§ Mr. THOMAS
An appeal was made to the Government yesterday that in view of the many questions that would be raised, an arrangement should be made to carry on the Adjournment Debate for another day. Up to now we have discussed three subjects. I admit they are important subjects, but I submit that one of the most important subjects, namely, the food prices, is agitating the mind of this country probably more than anything else. Before coming to that, let me congratulate the hon. and gallant Member upon the very spirited defence that he has made for his Department. But hammering at the box will not dispose of the fact that there are in very many towns in the country grave apprehensions-as to the anti-aircraft defences. Those who represent constituencies which have known what it is to suffer from Zeppelins have had sufficient evidence of the grave apprehension that exists among their Constituents. It is unfortunate that this important question has degenerated into a personal contest between the hon. Member and others. The question is far too important to raise side and personal issues of that kind. It would be better if, when representations are made, that notice should be given to them and every effort made to ease the natural apprehension that exists.
§ Major BAIRD
If hon. Members will only come to us if they have any representations to make we are authorised to endeavour to satisfy them to the best of our ability. I particularly want to put that forward.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I am sure we all appreciate that, and I ought in fairness to say that I have made representations. I was endeavouring to point out that it is useless to minimise the feeling that exists. I agree that nothing would play the German game more than for this country to bring our best men back from the front to defend us here. I agree that from the military standpoint it would be infinitely better to allow the Zeppelins to continue to come here if there were no other method of defence against them than bringing our men from the great work they are doing on the other side of the water.
Coming to the question of food prices, there can be no doubt that at the present time, so far as the working classes of this country are concerned, they are feeling the question very keenly. Statements 2624 have been made repeatedly that so far as the general mass of workers are concerned they are better off to-day than they ever were before. I think that statement is true so far as some sections of the workers are concerned. It must be admitted that there are sections of the working classes to-day who are earning far more money than they ever earned before. It is equally true that with the wives and daughters and children working the income in certain homes is greater than it has even been before, but at the same time the great mass of the working classes are not earning more. The fact is that a very large section of the people have a very real difficulty in living.
Take, for instance, the case of the railway men. There are at this moment 200,000 railwaymen getting 25s. a week or less. That is an indisputable figure. The admitted increase in the cost price of food is 65 per cent. Assume that the expenditure on food used to be at least 15s. out of that 25s., then you have the result that what could be purchased for 15s. in 1914, costs 25s. to-day. Or to put it in another way, it means that these people cannot possibly purchase or obtain the same amount of food that they existed upon in 1914. I submit that that is a state of affairs that requires careful and serious consideration on the part of the Government. I admit frankly that we cannot expect to be engaged in a War of this kind without some sacrifice being made. I have never adopted the attitude that we could be engaged in a great struggle of this kind without someone or even everyone feeling the pinch. But the difficulty that the working classes experience to-day, and the real point that irritates them, is that side by side with the growing and continually increased cost of living they see the great War profits declared from week to week, and there has grown up a feeling that they are suffering to-day because of other people who are making profits out of the great sacrifices of the masses, such a large number of whom have already given up their lives.
But it is not alone the working men of this country who are suffering from the increased cost of living to-day. This increase in prices has also the effect of reducing the separation allowances of soldiers wives and children to practically half. And not only that, but there is another class affected who are the most unfortunate of all—the old age pensioners. The increase in their case has the effect 2625 of reducing the pension from 5s. to 2s. 6d. I do not propose to say anything of the railwaymen's demand except this. That demand would never have been made except for the increased cost of living. It would never have been made if the Government had shown that they were dealing with the question in some way that was likely to have an effect in reducing the prices. I can only hope that how that the demand has been made both sides will not be unmindful, as I feel sure they will not, of their natural obligations. But to show the effect of this increased cost of living I may recall that there has been a committee at work obtaining from various centres the actual statements of the circumstances of various households. I have here one statement from Sheffield, which I may read. It says:—Before the War the husband's wages were 22s. a week. Now they are 30s. There are the husband, wife and two boys. They say: 'We use more bread and less potatoes—about 6 lb. less potatoes and costing more.' It the boy is asked to set the table he asks, 'Is it a bread dinner, mother?' When first the War started they had no meat at all. It was either a shank or ham bone at 2½d. per lb. Now that costs 4d. and 6d. per lb. We used to have ½ lb. of cheese a week, but have left it off altogether now; 1 lb. of sugar a week, and no bacon, and we get very little meat.One could go on reading extracts of that description, but probably Members in all parts of the House are familiar with the strong feeling that exists. I do submit to the Board of Trade that the whole country looks to them to take drastic and immediate action to deal with this question. If there is any evidence, as there is a strong suspicion that there is, that foodstuffs are being cornered, if there is any evidence that food is being held up for the purpose of inflating prices, I do hope the Board of Trade will recognise that in a matter of this kind it is not sufficient to issue instructions and pass regulations, but that they should go far beyond that and deal drastically with anyone who is found to be responsible.
