§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn." 958 I wish to call attention to a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the refusal to-day of the Prime Minister to grant any facilities for the unemployed hunger marchers to voice their grievances to him, to the Cabinet, or to the House. I am aware of the limits of this Debate. This is not a Debate in which it is possible or allowable for me to raise the whole question of the means test or the whole question of the depressed areas, and indeed my 959 purpose to-night is not to do that, but to ask that the people who come from the depressed areas should themselves be able to state their case to the Prime Minister, to the Cabinet, or to the House. To-day there has been a refusal. The Prime Minister has decided that he will not see the marchers, the Cabinet has refused to see them, and the Prime Minister has refused facilities for the discussion of their petitions. In my view, and in the view of my hon. Friends, that is not a wise action.
Let me consider for a moment who are the marchers. They represent the people of the distressed areas, they represent a very large body of people in this country, they represent those areas which have not shared in any increased prosperity. In particular, the people from South Wales represent the major part of one of the nations that form this Commonwealth of nations. I agree it is not technically a Dominion, but it is a separate nation, a nation that has made and will make a very great contribution to our national life. I think no one will dispute that the feeling which animates those who have marched is a feeling that is common to the people of South Wales, regardless of their political persuasion, their religious persuasion or their situation in life. They ask that the Government and this House should realise that they are seeing there almost the death of a nation. It is impossible to suggest that this march is simply a Communist manifestation. An extraordinarily representative body in South Wales is responsible for the march, and representative bodies in other parts of the country are also responsible.
Why have they marched? It is because they feel that their position is not realised by the people in the parts of the country that are comparatively better off. That is the feeling of the marchers from Scotland, from Cumberland, from Durham, from Lancashire, and from South Wales. They have passed peaceably through the country, trying to make people realise what is their position. I think everybody has been impressed by the other march—that of the people of Jarrow. That march certainly struck the attention of everybody in the places through which it passed. These people have come entirely peaceably. It is called a march, but there is nothing military 960 about it. It is not a threatening march; these people have come to present their grievances peaceably under the Constitution. They asked the Prime Minister to hear them, and when he would not hear them, they asked to be allowed to present their grievances before Parliament, the great assize of the nation.
There was a march in 1934, and the then Prime Minister gave his reasons for not seeing the marchers. There was a good deal of talk about Communism and so forth, but he stated that the Government at that time was engaged on legislation, that it was not indifferent to the problem, and that the matter could be raised on the floor of the House by elected representatives. I will recall what happened after the refusal of the then Prime Minister to hear the marchers in February, 1934. It is true that we had legislation. It is true that hon. Members on this side, and some hon. Members on the other side of the House, told the Government very distinctly what was wrong with that legislation, but unfortunately the Government did not listen to them. Words of wisdom are not always listened to in the House. What happened? Regulations were made, and within a few weeks of passing those Regulations, they had to be withdrawn. There had to be a temporary accommodation, which lasted month after month, because the Government had failed to gauge the effect of their legislation.
At that time the Government had the benefit of hon. Members telling them what would happen, but they would not listen. Are we to have the same thing happening again in the case of the new Regulations that were brought in? Let it be remembered that by the action of this House, by legislation introduced by the Government, the House was precluded from amending the Regulations. The Regulations had to go through in exactly the form in which they were prepared. Therefore, it is clear that, although hon. Members on this side, and hon. Members on the other side, pointed out what would be the effect of those Regulations, the Government, through that legislation, were precluded from accepting any Amendment.
The point has been made that to suggest that the Prime Minister should receive these men and women, or that this House should hear them, is to derogate from the dignity of Members 961 of Parliament. The Prime Minister says—and I agree with him—that it is vital that we should preserve democracy. But we cannot preserve democracy by being over-rigid and insistent on form, or by suggesting that the only contact between the Government and the people, or Parliament and the people, should be through the mouth of elected representatives on the Floor of the House. I am not one who would for a moment belittle the obligations, the duties, and the rights of a Member of the House, but I am bound to point out that in other matters things are not dealt with only through representatives of the electorate. Other grievances are remedied. May I be permitted to recall one which occurred just before we left for the Recess? There are representativs in this House who are big coal-owners. A Bill was introduced to deal with the coal industry, and at the last minute, without this House knowing anything about it, the President of the Board of Trade said that representations had been made, the proper authorities had been consulted, and the Bill was scrapped—all entirely outside this House. It is indeed a, feature of the legislation of the last few years that more often than not this House is asked merely to give its approval to arrangements which have been come to outside the House with outside interests. Therefore, it is not wise for the Government to press too hard the point that the only representations to which the Government could listen are those which are made by representatives on the Floor of the House.
I would ask the Prime Minister to recollect the circumstances in which this march has taken place. In 1934, the then Prime Minister said that the Government were earnestly considering the whole of this question, that legislation was even then under consideration by the House and that the whole matter was having their most earnest attention. We are not in that position to-day. We are in the position of having certain Regulations about to be put into force in the distressed areas which, in the opinion of the people of the distressed areas, will affect them in a way which the majority of the Members of this House do not realise. We are in the position of just having had a Gracious Speech from the 962 Throne in which the only mention of unemployment is a reference to one particular Act, which is to come under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, an Act which, according to the report which we have just to hand, Mr. Malcolm Stewart —a man who has done great service and the utmost he could—confesses cannot and does not deal with the major problem of the distressed areas. Therefore, these men and women have reached a time when there is nothing hopeful for them at all.
If you wish to preserve democracy, you must make our democratic institutions effective in order to redress grievances, and even if you refuse to redress them, you should give the utmost opportunity for those grievances to be ventilated and fully heard. I submit to the Prime Minister that he would be wise to see, or give this House the opportunity to see, these men and hear their case. We on this side and Members in other parts of the House will put the case of the unemployed and of the depressed areas before this House, as it has often been put already. I have heard some extremely good and eloquent speeches on the subject and I think everyone will agree that the speeches of people who know these areas have swayed the Members who listened to them in this House. But only too often the majority of people do not listen to the speeches, and it is not to be wondered at if these marchers think that perhaps they must adopt some other method in order to try to concentrate the attention of this House on their grievances.
I suggest that in these circumstances, in the interests of democracy and not against democracy, the Prime Minister would be wise to hear for himself and judge what these grievances are. We want a peaceable redress of these grievances. There is far too much violence in the world for us to want, in any way, to encourage violence, and the right way to prevent these things coming to a head is to see that no one has any opportunity of saying that they have not had a hearing. I move this Motion because I think these matters ought to be brought to the attention of the Government, who, on their own confession, have nothing whatever to offer these areas, except regulations, which those who know the areas best, quite apart from whether they 963 belong to this side or to the other side M politics—ministers of religion, and social workers—say will be destructive of the whole life of the people in those areas and will inflict great and lasting loss on this country.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
The last debate on a Motion of this kind was one which will be in the memory of many Members in this House as having taken place two years ago, but there is one notable difference between that discussion and to-night's, in this respect, that two years ago no Front Bench Member on the Opposition side took part in the Debate.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I took part in it, and the right hon. Gentleman who was then Member for Darwen spoke on behalf of the Liberals.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
May I say that it was my Motion which was debated on that occasion, and both the right. hon. Gentleman above the Gangway and the then leader of the. Liberals spoke in support of it.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I do not think the then Leader of the Opposition spoke that night, hut, at any rate, it is not pertinent to my argument, and I apologise if my memory was wrong. Be that as it may, to-night the Leader of the Opposition has lent his powerful aid in this Debate and that, I think, puts it on a rather different footing from the Debate of two years ago. I wish to give the House the reasons which have animated me and the Government in adhering to a precedent which has existed for some years. It is difficult to know always where true wisdom lies, and only time can prove it. The Leader of the Opposition said that in his view it would be wise of me to accede to this request. In my view—and, as I say, time alone will show which of us is right—I think he may live to feel that he was not wise in the vi w which he took to-night.
Since the War this question of marchers has been a difficult question which has faced every Government. The difficulties are obvious to anyone who has the responsibility for the maintenance of law and order, and for several years successive Governments have taken the course which we have taken on this occasion, 964 and I had to ask myself, when the question was put to me, whether I felt it right and wise to make a breach in the continuity of refusal which, as I say, has been followed by successive Governments. For reasons that may or may not commend themselves to the House, I decided that it was my duty in my position to adhere to that precedent. I was unwilling to take what I considered to be the great responsibility of breaking down that precedent and leaving a situation in which I saw many grave difficulties for whoever might be my successor, whether he happened to be a successor of my own party, or a successor, as he must inevitably be at some time, of the party opposite.
Let me say at once that there are many things in these appeals that would naturally make a Prime Minister feel that he might do some good by acceding to such a request. But for many years, and certainly this year, everyone who came on these marches knew what the practice had been and what the position of the Government was. If every man did not know it, the organisers did, and one does feel a great deal of sympathy with men who may be encouraged to embark on these marches under the supposition, possibly, on the part of some of them, that something will happen which you know will not happen.
Now I come to the reasons which, in my view, have made successive Governments adopt the view which they did adopt. The right hon. Gentleman spoke quite truly about civil disorder. All of us, whatever our party views may be, must have been horrified at what has taken place in many countries in Europe since the War, in civil strife. We have been singularly free from it in this country. I spoke the other night for a few minutes on certain tendencies in Europe to-day and expressed my feeling as to the danger of them, but we must not forget that representatives of those tendencies are in this country, and are just as anxious to proceed by force as their brothers in foreign countries. We are a long, long way, I agree, in this country from it, but whether it be on the extreme Right or the extreme Left. the procedure is the same. The procedure is to cause trouble, to cause fights with the police, with the guardians of law and order. We have seen it in Europe in many countries. If and when 965 that begins, we have seen also how those who are strongly opposed to those people will use force in their turn, and although I believe that it might be on a small local scale in this country, yet that is the way in which civil strife begins—civil strife that may not end until it is civil war. I feel that we have no right to play with these things.
Now let me come back once more to the mere question of the appearance at the Bar of this House or of direct access to the Government, of people who are not Members of the House of Commons. It is not a question of derogating from the dignity of Members at all. The theory, right or wrong, of our Constitution is the theory of representative government, and I agree entirely with what the Leader of the Opposition said about the way in which the tragic case of these areas has been put in this House by the representatives of the areas. That case has suffered no whit by the way in which it has been put. But supposing, it may be from sentiment or from sympathy—admirable motives—you depart from the lines hitherto laid down, you then alter the conception of that basis and every body of men, anyone who can be organised—and we know what organisation and propaganda in this age can do —will have the right, which no Government then may dare to deny, to appear at the Bar or to see the Prime Minister or the Cabinet.
