§ Order for Motion, "That this House will, To-morrow, resolve itself into the Committee of Supply," read.
Mr. J. RAMSAY MacDONALD
I should be very grateful, and I am sure that the whole House would, if you, Mr. Speaker, would be good enough to give us a ruling upon the procedure that is now proposed to be adopted. As I understand it, there is no precedent exactly on all fours with it.. It is not a ease of an Amendment being carried to the Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair." The whole question was negatived. The House, therefore, has decided that Mr. Speaker do not leave the Chair. Where you get an Amendment carried, that Amendment becomes an instruction to the Government. to act upon it; and, the House having decided to instruct the Government to act upon an Amendment, the situation changes and the House then properly proceeds to agree to the Motion," That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair." So far as I have been able, in the short time at my disposal, to investigate a very complicated question, I have only discovered precedents of that. kind. What happened last night was, as I said, that the whole Question was negatived. It is perfectly true that the word "now" was part of the Question and that it, therefore, may be argued that the "now" referred to 20 minutes past nine last. night, and that if this Question is revived to-morrow, as I understand it is the intention of the Prime Minister to move, the "now" will not refer to 20 minutes past nine last night, but to some time during to-morrow evening.
The point I wish to submit to you, Mr. Speaker, so that your ruling will be put on definite record, is this—Is it not, as a matter of fact., a case of repetition? The House last night decided, not in respect to any one point, but in respect to the whole Question, that it. was dissatisfied with the action of the Government, and declined to allow you to leave the Chair. It. is perfectly true that., under old conditions, when you, Sir, had to be moved out of the Chair on every 1244 occasion when the House went into Committee of Supply, the "now" in the Resolution then put referred from week to week to the actual business that was to be discussed when you did leave the Chair. But the new Rule makes the Division and the decision of last night a definite decision of the House that, in respect to the whole of the Civil Service Estimates, the House is dissatisfied with the Government. To place at the foot of the Paper again to-morrow, exactly the same Resolution that was put on yesterday is a case, I argue, of repetition, and therefore, if the Government is to get out of this difficulty, it must resort to some other way of doing so.
May I further submit, that the wording of the new Standing Order 17 makes it pretty clear? It is stated there that "on first going into supply," you, shall have to be moved out of the Chair. You cannot have 20 attempts, I submit to you with respect, to get into Committee for the first time. When the Irish party used the old rule for the purposes of obstruction, and when the House protected itself against obstruction and took away private Members' privileges in order that private Members might not be, able to use their privileges for purely obstructive purposes, Rule 17 was drafted, and the responsibility was put upon the Government to get the Speaker out of the Chair at the first attempt. When the Government fails to get the Speaker out of the Chair at the first attempt, it is a Vote of Censure on them. I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that it is not a proper way for the Government to get out of the difficulty in which it finds itself in a Vote of Censure, by putting down a repetition of the Resolution of yesterday and putting you—I do not mean that there is any attempt., and I am sure my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will not attach any wrong meaning to my words—in a very difficult position, I submit, because the Government has got to abuse the repetition rule in order to get itself out of the difficulty of having had a Vote of Censure passed upon it last night.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Although the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) was perfectly right in saying that there is no exact precedent for the present occasion, I cannot. hold with him that to propose a second time "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair" is, 1245 in the sense in which he used it—a Motion of repetition.
Standing Order No. 17, to which he referred, must be read in conjunction with the general practice of the House, which was not entirely overridden, but. was restricted, by the passage of that Standing Order No. 17. Therefore, in my view, it is quite in order for the Government, when the question of my leaving the Chair has been negatived, on a subsequent occasion to renew that Motion. But, of course, it follows from that, and, I think, ought to follow from that, that the House will thereby gain an additional opportunity of discussing its grievances before entering on Committee of Supply.
The hon. Gentleman raised another point with reference to Standing Order No. 17, in relation to the words "on first going into supply." The House yesterday did not go into Supply, and the meaning of that Order is that when the House has gone into Supply, as it always does instantly, even if only pro forma, when it has got the Speaker out of the Chair, then on all subsequent occasions in the same Session Supply is in progress. Standing Order No. 17 instructs the Speaker, when Supply is called in those circumstances, to leave the Chair without. Question put. I think that is quite. clear, and answers the point of the hon. Gentleman.