I rose primarily to deal with two other questions in which the Board of Trade is interested, and with which they have been dealing. It is a case of a railwayman named Davies at Briton Ferry. It is a case that affects not only the personal liberties of an individual, but the rights of citizenship. Davies was charged under the Defence of the Realm Act with distributing a leaflet against recruiting. He was charged in company with another individual, a steel-smelter, and was sentenced by the Neath Magistrates to a month's imprisonment. He was a member of our 2626 organisation, and his branch immediately sent to the society and said: "This man is charged with a certain offence, and we ask the Union to defend him." I want the House to observe that at this stage we said: "No. Whatever offence you have committed it was in your individual capacity. It has nothing to do with your employers; it has nothing to do with the Union; and we are going to have nothing whatever to do with it." Therefore, I want the House to observe that at this stage, so far as the Union was concerned, not only did not they condone the action but they refused absolutely to have anything to do with the case. The man was sentenced to a month's imprisonment. When he comes out of goal, he applies to the company for reinstatement. The other man, the steel smelter, applies to his employer for reinstatement. The Great Western Company says to Davies: "No, you have been charged and committed on an offence, and therefore we are no longer going to employ you. You are of military age, and automatically you go into the Army." His branch then says to the Union, this: "You refused to have anything to do with the defence of this man, but now the question arises as to whether you will, as a Union, take steps to see that the man is not doubly punished. Whatever crime he committed he has at least paid the full penalty for it. The law says he was guilty; he was sentenced to a month; and surely, having served the month and not complained, he is not, when he comes out of prison, to find himself further punished by the Great Western Company taking up the attitude that they will not employ him." We, as a Union, then stepped in. The men, let it be observed, said: "We never agreed with Davies. We totally dissociate ourselves from his offence, but we are not going to stand by and allow the railway company to punish him further, and although we did not at first sympathise with him, certainly now we are going to take our stand on the grounds of personal liberty and citizenship." We replied to them, and said: "No. You must not stop work. This is a case with which the Board of Trade can deal, seeing that the President is the president of the railway executive. Therefore, we would beg of you not to prejudice the position, but to give us an opportunity of dealing with the case ourselves, and of seeing whether we cannot adjust it."
2627 The steel-smelter went to his employer, who said: "We will not employ you," and immediately the employer said that the whole of the other men walked out at Briton Ferry. When they walked out, the employer said: "Rather than have a disturbance, we will employ you," with the result that the men all walked back to work. We said to the railwaymen: "You must not strike work. It is imperative in the national interest that you should not stop," and we exercised all our power and influence—the largest of all the unions, let it be observed. The railway company said: "No. Because you do not let your men do what the steel-smelters did, we will not employ the man." I myself saw the general manager of the Great Western. I put the case to him, and I want to say in common fairness that he met me courteously. We talked the whole matter out, but he felt that he could not reinstate the man. I at last persuaded him to have an interview with the man, and I said: "Very well, here is the young fellow. He will be able to state his own case, and probably express some regret." He has an interview with the general manager, and in that interview, after stating his case, he expresses to the general manager his regret, and says, "Not only am I sorry, but I give you a guarantee that nothing of the kind shall occur again," and he wrote this apology out:—Sir,—I desire to repeat to you in writing the assurance I gave you at the interview this morning that I had no idea at the time I distributed the leaflets that this action, which led to my conviction by the magistrates, was a contravention of the law, or I would not have clone it. I have never knowingly done anything that was likely to injure recruiting, and if continued in the Great Western service you may rely that nothing will be done by me that will prevent the success of this country in the war. Yours obediently,—and he signed his name. I submit when this man, who bad already done a month in prison, against whom the company themselves said there was never a complaint whilst he was in their service, who they themselves admitted was a good and efficient servant, and regarding whom, incidentally, they admitted that in his grade as a shunter he was essential in the national interest, had gone to the length, as he has, of giving this written apology, the company at least ought to have said: "Well, we will take you after that," but they refused. Again, the demand came from South Wales. I see the right hon. Baronet the Member for Swansea (Sir A. Mond) in his place, and I daresay he has 2628 heard of the great meeting that was held at Swansea, and probably he has received the resolution. Again the men from Swansea, Llanelly, Neath, and other districts met, and said: "We demand that you shall give us power to stop work"—that was after this apology had been made; after the man had had an interview with the general manager, and had been refused. Again we stepped in, and said: "No. We have never had an hour's strike on the railway since the War, and we are not going to have one if we can avoid it"—and in a district, mark you, the character of which the House should observe, because everyone knows the kind of feeling that ought to exist in a place like South Wales. The men took our word. We had an interview with the Board of Trade. As a matter of fact the whole of the members of this party, who had had a meeting, had arranged to move the adjournment of the House, because at that moment we felt there was likely to be a strike. At all events, at the request of the Board of Trade we met them. We—the Executive Committee of the Union—went into the whole question with the Board of Trade again, and the then Acting President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Harcourt) said: "I personally will see the Great Western, and will ascertain whether I can do anything with them. I will do my best." On that assurance, our Executive Committee said: "Very well, we will again do our best to keep the men working so as to give you an opportunity of seeing what you can do"; and, in order that he should be further fortified with the intention of the individual stated—in the guarantee of good faith—a further apology was sent. This apology was sent to the President of the Board of Trade, with the power to give it as a guarantee to the company of the man's intentions:Sir,—You will remember that at the interview you kindly gave me with regard to the question of my reinstatement I informed yon that when I distributed the leaflets which resulted in my being prosecuted, I had no idea that this action was contrary to the law, or I certainly would not have done so. I have never knowingly done anything which would either injure recruiting or interfere with the successful prosecution of the War, and can assure you that should you reconsider the position and reinstate me in the Company's service, I will continue to act as faithfully in doing my duty as I have in the past, and shall most certainly do nothing which will in any way interfere with or have a bearing upon the success of this country in the great War in which she is now engaged. I trust, therefore, that this very definite assurance, in addition to the punishment I have already recieved may enable you to reinstate me in the company's employ. Yours obediently," Signed.That assurance I myself took the responsibility of drafting in Davies' name and gave it to the acting president. We then 2629 received an intimation from the President of the Board of Trade that he himself bad endeavoured to do all he could, but, unfortunately, had failed to persuade the railway company to reinstate the man, with the result that in defiance of the central authority of the Union, in defiance of all our instructions, there is issued a circular calling a conference for next week in South Wales, where the men say this: "The Union having stopped us from getting this man reinstated by our methods, and the strike we had having succeeded in getting the other reinstated, we must take the law into our own hands." I put it to the House, as I put it to the Board of Trade, "Can you conceive of anything more disastrous than this: that, when the country is engaged in a War such as this, the down-tools policy succeeds in one case in winning, while conciliation and all efforts to try to avert a stoppage fail to succeed in the other?" Such a state of things is, I submit, a direct encouragement to the policy that we all deplore. I go further than that and I say the company has taken an attitude which they dare not take in peace time; because, let it be observed, this is a deliberate attack upon the individual and upon the rights of citizenship which would not have been tolerated for five minutes if it were not for the War.