I do not say that the sky would fall if it occurred on this occasion, but you may depend on it, that whatever elements there are in this country which look out for trouble, whatever elements there may be in any foreign country which wish to utilise any movement in this country to cause trouble to Governments, they will be alert to use, in the most skilful way, the opening you have made for them. And though I think it extremely probable that my responsibility will have ended by then, yet I can see a most anxious time for the right hon. Gentleman, when he is either Prime Minister or a leading Member of a Labour Government in future, and when he finds that under conditions which exist owing to modern transport, conditions which exist owing to modern propaganda, he may have to face, not a few hundreds, or a thousand or more, but vast mobs that may come to him, and by that implicit threat of force try to exercise a control 966 over the Government that they have failed to get through the ballot. That is the real danger. When once the door is open, however little way the door may be opened, you are taking a step from which you cannot go back, and I can see a position arising quite easily in which you might have rival claimants for the personal attention of a Government and fighting as to who should be seen first, or as to who should have the right to be there at all.
Believe me, Sir—you may think it is because I am a Tory, but I think I can look from the position of the head of the Government, quite apart from whatever innate Toryism I may have in me—I am thinking just as much of the responsibility of future Governments as I am of myself. And mark this: From the nature of the case it will always be harder, and it will require more moral courage, on the part of a Labour Government to maintain law and order in difficult times than is called for from us; and it is not always an easy task. Governing a democracy, even a democracy like our own, is full of problems. It is not always easy, and with the best of intentions you may make mistakes. But I am convinced that to do what I am asked to-night would be a very grave mistake, a mistake because of the seeds of trouble it would have in it. If an act could be committed which would form no precedent, and no conclusion could be drawn from it, it would be another thing, but you would create by this a new precedent—in my view, in the present state of the world, a really dangerous one—and for that reason I felt, when I had the pleasure of meeting a deputation yesterday that discussed this matter with me with the deepest sincerity and courtesy, that, however much I would have liked on many grounds to do what was wanted, in my position it would have been an act of cowardice, and I should have hopelessly, if I may use the vernacular "queered the pitch" of those who came after me. If that pitch has to be queered, let it be queered by the man or the men who will be responsible for what may happen in future. That responsibility I cannot and will not face.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has studiously avoided answering one of the 967 main points which was made by the Leader of the Opposition. Does he deny the fact that many manufacturers' groups coming in their cars to Downing Street are received by Ministers of the Crown and consulted on problems that face the Government? Neither he nor the Chancellor of the Exchequer can deny the fact that there are constant consultations going on between such groups of people in this country, financial and industrial, and Ministers of the Crown, with regard both to prospective legislation and to the effects of legislation that has been passed. The difference in this case is that these men and women have walked many hundreds of miles to London and have not come in cars to Downing Street. It is quite idle for the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that it is a departure from any constitutional principle in this country, or any principle that has been followed by any Government of this country, that they should consult, upon matters of legislation, bodies of people, groups of people, who are particularly and peculiarly interested in the subject matter of the legislation and who are not Members of this House of Commons. At no time have the Government given an opportunity to these people, who are peculiarly affected by the means test, to put their first-hand point of view before the Government, and one is not surprised at hearing speeches such as I heard last night at a gathering where some of the hunger marchers were speaking, when they said that the only possible reason why the Prime Minister and the Cabinet would not meet them was because they were afraid of them; and that, I gather, is precisely the atmosphere that the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to raise.
He spoke in his speech of the grave dangers of civil war. No one in this House wants to see the beginning of any form of civil war in this country. There is no one who desires to see the people of this country driven to such lengths that they feel that their only redress is to resort to force, but if you are to avoid that where you have long-continued evil in particular districts of a country, you must deal with the people in those districts in a special way, unless you are prepared to remedy the evil. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said the circumstances are now 968 peculiar because the Government have made no proposals to remedy the admitted evils which have overtaken the populations in the distressed areas. Is it to be wondered at that these people, who year after year have suffered from these evils and who have been unable to get any redress through their representatives in this House, should now believe that if they themselves can come and put the case to the Government, the Government may be able to view it in a new light?
And when they know, as we know, that other people can get their evils redressed, that Lord Nuffield does not have to have his case put by a representative in the House of Commons, that he can go round and collogue with any Minister he likes because he is sufficiently wealthy and influential, when they know that, and it is blazoned through all the papers of the country, with an advertisement of Morris's cars on other pages, surely they are entitled to say: "If he, with his comparatively small grievance, can be received by Minister after Minister, can get statements made by the Cabinet as to what is his position, surely we, 2,000 of us, coming from these areas where complaints have been going on year after year, are entitled to be received and to have our case heard by Ministers of the Crown as fully and with as great a consideration as Lord Nuffield or anyone else receives."
I suggest that when we have, as we had in this case, an orderly demonstration proceeding through the whole length and breadth of the country coming to London, when nearly 250,000 people join in a demonstration in Hyde Park in one of the most orderly demonstrations that has ever been held, for the right hon. Gentleman to say that, because he is afraid of civil war, he refuses to receive these marchers is to make them think that there is no use in peaceful demonstrations. It is to give the very handle he does not want to give to those who say, "What is the good of your marching peacefully and behaving yourselves if the Cabinet pay no attention to it?" and, therefore, suggest to them that they should use other methods. If the Prime Minister wants to maintain democracy in this country and the constitutional forms of this country, I suggest to him that when there is a deep-seated evil and people who are suffering from it, even though they be poor, take the trouble 969 to march—some of them 700 miles—to London in order that they may be received and put their case before either Parliament or Ministers, the Government should say, "We are just as prepared to meet the poor as we are to meet the rich, and we are just as prepared to listen to the case put up by the poor people outside the House of Commons as we are to listen to the case put up by the rich people who want some advantage from the Government."
I hope that the Prime Minister will realise that this hunger march has created throughout the country a very profound feeling, that it has stirred up the working-class to a realisation of the sufferings of the people in the distressed areas. People all over the country are waiting to see whether the Prime Minister has the courage to meet the hunger marchers, to hear their arguments and to put arguments against them, to prove to the hunger marchers that the Government can do nothing for them. I venture to suggest to the Prime Minister that if he were faced with a body of these hunger marchers he would find it difficult to prove that the Government can do nothing for them. I suggest to him that the reason for refusing to see them is that the Government have no case.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mr. LENNOX-BOYD
I should like to support the wise and statesmanlike plea that the Prime Minister has just made. Before I do so, I would like to say with what regret I, personally, and all who are sensible of their responsibilities in East Africa, feel that the private Member's Motion in the name of the hon. Member for the London University (Sir E. Graham-Little) has unavoidably been squeezed out, and how much we hope that on a future occasion we shall have a chance of debating the position of the natives in East Africa. With a number of my friends I have recently been in contact with certain of the distressed areas and I spent a considerable time in the county of Durham and a period somewhat less long in Merthyr Tydfil. I have seen sights which have shaken me out of any complacency into which I might have been inclined to drift because of my own more happy personal and political surroundings. I am resolved that whatever contribution T can make in the course of the next few years shall be 970 mainly directed towards the alleviation of those conditions, a continuance of which is a reproach to all parties and to the whole nation. When one considers that actually on this day there are thousands of men in Merthyr Tydfil and elsewhere who are joining in the Armistice Day celebrations, men who played their part magnificently in the War, and who since have undergone the horrors of extended unemployment, the obligation on a generation like mine which entirely escaped the world conflict is one that we cannot possibly renounce.
I am perfectly sure that in resolutely refusing to accept the request of the Leader of the Opposition my right hon. Friend is acting in the best interests of the distressed areas themselves. It is not going to be by hunger marches, but by adequate Parliamentary and nation wide presentation of their case that the national conscience is going to be aroused. It is for the private Member of Parliament so to put the case in this House and over the whole country that some of the enthusiasm which the League of Nations Union two years ago mobilised for their peace ballot with all its consequences shall be directed towards rousing the national conscience on this issue. If Members of the Opposition are anxious to have this House invaded in a way that is a denial of our constitutional and traditional practice, it is to suggest to the hunger marchers and to other people that they do not feel themselves qualified adequately to put the case of the distressed areas. The right hon. Gentleman started a historical recital. He spoke rightly about the Debate which took place two years ago on this very question, and when he mentioned 1934 I had the rather fleeting hope that his historical memory was going to carry him a little further back and that he would come to the days of 1930 when he himself was a Minister of the Crown. On that same occasion we were blessed by having the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) also in the national administration.
There was then a great national outcry about the conditions of the distressed areas. There was this difference which I ought to note in passing, that there were over a million more people out of work then than there are now. A hunger march was organised and nation-wide publicity was obtained by the organisers 971 of the marchers, some of whom are no doubt associated with the march the circumstances of which we are debating to-night. They came to Downing Street and to Westminster. One might have thought, listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, that they would have received an enthusiastic welcome here and in Downing Street as well. But what happened? They were not told that they were welcome to come and put their case before Labour Ministers. They were not told that, because they did not come by motor car, but came on foot, Labour Ministers were going to gather together and hear their pathetic appeal. Instead, they were treated, according to their own leaders, not only with indifference, but with positive rudeness. I hope that I may be pardoned if I read a report of the hunger march of 1930 when we had a Socialist Government in office. The organ chronicling this march said:Permission for a deputation of the hunger marchers to interview the Prime Minister was refused yesterday. A deputation went to Downing Street only to find its way blocked by a strong cordon of police. Last year all the Socialist leaders were supporting the demand that Mr. Baldwin should receive the marchers. They were then facing the prospect of a General Election and had the votes of their electors to consider. Now they are in Office and have the responsibility of Government they are turning a deaf ear to the hunger marchers. Therefore the whole of the Police Force is mobilised to keep the marchers from the Labour Government—as a marcher commented yesterday, Even the Baldwin Government last year were prepared to show more courtesy and replied to our correspondence, as well as allowing us to the door of 10, Downing Street, to interview the Prime Minister's Secretary.'What is the good of the humbug, almost nauseating humbug, of hon. Gentlemen opposite taking this line now when they hope to impress opinion in those distressed areas, but refusing even common courtesy to some of the same marchers and others who came here six years ago? I can assure the right hon. Gentleman opposite that an attempt to use the misery of the distressed areas for political propaganda, an attempt sponsored and, indeed, supported by men who pay lip-service to constitutional usage and tradition, is not only disreputable to them themselves, but disastrous to the interests of the distressed areas as well. If there is going to be, as I believe there 972 will be, a vigorous tackling by His Majesty's Government of this problem, I am confident that it is going to be brought about by ordinary efficient Parliamentary discussion, and by rousing the national conscience outside by regular and constitutional means.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
The Prime Minister a, short time ago put before us a number of considerations with which, I imagine, nearly everybody in the House will agree, but, if one may suggest it with great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, what he had to say seemed to me singularly irrelevant to the issue which the House has to decide to-night. The right hon. Gentleman used a phrase "implicit threat of force." In the march we are considering this evening there has been no threat of force, either implicit or explicit. Also, he spoke about creating a precedent, but as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) pointed out, we all know that no new precedent is created when a deputation is received by a Minister of the Crown. Hon. Members who were present at Question time will have gathered that my hon. Friends and myself propose to support this Motion for the Adjournment. We do so because we agree with the proposition that an opportunity should be given to these men to express, at any rate to responsible members of the Government, the grievances which they have brought to Westminster. As I understand it, it is simply because no such opportunity has been given them that the Leader of the Opposition has brought forward this Motion.