Would the House give me indulgence to put this second point of another character? If you, Mr. Speaker, put the Question from the Chair tomorrow that you do now leave the Chair, how do you propose to treat the Amendments that have been balloted for in relation to the first Resolution, which has now been negatived and has disappeared from the Paper?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Sessional Order provides for taking such Motions on going into Committee of Supply in the order of their precedence by Ballot, and I shall to-morrow, if the House restore the Order of Supply, take them in that order. That is to say., the first one having been. disposed of, I shall take. the second one, if it be moved, and, if not, I shall take the third.
May I make my point a little bit clearer'? The Resolution to which those Amendments apply, the occasion for which the Ballot was held, was settled last night, and 1246 terminated. To-morrow it is a new Resolution and a new occasion, and the point I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, is this—Ought you not to instruct that another Ballot should he taken, in order that Amendments should be decided upon in the ordinary way as hitherto?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
'That point occurred to me, I must say, and I therefore looked into it very carefully; but the Sessional Order and the Ballot taken thereunder related to the first occasion of going into Supply. That occasion was to have been yesterday, but certain things happened, and that occasion will, or may, therefore, be to-morrow.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
On a point of Order. May I ask whether the essential reason why this Motion can be repeated is not that the Motion, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," is essentially a Motion of procedure, and not a Motion of substance, and therefore that the rule of repetition does not apply?
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
On a point. of Order. When this Standing Order was originally drafted, was the word "now" ever intended by those who drafted it to apply to a particular occasion like this, to be used by the Government as a cloak for a piece of sharp practice?
Sir ERNEST POLLOCK
On a further point of Order. May I ask whether, in accordance with the constant practice of the House, the importance of the word "now" is not illustrated time and again by the ordinary Amendment which is put that a Bill be read "upon this day six months." In order that that Amendment can he put at all, a Motion has to be made. that the word "now" be left out in order that the words "on this clay six months" may be added. The importance therefore of the word "now" as an integral part of the Motion is shown by the constant practice of the House. As a point of Order, I submit, in answer to the observation which has been made by the hon. Member for the Gorbals Division (Mr. Buchanan), that the House has constantly emphasised the importance of the word "now" in any Motion dealing with the Second Reading of a Bill.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That. is quite correct. The Amendment that a Bill be read "upon this day six months," instead of 1247 "now" depends on that particular use of the word "now," but I was taking rather broader ground than that. With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), when Standing Order 17 was passed, it was, of course, passed in relation to the then existing circumstances. All the Standing Orders have their bearing on what I may call the common law of the House, and it is in this respect that I gave my ruling.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
Might I ask you, in order that I may myself be clear, assuming that the Question be put from the Chair to-morrow, or whenever it be put, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," do I understand that your view is that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Duncan Millar) will then have the right to rise in his place, and move the Amendment which is on the Paper in his name? [An HON. MEMBER: "He has already done so! "] No, I do not think he has done so at all.
§ Sir J. SIMON
May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether either yesterday or tomorrow, if to-morrow be used in the way proposed, will count as one of the 20 allotted days in Supply?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Certainly, neither yesterday nor to-morrow, in that case, can be counted as an allotted day in Supply. With regard to the other point, I have already said that it will be my duty to call the Amendment which stood second on the Order Paper yesterday, and which was not taken.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House will. To-morrow, resolve itself into the Committee of Supply."—[The Prime Minister.]
