HC Deb 18 November 1912 vol 44 cc82-90

I wish to enter a serious protest against the Adjournment of the House at so early an hour, in view of the fact that there are on the Order Paper items of very great importance affecting largo portions of the population. Amongst other Orders is the Education (Provision of Meals) Act Amendment Bill. Regarding that Bill, I have on several occasions put questions to the Prime Minister asking him to provide time for its discussion. He has always given a sympathetic reply, but the reply has never been made good. Here is an opportunity not only to show sympathy, but to give the substance. The reason why the Government have not been able to press forward this Bill is that there are one or two objectors, I presume on the other side of the House. I trust that all those who do not object to the further progress of this Bill will join me in this, protest, which is a serious one, and will be carried to a Division if others will divide with me. I recognise that I cannot go into the details of the measure at length. According to the information at present in the possession of those authorities who have administered the Education (Provision of Meals) Act, there is such an amount of poverty in this country that, without exaggeration, there are probably at least 120,000 school children living in families where the income is so small as not to afford the members of those families as much as 3s. per head per week for sustenance, clothing, and all the necessary expenses of living, including rent. That is the case if the general situation throughout the country is no better than it is in the town in which I reside, and as far as I can make out the general situation is, if anything worse. The Christmas holidays are coming on, when those children who are fed when the schools are in session will not be provided for in any way whatever, except where the local authorities risk being surcharged. They run the danger of being left without food during the holidays; therefore, I say it is not right that Bills of this kind should be postponed day after clay and month after month, when we can rise at six o'clock in the evening. I therefore oppose the Adjournment and trust that other Members will support me.

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. J. A. Pease)

The Government look with a friendly spirit upon the proposals of this Bill. It is absurd that children should be fed when they are at school and not fed during the few days' interval between one period of school time and another. But at this stage of the Session it is difficult for the Government to secure time even for Bills which meet with general acceptance on both sides of the House. Here we have a Bill which up to the present has been opposed by a limited number of Members. If only those Members would withdraw their opposition the Government would be prepared to give facilities to the Bill and to put it through its various stages. After the long hours and many days which we have already sat this Session I do not think it is reasonable to expect the House of Commons to sit up late at night, fighting through the House a Bill which is regarded by some Members as a controversial measure. If hon. Members who support the principle of this Bill could induce the objectors to withdraw the opposition the Government would be only too glad.

6.0 P.M.


The point raised by my hon. Friend is one of considerable importance. When I was an even younger Member of the House than I am now, in my innocence I raised this question on one of the numerous early adjournments in the Session of 1910 and, I believe, in 1911. We were met with what is under the circumstances a perfectly natural reply from the Government. They said, "It is all very well for private Members to come and ask us when we propose to adjourn early, to proceed with some more or less non-contentious measure, but if we do so we are immediately met by the industrious and business-like hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London, who says, 'If you put -anything more on the programme we shall simply carry on the business that stands before it in order to crowd it out.'" Under present circumstances that is the case. It has been tried. But I would not like this opportunity to pass without appealing to hon. Members on both sides of the House to consider whether it is not possible so to arrange our procedure so that measures of this character, which are extremely important, should have some chance when it is proposed to adjourn the House early; that there should be some measure of agreement between both sides that time should not be wasted in mere fractious opposition and talking on one measure because another happens to be following it on the Order Paper?


The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Jowett) has no doubt been reading to-day's "Daily Herald," in which the Labour party are very warmly attacked because, as it is put in that paper, they are spending their time bolstering up a Capitalist Caucus. I am sure there are a good many Members on this side of the House, as well as amongst the party opposite, who have a good deal of sympathy with the complaint of the hon. Member that the time of this House is not given, at any rate, to the most pressing needs of the people of this country. I submit to the hon. Member that if he wants to remedy the present state of affairs by which, as the President of the Board of Education says, we have given up long hours and many days to legislation, that the remedy lies within the hon. Member's own hands and in the hands of his friends. The hon. Gentleman should get the Government to give up some reasonable portion of Parliamentary time during this or next year to the consideration of some of these measures, as I believe they are to meet the pressing needs of the people. As soon as the hon. Gentleman can do that we shall see some progress made by this House in improving the lot of the people and really doing some good.


