§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Major Bamston.]
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I should apologise under normal circumstances for once again raising the question I am going to raise now. The Prime Minister is not in his place, but I gave him notice at Question Time that I intended to raise the question of the unemployed marchers. The importance of the question is to be found in the fact that the men art still here. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speak up!"] Let me tell you to shut up.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
Hon. Members will hear well enough if they keep quiet themselves.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The question becomes more serious every day. I am certain the right hon. Gentleman and the Home Secretary together can crush these men and drive them back through the country dispirited and broken. I know you have power enough to do that, and I am not stupid enough to stand up here and threaten as to what may or may not be done by men driven to desperation. I have always held that a Government such as ours can, when it will, maintain order in the country. But that is not all that n Government exists to do. You have in the country very nearly a million and a half men and women registered as unemployed. You have, on top of that, large masses of men and women who are not registered for a variety of reasons. There are probably two millions. I believe there has never been within the memory of any of us here a period of such acute distress amongst such large masses of people as there is to-day. Out of that number a couple of thousand have marched from all parts to London. Some men have marched right down from Aberdeen. I have seen some of those men to-day, and I have seen some who marched right up from Wales and the West of England, and it seems to me it, is treating them with the utmost contumely and contempt possible for the Prime Minister to persist in the attitude he has taken up. I went to them last week, when there was a danger of them marching into Whitehall. The men came here to the Lobby. An hon. Member for Lanark has been charging us with wanting to make capital out of this and other questions. It was a 646 sheer accident that I was caught in the Lobby by these men on my way home the other night, and it was their appalling story of the suffering and misery which they had endured, which they told to the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. G. Barker), the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Brotherton), and myself, that moved us to rush round the House and from the House to 10, Downing Street, in what proved to be a vain endeavour to get the Prime Minister to reconsider his position. We told the men that any attempt to force Downing Street would be disastrous for themselves, and we begged them to take some other course, which, ultimately, they did take. We promised them, and that is the reason for our persistence, that if they would take our advice we would use every endeavour in this House, of which we were Members, backed by a large body of other friends, to induce the Prime Minister to change his decision. Up to the present time the Prime Minister has been adamant. I know that when a Government puts its foot down it sometimes thinks that it must keep it down, in order that the public may not imagine that it has conceded to violence what it would not concede before. These men have made speeches, and I daresay similar speeches have been made by hon. Members for Ulster in and out of this House, and by Members of the Front Bench.
The men have tried very hard to preserve the peace while, they have been here. I think there is a police report in the possession of the Home Secretary which will bear witness to the fact that the men have behaved themselves in an exemplary manner wherever they have been in the Metropolis. In workhouses, where they have been billeted, the workhouse masters have borne testimony to the magnificent behaviour of the men, and the men have borne testimony to the hospitality they have received at the hands of the authorities. That proves, if any proof was necessary, that these men are not actuated by the idea that methods of violence will gain them their ends, and it does seem to me that we on this side ought to recognise that, and that the Government and hon. Members on that side ought to recognise it as well. We have been preaching: "Trust Parliament: trust the Government"—I do not mean this particular Government, but the constitutional power of the State—" do not 647 put your trust in violence, but give us a chance of getting these things put right." What has happened? Yesterday, the first of these men was arrested. I have not met the gentleman, but he happens to be an ordained minister of the Church. He has thrown in his lot with these men, not because it will be an easy thing, or an easy life for him, and not because it will lead to preferment in the Church, because that sort of attitude never does, but he has thrown in his lot with them because he has seen the suffering and misery of the town where he lives. He has marched hundreds of miles to this city, and yesterday the first breach of the peace apparently took place, and to-day he has been bound over.