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Baldwin)
After the somewhat difficult points of order which have been put and elucidated, I propose to take a very short time to consider what it is that has really happened. What actually happened is that the Government were caught napping. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!" and Interruption.] Some valuable time has been lost, and I am con-slimed myself by a certain number of chastened reflections. I have myself sat 1248 in this House so many years as a Member of a small Opposition—a much smaller Opposition than the present—[An HON. MEMBER: "And more noisy!"]—an Opposition often trampled on by the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) and the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George)—that I can appreciate to the full, and sympathise with, the triumph and the exhibitions of triumphant joy of hon. Members opposite. But it is quite true, as the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) said, that we cannot find an exact precedent to what happened, and perhaps the reason is- not so far to seek, for there is no precedent, as far as I am aware, for a Division taking place on that particular Motion. When I say that, I admit at once that the Opposition had the most perfect right to divide, and I admit at once it was laxity on the part of the Government that they were not prepared to meet it. But I do say this, that the Division last night is no proof at all that the Government have lost the confidence of the House of Commons—An HON. MEMBER: "It did last night! "]—and I put before the House this Motion, "That this House will To-morrow resolve itself into the Committee of Supply," in order that, without delay, the business of the House may be proceeded with, that we may get on with Estimates, which it is necessary for us to pass, and that we may proceed once more to the necessary business, to perform which we were sent here, with the least amount of delay.
There, is one thing in which I hope to follow the example of my right hon. Friend, and that is, I propose to be brief. I can quite sympathise with the Government. with the same fulness of heart that my right hon. Friend told us he sympathises with us. The Government, after a series of unexampled defeats at by-elections, find themselves faced with an unexampled defeat so far as the records of the House of Commons are concerned. Really, in those circumstances, the Government deserve the most hearty commiseration of all parties and all sections of the House. But my right hon. Friend was a little suspiciously economical with the truth when he recited what happened last night. He said, "What happened last night? There was an accident." 1249 That is a very delightful way in which to clothe a disaster. What happened last night was that the Government were defeated by seven votes upon a Motion that was put from the Chair, and that was bound to be voted upon last night, in view of the character of the speech which closed the Debate on behalf of the Government. That is not all. My right hon. Friend says that his supporters were not- here. I can assure him be is quite wrong in that respect. I had the privilege of being here, and I saw, both in the Lobby and on those benches when the Division was going on, supporters of the Government. The Government were defeated last night, not because it was a snatch vote at all, not because there was an unexpected Division. The Government were defeated last night because a certain number of their supporters refused to support them on the Motion. [An HON. MEMBER: "They ran away! "] All I can say is, that I saw one or two faces in that. Lobby that are familiar to me sitting here and looking across the Floor. I cannot say whether there were two, three, or four. [HON. MEMBERS: Four! "] The chief point I want to make is this: I want no mere debating points—not at all. Moreover, I want no mere partisan capital. Certainly, if we have defeated the Government, we have defeated the Government, and we arc entitled to say we have defeated the Government. But let me say that I am wishful that the Government may benefit by their chastened defeat., and will be more careful in future when dealing with important industrial questions that have been the subject. of pledges given when their supporters were in search of seats.
When I raised. the point of Order, I referred to the previous kind of experience that Governments have had. They have moved that the Speaker do leave the Chair, and then the House has inserted, time and time again—the precedents are almost innumerable—words making declarations about policy, and those words have, been then taken, as I stated in putting my point of order, as a sort of mandate—I do not hear so much about mandates as I did in the last Parliament in which I sat, but I am reviving the word—as a sort of mandate to the Government, and the Government have done their best to carry them out. I am not talking as Leader of the 1250 Opposition or as a Member of the Opposition now. I believe I carry with me the whole House when I say the immediate reason why the Government were defeated last night was that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury made a speech upon the subject of the Lytton entrants, which numbers of Members opposite declined to accept. Every section -of the House was ready to back us, and I sympathise most heartily with the hon. Members who went into the Lobby out of loyalty to the Government, in order to support them after that speech was delivered. The decision of the House. last night was that the Government must change that declared policy as far as entrants to the Civil Service are concerned. I think the Government ought to give us a pledge on that point before we give it this Motion.
