HC Deb 22 June 1933 vol 279 cc1048-60

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £52,429, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1934, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Scottish Office; Expenses under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1899; a Subsidy for Transport Services to the Western Highlands and Islands; a Grant in lieu of Land Tax; and Contributions towards the Expenses of Probation and of Remand Homes."—[Note: £27,000 has been voted on account.]

10.24 p.m.


I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.

It was the intention of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) to move this Amendment, but he is likely to be out of the House for five or 10 minutes on personal business and does not want to be accused of discourtesy. Therefore, I give the Secretary of State the opportunity of replying to what is a personal attack on his conduct. I think I have dealt sufficiently with his refusal to meet the deputation of hunger-marchers in Edinburgh recently. We resent the fact that he refused to meet a representative body of men who are down in the very gutter as the effect of the National Government's policy. We regard that as a grave breach from the point of view of his high office. Public testimony was paid to these men by the police officials of Edinburgh for their splendid discipline and orderliness during the time they were in camp. They said that it reflected great credit upon the leaders that 1,000 persons should visit the city without a single act of disorderly conduct taking place during their stay or en route. The police were disagreeing with the treatment by other officials in Edinburgh. The police treated us with the utmost humanity and consideration and did everything in their power to find accommodation for the men when the corporation officials had refused to provide any accommodation. They deplored the fact that men and women should have to sleep in the streets following the failure of the Secretary of State to recognise this body of men. I certainly think that his conduct was ungentlemanly, inhuman, cold and callous in the extreme, and that we might have expected something different from one who holds such a high office in Scotland.

10.27 p.m.


I ventured a few days ago to introduce a Scottish deputation to a certain Government Department, and I assured the Minister that, while the case would, as far as possible, be fully stated, the speeches would be very short, as the deputation had come from Scotland, and the natives of that country are not usually loquacious. I am not sure that I can make the same observation to-day after the experience we have had in this particular Debate. We all know that Scottish business is compressed into a very small area of Parliamentary time, and it would be only courteous on the part of speakers from Scotland, in a Debate of this nature, if they remembered sometimes that there were other Scottish Members who desired to speak as well as themselves. I hope I shall be forgiven for saying that to-day we have had, at a most inordinate length, speeches which might have been compressed into a very much smaller space of time. I always try when I address this House to compress my observations into something like a quarter of an hour, and generally speaking a man, unless he is speaking on some very special subject, can say pretty well all he can or ought to say in something like that period.

I want to make one or two observations about a subject raised to-day by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), who has made two speeches On the subject. I am rather sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) is not here to make an impassioned and eloquent speech, which we always get from him upon any subject on which he cares to address the House of Commons. I do not suggest that the case presented by the hon. Member for Shettleston was inadequate in any respect from his own point of view. He made a virulent attack upon the Secretary of State and from the large stock of adjectives which he possesses he described him as cold, callous, ungentlemanly, and as something even more disrespectful which I forget; but I have no doubt that he meant all that he said. I profoundly disagree with his statement and with the conclusions at which he arrived. I have known my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State much longer than the hon. Member for Shettleston and I do not know anyone in this House who has a more kindly disposition, who is more sympathetic in a practical way towards the unemployed or who would exert himself more to help them in every way at his command. The hon. Member for Shettleston referred to the hunger marchers. There is one thing about the hon. Member and those associated with him in their references to the unemployed and to those of our fellow citizens who are suffering misfortune and privation at the present time, they claim some extraordinary monopoly in the sympathy which they extend to the unfortunate men and women of this country who, through no fault of their own, are unemployed.

I deny altogether that they are entitled to claim that monopoly. In every part of the House there is most real and heartfelt sympathy for the unemployed, and there is not a single Member who would not do everything possible to alleviate their distress and help their condition. But some of us are far more practical than sentimental. I am a believer in hard facts. If any body of men and women came to me as a Parliamentary representative and asked whether it would be a wise policy on their part to have a hunger march to London or to Edinburgh, I would use every argument possible to dissuade them from that particular enterprise.