I am not particularly concerned about the actual form of the Motion. As far as we are concerned, we are not in favour of reviving the ancient custom whereby petitioners themselves appear to plead their case in person at that Bar, because that dates from a time before there were any modern methods of publicity or of making grievances known, and a time when the great majority of the people in this country had no sort of representation in this House. And it is quite easy to appreciate the point that if we receive one deputation at that Bar it would be very difficult to refuse to receive a large number of others. Nor 973 do we say that anyone in this country has a right to come and put his grievances in person before the Prime Minister or any Member of the Cabinet. But, admitting those facts, we in this part of the House take the view that it would have been at any rate a wise and a gracious and a statesmanlike act if arrangements had been made for one or two spokesmen from these marchers to have come and put their grievances before some responsible Minister.
What are the objections which have been raised or which can be raised? It has not been suggested to-day that this march is not sufficiently large or sufficiently represented—I do not know of any speaker who is going to suggest that —but it was indicated at Question Time, I thought, in the! Prime Minister's reply, that one of the reasons for not receiving these marchers was that they wished to discuss certain matters which only last summer were decided in this House. It may be suggested that they are organised by persons with certain political views. That is the kind of thing which has been hinted, at any rate, in this Debate, and which was stated quite openly in the last Debate in 1934. It appears to me that that kind of defence is not open to the Government on this occasion. We all know that there have been two marches recently, the march which came from Jarrow and this other march, the members of which came to this House and to the Lobbies yesterday, and which represents many parts of the country. It is perfectly true that the Jarrow marchers did not ask to be heard in this particular way, but we know quite well that if they had done so their request would have been refused, because before either of these marches started the announcement was made on behalf of the Government that they were not to be received and were not to be afforded an audience of any kind.
So it is not a question of the size of the march or of what subject they wish to raise with any Minister they may happen to see; it is not even a question of their political views, for whatever numbers they come in and whatever subjects they wish to raise, and whatever their political views have been, it was decided in advance that in no circumstances were they to be heard. The marchers have adopted what may be a well advised or 974 ill advised but is, after all, a perfectly lawful and constitutional methodol demonstration. After all, a march like this is not a small matter. I am told, and I have no reason to doubt its truth, that of the 2,000 marchers who have come to London no fewer than 500 have walked all the way from Scotland. Yesterday I had the opportunity of meeting some 33 of my own constituents, some of them men who were well advanced in years—they were not all young—who had walked over 450 miles and had been more than a month on the road, and some, we know, have come an even greater distance than that. I was amazed at one phrase the Prime Minister used when he said that the procedure was to cause trouble. I do not think there has been a single incident in the whole course of this march which could possibly give any colour or excuse for that suggestion. Throughout the march there has never been the slightest disorder or disturbance, and that is a fact which might very well have been taken into consideration by His Majesty's Ministers.
I do not want to delay the House, kit I should like to refer to something that was said by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol. Tie referred to the question of using peaceful means. It seems to me that very often these men who are unemployed for long periods of time, either in depressed areas or in areas which, though not scheduled as depressed, have a very high percentage of unemployment, remember things which the rest of us, somehow, have a way of forgetting. I ask hon. Members to cast their minds back to the time referred to by the Leader of the Opposition, at the beginning of 1935, when the first set of Unemployment Assistance Itegulattons was put into operation. It will not be disputed that there was very bitter feeling in almost all parts of the country. Hon. Members will recollect that local authorities were forbidden by the terms of the Unemployment Act to supplement the allowances that were made by the Board. We know what happened. There was trouble in a good many places, and something approaching a riot in Sheffield. Then the Sheffield Poor Law authorities came to London, and, in spite of the terms of the Statute, they managed to get permission to supplement out of the rates the allowances that were being made by the Board; and only a 975 few days later we had the Minister coming down to that Box and bringing in the standstill arrangement, going back on the very Regulations which he had introduced only two 'months before.
What was the impression created upon the minds of large numbers of the unemployed by those actions? I believe that it was the wrong impression. I know, and other hon. Members know, that the impression created was that the changes had been brought about because there had been disorder, a riot in Sheffield and a threat of serious trouble in many cities in Scotland and in the North of England. I welcomed the concessions which were made, but I always regretted the circumstances in which they were made. The unemployed in many parts of the country have not forgotten those events, and the impression that was then made upon their minds. We all agree that there has been no disorder and no suggestion of disorder, but no audience has been given to these men by any responsible Minister. The idea that will inevitably arise, and it will be sedulously fostered in a good many quarters, is that it is because there has been no disorder that they have not been heard.
For that reason, I submit to the Government and to the House that when you have a considerable enterprise—and this march has been a considerable enterprise—and people come so far and in such numbers in order to carry out a peaceful demonstration, and when that is done without a single unfortunate incident along the line of march, those circumstances ought to weigh with the Government of the day in coming to a decision. The Prime Minister said that he did not want to break with precedent, and he wanted to know why we should make this occasion an exception. Of course, I agree that it would be impossible that everyone should be heard by the Prime Minister or a member of the Cabinet, but if a reason is wanted why this should be an exception, I think the Prime Minister suggested one in the opening words of his speech. We know, because he himself admitted it, that this march, and the request to be heard by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, are not sponsored only by the marchers themselves and Members of the back benches in this House; they also hap- 976 pen to be sponsored by the Leader of His Majesty's Official Opposition. That is about the best reason that could be desired.
We know that Ministers are constantly receiving deputations of one kind or another. The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol referred to industrialists who come and consult Government Departments from time to time; there is not a Member of this House who has not attended a deputation to this or that Minister, on behalf of some industry or interest in his own constituency. I do not think it was unreasonable to ask that the Prime Minister himself should hear these men. I will not even put it as high as that; if only, say, the Minister of Labour had been prepared to give up an hour of his valuable time in order to hear what they or their leaders had to say, it would simply have been extending to these representatives of the unemployed the same courtesy as is constantly extended to chambers of commerce, trade unions, representatives of churches and peace societies, and organisations of every kind and description. None of those organisations is told that it must be content with presenting a written petition. It is not told that it must rely only upon the eloquence of its Parliamentary representatives. These people are heard in person. We, in this part of the House, ask for a similar courtesy to be extended to the leaders of this march.
These men have not come here to discuss a small matter but to discuss the grievances of some of the depressed areas and the question of the Unemployment Regulations. The Regulations intimately affect the lives of well over 750,000 people. It is true that we passed the Regulations in this House during last Session, but does any hon. Member, even on that side of the House, believe that the Regulations are sacrosanct and not open to amendment in the future, if they are working badly? In that case many hon. Members over there would be the first to get up and ask that amendment should be made. In the circumstances, it is not unreasonable to ask that some Member of the Cabinet should have given audience to these people, who would have a far more intimate personal knowledge of these matters than any of 977 us in this House can have in the nature of things. For these reasons my Friends and I very much regret the attitude which the Prime Minister and the Government have taken up in this matter. We believe that if they had taken another attitude and given audience to these men, either the Prime Minister, a Minister of the Cabinet or some other responsible leader, that would have been a statesmanlike action which would have redounded to their credit.
§ 3.52 p.in.
Sir HUGH O'NElLL
The sympathy of Members in all quarters in the House is, of course, extended to these hunger marchers, who have come long distances to London to present their case. The very fact that, in the course of their march, they have received sympathy all over the country, shows that it is realised in all quarters that they have a case to present. I want to dwell for a few moments rather upon the constitutional aspect of the statement which has been made this evening by the Opposition. The Debate arises out of a Motion which was put on the Order Paper the other day by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), and the words of that Motion were to the effect that it was desirable that the representatives of these unemployed marchers should be received at the Bar of the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) dismissed that portion of the matter rather lightly. He said that he and his friends were not in favour of receiving the unemployed marchers at the Bar of the House, but I think we cannot forget that the Motion which was put down by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale has been sponsored and supported by the Leader of the Opposition. Therefore, we can rightly take it that there has been on the part of the Opposition a demand that members of these unemployed marchers should be able to state their grievances at the Bar of the House of Commons.
In this uninflamed atmosphere, I should like to deal with the constitutional side of that proposal. The Prime Minister dealt so admirably and so completely with this question that there is not much more that can be added on the main issue. If we were to adopt the proposal of hon. Members opposite and allowed people who have grievances to come and press them here at the Bar, we would 978 be going entirely contrary to the whole principle of Democracy and Parliamentary institutions. It is true that the practice of persons appearing at the Bar to state their grievances used to exist many years ago, but only in certain very limited circumstances. I think it used to be not uncommon for people to be allowed to come to the Bar of the House of Commons when certain Bills were under discussion, but those were always Bills which affected some parts of the world outside the British Isles, where the people affected could not, through their representatives in Parliament, make themselves heard. For instance, I think there have been Bills dealing with Newfoundland, Canada and Jamaica in the case of which representatives of those countries were allowed in days gone by to come to the Bar of the House and be heard there through their counsel. But that practice has long ago ceased, and to-day I think the only exception that allows anybody to come to the Bar of the House to present a petition is in favour of the Sheriffs of the City of London, who have a right to present their petitions personally at the Bar. It used also to apply tc the Lord Mayor of Dublin, though whether that is now the case I do not know. Then, outside individuals are occasionally called to the Bar of the House of Commons for the purpose of being admonished if they have committed a breach of privilege, and that, I take it, might happen even to-day.
