HC Deb 24 June 1918 vol 107 cc814-21

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months." The Second Reading of this Bill was debated in this House on the 5th June, and I and those associated with me opposed this measure because of some difficulty with this district council on account of the treatment of its workmen. On that occasion the. Chief Secretary for Ireland promised to make an inquiry into this matter in this House, and so far as this House is concerned, seeing that very grave charges have been made against this district council in this House and the Chief Secretary publicly promised to make inquiry into the matter, it seems to me that the least we are entitled to on this occasion is to hear from the Chief Secretary for Ireland in this House whether any, and, if so, what, success has attended his efforts in regard to the Lurgan Urban District Council. I think this is an important matter; at any rate it is one that affects very large numbers of men organised in their trade unions. We have always expected that during the period of war every effort would be made not only by the trade unions concerned, representing the workmen on the one hand, but by the employers, whether in a private capacity, under the Ministry of Munitions, or a public authority, to pursue the efforts in the direction of endeavouring to avoid industrial difficulties. In this case the Lurgan Urban District Council has done nothing of the kind. They have cut straight across—


These matters are not contained at all within this Bill. On the Third Reading, debate is confined to matters which are referred to and dealt with in the Bill. The hon. Member is entitled to ask what action the Chief Secretary or the Irish Government have taken, because that was referred to on Second Reading, but I do not think he would be entitled to open up the same questions as were discussed on Second Reading with reference to the dealings of the urban district council with some of their employes. He is entitled to ask what has been done.


No attempt has been made to give any statement to the House on this matter at all, and I think that is a very unsatisfactory position to be in. I know a great deal of interest is being taken in this matter in Lurgan itself. May I point out that, owing to the War, the elections which would ordinarily take place for positions on a public authority of this kind do not take place, and I am convinced in my own mind that if such elections had taken place there is not the slightest doubt that the people resident in Lurgan, the ratepayers and voters, would very easily have put sufficient pressure on the urban district council to have righted what we think is wrong? I do not know whether we are to have any statement with regard to what the Chief Secretary has done, but, in any case, I think the only thing I can do is to move the rejection of this Bill.

Captain A. SMITH

I beg to second the Amendment.

I think we are entitled to show cause why the Lurgan Urban District Council should not charge 5s. 6d. a 1,000 feet, and that the action taken by the council with regard to its workmen does not warrant any confidence being placed in any Bill being passed through the House by them. I had not the opportunity of being present in the House on the Second Reading of the measure, but in reading the Debate it seems that some astonishing statements were made which certainly call for some explanation by the Chief Secretary for Ireland with regard to this question. It was stated that, in order to get the Bill through, it was to make the actual consumers of gas pay the 5s. 6d., as against paying out of the common fund any deficiency in which the Lurgan Urban District Council gas works might be involved. The people are the authority there, and they are the people who say whether they will place on this authority persons to administer this Bill or any other Bill dealing with their gas works. I submit that so long as the people have not an opportunity in an election to say whether they condone the action of the council in the treatment of their workmen in this matter the Bill ought to be held up until the people have an opportunity of stating their opinion. If they do condone it they ought to suffer with anybody else. As my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Duncan) said, I cannot see how the people in Lurgan can have confidence in a council which has permitted such atrocious dealings by men who remain in authority there. In these circumstances, if my hon. Friend goes to a Division I shall certainly support him in favour of the rejection of the Bill.

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. Arthur Samuels)