Would they ask you?


Do not be too sure. I know far more about this hunger march than the hon. Member imagines. Some of them came from my own constituency. I do not know whether the hon. Member or any of his colleagues instigated this hunger march; they may have done so, and if they did they were very ill-advised, because I do not believe that there is a single Member of the Labour party who would have part or lot in organising a futile expedition of that kind which was bound to end in failure. The hon. Member is an authority on hunger marches. He had a delightful experience of one in Condon not many months ago. I cannot tell how this particular hunger march was organised or engineered, but he knows that when he attempted to intervene in the hunger march on London he got very short shrift.


I believe it was right.


That makes his position more hopeless than ever. What did he tell the House to-day? He told the House that these decent folk, deluded into this enterprise, I do not say by him, arrived at Edin- burgh in a condition of destitution. The hon. Gentleman complained about matters with which I am not qualified to deal. I have not the technical knowledge of the administration of the Department of Health or the Town Council of Edinburgh to enable me to say whether he is right or wrong. But I can imagine what he would say if he were a responsible municipal official in Edinburgh and were suddenly called upon to provide for one thousand people suddenly brought into Edinburgh on a hunger march. If one thousand why not ten thousand? I suggest that in that position he would require very good authority before he would agree to a request to make provision for that number of people in such circumstances. I know that the hon. Member took part in this expedition. I have seen an effective and dramatic photograph of him lying somewhere under a blanket or some kind of covering—with his eyes open. He had his photograph taken as one of those associated with the hunger march. I could honour and respect an attitude of that kind if any practical purpose was to be served by it. [An HON. MEMBER: "The next election !"] I am quite prepared for the next election and I shall say the same thing in my own constituency. Perhaps the hon. Member opposite may need help more than I shall need it at the next election. Perhaps his hon. Friends below the Gangway will be able to make a more efficient reply to him on that point than I can make.


Will there be a coalition between you and them?


I am sure the hon. Member would welcome a coalition between his friends below the Gangway and himself if the conditions suited both parties. But I resent this unworthy and discreditable attack upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I know his point of view. My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), this afternoon, in a gibe which I am sure he did not intend as such, referred to a speech which the Secretary of State made in Greenock. He suggested that that speech dealt with the past but had no particular reference to the future. I read that speech very carefully and my recollection is that it was full of hope for the future and I have not altogether a bad memory in matters of that kind. So long as this democratic country has efficient Parliamentary representatives the necessity for these hunger marches does not arise. The Floor of this Souse of Commons is open to every elected representative and I am entitled to say that the fullest possible use of it is made by my hon. Friends opposite and I do Dot complain of that. But is there any possibility that any one of these hunger marchers could state to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State a more telling or more convincing case than could be stated here by, say, the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan).

It is idle to suppose that any one of these deluded hunger marchers could have made a greater impression than my hon. Friends opposite are capable of making here. They forget that whatever is done in this country to-day must be within the limits of the country's resources, and however impassioned their speeches railing against the National Government, they ought to know and they do know in their heart of hearts, that however inadequate the provision for the unemployed may be, however difficult may be the incidence of the means test, there is no country in the world where the same provision or anything like the same provision is made for the unfortunate unemployed as we make in this country for our fellow citizens. I am as much against the segregation of the unemployed as my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton. In no sense of the word does any party in this House regard them as anything but worthy fellow citizens, who, through no fault of their own, at the present time are out of employment, and to my mind it is utterly unworthy to make the charges which are made against the National Government by my hon. Friends opposite or against my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

10.41 p.m.

Commander COCHRANE

From the two speeches which the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) has made to-day, it is clear that this hunger march was organised, and therefore the responsibility for what happened to the people who took part in it must fall on the organisation and on the leaders. I think it is well to remember what the law says in a rather different connection about people who do this sort of thing, because, after all, about 1,000 people, by the hon. Member's own showing this evening, were taken to Edinburgh and left there destitute. Consider the case of another man, who, shall I say, engages a number of people for a theatrical performance or anything else, takes them to a provincial town, and abandons them there. He is subject to the law and to imprisonment, and rightly so. There can be no doubt that this march was organised, and the responsibility for what happened to those men and women is entirely on the organisation and on the leaders.