The Board of Trade are themselves, after all, the governing body of the railways, and the people who nominally control the railways to-day. They are the people who provide the finance, and I think it is useless for them to pretend or suggest that they have no power or jurisdiction over a matter of this kind. I frankly admit that if this man had been accused of theft or drunkenness or any such offence I would be the last to suggest that any employer should reinstate him; as a matter of fact the rules of our Union would prevent us even taking up that attitude; but what I do submit is that this man has committed at the worst a political offence. The Bench, although sentencing this man to his month's imprisonment, for what after all was a very innocent pamphlet, three weeks after bound over nine men for the distribution of the same pamphlet. I put it that all the facts tend to show that a very grave injustice has been done in this matter. It is because there is a danger of an explosion, because there is a genuine apprehension in Wales, and because these men feel that an unwarrantable ad- 2630 vantage has been taken by the railway companies that I hope, even at this late hour, the Board of Trade will intervene. I see in front of me two Great Western directors. I do not know whether the decision that has been arrived at in this case is the decision of the board of directors. If it is not I would submit to them that they could help the Board of Trade in this matter. If on the other hand they have already arrived at a decision I would say that the circumstances warrant a reconsideration of it. Surely in a matter of this kind it ought to be the policy of any board of directors to help and encourage and strengthen the policy of conciliation. It ought to be the duty of any body of directors to try and assist any central authority which was trying to show that they wanted to avoid a stoppage, and even if they should take a strong view of the offence committed they may at least say that the man, "having proved a good servant to us in the past, having paid the penalty for the offence committed, we shall, in the national interest and to stop further feeling, reinstate him." That would at least show that you can be magnanimous, and even if you have arrived at a decision I would beg you Gentlemen, not as Members of the House, but as railway directors of this particular company, to assist the Board of Trade, and by assisting the Board of Trade assist us as well. In urging this I want to submit that times are serious. You cannot isolate a question of this kind to one given district. The men will rightly compare it to actions that are taking place in other parts of the country. For instance, and to show the reverse policy of the railway company, let me briefly give a history of what has happened on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. Here, the reverse policy has been introduced. The railway company, instead of releasing the man and driving him into the Army, as they have done in this case, themselves actually gave a certificate which exempts him from military service if he will act as a blackleg.
Here is a case where a strike was in operation, and where the seamen and firemen hoped for more money. They asked for the same rate that was paid by other shipowners. I myself, across the floor of the House, offered arbitration to the Board of Trade on behalf of the Seamen's Union. The Board of Trade said that they would urge the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company to accept the offer, but the Lancashire and Yorkshire 2631 Railway Company said to the Board of Trade, "Hands off, this is our business." No other employer would say that; it would not be tolerated from any other employer; but when the offer of arbitration is made by the men the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company flout the Board of Trade and the strike proceeds. Then the Military Service Act comes into operation, and what follows? There is a deliberate inducement held out to men to act as blacklegs. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company not only offer the men a certain price, but they say, in addition to that, if you will only act as blacklegs we will give you this card, and this card says:—You are hereby informed that your services are required in connection with the working of the railway. You will not therefore at present be required to join the Army, and should you receive a notice calling you up you should report to the Recrniting Officer who has sent you the notice, show him this card, give him any particulars he may require, and ask him to communicate with the railway company if he is in doubt. This card has been issued with the approval of the War Office.The result was that twenty men who had never been on board ship before and carried no discharge were engaged as blacklegs to break this strike. Two of them happened to be conscientious objectors, and I have defended conscientious objectors! But there is a serious principle involved. This House of Commons, even the most ardent supporters amongst its Members of the Military Service Act, never supposed that it would ever be used in this way—I strongly opposed it—but I am sure they never intended it to be used as a lever by any employer to induce men to act as blacklegs on their fellows.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Yes, but I at least hoped it would never be, and, as I am reminded of the apprehensions that were expressed, I may say that we had very clear and definite assurances on the subject. What I want to put to the Government is this: We are entitled to ask them to see, here and now, that any railway company, or any other employer, who issues certificates of this kind for purposes such as I have outlined, should be compelled to withdraw them immediately. They can allow this strike to continue if they like. That is another matter. But we do say and submit that employers ought not to have, in addition to the ordinary methods of carrying on a dispute between capital and labour, the additional inducement and 2632 advantage of the Military Service Act. What I have said shows that in these matters railway companies appear to have a law unto themselves. In the first place, in the case I have mentioned, they have adopted an attitude inconsistent with and contrary to the ordinary employer. In the second place, they have used powers that are not possessed by any other employer. For both these reasons, whilst regretting having kept the House so long at this hour of the morning, I have ventured to raise this question not only because of its importance, but because of the burning indignation in South Wales; because I am extremely anxious to avoid any trouble, and because I believe that justice will be done in this case. And the Great Western Railway Company need not, in a matter of this kind, consider their dignity, seeing that the apology of the man himself ought to be sufficient for them. I sincerely hope that, as a result of the Debate, the Board of Trade will be able to give satisfaction on both points.