Briefly, the position is this. I am not going to take up the time of the House by reciting the points of the Lytton Report. T am sure every Member of the House understands that the criticisms directed against the Government were briefly these. The Government have appointed what is called the Anderson Committee, which has got a sort of roving commission to inquire into everything relating to wages of the Civil 'Service, Army and Navy, and so on. The, grievance of the entrants is an immediate one, and, while this House is sitting, it is affecting the character of the work and the state of mind of civil servants in every Department of State in this country. Therefore, the.first point that was urged against the Government in that respect was that they must act far more quickly than the Anderson Committee can act. That was the first point. The second point was that the Anderson Committee, in its composition, does not give the sense of security to those people that they desire. Again. I am sure that hon. Gentlemen know perfectly well that when a Committee like this has been appointed, it. is not enough that they should satisfy themselves that exceedingly able, honourable and just men and women are appointed, because if the Committee is going to give the tranquillity that its appointment is expected to give, the people whose grievances are to he inquired into must have some confidence in the Committee, and it is perfectly plain that the confidence required is not reposed in the, Anderson Committee. 1251 Therefore, the request has been made again and again that a Select Committee of this House should be appointed to consider this question. That is the second point.
Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
On.a point of Order. The Question before the House is that the Committee of Supply should be set up. The hon. Gentleman is dealing with questions which can be raised when the Question is again put, that you now leave the Chair. Is the hon. Gentleman in order in dealing with these questions now, and ought he not to wait until the setting up of the Committee of Supply has been agreed to?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There could not, of course, be a Debate on the merit of these proposals. If the present Motion be carried, that will be the very Question before the House to-morrow, and on which the House can again refuse to allow me to leave the Chair, if they be not satisfied with the reply made by the Government. But I did not want to interrupt the hon. Member stating simply what was the case.
I am exceedingly obliged to Mr. Speaker for protecting me. in that way, but, as a matter of fact, I have finished. I was just coming to my last sentence. The only thing I wish to do is to make perfectly clear what., from my point of view, at any rate, is the reason why the Government were defeated last night, that the defeat should be taken almost as though an Amendment had been carried to the Motion, and that the Government should regard it practically as a mandate. I think it is quite clear, without discussing the merits of the case, and without going into the outs and ins of the case, that the House should have before it the reason of the defeat last night—not the laxity of the Government., not the laxity of my right hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Leslie Wilson) who has never been a lax Whip, as we all know, but the muddle, the difficulty, in which the Government themselves placed their followers last night. That—and that alone—was the reason why there was a majority of seven against the Government. All I wish to do is to make it perfectly clear that we desire the Government should say what its view is as 1252 to the question of the ex-service men which was raised last night. I assure ray right hon. Friend (Mr. Baldwin) that had he been here last night he cannot possibly explain this phenomena in the terms he used. That being so, this House, I think, and the Opposition in particular, is entitled to get a definite statement from the Government that if this Resolution is carried to-day it will he carried with an understanding that the whole question of the Lytton entrants shall be reconsidered in accordance with the Debate that was conducted, and which issued in the defeat of the Government.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I had not intended to press any observations upon the House. [HON, MEMBERS "Oh! "] But I was rather astonished to see no other hon. Member rise and mention the obvious fact of the situation which I do not think has been sufficiently underlined by the hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition—very naturally so, perhaps in view of the position that he is speaking from the Despatch Box. I, however, am not under any such restraint, and I want to put it that the Government, in their proposed action, have skimmed all too lightly over the Constitutional precedents of the past. On the Government receiving a defeat, with their Whips on, of the character of that of last. night., I do not think I am going too far when I say that their easy method of getting over the defeat last night is a piece of effrontery. [Interruption] No. not characteristic of others. The last Government — the Coalition Government of evil memory—was defeated—with, I may say, some slight assistance from myself—on two or three occasions. I think their most notable. defeat was during the passage of the Aliens Bill, when they were beaten on the question of alien pilots. The House was adjourned for 24 hours and consultations took place on the position. The hon. and learned Member for York (Sir J. Butcher), I remember, was called to Downing Street and also Mr. Horatio Bottomley, and Lord Carson—then Sir Edward Carson—who were looked upon as leaders of the movement. As a matter of fact, the case was a most flagrant one and the Government well deserved defeat —and the Opposition contributed very materially to it—quite apart from their extremely anti-alien policy.
