§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. SCURR
I beg to move, in page 5, to leave out lines 5 to 7, inclusive.
Ever since I have been a Member of the House, each time this Bill has come up in which it has been proposed to renew, the Aliens Act of 1919 I have moved this Amendment. I do it in an absolutely unrepentant mood, and, although the Home Secretary may rally me on bring- 2192 ing forward a hardy annual, he will find that I am very pertinacious. Although I may not be able, perhaps, to convert him, it is sometimes necessary to take the attitude of Athanasius contra mundum, as I do in this regard, because I regard this as one of the most un-English Acts on the Statute Book. I further point out there is a change this year from last year. Last year it was simply proposed to renew the Act for one year, but there has been a change in the Government policy. On the 17th November this year the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) asked the Home Secretary:whether it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to secure the passage into law this Session of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Bill,to which the right hon. Gentleman replied:Owing to the pressure of Parliamentary business, His Majesty's Government have decided that the Aliens Restriction (Amend- 2193 ment) Bill must be postponed until next Session, and Section I of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act, 1919, will accordingly remain in Part I of the Schedule to the Expiring Laws Continuing Bill, 1927."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1927; col. 1100, Vol. 210.]This Act which has been postponed till next Session is really the same as the Act which is being renewed for one year under the Expiring Laws Bill. It was passed entirely as a War Measure. During the period of the War we were under absolutely abnormal conditions, and it became necessary—no one could complain of that—to take special precautions against any dangers which might arise from enemies or other aliens. But the Act has been retained ever since, and, in my judgment, that is entirely a breach of the pledges of the Government of the day. When the Bill was introduced originally in 1919 it proposed to extend these powers for two years, and during the course of the Debate a feeling was expressed in many quarters of the House that that was too long a period to give to the Government of the day. Mr. Shortt, who was then Home Secretary, concluded the Debate in these words:It occurs to me that probably the House is not so much adverse to waiting until the European position is clear as it is to giving for a period of two years free scope to my Department. I suggest, therefore, if I undertake to accept in Committee an Amendment reducing the period from two years to one year, and if the European situation were not clear then, I am sure the House would bear with me, or with any successor, if I had to come to ask for an extension of the period, but I am prepared to make that suggestion that we would accept an Amendment reducing the period from two years to one."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1919; col. 2818, Vol. 114.]That was agreed to, and it will be noted that Mr. Shortt said that if the European position was not clear by the expiration of that time, power might be asked to extend the Act. But the European position in 1927 must be clearer than it was in 1919. This is the period of Locarno, and we know what is claimed from Locarno by the Foreign Secretary. When that Bill went from this House to another place in 1919, Lord Onslow gave, on be half of the Government, a distinct pledge, and I venture to quote the words of his Lordship:I will now briefly review the various provisions of the Bill. The first two Clauses are devoted to providing for the continuance 2194 and extension of the Emergency Powers conferred under the Act of 1914. The question might perhaps be raised, indeed has been mentioned to me, as to why it is necessary, now that the War is over, to provide for the continuance of the powers required in time of war. I will therefore point out to your Lordships that the extension of these powers is for a strictly limited period, namely, for one year only, and that being in the state of transition that we are, it is a matter of necessity for His Majesty's Government to maintain temporarily the powers which proved essential during the War.That Act has been renewed year after year, and now we are having it put forward by the Home Office as a permanent policy to maintain this Act. Hon. Members get the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill in front of them, and see Schedule this or Act so-and-so, and a very large number of them do not even trouble to turn up any reference to see what it is about. What do we find?The powers which under Sub-section (1) of Section 1 of the Aliens Restriction Act, 1914 (which Act as amended by this Act is hereinafter in this Act referred to as the Principal Act), are exercisable with respect to aliens at any time when a state of war exists between His Majesty and any foreign Power, or when it appears that an occasion of imminent national danger or great emergency has arisen, shall for a period of one year after the passage of this Act, be exercisable, not only in these circumstances but at any time; and accordingly that Sub-section shall for such period as aforesaid, have effect as though the words 'at any time when a state of war exists between His Majesty and any foreign Power or when it appears that an occasion of imminent national danger or great emergency has arisen' were omitted.It seems very curious that we are building a wall round this country to keep out every kind of alien. I think that is rather amusing when we remember that we went to war with China on more than one occasion to force the Chinese people to receive us as traders. We were aliens to them, but carried our will at the point of the bayonet. We forced Japan to do the same thing at the point of the sword. On the occasions when hon. Members opposite think it of interest to be in the Chamber, I look round the House and think that it would be interesting if we were to trace back the ancestry of Members on all sides of the House and wonder whether they would be sitting here if there had been a bar to aliens in those days. The old saying "Anglo-Norman and Dane-Norman," is familiar to the House. This Act is in every sense of 2195 the word a highly penal Act. It controls not only aliens in this country but their movements as well, and is entirely at the behest of one man.
We have been discussing in previous Debates the power of the district auditor, but here we are discussing the powers of the Home Secretary, who has in his own hands the fate of certain individuals who do not happen to be born in this country, and it is exercised in a curious way. The House will remember the case of Oscar Levy, Dr. Rathenau, and a case in Leicester where two ex-service men were fined for making a false statement as to a French woman employed in the hosiery business. They had committed a technical breach of the Regulations which prohibited an alien from taking work in this country. The woman had to return to France, and the ex-service men who were engaged in making a living had to give up business. There was a case which came under my own observation in the East End of London. In the constituency which I represent there was a young man who was brought to this country when he was quite a child, of very poor parents. He had always been in the most abject poverty. There are on record two petty offences against him. I do not want to hide any facts. I think one was the stealing of 15s. worth of postage stamps and these things were done for food. This lad was a furrier by trade and he imbibed very extreme opinions. He was in his later days a member of the Communist party. I have sometimes an uneasy suspicion that the Home Secretary is really secretly a member of the Communist party himself. I wonder sometimes whether he is not a fraction engaged in the business of advertising the Communist party. He thinks that they ought to be suppressed and that that is the best way. I disagree with him.
Opinions ought to have the fullest expression, however distasteful. I think the public have common sense to know when to judge or misjudge what it has been told. I only want to deal with one point in the case. I had the assistance of the Home Secretary in regard to the family and the other matters, but I am concerned as to the administration of the law. Under one Clause in the Aliens Restriction Act, 1919, it is provided that: 2196Where an alien provokes unrest in an industry in which he has not been bona fide engaged for two years, he shall be liable.The lad was a furrier by trade but could not get employment in his trade, and he became secretary of a small trade union of Jewish bakers, the Jewish Bakers Trade Union. Previous to the general strike, there had been a dispute between the employers and this Jewish bakers' union and the case of ordinary picketing arose with the usual allegations on both sides. The magistrates tried this and found him guilty. One of the counts indicted was that he had infringed that particular Act, which says you have to be engaged in industry two years if you provoke industrial unrest, and that you are otherwise liable to certain penalties. I complain that the representatives of Scotland Yard in their evidence said that they had known that he was secretary of this particular trade union for 10 months. I happened to be present in Court and heard that particular evidence, and it struck me at once that if this man or anyone else like him had committed a breach of the Act and had not been prosecuted at the time it was remarkable that they should state in evidence that he had been breaking the Act for 10 months. Another complaint is that the Regulations apply to aliens who came to this country early in their infancy and have been brought up and educated in our schools. At the ports any person suspected of being an alien is subject to rigorous inspection. Aliens and the persons with whom they stay have to keep in close touch with the police. Notice has to be given to the registration officer, and hotel proprietors must keep a register which is open to any police officer or other authorised person. I understand that a boarding school has been held to be under the same rules and regulations as a boarding-house. English-born wives become aliens on marriage to a foreigner. Aliens may be taken into custody without warrant and there is no appeal against exclusion.
There are certain restrictions through the Ministry of Labour in regard to the entry of aliens, but I do not find that there has been any great rush. For example, I find that in 1926, when the largest number was admitted, according to the last return I have, only 5,540 permits were granted and only 6,534 applications were made. The policy which 2197 seems to be pursued, seems to me to admit those aliens who will cater for the luxury of the richer classes of the community. I find that 1,917 domestic servants were allowed to enter, 1,771 musicians, 606 foreign correspondence clerks, 338 teachers of foreign languages and 133 hotel and restaurant employés. These are the things which are occurring under the Act, all the powers of which are in the hands of the Home Secretary, and to that I strongly object. If the Home Secretary were the angel Gabriel himself which he is not, I should object equally as strongly. I do not think that powers of this kind ought to be placed in the hands of anyone.
The Home Secretary may say, quite fairly, that I indulge in this criticism of him each year, and that I put forward no alternative. He may say to me, "Do you want all aliens to come in quite freely? Do you want us to have no powers or that there should be no powers resting in the Executive to deal with persons of bad character or who are otherwise undesirable?" I will outline a policy to the Home Secretary. If he will say that the Aliens' Register Bill, which has been postponed until next Session, will not be pressed, and that he will go into the whole question of aliens, or that a committee will go into the whole matter to see what reforms could be adopted, to meet the undoubted legitimate grievances of the Jewish community in regard to nationalisation and other things, I would not press my Motion to a Division. If he could see his way clear to say that he would go into the matter and not re-enact permanently the present legislation, I would not press my Motion.
The policy which I would suggest would be that there should be powers for the expulsion of undesirable aliens, white slave traffickers and dealers in dangerous drugs. I think the term "undesirable" ought to be carefully defined. Every undesirable ought to have the right of answering to any charge made against him in open Court. A sentence of deportation should only be imposed as the result of a trial. In no circumstances should deportation be dependent upon the fiat of the Home Secretary. I suggest that, when an alien is to be deported, the Director of Public Prosecutions should initiate the prosecution. Another point which I regard as of supreme importance 2198 is that the right of political and religious asylum should be restored. That is very important in the present state of Europe. Let us take the case of Russia, for example. Under the system of government in Russia, there is one particular class of the community with which the right hon. Gentleman and his friends are in sympathy in their point of view, and that is those who desire to restore the Czarist regime.
On the occasion of the Debate on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill it is only allowable to move the omission of words in the Schedule. It is not in order to suggest Amendments. The hon. Member must give reasons why any particular Section which is referred to should not be renewed.
§ Mr. SCURR
I bow to your ruling. I thought that possibly I might be out of order, and that perhaps the Home Secretary might twit me with the fact that I criticise him and I have no alternative to offer. The few sentences which I have put forward are not the full policy which I would suggest, but with his permission I will communicate it to him. I hope that he will seriously take this matter into consideration. There must be certain regulations, especially while we have so much unemployment, but there are certain rights and interests which I desire to be safeguarded and protected, and it is necessary that I should move this Motion in order that the legitimate grievances of many of my constituents in the East End of London and other people in parts of Manchester and Glasgow should be expressed in this House.
§ Mr. MORRIS
The Amendment to omit the Aliens Restriction Act from the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill involves a very important principle. It involves the old right of asylum, characteristic of this country. As the hon. Member has pointed out, the Section that is sought to be re-enacted, Section 1 of the Act of 1919, was clearly a war Measure. When you look at the language of it you find that the language clearly contemplated war lime and measures that were necessary in order to ensure during the period of war the safety of the Realm. That is a very different state of circumstances from that which is contemplated to-day. 2199 The arguments that were put forward in this House and in another place were arguments which were supported in the particular circumstances of that day, and undertakings were clearly given that immediately the war situation was over and the war perils were over, the Measure would be abandoned. That undertaking has never been observed.
It is true that no attempt has been made to bring in a Measure making this Act a permanent part of the law of the land. If it is not to be made a permanent part of the law of the land why seek to make it permanent by bringing it forward in this form year after year? If the Government believe that some such Measure is necessary they should bring in a Bill to make this the permanent law of the land. To continue these restrictions upon the liberties of the subject and to change the character of this country which has been habitually that of giving asylum to political refugees and other refugees from other countries, in this form, is certainly highly undesirable. When one turns to Section (1) of the 1919 Act it refers to the Act of 1914, and we have to consult the Act of 1914 in order to find out exactly what are the powers of the right hon. Gentleman. His powers, as set out in the Act of 1914, are clearly such that could only be necessary, and would only be granted to him by the House of Commons, if we were contemplating the perils of war. What are the powers granted by this Act? They are:For prohibiting aliens from landing in the United Kingdom, either generally or at certain places, and for imposing restrictions or conditions on aliens landing or arriving at any port in the United Kingdom,Clearly, that contemplates a state of war.For prohibiting aliens from embarking in the United Kingdom, either generally or at certain places, and for imposing restrictions and conditions on aliens embarking or about to embark in the United Kingdom.For the deportation of aliens from the United Kingdom.That is a power which the Home Secretary has at present.For requiring aliens to reside and remain within certain places or districts.Once aliens are admitted into the country how can it be relevant in time of peace—it is relevant in time of war— 2200 that the Home Secretary should have the power to require aliens to reside at specified places.For prohibiting aliens from residing or remaining in any areas specified in the Order.How can that power be relevant to-day?For requiring aliens residing in the United Kingdom to comply with such provisions as to registration, change of abode, travelling, or otherwise as may be made by the Order.All these powers indicate the contemplation of a position resulting from a state of war and the perils which might ensue from giving a free hand to aliens to move about the country. All these circumstances have disappeared, and the reason for the enactment of Section (1) of the 1919 Act has disappeared also. There can be no justification for granting these extensive powers to-day, and the right hon. Gentleman ought not to make them permanent by renewing them in this form year after year.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I desire to second the appeal which the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr) has made to the Home Secretary, that he will reconsider the whole question of this legislation. According to your ruling, Mr. Deputy-Chairman, it is impossible to go into the alternatives which might be suggested, but I am sure the Home Secretary and hon. Members opposite will absolve hon. Members of the Labour party from a desire to have conditions in this country where there would be no control over certain types of aliens. That is not the wish of hon. Members on this side of the House. We say that it is dangerous and bad that methods which are necessary in war-time should continue to exist in peace and that the arbitrary power of the Home Secretary should be brought to bear on questions which involve human liberty and the prestige and tradition of this country in regard to political and religious liberty. That is why I appeal to the Home Secretary to reconsider the whole question with a view of bringing legislation on this matter up to date.
