HC Deb 28 June 1921 vol 143 cc1986-9

(by Private Notice) asked the Leader of the House what is the present position of negotiations in the coal dispute, and, if they have really terminated, is he in a position to say what the conditions of settlement are; if he is not in a position to say now, will he inform the House at what stage of the sitting to-day he will be able to make a statement on behalf of the Government?


The Prime Minister hoped to be able to make a statement immediately at the close of questions to-day, but I am sorry to say that matters are not sufficiently advanced for that. He hopes, however, to be able to make that statement in the course of the afternoon. Any settlement which is come to must be subject to the approval of the House—


And other people too.


—and it is very important that no delay should be interposed. We should desire, if the proposals of the Government for a settlement are challenged, to meet the challenge at once and immediately get a decision of the House. I hope that we may be able to conclude early in the afternoon the Debate on the Third Reading of the Unemployment Insurance Bill, and the Prime Minister could then make his statement, and if the House wished to challenge the policy of the Government, an opportunity could be given to move the Adjournment for that purpose.


The right hon. Gentleman says that the settlement must be subject to the approval of the House. Do I understand that in submitting the question to the approval of the House the Government Whips will be on?


Certainly. The Government have taken a decision of great importance, and they neither could, nor do they wish to divest themselves of their responsibility. In a matter of this consequence we must present our policy to the House and stand by it, and it is for the House to say whether they approve it or not. I hear my right hon. Friend say that a Vote of money is involved. That is the point. I do not want to anticipate my right hon. Friend's statement, but a Vote of money will be required. That cannot be done without the consent of the House, and if the House, when they hear the settlement, challenge the propriety of making a grant from public funds, we should desire to take the opinion of the House on the point, in order, if the House approved, to enable the miners' representatives to proceed this evening to their several districts, there to recommend a settlement to their constituents in order that work might be resumed on Monday next.


As a matter of convenience purely, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he will interrupt the Debate on the Third Reading of the Insurance Bill, or whether the statement will be made at the end of the Debate on the Third Reading?


We must have the Third Reading of this Bill to-day. There is one precedent for interrupting a Debate without Question put, but if there is any desire to challenge the policy of the Government, a Question must be put which enables a decision to be taken. The Adjournment of the House is the only Question we can put, and it must be treated as a Motion for acceptance or rejection. That, I believe, is the only way in which we can take a decision of the House at such short notice. The mere interruption of the Debate on the Third Reading would not give an opportunity to the House of expressing an opinion. I suggest, therefore, in view of the immense importance of this matter to the whole country, as well as to the particular interests concerned, that the House would perhaps be willing to facilitate an early decision by bringing the Debate on the Third Reading of the Insurance Bill to an earlier close than was intended.


Assuming that the Government propose a grant of money, will there not be required a Supplementary Estimate from the House?


Certainly, but I cannot ask the House to vote a Supplementary Estimate this afternoon without notice, and without the Vote being printed. Certainly there will be a Supplementary Estimate required.


Could not the discussion of the policy of the Government be brought under the review of the House then?


Yes. That Vote can be taken on Friday, but if the decision of the House is postponed till Friday, work cannot be resumed on Monday, and if the House insist upon that, I must point out to them that they will make themselves responsible for a further delay in the settlement of the dispute and a resumption of the industry.

Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD

In view of the discussion by the Front Benches upon this subject, does the right hon. Gentleman anticipate that anyone, providing there is a possibility of settling this dispute, will be mad enough to vote or to say anything to continue it?

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Plenty of them.


I hope hon. Members will not press me further at the present time. I think it would be much better for everybody concerned that they should have the full statement before them before they discuss it, and I would only say that when they have the full statement I am very hopeful that the House will agree that the course is a proper and wise one, and that there will be no desire to challenge it in any quarter. If it is challenged, we want an immediate decision.