A worse tragedy than that has happened, for one of the men, who did not march 600 miles but only marched from Luton to London, has to-day died of pneumonia in London. His wife has been brought up, and we are going to raise a voluntary subscription either to take the man back home and to bury him or to bury him here. I told the right hon. Gentleman privately, and I have told this House, that you are dealing with a set of men who are worn out physically, with their vitality at its very lowest ebb. Members of this House can have seen their leaders with me in the Lobby, with the physique crushed out of them, and there will be more of them dying. I went home last night after a good meal. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order Hopkinson!"] This may amuse the hon. Member. I have read his speeches in this House and I have thought that he did understand this question just a little. If he lives, as I have lived all my life, among these people, he will know that what I say is true. He and I—I am not separating myself from him in this matter—get good meals every day, and go home to good homes and have nothing to fear from bad weather or anything of that kind. When I went out from here last night I could not help contrasting the fact that I could get into a taxi cab and ride home, and those unhappy men living in Poplar, herded together in lodging houses, would have to come out and walk about the streets in the inclement weather, vainly trying to get themselves heard in this metropolis by the Government. What I want the House to realise is that you and we are responsible for whatever happens to any of these men. If more 648 of them die we shall be responsible. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, you think that we brought them to London. You have no business to think anything of the kind.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Whether he does think or does not he has no right to say that any of us who have taken up this matter had the least hand in bringing up these men. I have had no hand in it. I had enough to do with unemployed in Poplar without bringing anyone up here. Men should not make statements without having some kind of proof for what they say. There have been lying statements made about this business. Yesterday a Member apologised to me for making un true statements that I had been bringing these men up to Whitehall. The hon. Member says that I am responsible—
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I never suggested any such thing. What I suggested was that the hon. Member and his colleagues are very largely responsible for the state of unemployment to-day.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I have heard extraordinary statements from intelligent men before, but that is the most extraordinary statement by anyone with an ounce of intelligence that I ever heard. Unemployment is not the result of anything which he has done or of what any one section of the community has done, but the result of social, economic and industrial conditions that have grown up in the country for which none of us can be asked to take entire responsibility. It is the nation's responsibility and no one else's, and the attempt to put unemployment on our shoulders is absurd. But that is not the point at this moment. The point to-night is that we have now got these men. I do not know whether it will be of any effect or not, but I want to ask the Prime Minister once more to reconsider his decision. I do not put it to him that he is any more responsible than the rest of us. There are these men here, 90 per cent, of whom are ex-service men. They are the men whose grit, determination and spirit everyone of you gloried in during the War. They came here with the set purpose of seeing the Prime Minister. If it had happened three months ago, the Prime Minister of the day would have seen them without any question at all. 649 All experience shows that he would have done so. On Saturday the right hon. Gentleman is to see the miners. They are coming to him to talk about the terrible plight in which their industry finds itself. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider this matter from a point of view I put yesterday, and from other points of view. There are the diseases that these men may get because of the privation they have to endure during this inclement weather.
When an interjection was made from the other side, I was trying to point out to the right hon. Gentleman the low standard of vitality of these men and the harmful effect of the weather just now when they are tramping about without proper clothing. They came to-day from three districts of London and asked what they were to do for boots when they marched back. In one district of London, where there are 70 of these men, a large proportion of them sat with only their coats on while their shirts, almost in rags, were taken to a steam laundry to be washed, ironed, aired, and brought back. Those are the men, 90 per cent, of whom fought for you and the country throughout the Great War. Are, you treating them decently by saying in effect, that you do not care what they suffer from or what happens to them? [HON. MBERS: "No, and" Withdraw."]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member for North Edinburgh (Mr. Ford) is quite right, I think, in asking for the withdrawal of an imputation which I do not think was intended, though made: but he should not in his turn convey another imputation.
