HC Deb 04 August 1926 vol 198 cc2988-98

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn until Tuesday, 9th November."—[Sir Austen Chamberlain.]


I beg to move to leave out the words "9th November," and to insert instead thereof the words " 17th August."

Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but we are sincere. We are so sincere that we will carry this to a Division. The Amendment allows nine or ten days holiday, the same as Easter and Whitsuntide. We believe that is a long enough holiday at a time like this. With the whole of the mines of the country closed, we believe the House should not adjourn for a long holiday. We want to enter an emphatic protest against the House having a long Adjournment with things as they are. I could understand a long Adjournment last year and the year before, but the condition of industry to-day is worse than it was last year and far worse than when the Government took office two years ago. As a matter of fact, during the two years of this Government they have smashed the industrial machine, they have plunged the working classes into the deepest poverty, and the country is very rapidly going to the dogs. The coal mines of this country have been closed for 14 weeks, and the Government is now asking the House to adjourn for three months. It seems that the Government are prepared to allow the coal mines to be closed for another three months. It does seem as if the Government in dealing with this question are absolutely blind. Recently, I was reading "The Kingdom of the Blind." In the kingdom of the blind a one-eyed man was king. It seems to me that the Government are blind, with a one-eyed man as king, in the person of the present Prime Minister. The Government are responsible for the present condition of the country and the present condition of the mining industry. They are responsible for the miners being locked out at the present time. We hope the Government are not wanting the situation to go on for another three months.

The situation is changing and will change during the next three weeks. The miners already have made a gesture towards peace. When the miners have finally decided to accept the Bishops' proposals, we want to know whether we shall be able to question the Prime Minister as to the action he proposes to take. This House ought to be meeting, so that we should be in a position to put questions to the Prime Minister as to whether he will take any step in order that a settlement may be arrived at in the coal industry. We ought not to adjourn for more than nine or 10 days, and at the end of that time we ought to be in a position to question the Prime Minister and to do everything which this House can do to bring about a peaceful settlement.


I beg to second the Amendment.

Hon. Members opposite seem inclined to treat this proposal as a joke. We on this side regard it as a very serious matter. When the country is going through such a severe crisis, to adjourn the House for three months is not treating the general community with the sincerity with which it ought to be treated. If the stoppage, unfortunately, continues, the House will be called together at the end of August to deal with the Emergency Regulations. That is not sufficient. We ought to adjourn the House for a shorter time, in order that we may be able to deal with any eventualities that may arise and that 'may require discussion in this House. The Government themselves must feel that the, Motion which they are moving may be rather too rigid, and will not allow them the latitude that they may desire as days go by.

It is said that the miners have taken up a very stubborn sort of attitude. Their attitude is not half so stubborn as that of the coalowners. The coal-owners are supposed to be standing out in order to secure that this industry may be placed on a sure economic basis in the future; but they have never made a move. If it can be said that they have made a move, it has been in the direction of offering worse conditions than those which they offered when the dispute was likely to begin on the 1st May.


The hon. Member cannot go into the merits of the dispute on this Motion. That question can be raised subsequently.


I am giving reasons why we should adjourn until the 17th August. The miners have been the first to make a substantial move in the direction of agreeing to a basis of negotiations that might bring the dispute to a more speedy termination. To allow 10 days' Recess is a sufficient time. One appreciates that hon. and right hon. Members have been passing through a very strenuous period, but I am sure that if hon. Members opposite cared to spend the 10 days' Recess which this Amendment seeks to allow in mining constituencies they would come back to this House with the determination to put into operation Emergency Powers Regulation 14, and would take control of the situation rather than allow the thing to go on. as it is to-day. The Government may find it essential to alter the date for the resumption of business. During a long vacation, the Minister of Health, with the great powers that he possesses, may so create a situation that it may be essential for us on this side to put questions to him regarding outdoor relief, or some similar subject. If the Government's Motion to adjourn until the 9th November were carried, it would prevent hon. Members on this side having an opportunity of securing a discussion or asking for information along the lines I have indicated. It is because we believe it is necessary, not only in the interests of the miners but in the interests of the general community, that the House ought to pass a Motion which is more elastic than the one moved by the Government that we urge the Government to agree to our reasonable Amendment, in the hope that it may open avenues whereby a speedy settlement of the dispute may he arrived at.


I cannot believe that the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Amendment anticipated its acceptance by the Government. I rather suspect that had they thought it likely to be accepted by the Government, they might not have desired to move it.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

That is a very unparliamentary expression.