It is also quite clear that the hon. Member for Shettleston and those outside this House acting with him in this matter have not yet learned the first rule of leadership, which is, that the duty of a leader is to his followers, not to himself. The hon. Member, if he had been the type of person I have mentioned, engaging a number of wretched people and abandoning them in some provincial town, would have been liable to prosecution, but first because he does the thing on a grand scale, he comes down here and boasts about it. My sympathy in this case is entirely with those people who were deluded into marching across Scotland for the purpose of going to Edinburgh. If and when the hon. Member for Shettleston can acquire the knowledge of leadership which I suggested to him just now, and afterwards has occasion to come to this House and ask for consideration of some grievance, then I shall be ready to listen to him with very much more sympathy than I find it possible to give to him this evening.

10.44 p.m.


The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) mentioned, in the course of his remarks, that he was making a personal attack on myself, but the issue which he has raised to-night is a matter of public policy, and it is on that ground that I would ask the Committee, after they have heard my explanation, to record their decision in the Division Lobby. On the 12th April last I received a letter from the National Unemployed Workers' Movement, asking me to receive a deputation on certain points, and they enclosed in their letter the questions which they desired to bring before me. I replied to that letter on the 3rd May. I asked my Secretary to state: It is observed that the views which you express are similar to those which were submitted on a previous occasion. These views have been duly noted. In the circumstances, it does not appear that any useful purpose would be served by the suggested further interview. I received a further letter from Mr. McShane, headed "The Scottish Marchers' Council," although the first letter was headed, "National Unemployed Workers' Movement, Scottish Council." In that letter, they again appealed to me to receive a deputation in Edinburgh, and they told me that the (marchers would be arriving at Edinburgh on Sunday, 11th June. I replied to that on the 8th saying that I would not be in Edinburgh and would be unable to receive the proposed deputation. Then I received a letter on the 9th June from the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), in which he said: I understand that application has been made by the Glasgow Unemployed Organisation to you to receive a deputation in Edinburgh some day during this month. My party is closely associated with the organisation, and I hope you will accede to their request. That is a letter coming to me from a Member of this House. Let it be noted that I am asked to accede "to their request," that is, a request from the National Unemployed Workers' Council. I fear that in my letter of the 9th June I appeared a little abrupt to the hon. Member, but no studied discourtesy on my part was intended. I simply told him that I bad received his letter regarding the application made to me by Mr. McShane; and that I wrote to him to inform him that I would not be in Edinburgh and would be unable to receive the proposed deputation. This is a request for a deputation from the National Workers' Movement, and naturally in a matter of that sort I examined the precedents to find out what my predecessors in office had done. I find that in 1929, when the Labour Government were in office, the Minister of Labour's private secretary on a similar occasion wrote that: the Minister is not prepared to receive a deputation from the National Unemployed Workers' Movement as she does not think that any useful purpose would be served thereby. In 1932 the same policy was followed by the Minister of Labour in the present Government. I therefore followed precedent in the action I took, and I think that, as subsequent events developed, as I will presently show, the Committee will see that I was well justified in the course of action that I took on that occasion. The scene passes from these letters to Edinburgh and I will quote from information supplied to me by the Corporation of Edinburgh. On Sunday, 11th June, on the marchers reaching Edinburgh, their leaders requested the assistant chief constable to provide the marchers with accommodation, and he offered them the Waverley Market. The offer was refused on the ground that the stone floor of the market was too cold a place to lie on. On Monday, 12th June, the marchers made further demands to the Corporation for food and accommodation, and they were informed that any request made by the marchers as a body for assistance could not be entertained, but that it was open to individuals to make application for relief in the usual way to the public assistance officer, who would deal with such applications. No such individual applications were made on the Monday.