1253 On that occasion there was some doubt of the Government's intention. There was some talk of resigning. Hon. Members concerned were able to force from the Government certain concessions on the terms they required on the Aliens Bill, which, I considered, dealt very unjustly with the pilots. This was still further extended to, as I thought, the very serious and undignified restrictions on foreigners in this country. There was no question of the Government putting forward another Motion, and there was no talking about being caught napping, and sleeping on that occasion, of Members not being present, and getting out of it in that way. No, the occasion was made one in which the temporary Opposition, the temporary combination of dissatisfied persons—my hon. Friend opposite, myself, Mr. Bottomley and others—was used to get certain concessions from the Government and, therefore, I think it proves that the occasion was looked upon as a serious one.
This is not the sort of episode to be lightly passed over. The Government has been in power for some five months and they have received a fair and square defeat in the Division Lobby. It was perfectly fair. I think will carry general agreement when I say that there was no special engineering of the situation. Nothing of the sort! It was simply the great opposition on the part of the Government's own supporters, and the disaffection of certain hon. Members on the other side who, I am glad to say, still have some remnants of conscience left even after supporting this Government for five months. I say, to pass this over without any reference to the constitutional practice of resignation after defeat is to treat this House with effrontry. It is not as if this defeat in the Division Lobbies went alone. It must be connected with, and the explanation of it found, in the obvious lack of confidence in the Government which has been expressed on every occasion when the electorate had a chance, and which has made it impossible for the Government to find a seat for the Law Officer of Scotland, for nowhere throughout the length and breadth of Scotland can there he found a seat—
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
If I am out of order in criticising this proposed method of escape from the predicament in which the Government find themselves, I beg to say, with great respect, that I am not far out of order in pointing out the obvious instability in the country as a reason for this House not permitting without some protest—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide, divide! "]—this shilly-shallying way of escape from the retribution the Government justly deserve by their ineptitude and inefficiency. [Interruption]—And I could not allow the Motion to be put from the Chair by you without making these few observations—[Interruption]—and perhaps hon. Members of the Labour party above the Gangway will sober down. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh! "] However, I believe I am expressing the indignation felt by the politically-conscious public outside, which is not to allow this trampling on the constitutional usages of Parliament. A defeat in the Division Lobbies, with the Government Whips on, should mean resignation, and resignation, I believe, would be demanded by the public.
I desire to put a point to the Government on behalf of the ex-service men. Last night it was decided—[An HON. MEMBER: "You were not here last night," and Interruption.]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Hon. Members will be good enough to recognise that other hon. Members have a right to be heard when they address the Chair.
Last night it was decided that you should not leave the Chair because a particular grievance of the Lytton entrants was not being met already. The Government decided upon a Select Committee on the question of the Lytton entrants, and the permanent Civil Service; and it was asked in view of the pressure of the matter that the initial salary question should be taken first. Very well!
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman is proceeding to discuss a question 1255 which can be pressed to-morrow. I do not see how the Government can answer him to-day.
I only wished to put the constitutional point, the House having refused to grant Supply until the grievances of the Lytton entrants had been attended to, whether the least thing the Government could do was not to say, "We will accept that point at any rate." That, I submit to you, is not only acting with good grace and justice, but constitutionally.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
On a point of Order. You, Mr. Speaker, say that this matter can be pressed to an issue to-morrow. I want to ask how it can be pressed to an issue to-morrow if the result is the same as it was last night. We shall be in the same position and will be unable to get any further. If the Government act again as they are acting to-day we will never really get to an issue on present lines.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think I should clear up that point, and say exactly what I have in mind. It was impossible yesterday to come to an issue, because the Motion was the second on the Paper, and, modified in form, was carried as an Amendment to the Question: "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair." Tomorrow it will be in the power of the House to take the Amendment as a substantive Motion. That is where the difference is between now and to-morrow.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
I think the House will realise from the speech of the Leader of the Opposition that we wish to treat this question in a really moderate and decent spirit, and that we certainly do not wish to treat it as a joke. I think it is due to the House and due to the attitude which the Leader of the Opposition has taken that the Government should not allow this Debate to close without some speech from the Government—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why "]— 1256 without their reply to the proposition which the Leader of the Opposition has laid before them, and on which the point of this Debate and the attitude of this Debate, and, I may say, probably the temper of this Debate, will very largely turn. I wish to make clear the policy the Leader of the Opposition is pursuing and that we support. We have not made this an attempt merely to score a point over the Government. We have not pressed this constitutional and practical issue as practically every Leader of an Opposition in his place has always done. My hon. Friend has not done that. We and the party which he represents deliberately came to the conclusion that if we can utilise what happened last night to get justice done and to get satisfaction for these poor men, the ex-service men, and could depend upon it, we would largely sacrifice that tactical advantage in this House for the sake of these men. I will give an account of what happened in similar circumstances before; but I venture to say that the oldest Members of this House will recognise that when an incident of this kind takes place, it is used by the Opposition for strategical and purely political advantages. In this case, the Leader of the Opposition has not pressed that point of view at all. What he has said to the Government is this: "We have an advantage over you up to the present moment, and we ask you, in order that we May decide what our attitude and action shall be, to give us this undertaking for these ex-service men outside."
