, and forty Members not being present,
§ The House was adjourned at Eighteen minutes past Two a.m. (Tuesday, 28th March).