We will agree to the acceptance.


The House has sat for its normal period. It has, in any case, to meet again in the Autumn. Even the Recess which we contemplate must be interrupted once, and a, second time if the stoppage in the coal trade continues. I cannot help thinking that in these circumstances it is not in the interests of the House and of Parliament itself that it should be called upon to remain in what is practically continuous Session. My memory goes back to at least one year in which the House sat in every month. No one who has had long experience of this House can believe that the work of the House is better done or as well done under these conditions as when we have a normal interlude of rest and refreshment for the mind and the body.


What about the miners?


I think it applies to the work of everyone, not even excluding Ministers. I would not plead these arguments, weighty as I think them to be, if I felt that the hon. Gentlemen who have moved and seconded the Amendment had made out, in the particular circumstances of the moment, a case in support of their Amendment. It is quite true, as the hon. Member has said, that when the House is not sitting Ministers cannot be daily questioned as to their actions. It is quite true that in those circumstances they may for a few weeks' or months' escape from a Vote of Censure or condemnation which the House might wish to pronounce upon them, but in that case it would pronounce its condemnation upon them as soon as it met again. That is a circumstance which is present every year. The action of the Government has to go on whether the House is sitting or not, and it is carried on with the knowledge that. Ministers have to answer for what has happened during the months when the House is not sitting. It is not on general grounds that hon. Members opposite press this Amendment. It is purely on the grounds of the stoppage in the coal trade, and that excludes from the arguments in support of the Amendment some of the considerations which have been pressed by hon. Members opposite a moment or two ago. The Amendment is now based solely on the stoppage in the coal trade. I have said that, if this stoppage continues, the House must in any case resume this month, and if it still continues it must resume again next month. If it should continue until the period fixed in the Motion the House will resume yet a. third time.

Do hon. Members really feel that it is through Debates in this House that a solution of our difficulties will be found, or that the dispute in the coal trade will he brought to an end by discussions across this table? if that were the case, surely there have been enough such discussions and debate to have shown us a solution. I believe I am correct in saying that 16 days of our Parliamentary time has been devoted this Session to a discussion of the state of affairs in the coalfields, and I am not aware that they have come near providing a solution of the difficulties. At any rate, they certainly have not succeeded in providing a solution. This dispute will only be brought to an end by the people who on one side or the other are engaged in the trade. To secure a settlement, what is done by them outside this House is far more important; action and agreement by them is far more urgent than any continuation of the discussions which have been so frequent in this House in the last few months. I submit that on the broad grounds of public policy it is against the interests and the welfare of the House that it should be called upon to sit in practically permanent Session. It is only in the gravest emergency and under imperative necessity it should be called upon to do so, and no such Urgency or necessity has been shown in the present case.


The right hon. Gentleman hardly did justice in his opening sentences to the sincerity of the hon. Members who moved the Amendment and to those of us who intend to support it. The major part of his argument was against the utility of Parliament at all. It was an echo of the famous words, "Take away that bauble." All that this Amendment asks is that the House should be available for consultation should necessity arise. That is not an unreasonable request. The Prime Minister himself has set an example in this matter by abandoning his Continental holiday and remaining at home to be available for any negotiations. Is it therefore unreasonable to ask that this House should be available for such discussions? The negotiations in the coal dispute have taken a new and a very important turn in the last few days. The original resolution of the miners' executive has given place to a demand by the districts to negotiate on a totally new basis, and it seems to me, as an outside observer, that the importance of this change is not particular items in the Bishops' proposals, but that negotiations are to be opened; that the districts are to be asked to empower the executive to reopen negotiations. In view of the importance of this change it seems to me that Members of this House who, despite what the right hon. Gentleman seems to think, do represent the people of this country and the consumers of coal, should be available for consultation, and that the House should put the public interest before its own convenience.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

Before we part with this Motion I think one comment must be made on the remarkable speech delivered by the Foreign Secretary. He told this House, and he weighed his words very carefully—as he always does—that this dispute was simply a matter for the owners and the miners. Apparently that view is endorsed by his faithful followers. In the North of England to-day the basic industries of this country are languishing. Day after day important works, engineering and textile works, iron and steel works, are closing down. My own constituency of Hull is being hit harder every day, and yet the excuse put forward by the right hon. Gentleman for the House rising, practically to all intents and pur- poses until the 9th November, is that the whole matter rests with the owners and the miners. That is not the view which is taken by the people of this country or by the business community, and I am certain it is not the view of poor people who are being thrown out of employment on account of this stoppage. It is all very well for members of the Cabinet to look forward to a holiday. The great social functions of the season always see His Majesty's Government well represented, and it is borne in upon one that the present Treasury Bench is not really alive to the seriousness of the present situation. The Government are out of touch with the real people of the country I am speaking of the business interests and the great industrial trades in the North of England. The right hon. Gentleman has done himself and his Government a great disservice by the extraordinary statement he has made.