My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland asked me to express his apologies to the hon. Members who have spoken for not being here in person on this occasion. He has given the undertaking which has been referred to, and he at once took steps to carry out that undertaking, which was an undertaking, so far as he could do it, to try and bring the parties together and see if an arrangement could be made. He wrote on the 6th June to the Local Government Board for Ireland and drew their attention to what had happened in the Debate, asking the President whether he would, before the Report stage, send a person down to Lurgan to interview the parties and see whether some arrangement of a satisfactory character could not be made. The Local Government Board for Ireland sent down Mr. Leach, and he had an interview with the chairman, the solicitor, the town clerk, and the manager of the gasworks, and a special meeting of the gas committee was called to go into the matter. It did so, and Mr. Leach pressed the view expressed here. They considered it very carefully, and came to the conclusion that on the whole the matter was not one that they were in a position to reopen. I may mention that they stated that they took up the works from a private company in April, 1916, which was rather a difficult position for them. They immediately went into the question of wages, and considered the whole matter, and they state that the rate of wages they pay are equal to or higher than wages in the towns all round the neighbourhood. They also say that the men who have been there before and left on account of some trouble were all now in other employment, except one. So far as the Chief Secretary is concerned, he has done everything he can to carry out this arrangement, and he has pressed strongly on the Local Government Board the views expressed in this House and the desire that the matter should be brought to arbitration. Under these circumstances I ask that this Bill should be allowed to pass. The question between the men and the gas company will still remain, and I hope it will be amicably arranged. In the interests of the ratepayers, a very large number of whom are in the position of citizens who are not of the wealthy class and who depend to a large extent upon the gas supply, I ask that this Bill should pass. I believe there are certain small industries which will be affected if this Bill is not passed. It is desired that the people who consume the gas should pay for it, and that it should not fall upon the general body of ratepayers. I would also say that the city of Cork is involved in this Bill as regards land, and Tralee, from the point of view of water supply, depends upon the passing of this Bill.


I am sure that the House has heard with profound regret that disappointing statement. It does not meet the case, and it does not sufficiently inform the House on the points left for decision by the Chief Secretary. It is one of those question where the members of the Labour party have no option but to do an unpleasant duty. I will deal first with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that this Bill affects two other places. That is not the fault of Lurgan. If that argument had any force it would mean that any objectionable scheme could be got through by linking it up with two satisfactory ones, and then telling the House that if the Bill is not passed it will interfere with Cork or some other place. I give this advice to Government Departments, that when they know that a certain provisional Order is certain to arouse keen opposition they should let it stand or fall by itself, and not link it up with two other places that are perfectly innocent. I feel so strongly about the case of Lurgan that I shall vote against the Bill, even if by doing so it did interfere with other places. I should be very sorry to do so, but I cannot help it. We cannot go into all the details, but, on the Second Reading the Chief Secretary seemed amazed at the strength of the case, and said that he must be allowed to make personal inquiry to satisfy himself that the statements were well founded, and, if so, he would intervene. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke for the district made one of the most curious statements, for he frankly declined to review the case put forward from the Labour benches. As one of the most astute members of this House his silence was more eloquent than his speech. He had no case. All he could tell us was that some arrangement might be made, and that somebody should go down, and he reminded us that two other places were concerned in the Bill. This is one of those cases which makes either a private or a public body stink in the nostrils of fair people. It is one of those cases that handicaps all properly conducted authorities, whilst casting a slur upon an entire industrial community. Those who have read the Debate on the Second Reading will agree with me that I am not overstating the case when I say that the friends of the Bill—

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir D. Maclean)

The hon. Member is now discussing a matter which was ruled out by Mr. Speaker.


No. I understood Mr. Speaker to rule that the case could not be reopened, but that we were entitled to refer to the fact that a case was made out. I am not proposing to go into any details.


There is no objection to a question being asked by the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill and an answer being given by the Minister in charge of the Bill as to what has been done in the meantime, but we cannot have a Debate upon it.

Captain SMITH

Would it not be in order to state, even though it was stated on the Second Reading, what are the wages which this company have paid or proposed to pay before the Bill came to the House?


That would be quite proper on the Second Reading, but it is not relevant to the Bill now.


The Chief Secretary stated that he would make personal inquiries, and the statement now made on behalf of the Government is not adequate to the promise then made. The Chief Secretary gave the House to understand that the intervening time while the Bill was before the Private Bill Committee upstairs would be used by him and by the Irish Government in order to investigate this case, but I certainly inferred, and anyone reading the Debate would infer, that the Chief Secretary would be in his place to-day and give us his opinion.


That is going against Mr. Speaker's ruling and the ruling which I myself have given.


I am only coming to what you directed my attention to, and that is the Chief Secretary's promise and the fulfilment of it.


We cannot have a discussion on that.