I would like to say that that is not true. Mr. Douglas told us he could not take applications from marchers as marchers, but that they would require to come from individuals. We realised that, and wanted to see if he was able to deal with them. He offered to deal with them, and we marched the whole of the men up there and told them that they must make individual applications. The assistant chief constable went in and asked Mr. Douglas to receive them and we had a meal outside the door. He said his instructions from the town clerk were not to take the applications. That was Monday night.


There is a difference of opinion on these details.


I was there.


I will continue my narrative, and perhaps it will explain the difference. On the Monday no individual applicants applied for relief. On the Tuesday the marchers renewed their demands for food and accommodation and other facilities, and about 3 o'clock that day two of the leaders—and this is the interview to which the hon. Member refers—visited the public assistance department and requested that provision be made for housing and feeding the whole body of marchers, numbering several hundreds, although it was admitted that the marchers were in possession of sums. They were informed that applications for assistance could only be accepted from individuals, but an offer was made to pass the marchers' request on to the town clerk. That was done, and later the public assistance officials learned that accommodation had been offered and refused. Arrangements were made, however, with the public assistance department for an increased number of applications, but by 5 o'clock only one had called although the marchers had passed the day within sight of the public assistance office.

I think that shows that the corporation of Edinburgh carried out their duties which have been laid upon them by Parliament, and were ready to offer food and accommodation for these individual persons. I am sure that the hon. Member does not want to do me an injustice. I have done the best I could with such information as I have in the very short time at my disposal, and I have no desire to load the dice against him, but only to state the plain facts, for this is a matter of great public interest, not only in Edinburgh but throughout Scotland as well. I have here certain cuttings from the Press which show that there was a very complete organisation, which does justice to the hon. Member's organising ability, however much we may differ from his judgment, and these show that on Monday and Tuesday there were field kitchens in existence and breakfast and meals were provided by his organisation for these men. I said just now that only one had called. They were also informed that any case of sickness or special urgency would be dealt with if the individuals presented themselves. At a later hour the hon. Member for Shettleston and Mr. McShane made a further representation, when the offer already made was repeated. They chose to regard this as a refusal to deal with applications for public assistance.

Then I come to Wednesday, the 14th. The leaders again approached the corporation, through the assistant chief constable. They—those who were responsible for these hunger marchers—said that if they were not provided with a meal by 1.30 that day, the marchers would be advised to take matters into their own hands. Fortunately wiser judgments prevailed, and before the evening was out these men had left for their various homes in omnibuses provided by the Corporation of Edinburgh. It is interesting to note that no applicant presented himself at the public assistance committee's office throughout Wednesday, although special arrangements had been made to deal with these applications.


Not a word of truth in it.


I have stated the facts, which I submit to the Committee are accurate. Let me deal with the much larger issue involved. What is the object of organising the demonstrations and of the expenditure of money which they involve? It is not to inform Ministers of grievances, but simply to create the maximum amount of public inconvenience. The House knows what consideration has been extended to demonstrations of this nature, and they will agree with me that there must be a limit. The points which the deputation proposed to put, on which I am sorry there is not time to answer the hon. Member to-night, although I would willingly do so, ware similar to those raised to-night and raised by other hon. Members on a previous occasion, and I considered, in my duty as Secretary of State for Scotland, that not only would no useful purpose be served but that I would not be carrying out the wishes of this House and of the larger public outside if I either saw the deputation in Edinburgh or went specially to meet them.

Subsequent events in Edinburgh amply confirm me, I think, in the view I took in May last, that it would have been wrong to give encouragement to proceedings so futile, so inconvenient to the public and fraught with elements of danger to the public peace. I have throughout my term of office placed myself at the disposal of every hon. Member, no matter what his views may be, and from time immemorial the Floor of this House has been the proper place for any grievances of rich or poor to be brought before the hon. Members of this House. We have had many illustratrations of that this evening. Every point mentioned by the deputation in their letter of 11th April was brought before me this afternoon by hon. Members. My hon. Friend said in the course of his speech earlier in the day that no hon. Member of this House could voice the views of these people-Mr. McGOVERN: I say they have not the experience.