One point suggested by the hon. Member for Mile End shows the outrageously unfair character of the legislation which exists to-day; that was with regard to the necessity for an alien to have been in industry in this country for two years before he is able to take 2201 part in any industrial strike or industrial activities for the purpose of improving conditions of labour. Why should that not apply to the wealthy alien? There are plenty of wealthy aliens who come into this country without let or hindrance, and there is nothing in the Act, or in the mind of the Home Secretary, which operates to prevent them coming in. These people may be capitalists or employers of labour, and within a very short period, much less than two years, they can indulge in an industrial policy, a lock-out, which may be just as much calculated to foment industrial disturbance as anything a trade union organiser can do. There are plenty of unions in the East End of London which are composed almost exclusively of aliens, and if they are allowed to live in this country they ought to be allowed to organise themselves in order to obtain decent conditions of labour. I suggest that it is highly undesirable and dangerous to continue to vest powers in the hands of the Home Secretary dealing with the organisation of trade unions and the question of political and religious refugees, and that something else should take the place of this legislation, which is of a war-time character.
There is, however, the larger issue, the broader question of religious and political liberty. I am not afraid of ideas. Many people are. I do not believe in repressing ideas. I do not believe in repression of any kind. It is always bad, whether it is repression of the individual or of anything else. Certainly if ideas are expressed and fomented which may lead to civil disturbance they ought to be handled, but I do not think this is the way to handle them. The best thing for the world and the development of character in our own people is perfect freedom in ideas. That certainly does apply to politics and religion with regard to aliens and refugees. I feel very jealous on this point, and I associate myself with the appeal which the hon. Member for Mile End has made. We do not want to allow aliens to flood this country irrespective of their circumstances or conditions, but we do want him to bring forward something fresh which will be more in accord with the traditions of the past policy and history of this country.
§ Mr. MITCHELL BANKS
Hon. Members opposite, both above and below the Gangway, in expressing their views have quoted some great principles and words which we all hold in honour—the right of asylum, freedom of speech and liberty of religion. These grand ideas are in no danger whatever from the facts of the case as they stand. This country has wisely, in days gone by, adopted a generous policy towards people who seek the greater freedom and liberty which is afforded here than in the land from which they fled because they were discontented with conditions which were more oppressive there than they are here, But it must be the foundation of all such questions that the alien comes here not as a right but as a privilege. He is a guest; the house does not belong to him. He comes here either at our invitation or because we give him the hospitality which he craves and, therefore, the corollary of that is that he does not exploit his position here as a right, and that if asylum is afforded we have a right to ask that he does not abuse the hospitality which he enjoys. One of the provisions of the Bill is that he shall not until two years are passed take part in fomenting industrial unrest. There is no great hardship in that provision. My memory does not fail me and I think it was a matter on which the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr) made some complaint.
§ Mr. MORRIS
If the hon. and learned Member will look at the only Section which is re-enacted, Section (1), it says nothing about that at all.
§ Mr. BANKS
The hon. Member for Mile End is proposing that the Aliens Restriction Act of 1919 should expire this year, and he cited as an example that the alien who has not been engaged for two years in industry in this country is liable to a penalty if he foments unrest. Is it too much that we should ask people who come from countries where conditions of labour are nothing like on a level with those here, where trade union organisation has reached nothing like the state of development at which it has arrived in this country, should refrain from interfering in these affairs until they have had at least two years' experience of conditions as they are in this country and until they have some right to pronounce upon them?
§ Mr. BANKS
I agree that the hon. Member complained of that, but I understood he also meant, and I think I was supported in that view by the observations of another hon. Member who spoke later, that they thought it was unfair and harsh that the provision should exist at all and that an alien should be liable to any penalty.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
The point I tried to make was that that applies to the trade union organiser or to the workman who comes over as an alien, but does not apply to the employer who comes over as an alien and is just as capable of fomenting industrial strife as the workman.
§ Mr. BANKS
I would be ready to agree to any provision for dealing with any alien, whether master or man, who foments industrial unrest in this country until he has been here at least two years. The fact that the law may be unequally applied now is nothing against the propriety of the principle itself. Free speech is not denied to any alien in this country. As far as I am aware the alien is at liberty to express his political views, and it is a fact that he frequently does criticise the institutions and the constitution of the country that is offering him hospitality. The only thing he must not do is to recommend that those institutions and that constitution should be altered by a breach of the law or by resort to revolution or force. In that case he brings himself under the law. And so does any Englishman. The law is not applicable solely to aliens. Anyone has only to go down to the constituency of Mile End and there one will find people who may not technically be aliens, but scores of thousands of people from Russia and Poland. Very often for an hour on end one does not hear a word of the English language spoken. Are these people circumscribed in the exercise of their religion? Are they prevented from attending the Synagogue for the Jewish festivals? No more than the law prevents me from going to Mass on Sundays.
2204 The hon. Member talked about the liberty of the subject. The point is that the aliens who come in here are not British subjects. They come in as guests enjoying our hospitality and our protection. It may be true that in the future we shall be able to take a different view of the question. But meanwhile I put this point: In that part of London, which I have mentioned, there is an enormous concourse of people who, although technically not alien perhaps, are comparatively new arrivals on our shores, and if we allow further large numbers to flock in we shall not be able as a community to absorb them. They will remain still apart from us, not taking unto themselves the spirit of British citizenship and British institutions. I think it has been an excellent thing for this country that in the past we have encouraged people from abroad to migrate here. The greatest leader that my own party has ever known came of a Jewish family of migrants into this country. So long as we do not take in a larger dose than we can properly digest, there is a great deal to be said for that policy, but my view at the moment is that if we accept too many at one time they will not absorb British ideas of citizenship but will still remain a foreign community. That is why America has had to place upon immigration the restrictions with which we are all familiar. She found herself in danger of being totally de-Americanised. There were large communities that were altogether apart and away from American life, and she said, "We have at the present time as many aliens from foreign countries as we can safely entertain in the hope of bringing them up in the American spirit, and turning them into genuine American citizens." I believe that our position to-day is similar.
In future, when circumstances are different, but not this year, there may be good reason for altering the Act. The hon. Member talked about the unfairness of saying, when aliens are admitted, that they shall be allowed to be only in certain localities, and he instanced a, feature of the Bill which undoubtedly was of wartime application. It is not merely a question of absorbing these people, but also a question of their not displacing British labour at a time when over a million British people are unemployed. Taking into consideration the character 2205 and the outlook of the alien when he arrives here, it is rather important that you should not allow him of his own free will to flock to places where unemployment happens to be particularly acute A good many hon. Members opposite would be rather glad if a considerable number of newly arrived aliens in their constituencies could be removed to some other part of England, because in those constituencies there is considerable poverty and unemployment. My hon. Friend the Member for Mile End repeated the old quotation:Saxon and Norman and Dane are we.I dare say it may he true that there are some other ethnological strains in our constitution. Norman and Dane and Saxon and Pole and Russian and Czechoslovakian, an extraordinary mongrel community we shall he, if we allow unrestricted immigration and do not fix a period until we have time to turn aliens into genuinely good British citizens, with British ideals and British occupations.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I represent the one city in Scotland that has anything like an alien population, and I join in asking for a reconsideration of this question. We have not asked for wholesale repeal of the Act. None the less the question ought to be reconsidered. I have had considerable correspondence with the Home Secretary regarding aliens. Not a week goes by that I do not have correspondence with him regarding some alien or group of aliens in connection with some matter. The right hon. Gentleman has the reputation outside the House of being the die-hard, reactionary Tory of the Government. I say frankly that I am glad it is not the Secretary of State for Scotland who holds the Home Secretary's office. I have received from the Home Secretary not only decency and kindness in the main, with regard to my operations, but as regards his personal work, when he is compared with other members of the Cabinet, particularly the Secretary of State for Scotland, I have no hesitation in saying that the Home Secretary has acted towards the alien population, not as a tyrant, but fairly, decently, and not at all in a harsh manner. When I read that he was to be Home Secretary I was concerned—having so many aliens in my division. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman would be a "die-hard" in these matters, hut that, 2206 at any rate, the Secretary of State for Scotland would be generous. I find that it is the other way and that the Home Secretary has been fairly decent in his administration of this Act.
Nearly all these War-time Acts are being reconsidered, one by one. For instance, the Shops Act has been a hone of contention for a considerable time and certain Regulations in it have been criticised and defended. One group wants their abolition and another group wants their extension; and the Home Secretary has set up a Committee to inquire into the working of that Act. All I ask is that he should follow the same procedure in connection with the Aliens Act. I believe if you were to consult the population of my Division which, as I have said, includes a fair number of aliens, you would find an overwhelming majority against any proposals for the free and unrestricted entry of aliens into this country. I do not think anybody is asking for the wholesale withdrawal of these Regulations. We are really asking that the matter should be reconsidered. I know a case of a young man in Glasgow which illustrates the necessity for giving some attention to this matter. He came to this country when he was two years of age and he has been brought up here and is a good British citizen. He had a row with his father and mother, as often happens with a young man, and left his home and went to stay in a Y.M.C.A. hostel. His name was Solinsky, but he did not like to enter that name in the book of the hostel, and, without any criminal intent at all, this boy entered the name of Brown.
I would point out to the hon. Member that the Amendment which he is supporting proposes to repeal this Act altogether.
That would not be in order on this particular Amendment. The hon. Member must con- 2207 fine himself to the question of whether the Act is to be continued or discontinued.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I do not wish to digress, but while we have down an Amendment for the repeal of the Act, I think we are entitled to suggest that, in any case, a reconsideration of the matter is necessary and that a new Measure might have to be brought in if the present Act were repealed. However, to return to the case of this young man, as I say, he gave the name of Brown without any criminal intention at all. It happened that a night or two previously there had been a murder in Glasgow, and the police, in the exercise of their duty, were searching the city. They came across this boy and found that he had given the name of Brown instead of Solinsky, and he was marched off to the Court and charged with an offence under the law. Had it been an ordinary case, bail could have been allowed at the magistrate's Court, but it could not be done in this case. He was brought before the sheriff, who imposed a half-crown penalty, but the boy had had to lie two days in prison. In cases of that kind there should be power to grant bail.
These cases might be put in Committee of Supply when we are considering the question of the administration of the Home Office, but they are certainly not relevant on this particular Amendment.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I think the Amendment was put down as one which was likely to be in order so that the matter might be raised properly, but I do not understand that hon. Members on this side are really arguing for repeal in the fullest sense. I think all they ask for is a reconsideration on the lines I have suggested. I have no wish to argue for repeal, but apparently I must do so in order to express my point of view. I think that in Great Britain we have no right to complain about immigration from other countries because no country emigrates more of its own people to other lands than we do to the United States. No country does it more than Scotland. Scotland has flooded every country in the world with emigrants, and you find Scotsmen, go where you will. Who are we to complain about other 2208 countries in this respect, when we practise the same art assiduously and well? I question if Great Britain has lost much by the immigration of aliens. Some of the greatest men who have added to the repute of this country have been aliens. There is no need to give examples such as Disraeli. There are plenty of them. I think the nation which has not an influx of new blood is not likely to live as long as the nation which has a constant intermixing from other races. I do not agree with these restrictions, thought it may be that to sweep away all these Acts would be inadvisable. At least the Home Secretary ought to see what can be done. It is no use to say that we are a great insular nation and do not need any foreigners coming into our country. That is the wrong attitude. I think that every nation in the world stands to gain by an intermingling of the peoples of the world, and that no nation loses by it.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir William Joynson-Hicks)
I am very grateful indeed to hon. Members opposite for the kindness with which they have treated the Home Secretary this evening. I ought to say, however, that there seems to have been a change in the mind of the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr). I have just had the privilege of reading the speech which he made in this connection last year when he smote this Act hip and thigh and moved for its omission. He said then, quite frankly, that he was altogether against these restrictions on aliens and desired to have all of them swept away, and a considerable number of his colleagues voted in favour of the sweeping away of all these restrictions. That, to-night, is not the proposal. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has just said, quite frankly and courteously, that he does not wish to see the restrictions swept away, and, on the whole, I gather he does not object very much to the way in which the Home Secretary and his advisers have carried out the provisions of this Act. After all, somebody must carry them out.