I only want a word or two in asking hon. Members on the other side if they will take this Bill up and ask us to support it? If so, perhaps we may get rid of that opposition that has been offered to it. What they are really asking us to do now is to destroy one god and set up another one a good deal worse than the one we have. We have had some experience of the Feeding of Necessitous Children's Bill. We know the wonderful and marvellous argument put out against it when we said that the worst kind of food was to have no food at all. An hon. Member combated that statement, and said that bad food would do more injury to the child than no food at all. When a party can produce men with an intelligence that can put forward arguments like that, it is perfectly impossible to get Bills of this character forward. No doubt some hon. Members opposite are very much in earnest; but will the hon. Member who has just spoken join me in a round-robin to his own party, so that the opposition on the opposite side of the House will be stayed? We will undertake on our side of the House to see to that matter. Many local authorities, so far as I know, are exceedingly anxious to feed the children. It is useless for the hon. Member opposite to blame us. Neither do we blame him. It is six of one and half a dozen of the other. Many on both sides are exceedingly sympathetic, but it is wonderful the number of bleeding hearts there are in this House at election times. It is simply marvellous that they did not kill their possessors years ago. But you cannot get hon. Members to do anything. Can we not do something? There cannot be a single difference of opinion as to the need for feeding the children. We shall doubtless have the old argument about the lack of parental control. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members will say that if you supply meals for the children the father will get drunk with the money that should have bought that meal. We on this side have argued that we have no right to punish the child for the sins of the parent. Feed the child first, because he is an asset of the nation, and punish the parent afterwards.


I intervene in this particular Debate because I see the Patronage Secretary present, and I would like to ask him if he can, for the convenience of Members generally, say what business is going to be taken on Friday?

Mr. ILLINGWORTH (Lord of the Treasury)

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would put the question to the Prime Minister to-morrow.


I may not perhaps be out of order if I make two references to the subject which the hon. Member opposite has raised. I believe my name is on the back of the Bill, but whether that is so or not, the hon. Member knows that he has my entire sympathy. May I just say at once that I think it is a very great pity that matters such as this to which the Bill refers cannot be taken entirely outside the sphere of party politics; that we cannot put our heads together, and see if we cannot manage to pass measures of this kind into law, the urgency and desirability of which every social reformer admits. The hon. Member for Woolwich has made an appeal to this side of the House that hon. Members should join with him in a round-robin with a view to removing the blocks to this Bill. I do not think the Order Paper discloses the names of those who are opposing this Bill. Whether it does or not, I should have thought there was a course the hon. Member might take, and that is to join with us in making an appeal to a sympathetic Government to star this Bill upon the Order Paper. It depends upon them. If they take the trouble to star the Bill, in spite of the congestion of public business, that Bill will go through; whereas if it is a private Member's Bill it does not make much difference whether or not it has our sympathy. The Order Paper is crowded with Government business, and there will be no opportunity for private measures to be taken. I should like to take this opportunity of saying to the President of the Board of Education, if this Bill has his sympathy—and as a matter of consistency it must have his sympathy—surely in these days, when the cost of living is going steadily up, and never was there more trying need for such a Bill as this than at the present time, that it is a matter of urgency, and the right hon. Gentleman might with advantage translate his sympathy into starring this Bill.


I wish to associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Perth, in appealing that there should be a little mercy shown to some of these Bills of private Members which really are desired by all sections of the House. The Bill which has been particularly referred to is no doubt a highly important one, but perhaps I may be allowed to appeal to the House for a little bantling of my own which has made considerable progress in this House, having already passed in Committee, practically without Amendments and by general agreement. It only needs a very few minutes and the goodwill of the hon. Baronet opposite to get it through. I ask the Government whether they cannot find some means to arrange—


What is the name of your bantling?


The Education (School Attendance) Bill. I would invite the hon. Baronet if he is consistent—


What is your Bill?


The Education (School Attendance) Bill. It is obvious that such a Bill cannot pass under present conditions. Unless we have some conference, a committee of two or three say, who are agreed to pass the Bill, the Government will not star it. Therefore I appeal to the hon. Baronet opposite and the hon. Member behind me, whether they will not hold a committee, and decide to be merciful to some of these measures which are desired by the majority of Members of this House. Perhaps the hon. Baronet will respond to my appeal, and let us get the Bill through.


This all shows the disadvantage of these irregular discussions. A certain hon. Member below the Gangway happens to have a Bill—which, by the way, has not been read a second time—which he thinks is a very good Bill. The hon. Member is entitled to his opinion, but the moment he said that up gets another hon. Member, who has also got another Bill, which he thinks a very good Bill, and which he thinks ought to be passed. Without referring to the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, may I point out to him that his very good Bill is objected to, not by the benighted Tories, but by two eminent and sincere Liberals—"earnest Liberal," I believe is the proper phrase!


That is not so. May I point out that the Amendments on the Paper are by hon. Members entirely favourable to the principle of the Bill, who desire to strengthen rather than to weaken it.


I do not know whether the hon. Member calls it being favourable to the Bill to put down a Motion to recommit it. We have already sat for about eleven months this year. I will read the proposed Amendment: Sir James Yoxall, who besides being an earnest Liberal, has some claim to speak for the cause of education, is proposing on the consideration of the Education (School Attendance) Bill, as amended, to move that the Bill be recommitted to the former Committee. We will presume, for the sake of argument, that this Bill is recommitted to the former Committee. There are at the present time, I believe, a very large number of Committees sitting—[An HON. MEMBER: "Too many."] The business of the House is so strenuous that these Committees cannot get a quorum—


Hear, hear.


