§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Commander Eyres-Monsell.]
§ 11.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
Your ruling in the earlier part of the day, Mr. SPEAKER, prevented me from moving the Adjournment of the House to call attention to the serious trouble which arose in the course of last evening between the discharged and demobilised soldiers and sailors and the police, and I wish to take advantage of the opportunity that; the Adjournment Motion now affords me for the purpose of raising this serious matter. I would not have raised the question at this late hour of the night but for the fact that I consider that the incident of last night is of a very serious, character, and that it requires the attention of the Government at the earliest possible moment. I think that the Government, in not having given serious consideration to the grievance that these men desired to press before the Prime Minister in the course of yesterday afternoon, at a much earlier stage than this, has led to a serious condition of affairs, in a part of London at least. You stated in the course of your ruling, Mr. SPEAKER, that there was no suggestion that the police had acted in any way contrary to orders. I had no intention in seeking the Adjournment of the House to make a charge against the police; I had no information that would justify me in doing anything of the kind. The only thing that I would say in this connection is that it seems to me that someone erred in the course of yesterday afternoon in preventing the deputation from rejoining their companions in the procession and conveying to them the satisfactory assurances which the members of the deputation had been able to get from the Prime Minister's secretary. I believe that if the members of the deputation had been allowed to rejoin their companions in the procession, and been able to convey to them the same satisfactory assurances that had been given to the deputation by the Prime Minister's secretary, there is just the possibility that the regrettable incident of last night would not have occurred. My purpose in moving the adjournment of the House to-night was to point out that, 399 in my opinion, the regrettable incident of last night was the natural sequence to the dismissal of so many of the demobilised soldiers and sailors from Government employ at Woolwich and other Government centres, and to urge the necessity for steps being taken to provide them with work before a far more serious disaster occurred than the happening of last night. A fortnight ago we had all kinds of charges made against the trade unions of the country for the treatment of discharged and demobilised soldiers and sailors. Even the representative of the Government on that occasion, to my mind, m a very light-hearted way took part in the criticism that was made against the trade unions. I do not know whether his intention was to cover up the shortcomings of the Government or not in this connection.
Be that as it may, the Government's turn has undoubtedly come, because the incident of last night, without a shadow of doubt, is traceable to the fact that a considerable number of employés have been discharged from the Government factory at Woolwich, and up to the present no work has been found for them. These men, rightly or wrongly, think that the Government has a responsibility for finding them employment. I have every sympathy with them in that idea. Those men were given all sorts of promises as to what would be done for them in return for the valuable services which they have rendered to the country in the course of the last five years. The time has come for these promises to be redeemed. Ex-Service men are looking anxiously to the Government for the "delivery of the goods." What is standing in the way of the Government meeting the anticipations of the ex-Service men?
§ Mr. ADAMSON
What is standing in the way of those promises being redeemed? The policy of the Government in refusing to use the national factories for peace-time production. The reason, I believe, is because they have given a pledge to their supporters that they will not enter into competition with private enterprise. I know something of what I am speaking. It so happens that I am a member of the Advisory Committee in 400 connection with Woolwich Arsenal. I was a member of the Sub-Committee of Inquiry. My colleague, the Member for West Ham, and myself made certain recommendations as to the future use of these factories. These were turned down on the ground that the Government could not allow these national factories to enter into competition with private enterprise. In our opinion there you have the chief reason for the trouble last night. We believe that we have only seen the beginning of these troubles. These men are organising themselves, according to our information, and will organise themselves to a greater extent with a view to their influence being exercised in a more palpable way. I would urge the Home Secretary to convey to the Members of the Government the necessity for steps to be taken at an early date for employment to be found for these men. There is no lack of orders for things such as could be turned out at Woolwich and other Government factories. The country's industries are hungering for raw and other material, such as railway wagons, locomotives, etc. There is the greatest necessity that this matter should be taken up, not only to provide material, and so enable us to get back to normal conditions, but to enable the Government to redeem their promise, and the country's promise, to the men who fought the battles of the country, and who were told that their places would be kept open for them; that they would be living in a new world. I hope these men will not be disappointed—
§ Mr. ADAMSON
I would urge upon the Government the necessity of taking steps to redeem their promises, and to fulfil their responsibilities by finding these men work.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Shortt)
I had private notice to-day of, a question from the right hon. Gentleman opposite as to whether I had any statement to make as to what happened yesterday between the police and the processionists. I gave my answer. Then I was asked by the right hon. Gentleman if I would at once set up an inquiry into the conduct of the police.