Apparently, the proposal of the hon. Member for Mile End would be that one of the existing Courts should take in hand all these matters and that no one should either be refused admission or deported afterwards unless by order of 2209 the Court. I think he would find that the Court would be far more rigid than is the Home Secretary. The Court would proceed on fixed rules, there would arise a number of precedents, and, after a time, it would be exceedingly difficult to move the Court from the precedents that had been established in the earlier years of the working of the Act, whereas the Home Secretary is bound by no precedents. He can take each case on its merits. He can see, as hon. Members opposite know I have seen frequently, from time to time, Members of Parliament in connection with cases. The hon. Member for Mile End has himself put points to me which it would be quite impossible to put before any Court. He has put those points to me as man to man. I can give them consideration without any legal technicalities affecting my mind. I am not an ogre, and I can arrive at a decision in what I conceive to be the real interests of this country.
In the last five years, I have deported a decreasing number each year. In 1923 there were 351 deportations; in 1924, 228; in 1925, 256; and in 1926, 230. This year is not yet complete. Some 1,290 altogether have been deported during this period, and out of that total, 1,109 have been deported on the recommendation of the Court, so the hon. Member will see that there are only about 180 cases left over during the years in which I and my predecessor, the Labour Home Secretary, have exercised these arbitrary powers, and they were exercised by the hon. Member's own leader, the right hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. A. Henderson). I find he exercised these powers as I am exercising mine. I do not complain of the way in which he exercised them, and I think that nobody who knew the working of the Act and who could see the individual cases would really complain of the way in which I have exercised my power.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Yes, because the magistrates only recommend. Every case has to come to me after that to see whether I agree with the view of the magistrates or whether I do not deport the man in question, and, of course, where the magistrate does not recommend a deportation order, or where the prosecution does not ask for a 2210 deportation order, I am at liberty to deport. I should like to say, quite frankly, that I do not confine my deportations to the poor and to the people who are over here through religious persecution. I have deported—I have the case in my mind—somebody of a far different type, somebody who was by no means poor, somebody who was not here through religious persecution at all, but who was here for the purpose of carrying out undesirable activities in this country. It is really essential that power should be placed in the hands of somebody—if you do not trust the Home Secretary you must trust somebody else —who can review a case of that kind, not from the religious standpoint, not perhaps that his activities may be of a very undesirable character such as dealing in drugs and things of that kind, but entirely apart from the point of view of illegal activities against the law. It is upon that kind of case that the Home Secretary has to exercise his discretion, and, as I say, he has to deport an average of 30 to 40 in a year.
With regard to the general question whether it is or is not desirable that restrictions on immigration should continue, I do not think I can do better than read to the hon. Member opposite an extract from an article which appeared in a newspaper two months ago, written by no less a person than the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), who was Under-Secretary to the Home Office in the Labour Government. Dealing with the alien question and the question of immigration, he wrote:The question is often asked, 'Why should there be any restrictions at all on the admission of aliens to this country?'and he goes on to say, in better language than I could use, in language which, if the House will allow me, I will adopt as my own:The fundamental reasons why we restrict the incoming of aliens are the housing shortage and the scarcity of employment for our own kith and kin. The procedure adopted is that no alien can come here to work for wages if there is a Britisher available for the job.That is the real, fundamental basis put by the hon. Gentleman's own leader in. an article in a newspaper, and it is the policy which he and his right hon. colleague carried out when they were responsible for the administration of the 2211 Home Office. The hon. Member for Gorbals has been very frank. He said that even his own alien constituents— they are not constituents however, because they are not on the register, but the alien inhabitants in his own constituency—are against allowing in a flood of aliens.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I was saying, not that the aliens, but that my constituency as a whole, although it includes a large proportion of aliens, would be against it.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I am sure the Committee will realise that I did not want to misquote the hon. Member. Even his constituency, which is a constituency, he will forgive me for saying, of a somewhat advanced character—at all events judging from its character as represented in this House—would be against a wholesale influx of aliens into this country. I am sure that that is the feeling of the House at large, and I am equally sure that it is the feeling of the country at large With something like a million unemployed, we cannot afford to open the gates wide. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Morris) to speak of religious and political liberty. I have said before that I quite agree that in the good old days of Mr. Gladstone, when England was a refuge for the distressed from all countries, there was much to be said for that policy, but there was not then this vast number of unemployed; it was not then just after the most devastating war known to history; it was not then a time when we were struggling to keep our heads, as it were, above water in the commercial and manufacturing world. Those times may come again, when the hon. Member for Cardigan may be able to make, with more acceptance to the House generally, a speech in favour of the admission of religious and political refugees to this country, but that time is not yet come.
Take the position in Russia to-day. There is a country of something like 120,000,000 to 140,000,000 of people, a country which, whatever way you may look at it, has a great many potential refugees who would like to get out of it. Are we to open the gates of this country to an unlimited influx of political refugees from Russia? Are we to open the gates of this country to the unlimited entrance of religious refugees, let us say, 2212 from Poland or Turkey or anywhere else—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or Italy!"]—or Italy?
§ Mr. MORRIS
With regard to the point on unemployment, one of the powers conferred on the right hon. Gentleman under the Act of 1914 was the power, not only to prevent aliens coming in, but to prevent them moving about freely once they were in. Has he exercised the power, in the case of unemployment, to remove aliens in that part of the country to another part?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I should like to correct my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Banks) on that point. We do not attempt to direct aliens to which part of the country they shall go. The only time that particular Section is utilised is when I want to deport an alien, and I cannot get any country to acknowledge him as being a citizen. There are a fair number of aliens who have no real nationality, and whose nationality would not be accepted by the country which we, or they, believe to be their country of origin; in that case, when I am convinced that they are doing wrong in this country, that they are not living here for the benefit of this country, I direct them to remain in a certain position and to report more frequently than the ordinary alien has to do. That is, I believe, a form of punishment which the Act gives me power to exercise. It is only exercised in very rare cases, and it has been of considerable advantage in enabling the police to keep in close touch with an undesirable alien whom I have not been able to deport.
§ Mr. MORRIS
The right hon. Gentleman has defended the powers so far from the point of view of unemployment. Has he exercised the power of preventing aliens from coming into the country at all?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Oh, yes, by the thousand. Nobody who wants to come here for the purpose of employment can get in without a certificate in the first instance from the Ministry of Labour. He has to convince the Ministry of Labour that he has work to do which cannot be done by an Englishman. That is a power which is exercised every day, and under which very large numbers of 2213 aliens are kept out of the country. That is why we want a continuance of these laws, because we are absolutely determined, and I am quite sure the bulk of the Committee is with us in that respect, not to allow in any aliens to compete with labour in the British market in the present condition of unemployment. I was asked by hon. Members opposite whether I would appoint a Committee to inquire into the necessity of the continuance of these Regulations. The House knows that there is a Select Committee appointed every three years in order to consider whether the Acts in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill should Be continued or not. That Select Committee sat in 1925. It took evidence and their Report is Cmd. Paper 112 of 1925, and, among the Acts which it said should be continued, are the Aliens Restriction Acts.
I am assured by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury that that Select Committee will be set up again in 1928, and that it will consider several Acts, including these Aliens Restriction Acts, and they will report whether they should be continued or not. On the other hand, it is quite possible—but I cannot give any pledge one way or the other, because of the exigencies of time in regard to business next year—that I shall bring in a Bill next year in order to make permanent the power to control aliens. I make this offer to those hon. Gentlemen who have asked me to consider it. I do not think it is any good appointing a Select Committee composed of Members of both sides of the House, because I am practically sure that in the exercise of my jurisdiction under the Aliens Acts, and in regard to the continuance of the Acts, I have the united support of hon. Members on this side of the Committee. Hon. Members opposite on other occasions have, by way of deputation, discussed various legislative proposals with me. I have received deputations not only from the Trades Union Congress, but from the Labour party, and, if they really have legislative proposals, which they desire to make, regarding an alteration in the Aliens Acts, I shall be only too glad if they will make arrangements to discuss them with me. I cannot ask individual Members, although I am willing to see any Member of the House at any time.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
No, I do not think they can. If the Labour party, which is very highly organised, has any definite opinion—agreed opinion, if I may say so with respect—with regard to this alien question, I shall be pleased to receive the benefit of their advice, and I will consider with them any proposal put before me before I bring forward any further Bill next year. That is as far as I can go to meet the wishes of the hon. Member for Gorbals. He will see that it is impossible for me to accept the Amendment, and I think he will see that he cannot vote for it himself. I do not think the hon. Member for Mile End will wish, after the very friendly speech he made, to press his Amendment to a Division. By taking this Bill out of the Schedule, the whole fabric of aliens' restrictions would break down, and on 31st December the gates would be opened to the influx of any number of aliens from any country for any purpose for which they choose to come. Therefore, I ask the Committee to reject the Amendment, and I hope hon. Members opposite will not press it.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary is really the nicest man that ever "jugged a pal," and it makes me almost wish that, if ever it should be my lot to fall foul of the law, it will be the present Home Secretary who will engage in the pleasant task of finding me a rest cure. I am certain that my hon. Friend will do what he said when he moved the Amendment, and not press it to a Division. I cannot imagine that he has ever said in this House, and I have never said, outside or inside, that we are in favour of an unrestricted influx of aliens into this country. None of us have ever stood for that; even in the days before the War we never stood for that; but what we have stood for, and what I hope the right hon. Gentleman will keep in his mind, is that persons who are able to maintain themselves, and about whom there is no question of providing work, but whose opinions may be hateful to the right hon. Gentleman and to his friends, may have the same right of asylum here as men like Stepniak and Peter Kropotkin in the old days. What we feel is that our country has a very fine tradition for 2215 having given a refuge to revolutionists of every sort and kind, and I do not think any sensible man in the country ever regrets that we gave asylum to Stepniak, Peter Kropotkin, Mazzini, Garibaldi, and thousands of men and women who have come into this country. We are proud that they did find asylum here when tyrants turned them out of their own country. We are anxious to preserve that tradition. But, much as I sympathise with Communists when they are in trouble, if they come here and take part in unlawful agitation, they must put up with the consequences. This country gives the sacred right of asylum to monarchists of all countries. We sent a warship to Greece to rescue some of their Royal Family when there was a revolution there, and you never found one of us on these benches saying a word against it, because we think that if any persons are in such a plight there ought to be somewhere in the world where they can put their feet down and be safe. We have the same feeling about revolutionaries. With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's proposal, it has not so far been considered, but I am perfectly certain that some department of the Labour party's organisation—we have a committee which deals with this question—will be very glad to put some propositions before the right hon. Gentleman in order that the things we complain of may, if possible, be remedied.
§ Mr. SULLIVAN
I have one complaint of a different kind which I wish to lay before the Minister, and that is in regard to the enlisting of the Lithuanian volunteers in Haddingtonshire and the West of Scotland. A great number went away. Some have come back, but a number have not come back, and we have in some cases been left to support their wives and children ever since that time.
The subject the hon. Member is now raising would be a suitable one to bring up on a Supply Vote, but I cannot see that it has any relation to this Amendment to the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. His point is one of administration.
§ Mr. SULLIVAN
I am very sorry to hear that ruling, for I was under the impression that this subject would come within the bounds of this discussion.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
If the hon. Member will communicate with me in respect of any particular case, I will go into it.
§ Mr. SULLIVAN
I am willing to accept the right hon. Gentleman's kind offer and I will interview him about the cases, because I feel that he will sympathise with the position which we take up.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Sir FRANK MEYER
I beg to move, in page 5, to leave out lines 36 and 37.
This Amendment refers to the Shops (Early Closing) Act, 1920. I am bound to say I have not any great hope that it may be possible for the right hon. Gentleman, at this late period of the year, to accept an Amendment deleting altogether the Shops Act from the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, but I should not like this occasion to pass without making my annual protest against this remnant of war time legislation, for such it undoubtedly is. An hon. Member on my right says "No," but he cannot deny that this Act follows word for word the Regulations which were passed during the War. If he thinks that is not a remnant of war time legislation he and I must agree to interpret the English language in different ways. I said I rose to make my annual protest, and I do so in the belief and hope that it will be the last occasion on which I shall have to make such a protest, because the situation has changed since last year. About a year ago I asked the right hon. Gentleman a question on the restrictions under the Shops Act, commonly known as "D.O.R.A." In his reply he seemed to indicate that he did not think there was any very strong feeling in the House in favour of any change, and in a friendly way he challenged me—I took his words to be a challenge—to prove to him that there was this feeling. In the course of a very few days I obtained the signatures of 170 Members to a request to the Home Secretary to inquire into this matter by setting up a Committee or in some other way.