§ Mr. SEXTON
On a point of Order. Is the colossal impertinence of the hon. Member for North Edinburgh permissible?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I want to say to the hon. Member opposite that I have lived so long and have had so many things said 650 of me that I am not moved by any criticism of my motives. You may, if you like, think that for a lifetime I have been exploiting other people. I shall die probably, a relatively very poor man. I have tried to do what I can because I wanted to do it. I do not want anybody to give me any credit for anything I have tried to do in my life. I have done what I wanted to do. When the hon. Member tells me I am exploiting the unemployed, all I can put it down to is his colossal ignorance either of me or of anything I have ever done in my life.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Does the hon. Member rise to withdraw his remark? That is the only thing on which he is entitled to the ear of the House.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
There is no misunderstanding. The hon. Member has charged me with exploiting the unemployed. He is presuming to know all about me. I say if he chooses to do that, in his ignorance, he can go on doing it. Perhaps now we can get back to the point we are discussing. I have no idea—and I thought I made it clear yesterday—of charging hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite with having less care for humanity than I have myself. It is a question of the things that we think ought to be done. What I wish to insist upon is that if there were 2,000 men over there on the Marne, who stood firm and never budged, and went down one after the other, you would call it British pluck, British determination and British spirit. These men are standing firm—obstinately, if you will—for something to which they think they have a right, and surely the Prime Minister of the country ought to be accessible to a deputation of 2,000 men, some of whom have marched 600 miles to see him. That is the crux of the matter. I beg the right hon. Gentleman and all hon. Members to realise that they are up against a position in this country in which, if the weather becomes very bad, it is going to be of extreme difficulty for people who have to administer local affairs to carry on. The Prime Minister has seen the railway managers regarding 651 schemes of work, and he has seen other people. If he could see these men and send them home to-morrow with a message that the Government is going to do something, and it came from his own lips, I believe it would have a great effect in keeping heart in the men.
When Mr. Speaker ruled me out of order to-day, I wished to make a proposal. I know it is always difficult to alter a decision, but I think in the case of these men it ought to be altered. If it would meet with the Prime Minister's approval, I would suggest that one, two or three Members of the House—not necessarily of this Party, but one or two from each Party—should go with the deputation to the Prime Minister and let the men see that we are interested. If there is objection to any of the Labour Members going, let any other Members go. Let us show the men that the House of Commons does realise that there is something due to them, something we ought to give them, and that the least we think we can give them is a promise to do our very best to alleviate their sufferings and the sufferings of their wives and children. That is the appeal I once more make to the right hon. Gentleman. I have not stood up here to say to your faces anything less than I have said behind your backs. I am not in disagreement with you because you are bad men. The better you are, the worse it is to fight you on the questions on which we have to fight you. I am against you, because I think you are backing principles and systems that do not make for the betterment of our country. If you can convince me, I am quite willing to be convinced, but if you were angels I should have to fight against you, and it is only that which makes me fight as I do on behalf of the thing I believe in. I hope that when the Prime Minister gives his decision he will dismiss from his mind altogether any idea that these men are violent, any idea that I am putting up to him something that may happen to him to-morrow. I am putting up to him only the suffering of these men, the fact that one has already died, that one has already been arrested, and that the rest of them are labouring under a sense of deep feelings of disgust that the Prime Minister of the country cannot see his way to meet them, but I hope he will meet them in the manner that I have suggested.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Bonar Law)
I certainly never, even when I knew the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) in a previous House of Commons, had any doubt of the sincerity of his motives. I always thought him sincere, and I think the speeches he has made here have confirmed that view, but he said he was perfectly willing to be convinced. I am sure he is walling, but I am sure he will admit that he is difficult to convince. There is one thing —if he will candidly listen to what I am going to say and take into account the conversation I had with him in Downing Street, when I felt he was coming simply out of sympathy and I had not the smallest suspicion that he was using these men for any political purpose at all—if he will do that, I think I can convince him that in this case I have taken the only course it is open to me to take. Let me put a case.
First, it is suggested that these men have come enormous distances, that it would be a very small thing for the Prime Minister to see them, and that they would then go away home happy. The only new thing the hon. Member raised to-night was that I have agreed to see the miners. The explanation of that is one which I am sure will commend itself to the whole House. An agreement had been made by my predecessor to receive that deputation. I was asked about it the moment I undertook office, and I agreed to carry out the pledge given by my predecessor. Therefore, that, I think, puts it on an entirely different footing The hon. Member will agree, and his own leader says, that it is not a good principle that in difficulties of this kind an appeal should* always be made to the Prime Minister and not to the head of the Department which would naturally-deal with it. They all agree with that, but they say this is an exceptional case. Why?