Recently, when I was looking up the point as to who should be allowed to come to the Bar of the House of Commons, I happened to see, in connection with the right which the Sheriffs of the City of London have and which the Lord Mayor of Dublin used to have—I do not know whether he still has it—that it was at one time moved by a Member of this House, who was, in fact, my own great-grandfather, that this privilege should be extended to the Lord Provost of Edinburgh; and some Member remarked, in moving an Amendment to that Motion, that the Scots were generally thought to be prudent people, and the Corporation of Edinburgh would know better than to send their Provost 400 miles to present a petition. From that aspect, and it is purely a constitutional one, I think it would be most undesirable, and a departure from the whole tradition c f Parliament, to make this great change 979 from precedent and allow persons individually to come to the Bar of the House and discuss their grievances. As the hon. Member for Dundee has just said, if one set of people were allowed to do it, it could not be refused to others; and, if that were once started, it would, as the Prime Minister pointed out, be impossible to stop it, and no one could say how far we should be carried. Therefore, I think it would be most undesirable for any such course to be pursued.
If it is seriously suggested, and I take it that it is, that these persons should be received at the Bar of the House of Commons, have hon. Members opposite considered how it would be done? What would their proposal be? Would representatives of the unemployed marchers come into this Chamber and make speeches? How many of them would come? Would Members of this House of Commons be allowed to reply to those speeches? Is it the suggestion that we should start a practice in this House of having a kind of wrangle between outside persons at the Bar and Members of Parliament? These may appear to be absurd suggestions, but they are the natural, logical consequences of adopting such a proposal as is put forward from the Opposition benches. I feel that, quite apart from any ground of sentiment, and quite apart from the broad statesmanlike considerations which were put forward by the Prime Minister, it would be a very retrograde step indeed if this House of Commons were once again to start a practice of receiving grievances direct from outside people, and there would be nothing more calculated to bring democratic and Parliamentary institutions into contempt and ridicule.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. EDE
I suppose that the last speech was intended to prove to us that the right hon. Gentleman is more reactionary than his great-grandfather, and that in his hands, therefore, Conservatism is quite safe. But I venture to say that, interesting as his speech was to those of us who take some pleasure in considering constitutional precedents, it will give very cold comfort, not only to the men who have marched to London, but to the people whom they have left behind. I desire to urge upon the Government that they 980 should alter the attitude which they have adopted, because of the very real representative character that these marches have assumed on the present occasion. As far as the Jarrow march is concerned, that was undoubtedly representative of the whole population of Jarrow, irrespective of politics or creed. It was organised to a very large extent, and accompanied, by the Conservative agent for the division, and I know, as the representative of an adjoining constituency, that the whole of the arrangements for that march were made in circumstances which united the town more than anything that has happened during recent years; and there was a general belief that, if Parliament could be impressed with the fact that these people speak with one voice on this issue, greater attention might be given to their demands.
It has been remarkable that throughout these marches, wherever the men have stayed, they have been welcomed by people of all types of opinion, whose consciences have felt outraged by what they have seen and heard when these men have been in their midst. I know, as representing an area which has sent some of these marchers, that there is a deep and growing resentment at the fact that, while there is plenty of talk, nothing seems to be done that touches the deep-seated evils which these men have come to speak about here. I listened to the Minister of Labour only on Monday, and I really thought that, when we received the Third Report of the Commissioner for the Special Areas, we should find that it was a glowing testimonial to the Government. I am bound to say that, having spent the greater part of to-day reading it, I have yet to discover any kind word that will give the right hon. Gentleman cause for pride as he goes to sleep to-night. There is a growing feeling among these people that, because they live in remote and highly segregated communities, their position is not understood by this House and by the people of the country. If proof of that were really needed, the speech of the hon. Member for Mid Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) could, I think, be quoted in proof of it. It was quite evident that his personal acquaintance with the problem had produced in his mind a feeling that very determined efforts would have to be made if this problem was to be met. 981 These people come from districts which are being drained of everything that makes the continuation of a community possible. The transference of young and virile men, leaving behind the aged, the sick and the very young, means that these communities are doomed to decay and have no real hope of recovery, because the human material that would assist in that recovery is being taken away. The answer that we have had from the Prime Minister is altogether inadequate. These men have come in circumstances which could justify violence if anything could, and they have throughout the march not been found, in any one place in which they have been, guilty of anything at which the finger of scorn could be pointed. They have stated their case wherever they have had the opportunity with a restraint and a temperance which have secured for them the respect, as well as the sympathy, of the people they have met, and there is no indication that, if they were granted an interview with the Prime Minister or the appropriate Members of the Cabinet, they would pursue any different course.
Having met the marchers from my own division in the Lobby and knowing something of their close personal acquaintanceship with the distress and their ability to state their case, it is a matter of great regret that these men, who have conducted the march in a way that must excite the admiration of anyone who knows the temptations that must fall to people in their circumstances, have not been able to place their views before the Government. So far from being an outrage on the Constitution it might very well form a most valuable constitutional precedent. I do not believe it would violate any constitutional precedent at all, but I certainly was not sent here to preserve precedents which deny the rights of humanity and I shall vote for this Motion knowing that, in doing so, I voice the feeling of every individual elector in my constituency, irrespective of the party to which he may belong.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. SANDYS
I think the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) made some remarks which were a little unworthy of him. He may disagree with the policy and the politics of the Prime Minister, but it was unworthy of him to attribute 982 to my right hon. Friend the motive of cowardice. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"I Because I do not think anyone in the House honestly believes that the Prime Minister was actuated by a motive of that kind. Anyone who has been on a deputation to Ministers knows how very easy it is for them to hear what the deputation have to say and let them go away without saying very much to them. It needs much more courage on an occasion of this kind, when you have a large number of marchers waiting outside, to say you will not receive them. It is perfectly clear that the Prime Minister's decision was taken in the interest of the preservation of our democratic liberties, and I challenge anyone to suggest anything to the contrary. The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to consultations by the Government with industrialists. Is it not natural and right that the Government should consult all people whom they consider have some contribution to make, people who have expert knowledge on the subjects which are before the Government? The Government have again and again received representatives of organised labour. Likewise they received only the other day the municipal representatives of Jarrow, and quite rightly, in order to hear their point of view.
The Government must be themselves the judges of whom they shall receive and whom they consider has a contribution to make. Again, this House of Commons has the right to decide whom it shall receive and hear at that Bar. I am sure if we thought that the representatives of these marchers had some information to impart to us which we could not obtain by other means we should want to hear them, but we do not feel that that is the case. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) reminded the House of the manner in which the Labour Government in 1930 dealt with a similar march. It was a very apt reminder. Nevertheless we want to deal with this matter entirely on its merits. The marchers wish to present a grievance. They are particularly concerned with the working and the application of the means test and with the distress of unemployment. Those are questions which have been fully debated in the House again and again.
I much regret that the Leader of the Opposition tried to make this a question of sympathy with the marchers and the 983 unemployed, and also a question of public policy. It is not a question of sympathy and it is not a question of public policy. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the inclusion of the Special Areas Development Act in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. There are many of us on this side, too, who would like to discuss that question, but it is not the issue to-night. We are not concerned with the rights and wrongs of the policy of the Government or with the conditions in the distressed areas. The issue to-night is whether or not the Government have been wrong in not receiving the marchers and providing facilities for them to be heard. A march is a legitimate form of political demonstration, and there are marches that do good and marches that do harm. We have recently seen marches and countermarches of Fascists and Communists, the Fascists through Bethnal Green and the Communists through Regent Street and Piccadilly. Those sorts of political antics are not profitable. On the other hand, marches such as that of the men from Jarrow and also the marchers with whom we are concerned this evening may very well do a lot of good, not by trying to talk in the House of Commons but by marching through the country and awakening the social conscience of the people in places where prosperity has returned. It may make those people alive to the fact that there are parts of these islands which have remained high and dry out of the reach of the tide of trade revival. A march is a legitimate form of public demonstration, but that is not to say that it confers any right to be received by the Government or by Parliament.
§ Mr. SANDYS
He certainly did not suggest that they were deprived of any right. They have the same rights as anyone else. But if everyone with a grievance had to be received by the Cabinet or by Parliament there would be no end to these hearings and counter-hearings. There are already sufficient complaints that Parliamentary procedure 984 is slow. We would never get on with our work at all. My right hon. Friend the Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) rightly pointed out what the logical result would be. If everybody had access to that Bar this House would eventually be turned into a public meeting hall. I do not believe that any of us would take the trouble to seek re-election if we could just walk into this Chamber and express our views. The contention of the Leader of the Opposition is that the marchers have not had an opportunity of presenting their case. I submit with all sympathy that the Government and Parliament know their case. We know their case full well. The marchers may not agree with the Government's policy, and they may not agree with the way in which the Government are dealing with the matter. But what are Members of Parliament here for if it is not to put the case of the people whom they represent? The Leader of the Opposition said that Members of Parliament were not listened to. I cannot believe that the marchers would be listened to with more attention than hon. Members. But I utterly deny the suggestion that hon. Members are not listened to. Any hon. Member who has anything worth saying is listened to very attentively. Opinions may differ, and that is what hon. and right hon. Gentlemen mean. When they express a view which is not shared by the Government or their fellow Members, it is naturally not always acted upon, but that does not mean that they are not listened to.
I submit that these marchers could do nothing to advance their interests which could not be better done by those who represent them here in this House. There is no lack of sympathy for the marchers on all sides of the House. I do not think that hon. Members opposite will suggest that sympathy does not exist in all parts of the House for those men and their difficulties. That is not the issue to-night. The issue is not one of sympathy, but is concerned with the duties of government and the procedure of Parliament. One of our most undisputed democratic liberties is the right to demonstrate, but there are places where it is proper to demonstrate and places where it is not proper to demonstrate, and I do not believe that Parliament is the proper place to stage a public demonstration. 985 The business of legislation can be conducted only by sober argument and cool discussion. We are not likely to be assisted in our work by the appearance at that Bar of partisans of various policies. I therefore trust that the sympathy which undoubtedly exists for these men and for the unhappy position in which they and many others are to-day in the distressed areas will not be allowed to influence the decision of the House on an issue which is not one of social policy but is concerned with an important constitutional question which fundamentally affects the efficient conduct of democratic government, the independence of Parliamentary discussion and the whole principle of popular representation.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Two years ago I happened to move a similar Motion to that which, I am very glad to say, the Leader of the Opposition has undertaken to-night. I think that to-day the circumstances have not changed very much. Those who have spoken from the benches opposite have not met the case for the refusal of the Prime Minister to meet the marchers. It is rather curious that every Member who has spoken on the opposite-side of the House dealt with only one issue—that of appearing at the Bar of the House of Commons. No one has made the slightest attempt to defend the conduct of the Prime Minister. All that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) said was that there had been rather an unfair argument by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), but he did not appear to make any reasoned argument. I want to try to put the case as I see it. I do not want to enter into competitions about distressed areas. Many of us represent distressed areas. I represent a division which has been a Jarrow ever since I knew it. Gorbals was never anything else but a Jarrow. I was born in that Jarrow, and I am likely to die in or near to it the way I see things going. I used to say that the first three years were hard, and then you got used to it.