He was as good as his word and set up a Departmental Committee. That Committee has been sitting throughout the greater part of this year, and I had the 2217 honour of serving on it, with a number of colleagues drawn from all parties in this House and with some distinguished ladies and gentlemen from outside. I understand the right hon. Gentleman now has the Report of that Committee in his hand, although it has not yet been issued to the public. I have seen notices in the Press to the effect that the right hon. Gentleman has had the Report; perhaps he will tell us later whether that is so or not. At any rate, the situation now is that there has been a very careful inquiry into these Shops Acts and the various difficulties and anomalies arising under them, and although I am not at liberty, naturally, to refer at present to the recommendations of that Committee, which are not yet public property, I can refer to the evidence given before the Committee, because that was given in public, although probably very few Members know very much about what that evidence was.
I do not propose to weary the Committee with any of the details, or to go over the old ground of the various anomalies, but I do want to draw attention to two very striking facts in connection with that evidence. Throughout that inquiry there was strongly marked evidence that the Shops Act, 1920, with the amending Act of 1921, has been constantly evaded. There have been repeated prosecutions for minor offences under these Acts, and it was quite clear to us who sat on that Committee, whatever our views were as to the rights or wrongs of the offences, that these Acts were being evaded both by the shopkeepers and by members of the public, and principally at the instigation of the latter; in fact, that there was a widespread desire, under certain circumstances, to break these Acts. The offences against these Acts are the kind of offences which magistrates look upon without much disfavour, and the penalties imposed were in some cases so light as to show clearly that in the opinion of the Court they were not offences deserving of heavy punishment. Generally, there was a feeling that to break these Acts was not a crime in the ordinary sense of the word. That appeared throughout the evidence.
Another thing which appeared was that there was a great deal of public resent- 2218 ment against these restrictions. As showing the way in which bias can work on the minds of some people—or so it appears to me—I would remark that certain people who gave evidence in favour of maintaining the Shops Acts with all their restrictions and in all their strictness and who came from associations which had that object in view, told the Committee that in their opinion there was absolutely no discontent or displeasure with any of the provisions of these Acts. Surely it is within the common knowledge of hon. Members that there is a certain amount of discontent and irritations. As to the quantity of it, that may be controversial, but it would be impossible for any reasonable person to say that the Acts as they now stand, are perfectly satisfactory to the general community. As an example of the impossibility of the present position and the lack of elasticity instances were given in evidence, such as the case of Wembley. Throughout the Wembley Exhibition shops were kept open after 8 o'clock, because it was found quite impossible by the authority which administered the Act in that area to enforce the Act. It was broken by everybody and they could not prosecute the whole population and those inside the Exhibition and out and the Act thus was a dead letter to a large extent. A similar case, told by the representative of the local authority, was that of the Ascot Races. There this Act regarding 8 o'clock closing is broken by practically every shopkeeper during the race week, and the authorities have decided that it is impossible to prosecute, because it would mean prosecuting the whole shopkeeping community together with the public who avail themselves of this breach of the Act.
It is a very unsatisfactory state of things, that there should be Acts on the Statute Book which either generally or at particular times are broken with the common knowledge and consent of the large majority of the population. I do urge upon the Government the necessity of dealing with this matter during the forthcoming Session. The right hon. Gentleman will have in his hand the Report which was the result of long, careful and painstaking inquiry, and was come to, I am glad to say, with practical unanimity. I do urge upon the Government the necessity of dealing with this 2219 matter. I know the difficulty. We may be told that, desirable as it is to deal with the matter, the Government have so full a programme of legislation that they cannot find time to bring in an amending Act. I am well aware there is a great deal of legislation that has been foreshadowed by the Government for next Session. The right hon. Gentleman himself will have the Factory Act. There is the Franchise Bill, which will probably also he with the right hon. Gentleman, and there is a Bill in connection with the Poor Law. All these are, no doubt, very desirable, but, desirable and important as that legislation may be, I do not think that he would receive the gratitude, certainly of his own supporters, in so large a measure by bringing in those Bills as he would by giving us back some of the liberties which were taken away from us during the War, and which we are still without at the present time.
I think if the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues could see their way to restore some of those liberties, and at the same time—though this has nothing to do with the right hon. Gentleman, and I say it only in passing—to reduce some of the burden of taxation, they would get a great deal more gratitude and kudos from their own supporters than from the Factory and Franchise Bills and even from the Poor Law Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I would remind hon. Members that we did have 8,000,000 supporters at the last election and that they do count for something. Eight million people must be considered, even though they go a different way from supporters of hon. Members on the Opposition Benches. I believe amongst that 8,000,000 there must be some factory workers, but I do not wish to be led away, and I would urge the right hon. Gentleman, however busy he is, and however heavy the burdens before him next Session, to find time for a Bill, and if possible on the lines of the Report. It will not take up much of the time of the House, because I do not think that, in the main, if it follows the recommendation of that Report, it will be a very controversial Measure. In the main it will be uncontroversial, and it will not take up a great deal of time on the Floor of the House even though upstairs in Committee it may take time in thrashing out details. I think it will be agreed that if the Report is followed it will not 2220 be a highly controversial question as far as the Floor of the House is concerned. I do urge the right hon. Gentleman to take such action that it will not be necessary for me to make my hardy annual appeal to him this time next year.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I admit that there are anomalies in connection with the way in which the hours of shops and the conditions of shop servants are controlled at the present time. No one can deny that, but I am very much concerned with the Amendment of the hon. Member, because I spent 11 years of my early life behind a counter, and if there is one thing that appeals to me it is the fact that since the passing of the Acts in question the conditions of shop assistants have been transposed from a condition of hell almost to a condition of heaven. I know one firm which is as big to-day as it was at the time I had personal experience of it, which owns large numbers of shops all over London, and where, considerably less than 20 years ago, every employé at each one of these shops, from the manager to the shop errand boy, worked and was upon his feet practically the whole time from 8 or at latest from 8.30 or 9 o'clock in the morning until 11.30 or 12 o'clock at night. They could not even go out for their meals. I worked under those conditions, and I know what it means. They had to have their meals placed on the counter. That was less than 20 years ago and what applied to those multiple shops in the partciular trade in which I was engaged applied practically to all shop assistants in London. To-day it is not the case. The shop assistant and the manager have comparatively decent conditions of work and reasonable hours, and some amount of leisure—a considerable amount, comparatively speaking—and they have the chance to develop themselves and enjoy life. That chance was not possible even with those who raised themselves in the course of time to the position of a manager of a shop.
I know the position is put up that this is a question of human liberty. Personally, I do not think, from my knowledge of people, that there is so much demand for the later opening of shops. I do not think it exists to any large extent. People are very adaptable to a more reasonable number of hours, which would give tolerable conditions of employment. 2221 It is frequently stated that it is not a question altogether of employers, and that there is the small shopkeeper who does not employ anyone at all, and that he, at least, ought to be allowed to carry on under conditions of perfect freedom as far as hours are concerned. That, evidently, is a position that is accepted by hon. Members opposite, but it cannot possibly be accepted by anyone who knows the effect of such a proposal upon conditions of shop life generally. It is not merely the position of small shopkeepers who do not employ assistants. It is the competitive character of what he does, and if he is allowed to remain open as long as possible, you cannot in fairness prevent any other firm, employing any number of assistants, from remaining open. I know, of course, it may be said that you can certainly prevent them from working their employés for longer than a reasonable number of hours, and that it can be left to shopowners and employers to do what they like in the interests of their trade.
I wish to put another point of view. I was a shop assistant myself for 11 years, and at the end of that time I became the owner of a retail business. That was during the period when there were no restrictions and when the hours worked were of an appalling character. Sometimes I kept my shop open until 12 o'clock at night, because I did not employ an assistant. At that time, I wished there had been a law that would have compelled me to close at a reasonable time, because some days I worked 17 hours.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I quite agree with that remark, and it was a shame. I am concerned about this matter, because I think we should have liberty all round. Until you can find some way of running retail businesses—you can carry them on all night if you like—without injuring anyone, I think we are bound to protest against any suggestion of repealing this kind of legislation. It is a remarkable fact that the more individual enterprise of any kind you have in industry the more you have to control industry, the more control on the part of Parliament is demanded and adopted because of the small competitive and individualistic character of certain types of businesses. The bigger the business becomes, the less necessity is there for legislation. If you 2222 had a co-operative movement or a big business upon public lines, as a rule, it would not be necessary to adopt these restrictions. With regard to the question of liberty for these small shopkeepers, if it can be given to them without enslaving large sections of the population, then I have no objection. I must say, however, that I cannot see how you can do it now, and I am sure your object would not be carried out by the proposal which we are now considering. I hope the Committee will not accept the Amendment, and I trust that this Measure will remain on the Statute Book, because I am sure that the condition of the shop assistant and employés generally has been vastly improved by it, and I want that improvement to continue.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
The hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) has just given us a record of his own experiences as a shopkeeper, but he has no solid ground of complaint, as he has reached the distinction of being a Member of this House. I desire to point out that the moment you come to a man employing another man, then the man who is employed does not enjoy the full liberty because he is subject to the command of his employer, and in such a case the State has a right to step in and make restrictions. That principle ought to be the foundation of the Shop Hours Act. I am entirely in accord with what has been said by the hon. Member for West Islington to the effect that prior to the passing of the Shop Hours Act of 1920 shop assistants were working ridiculously long hours, and I should be the very last to do anything in the direction of restoring those long hours. The case is different when you come to the individual shopkeeper who is working in his own business, and as long as you maintain these restrictions under the Shop Hours Act I contend that they ought not to apply to the individual man who is working in his own business.
What about the cost of living and the retailers' excessive profits which arise out the monopoly which has grown up under the Shop Hours Act? How are you going to cut down the cost of living 2223 unless you allow the small shopkeeper to have conditions under which he can thrive and retain his liberty? The small shopkeeper at present runs the danger of being cut down altogether by the multiple shopkeepers. With regard to the long hours referred to by the hon. Member for West Islington, I am afraid you could not get shop assistants at the present time to work 15 or 16 hours even if the law permitted them to do so. What becomes of them all when they grow too old to work? The hon. Member for West Islington is too old now to get a job as a shop assistant because it is mostly young men who are now employed as shop assistants. They ought naturally to start as small shopkeepers and work for themselves. My contention is that if you give the single shopkeepers who are working their own businesses full liberty in regard to their hours of work and free them from all restrictions, they will be able to make progress against the monopolists, and in time carry on a small business on their own account. This policy would undoubtedly reduce the cost of living. These small shopkeepers are content with a very humble scale of living. They are like a smallholder who lives near a big farm and who, as a rule, is the best agricultural worker the big farmer ever has. I want to see innumerable small shopkeepers established in this country because they are all individualists and free men. I know that they will not subscribe to a trade union, but we have to consider the habits and the convenience of people who wish to make purchases after they have finished their day's work. What about the young girl in lodgings engaged in business all day and kept late in the office and is not able to make her ordinary purchases after business hours? What about the man who comes home late from work and has to make his purchases and finds that all the shops are shut up? In these large multiple shops you have a lot of assistants who are highly paid—and I like to see them highly paid—but when the humble working man's wife comes in to make her purchases she is forced into buying something that she did not really want, whereas, if there were a little shop kept by an individual shopkeeper in a back street, who is really the storekeeper for the neighbouring 2224 small houses, people could get into the shop at any reasonable hour and make their purchases with a very moderate profit to the tradesman. A number of ex-service men have started tobacconists' shops, but at present they have not a dog's chance against the big combine, which can immediately dump down a shop beside them, staffed by girls at comparatively small wages. They could not get a girl to stay till 11 o'clock at night, although there is no objection on the part of the individual man to staying late.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
They will be in their beds at that time if their mother knows her job. It is all very well to say it is irksome to stand behind another man's counter, but, when you are standing behind your own counter, it is a refreshment to be there, and every customer who comes in is your friend. It fulfils the saying in the old Book:Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.That is the feeling of the man who is working for himself behind his own counter. The Shops Act, however, applies to the hireling, and it is the hireling who earnestly desires the shadow—he wants to get off. One cannot blame him for that; he is not working in his own business.
There is another point, and that is that a man engaged in his ordinary vocation during the day might only open his shop at eight o'clock in the evening, when other shops were closed. That would be of immense benefit, and an enterprising man might not only work at his ordinary wage-earning business, but might use the savings from his wages to start in business on his own account, and might have some of his family to help him. Why should he not do that? Why should you restrict a free man in a free country like this by the use of a War Measure to prevent people from rising in the world and bettering their position. There are some people in this world, though the Labour party may not believe it, who like work. I know perfectly well that my hon. Friends opposite do not understand it, but there are some people who are prepared to work hard in order to see if they cannot rise in the world.