May I recall what happened in very similar circumstances in this House when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) was Prime Minister, and his Government was defeated on the Financial Resolution relating to the Home Rule Bill of 1912. I wish to put that forward, because I think the House will agree that we are on these benches behaving with far greater restraint than hon. Gentlemen opposite showed at. that time, and we are doing so because we wish to help the ex-service men rather than to carry on the old political practice of using these incidents merely for party purposes in the old party warfare which was played as a game. [Interruption.] The Government in 1912 was defeated on the Financial Resolution relating to the 1257 Home Rule Bill. It was a defeat not by any means on such a vital issue as has taken place now. [Interruption.] It was a pure snap vote. There was not a single Member on the Government Benches who voted for the Opposition. Tim Government then proposed to carry through a policy practically the same as the Government is carrying through to-day. They proposed a Resolution which practically reversed a decision the House had then taken. The Speaker at that time ruled—as you, Mr. Speaker, have ruled—that the action of the Government was in order, but the Opposition felt that to deliberately reverse a decision of the House by that method was so gross a breach of the rights of the House that the Prime Minister was shouted down at the Treasury Box.
As I sat on the second bench below the Gangway, I noticed that one of the most active Members of the House in that operation was the present Prime Minister, the present Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs—who on that occasion emphasised his arguments by hurling a volume of the OFFICIAL REPORT at the Treasury Bench—and the Noble Lord the Member for the ancient University of Oxford (Lord H. Cecil), who to-day has raised a point of Order of high constitutional principle. As a result, the Speaker had to adjourn the House owing to disorder. The business of the House was suspended because the Speaker at that time was unable to prevent the present Prime Minister and his colleagues from shouting for two hours together, so that not even the Prime Minister of that day could be heard. I have recalled that incident to point out to the House that the present Opposition, compared with the Opposition before the War, are behaving with restraint and decorum. I invite any Member of the House to notice the contrast between the tone and the attitude of the Leader of the Opposition to-day and the tone and attitude of the Prime Minister when he was in that position then. I use this illustration to ask once again that the Government should pay some respect to the rules of this House and the rights of the Opposition. The Leader of the Opposition has made it clear that our attitude and the restraint and decorum shown on this side of the House—[An HON. MEMBER: "Jack Jones! "] May I say, 1258 in response to that interruption, that the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) is a perfect model of Parliamentary etiquette compared with those on the other side of the House?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think it would be rather unprofitable to enter into these comparisons between hon. Members.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
There was an occasion in the last Parliament, when the Government were defeated on an issue somewhat similar to this—the issue of teachers' pensions—and the Government then accepted the verdict of the House, and appointed a Committee specially to reconsider the attitude which up to that time the Government had taken. We are fighting for the ex-service men outside. We ask the Government to respond to the invitation made to them by the Leader of the Opposition. Let them give us a statement now, that as a result of last night's Vote the case of the ex-service men shall be reconsidered. We are entitled to it, and it will determine largely the nature of this Debate, and the method by which hon. Members sitting round me will deal with the subject.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not think the hon. Member is entitled to ask the nature of the statement which will be made tomorrow, because that would open up other questions. He. is entitled to ask that, when the Question be moved and the Amendment be moved to-morrow a further Debate will take place.