§ Mr. SHORTT
I may be wrong, but my recollection is that my right hon. Friend asked for an inquiry into the action of the police. If it was not that, what was it? [An HON. MEMBER: "The conduct of the Government!"] It was connected with the trouble that took place on the south side of Westminster Bridge yesterday.
§ Mr. ADAMSON
It was an inquiry into the whole of the circumstances which led up to the regrettable occurrence.
§ Mr. SHORTT
That was a skirmish between the police and a number of processionists. That is how it strikes most people. I replied "No," because, as I aid, I had no allegations made against the conduct of the police. Then my right hon. Friend did not say "It is not the police; it is the Government that I am attacking,"—not for one moment. He let my answer go, but I said that I would not order an inquiry.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I certainly understood that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Adamson) was complaining of the conduct of the police. I said that the police had orders, and, as far as I knew, they were carrying out their orders.
§ Mr. SHORTT
Then notice is sent that this question is going to be raised, not to the Prime Minister who has been conducting these negotiations, not to the Ministry of Munitions or the Ministry of Transport or anybody connected with the economic and industrial side of the question, but to the Home Secretary whose sole connection with it is his relation to the police. That was the position I have come down to defend. I came down expecting that some charges were going to be made against the conduct of the police, and that in the words of a telegram from the people who organised this procession, shown me by one of my hon. Friends, "the conduct of the police was that of Huns." Now what do we find? No attack upon the police at all. That has been specially repudiated by my right hon. Friend. But there is an admission that there had been some conduct on the part of the processionists that required 402 explanation, and his explanation for their conduct was that the Government had not kept their pledge.
So far from any attack upon the police, they have admittedly acted correctly right through, but there is an admission that there was some conduct upon the part of the processionists which required excuse and explanation, and that is the basis for the attack upon the Government, an attack which the right hon. Gentleman must have known he was going to make, and he has never sent notice to one single Member of the Cabinet who knows of these negotiations, and who could have answered all his allegations, but he has left it to me, and I am concerned with the conduct of the police, and with that only. So far as any charges have been made, the one charge against the police is, that, if they had only allowed the delegation to come back to their companions, they could have explained what happened at Downing Street, and then no mischief would have occurred. That is the only allegation against anyone connected with the police. What is the fact? When the procession was stopped at Westminster Bridge a delegation was allowed to go to Downing Street. It went to Downing Street and returned. It was met by the Chief Constable who escorted it through the police cordon and put its members among their own followers. They were specially asked if they were satisfied, and they expressed to him their satisfaction with what had occurred at Downing Street. They were asked to tell their friends what had happened. We are told that the procession were not as satisfied as the deputation were, and then the trouble arose. You cannot blame the police for that. We all agree that it is very hard on men to be out of work, and that everything possible should be done to obtain work for those who are in that position. You cannot have demobilisation of great industrial concerns like munition works without people being thrown out of work. You cannot keep them on. Everybody here is shrieking for economy. Is it suggested that we should keep on expensive munition works and run them at a loss under any circumstances. I am not in a position to-night, and I did not expect it, I had no notice, to go into all the details of what occurred in Woolwich. It would 403 not be fair to ask me to do so. I do say it is a great satisfaction to me, and it must be to the whole House, that the conduct of the police was not made a matter of reproach, and that in spite of what occurred earlier in the afternoon—in the light of the Debate and further knowledge and further information it has to be admitted that the police did their duty, and did it well. I am pleased indeed to be able to find that that is the attitude of the House towards that body. I can at least say this. Everybody in the House, and, in spite of all suggestions to the contrary, the Government included, are only too anxious to get work for these men. We want nobody to be out of work. I do not intend to indulge in recriminations. If I chose I might say as much about the trade unions. [HOT. MEMBEBS: "Say it."] I might say perhaps twice as much, and it would be twice as true, but I do not want to do it to-night.