2225 My hon. friends opposite, however, want to restrict them. I believe in giving the individual man the chance to rise in life. Restrict the shop assistants' hours as much as you like; I believe that a great many shops are open far too long, and I would like to see an eight-hour day for all shop assistants. When an individual man, however, is in his own shop, he is probably in the place where, again to quote the old Book, his treasure is; and, where his treasure it, there will his heart be also. If a shopkeeper desires to prosper and make good for himself, why should he not be given the opportunity of doing so? Let the shop assistants have as short hours as you like, but restore to the individual man the chance of thriving in the world and of exercising the liberty that is the right of every free citizen. How absurd it would be if a farmer were to say to a market gardener—perhaps the hardest worked man there is—"My ploughman stops work at five o'clock, and so must you." Could any market gardener or smallholder thrive under those conditions? None of them could. The whole thing is a perverted idea of the meaning of liberty, and those gentlemen who oppose this Amendment are merely acting as the handmaids of monopoly; they are backing up the big monopolists, trying to divert the retail trade into a few monopolistic hands, and doing their best to prevent individualists from getting on. These small shopkeepers should have the chance of exercising their liberty, because the more individualist citizens there are who are working on their own account, and the fewer men there are in the employ of masters, the better for the health of the State. It may be worse for the trade union movement, but it will be better for the health of the community.
§ Mr. JAMES STEWART
I agree with the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Sir F. Meyer) in hoping that the results of the work of the Committee on which he and I served will be translated into an Act of Parliament at an early date. At the same time, however, I do not agree with the statements which he made, or which I understood him to make, regarding the evidence that was given before the Committee. If I understood him aright, he seemed to indicate that a strong feeling was expressed by various witnesses that this Act ought meantime to be swept 2226 off the Statute Book, because, for some reason or other, it was doing harm to various interests, including the interests of the shopkeepers and the interests of some communities in the country.
§ Sir F. MEYER
If I might interrupt the hon. Member, I certainly did not mean to indicate that. I said that there was widespread evidence that there were cases of evasion and attempts to bring the law into contempt, but I did not say that there was widespread evidence of injury.
§ Mr. STEWART
I am sorry if I have in any way misrepresented the hon. Member, and I express my regret for so doing. I do not, however, agree with him that there were many cases of evasion. Undoubtedly, some witnesses did state that there were evasions of the Act, and undoubtedly anyone who heard the evidence would agree that those evasions did cause some trouble in some localities throughout the country; but they were not of very great moment, and, if the Act of 1920 were to be repealed, I think that the outcry in the country would far transcend any feeling that there is in regard to evasions of the Act.
The hon. Member made a point with regard to Wembley and Ascot. The point in regard to Wembley was that when the great exhibition was held there, the people in the district evaded the Act, and the local authority countenanced that evasion by practically allowing the Act to be suspended. That may have been quite true, but I think it will be generally agreed that to make a particular case like that of Wembley a reason for the abolition of this Act, is rather a farfetched excuse for completely doing away with the Act as it now stands. With regard to Ascot, I may point out that that occurs for only two or three days during the year, and there, again, the evidence showed that it was merely a local condition, so that that, again, does not seem to be any reason why this Act should be done away with. I do not find in any of the hon. Member's statements any real reason for doing away with the Act before the passing of the other Act which we hope to see come into existence. As he himself said, he appears to be just making his annual complaint with regard to the conditions that prevail in certain circumstances.
2227 I do not think I should be allowed, nor do I desire, to bring into the discussion this evening the differences of opinion that may have existed among the Members of the Committee with regard to certain particular industries. The hon. and learned Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) has, I am glad to say, had no actual experience of shopkeeping. Fortunate man that he is, he knows nothing about it. I can speak as one who does know something about it. I stand here to-night as a representative of that big, strong, sturdy race of Scots as the product of a shop assistant. As a boy I stood on a stool, leaving school in the afternoon, carrying my father's tea or dinner to his shop, then standing on the box to lather the men in the dirty, dingy little shop with the result that my health has never been what it ought to have been. I am the product of that shop. If the hon. and learned Gentleman had had to go through that he might have looked at it in the same way that I look at it myself. This condition of life that the hon. and learned Gentleman pleads for would bring back what every shopkeeper I know of who has gone through the mill, whether he is now an employer or an assistant, deplores and more than deplores, fears and hates the possibility of it ever coming back again. Fancy standing from seven in the morning till nine at night with one hour off for a meal, never an afternoon or an evening off to go anywhere for the purpose of recreation intellectual or otherwise. That was the condition of the shopkeeper until quite recently and if you take away this Act in the name of restoring liberty to the individual shopkeeper, while you may give satisfaction to a very few foolish individuals whose desire to work and slave in the shop transcends their desire to help on in the uplift of this nation, it will not give satisfaction to the mass of shopkeepers.
We have had evidence again and again from individual shopkeepers. They expressed to us, in language that I cannot use, their abhorrence and their fear of returning back to those old days. It has not produced, as the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested it would, profits for those people. He knows as well as I do that the multiple shop started long before there was any question of a Shop Hours Act, even in 1912. 2228 In the City that he and I have both been connected with there were multiple shops long before the passing of the first Early Closing Act, and to say that if a small man was allowed to keep open the consumer would get the advantage of lower prices and the shopkeeper would get a higher standard of living is contrary to all the evidence and all the knowledge that has been acquired in the course of the year. There was no complaint in the evidence that we got from the general public. The hon. and learned Gentleman himself was one of two witnesses who came along especially to represent the public, and what he has stated here today is the tenour of the evidence that he gave us. From the length and breadth of the country shopkeepers of all descriptions, Chambers of Commerce, industry of all kinds, representing the small shopkeeper as well as the large, in the interests of themselves, in the interest of the people who work in them, were united in asking that the law as it at present stands should be continued, that if it was to be amended it should be in the way of strengthening the Act, and, where evasion takes place, machinery should be found whereby it should be properly dealt with. Here the Home Secretary might play some part, for I can say with some knowledge that the people in my own city who are mainly responsible for the breaking of the law belong to a foreign country, and if they were dealt with in the way he has spoken about to-night, and perhaps one or two of them were made an example of, it might help towards the law being more generally kept than it is at the moment. I hope in the near future, despite the tremendous work that faces the Government in the ensuing Session, there will be an opportunity of passing this Act which every Member of the Committee desires to see passed in the interest of the well-being of the children, of the women, of the men, both employers and workers, and that it will help to make this country a healthier people, a more intelligent people and ultimately a wealthier people in everything that counts as real wealth.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I am sure the hon. Member who moved the Amendment knows it is one that the Government cannot possibly accept. It would 2229 mean repealing the whole Act and leaving people open after 31st December to work as many hours as they liked. The Government have no intention of doing anything of the kind. There were certain difficulties arising with regard to which the hon. Member and others pressed me very much about a year ago, because they said these were the result of D.O.R.A. and I was responsible for D.O.R.A. In the first place, I am not responsible for D.O.R.A. She is no connection of mine at all. She is a remnant of the old Coalition Government, which I very rarely supported and generally opposed. Even my friend Mr. Punch seems to think I am responsible for D.O.R.A. I am not, and I wish to make that clear at once. But, as the Minister responsible for the administration of the Shops Acts, I appointed a Committee representative of all parties in the House, including the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, and they devoted a great deal of time and care to an examination of the whole question. They sent in their Report on Friday last, and I confess that I read it on Sunday afternoon. The better the day the better the deed. I have authorised the printing of the Report, and I hope the House will have it, if not this week, at any rate early next week.
It is a very valuable Report indeed, dealing with the whole subject of the continuation of the Shop Hours Act and the question raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Argyllshire (Mr. Macquisten) and other matters which I need not specify. It is quite impossible for me to make any statement about it. It would be improper for me to do so until the House has seen the Report. The opinions of the House can be expressed when it is published, and I shall be glad to hear and consider those opinions. It will then be my duty to submit recommendations to the Cabinet, and, if time permits, I shall hope to bring in a Bill next year dealing with the whole matter and making a permanent addition to the Statute Book. It will be impossible, and the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Sir F. Meyer) would not wish to abolish the Act altogether within the next half-hour, and under the circumstances I ask him to accept the statement that the Cabinet will very carefully examine the Report, and to withdraw his Amendment. I 2230 should like publicly to thank all those Members of the House and the others who sat on the Committee for the very great care which they have bestowed on the question and the great value of the Report which they have presented to us.
§ Sir F. MEYER
I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment. The Committee will agree, I think, that the time spent in this Debate has not been wasted, because of the pleasure of listening to the short statement which the Home Secretary has made.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
I beg to move, in page 5, to leave out lines 39 to 43, inclusive.
I hope that this Amendment will be accepted and that the Committee will withdraw Section 2 of the Act relating to the employment of women and children. I have read the Act relating to the employment of women, and this, like many other things, is a remnant from War time. I remember very vividly the manner in which women and children were employed during the War, and I regret that method has not been entirely abolished, especially in the factories. It is a curious thing that Section 1 of the Act ratifies the Washington Convention with regard to the employment of women and young persons, and any employer who employs them is liable to a fine of £20. But Section 2, which we are trying to remove, absolutely destroys the value of Section 1 by putting into the Minister's hand the power to alter, if a general application is made by employed and employers. I know that the method for granting employers' permission to work women and young persons between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. is a very loose one. As a matter of fact, it is too loose for some of us, and we want to put the thing on a proper basis.
A case in my own Division of Shipley in the textile trade can be quoted. In spite of the fact that there are thousands of people unemployed in the district, the employer called the workpeople together, even those under 16, and stated the position to them and got them to take a vote. The overlookers went round with a sheet of paper and got them to sign individually a declaration which was sent to the Home Secretary. I want to suggest that this is not the proper method. It is a very important matter to allow boys and girls, young women and children, to work 2231 between the hours of 6 and 10, and I want to ask the Home Secretary how the permission was asked, because the provisions of Section 2 say that it can be done only on the joint application of employers and workpeople. I want to ask the Home Secretary whether in recent cases where permission has been given the application has been made by the employers alone on behalf of the employés and young people or by the employers on their own account. I feel that where there is a trade union concerned they can deal with the workpeople. At all events, if there is going to be an application, it ought to be between the representatives of the employers and workpeople. It is easy for the employer or his firm to take persons individually and get them to agree to anything which they want.
In this particular case which I have mentioned, not only are there organisations of employers but the workpeople have their trade unions, and there is also an Industrial Council which is supposed to represent the views of all the workpeople and all the employers in the industry. The Industrial Council were against the Order being made. When the Order was made, they asked the employers to cease operating it. The employers refused. The Industrial Council passed a resolution asking the employers affiliated to the Employers' Association and the Industrial Council to cease operating the Order. As a matter of fact, the Order only ceased to operate about a fortnight ago.
Section 2 also says that the Minister may make orders for welfare. I should-like to ask the Minister—I am asking these questions simply because I am sincerely interested in the young men and women and not merely for the purposes of debate—what provisions are being made for welfare in these cases. Have any orders for welfare been made? In the textile industry, which I know, there is one factory in the West Riding of Yorkshire that has no provision for any decent welfare for the workpeople. I should like to quote something which happened during the War. The Home Office wanted people employed during the night. The trade unions stopped it, but eventually they got women on the night shift on condition that the employers provided welfare. The employers erected some 2232 kind of device for cooking meals, and the women were fairly well cared for, but as soon as the War was over and the women were taken off the night work the place was pulled down and no provision was left for the meals of the men and women. When an employer makes an application for any persons to be allowed to work on the two shift system, the Home Secretary ought to satisfy himself that adequate provision is made for the preparation and taking of food under good supervision. In parenthesis, I suggest that when the Home Secretary introduces his Factories Bill he ought to make a peregrination through the textile industry to see how the workers take their meals. I have seen them sitting on bales of wool or on a wall. In the particular place that I am quoting the firm comb anthrax infected wool. It may be of interest to the Home Secretary to know how the firm runs its business. The anthrax order says that Persian locks must not be opened and dealt with unless the wool is first steeped in water, on account of the possibility of the dust carrying anthrax.
§ The CHAIRMAN
This Section refers to the employment of women and young people, and not to general conditions.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
In the particular firm to which I am referring, women and young children are working upon these particular goods at night, and I am trying to show that this particular firm is so careless that it is not only bad from the moral and health point of view of these young people and women working at night, but that the firm has absolutely and deliberately disregarded the Home Office with regard to the Order. The Order says that this particular kind of material should be steeped in water to prevent the dust carrying anthrax. I have induced a man to make a statement before the factory inspector for the district, that out of a 200 bale lot the first bale was put into water and left there until the end. I asked him why that was done, and he replied: "In case the factory inspector came." Worse still, Section 2 allows the Minister to make an Order permitting the employment not only of women and young persons above the age of 16, but also the employment of children under the age of 16. That is a disgraceful thing. Section 2 (4) reads: 2233Notwithstanding anything in this section, an order under this section may permit the employment in any factory or workshop in such shifts as aforesaid of young persons under the age of sixteen years who are at the commencement of this Act so employed in that factory or workshop.In regard to the particular firm to which I have referred, I do not wish to mention it by name, several complaints were brought to the trade union official, who went down between the hours of 5 a.m. and 6 a.m., and between 10 p.m. and 12 p.m. and found that there were young persons, children just over 16 years of age, who had to have a three or four mile walk—there are no omnibuses at that time—in order to get to their work. When they had finished their work at 10 o'clock they had to undertake a three or four mile walk, and it is not nice at that time, to get home. Some of them had to be up at 4 o'clock in the morning in order to be at their work by 6 o'clock, and some of them did not arrive home until nearly midnight.