The hon. Member wants his Bill recommitted.




I thought that the hon. Gentleman interrupted me by saying that those hon. Members who objected to-the Bill really objected because they wanted to do something to its advantage. I therefore gathered he was in favour of recommittal, which is suggested by a hon. Member on his own side. It is evident we could not recommit the Bill with any chance of its being passed. It is also evident that we have got a great deal too much to do at the present time, and that the proper course to pursue is for the hon. Member to bring in his Bill next Session, when there will not be so much to do—and the same remark applies to the Bill of the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway. It would be absolutely impossible for this House to consider all these Bills which are down upon the Order Paper. Hon. Members will see that there are on the Order Paper twenty Government measures—a very great deal too many—and there are eighty-five other Bills down, the majority of which have-not passed their Second Reading. These eighty-five Bills have been introduced by certainly eighty-five hon. Members, probably by more. Doubtless every one of those eighty-five Members think that his Bill is quite as good as that of the hon. Member for Bradford, who has raised this discussion. It would be absolutely impossible for due consideration to be given to all these Bills. I am prepared to go so far as this: provided that the hon. Member for Bradford will induce the Government to withdraw the Home Rule Bill, the Franchise Bill, the Osborne Judgment Bill, and the Welsh Church Bill, I will consider whether or not I can support the Second Reading of his Bill. If he is not going to do that, I do appeal to him in all sincerity to recognise that there is a limit even to> Members of Parliament.

The hon. Member is one of those very strongly in favour of limiting the hours of labour, and he is in favour of paying-overtime, and he is anxious that workmen should only work eight hours a day. Let me point out to him that the course which he desires to adopt would extend Parliamentary hours of labour without giving any extra payment, and therefore, from that point of view it would be wrong. But there is a much more serious aspect of this question and it is this: I hope the House will realise that its first object is not to pass ill-considered and ill-drafted measures, because hon. Members whose names are on the back of them—some of whom may not have even read these Bills, and know nothing of what is inside them—want to be able to go to their constituents and say what fine fellows we are; we have actually got a Bill passed through the House of Commons. That is not the way the House should maintain its traditions. The best way to legislate is with due care and to see that the measures passed are proper measures, properly drafted and passed after due consideration, and after Members on all sides have expressed their opinions on them. We know very well that a large number of measures have been passed during the last few years. One of those measures was called "The Children's Charter," and it enacted that children under a certain age should not smoke cigarettes. Has that ever been enforced? I say never; and therefore, all these Bills which are pushed through for the purpose of enhancing the reputation of a certain number of persons and for the purpose of trying to catch a certain number of votes, are not Bills that are good and that are in the interests of the country. And any further such hasty legislation, is, in my opinion, a step in the wrong direction. I unfortunately did not hear the reasons brought forward by the hon. Member who initiated this Debate, but I do not think it is at all likely if I had heard them that I should have been influenced, because my experience, extending now over a number of years, has shown me that this attempt to pass through certain measures is neither good for the country nor the House of Commons. I would appeal to the hon. Member to be content with the mischief he and his party have already done. Let sleeping dogs lie. He and his party having done as much mischief as they could on the opposite side of the House in the last two years, they are likely to do more mischief during she next two or three weeks before they find they have to retire to that obscurity from which I am sorry they ever emerged.


The hon. Baronet is always supposed to be a great advocate of the rights of private Members, yet he comes here and pours scorn upon eighty-five private Members simply trying to get their Bills through.


The hon. Member did not hear. I said if the hon. Gentlemen would induce the Government to withdraw their Bills—


I did hear, and I say that the hon. Baronet tries to pour scorn upon eighty-five private Members who are trying to get through in the small interstices of time left them some useful legislation. The hon. Baronet himself has a Bill, or had one, for the protection of dogs. I sympathise with him. I wish he may succeed, but when my hon. Friend introduces a Bill for the feeding of hungry children the hon. Baronet does all he can to prevent that going through.


Reference was made by the hon. Member for Scarborough (Mr. W. Russell Rea) to his Bill which is on the Paper, and he informed the House that if he could only square the hon. Baronet and myself he might hope to get his Bill through. This is the latest indulgence in log-rolling. The hon. Gentleman is one of the most amiable and engaging of men, and he knows his persuasive powers. He wants to do some kind of deal behind the back of the House with regard to some of these Bills. He says there are Amendments on the Notice Paper, but they are intended to strengthen the Bill. I should have thought that a notice to recommit a Bill is a rather unfriendly act, but the hon. Gentleman seems to think it is friendly. Does he remember what happened some Fridays ago, when a number of Conservative Members came down in connection with a Bill by Mr. Lansbury in reference to clergymen—

It being half an hour after the conclusion of Government business, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put.

Adjourned at Twenty-two minutes after Six o'clock.