The issue to-night is that certain unemployed men and women should be heard by the Prime Minister and the House of Commons. That is the plain issue, and may I say to the Constitutionalists that the right of men to be received at the Bar of the House of 986 Commons is still a constitutional right. It has not been revoked, but is one which the House of Commons has seen fit to continue. It is true that that right should only be exercised rarely, but it is a right. If it is held to be a right to come to the Bar of the House of Commons, can there be a greater case for men or women coming to the Bar than that of unemployment and poverty. I do not ask that every case should be heard. Parliament should be jealous of its rights and more than careful in granting permission, but now and again on a great moral issue which moves the heart and soul of the people the House of Commons has the right to say that the things that govern the verdict should be set aside. There is no question of turning this House into a public meeting place. Who has not sat on a great town council and heard unemployed marchers present their ease with as much dignity and capacity as any other person? I have heard speeches of sentiment, and if I have one criticism to offer the Labour party it is that I hope that they will keep their sentiment. A movement like theirs without sentiment is a lost movement. I am never ashamed of sentiment; I am proud of it. I have a brother-in-law who has tramped the streets for years and years. I cannot tell of his struggles. I cannot picture the sufferings of his children and his wife. I cannot do it. I could not come down to the House of Commons, were I gifted ten times better than I am, and picture his struggles. If he came there and told you how he feeds his bairns on 3s. a week it would make an impression that the eloquence of all of us could never make.
It is said that other people who have been received have expert knowledge. Suppose that two years ago you had taken my advice—and on most of these issues I have been generally correct—and you had heard the marchers, here at the Bar or privately, do you not think that their expert knowledge would have saved you from the disasters of a few months afterwards; that, if you had heard these people tell you of the effect that the Regulations were having, it would have saved you from the humiliating retreat? Have they not expert knowledge of a subject that few understand? What is the difference between the unemployed marchers and any other section of the community? The Trade Union Congress has the right of access; 987 great bankers, farmers, every kind of interest has a right of access. [Interruption.] Well, they get it. I will withdraw the word "right," and give the hon. Member his little twist of words, and put it that they have a right of being received. If the marchers came to London in a train instead of marching, would that make any difference What constitutes the refusal? Is it because they have marched? Let there be no mistake that these men have a case. Nobody has denied it. Lord Nuffield had plenty of people to speak for him in this House. He is the one man who seems to have got every party touched, and he was received by the Prime Minister, and practically by the Cabinet. I would like to say in fairness to the Labour Government, and as one who was among its most severe critics, that it is not accurate to say that the Labour Prime Minister refused to see them. He did receive them ultimately. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) brought a deputation of unemployed men to 10, Downing Street and were met, and they put their own case in their own way. [An HON. MEMBER: "When was that?"] In 1930. These men and women asked for their case to be heard.
The poorer the people are, the more defenceless they are, the more inarticulate they are, the more right they have to be heard. Lord Nuffield had a hundred and one channels available if he had not been received. If the brewers are not heard they have a hundred and one other means of pressure; if the farmers are not heard they have a hundred and one other means of pressure; if trade unionists are not heard they have other ways of bringing pressure. But if these poor people are not heard, what other means have they? They have none. Years of unemployment have made them as derelict as the towns in which they live. They are miserable, poor people with nothing at all, yet you refuse to receive these folk—derelict waifs. They have little voting power. But they have souls, they have the same blood as you and I. I would say to the Prime Minister, in these days when they say lie is about to retire, that if he had received these people he would have retired with 988 a gesture and a nobility of mind greater than he had ever possessed in the past.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
After the appeal of the hon. Member it would be difficult to claim with justice that the poorer people are not heard or represented in this House. However violently we may disagree with the hon. Member and his colleagues, they do what they can for the lowest classes in the community. This Debate has been conducted hitherto with commendable and almost hallowed calm, and I do not wish to engage in any fervent controversy. I fully understand, though I do not agree with, the extremely awkward position in which hon. Members of the Labour party find themselves today; they must be feeling, as well as the Prime Minister and hon. Members on this side, that there is some concern for the future which it would be wise to consider and which may well affect them. I find it difficult to understand the position of the Liberal Opposition. How far and how woefully have they got from the Liberal policy of the nineteenth century, which enjoyed above all things great respect for parliamentary practice and constitutional tradition. I can only imagine that the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) thinks that he is not likely in the near future to have much to fear in supporting the Adjournment of the House tonight.
What is the real argument on this side? It is a question largely of degree, as well as of constitutional practice. May I pay tribute at this juncture to the way in which the unemployed marchers have conducted themselves? Two or three years ago we had similar marches and there was a refusal to receive them. At that time there was some disorder, but this time there has been none. I think the House welcomes the way in which these men, who feel a definite sense of grievance, have conducted themselves.
The point at issue is whether these great marches, conducted even in the most orderly manner, advancing upon the capital at certain times when the House is sitting, are or are not conducive to the best interests of Parliamentary government. The Leader of the Opposition said, and so did the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) that if you went in a big motor car to 989 Downing Street, if you were Lord Nuffield, you would be received and you could lay down your grievance. That is a bad example to give, because Lord Nuffield was not received for some months. The Leader of the Opposition mentioned what he described as the monstrous withdrawal of the Coal Mines Bill, because the coal owners objected. The withdrawal of a Bill is nothing new. It is no new precedent to withdraw a Bill. Hon. Members opposite, unless they have very short memories, may recollect that in 1930 there was a Bill introduced to deal with the hours of work by the Government that they were then supporting. It was called the Industrial Employment Bill, but it was withdrawn because the trades unions and other elements objected to it.
It is true that many interests, including trade unions, are frequently received by Government Departments to discuss points of interest not only to them but to the community as a whole. Why is it therefore that the Prime Minister, speaking on behalf of the Government has refused not only to receive the deputation but to allow these unemployed marchers to appear at the Bar of the House? My right hon. Friend the Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) has pointed out the great difficulties that would arise if they had been received. I agree. The difficulties are very great, but even if it were possible to receive them it would not be advisable. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) referred to this march as being a considerable enterprise. It is precisely because it is a considerable enterprise that it is inadvisable to receive a deputation from it. If you were to have from all parts of the country marchers advancing upon this House at the same time—it might be fishermen from Mevagissey who felt that they were not getting a big enough price for their fish, or men from South Wales who were unemployed, or woollen workers from Bradford who were having a hard time—and all these marchers who were advancing on London, obtaining much sympathy and headlines in the Press, had a feeling that they could get the Government by that means to give them all that they wanted, there would be an end of Parliamentary government for ever.
990 If that point can be established, and it is very difficult to controvert it, may I offer one concrete consideration to hon. Members opposite? Next week we are to be presented with a Bill called the Public Order Bill. That Bill will, among other things, prohibit the wearing of uniforms. There are a number of people who call themselves Fascists and go about wearing black shirts. I understand that under this Bill they will no longer be allowed to wear these black shirts. I have no sympathy with Fascism in this country or outside it. These Fascists are not represented in this House, as the unemployed marchers are represented. Is there anything to prevent a march upon London by Fascists from all over the country, claiming the same right, if it were given to the unemployed marchers, to be received either by the Prime Minister or at the Bar of the House. What would hon. Members opposite think of that? Would they approve of it. Would they say "Here are these Fascists? They are not represented here, and yet they are not to have the same right as the unemployed marchers." Whether we agree with the Fascists or not they are British subjects, and they have as much right to appear before the Bar as unemployed marchers.
If the Prime Minister had received a deputation from the marchers he would be taking up, and the House would be taking up, the attitude that you have only to come in sufficient numbers to London and to receive sufficient publicity, for the Government and the House of Commons to give in. That would be the end of Parliamentary government in this country. Therefore, with all respect, I do urge hon. Members opposite to consider once and twice the question as to whether they are to give in to what amounts to force, even if it is not exercised, and to consider what might well happen when they are called upon to form a Government if the same conditions arose. Would they or would they not refuse to receive a deputation of marchers to London? If they consider the matter from the point ov view of possible Fascists marchers in the future, I think they will be wise not to press the Motion to a Division.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
I should like to draw attention to the fact that these marchers have marched from all parts of 991 the country because they feel so deeply the conditions that exist in their areas. Theyhave marched also in order to arouse the public conscience. That is a big factor of the march. They have been arousing the public conscience in all parts of the country, and now they want the Prime Minister and the House of Commons to assist them in arousing the public conscience further. If the Prime Minister will receive the marchers or if the House of Commons will allow them to speak here it would have an enormous effect in arousing the public conscience. It is about time that something like this took place. I spoke to a friend to-night and he told me that he attended a meeting last night where there were a number of speakers, some of them experienced, but the two speakers who made the real impression were two marchers, a man from Scotland and a woman from Lancashire. They were not experienced speakers, but the story they had to tell was a story of actual life coming right from the heart.
I heard one hon. Member say that he had been to Durham or Merthyr to see the distressed areas. It is very nice to look on these scenes of suffering from the outside, but I could bring before the hon. Member a man and his wife whom I visited the other day, and if they could stand at the Bar of the House and tell in simple language the life and the sufferings they have to endure, they might change the attitude of the Prime Minister. That would give an opportunity for arousing still further the public conscience. Instead of giving any assistance in dealing with this problem, the Prime Minister says: "Hush. There is civil war somewhere about. It is the Communists." Why always talk about the Communists? Why always associate the Communists with disorder and civil war? This sort of thing has got to stop.
Demonstrations and marches are the right of the workers of the country. There have been demonstrations since the War and often much trouble; but there were demonstrations before the War, with much trouble. There were demonstrations in 1908, in Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester and South Wales, but did the unemployed use violence? No. The violence came from the other side. When the guns were fired at Tonypandy, who fired them? Was 992 it the Communists? No. It was your side. I declare again that the working classes never have and never will initiate organised violence. The violence has always been against the working classes, and there is no Communist propaganda anywhere that advocates violence. It points out that the workers in moving forward towards a higher and better life will be faced with violence from the financiers and bankers generally.
Now I come to the question of receiving the marchers. I want to make an appeal to the Government to receive them and allow them to come to the Bar of the House. Why not? It may not be a practice which has been in operation for a long time, but I remember that when hon. Members opposite wanted to get some of us in gaol in 1925, before the strike of the 'miners, they went back 150 years in order to get an Act. Let us go back if necessary to some of the early precedents 'and allow one or two of these people to come and state exactly the conditions in their areas and how their wives and children are bearing up under terrible burdens. I make this appeal to the National Government particularly because the National Government itself came into existence as the consequence of a march. Hon. Members opposite appear to be proud of the National Government. It is all affectation, I know. But the National Government came into existence as the direct consequence of a march. Not a march of the poor from distressed areas, but a march of the bankers to No. 10, Downing Street. Ask the Lord President of the Council. Out of that march came the National Government.