I know that the Home Secretary—I am not throwing bouquets merely for the sake of throwing them—would not like this kind of thing to be general. It is a bad thing and it is a bad principle, and I would like the right hon. Gentleman to investigate the matter. I can bring abundant evidence that I have not made a statement which is incorrect. The Home Secretary might at least insist on the applications being made by the Joint Industrial Council. That is a fair proposition to put to him. It is a reasonable application to make, because the employers are organised in their own organisation and the workpeople are organised in their organisation, and both employers and workpeople are in a first-rate industrial council, which, so far, has warded off trouble in the particular industry to which I am referring.
I hope that the Home Secretary, if he will not withdraw this Section, will at least carefully scrutinise any application made, and that he will ask: Is it made by the employers' organisation and the workpeople's organisation, or is it made simply by an employer. How was the permission or the agreement of the employés secured? Was it secured in such a way that the employés had perfect liberty of expressing their position, or 2234 was the permission gained individually from the employés, where they were under the possibility of being managed by the overlookers, as in this particular case. This kind of legislation is too casual for so important a matter. The Home Secretary cannot personally inquire into these cases. I have in mind something which happened in 1921, when one of the largest employers of women and young persons, probably the largest in the country, got his foreman and manager to go round his workpeople individually, obtained consent, and then did not wait for the Order to be made but applied it before even an application was made. I do not think the Order was ever made; but this man was not prosecuted. I would not like a daughter of mine between the ages of 16 and 21, to have to get up at four o'clock in the morning in order to get to work at six o'clock. To be quite fair to the Home Secretary I do not think any Order has been made in regard to the employment of young persons under the age of 16 years, but certainly an Order has been made in regard to young persons above that age, and is now being operated.
I urge the Home Secretary to withdraw the provision. This is a War time Measure. It is not as if there were not sufficient employés to carry on the work. In this particular industry young persons from 16 to 18 years of age were worked 24 hours a day in shifts, but modern ideas have altered this entirely and now they employ men on the night turn to do work which was formerly done by children. I suggest to the Home Secretary that any such provision as this should be given where there are no unemployed in the district. It must be lucrative employment if it is necessary to work in two shifts, and if it is necessary to work hours like this, which necessitate very awkward arrangements for the mother at home, who has to look after their food, at least it ought not to be allowed as long as there are unemployed people able to take on this work. In the West Riding there are young women and girls crying out for work, yet at this place they are being worked from six in the morning until 10 o'clock at night. I ask him to withdraw the Measure and include provisions in his Factory Bill which will provide careful safeguards and a little 2235 more supervision over the conditions under which these young people and young women are allowed to work.
§ Mr. ROBERT WILSON
I make no apology for taking part in this discussion. I am interested in the question of the employment and welfare of women and children. The Home Secretary in reply to the discussion on the last question, said that he was not responsible for the origin of D.O.R.A., but may I remind him that he is responsible for the continuance of some parts of D.O.R.A. Therefore, I appeal to him confidentially, knowing his good nature, to give due consideration to the arguments that have been used by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Mackinder). We are justly proud of the legislation that we have in connection with the employment of women, young people and children. D.O.R.A. for the time being set aside much of that legislation, and the fact that the emergency has now passed is one of the main reasons why this part of the Act should be repealed. Whilst we are proud of the old Act, we still think that there is a great need for co-ordination and room for very much improvement in certain directions. It would have been impossible to have employed children and young people from 14 to 18 years of age from anything like six o'clock in the morning to two o'clock in the afternoon in one shift, and from two o'clock in the afternoon to 10 at night in another shift, except in some particular cases. As a matter of fact there are to-day very few workmen who work from six o'clock in the morning or continue at work as late as 10 o'clock at night. It is, therefore, anomalous that young people should have to endure these regulations when they are absolutely obsolete. If the Home Secretary cannot delete this part of the Schedule, I would like to knew why he proposes to continue the existence of these regulations.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I had better answer the points that have arisen. I have listened with a great deal of interest to the statement of the last speaker, but not with so much interest to the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Mackinder), who made an attack on the Home Office in this matter and put forward lots of cases, anonymous cases, with regard to not one of which—
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
That is what I was going to say. If the hon. Member had given me notice of the places where this state of things has occurred, I have such persons as factory inspectors at my disposal, and I am not unwilling to see that the law is carried out, and I would at once have sent down to investigate the cases.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
I did not make anonymous charges for the sake of being anonymous. I made the charges in the way I did in order to keep out the personal element. I can give the right hon. Gentleman plenty of detail, and I can assure him that none of the cases I have quoted is false.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I can only say that at present I am not prepared to accept the accuracy of the hon. Member's statement.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I make the statement quite frankly. The hon. Member knew that this Debate was coming on, and he knew that it was my duty to defend these proposals. He knew that if he sent any of these statements to me they would be inquired into and I would deal with them on the Floor of the House. The hon. Member did not take the elementary precaution of sending to the Minister in charge of the Bill and telling him, as is always done in this House, of any particular cases which he intended to quote. He comes here and fires off cases anonymously. How can I answer in such circumstances?
§ Mr. MACKINDER
Will the right hon. Gentleman pardon me; when he made these Orders he knew that there were trade unions concerned. Did he consult the trade unions before making these Orders? I want the right hon. Gentleman to remember that these girls are our girls. DM he consult with the trade union when he made an Order which allowed a girl to work until 10 o'clock at night?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I say at once that I have not consulted the hon. Member nor his trade union, and I do not intend to do so.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
We have nothing to do with the accredited representatives of whom the hon. Member tells us. His idea is to make work in this country difficult; our idea is to make it easy.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I have case after case which I am prepared to give to the House—and to give names—where applications have been made to the Home Office, and every single application has been most carefully investigated before it has been granted. I have sent my factory inspectors down to the factory, they have seen the workpeople, and it is on the invitation of the workpeople that Orders have been made. In every single case the welfare of the people concerned has been taken into consideration and Welfare Orders have been made so that the interests of the workpeople may be protected. The hon. Member comes here and tells me about people walking, I do not know how many miles, to do this work, but I can say this—that in cases which are within my cognisance arrangements have been made by the inspectors for lines of omnibuses to run in order that young people may be brought to their work and taken home easily and comfortably. There is no doubt whatever about that. The whole truth is that a certain number of Gentlemen on the other side object altogether to any mill working more than eight hours a day.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
But the hon. Member is not doing himself justice. Where these two shifts are being worked, there are two sets of workpeople. It is not the case that one workman or workwoman is working 16 hours a day. There are two women or two men each working eight hours a day.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
If it is night work, it should be done by men and not by women and girls. You would not allow your daughter to work until 10 o'clock at night.
Sir W. JOYNSON-HICK
The hon. Member for Shipley made his speech as if these young people were working 16 hours a day and thereby preventing other people from working. The very essence of the system of two shifts is that two sets of people are employed in the one mill, and I see no harm whatever in that under proper restriction. Further, I can tell the House definitely and frankly that there has been no complaint even from the local trade unions. There have been 680 cases where Orders have been granted since the Act was enacted, and every one of these has been carefully investigated. I challenge the hon. Member to send me any evidence that the local trade union branch, of which these workpeople are members, have sent any complaint to the Home Office regarding the working of any Order which I have made. He wants to foment trouble among the workpeople. He may come to the House of Commons and make these statements, but he does not represent the local people. I challenge him here.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The hon. Member has come here and made certain statements about anonymous cases. There is such a thing as the penny post, and I challenge him to send me information where these Orders have been resented by the local branch of the trade union and where the local branch has asked me to waive them. In case after case where these Orders have been made, they have been worked to the satisfaction of the workpeople themselves. There has been no complaint from the workpeople or from the local branch of the trade union; and, moreover, it has had this 2239 good effect, that it has enabled the employer, by means of working two shifts instead of one, to carry through the work without employing people on overtime.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
The Woven Allied Textile Industrial Council, at a meeting of employers and workpeople, passed a resolution instructing their secretary to ask this factory to cease working the two shift system. Is that evidence that it is not wanted?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
It is not any evidence at all that the people who are working do not want it, and that is the real case. The case that I have to meet here, and the case by which I intend to stand, is that the workpeople themselves are satisfied with the system.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The hon. Member has no right to make such an unfair and untrue statement in this House. That is the kind of thing which may do for a public meeting outside, but it does not do for the British House of Commons.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Another hon. Member who spoke asked me to reconsider the matter and deal with it when the Factories Bill comes in. I have considered it very carefully, and I suppose there is already embodied in the draft of the new Factories Bill a Clause dealing with this matter. Then it can be discussed in this House of Commons, and then, if the hon. Member likes, he can come here again, and I have no doubt that, when he has considered the matter more carefully, he will adopt the usual practice and send me the details beforehand, so that I can make full inquiries as to his allegations in regard to any individual mills or in regard to any Orders that have been made. All that I can say to the Committee, quite definitely, is that no Order is made without careful consideration and without a full inquiry by the factory inspector, and no Order is made until full welfare conditions are laid down and until conditions in regard to the transport of the workers have been fully secured.
2240 Unless any hon. Member can refute those statements, I say that I am bound to carry on a practice which has been found to be of very great advantage in many factories throughout this country, which has enabled overtime to be dispensed with, and which has enabled contracts to be secured and carried out for the benefit both of the employer and of the employed; and under the strict Regulations under which these Orders are made, I am convinced that they are desirable, not merely in the interests of the employer, but in the interests of the work-people themselves. Under these circumstances, unless the hon. Member, or any hon. Member, is prepared to give me far better information than that contained in his speech to-night, I shall ask the Committee to continue the operation of this Bill for another year.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
I think the Home Secretary has made his position perfectly clear. We know exactly where he stands. He is not going to consult the trade unions. Why should he? We take him at his own valuation, and we know exactly what to expect from him. May I put my point of view to him? I come from a county where women and young girls and young persons work, and I say that in my opinion no civilised nation will allow its girls and women to get up at half-past five on a winter's morning to go to work.
§ Mr. SHAW
If the hon. Member herself wants working girls to go to the mills at half-past five in the morning, she is not in favour of a civilised nation. Is the Home Secretary aware of what this means? If he will pardon me for saying so, I doubt it. I have done it. I made my mind up that my children would never do it, and I do not want anybody else's children to do it; and because I have done it myself and know what it is, and because I do not want anybody else to do it, I am against this Section in the Act. It would be a different thing if these girls began at seven o'clock, but the proposition is that either they can begin at an hour in the morning when nobody should begin work, or that they can work to an hour when nobody ought to be expected to work.
§ Mr. SHAW
The Home Secretary can shake his, heard as much as he likes, but that is the opinion of one who has tried the system. I am speaking as a textile worker knowing the opinions of the organised textile workers of Lancashire, and I can promise the right hon. Gentleman that if he tries the system in Lancashire he will certainly get the most determined opposition. If industry cannot be efficiently worked without dragging people out of bed at five o'clock in the morning, and if it cannot be efficiently worked without keeping them at work until ten o'clock at night, it is up to those who practice it to set their house in order. There is no reason why, with the present capacity for production, there should be any necessity for these hours. We can produce wealth in abundance. There are millions of capital lying idle, and probably a million and a half work-people unemployed, and yet you are talking about working 16 hours a day.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The right hon. Gentleman must not say that. I am talking about people working eight hours a day.
§ Mr. SHAW
Here is the Section:The Secretary of State may, on the joint application of the employer or employers of any factory or workshop or group of factories or workshops, and the majority of the workpeople concerned in such factory or workshop or group of factories or workshops, subject to the provisions of this Section, make orders authorising the employment of women and young persons of the age of sixteen years and upwards in any factory or workshop or group of factories or workshops at any time between the hours of six in the morning and ten in the evening.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman who is speaking on behalf of the girls if he, or any members of the trade unions, thought of the girls who walked to business and got up at half-past four in the morning during the General Strike, for which his friends were responsible?
May I tell the right hon. Gentleman that I met some of those girls who were willing to get up in order to carry on, and to help the small shopkeepers to carry on.,
§ Mr. SHAW
The fact that the girls were willing only shows to what a depth the country has sunk. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh of they like, but I am saying what I think about a country which wants its women to begin work at six o'clock in the morning. I consider it is uncivilised. I consider a country which wants its girls to work till 10 o'clock at night is an uncivilised country—when there is no need for it. There are millions of capital lying idle in this country to-day, and there are 1,150,000 unemployed people on the live registers of the Employment Exchanges. Why try to introduce a system of working concerns 16 hours a day in this condition of affairs? There is no earthly necessity for it. If there were a reason for it I could understand it; but what takes place is this. One employer tries to get an advantage over his brother employers by obtaining an order from the Home Secretary to run for 16 hours a day. If he gets the order it at once puts him in a competitive position which is far superior to that of his brother employers who do not want to work their firms 16 hours a day, but owing to the fact that they have to compete with the man who breaks through the custom of the trade they have to try to do the same as he does. I shall certainly vote against this power being given to the Home Secre- 2243 tary, and for the reasons I have stated— though not as strongly as I would have liked to have stated them. It seems to me the height of folly, in the position of a country like ours, to want to run concerns and to want to force people through the streets of our manufacturing towns at 5 o'clock in the morning. I did it, and, my God, I would like to make the men who vote in favour of it do it themselves. About 12 months of the medicine would cure a lot of them. Just about 12 months of getting up at half-past-five on a winter's morning, with the clothing of a working man, and going into our factories, would cure them for ever of the desire to see factories working at this time in the morning with women and girls. I could understand it better if it were a desire for men to work at that hour, but to try to force children-almost-and women into the factories at that time in the morning, and so late at night, seems to me so far beyond any idea of decency and humanity that I cannot understand the position of a Government which supports a Clause of this kind.