I say that statement is a grave reflection on the courage and sympathy of hon. Members. We do not lack sympathy with these men. It is well known what this House has done for these men. We are proud of what Great

Original Question again proposed.

It being after Eleven of the Clock, and objection being taken to further Proceeding, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Britain has done for these men during these times of adversity.


Then you are easily proud.


There is no country, at any period in the history of time, which has done more for the unemployed workers than the people of Great Britain during the last seven years.

Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £52,329, be granted for the said Service."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 3; Noes, 122.

Division No. 238.] AYES. [11.0 p.m.
Kirkwood, David Tinker, John Joseph TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Maxton, James Mr. Buchanan and Mr. McGovern.
Acland-Troyta, Lieut.-Colonal Howitt, Dr. Alfred B. Runge, Norah Cecil
Adams, Samuel Vyvyan T. (Leeds, W.) Hunter, Dr. Joseph (Dumfries) Rutherford, John (Edmonton)
Agnsw, Litut.-Com. p. G. Hunter, Capt. M. J. (Brigg) Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)
Altchison, Bt. Hon. Craigle M. Huntor-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer Sanderson, Sir A. N. Stewart
Aske, Sir Robert William Jetton, Major Thomas E. Sanderson, sir Frank Barnard
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Ker, J. Campbell Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)
Bennett, Capt. Sir Ernest Nathaniel Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose) Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A. (C'thness)
Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman Leckle, J. A. Skelton, Archibald Noel
Broadbent, Colonel John Leech, Dr. J. W. Smith, Sir J. Walker- (Barrow-in-F.)
Burnett, John George Leighton, Major B. E. P. Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)
Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. O. Lloyd, Geoffrey Smith, R. W. (Ab'rd'n & Kinc'dlne, C.)
Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.) Somervell, Donald Bradley
Colman, N. C. D. MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G. (Partick) Somerville, Annesley A. (Windsor)
Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J. McConnell, Sir Joseph Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.
Conant, R. J. E. Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness) Spens, William Patrick
Craven-Ellis. William McKie, John Hamilton Strickland, Captain W. F.
Crooke, J. Smedley Maclay, Hon. Joseph Paton Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-
Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gaimb'ro) Makins, Brigadier-General Ernest Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray F.
Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Sugden, Sir Wilfrld Hart
Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil) Marsden, Commander Arthur Tate, Mavls Constance
Dickie, John P. Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John Tempieton, William P.
Dixon, Rt. Hon. Herbert Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Thornton, Sir Frederick Charles
Duggan, Hubert John Milne, Charles Thorp, Linton Theodore
Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.) Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr) Todd, A. L. S. (Kingswinford)
Dunglase, Lord Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh) Touche, Gordon Cosmo
Emmott, Charles E. G. C. Morrison, William Shephard Wallace, John (Dunfermline)
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Munro, Patrick Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Erskine, Lord (Weston-super-Mare) Nall, Sir Joseph Ward, Irene Mary Bewick (Wallsend)
Farmoy, Lord Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H. Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.
Foot, Dingle (Dundee) Normand, Wilfrid Guild Whyte, Jardine Bell
Ford, Sir Patrick J. O'Donovan, Dr. William James Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Ganzonl, Sir John Pearson, William G. Wills, Wilfrid D.
Goff, Sir Park Petherick, M Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Goodman, Colonel Albert W. Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple) Wise, Alfred R.
Gower, Sir Robert Procter, Major Henry Adam Womersley, Walter James
Graves, Marjorle Raikes, Henry V. A. M. Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir H. Kingsley
Guy, J. C. Morrison Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian) Wood, Sir Murdoch McKenzie (Banft)
Hamilton, Sir R.W.(Orkney & Z'tt'nd) Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles) Worthington, Dr. John V.
Harbord, Arthur Ramsden, Sir Eugene
Hellgers, Captain F. F. A. Remer, John R, TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston) Rosbotham, Sir Thomas Captain Austin Hudson and Mr.
Howard, Tom Forrest Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbrldge) Blindell.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.

The remaining Government Orders were read, and postponed.

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