I will show that it is not an exceptional case. Any case where there are strong feelings would be equally an exceptional case in the eyes of those who had that strong feeling, and obviously, if I agree to something which at the outset I have said I am not going to do, it makes it almost impossible to take a decision of any similar kind when there, is any strong feeling. More than that, the hon. Member says he does not accuse us of not having sympathy with the sufferings of these men, and I can assure 653 him that if I thought it was going to alleviate in the smallest degree the sufferings of the unemployed in this country, I would spend every night of my life while I am. Prime Minister in seeing as many of them as wanted to see me, but that is not the question. I was asked, the moment I undertook this office, to receive this deputation. The majority of them had either not left the homes, or had gone a very short distance. I at once said that, in my opinion, no useful purpose would be served by my seeing them, and I declined to see them; and they have come here, in many cases, with the knowledge beforehand that the object they had in seeing me could not be achieved. The hon. Member said—and I admit that, if true, there would be grave cause of complaint —that these men came all this distance to see the Government, and the Government refused. That is not the case.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I misrepresented when I said the Government. They definitely set out to see the Prime Minister.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Everyone who looks at it dispassionately will say that a Cabinet is composed of men—I declined to quote the Latin the other day, and I decline to quote it now—the best among equals. That is the theory of our Cabinet. What could be specially gained by these men seeing me I have received, I do not know how-many, letters all giving different reasons why I ought to see them. The only possible justification for those letters was chat I was not merely dictator but actually all-powerful, and could do absolutely anything that was asked. That is not so. If I had seen them, as the Cabinet Ministers deputed were willing to set them, all I should have done would have been to listen to their views, ask them questions, and bring their views before the Cabinet. In what way, then, are they injured by my adopting and adhering to a principle which everyone on these benches admits is right? In what way are they injured by my not seeing them? The hon. Member says we have a certain responsibility if anything happens to these men. I do not admit that for a minute. I have to consider not merely this particular case, I have to consider something else. They are not the only unemployed. If they get it into 654 their heads that they can achieve any object—even the small object, as it seems to me, of making me change my mind—by coming to London, it will not be the only deputation to march to London, and you will find that in hundreds of cases the same plan is tried again.
Let me say this further. I do not accuse the hon. Member—indeed, it would be absurd to do so—of in any way attempting to exploit these people, but I do say—and I am sure he will not resent my saying it—that if there is responsibility, as he thinks, on my part, because I refuse to see them, there is equal responsibility on his part in encouraging them to stay here, when I am sure he knows that it really is quite impossible to go back on the decision which I have given. Let me give my reason for saying that it really is quite impossible to go back, for in my opinion it is. I do not believe that anyone who occupied my position, after what has happened, could reverse the decision he had made, and if it be any satisfaction to the hon. Member, I believe it is true to say that I am as little influenced probably as most men by the feeling that I have said something and must stick to it. Certainly in the last Parliament, when I was Leader of the House, over and over again when I felt that I had made a mistake, I was not the least ashamed to admit it, and frankly said to the House that I yielded to their decision. I would not hesitate to do it now, but the hon. Member must bear this in mind, though I agree that probably 90 per cent, of these men are unemployed, it is the fact that I have not been uninterested in this matter. I have taken the trouble to read the reports of their speeches. What do they come to? The recent speeches which I have read are all to this effect: "If we can force Bonar Law to see us we have won a great victory." It has ceased to be a question of getting news about unemployment, of getting reports of what we would do-they could get that from my colleagues just as well as from me. Their object now, so far as the speeches are concerned, is to obtain a victory, so that they can go back and say "He refused to see us and we compelled him to do so." That, really, is the point of all the speeches, as the hon. Member knows, for I am sure he has read them.
655 Is it possible that any Government can be carried on on that system 1 There are many bad forms of government, but that 'would be a government by threats, and of all the forms of bad government, I think that would be one of the worst. I can assure the hon. Member that it was not from lack of sympathy that my original decision was taken, but because I believed it was the right way to deal with this question. My adherence to it is because I still think it is the right way, and because, having clearly and emphatically stated that to be my decision, I am ready to give them every facility for stating their case and hearing our remedy, but that I have decided I would not see them myself. To go back on that would do them infinitely more harm than can possibly be done by my adhering to my decision.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows that whether I was right or wrong in my original decision—I think I was right, I am sure I would do it again—no one in my position could go back on it now. Nobody could, and I do urge the hon. Member, in compassion for these people, not to encourage them to stay on in expectation of something that they will not get.
