HC Deb 22 April 1914 vol 61 cc1068-72

Postponed Proceeding resumed on consideration of Question, "That the Clause be read a second time." [NEW CLAUSE.—(Employment of Troops during Trade Disputes.)—Mr. Keir Hardie.]

Question again proposed. Debate resumed.


I wish to make a personal explanation. The hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Lee), during the discussion this evening, stated that I had said something to the effect that the officers of the Army were delighted with the opportunity of firing upon workmen in labour disputes.


I said nothing of the kind.


I wish to repudiate the suggestion that anything I have ever said in this House could bear such a construction.


The hon. Member misunderstood my remarks, doubtless owing to the noise at the time. What I said was that the hon. Member said, not once, but many times, that officers had no objection to shooting down strikers.


What I said was that it was a fact that on the sixteen occasions they had been called out no objection had been taken. I particularly pointed out that I knew it for a fact that no man, neither officer nor soldier, wished to fire on his own blood unless he was absolutely compelled to do so.


May I also on a point of personal explanation intervene? The Prime Minister to-day in the course of his speech in a genial manner—I have no complaint at all to make—said that I had been in the habit of calling him an assassin over the Featherstone shooting incident. It has been assumed in the House that I assented to that statement. I interjected a remark which was to the effect that I had not changed my mind on the event. I neither assented nor dissented to the Prime Minister's statement. I am too old to attempt to correct errors of Cabinet Ministers; but, when my hon. Friend below me repeated the remark from our own benches I then felt that I was bound to contradict it. Personally, I have never used the expression, either in speech or writing. It has been used many times by persons identified with a certain section of the Socialist movement. There is not a man on these benches in any way connected with the Labour Party who has ever used such an expression or anything approaching it. I give the Prime Minister and the Committee my word that personally I have never either used or sanctioned the use of that expression.


So far as I am concerned anything I said that suggested the contrary to the hon. Member's observations now, I beg leave to withdraw absolutely.


With regard to the Clause which has been some little time before the Committee, the interval which has occurred has given me an opportunity of further considering it and also of consultation with Mr. Speaker on the matter, and that has confirmed me in the opinion, which was growing stronger as the discussion proceeded, that I had been wrong in originally allowing this Motion on the Army (Annual) Bill. It appears to me now, and I am confirmed in that view by Mr. Speaker, that it is outside the scope of the Bill, and it is, therefore, my duty to withdraw the Motion for the consideration of the Committee.


The Clause, as the Committee is aware, is down in the names of two of my colleagues, and for it the whole of the Labour party is responsible. I submitted it for your ruling earlier in the evening, but since then I have had the privilege of being in consultation on the matter, and, as you have made up your mind to rule the Clause out of order, I think the best thing is for me to give notice now that I shall to-morrow, in view of the Debate that has taken place, and the considerable amount of agreement on both sides of the Committee on certain points, ask the Prime Minister whether he will immediately appoint a Committee to inquire into and report upon the various points that have been raised in the Debate to-day.


May I ask you, on this point of Order, whether there is a precedent for withdrawing a Motion that has been debated for some time—to allow certain Members to speak upon it, and then shut out others who wish to take part in the Debate, and perhaps answer the arguments that have been presented?


If the hon. Member for Salford had been in the House earlier he would have heard me deal with that point which was raised by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil. The Rule of the House is as I then stated. It is the duty of the Chair if in the course of a discussion it appears to him that the question is outside the scope of the Bill before the Committee of the House, to intervene and withdraw the matter for consideration.


I wish to raise a question, not in respect of the new Clause which has been so long under discussion, but to ask whether your ruling applies equally to the new Clause in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent (Mr. John Ward). Personally, I am quite willing to admit that the actual Clause under discussion is out of order on the ground that it deals with the conditions under which the civil authority can call on the military for assistance. The Clause of my hon. Friend (Mr. J. Ward) deals with conditions under which the military will be employed and the equipment they will use in such employment when they are actually called upon by the civil authority. I submit that as the Preamble to this Army (Annual) Act deals with the purposes for which these forces are to be maintained, namely, for the safety of the United Kingdom, if there is a differentiation between the method of employment of His Majesty's forces for different purposes, for the safety of the United Kingdom, that is relevant to the Army (Annual) Act, and my hon. Friend will be entitled to move such a Clause as is on the Paper. I wish to make this point, as in the future it may be justifiable to bring it forward again.


I think not. The distinction is the one laid down by Mr. Speaker last night that the question of the method of employment of the Army is a question which should be raised either on the Army Estimates, or by Motion in the House, or by attack or criticism on the Minister responsible, and not on the Army (Annual) Act. The hon. Member will find nothing in the Army (Annual) Act with which we are now dealing which raises that question, and therefore it is out of the scope of the Committee to bring in something which has nothing to do with the Army Act.


I do not wish to delay the Committee further, but I should like to make this additional point, that the conditions of employment are actually dealt with in the Army Act of 1881, which this Bill is renewing. Under one of the Sections power is given to make Regulations regarding employment, and in virtue of that particuar Section there are at the present time in the King's Regulations certain Regulations which do in effect lay down the conditions of the employment of the military in aid of the civil power. If, therefore, it is in the power of the War Office by Regulations under the Section of the Army Act to lay down conditions, it is surely in the power of this House to supersede the administrative authority of the War Office in reference to these Regulations by making conditions statutory. That is the case for the new Clause.


I think that would bring all executive matters in the legislative sphere, which is the very thing Mr. Speaker said it was not competent for the Committee to do. To the next Clause in the name of the hon. Member for Bodmin Division (Sir R. Pole-Carew) the same ruling applies. I had an opportunity of consulting Mr. Speaker on the matter, and he said the ruling which applied to the preceding Clause applied to the hon. and gallant Member's Clause.


I confess I am disappointed to find that the Clause which I was under the impression was intimately connected with the discipline of the Army is not in order for discussion on this Act. Of course, I bow to your ruling, but I now wish to give notice that I will bring up this question on the first possible opportunity.

Clause withdrawn.

Question, "That the Schedule stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Question proposed, "That the Preamble stand part of the Bill."


Do you, Sir, rule that the suggested Amendment to the Preamble standing in my name is not in order?


I think it is consequential.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill reported without Amendment; read the third time, and passed.

The remaining Orders were read and postponed.

Adjourned at Nineteen minutes after Eleven o'clock.