Are the Government afraid of meeting a delegation? Are they afraid that if they meet men representing these depressed areas they may be won over and that out of the deputation will come anew coalition? Is the Prime Minister afraid that he will be under the necessity of throwing over his colleagues, the unemployment Regulations and the means test? Do not tell me that it needs courage on the part of the Prime Minister to meet the delegation. Do not let anybody tell me that it needs courage to say "No" to those who are poor. What do we find? Has there been any courage shown in refusing to meet any of the vested interests of this country? No. 993 We do not want courage in this matter but humanity. The Prime Minister and the Government are prepared to meet experts. Experts on finance, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will meet at any time. Experts on the making of aeroplane engines and experts on machines, they will meet at any time, but men 'and women who represent suffering humanity, no. Is that their attitude? Machines and profits are of more concern than men, women and children. Thousands upon thousands of innocent children are represented by these marchers. I want to make an appeal to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Labour, because I know that the Minister of Labour is very often engaged on Sundays in the pulpit preaching humanity. Let us have a little practice in humanity on the part of the Government and the supporters of the Government. Let us sweep aside all the trivialities which have been raised as to precedents. The Prime Minister can agree with the Leader of the Opposition to receive these marchers because of the special circumstances which exist, and it does not commit him or the Government to receive anybody else at any time. Any receiving that is done will be on its merits.
A terrible situation exists in this country to-day, with all this unjust suffering. These men are not criminals, they are the victims of the profit-making system for which you are responsible and, therefore, seeing that there is all this undeserved suffering surely it is possible to reconsider the decision. Why should not the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Labour agree to see representatives of these marchers and discuss with them how the situation which exists in the various areas can be remedied? We want to make strong men and healthy mothers in this country. We want to have healthy children, and if we can get experts on these matters let us see them, no matter where they come from. No one is more qualified to talk on these matters than these marchers, and they should be gladly welcomed by this House and eagerly received by Members of the Government in order that the fullest discussion might take place as to how the bitter situation which bears so heavily on many families might be remedied.
We hear time and time again of the necessity for building up our forces for 994 defence. Is there any section in this country more in need of defence than the men and women and children whom these marchers represent? If you are concerned with the real defence of the people, please meet these marchers or their representatives and discuss with them these terrible problems, which are problems to you but which represent suffering and agony for them and those who are dependent upon them.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. S. O. DAVIES
I must confess at the outset that the Prime Minister has not put me in the mood to make any further appeals to him, but I must protest against the language which he used to-night in an attempt to mislead the House as to the conduct of the marchers who have come from Scotland, England and Wales to London. Why should the Prime Minister have used that language? Why should he have accused certain persons of having encouraged the marchers to embark on that march? Why should he have dilated upon the question of civil disorder and strife? What was the right hon. Gentleman's intention in speaking on those lines to-night other than that, by implication, he wished to impute to the 2,000 marchers motives and objects which he ought to know it would not be honest and honourable to do? Surely the Prime Minister cannot be helplessly ignorant, as apparently he was this evening, about conditions in the depressed areas of this country.
May I put a question to the Prime Minister? Has he not personally received thousands of appeals and resolutions from these depressed areas? Is there a section of the population—may I make my references largely to South Wales, a district which I cannot help knowing?—is there a section of the population in South Wales, of any class or any organisation, that has not forwarded to the Prime Minister appeals and resolutions about the sad conditions that are responsible for the marchers coming to London? As one who knows most of the marchers from South Wales, I protest vehemently against the Prime Minister associating in his mind those persons with the nightmare of vast mobs—which apparently is worrying him—that are a danger to law and order. I consider the speech of the Prime Minister this evening as being nothing short of contemptible. There has not been from any place in the 995 country where the marchers have been the slightest complaint coming through to London about their conduct, which should win the approval of all of us. Why add insult to injury? Why indulge in such language as the Prime Minister used to-night? Why talk about mobs? Why talk about civil disorder and strife? These people are doing all they can to get rid of such a state of things as may cause disorder in this country.
May I for a moment help the Prime Minister to get to the origin of this march, as far as South Wales is concerned? He can immediately disabuse his mind of any idea that these marchers have been encouraged by any political party or any section of the population in South Wales. The fact is that if all those who were ready to take the road from South Wales to London had found it possible to start there would not have been 500 from South Wales, but in all probability 5,000. Instead of encouraging people to march to London and make their protest, the fact is that thousands of them in that coalfield were discouraged, and there is left the mere handful of 500 who have come. May I for a minute or two try to assist the Prime Minister to visualise the background in South Wales so far as these hunger marchers are concerned? As I have already stated, every section of the community, every sort of organisation—business, trade union, cultural, religious and social—has protested directly to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Labour against the means test and the Regulations. It is of no use the Minister of Labour giving tips to the Prime Minister as though I were not telling the truth. They have received these protests. There is not a section of the population in South Wales, not any organisation or any class, which has not sent a protest to the Minister of Labour and to the Prime Minister. [An HON. MEMBER: "Even the Baptists."] Every section has sent a protest, including the Baptists.
Moreover, the disappointments which the unemployed and their families in South Wales have experienced have also been a factor in impelling them to make their protests and to appear in London in person, or in a representative deputation, to put their case before the Prime Minister. They have been led to believe, 996 by spokesmen on behalf of the Government, that prosperity has always been near at hand.. Cabinet Ministers have made optimistic speeches and the Minister of Labour has been more eloquent than any other person on the Front Bench. Prosperity has been promised; work and improved conditions have been promised. We have had visits by Members of the Government and by supporters of the Government. We have had in the House of Commons unlimited sympathetic references to the distressed areas. We have had inquiries of all kinds, official and unofficial, into the conditions of the depressed areas. We have had statistical surveys of the material resources of the Special Areas. We have even had a Royal Commission as far as Merthyr Tydfil is concerned. We have had Commissioners appointed. We have had a tremendous amount of publicity. As far as South Wales is concerned, we have been dissected, analysed, and microscopically examined in every nook and corner and from every conceivable angle.
What has been the result of all that? In all these approaches that have been made by Commissioners, by the Royal Commission and by representatives of different Government Departments, the people have invariably not only met those representatives courteously but have helped them in order that they might carry to the Government a clearer and more sympathetic understanding of the conditions in that coalfield. What has been the result? Not only has nothing been done to help to revive the economic and industrial conditions in that coalfield, but those conditions are being allowed to go from bad to worse.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member appears now to be entering upon a discussion of the condition of the depressed areas, but that is not the point before the House. The question before the House is the refusal of the Prime Minister to allow the hunger marchers to voice their grievance in this way.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I am sorry. I was making an effort to give the background and to show the origin of this march to London. I had nothing more than that in my mind. The cause of this march is one in which the Government are very considerably involved and for which they have a very considerable responsibility, 997 but I leave that point. With respect to the marchers, I ask why should the Prime Minister be afraid to receive them? I know the contingent from South Wales and it is not inappropriate on this day to mention the fact that nearly half of those marchers are ex-service men who served in the Great War. They went to the Cenotaph in all their wretchedness and poverty, in face of the abandonment which they have so largely experienced for a number of years past, and they placed a wreath there to the memory of their comrades who have also been forgotten as they have largely been forgotten.
May I also remind the Minister of Labour, that many of them are men skilled in the production of coal and in the working of iron and steel? But they are on the road, unemployed, and nothing is being done for them. Many of them are young men of 17 to 20 who have never had an opportunity of doing a day's work and whose future apparently is hopeless. What has been left to these men by the Government? Nothing but to take to the highroads of this country, to make such contacts as they can make with people who are sympathetically disposed towards them, and to come along here in the hope that the head of the Government would show some sympathy to them instead of the feeling which he has revealed to-night. Many of these men have been unemployed for five or six years or longer and they foresee that on the 16th of this month changes will be effected which, in the coalfield where I live, will make the struggle of thousands of them and their families far more difficult than it is at present. The Prime Minister has not been big enough to meet the representatives of these people. Only a small man would refuse to meet them while continuously meeting the representatives of the rich class. A bigger man would meet these people who have tramped the roads of this country and would show that he had sympathy with them and with the motives which inspired them to carry on, keeping body and soul together, while awaiting an improvement' in conditions.
This was the last thing left to them. They have tried everything and you have exhausted all the propaganda machinery at your disposal. Representatives of almost every Department in Whitehall have made visitations to these districts, 998 but, as I say, conditions are going from bad to worse. The least that a really big man in the position of Prime Minister of this country could have done, would have been to meet the representatives of these men, some of whom have been on the road for months. It would have shown that he had faith in the system which he represents and faith in the Government of which he is the head, if he had taken these men into his confidence and told them "We have faith in this capitalist system and in this Government and we have resources by which we hope to make your conditions better than they have been for a number of years." The Prime Minister believes that inevitably he will fail but it is a ghastly tragedy that these people have to pay the penalty for the workings of a wretched system.
In that coalfield of which I speak there are still vast natural riches, great industrial traditions and a fine skilled body of men. Those men are being left on the scrap-heap and we have seen to-night what consideration is shown for them by the Prime Minister, prompted by a man who is not helpful to us in this struggle—the Minister of Labour. I hope that when the speech of the Prime Minister is read to-morrow these marchers, who have conducted themselves so magnificently and so heroically, will not feel the measure of resentment and indignation which I, personally, feel at the implication which the Prime Minister was reduced to making, as to the potential causes of mass civil strife and disorder. I hope that they will overlook the very silly and dangerous indiscretions of the Prime Minister in his speech of to-night.
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ Miss WILKINSON
I rise only to make a brief appeal to the Prime Minister. As far as the Jarrow marchers are concerned, and also in regard to these other marchers, their object has been to be heard at the Bar of this House. It is true that that would be a new thing and that a precedent would be created, but we are in fact in a new situation. I admit that the Prime Minister or the appropriate Minister met the Jarrow Town Council when we asked him to do so, and we had no grievance against the Government on that ground, but the Jarrow marchers and the Jarrow Town Council deliberately asked for their 999 petition to come before this House because they wanted to appeal to this House, because literally they had tried everything, every kind and sort of constitutional procedure, and there was no point in going through it all again, always to be met with a blank wall and the remark of the President of the Board of Trade that we must work out our own salvation. So we took him at his word and came to the only possible place where finally the grievances of the subject must be heard.