On a point of Order. May I, Mr. Speaker, put this to you? Is it competent for you to rule upon the business that is to be before us to-morrow, and to limit the discussion of a matter which happened last night and which is closely germane to the subject we are now discussing?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think that is a point which I have made clear. If the House agree to this Motion, the House knows that there will be a statement made to-morrow on the subject.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
On a point of Order. The Leader of the Opposition made a speech which was in order. He asked the Government certain definite questions. He asked them to give certain definite undertakings. In so far as the speech of the Leader of the Opposition was in order, I submit that a speech from 1259 the Government Bench will be in order provided it does not proceed beyond the ambit of the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. Therefore we want a reply. We submit that a reply to the questions put by the Leader of the Opposition can he given now, and an undertaking can also be given. This is necessary in order to determine our attitude in the Division Lobby and in this House.
§ Mr. J. JONES
Some of us through long experience in the Labour movement have tried, to the best of our ability, to preach constitutionalism to the members connected with our various organisations, and we have done our best, as far as we have been able to persuade our members, to always act within the bounds provided by the democratic constitution of Great Britain. On this point I know what nay reputation is, and I am proud of it. I have not been before the magistrates for the same crimes as some of my hon. Friends, and when I have been before them it has always been for something which I have been proud of and for which I was willing to suffer. Therefore I have no apologies to make on that score. In this particular case, we have had, for the first time, an exhibition of unconstitutionalism from the constitutional party. A vote was taken in this House in proper form. Whips were issued to the Members of all parties, and they were asked to be here by a certain time, because a great issue was being raised in the ordinary Parliamentary form. A large number of hon. Members failed to turn up, and some of those who did turn up were cowardly enough to refuse to vote, while others, acting on conscientious grounds, voted against their party. I think it will he a bad day for England when we lose our conscience, and hand it over to the Orange Lodges. The matter which was raised last evening affects every constituency in Great Britain. We argued it, but we did not do so from a party point of view, because the Labour party have never tried to make capital out of the ex-service men. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh! "] I make hon. Members opposite a present of all the political capital they have made out of it. What we did for these men, we did simply because they are Lone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. Quite 90 per cent. of them belong to our class; they are our brothers, and there is scarcely one 1260 among them who has not had some relative who has gone under in the War. You are the manufacturers of their destiny, you are the people who sent them to their death. A million of them have left their bones to bleach on the battlefields of the world, and two million of them have come home almost too weak to get their own living and they have had to throw themselves on to the parish. No less then 800 of them are in the asylums of this country certified as being insane. [HON. MEMBERS: Divide!;']
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not think that is a question which arises on the matter which is now before the House.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have already stated that that is a subject that cannot be debated to-day. It is the same subject as that which was debated yesterday, and it will be a subject for discussion tomorrow.
§ Mr. JONES
As constitutionalists, surely we are entitled to ask the Government to give us some understanding as to what is going to happen to these people. Are we going to have to-morrow merely a formal Government Debate, which will be decided by the Government majority, in spite of the opinion expressed by the House last night? These men are your servants and they are suffering greatly in consequence of the economic situation.
On a point of Order. I would like to ask you, Mr. Speaker, if the hon. Member is not now discussing a subject which we are going to discuss to-morrow?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) is doing his best to keep within my ruling.