§ Sir ALFRED MOND
I do not rise to follow the hon. Member in the speech he has just made; I rise for an entirely different purpose, and that is to move "That the Debate be now adjourned."
We have now arrived at nearly one o'clock in the morning, and the hon. Member who has just spoken has opened up a very large and serious subject, upon which I have no doubt quite a. number of Members will be prepared and anxious to speak. It is certainly a subject which I think ought to be ventilated in the light of day, when there are more Members in the House, and when the speeches made are more likely to be repotted by the Press. I would point out, further, that by his speech the hon. Member has introduced another topic amongst the many topics which we have not yet begun to touch in debate. The Government were asked yesterday to give two days for the Adjournment Motion, but the Prime Minister refused. It must have been obvious, in view of the many topics of great importance still before the House and the country, that only one day for discussion of all these topics was entirely inadequate, seeing that the House is about to separate for the Recess. Before the Debate opened this afternoon a number of hon. Members raised this point, and the fact that we have arrived at one o'clock in the morning and have not touched the fringe of some of the most important questions which are 2633 agitating the public mind, including the food prices question which is agitating the working classes right through the country, and is causing unrest, and claims for advanced wages, proves their apprehensions to be well founded. It is most important that these questions should be discussed now considering that we shall not have another opportunity for something like seven weeks.
It is now, as I have said, approaching one o'clock in the morning, and there are many Members who wish to take part in this Debate on topics as important as any that have come before this House. There is the question of pensions, both old age pensions and pensions to soldiers and sailors. Several hon. Members want to speak on these subjects, as I do myself. There are other questions which surely ought to be raised and receive further discussion before the House adjourns for such a long Recess. It is useless for the Government to assume that the country and the House are ready to go to sleep for any given number of weeks, when such burning questions are still outstanding. One cannot attend meetings or belong to any party without hearing continuous references of a contemptuous nature about the way work is done. That is not owing to the fact that Members of the House are not willing to go on and do their work and duty, but to the fact that the Government will never give an opportunity to Members to do the work. Therefore I sincerely hope the Motion will not be resisted. I cannot see what the Government will gain by keeping us up all night, as we probably shall be, instead of giving an opportunity of closing this Debate and resuming it to-morrow, when probably it will not take a very great length of time. Then these questions could be discussed at a reasonable hour, and, what is a very important result, not only the Debate, but the Ministers' declarations, would get that publicity which is of the utmost value to my mind in this question during the next few weeks. Another point ought not to be overlooked. After all, questions are not raised in this House by private Members for their own purposes. They are raised to enable Ministers to give replies to those questions in order to satisfy the country which is deeply interested in them, and if the replies are given in the early hours of the morning we all know that these replies will not be reported in the newspapers, and practi- 2634 cally no notice will be taken of them, and very important ministerial declarations, which it is important should be read throughout the country, will probably not be reported at all. Therefore I think it is in the interests both of the Government and of the House that we should now adjourn.
§ Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I rise to support the Motion proposed by my right hon. Friend, and I hope that after the experience of the sitting, so far as it has advanced, the Government will accede to the Motion. It is quite true that on an earlier occasion in the sitting when the question of the suspension of the Eleven o'Clock Rule was proposed, the Government resisted it on the ground that there would be ample time in the earlier hours of the sitting to discuss all the more important questions which would be raised on the Motion for the Adjournment, but it has been quite clear from the progress of the Debate that that was impossible. The earlier part of the sitting was taken up by a discussion upon questions mainly relating to military administration upon which the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Lloyd George) made a reply. The next question raised was one concerning Ireland, upon which a few Members representing Ireland here were able to make speeches, but upon which a number of others who had other aspects of that question to debate were unable to place their views before the Government. Therefore, we may take it, the subject was only partially touched. We have had a third speech dealing with the air defences of the country upon which a number of Members also spoke; and, now, at one o'clock in the morning, we have had a question raised by my hon. Friend, the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), as important a question as has yet been raised, a question in which the whole of the interests of the working population are concerned. He has told us—I do not wish to enter into the merits—that the Military Service Act is being used for the purpose of prejudicing the workers in labour disputes. Now that was a matter upon which we had the clearest and most definite pledges from Ministers when the Bill was passing through the House, and yet when the hon. Member raised the question there was not a single Cabinet Minister on the Bench to deal with this serious matter of the adequate fulfilment 2635 of Ministerial pledges. We have no doubt the Secretary for the Colonies (Mr. Bonar Law) now present, but he has not heard the ca3e which has been made by my hon. Friend. He undoubtedly was one of those who gave pledges during the passing through of these Acts, but he has not heard the statement of facts from my hon. Friend, consequently he cannot be expected to make an adequate reply upon these facts. All he can say to the House is that he is anxious to make inquiries.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
Before to-morrow it would be possible for Ministers to learn what has happened in the Debate, and for them then either to answer the case made by my hon. Friend or, if they cannot answer it, to say that the state of things which he has revealed to the House will not be allowed to continue, in other words, that the pledges, to which the Colonial Secretary himself was a party, will be completely carried out. But that is not all. There are many other questions the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill) in his speech dealt with very large questions in regard to prices of food and the effect of shipping freights upon these food prices, and there are many Members who are interested in both aspects of these questions and who wish to put before the House and the country their views upon that very difficult and complicated problem. It is quite impossible at this hour of the morning for us to have an adequate discussion of these matters in the House, or to have the replies from Ministers which such important questions require. In these circumstances I have the greatest pleasure in supporting the Motion which has been proposed by my right hon. Friend opposite. I think, in all the circumstances, the Government will be well advised to accept the Motion.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Bonar Law)
The House will not be surprised if I say that the Government cannot accept the Motion to adjourn the Debate which has been moved by my right hon. Friend opposite. I am sorry I did not hear the case made by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas), but I have been in the House the whole day, and it seems to me evident that there has been as ample time 2636 as has ever been taken on any other occasion for the discussion on the Adjournment. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO, no."] Two days, it is true, were asked for the discussion on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House, but I think the best indication of the wish of the House was given on the Division on the Motion that the Eleven o'Clock Rule should be suspended. On that occasion only twenty-one Members took the view now expressed by the Members who have just spoken. There has been a very wide discussion, and I do not think that anyone who has been present in the House will question the accuracy of my statement that nobody has refrained from expressing his views upon the subjects that have been raised. We have been told that the subject of Ireland was not sufficiently discussed. I think if we may take the number of Members from Ireland who are here and compare them with the number who have actually spoken, it will be agreed that there has been ample opportunity for discussing that subject this afternoon. As to the other subject which the hon. Member (Mr. Pringle) has referred to, that of food prices, no one will question the importance of it, but I do not see that anything would be gained by attempting to raise that discussion again to-morrow, and the House will not forget that a very large part of the speech of my right hon. Friend was taken up with that subject. I am quite sure that, so far as can be seen, there is no general desire on the part of hon. Members in the House, that the Debate on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House should be adjourned over another day, and I am prepared to say also that that seems to me rather unusual that at this stage of the Sitting there should be a kind of debate which is obviously not intended to shorten discussion. I hope, therefore, the House will not agree to the Motion.
§ Mr. THOMAS
On a point of Order. I would like to say that from 2.45 I have been patiently wasting here. I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that I prolonged my speech, but I was so anxious about this question that I sat out the whole length of the Sitting. God knows, no one would be more pleased to go home than I, but I felt I could not, unless this was dealt with.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I did not hear the speech of the hon. Gentleman, but I did hear a great many of the speeches, and I said that there had been no general desire to prolong the Debate.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
I wish to support the Amendment, and to express my surprise at the remarks made by my right hon. Friend. He says there is no general desire to speak here, but you, Mr. Speaker, know that I desire to speak on a very important question—that of shipping freights as affecting the food of this country. My right hon. Friend said that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee spoke on this subject at some length. True, he did, but a more misleading speech never was made in this House. I desire an opportunity of replying to the right hon. Member for Dundee. The question raised by the hon. Member for Derby is one which, as the House well knows, has occupied my attention, and on every occasion on which I have been able to do so I have addressed the House on the question of the effect on food of shipping freights. It is true that is a question which is only second to the War in the minds of the people of this country, and I think we ought to have some opportunity of discussing it at some length, and of disposing of the fallacies and the mistakes which the right hon. Member for Dundee made to-day, and also of dealing with the right hon. Gentleman, who, I maintain, is personally largely responsible for the increase of freights and the rise of prices of the food of this country. I may also remark that the President of the Board of Trade, whose prolonged absence from, this House for so long, was due to illness, has now returned, and I regret to learn that he was not well enough to be present in the House to-night. But, I hope, if the adjournment of the discussion is carried, that he may be here to-morrow, and may be able to give us some very important information as to his recent visit to Italy, and what arrangements he has made in Italy, in conection with the supply to Italy of merchant ships, which might have a direct effect upon prices in this country. Therefore, without prolonging the discussion, I strongly support my right hon. Friend, the Member for Swansea, and I do so in the hope that if the Amendment is carried, the President of the Board of Trade may be here to-morrow, and will lend us great and valuable aid in discussing this question of the food prices of the country.
Sir H. DALZIEL
I must say that I sympathise to some extent with the demand which has been made by my right hon. Friend opposite (Sir A. Mond). There is no doubt that there are questions which 2638 there is a desire to raise, which have not been raised this afternoon. I am sure my right hon. Friend, the Colonial Secretary, will admit that if there are genuine grievances which it is desired to bring before the House, we ought not to separate for seven weeks without an opportunity of doing so. He, himself, has not been in the House this afternoon at all.