§ Mr. SHORTT
I am not sorry this point has been raised. Although I am not able to go into the details of the negotiations, I do know that there is a strong desire on the part of every Member of this House, the Government included, to get work for all these men, but you cannot do it. It is impossible. You cannot carry through enormous national transactions like demobilisation—demobilisation of the Army as well as industrial works—without causing suffering. We do all we can to try and minimise that suffering as far as is in our power. We are doing it, and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that that is so. We may fail in many respects, as others would in other respects. There is no super-human creature in this House who would not fail somewhere. But we are doing our best, and shall continue to do it. I am very glad indeed that I have not been called upon to defend the police from any attack; I am relieved of that task. But I take this opportunity of assuring my right hon. Friend that he is mistaken if he thinks, or if anybody thinks, that the Government are not fully alive to the hardships of the demobilised men from industrial works. We have done and are doing our best and shall continue to do so to secure them work.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
Will the right hon. Gentleman say why a procession was allowed to accompany the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley to this House yesterday afternoon while the procession of Woolwich discharged men was not allowed to come here?
§ Mr. SHORTT
There was no procession, so far as I know, accompanying the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley. [An HON. MEMBER: "A rabble!"] I do not know that. It was well-known trade unionists welcoming my right hon. Friend. There was no such thing as a procession—an ordered, regulated procession, with which the police could deal. The police did deal with the people and kept the streets absolutely clear, and it was only at the first moment in Cavendish Square at the start and at the last moment in Palace Yard that there was any trouble. The two cases are not identical.
§ Mr. LAWSON
It seems to be assumed by some hon. Members that members of trade unions have never been soldiers. It is usually assumed in this House at any rate. I speak to-night as an ex-soldier and a trade unionist. I think the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Adamson) this afternoon was not any complaint against the police, but that the Government, by its policy, has inevitably led to this situation yesterday and will evidently be driven into the same situation on future occasions if the same policy-is maintained. It was advertised for days before in the Press that this procession was coming to the House of Commons as the result of these notices being delivered. Evidently no steps were taken to meet it.
§ Mr. SHORTT
They were specially warned by the police at Woolwich and by the Superintendent who accompanied them the whole way that they would not be allowed to cross Westminster Bridge. They knew that perfectly well before they started.
§ Mr. LAWSON
That may be so, but there was no intimation given to the men who had received notices that their notices were going to be withdrawn. Immediately the procession arrived, a deputation was let through to see the Prime Minister, and as I understand the whole question is settled, the men are given some guarantee at least of extended work, and they go back to carry that news to the men concerned it would seem to me 405 that if you want anything nowadays you must have a demonstration, and as soon as you have a demonstration, which inevitably leads to a conflict, the Government gives way and accepts the position which they ought to have accepted before the procession took place. It is a serious state of things when men who were promised a new country by members of the Government, a new heaven and a new earth, suddenly find that, having fought for their country, they have not the right to work in that country. We are constantly lectured upon the increase of output. Even when men desire to take part in that increased output, and in building up the nation's industrial life, they have not that opportunity. Not only has this conflict taken place, but other conflicts will take place unless the Government get a settled line of policy on the question of employment. Surely the least thing that the Government can do for the men who have fought and suffered for the country is to 406 get a settled policy upon the question of employment in order that these men may not only live as decent citizens, but have an opportunity of contributing to the country's wellbeing. Speaking generally, it is of no purpose whatever that hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House should be constantly throwing stones at small sections of the trades unionists. That may seem all right here. It may pass muster for party purposes in this House, but it has no effect whatever on the great mass of unemployed men and the great mass of ex-soldiers in this country. Immediately you score your debating point, the next day you find you have instances of this kind, and throughout the length and breadth of the land there is dissatisfaction.
§ It being half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at half-past Eleven o'clock.