§ Mr. JONES
All I am asking for is that we should get an honest answer to an honest question which was put honestly. The object we have in view is not to make capital out of this position. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh! "] Surely if hon. Members opposite want to make 1261 capital out of this, why cannot they do the right thing? The right thing is to treat these men fairly, and we ask the Government, Are you prepared to do the right thing by these men? Surely that is the common opinion of all of us. I am sure that if we were all allowed to vote as we feel these men would get justice, and we should save the reputation of this country for fair dealing in regard to those who have served the country so well.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
With the permission of the House, I rise again. A question was put to me by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald), and it was a perfectly fair one. The hon. Member will realise that I had no knowledge, before I came into the House, what line he was going to take. I can only say that my right hon. Friend and I will look into this matter afresh in the light of what he has said, and I will undertake to make a statement at the beginning of business to-morrow.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I want to put to the Prime Minister the point which has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones). It is thought outside this House that when a decision is come to by the House of Commons it is acted upon. In this instance we were asked last night to decide whether the Speaker should leave the Chair, and the reason the House voted against that Motion was because a large number of ex-service men who had been taken into the Civil Service are simply starving. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, if you hold that when we are dealing with starving men, a decision of this House is going to be made inoperative? You are asking us now to wait until to-morrow night, and we are to do that in order that we may get a statement from the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The only statement we want from the right hon. Gentleman is that, the Government will carry out the decision which the House of Commons came to last night, which is that these men shall be paid a living wage. We were told things here last night about these men which I think every man with 1262 any sense of feeling must have been thoroughly ashamed of. Here you have a number of men with wives and families, and they are working for the State, and yet they are obliged to depend largely upon public subscriptions in order to get their daily bread. This afternoon and on some previous afternoons an hon. Member opposite asked questions about the King's Roll and he wanted to know whether certain local authorities had their names upon it. What earthly use is it putting people's names on the King's Roll to employ disabled men when the Government of the day employs these ex-service men at starvation wages?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is quite out of order. We cannot enter now into these general questions. A Debate on this subject will take place to-morrow.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am trying to argue against this Motion, which is intended to restore something which the House of Commons refused to give sanction to, because the Government had not done justice to the ex-service men. I claim that before this Committee is set up the grievance we wanted to redress last night, before we give sanction to the setting up of Supply again, should be dealt with, and that the Government should be forced to give the satisfaction' we demanded last night. Supposing to-morrow. night, Mr. Speaker, the same thing happens again. Supposing we are able to defeat—after the Minister's statement,.providing it is not satisfactory—a similar Motion, and once more refuse to allow you, Mr. Speaker, to leave the Chair, what is our position? flow many times must we carry a Motion of this kind, in order that the decision of the House of Commons may become operative?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There was no effective Resolution. The Amendment in question, being the second one on the Paper, could not be moved.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The object of all the Debate last night was to ventilate the grievance from which certain people were suffering. We were not able to take a vote on that grievance, but we were able to take a vote which enabled us to express our opinion as to the action of the Government in connection with the griev- 1263 ance we had been discussing. Our action was to vote against your leaving the Chair. That was our only constitutional method, and I understood that it was the proper constitutional method of showing our disapproval of the action of the Government. When you, Sir, at the end of last Session, very kindly informed me on certain rules connected with the leaving of the Chair, I understood you to say that the occasion for the redress of grievances was when that Motion was before the House. That Motion was before the House last night, and our reason for voting against the Government was to express our view that the Government should deal. with this grievance. I say to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that, whether this is said to be a matter of party advantage or party disadvantage is not to 'the point. These men are starving; and I believe there are nearly 400 of us in this House who pledged ourselves to see that their grievances were redressed. We have sat here too long without seeing that their grievances were redressed. We have all been too silent about it. I cannot sit here and say that I am going quietly to allow this Vote to go by unless the Government does the constitutional thing. If the Government wants the House to act constitutionally, it must itself act constitutionally. The Government has been:old that this grievance has got to be rectified. We are asked to wait till to-morrow, but they have had 24 hours to think about it. If We have to wait till to-morrow, let us go home. [Interruption.] I appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister. We are simply asking that a Special Committee of two, three. or four people shall be set up to investigate the grievances of these men—not the whole Civil Service, but these particular ex-service men about whom you.01 talk so much. We ask that you shall investigate their grievances, and that some of them shall go before the Committee and give evidence. That is all that we are asking, and you cannot possibly deny us that. The House of Commons has said that, it ought to be done, and I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who a ill he allowed to speak once more, to get up and, instead of waiting till to-morrow, to give us the statement to-day.
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House proceeded to a Division
§ Colonel Leslie awl Colonel Gibbs were appointed Tellers for the Ayes; but, there being no Members willing to act as Tellers for the Noes, Mr. SPEAKER. declared that the Ayes had it.
§ Question put accordingly, and agreed to.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
May I appeal to hon. Members to follow the course which their Leader has suggested? [Interruption.] Hon. Members have not been attending to the business, but I have declared that the "Ayes" had it. [Interruption.]