Sir H. DALZIEL
Oh, he was sitting at the other end of the bench. The right hon. Gentleman was not in his usual place. I am sorry if I was mistaken, and I withdraw. No one can say, with any truth, that there has been any obstruction this afternoon, any waste of time, or any desire to delay the ordinary business of the House. There is, of course, the consideration, and we cannot shut our eyes to it, that arrangements have been made by many hon. Members and people on the assumption that the House will adjourn to-morrow. We have two possibilities, I think, before us. One is to go on debating these questions for another few hours, and to have a very long Sitting. The other one is whether it is not possible to give a few hours tomorrow, consistent with the Adjournment to-morrow. The Colonial Secretary might perhaps consider whether it would not be possible to continue the discussion) tomorrow, if there were a general understanding by hon. Members, not to prolong the Debate then beyond three hours. [HON. MEMBEBS: Oh!] Well, three or four hours—[An HON. MEMBEB: Five!]—as long as the questions that are really desired to be discussed are discussed. No one wishes the House to sit longer than would be desirable.
Sir H. DALZIEL
The hon. Member suggests a Friday's sitting to adjourn at five o'clock, but I think it would be desirable, if possible, that we should adjourn tomorrow. Personally, I see no difficulty in that course. I do not know that it is desirable to set to a very late hour now, and I do not know that we should go on sitting, because I think the possibilities are that if we had a Division the House 2639 would be compelled to sit to-morrow, and that the Government would have to consider what course they ought to adopt. I would suggest to the Colonial Secretary that if the House came to a general understanding with him that the Debate should not be prolonged to-morrow, that he should so arrange his Royal Commission to carry out the Adjournment, that it would be possible to-morrow to raise a few points. I think that that is desirable, and I urge the Government to accept that course as a fair way out of the difficulties that have arisen.
§ Mr. KEATING
I rise to support the Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate, and I am surprised at the attitude of the Government in saying that a certain amount of time is sufficient to deal with the subjects which interest private Members. I do not suppose that anybody in this House will accuse me of having any desire to occupy the time of the House unnecessarily. I have only spoken once or twice for several years in this House, and therefore I think I am entitled to say that it is not fair to private Members for the Government to act so arbitrarily in regard to the time of the House. There are many questions affecting my Constituents which they expect me to deal with in the House. Like every other hon. Member I am entitled to bring them forward, and Ministers, in my judgment, are acting very unfairly to private Members by the somewhat Olympic tone which they adopt towards them in this House, simply because private Members do not assert themselves more often and as vigorously as they themselves did when they were private Members.
There are many questions which ought to be discussed much more thoroughly than they have been discussed. We are adjourning the House for seven or eight weeks, and we shall not have any opportunity of ventilating the opinions of our Constituents—and not only the opinions but the feelings and interests of our Constituents, which is a very different thing from having a mere academic opinion about anything. The hon. Member for Derby has just raised a question in which I take the keenest interest, and I am very anxious indeed to have that subject discussed in all its bearings. It is, to me—I can hardly find Parliamentary words to express my indignation that this poor man has been treated by a company which, after all—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is going beyond the Motion. The Motion is that the Debate be adjourned.
§ Mr. KEATING
I am sorry, and I hope you will not think I am taking advantage of my position. I happened to go quite out of the ambit of the Debate for a moment. But there are many questions which I think ought to be discussed more thoroughly than they have been discussed, and I hope that to-morrow will be available for their discussion.
The suggestion made is one, I think, which ought not to appeal to us. I think we ought to have as much time as ever we like to discuss these questions. The country expects it of us, and I say frankly that there is too much palavering going on in this House, complimenting each other, and ignoring what the country feels. The country feels very strongly on this question, and I say that I shall use every opportunity of which I can possibly avail myself to express my indignation at the way in which private Members are being treated in this House.
§ Major HUNT
I should just like to remind the Colonial Secretary (Mr. Bonar Law) that the Prime Minister this afternoon, as I understood it, undertook that there should be a chance for everybody to speak who wanted to do so. I think that was the pledge he gave. Of course, we cannot read it, but I think the right hon. Gentleman will see to-morrow morning in the OFFICIAL REPOBT that, that is for all practical purposes the promise he did make. Therefore, I hope that whatever he does he will not cut people out who want to speak. I really cannot see why he objects to sitting to-morrow. The House is going to meet, and I cannot see any reason why we should not go on with this Debate. Evidently a good many Members wish to do so.
§ Mr. LYNCH
I wish to add a few words in support of what has been said in respect to the Adjournment of the Debate. As I said at an earlier hour, it is done partly in the interest of the Ministers themselves. It is almost impossible for men so hard worked as they are physiologically to maintain their intellect—I repeat the term although it may excite laughter—their intellect, at the height that Parliamentary practice demands at the hour of half-past one o'clock. The deterioration is already visible in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman himself. If he is remarkable for anything at 2641 all it is for a certain superficial air of sweet reasonableness, and an argumentative form of conducting debate which he derives, no doubt, from his Scottish descent. But in his speech there was nothing of sweet reasonableness whatever, nothing we could follow, but only a sort of Front Bench petulance which we find introduced too often into their discourses. There are several important questions of which we have hardly touched the fringe, and some are of the most vital character, involving the expenditure of millions of money and a lavish waste of oceans of blood. On the question of Ireland itself, although we have had certain speeches in the House, there has not been one which touched on what is to me a vital question, that is, the idea of a bold reconstruction in the future. If I wait here until ten o'clock to-morrow, or twenty-four hours, I mean once and for all to speak my mind with the utmost fulness, and the utmost frankness on this vital question. Perhaps the lateness is visible even in my own remarks. If I had been speaking at six o'clock in the evening I might have spoken with a certain degree of restraint and prudence. That is a virtue which is held in very high esteem in this House, perhaps in too great esteem. My experience in reading history is that I have seen the shores of empires strewn with the wreckage of your prudent man.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I would remind the hon. Gentleman that the only question now to be discussed is the Adjournment of the Debate.