§ Mr. C. J. MATHEW
To my constituents in the East End this question of unemployment is of vital importance. May I, with great humility, suggest to the Prime Minister that he has forgotten the 1,300,000 other men out of work and is rather dealing with the other 2,000 who happen to be in London? While I say that, I would point out that the deputation that has come to London is being watched by all the other out-of-works all over England who, rightly or wrongly, regard the decision come to about that deputation as being a decision applying to all of them. The view of hon. Members on these benches is that this is a wholly exceptional case. Winter is coming on and there are millions of people involved in this—men, women and children. The Prime Minister knows the satisfaction it is to all workmen to see the master rather than to deal with the rest of the management. A man has the satisfaction of knowing he has seen the boss, and he will even be turned down by the boss with satisfaction when he will not take anything at all from the 656 manager. That is the position, and it was hoped that the offer made of a deputation from this House—not necessarily from these benches—who would bring some of the men to see the Prime Minister, would do away with any question of its being a victory of the men. There is no question, no idea of bullying, as I understand it. Some, of us are extraordinarily anxious that there may be no unnecessary ill feeling towards what may be considered an ill judged visit to London. But they are here. I still venture to hope that though it is still possible to refuse to see the deputation, it may be possible for a deputation of Members of this House to be received, and they may bring some of these men with them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] With great respect I do not know that what is termed self-respect comes into the matter. I do not want it to be suggested that the men want a victory. No one here wants that. That might be got over and a way —or form—suggested, and we would be content. If the Prime Minister saw the men we do not want him to tell them what his policy may be, or is likely to be, or to discuss details. We want them to feel that they have seen the head of the Government; that the head has the matter in hand, and that he is going to see that those who work with him deal with the matter at once. This would be an enormous kindness. It is not only the 2,000 men in London, but the out-of-works all over the country. I believe they would appreciate it. They would not regard it as a victory. They would not regard it, perhaps, as a condescension, but as a kindness on the part of the Prime Minister, and it would make things very much easier for all of us, and keep any idea of violence out of the question.
In the circumstances of the case, seeing I speak for the first time here, I should like very simply to address myself to the original argument of the Prime Minister on which he says he bases his refusal to see the deputation. He says that the deputation can meet the Ministers of the Departments. Would not that imply seeing a very large number of Ministers I The Treasury are responsible for financing a great many schemes and for the whole of the relief. There is also the Foreign Office, whose policy it is certainly believed—that of the late Government—has largely been one of the 657 elements in causing unemployment. The Colonial Office might be approached, for its object, according to the Election speeches of hon. Members opposite, is to stimulate trade within the Empire by-giving encouragement to trade with Great Britain. There is the Minister of Health and the President of the Board of Trade. Bui why should I continue the list of those whom it might be necessary to see I All know that in addition to these there are many other things.