When you called me to order before you said reference could be made to it. However, if you wish to revise your ruling I have no objection. The reply given by the Government is unsatisfactory, and I think I am within my rights in objecting to the Bill on its merits. This is a Provisional Order sanctioned by the Irish Government, and I claim that in these matters Ireland is having preferential treatment over England. When a similar proposal which was to go in a Provisional Order was brought forward by my own Constituency of Pontefract, we were told that while the War was on the Government Departments were too busy to deal with these cases. Now I come down to the House and I find Order after Order going through for Ireland, including this one. That is entirely contrary to the statement of the Government, and I think I am perfectly entitled, while I do not offer objection to two parts of the Bill, to object to the House giving its time in this way, when it declines to attend to my own Constituency in England, on a matter quite as important, by saying that there is a war on.


That is not relevant to the Clauses of this Bill. I am not quite certain whether this is the second or the third time that I have called the hon. Member's attention to the fact that in my opinion his remarks are irrelevant.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided: Ayes, 87; Noes, 14.

Division No. 50.] AYES. [8.38 p.m.
Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte Bird, Alfred Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry
Archdale, Lt. Edward M. Brace, Rt. Hon. William Dalrymple, Hon. H. H.
Baird, John Lawrence Bridgeman, William Clive Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirk'dy)
Baker, Col. Sir R. L. (Dorset, N.) Brookes, Warwick Denman, Hon. Richard Douglas
Baldwin, Stanley Bryce, John Annan Edwards, J. H. (Glam., Mid.)
Barlow, Sir Montague (Salford, South) Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James Fell, Sir Arthur
Barnett, Capt. Richard W. Butcher, Sir J. G. Fisher, Rt. Hon. W. Hayes (Fulham)
Barnston, Major Harry Coates, Major Sir Edward F. Foster, Philip Staveley
Barran, Sir Rowland H. (Leeds, N.) Colvin, Col. Gibbs, Col. George Abraham
Beck, Arthur Cecil Craig, Ernest (Crewe) Gilmour, Lt.-Col. John
Benn, Sir Arthur S. (Plymouth) Craig, Col. Sir James (Down, E.) Goulding, Rt. Hon. Sir Edward Alfred
Greenwood, Sir G. G. (Peterborough) Mackinder, Halford J. Sanders, Col. Robert Arthur
Griffith, Rt. Hon. Sir Ellis Jones Malcolm, Ian Scott, A. M'Callum (Bridgeton)
Hall, Lt.-Col. Sir Fred (Dulwich) Mason, David M. (Coventry) Smith, Rt. Hon. Sir F. E. (Liverpool)
Hamersley, Lt.-Col. A. St. George Neville, Reginald J. N. Spear, Sir John Ward
Harmsworth, Cecil G. (Luton, Beds) Newman, Sir Robert (Exeter) Stewart, Gershom
Harris, Sir H. P. (Paddington, S.) Nicholson, Sir Chap. N. (Doncaster) Tickler, Thomas George
Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry Nield, Sir Herbert Tryon, Capt. George Clement
Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon Parker, James (Halifax) Walker, Col. W. H.
Hinds, John Pearce, Sir Robert (Leek) Weston, John W.
Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield) Perkins, Walter Frank White, James Dundas (Tradeston)
Illingworth, Rt. Hon. Albert H. Pollock, Sir Ernest Murray Williams, Llewelyn
Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Pratt, John W. Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)
Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen, E.) Pryce-Jones, Col. Sir E. Wilson, Col. Leslie (Reading)
Jones, Wm. S. Glyn- (Stepney) Pulley, C. T. Wolmer, Viscount
Joynson-Hicks, William Raffan, Peter Wilson Yate, Col. Charles Edward
Layland-Barratt, Sir F. Robinson, Sidney Younger, Sir George
Levy, Sir Maurice Samuel, Samuel (Wandsworth)
Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury) Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry (N' wood) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Lord
MacCaw, Wm. J. MacGeagh Samuels, Arthur W. (Dub. U.) Edmund Talbot and Capt. Guest.
Anderson, William C. Galbraith, Samuel Rowlands, James
Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E.) Jowett, Frederick William Wing, Thomas Edward
Booth, Frederick Handel King, Joseph
Buxton, Noel Lambert, Richard (Cricklade) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Captain
Chancellor, Henry George Martin, Joseph Smith and Mr. C. Duncan.
Davies, Ellis William (Elflon) Mason, Robert

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the third time, and passed.