I take this opportunity of once more protesting against the curse of custom under which this House labours. We have heard a great deal as to the strenuous period through which the House has passed recently, but that strenuous period is created by the House of Commons itself. There is no Member of this House who can say a single word in favour of a three months' holiday, because, if they understand anything of health conditions at all, they would know that after an excessively strenuous period of work you cannot recuperate sufficiently in three months. The sanity of this House should be expressed in a system of what are called holidays between the real work. Instead of having desperate spasms of all-night sittings, if we were sane, we would have the work of the House so arranged that there never would be any all-night sittings or any attempt to crush six months' work into three months. We would organise so that we got the rest necessary for recuperation, and so that we could carry on work continually at the same high level of nervous expenditure. But the House does not do that. After the first three weeks of the Session the occupants of the Government Front Bench look as if they were going to have early funerals. No doubt a great many would like to see those early funerals, but I am not built that way, and I would like everyone to enjoy the health that I enjoy. You can never get that with the self-inflicted, over-strenuous period of the present system.

If a Government has any sense of government it must exhibit that quality in itself. When a body calling itself a Government cannot organise business so as to give the best service and the maximum energy with properly organised periods of rest, it is very difficult for the public outside to be serious about the matter. Can anyone feel that Members are seriously responsible to their constituencies and to the country when they say that, because there is this state of depression and difficulty, Parliament will not meet again for three months? The whole thing is preposterous. Members misrepresent their constituencies when they close Parliament for a space of three months in face of the conditions existing to-day. I hope that the Government even now will organise business in such a way that there shall be not only a greater continuity in legislative work, but a greater continuity in the expression of the power of individuals.


The reply of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs indicated that we were to meet at the end of the present month for a certain purpose, but that purpose will not appeal to the miners whom we represent. It is a gesture that will merely put further pressure upon them, for we are to meet to discuss the continuance of the Emergency Powers. If Parliament rests for three months the idea will be created that Parliament does not represent the people at all. We are in a very serious difficulty. Those whom we represent are looking forward to Parliament moving in the matter. What can be the feeling of the colliery workers if they know that for three months there is no attempt being made here to solve the difficulty. I suggest that if Parliament as an institution is to carry on the

government of the country, there must be some respect for the feelings of over a million people who are anxiously looking to Parliament to do something. I appeal to the Government in the interests of the country not to adjourn for so long.


I would not have intervened but for the opening sentences of the Foreign Secretary. Had he confined himself entirely to the fact that the House was going to meet in a very short time, I would have agreed with him, but I protest against the innuendo—I was going to say the covert sneer—at the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment, that if they had their own way they would not want the House to meet on the 17th, and that they were simply using this opportunity as an excuse for prolonging the business. The right hon. Gentleman also said that the House required recreation for mind and body. I wish that he would come down to the mining districts and see the recreation of mind and body going on there. I wish he could witness, as I witnessed last Saturday, when sitting in my own little bit of garden, the sight of four wan-faced women, one of them with a child sucking at an empty breast, and the mother begging bread along the road. The right hon. Gentleman would then have consideration for the health of mind and, body of the people who are suffering to-day. This kind of thing is embittering the mind of the people. I asked these women, "What are you going to do in view of the situation?' I was surprised at their reply. They said, "They may 'clam' and force them into the pits, but we will fight with our men to the last hour." That is the spirit of the people in the mining districts, and the House should not forget it.

Question put, " That the words 9th November ' stand part of the Question."

The House divided; Ayes, 173; Noes, 49.