A week ago I was a teacher in a school —one— of the high schools of my own city of Glasgow—that had been condemned as unsuitable for teaching in 1907. In 1910 plans had been made for the rebuilding of that school. The work was held up by the outbreak of the War. At the present time that school, condemned as it was, is still one of the high schools of Glasgow. The work of rebuilding would give relief to a large section of the unemployed. I am told that there are 150,000 workers in the building trades unemployed at the present time. Both the Ministry of Labour and the Transport Ministry have been notified. In addition there are those Departments which are unrepresented entirely in this House which apply to my own native country of Scotland. I suggest that if there is one function that the British Prime Minister can perform, it is to act as the spokesman for every one of those Departments. I suggest that in this particular instance, with a problem that spreads itself over so many different Ministries and Departments of the Government, the right and proper person who ought to interview this deputation, not merely on behalf of one Department, but who ought to represent in a general way the policy of all the Departments implicated, is the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
§ Mr. BROTHERTON
I would like to appeal to the Prime Minister once more to change his mind. So recently as a week to-day, I was drawing a dole. I have been unemployed for 18 months, and I have mixed with these men, some of whom are now in London making this appeal to the Prime Minister, and I know that they are not the type of men which has been suggested in this House There are 1,500,000 adult persons registered in your own books as unemployed, and is it suggested for a moment 658 that the men and women who have been endeavouring to draw the attention, not only of the Prime Minister, but also the Government of this and the late Parliament, are all rogues, criminals and the rest of it, as the Prime Minister has tried to induce this House to believe they are. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] I stand here and say that as an individual I was deputed more than 30 years ago to speak on behalf of the unemployed in the city I come from, and therefore this is not a new problem. It is because of the way in which industry has been carried on with the consent of the mass of the representatives in this House that we are now in this state of unemployment. Had the late Government, many of whom are now part and parcel of this House, adopted and carried out a policy different from that which they did pursue, we believe that the country would not be in the sad condition of unemployment it is to-day. Therefore, again, I ask the Prime Minister of this new Parliament to accede to the request of the men who have tramped from distant parts of the country to this city and to let them go from the city carrying the message of hope that he alone can give. He is the head of the various Departments of this Government. In spite of the determined manner in which he has said to-night that he cannot. I hope that he will be persuaded by Members of his own party and by Members of the Government to accede lo the request of these men.
§ Lord EUSTACE PERCY
I would not have intervened in this Debate had I not been struck by one thing which fell from the hon. and learned Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Mathew). The hon. and learned Member has struck mc by his remarks in other places, and I am sure he will often strike this House by what he says here. One thing which he said to-night constitutes the only real argument in favour of this Adjournment Motion. He said that the workman was always anxious to see his boss. That is perfectly true, but I should like to remind the House that there is another axiom, and that is that the unemployed and those who are suffering in this country have no use for mere, sympathy. It is no good for hon. Members on this or on the other side of the House saying that they have sympathy with suffering. The workman who likes to see his boss 659 very soon ceases to want to see him if he finds that the boss is not really the boss. I want my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Whitechapel to remember what happened only the year before last, when a great unemployed deputation came to 10, Downing Street, and when the Prime Minister having received them and not being really the boss and not knowing what to say to them, told them that the London County Council across the way had perfect schemes for employing all the London unemployed, and if only they went to the London County Council building the next day they would be set to work. The next day the men turned up at Spring Gardens expecting to sign on at once for work Do hon. Members want the same kind of thing to happen this year or next year, or whenever there is distress] Do you want the Prime Minister, who is not, and cannot be, in any real constitutional Government, the boss of all the Departments, and the boss of all the local authorities in the country—do you want him, in the kind of legal fiction that he is the boss of every local authority in the country, to receive these men and put them off with those nice kind of undertakings, promises, assurances, or pledges with which Ministers at that Box so often calm us in this House, but which are of no real good outside this House, when it is a question of bread and butter and livelihood? Do you want to encourage a legal fiction just for the sake of a little lubricating sympathy, or do you want to accustom the people of this country, and instruct the people of this country who are suffering, as to what is the real and necessary condition of all really highly organised constitutions, so that you will direct them to those quarters where they will receive, not mere sympathy and legal fictions, but real help and real assistance in their sufferings?
§ Mr. G. BARKER
I deplore more than I can say the decision arrived at by the Prime Minister. I intended to make the same suggestion to him in this House that I made to him when we met him in Downing Street, because I believe that he has made a tactical mistake in telling the unemployed that he would not see them. If he had allowed them to see him, and had then told them that he was not able himself to deal with the question, but 660 would recommend them to go to his Departments, the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health, and that those Departments would frame legislation which he would submit to the House of Commons, we should not have had this deadlock that we have to-night. I deeply deplore the attitude the right hon. Gentleman has taken. I believe that he has thoroughly misjudged these men. To me the law-abiding patience of the unemployed in this country is an absolute marvel. Anyone who has been living amongst these men, and has seen them sell everything that they have, pledge everything that they have, bankrupt their co-operative stores, run into debt in every direction, bankrupt the local authorities, despair of getting any work anywhere— anyone who has seen these men do this and remain law-abiding citizens would marvel at their patience, and would never suspect them of coming to London on purpose to create riot and violence.