§ Mr. LYNCH
Yes, Mr. Speaker, but I am giving reasons for adjourning the Debate to-morrow because I say, however unpalatable it may be to Members of the House, that the brains of the men now listening to me on the Front Bench are not at that high degree of efficiency which we have a right to expect from the leaders of this nation, and since I do not wish to weigh too heavily against the character for intellect which they enjoy in the country I attribute it to the late hour of this Debate, and it is a most forcible argument for an adjournment until we can discuss these matters in daylight. If we take an example from France, we find that although they expedite business as thoroughly as is done here, and often arrive at much more sage conclusions—they have shown in the whole conduct of public business during the War a far higher degree of efficiency in organising— 2642 most of their debates are conducted within the hours of four and eight o'clock p.m. Owing to the necessity of finishing within a reasonable hour, while their brains are still active and receptive, they have developed a system of committees which has been recommended here, and so they save what I will call this disgraceful procedure, and save respectable men from staying up at late hours of the evening. I mean to have my say. Not long ago, while the evening was still young, but still after twelve o'clock, I think I listened to a speaker on the Front Bench, beating the Table by way of emphasis—
§ Mr. LYNCH
I will say this, Mr. Speaker, in explanation, that the argument I was going to use was that one of the Members of the Government himself was carried away by a lack of restraint to use language which he would not have used if he had spoken before twelve o'clock, and that action was an enforcement of the argument that I had already put forward. Words like "miserable twaddle," and so forth, ought not to be applied to the Members of this House. To return to the point we are discussing, I would say that there was still a great number of highly important questions, questions which at any other period would have had a full day expended on each, and would be regarded by the whole country as of vital importance, which we have not reached in this Debate, which will be debated, and which certainly cannot be debated adequately if the debate on them is begun after half-past one. All these arguments are so forcible that the Government must have had some reason which they have hidden from us hitherto for withholding their consent from this very reasonable proposition. We have heard one Minister already defending the action of the Government in Ireland in prohibiting the free criticism of the Government by the public press, and one would think that there best refuge in this House was to close the Debate as rapidly as possible lest any reasonable criticism should be such as to depress the country, and encourage their enemies. I do not know if anyone else will speak in conclusion, but I would advise them at this late hour to revise their judgment, not to take a mere non-possumus attitude, but to consult what really is the temper of the House; not to 2643 be content with a victory, if there is a victory, in the Division Lobbies, but to note that private Members, who for a year past, have been deprived of their rights in this House, have reached a point where they will refuse to be dictated to by Members of the Government in regard to the conduct of debate.
§ Colonel Sir R. WILLIAMS
I wish to say only a few words in support of the action of the Government. I have been a good many years in this House now, and I have assisted at this annual performance several times. It follows this stereotyped procedure almost annually. At about one o'clock in the morning, when we discuss a certain number of subjects, some Member gets up and tries to disarrange the whole arrangements of the House, and suggests an adjournment, wasting five-and-thirty to forty minutes, and perhaps three-quarters-of-an-hour. That is because we have forgotten what the object of the Adjournement and the Debate on the Adjournment Motion is. It is not to afford every private Member or anybody else the opportunity of raising every single question. At all events, when there are a great number of questions which everybody knows are to be debated it seems to me no Member pays any regard whatever to the rights of any other Member except himself. Very long speeches indeed have been made in this Debate. A long speech was made by the Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), and it does seem to me if we have got, as we have got, a good many subjects that ought to be discussed Members ought to have some regard one for another and not prolong their remarks unduly. Care should be taken, also, that not more than two or three Members speak on one subject, so that other subjects may be discussed and answered properly with reasonable regard to the convenience of the rest of the House and the rights of other people.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
With the indulgence of the House, I should like to say a few words now as to what has been said. I was not in the least shocked by the observation of the hon. Gentleman opposite that whatever little intellect I had has disappeared at this hour, but I would like, if I could, to preserve the reputation which it is said I enjoy of trying to be reasonable. That I certainly wish to be. I may say further, that so far as 2644 my experience of the House goes I have never found the Government or anybody else refusing to meet as far as they could the wishes of those who were present in the House. The House must see, however, how difficult it was to agree to the proposal. Nearly all Members of the House have made arrangements to go away to-morrow, and it was very difficult for us to feel sure that the necessary business could be done. But I am prepared to make a proposal which I believe will find acceptance—at least I hope so—to the Members of the House now. It is to adopt the suggestion made by the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel) that if the House is willing now to give the Government this Motion—"That the House at its rising to-day do adjourn until Tuesday the 10th October"—if they will give us that Motion now then to-day after the interval between the Government Orders someone from this Bench will move that the House be adjourned. It will then be possible to go on discussing that Motion till five o'clock.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
So far as I know there will be nothing to occupy any length of time before the Debate begins. There are forty questions I think, and the Lords Amendments will not take many minutes. The rest of the time will be available. I think that is meeting the House very fairly and I hope they will agree to it.