Division No. 426] AYES. [12 noon.
Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T. Berry, Sir George Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood)
Ainsworth, Major Charles Betterton, Henry B. Chilcott, Sir Warden
Albery, Irving James Blundell, F. N. Christie, J. A.
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.
Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W. Brass, Captain W. Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir G. K.
Atholl, Duchess of Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive Cooper, J. B.
Balntel, Lord Brittaln, Sir Harry Croft, Brigadler-General Sir H.
Barclay-Harvey C. M. Brocklebank, C. E. R. Crookshank, Col. c. de W. (Berwick)
Barnston, Major Sir Harry Broun-Lindsay, Major H, Crookshank, Cpt. H. (Lindsey, Gansbro)
Beamish, Captain T. P. H. Brown, Brig.-Gen. H.C.(Berke,Newb'y) Cunliffe, Sir Herbert
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W. Campbell, E. T. Curzon, Captain Viscount
Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake) Chamberlain, Rt.Hn.Sir.J.A.(Birm.,W.) Davidson,J. (Hertf'd, Hemel Hempst'd)
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovll) Jacob, A. E. Price, Major C. W. M.
Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester) Jephcott, A. R. Ramsden, E.
Davies, Dr. Vernon Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington) Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.
Dawson, Sir Philip Joynson-Hicks, Rt. Hon. Sir William Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A.
Dean, Arthur Wellesley Kennedy, A. R. (Preston) Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Dixey, A. C. Kidd, J. (Linlithgow) Rye, F. G.
Eden, Captain Anthony Kindersley, Major Guy M. Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Edmondson, Major A. J. King, Captain Henry Douglas Sandeman, A. Stewart
Elliot, Major Walter E. Knox, Sir Alfred Sanders, Sir Robert A.
Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s-M.) Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R. Sanderson, Sir Frank
Fairfax, Captain J. G. Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby)
Falle, Sir Bertram G. Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley) Simms, Dr. John M. (Co. Down)
Fanshawe, Commander G. D. Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green) Sianey, Major P. Kenyon
Fermoy, Lord Luce, Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard Harman Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Fielden, E. B. Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.) Smithers, Waldron
Forestier-Walker, Sir L. Macintyre, Ian Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Foxcroft, Captain C. T. McLean, Major A. Sprot, Sir Alexander
Fraser, Captain Ian Macmillan, Captain H. Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Will'sden, E.)
Galbraith, J. F. W. McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John Stanley, Lord (Fylde)
Gates, Percy Macqulsten, F. A. Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.
Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham MacRobert, Alexander M. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel Styles, Captain H. W.
Grant, Sir J. A. Makins, Brigadier-General E. Sugden, Sir Wilfrid
Grenfell, Edward C. (City of London) Malone, Major P. B. Tasker, Major R. Inigo
Grotrian, H. Brent Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn Templeton, W. P.
Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E. Margesson, Captain D. Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)
Gunston, Captain D. W. Marriott, Sir J. A. R. Tinne, J. A.
Hacking, Captain Douglas H. Merriman, F. B. Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark) Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington) Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M. Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.
Haslam, Henry C. Moore, Sir Newton J. Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.
Hawke, John Anthony Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C. Watson, Rt. Hon. W. (Carlisle)
Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley) Moreing, Captain A. H. Watts, Dr. T.
Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle) Murchison, C. K. Wells, S. R.
Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Nall, Colonel Sir Joseph White, Lieut.-Col Sir G. Dairymple
Herbert.S. (York, N. R., Scar. & Wh'by) Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)
Hills, Major John Waller Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Hilton, Cecil Nicholson, O. (Westminster) Wise, Sir Fredric
Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G. Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn.W.G.(Ptrsf'ld.) Wolmer, Viscount
Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone) O'Connor, T. J. (Bedford, Luton) Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'ge & Hyde)
Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Hugh Wood, Sir Kingsley (Woolwich, W.)
Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar) Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings) Woodcock, Colonel H. C.
Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley) Peto, Basll E. (Devon, Barnstaple) Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.
Howard, Captain Hon. Donald Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)
Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney,N). Pllcher, G. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Hume, Sir G. H. Power, Sir John Cecil Major Hennessy and Captain
Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l) Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Assheton Bowyer.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Fenby, T. D. Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)
Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro') Gibbins, Joseph Potts, John S.
Ammon, Charles George Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.) Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Barr, J. Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Saklatvala, Shapurji
Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith) Hardie, George D. Scrymgeour, E.
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon Sexton. James
Broad, F. A. Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Shepherd, Arthur Lewis
Bromley, J. Hudson, J. H. (Huddersfield) Stephen, Campbell
Buchanan. G. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Sutton, J. E.
Charleton, H. C. Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Tinker, John Joseph
Clowes, S. Kelly, W. T. Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen
Cluse, W. S. Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M. Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
Connolly, M. Lawrence, Susan Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Dalton, Hugh Lee, F. Windsor, Walter
Davison, J. E. (Smethwick) March, S. Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton;
Day, Colonel Harry Montague, Frederick
Duncan, C. Palin, John Henry TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Mr. Batey and Mr. Whiteley.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, "That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn until Tuesday, 9th November."