These men have marched hundreds of miles, and they have had no police or military interfering with them. Property has been entirely at their mercy, but they have not even robbed a henroost. They have shown marvellous integrity in face of the most dire distress, and to think that they would come to London, where there are thousands of police and tens of thousands of soldiers, with another red plot to attack London, is one of the most extraordinary things that could ever get into the imagination of a man. I really do not understand how this attitude has come to be taken up with reference to these unemployed. If I were to turn my attention to America, I could never think of men marching 500 miles to see President Harding and being refused an interview. It seems to me utterly inconceivable, and I do deplore the attitude the Prime Minister has taken up. It is now a question of personal pique and pride, and it is almost impossible to shake a man who takes up that attitude, and I deplore the attitude that he has taken up. It is a holiday to walk, like these men have walked, hundreds of miles, sleeping in their clothes, lying on boards, walking through the rain, getting a bit of food where they can? Is the Prime Minister afraid that he will be besieged by men of this character who have to go through this misery before they can get into London? The whole thing seems I to me most unreasonable, and I deplore 661 the decision at which the Prime Minister has arrived. If I could, I would plead with him to rise above the whole thing and give these men an interview and tell them himself with his own lips that he is not able to pay attention to every Department under him, but that the Government are preparing plans to deal with this matter as well as they possibly can. If he will tell them that, I believe that the unemployed will be satisfied, and that the whole thing will come to an end.
§ Mr. N. MACLEAN
I join with hon. Members on these Benches who have been making their appeals to the Prime Minister. From the right hon. Gentleman's reply one judges that his main reason for declining to see the unemployed leaders is that he has already taken up a position and has definitely stated the attitude he is going to adopt, and that it would be a false position for him to take up to resile from the attitude he has already adopted. That is not an argument nor even a reason to advance for refusing to meet the men. It shows that, having taken up a position, there is a lack of courage in the individual who takes it up that he might be held up to ridicule by some section of the public for having made one statement one day and backing away from it the following day. Yesterday the evening Press was full of the statement that he had met certain people in order to consult with hem regarding schemes of work which could be calculated to absorb a number of the unemployed. In to-day's Press appeared the photographs of the Members of the Government who met the chiefs of the railways and others under whose control such public schemes would he placed. They were the Prime Minister, the President of the Board of Trade, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Minister of Labour. The Prime Minister with certain of his colleagues has met retain people to whom the Government s going to make very large loans.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The hon. Member is quite mistaken. Up till now hey have made no suggestion that we would lend them money, and my object n meeting them was to urge them to go on with schemes of their own with their own money.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I was taking merely newspaper reports, which have been 662 couched in rather vague language, and led one to believe that the Government indirectly hinted that they might be behind them in any work they might take in hand.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am afraid what I have said may lead to misunderstanding. As a matter of fact, no suggestion was made by them that we should lend them money, and I of course made no suggestion of that kind to them. It does not follow, if a scheme like that adopted by the late Government were to turn up we should not adopt it. but up to now there has been no suggestion of that kind.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I accept the Prime Minister's statement, but I am pointing out what appears in the Press. It appears in such a vague way in the Press that one is led to the conclusion that if guarantees have not been given, a certain suggestion has been made, which, in some way, gives an assurance, that having gone on with their schemes, they would, in the end, receive some Government assistance. That does not spoil the effect of the argument which I want to put before the House, but rather strengthens it, because the Government have seen certain individuals whom they believe to be responsible, or who can be made responsible, for putting forward certain schemes of employment. The Prime Minister now refuses to see those to whom these chiefs will have to go, namely the unemployed, or to receive a deputation from the unemployed. Might I suggest to the Prime Minister that- the four Members of the Cabinet— the Minister of Labour, the President of the Board of Trade, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and himself—should meet the deputation from the unemployed along with Members of the House, possibly from his own side or from below the gangway on this side, not necessarily from the Labour party, and that he should tell them the same thing that he has told to the Press and that he has told to the railway chiefs as to the promulgating of schemes, so that, by putting these schemes into immediate operation, a large number of men who are at present unemployed may find employment. That is not resiling from the position which the Prime Minister has taken up. It is not taking an undignified attitude. That is not weakening his position as Prime Minister? 663 Surely the position of the Prime Minister of this country is to be the head, not merely of a Government, but of a good Government, and a Government that looks after the welfare of even the humblest in the country. If it searches out schemes that will confer benefits upon the humblest of the community, that Government and that Government only can be held to be a good Government. It is not too late yet —and no Member of this House and no one outside this House would look upon it as a sign of weakness—for the Prime Minister to come away from the attitude he has taken up and see a deputation of the unemployed, saying to them, "I cannot guarantee you employment, I cannot put forward schemes which I can safely say will absorb many thousands of the unemployed, but I can tell you that we have suggested to those who are called the captains of industry in this country that they should proceed with schemes that will find work."
"I can tell you of some schemes which they have already in their minds and which, if they can proceed with them now, will absorb a great number of the men who are unemployed." The Prime Minister could tell them these things, and it would not be a weakening of his position, if he took up that attitude. On the other hand he would be resiling from the mistaken idea of dignity which he has adopted. The Press of this country, many of them most violently anti-Labour, have put forward the suggestion to the Government and the Prime Minister, that the Prime Minister has made a mistake in declining to see those men. They take up the attitude that even at the eleventh hour these men should be seen, and I suggest that the man is not a weak man who recognises a mistake. The man who recognises a mistake which he may have made, and goes along a fresh line and takes up a new-attitude, is a really strong man, and I am certain that the House would approve the action of the Prime Minister if he resiled from his mistaken attitude and agrees, with the other three Members of the Cabinet, to meet the deputation of the unemployed.
§ Mr. TURNER
An hon. Gentleman on the other side of the House made an observation about seeing the boss. It has been my lot on many occasions to approach the boss in connection with 664 matters in his workshop, and, when the employés have seen the managerial heads and brought forward a question beyond their province, they have always been privileged to go to the direct boss. In this case, the direct boss of the British House of Commons, as regards the Government, is the Prime Minister, who is captain, manager, or boss of the Departmental heads of his Ministry;. and it seems to me not undignified, if captains of industry, heads of concerns, will see their employés over and above the heads of the Departments, for the Prime Minister to see these people, especially in the conditions laid down by the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). It has always been my understanding of public affairs that the Government of the Kingdom was responsible to the people of the Kingdom, and that they could approach the head of the Government upon subjects of prime importance such as the unemployed question is at the present moment.
We have been saying prayers in this House during the last week, as has been the custom from time immemorial, and in the midst of the greatest prayer which the world has ever seen there is the sentence, "Give us this day our daily bread." These men are asking for their daily bread. They are asking for suggestions and advice, co-operation and sympathy. They are asking for the wherewithal and the means of life, and they ask the Prime Minister, as the head of the Government of the greatest country in the world, to give them that advice, co-operation, and sympathy, and the answer is not bread, but a stone. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] They asked for bread and got a refusal to discuss the question of bread by the Prime Minister of this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I am right in my statement. They asked for bread and they got a stone. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]
I am bordering on my 60th year, and one thing has sunk into my heart ever since the day I was unemployed many years ago. I cannot forget the terrible weeks when I tramped from mill to mil; asking for work only to find that I could not get it. Thousands of my fellow countrymen in the same industry wert tramping in the same fashion. Their trade was depressed, and a word o sympathy and advice, of good fellowship 665 and cheer, at that time, was worth a great deal, and a great deal came from those words of sympathy. These 1,500,000 people, through their 2,000 representatives who marched this distance, have asked the Prime Minister of this Kingdom to give them that word of sympathy and advice when they were unemployed.
When I was unemployed myself, and I had to go home to my wife and two children, the elder of them about 17 months old, time after time to tell the story of unemployment and no wage at the week-end to buy food for my children, he little sympathy which was given to me by my fellow men was comforting and cheering, and I ask the Prime Minister to remember that these men have suffered, many of them for two and a half