I suggest to the Prime Minister that, far from taking in any way from the dignity of this House or of the democratic representatives in this House by asking to be heard at the Bar of the House, the petition of these men and women enhances the dignity of the individual Members of this House. We say that there must be parties, that there are such things as Cabinets, and that Executives must rule, and all that, but when it comes to the final stage, the individual Member cannot hand over all his public responsibility to the Government and to the Executive which, for the time being and in 99 cases out of 100, he is anxious to stand by. I suggest that the case of these marchers is just that hundredth case and that this House might very well permit itself to hear the actual statement of these men before the Bar. After all, when it is a matter of life and death in the Law Courts of this country, the very fullest kind of appeals are allowed to be made. When it is a matter of life and death every point is pressed that a man should be heard in his own defence, and I would ask the Prime Minister whether it is not possible to stretch a point in this case, because, quite literally, it is a matter of life and death when the infantile mortality of Jarrow is double and more than double what it is in the rest of the country.
It is insufficient to say that their representatives can be heard in this House. As the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has said, with all the good will in the world there are things which we cannot understand. As I marched down that road with those men, all of whom I knew well, whom I had worked with in my own constituency, as I marched with them hour after hour, just talking—I come from the working class myself, and my father was unemployed, 1000 but I have never known what it was to miss a meal that I wanted—it was just as we walked and talked so intimately that I began to understand something of what it meant, day after day after day, to get up and not know what you were going to do, and never have a copper in your pocket for anything. I mean that it was a revelation to me, and no amount of investigation, and going down for a week, and no amount of talking with these men in the ordinary political sense would have taught me so much. Is this House quite sure that it can dispense with that kind of direct experience? The Prime Minister has made some very wonderful speeches about democracy, both in this House and out of it, but should there not be a richness about democracy that autocracies and totalitarian States do not know? Should it not be a flexible thing, a human thing? The Prime Minister has often spoken in this House of this country being a family, but in any family would it be the weakest who could not go to the head of the household and be heard direct?
It seems to me that we are making rather a fetish of precedent. It is so easy, where people want to, to get away from precedent. Here we have people who feel, and who have every right to feel, not only that they are up against the Government, but that behind the Government there are very sinister forces at work. We have seen it in the iron and steel trade. We do not feel that this House understands the position. We feel that there are things to be said and that before these Regulations come into force on 17th November Members of the House should know what they are going to mean. They ought to know. They ought to be willing to know what the results of their handiwork will be, and they cannot hear it from us. I do not know how a woman in a back street brings up three children on an unemployed income, and if I do not know you do not know either. The only way to get to know is to hear these men and women at the Bar of the House.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Sir EDWARD CAMPBELL
What the hon. Lady and her predecessor on that side have said is rather beside the point. It is sometimes a great deal more difficult to say "No" than to say "Yes." These men have marched up here, they have been well supported throughout their 1001 march by the newspapers, and to a great extent by the mass of the people with whom they came in contact, and yet the Prime Minister on the question of precedent considers it inadvisable to receive them at the Bar of the House. We are sometimes accused, and I dare say that on this occasion this party and the Government will be accused, of being unsympathetic, but I venture to say that in this instance we are a great deal more sympathetic than many Members on the opposite benches.
§ Sir E. CAMPBELL
The hon. Gentleman is always very talkative, especially when other people are talking, and I do not think that his interruption will make very much difference to the sense of the House. I was saying that we on this side have shown in this case perhaps even more sympathy, as we have done on previous occasions, than the Members opposite. The majority on this side dislike the custom that is growing up of encouraging, if not urging, such like people to take these marches and to give them the hope that by doing so they will get something which their own representatives in the House cannot get for them. These men have been what is vulgarly called, "led up the garden." I remember a few months ago, when we were discussing the means test, half a dozen or more Members on the Opposition side said, "You will see the demonstrations that will come to the House on this subject." Naturally they have engineered it so that deputations do come, and they have done a great wrong in getting these men to imagine that by such a march they will be able to get what we know, and what the Opposition know, they cannot get in such a manner, or, perhaps, in any other manner.
This is not only my opinion on this subject. I remember that last year the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. Alan Herbert) brought in, not under the Ten Minutes' Rule and not by drawing a place in the Ballot, one or two Private Members' Bills, one of them being in connection with divorce. I said to him at the time, and, therefore, I make no apology for saying it now, that by bringing in those Bills in that particular manner he had not one chance in ten thousand that they would ever become 1002 the law of the land; but the people outside who were particularly interested in those subjects had their hopes raised. They saw that the Bills had been brought into the House and they would blame the system of the House of Commons because they had not become law. When I pointed this out to him the hon. Member for Oxford University said, "I am delighted that you have told me this," and on the following day he wrote to the newspapers to say that he had brought in the Bills because he thought it was a good thing to have those subjects ventilated. That was his reason; and everybody has a right to his own view. But this is rather a serious question, and the Labour party are not serious on this matter.
§ Sir E. CAMPBELL
I did not approve of what the hon. Member for Oxford University did last year, because I thought he was raising the hopes of certain people without ally possibility of those hopes being realised. To my mind the position is exactly the same this evening. If those gentlemen are allowed to put their case before us at the Bar of the House what will they be told? They will be told exactly what their representatives in this House have been told, and the Opposition, in urging this course, are acknowledging that they are very poor representatives of such people, because they are incapable of putting their case before the House so strongly that they can get things done themselves. Therefore, for all those reasons—[Interruption]—well, for any of the reasons I have mentioned—and I see that talkative man giggling again—I believe it would be far better that on future occasions the Opposition, though they may feel, and I have no doubt whatever they do feel, deeply for the distress in the distressed areas, should not induce men who are unemployed to take a march such as this has been in order to gain absolutely nothing, except to serve for a demonstration on the part of the Socialist party. If they wish to march let they themselves march, to Scotland or elsewhere, and then they will show that they are not exploiting others to their less advantage.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Mr. MAINWARING
I am delighted to have the opportunity this evening to express a word or two upon this matter, for 1003 I feared, having been compelled to listen to that empty, vapid nonsense which has just been delivered here, that I would not be able to control myself sufficiently to speak on this matter at any length. I represent the most depressed and distressed division in this country, where there are thousands of idle men, idle in some cases for 14 years, and thousands of wives and children. The last time we discussed this question in this House, in July, the Front Bench could not tell us what the Regulations meant. The Prime Minister asked what justification had we for making this appeal on behalf of the unemployed marchers. The justification lies in the words of that Front Bench in July, and their failure to tell us what the Regulations meant. These men know it, and it is because you failed to explain it to us, their appointed representatives, or at least you refused, that they asked the opportunity to come along, not in the first place, to stand over there at the Bar, but to see the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister anticipated the demand. The Cabinet decided, before the request came, that they would not accede to it.
It is the failure, upon the first stage, of the Prime Minister himself, and, in the second place, of the Cabinet; that is why they come to this third stage. I would like to speak to the Minister of Labour, as one organiser of a march to another. I was chairman, organising this march in South Wales. I make no apology for it; no apology is required. The tragedy of South Wales speaks for itself. Mr. Prime Minister, without any personal or feeling at all in it, we ask you to consider—
§ Mr. MAINWARING
I am sorry, Sir, but I want to ask that this be considered. There is not a man or woman in my division that lacks faith in my ability to express their need, but I recognise that, despite their faith and confidence in myself, they may have a belief and a suspicion that, if they were personally, some two or three of them, allowed to come to the Prime Minister himself, they might carry weight. We had an expression of that fact a short while ago in South Wales, at a conference where men, trained in public speaking, 1004 were present in large numbers. That meeting broke down. A simple working woman, untrained, who could not deliver a five-minute speech if her life depended upon it, broke down that conference with a few simple words of heart-felt experience. We believe, and they believe, that the same might be done with the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister turned them down. The march from South Wales to London has had a deaf ear turned to it.
I say this, knowing exactly what it means: the Minister of Labour is conducting a march to South Wales next week. What for? A deaf ear has been turned to the plea of these people here to-night, but next week the Minister of Labour goes to advertise charity-mongering. I hope my words will go to South Wales to-night; I hope the people of South Wales will refuse to see the deputation next week from London—will turn the insult back in their faces. We organised this march from South Wales with these Welsh words:Nid cardod i ddyn ond gwaith"—no charity for men but work; and the Minister of Labour is organising a march to South Wales to bless organised charity. I shall refuse to associate with it if I am asked, because I shall refuse to insult the people of the Rhondda by blessing a playground when they want work, and food, and clothing, and shelter. That is the reason why this application ought to have been acceded to. I dare not allow myself to speak about it, because I should say offensive things, possible unjustifiable things, to right hon. Gentlemen opposite; but I ask Members of this House who represent comfortable constituencies to try and imagine what it means to represent a constituency which is a cemetery of tragedy. I am pleading that these men and women, who have had 14 years of tragedy, should be given something more than a "No," and next week will be the best show that this country can provide, a grand parade of playgrounds, social service clubs, and so on. Heavens, what an insult to a people who have been suffering and starving for 14 years.
§ 10.38 p.m.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I feel that to-night's Debate has brought clearly to the mind of every Member of the House the gravity 1005 of the situation, and it is because I feel that a crisis has arisen in Parliamentary life that I wish to say a few words. The Prime Minister felt that he was courageous in stating to-night that he had replied in the negative to a request to meet a deputation. If ever strength was required, it is required to-day. The lessons of the Continent ought to be sufficient. Every Member of this House, and every man vested with authority, ought to take to heart the lesson of what has happened on the Continent. Just as the Devil does not like holy water, neither have I any time for the Communists. There is no need for me to hide that. But I am not unaware that even a Communist can put a justifiable claim before the House of Commons with regard to the treatment of humanity. Therefore, when I see the poverty, in the district to which I belong, of men and women whom I have known during the last 50 or 60 years of my life and see that there is not a glimpse of hope for them, I ask, why have the people no right to appeal to Caesar?
If I understand this House of Commons, it is the forum of the nation. To-day its composition is not indicative of the voice of the nation. If the Whips could be taken off, we should have a true statement in regard to the position. We find ourselves under a system of government which is no indication of the views of the nation in explaining its poverty. Every hon. Member must know in his heart of hearts that, with 1,600,000 unemployed after five years of the National Government, there is something rotten in the state of Denmark. Surely, the men and women who require food and want to place their demands before the House of Commons have the right to put their complaints forward? It will be a bad day for England and its Government when the head of the Government, whether Labour or National, fails to recognise the cry of the poor outside its doors. I am not grousing about men and women being rich, but I can see the growing menace of the breeding-ground of Communism because justice is not being done to the people. Why in the days of our prosperity should 1,600,000 be wanting the necessaries of life in the greatest Empire of the world? What is the use of speaking of liberty if our men and women starve, and why talk about religion when in your everyday actions 1006 you fail to put Christian principles into operation?