§ Mr. DUFF COOPER
The speech of the right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) has been very misleading. In the few moments during which I shall detain the Committee I shall try to correct some of the misstatements, though perhaps not intentional misstatements, which he has made in that speech. Anybody listening to him, but not understanding the industrial system in this country, would have thought that there were people in this country working for 16 hours a day. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] When he was asked to withdraw the statement, he persisted in maintaining it.
§ Mr. COOPER
I did not understand that the right hon. Gentleman wished to show kindness to machinery. I did not think that was the point which he wished to make. If he were saying that the machinery was overworked, or that the firms, or the heads of the firms were putting an undue burden upon themselves in working 16 hours, I do not think that is the point of the appeal 2244 which he made. The impression that he conveyed was that people were working for 16 hours a day. If they were, there would be universal condemnation of it. The other point which the right hon. Gentleman made was that it was a monstrous thing that people should get up to work at an early hour. Frankly, there are a great many people on this side who sympathise deeply with those in industry to-day and who are looking forward to the Factories Bill which the right hon. Gentleman is going to bring in next Session, which I was glad to hear him refer to in his speech when he addressed the Committee a few moments ago, and which is going to do much to alleviate the hardships which factory workers are suffering at the present time. But those of us on this side who have sympathy with that side of the case, do not feel that it is a tremendous hardship to begin work at a particular hour if you are going to leave off after eight hours. We do not feel in this climate that it is a very much greater hardship to get up at five o'clock than at 11, because it is only by referring to a watch that you can find out what time of day it is.
The right hon. Gentleman suggested that it would do some of us good to get up for a few weeks at five o'clock. There are some of us who would like to remind him that for more than four years there were many people who worked—[HON. MEMBERS:" There were just as many on this side!"] Very likely. [An HON. MEMBER:" Why make that gibe?"] I have no intention of making any gibe at all. It was on every side—[Interruption.] There were many who got up at five o'clock and long before five o'clock, and who were not certain of ending their day's work after eight hours. So far as any gibe was made, it was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston at this side when he suggested that there were Members here who had never done a full day's work. I for one, and a great many others—and this is something which is not a thing for boasting about as a rule, because for a time I was an embusque safely working in London—but during the first six months my work began at midnight and went on until eight o'clock in the morning, and I did not think that any particular hardship. I did not think that if one worked for eight hours a day it 2245 was a tremendous hardship if they worked from 12 o'clock at night until eight in the morning.
I think the right hon. Gentleman is really doing harm to the cause which he and I and many people have at heart, namely, that of the factory worker, when he gives out that it is a tremendous hardship to begin work very early in the morning. The Emperor Napoleon used to begin work much earlier in the morning than any factory worker, and he did it because he preferred to begin early. Many Members of the House who have won great distinction habitually began work at an earlier hour than the factory worker begins. The length of the day is the thing that matters and not the time at which you begin, and when we start to make appeals to sentimentality on account of the earliness of the hour at which work begins, we are apt to lose the support of those people who really sincerely feel for the hardship which is being undergone by people by long hours and hard and prolonged and ill-remunerated labour.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I should like to ask the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Duff Cooper) if he would tell the Committee what his age was when he did the night work to which he has referred. Perhaps he will tell the Committee if that six months was the only period he ever worked on a, night shift. What the hon. Member for Oldham knows about industial conditions we can afford to forget and still be no worse off. I would like to inform the Committee that at one time I worked on a night shift commencing at 10 p.m. until six o'clock the following morning, and I followed that occupation for a few years. I was then only 11 years and two weeks old. Consequently I have an intimate knowledge of the best and the worst part of the day for working, and a much more intimate knowledge than the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham. I want to ask the Home Secretary if he will reply to the two specific questions put to him by the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Mackinder). The first question was whether in granting any of these orders the right hon. Gentleman made sure that a majority of the workmen employed by a firm or a number of firms had expressed a desire that that order should be established, and if so, will the 2246 Home Secretary tell us what steps were taken to ascertain whether a majority of the workmen had expressed a desire for that order or not. The right hon. Gentleman told us that he would never consult a trade union.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I did not say that I would never consult a trade union. What I said was that I would never allow the main trade union to act against the wishes of the individual workman who desired to take this work; and it is the individual workers in the individual factories whom by law I am bound to consult. That I did, and I do consult them.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am sorry that I misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman. Am I right in stating that the Home Secretary said that he was not called upon to consult a trade union, and that he should only consult the work-people? Assuming that the right hon. Gentleman consulted the workpeople, a majority of whom had expressed an opinion in favour of the Order, by what means did the right hon. Gentleman ascertain that the majority of the work-people were in favour of the Order? When the Home Secretary was replying to the hon. Member for Shipley, all he said was that his Department carried out the provisions of this Clause by sending inspectors to see that the workpeople were not hostile to the Order. If that is so surely the Home Secretary ought to be in a position, without requiring any definite specific notice being given that the question was going to be raised, to tell us how his Department ascertained that a majority of the workpeople were in favour of an Order of this description. I suggest that no matter how hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite deliberately attempt to misrepresent an expression used by my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston, those of us who have endured the night shift and the early day shift know something about working hours and about getting out of bed morning after morning not later than 4 a.m. We also know that if machinery is working for 16 hours two sets of workpeople have to be out very early in the morning, and some of them have to remain at work very late at night.
The suggestion from this side is that these Orders have been issued in a very 2247 doubtful manner, and we doubt whether the majority of the work-people have been favourable to the passing of these Orders. It is because we know what workmen, workwomen and workgirls think about the time that they prefer to go to work that we express these doubts, and all that we ask of the right hon. Gentleman—and it is a fair and legitimate request—is that he should tell us exactly how he ascertains when a majority of girls or young women approve of the ratification of an Order of that description, which compels them to leave their beds too early, as we think, or, alternatively, to remain at work too late. The right hon. Gentleman said that, if my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley could provide any sort of manifestation on the part of the workpeople which indicated that they were hostile to the continuance of these Orders, he would not hesitate to investigate the case. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Industrial Council dealing with the wages and conditions of employment in this particular class of work have passed a resolution, almost unanimously, asking for the repeal of all the Orders that have been issued, and, if he is not aware of it, what have his inspectors been doing? We want to suggest to him from this side—[Interruption.] I think I shall be expressing the sense of the Committee if I extend our good wishes and congratulations to the hon. and learned Member for South Shields (Mr. Harney), who, I see, has just arrived. I am in no doubt as to what will be the hon. and learned Member's attitude if he speaks on this subject.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman, in conclusion, if, where an Order has been established affecting one employer, and the Industrial Council, acting on behalf of employers and employés in the trade, have passed a resolution asking for the repeal of the Order, he will take steps to see that the Order in that case is repealed? Undoubtedly, that would be an expression representing the feelings of the employés, and it at least justifies us on this side in expressing our doubts about the majority of the workpeople having expressed a willingness that this double-shift system should be instituted: and, until the right hon. 2248 Gentleman responds to the request of the Industrial Council—a peace council, I may observe—we shall be justified in our doubts as to the wisdom of allowing the Department to have the power to make Orders of this description.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The procedure in these cases is that, when it is desired that a factory should work on two shifts, an application is made in writing to the Home Secretary, signed by the employers and by a majority of the workpeople. That application in writing comes to me, and I send down one of the factory inspectors in order that he may satisfy himself, and so report to me, that the signatures of the work-people are genuine, and that no undue pressure has been put upon them to sign. The Committee will realise that these Orders are made for specific reasons and for a specific purpose. In regard to the action of the Industrial Council, I am bound by law. If the Industrial Council, on joint representations made by organisations representing a majority of employers and workers in the industry concerned, or in the section of industry concerned, represents to the Secretary of State that the Orders ought not to be made, the powers of the Secretary of State cease. If I receive such a resolution or request, I shall give it the most careful consideration, and, if it be in accordance with the terms of the Act of Parliament, my power to grant these Orders will cease and the Orders in the particular industry in which the joint representation has been made will ipso facto cease.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that the original application contained the signature of the employer and the signature of a majority of the employés?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to mean a majority of individual signatures attached to the same document as to the employer?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Yes, a joint application—the actual signatures, written by themselves, of a majority of the employés.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
I raised this case and I make the affirmation in the House 2249 of Commons that the firm of C. F. Taylor, of Shipley, called a meeting of the employés over and under 16—under 16 were not concerned—and passed a vote in the presence of the employer's representatives—I have had that job to do and I know how difficult it is—and then the employers sent round the over-lookers, the foremen of the persons concerned, and got them to sign. It may be that they signed of their own free will; it may be that they did not, in the present state of unemployment. In addition to getting the signatures of the persons who were wanted to work, they got the signatures of the persons who were not wanting to work. I ask the House, is that the way to get a majority of all concerned to decide that some should work? If they want to get a majority they ought to get a majority of those who are asked to work and not of those who are not asked to work. May I correct something? I believe the right hon. Gentleman was misled by a statement I made that it applied with reference to a textile factory. The incident I gave where the employer got the signatures by this method and put it into operation without waiting for the council I gave as a specimen of what could happen and may happen.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I complained before of the hon. Member making an anonymous accusation without giving me notice. He has now definitely pilloried a certain firm by name. The usual thing is to give intimation that he is going to do it. How can I answer that case now? It is impossible. I know nothing about it. He has mentioned the name of a particular firm which he alleges has done a particular wrongful act. I will inquire into it, and, if he likes to put down a question at the proper time, it shall have an answer. The second case he gives is seven years ago, long before I was Secretary of State. The House is usually fair, and I have never had to complain of any lack of fairness from hon. Members opposite; but it is impossible for me to give the hon. Member an answer at present.
§ Mr. BROMLEY
Before the right hon. Gentleman resumes his seat, will he tell us what he means by undue pressure, when he says that he dispatched his inspectors to ascertain whether the signatures of the workpeople were obtained without undue pressure. We, on this side of the Committee, know what pressure may be. I am delighted to have the approving cheer of hon. Members on the other side, because they also know what we refer to.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I will tell the Committee this: I will withdraw the word "undue" and say that no pressure is or should be used; and, if I find pressure of any kind has been used, I will not grant any application.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. RILEY
I beg to move, in page 6, to leave out lines 23 to 30, inclusive.
The purpose of this Amendment is to call the attention of the Committee to the Agricultural Rates Act, 1896. The National Exchequer has already contributed to agricultural interests by relieving agricultural land of its proper share of rating to the extent of no less than £47,000,000. In addition, there has been provided from the national taxation between £60,000,000 and £80,000,000 in relief of landed interests by occupiers of other agricultural land. Let me call the attention of the Committee to some cases. In 1896 the total amount of rates for which agricultural land was liable was approximately £2,700,000. By the Act of 1896, the Exchequer undertook to contribute in relief of rating on agricultural land, half the amount. They also undertook that the amount in 1896, which was £1,330,000, should be the fixed annual amount, to go on for five years. When the Agricultural Act of 1896 was passed it was only for five years. That is 31 years ago, and the £1,330,000 which the Act provided should be the contribution from the Exchequer in relief of agricultural rating has gone up every year since, up to the year 1923. In 1923, a further proposal was made to reduce the amount of the liability of agricultural land to rating from one-half to one-quarter. The Government then undertook to provide a further £2,700,000 to make up the loss of the one-quarter rating. I notice by reference to the Exchequer returns for 1926–7, the last financial year, which may be seen in the 2251 Library, that £3,800,000 was contributed by the Exchequer to the relief of agricultural rating, in addition to the £1,000,000 odd.
I want to urge this matter upon the Committee not on account of what has been done but because of the expressed intention of certain agricultural interests not to be content, after having escaped three-quarters of their annual liability to local rating, and that they are now proposing to be relieved of the last quarter. I have a report of a meeting of the Farmers' Union of Shropshire, held last Saturday, where a programme was promulgated. The Report says:The Shropshire Farmers' Union met at Shrewsbury on Saturday to consider the views of the branches on agricultural policy, and agreed that the following things were necessary to meet the needs of the industry.The first thing mentioned was the exemption of agricultural land from local rates, the deficiency to be made up from the Exchequer. That means, if the view is to be pressed upon the Government and adopted by them that agricultural land will be relieved from any rating. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members opposite say "Hear, hear!" What was the accepted equity in regard to the basis of rating prior to these Acts? It has always been held that the liability to contribute to local rates was dependent upon the letting value of the property, whether house property, shop property, or factories or land. Under the present policy in regard to agriculture the agricultural interest has escaped three-fourths of their liability, which the taxpayer has to bear, and it is now suggested that they should be relieved of the last quarter.