§ Mr. ELLIS GRIFFITH
As a matter of form I think it will be necessary to withdraw the Motion which is now before the House and substitute the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman.
I would just like on behalf of some of my friends here who are anxious to speak now to say that they will be perfectly satisfied if they have an opportunity of speaking when we resume to-day. I do not know what the junior Ministers of the Government are getting excited about. I am dealing with the Colonial Secretary. Some of my friends are anxious to put forward certain matters dealing with Ireland. They intended to 2645 do so at this Sitting, and they cannot agree to this Motion unless they have an understanding that they will have an opportunity of doing so when the House meets again to-day. There are Lords Amendments to the War Charities Bill in connection with its application to Ireland. They may take some time to discuss. I think in view of the arrangement now proposed my hon. Friends are entitled to that assurance and to know that they will not be automatically cut out of the Debate when we resume.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
Of course, it is impossible for me to say who will be called during the Debate. I have never so far in this House, if an arrangement has been agreed to by those who have a Motion of this kind, known it not to be carried out. If the hon. Gentleman opposite is prepared to fall in with it and to agree that the House shall rise at five o'clock I shall be very glad indeed to see the proposal I make carried out. I think he himself must feel that in making that proposal I have met the House fairly, and that they will have the same chance as anybody else of bringing their matters forward. But unless there is general agreement that the proposal would be carried out there is no reason for making my suggestion. I hope therefore the hon. Gentleman will not persist, because unless there is agreement we cannot go on. I am sure he will agree himself that the proposal I make is a fair one.
§ Mr. HOUSTON
Will the right hon. Gentleman say, if the Irish question is to be taken when the House meets again, whether it might not be possible to discuss the question of food, which is very important.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
It is impossible for me to say anything on that. As I have already said, all I can do is to arrange for a certain time during which the House shall sit.
§ Mr. LUNDON
I was one of those who was most anxious to speak upon the position in Ireland. I am in an even more difficult position than any of my colleagues because I want to make an explanation as to an incident that occurred yesterday. I think, if I am allowed to make that explanation, I will at least hear from over my head any opinions Members may hold as to General Sir John Maxwell. You may allow me, Sir, to say what I wish to say. 2646 I wrote you a letter asking if it would be possible for you to allow me to speak so as to deal with the question which I raised yesterday, and to apologise to the House for the statement which I made with regard to Sir John Maxwell, and also to explain the reason why I was dragged into making such an indictment against him. I insist, if I have to remain here during these Debates—I do not care how long they are—that I shall have my say. If the Colonial Secretary does not agree that Members for Ireland shall be allowed to speak on the Irish question, I shall go into the Division Lobby against him. Other Members from Ireland have spoken—they have given their ideas. My ideas are different from many of theirs, and I am as much entitled to be allowed to express them as they are to express theirs.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
May I say that the reason I was not able to call upon the hon. Member—as I should gladly have done—was that I was under an obligation to the hon. Member for East Hertfordshire (Mr. Billing) to call him next. It was impossible for me to break that arrangement; otherwise I should certainly have called the hon. Member.
§ Mr. MORRELL
Before the Motion is withdrawn, may I ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether there will be any real objection to the suspension of the Five o'clock Rule to-morrow?
§ Mr. MORRELL
All I want to know is whether that is certain, and whether, under this proposed arrangement, persons like myself, who have waited here for ten hours in the hope of raising a subject which we believe to be important, should not be shut out to-morrow by the operation of the machinery of the Five o'Clock Rule, but that we may have an opportunity of raising subjects which we consider important. I would point out that if the House goes on now there is no doubt that we shall get in, and I want to know is that we shall not be in, a worse position by assenting to this proposal.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD
May I ask your ruling, Mr. Speaker. If we sit tomorrow at twelve o'clock, are we to understand that there is a Five o'Clock Rule, or are we to understand by this arrangement that it is only intended that somewhere about five o'clock the House will adjourn?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
We shall not be meeting under rules which govern Friday Sittings, and therefore time is unlimited.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
As matters stand at present, we shall virtually be under an obligation to cease speaking at five o'clock to-morrow, because the bargain which is being made will cut out anybody, and put in an invidious position anybody, who endeavours to speak after five o'clock. I am in the same position as my hon. Friend beside me. I have been waiting some ten hours to speak, and I have not risen because I thought there was no likelihood of my being called upon. I do not want, after waiting all this time, to run the risk of not being called. I am anxious to know whether there would be an obligation to cease speaking at five o'clock, if this arrangement is made.
§ Motion, "That the Debate be now Adjourned," by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I beg to move, "That this House, at its rising to-day (Wednesday) do adjourn until Tuesday, 10th October."
§ Mr. SPEAKER
This is practically an Amendment of the Motion which has been on the Order Paper for many hours.
§ Resolved, That this House, at its rising this day (Wednesday) do adjourn until 10th October.
§ The remaining Orders were read and postponed.
§ Resolved, That this House do meet this day (Wednesday) at Twelve of the clock.—[Mr. honor Law.]