There is not a, church in the land which would agree with the rejection of this appeal. The clergy of all denominations feel that the poor have a right to be heard, and nowhere more than in the British House of Commons. I have lived amongst poverty all my life through, and have seen men and women walking up and down the streets not able to get the bread of life. I have seen the little ones practically dying of starvation and, knowing how impotent these Opposition benches are in face of the great human cry outside, I say that the Prime Minister of the National Government has failed in his duty and his responsibility to the State because, if you turn the pleader away, you intensify the agitation outside and sow the seeds of discontent. I trust that the Prime Minister will admit even now that he has made a mistake, and it will be much better for England if he makes up his mind, representing as he does that great national party, to revoke his decision.
§ 10.45 pm.
§ Mr. R. J. TAYLOR
I want to add my plea to the eloquent and able appeals that have been made to-night. I come not from a distressed area, but from an area that has an enormous number of men who have been unemployed for years, and in which there are men unemployed probably at the moment with no prospect of getting work. I come as one who has experienced exactly what they are going through. For some 18 months I and my wife and two children, after the 1931 cuts were made, had 25s. 3d. a week on which to live. Approximately 10s. was required for rent, leaving 15s. 3d., out of which every other thing had to be provided for and all the standing charges which come against the home before food can be provided. I am lucky to-day that I have been lifted out of that pit, not so much that I am here, but that I was able to get work. The ambition of these men who have come down here and are desirous of being heard is that they shall have work. I look upon this House as the symbol and the visible expression of the greatest democracy in the world. If democracy stands for anything, it is that those who are governing for the time being shall look upon the citizens whom they govern equally and alike. 1007 Years and years ago, on account of a dispute in our mining industry, we were invited to London to meet the Ministers. We met them, and they were glad to meet us. We discussed the problem that was agitating us at the moment and went back again because we had been received by the heads of the Departments who were governing in this land at the time. If we are going to say to these workers that they are not organised in the sense that the trade unions are organised, what are we asking them to do? We are asking them to form organisations so that they may become big enough to force this House and the Government to take heed of their request. It has been said by hon. Gentlemen opposite that there is any amount of sympathy. Our people do not want sympathy, but work. If I could only persuade the Prime Minister to meet these men who have come to London and implant in their hearts a real hope for the future that work may come to them, he would have done the best day's work he had ever done since he became Prime Minister or entered public life.
There are in this country 1,600,000 men with no prospect of work apparently at the moment. If he could meet them and discuss the matter with them it would show at least that they were being taken into his confidence and that he had a real and genuine desire, and was endeavouring to find work for which they are so anxiously waiting. It has been said that to receive these marchers would be a bad precedent and would turn this House into a public hall. This problem to me is one of the greatest tragedies that has ever befallen this nation. We are standing to-day facing a problem greater, I believe, than that with which we have ever had to deal in this country. It is a problem that is affecting the lives of 1,600,000 unemployed, practically 4,000,000 people, who are eating their souls out, if our smiling, kindly, sympathetic friends on the other side could only understand. You cannot understand unless you have gone through the agony of despair. Even the men unemployed are not so much affected as the women with the hopelessness of the outlook. Surely a ray of hope a word of encouragement can be given to these people, that their feet may be lighter on the march home, if march 1008 they do, and that if they ride they will ride with a ray of hope and a message for their families at home.
§ 10.52 p.m.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The speech of the Prime Minister hurt me very much. It implied that here was a body of people who had done some injury of some kind and were to be treated like criminals. They were assumed to be in such a condition that it was not possible for the House of Commons to relax one of its precedents. What we are dealing with is a national subject. Those who have walked from Glasgow to London have not done it for fun. Some suggestion has been made in regard to the futility of that march, but the greatest futility has been the speech of the Prime Minister. He built up a case as if his whole defence had to be against a crowd of criminals who had arrived in London from different parts of the country. The plea we are making to-night is to put the House of Commons into closer relation with the people. The Minister of Labour has put into operation Regulations which meant increased distress in every home concerned, and we are being told that the unemployed marchers can tell the House nothing. They could tell the House a lot, especially to those hon. Members who have never lived a working-class life.
Like many others on these benches, one of a large family, I knew what shortage in the larder meant and what it was to be black-listed, before the word "unemployment" became rampant. Our family were black-listed because of our activities in the trade union movement. We knew then what was meant by the reality of want, not because we did anything wrong, not because we were not capable and skilled workers, but simply because we dared to fight for the rights of our own class. There are a few minutes still left and I am willing to give way if any one responsible on the Front Bench will reply. They have heard the case. Are they going to answer? The Prime Minister's reply was made before the full case had been stated. Will he tell us if any impression has been made upon his mind 1009 in regard to human relationships. If so, will he get up and tell us what the change has been?
§ Question put, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 119; Noes, 237.1011
|Division No. 4.]||AYES.||[10.58 p.m.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Potts, J.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Grenfell, D. R.||Pritt, D. N.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Ridley, G.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Groves, T. E.||Riley, B.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Ritson, J.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Barr, J.||Hardle, G. D.||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Batey, J.||Harris, Sir P. A.||Rothschild. J. A. de|
|Bellenger, F.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Rowson, G.|
|Benson, G.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Seely, Sir H. M.|
|Bevan, A.||Jagger, J.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Broad, F. A.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Shinwell, E.|
|Brooke, w.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Short, A.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire)||John, W.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Buchanan, G.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Simpson, F. B.|
|Burke, W. A.||Kelly, W. T.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Cape, T.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Kirby, B. V.||Stephen, C.|
|Chater, D.||Kirkwood, D.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Cocks, F. S.||Lathan, G.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Cove, W. G.||Lawson, J. J.||Thurtle, E.|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Leonard, W.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Daggar, G.||Leslie, J. R.||Viant, S. P.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Logan, D. G.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Day, H.||Lunn, W.||Walker, J.|
|Dobbie, W.||McEntee, V. La T.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Dunn, E. (Bother Valley)||McGhee, H. G.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Ede, J. C.||MacLaren, A.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees)||White, H. Graham|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||MacNeill Weir, L.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Foot, D. M.||Marshall, F.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Frankel, D.||Maxton, J.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Gallacher, W.||Mllner, Major J.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Gardner, B. W.||Montague, F.|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||Morrison, Rt. Hn. H. (Ha'kn'y, S.)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Oliver, G. H.||Mr. Whitetey and Mr. Mathers.|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Parkinson, J. A.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Bullock, Capt. M.||Davison, Sir W. H.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Butler, R. A.||Denman, Hon. R, D.|
|Albery, Sir I. J.||Campbell, Sir E. T.||Dodd, J. S.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Cartland, J. R. H.||Doland, G. F.|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Carver, Major W. H.||Conner, P. W.|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Cary, R. A.||Drewe, C.|
|Apsley, Lord||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Dugdale, Major T. L.|
|Assheton, R.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (Br. W.)||Duggan, H. J.|
|Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover)||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)||Duncan, J. A. L.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Starley||Channon, H.||Dunglass, Lord|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Eastwood, J. F.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Clarke, F. E.||Eckersley, P. T.|
|Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M.||Clarke, Lt.-Col. R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Clarry, Sir Reginald||Ellis, Sir G.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Clydesdale, Marquess of||Elliston, G. S.|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury)||Colman, N. C. D.||Emery, J. F.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.||Entwistle, C. F.|
|Birchall, Sir J. D.||Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Everard, W. L.|
|Bird, Sir R. B.||Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff(W'st'r S.G'gs)||Fleming, E. L.|
|Blindell, Sir J.||Cooper, Rt. Hon. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)||Fox, Sir G. W. G.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Courtauld, Major J. S.||Fraser, Capt. Sir I.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Craddock, Sir R. H.||Ganzoni, Sir J.|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Goldle, N. B.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Graham Captain A. C. (Wirral)|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Cross, R. H.||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Crossley, A. C.||Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Crowder, J. F. E.||Gridley, Sir A. B.|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Cruddas, Col. B.||Grimston, R. V.|
|Brown, Brig-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Davidson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. C. C.||Gritten, W. G. Howard|
|Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.)||Davies, C. (Montgomery)||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. (Drake)|
|Bull, B. B,||Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Guinness, T. L. E. B.|
|Gunston, Capt. D. W.||Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.||Selley, H. R.|
|Guy, J. C. M.||Manningham-Buller, Sir M||Shakespeare, G. H.|
|Hannah, I. C.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)|
|Harbord, A.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'lf'st)|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A P.||Mitchell, Sir w. Lane (Streatham)||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan||Mitcheson, Sir G. G.||Smith, L. W. (Hallam)|
|Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Moore, Lieut.-Col. T. C. R.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Herbert, Capt. Sir S. (Abbey)||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Holdsworth, H.||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Holmes, J. S.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Southby, Comdr. A. R. J.|
|Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cir'nc'st'r)||Spears, Brig.-Gen. E. L.|
|Hopkinson, A.||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||Spender-Clay, Lt.-Cl. Rt. Hn. H. H.|
|Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L.||Neven-Spence, Maj. B. H. H.||Spens, W. P.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||O'Connor, Sir Terrence J.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)|
|Hudson, R. S. (Southport)||O'Neill, Major Rt. Han. Sir Hugh||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Ollver (W'm'l'd)|
|Hulbert, N. J.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. G.||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton (N'thw'h)|
|Hunter, T.||Patrick, C. M.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Hurd, Sir P. A.||Peake, O.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Jackson, Sir H.||Penny, Sir G.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|James, Wing-Commander A. W.||Perkins, W. R. D.||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Joel, D. J. B.||Petherick, M.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Touche, G. C.|
|Keeling, E. H.||Pilkington, R.||Train, Sir J.|
|Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)||Pownall, Sir Assheton||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.||Procter, Major H. A.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Com. R. L.|
|Kimball, L.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Turton, R. H.|
|Lamb, Sir J. O.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Latham, Sir P.||Ramsbotham, H.||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|Leech, Dr. J. W.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Rayner, Major R. H.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Levy, T.||Remer, J. R.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Lewis, O.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Liddall, W. S.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Little, Sir E. Graham||Ropner, Colonel L.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Llewellln, Lieut.-Col. J. J.||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (L'derry)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Lloyd, G. W.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Loftus, P. C.||Rowlands, G.||Wright, Squadron-Leader J. A. C.|
|Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Russell, A. West (Tynemouth)||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Lumley, Capt. L. R.||Salmon, Sir I.|
|Lyons, A. M.||Samuel, Sir A, M. (Farnham)|
|Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Sandys, E. D.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P.||Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward|
|McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Savery, Servington||and Dr. Morris-Jones.|
|McKie, J. H.||Scott, Lord William|