As far as one can see the next suggestion will be that the landed interest should not only bear no liability for rates at all, but that the Exchequer should make a contribution to enable the farmer to pay his rent to the landlord. The meaning of this undoubtedly is that owing to the operation of ordinary economic laws in the course of the last generation the owners of land have received an enormous amount of relief from the Exchequer. In this form of subsidy—and any relief of rates is a form of subsidy—£47,000,000 has been given by the Exchequer— [An HON. MEMBER: "What 2252 about the miners?"]—Yes, but it was not £47,000,000. It is said to be for the relief of the farmer. Is that the case? Anyone knows that any relief given to agriculture, if it takes the form of relieving the land of its burdens, is bound in the course of generations to transfer itself into rent or value. We say that the time has arrived when a stand should be made against the continuance of this policy; that this subsidy should be discontinued and that the owners of land should bear their burdens like all other owners of property.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley) has urged that the Agricultural Rates Act should no longer be continued, and he has shown how much under the Act, 1896, and the subsequent Act of 1923, has been paid by the taxpayers of this country to the landed interest. I would merely add that that money, according to all the laws of economics, has gone not into the pockets of the farmers but into the pockets of the landowners. I wish hon. Members on all sides of the House would free their minds of cant on this question and realise that that must be so. Hon. Members opposite are not ignorant of economics and must know that a rate on land, apart from buildings, cannot rest anywhere except on the landlord. That is a statement made by Professor Sedgwick, Marshall, Thorold Rogers and Adam Smith, and I have heard it stated clearly by supporters of hon. Members opposite. I remember the late Viscount Chaplin saying in this House that it was no doubt the fact that the higher the rate the lower the rent, and the lower the rate the higher the rent. Not only Lord Chaplin, but I remember Francis Dyke Acland speaking from this bench—he was a great landlord in Devonshire—supported the remission of rates, but admitted at the same time that the person who would benefit by that remission would be himself, the landlord. Everybody who thinks over it must see that that is so.
I would put one further proof of my case. Land is bought and sold subject to certain charges. For centuries land has been bought and sold subject to the charge of the upkeep of the poor and the roads and other purposes. Because of those burdens it fetches a lower price in the market, but when the burdens are 2253 taken off the same land fetches a higher price by the capitalised amount of the rate that has been remitted. We see already an agitation set on foot for a further present to the landlords. If hon. Members consult Mr. Harold Cox on the question he would be equally clear that any further remission must result in a present to the landowners of the country of 20 to 25 years' purchase of the amount of the rate remitted. It is not merely that. There has just been presented to the House a Report on the drainage question. Who is to pay the cost of draining the land? Under the existing system the cost of any drainage scheme is borne by the people whose land benefits; that is to say it is an added rent upon the value of the land. Under this report the landlords would get another slice. It is proposed that the burdens should be borne not by the people whose land improves in value, but that the ratepayers in the towns in the same drainage basin, who get no benefit whatever from the drainage and who are already frightfully overburdened, should bear an additional burden.
Obviously some stop has to be put to this indefinite process of relieving landowners at the expense of the taxpayers of the country. The petitioners for relief are always vocal, whereas the taxpayer has nobody to speak for him. Hon. Members opposite who are in the habit of pressing the Government for economies might achieve one of their economies in the reduction of subsidies such as these. Nearly £5,000,000 of the taxpayers' money goes into the pockets of the landlord—nominally into the pockets of the ratepayer, but actually into the pockets of the landlord. We have here a definite economy that might be achieved. Hon. Members say, "How about the coal subsidy?" The coal subsidy came to an end. When is this to come to an end?
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Can we hope that the farmers will ever admit that their prosperity is sufficient to enable them to resume their ancient burdens? The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health knows that we have recently passed a Rating and Valuation Act and that in a few years, valuation under that Act will come into operation. 2254 Under that Act we are starting to relieve not agricultural land but agricultural improvements. I am in favour of remitting rates on agricultural improvements because, unlike rates upon land, the rates that fall upon improvements are borne by the person who farms the land and not by the owner of the land. Rates upon improvements, like rates upon factories, add to the cost of production and force up the price to the consumer who ultimately pays the rate. In the Rating and Valuation Act farm buildings were relieved from rates for the first time to the extent of three-fourths of the value. That was a good step if it had been accompanied by an increase in the rate upon land.
We went further than that. We also exempted three-fourths of the rates on the farm cottages, and three-fourths of the rates on glass-houses. In fact, many improvements now put upon the soil are exempt from rates. For these we have every sympathy, but we think it ought to have been accompanied by a cessation of the subsidy to landlords which is represented by this £5,000,000 a year which we at present pay out of the taxpayer's pocket. The remission given to agricultural improvements, farm buildings, etc., was not borne by the taxpayer. That is even more unjust. The remission there was borne by the other ratepayers in the locality. That is most unjust, because it increases their costs of production, increases house-rents, and falls upon the people who are obviously less able to bear the additional burden. May we hope when this valuation comes into operation that there will be some genuine attempt to rationalise the various subsidies given to the agricultural interest, to see that the remission upon improvements is borne not by other ratepayers but by the taxpayer, and that the taxpayer benefits pari passu by a reduction in the amount of the subsidy to the landlords? I hope in the near future we shall get a capital valuation of the land, and that thus we may be able to exempt improvements altogether from the burden of rates, thus encouraging production and employment, and resting the burden of these rates upon that land value, which will thus reduce the rents coming into the landlords' pockets, relieve the industry, and force land which is not 2255 being properly-used into the market. May I, in conclusion, ask the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us, when this new Measure comes into operation, whether these improvements are being properly exempted and whether there is a chance of that exemption being set off against a reduction in subsidy?
§ Mr. LAMB
I cannot help thinking that the hon. Member who moved the Amendment and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for New. castle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) have taken their usual course and availed themselves of an opportunity to discuss the rating question in its broadest sense.
§ Mr. LAMB
It may be for the purpose of education. Personally, I do not mind being educated by anyone, but I think there is a right time and a wrong time for it. The question before the Committee is the continuance or discontinuance of the present status of rating as far as agriculture is concerned. Consequently, if this Amendment were carried, it would throw again upon agriculture a. burden which agriculture never should have had and which agriculture certainly cannot bear at the present time. The hon. Member who proposed it referred to the relief which had been given as a subsidy. I deny that it was anything of the sort. It was not a subsidy; it was purely a recognition; after very careful thought—
§ Mr. LAMB
The hon. Member will remember that when the last relief was given the statement was made, and put into the Bill, that it could not be taken into consideration where an alteration in rents was asked for under the Act, so that you can see that the intention was that it should go as a relief to the actual occupier of the land, and it so went. But I do not want to be drawn at this time into a discussion of the wider question, otherwise I should be doing that which I have been suggesting the other hon. Members have been im- 2256 properly doing. At the present time agriculture is in such a disastrous condition, as is admitted by all who know the facts, that it would be impossible to consider throwing back upon it a burden which it absolutely cannot carry, and which I hope this Committee will refuse to consider placing upon it.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I do not think it is possible, if I may say so without offence to the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment, to conceive of a more impossible Amendment than this, having regard to a recent decision of this House. Part III of the Schedule of this Bill continues the Agricultural Rates Act, 1896, and the amending Acts to 31st March, 1929, but both hon. Members seem to have forgotten altogether that under the Rating and Valuation Act, 1925, the rating concessions of the Acts of 1896 and 1923 are made permanent by a decision of this House, and in some areas the concession comes into operation on 1st April, 1999, and in other parts of the country on 1st April, 1929. Under these circumstances, I cannot conceive why any hon. Members who have any regard for the decisions of this House and the will of Parliament should seriously suggest that this particular provision should be deleted from this Bill. What does it do? In the first place, what it does is to continue the rating concession given by these particular Acts until the permanent Act of Parliament comes into operation, and if hon. Members are seeking to obtain the support of the agricultural interests of this country, as I understand they are, I would venture to point out to them what would be the result of their action if this Amendment were carried to-night. Firstly, the farmers in that event would cease to be entitled to their rating relief during the interval, and, secondly, so far as the Exchequer grant was concerned, that would cease to be payable: and if the local authorities were to continue it on their own account, all that they would have to do—although, I suppose, that would not disturb hon. Members opposite—would be to raise the rates to make up the equivalent grant which would be lost from the national Exchequer.
How hon. Members opposite, whatever their views on this question may be, can put this forward, even at this time of night, as a practical, serious proposition, 2257 I cannot possibly understand. It has been decided at the instance this Government that the rating concession to the agricultural interests should be made permanent, and what we are doing under this particular Bill is to continue, until the Act I have mentioned comes into operation, this concession. I do not propose to argue with hon. Members the rights and wrongs of this matter, but I hope they will go into the Lobby against this Act. We shall then see exactly what they are prepared to do, and also what the Members of the party sitting next to them are prepared to do, and whether they are prepared to stop the legitimate concessions which have been placed upon the Statute Book. Whether the concessions benefit the landlord of the country or not, let them ask the farmers. I think that they will get a very adequate reply. All I can say, from the point of view of the Government, is that we shall resist the Amendment.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
We have been listening during the last day or two to a great deal about relief being given to Poplar, and about the necessity for stringent economy in local administration, but I cannot help noticing, even at this late hour, the patronising way in which the agricultural fraternity are dealt with by the Government in contrast to the treatment meted out to the so-called "Poplars." I do not suppose the Government will send out auditors to look after the results of these concessions to the agriculturists. There is one question which one might ask, following an interjection which came from the opposite side, when it was stated that it was seriously contemplated on the part of many agriculturists to seek entire relief from rates. I should like to ask some of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are behind the National Citizens' Union, which has put out the programme that anyone who gets full relief from local rates shall be struck off the voting register, whether agriculturists, if they get entire exemption from rates, will take the logical consequences?
§ Sir K. WOOD
We are only considering whether this particular Section shall be continued. There is no other pro- 2258 position before the Committee at the present time.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I only thought it right to intervene, because of some statements made by the Parliamentary Secretary. He said that he hoped that we would go into the Lobby against this Act, and the implication behind the remark was that if we did so, it would be plain and evident to the farmers that we were their deadly enemies. That sort of argument cannot go unchallenged, because if it once gets about, it will be accepted by people who think in a superficial manner, as evidenced by the cheers opposite, that there is some truth behind it. When the Agricultural Rates Bill was in Committee upstairs, I moved, and I endeavoured to get carried, that relief should be given to the farmers in respect of improvements. Instead of getting any endorsement or encouragement for that Amendment, I was denounced for it. We would give to agriculturists full relief from rates on those things which they had created by their own labour, but we would levy up to 20s. in the £ on the site value of the land. Let me say, before I sit down, that it is clear to the most elementary politician that any harsh treatment is good enough for certain rating areas, and I daresay that it is necessary in some cases where Socialists happen to be in control of the local administration. One cannot help noticing the paternal solicitude—
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
The Parliamentary Secretary, in the course of his remarks, made a reference to the late hour of the evening. May I suggest to Ministers who are oppressed by the lateness of the hour that it is not a good habit to throw out challenging remarks? The hon. Gentleman uttered what I may, without offence perhaps, call a "taunt" at the expense of hon. Members on this side. He said he understood we were trying to attract the attention of the agricultural interests of the country-for what purpose I have no doubt is clear in his own mind. [HON. MEMBERS: "Votes!"] Of course, I know perfectly well what is at the back of the 2259 mind of the hon. Member, and I know that he and his friends are relying upon agricultural votes to bring back the skeleton of their present army to the next House of Commons. If the Parliamentary Secretary will accept a challenge from me in reply to his own challenge, I ask him to come with me at any time between now and the reassembling of Parliament to address a meeting of farmers of Waltham-stow.
§ Mr. CRAWFURD
I will leave Walthamstow for the moment and come to the point. The suggestion of the Parliamentary Secretary was that we would not venture to press this Amendment to a Division and record a vote for throwing back on to the farmers of the country part of the rates of which they have been relieved. As far as my constituency is concerned, I am perfectly prepared to take that action, and to justify it, with or without the company of the hon. Member. This Government and previous Conservative Governments have relieved the agricultural interest of rates—have given them a subsidy, as the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley) said—because, they argue, the agricultural industry is not in a condition to bear these rates and because, if agriculture is relieved of the rates, it will be in a better condition to carry on and to give more employment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!" To hon. Members who so glibly say "Hear, hear," let me point out that the same arguments would support similar assistance being given to areas like Walthamstow, where there are industries severely oppressed by rates, where unemployment is created by the rates, and where even within the last few months industries—[Interruption]. I would suggest to the hon. Member sitting below me that interruptions to be effective should be coherent, and that if he will try to follow what I am saying instead of uttering exclamations, even he may receive some enlightenment.
There are industries in Walthamstow which even in the last few months have left the constituency and gone elsewhere because of the burden of rates, and you have there exactly the same conditions reproduced. I am perfectly prepared to 2260 take the action which an hon. Member has suggested and justify before my constituents that the Government, by giving relief to agriculture and refusing it to the district which I represent, are doing a wrong and bad thing.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed.