§ Mr. JOHN BURNS, Member for Batter-sea, rose in his place and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely, "the conduct of the Hull Board of Guardians and the Local Authorities in connection with the Labour Dispute, now proceeding at Hull; "but the pleasure of the House not having been signified, Mr. Speaker called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places, and not 451 less than 40 Members having accordingly risen.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
said, he would not have moved the Adjournment of the House had he wished simply to express his personal opinion on the merits of an industrial conflict, and he believed that if the hon. Member (Mr. C. Wilson), who was one of the parties to the conflict, and himself could have talked the matter over in an adjoining room for five minutes they could have settled it to the satisfaction, not only of the hon. Member, but of the men on strike. In his opinion, the partial and undignified way in which one of the Local Authorities had interfered on the side of the masters at Hull, and had used their administrative powers to bring pressure to bear upon the men, constituted a matter of grave public importance. He did not ask for the sympathy or the consideration of the House for the Hull strikers. He believed that the merits of an economic and industrial dispute had nothing whatever to do with the House of Commons as such. he believed, with Lord Derby, that in industrial disputes the House of Commons and the Law should show a fair field and no favour, that the House should provide a clear ring, and let the disputants fight the matter out without intervention on one side or the other, except for the preservation of the law of life and of the public peace. He regretted that several questions which had been asked in the House the other day precluded him from raising several points to the extent he should have liked. He would confine himself, in the first place, to the intervention of the Hull Board of Guardians. On Thursday last that Board of Guardians sat in the usual way, and among the applications for outdoor relief was one from a man named James Mullins, a bricklayer's labourer. The man was 61 years of age, and stated that he had been out of work for a long time, and had nothing on which to exist. Mr. Mundell asked whether he was a member of the Bricklayers' Union. He said he was, but was paid no contribution, as he was beyond the age. Mr. Tewson proposed that the man should have outdoor relief given to him for one week on condition that he sought work where it was to be got in the town—namely, at the Free Labour Exchange, which was supplying free labour in connection with the dispute 452 then in progress. The Chairman, who was indirectly connected with shipping, made several comments in connection with this application, and Mr. Adams, one of the Guardians, said he had been to the offices of the Free Labour Bureau that morning and had been told there to send all the men to the Bureau, as work could be found for at least 2,000. The Chairman interrupted one of the Guardians who protested against this action and, in fact, moved an amendment to the effect that the applicant be given the house only. Later on an old lady applied for relief. She was asked by the Chairman if she had anyone upon whom to rely, and replied that she had a son. The Chairman said, "Does he belong to the Union?" The applicant replied, "Oh, yes, Sir." The Chairman then asked why she did not get her son to tear his card up and join the new Labour Bureau, adding that he could get work there, and that the Dockers' Union would not give him anything. One of the members said, "I think, Mr. Chairman, you are taking advantage of your position." The Chairman replied, "Perhaps you will take the information to the Dockers' Union." These were two of the cases of intervention of which he complained, and there was still another case. He had in his possession two printed tickets of the Sculcoates Union, Hull, dated 8th April, 1893, and given to William Morley and William Roberts. These men had been engaged in the breaking of stones, and they were told they must either enter the workhouse or go to the Free Labour Bureau, or down to the docks, where they could, through the Free Labour Bureau and Exchange, get work, which meant that they must either go into the workhouse or take the place of labourers which were out on strike. He contended that not only had the Chairman no right to make the remarks he did make at the meeting, but that the Board of Guardians had no right to authorise their officers to toll men who were engaged on test work that if they did not go down to the docks to secure work they would have to go into the workhouse. There was, perhaps, a reason for the partiality which had been displayed by the Hull Board of Guardians. He found that 20 out of the 37 Guardians were ex officios, and were also Magistrates; that these 20 men were shipowners, whilst three of the 453 elected Guardians were also shipowners, so that 23 out of a total of 37 Guardians, or a majority of four, were shipowners. It was said that this conduct on the part of the Guardians had been induced by the condition of Hull at the present time. During the past week there had been in the Press exaggerated reports of "diabolical outrages" at Hull. He was afraid that many of these "diabolical outrages" were something like the black eye, which he was said to have had about a month ago, but which he did not know of until he saw it in print. One of the outrages was the painting green of the door of the Free Labour Exchange. He did not see much in that joke, as he could not understand how any one could associate green with a successful firm like that of Wilson's. It had also been reported that an attempt had been made to poison free labourers, but an examination had shown that an economical shipowner—a disciple of Sir Wilfrid Lawson —had been supplying his free labourers with sour beer, which had had unpleasant effects upon them. Then something had been said about bayonet charges; but, as a matter of fact, no bayonet charges had taken place, and the Unionists who wore reported to have used revolvers had done no such thing. The Timeson April 14 said there had been no arrest at all, that the Riot Act had not been read, that the Dockers' loaders had been moderate in their speeches, and the men had been exceedingly quiet and orderly in their behaviour. Of course, this was to be expected, in view of the fact that they had not had ex Cabinet Ministers addressing them. There had been one lamentable occurrence—namely, the upsetting of a cartload of carrots in the neighbourhood of the docks, and the use of these carrots by the crowd for pelting each other. In consequence of the intimidation exercised by the Guardians, and of the attitude of the Bench of Magistrates, certain external forces had been brought to Hull.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I think the hon. Gentleman is precluded from going into the question of employment of the Naval and Military Forces in consequence of the House having decided the other night that the matter should not be brought forward as one of urgent public importance. I am bound also to tell the hon. Gentle- 454 man that he is now diverging from the point as to the action of the Board of Guardians, and is going into general questions. The House only granted leave on the ground that the matter of definite public importance was strictly adhered to.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I told the hon. Gentleman that the words "Local Authorities" had better not be included. "Local Authorities" were mentioned in the hon. Member's Motion for leave, but so far as the term related to the Board of Guardians, and their position as regards the other Local Authorities, I permitted the question to be put in that way.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
I will say, then, that, owing to the arbitrary action of the Hull Board of Guardians, followed up by other actions, we see this condition of things.
§ MR. C. H. WILSON (Hull, W.)
I understand, Mr. Speaker, that the hon. Member is only at liberty to speak on the question on which the Adjournment of the House has been moved. The hon. Member has extended that to the question of the state of the peace of Hull; sud he has made statements which I should be glad to know whether I shall have the opportunity of answering?
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The inconvenience arises from the hon. Gentleman having inserted "Local Authorities." I understood that the object of the hon. Member in rising to ask leave to move the Adjournment was to discuss the action of the Board of Guardians in so dealing-with the relief as to favour one side or the other in the trade dispute now raging in Hull. It would be out of Order, I think, to allude to the general state of Hull or to the general state of the trade dispute on the question which the hon. Member has brought before the House— namely, the action of the Board of Guardians and the Local Authorities. If the hon. Member touches upon the Local Authorities he must in some way connect them with the action of the Board of Guardians in refusing relief to those in distress or with their conduct in other respects in connection with the strike.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
said, he was going to observe that it would be impossible for him to connect the Naval Forces which were being brought to Hull with the question of the Hull Board of Guardians, and he sincerely regretted that the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. C. Wilson) had not shown the same magnanimity as he (Mr. Burns) had himself displayed when he postponed his Motion for the Adjournment of the House until the hon. Member could be present. Under the circumstances he must confine himself to the action of the Guardians in refusing relief unless the applicants consented to accept free labour. Having exhausted that part of his subject, he would content himself by saying that he trusted the House would condemn the action of the Guardians, and that the President of the Board of Trade would be able to compel the Board of Guardians, both in Hull and elsewhere, to confine himself to their legitimate duty.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— —(Mr. John Burns.)
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. H. H. FOWLER,) Wolverhampton, E.
I need hardly say that the Local Government Board have neither the jurisdiction nor the desire to interfere in a dispute of this description, nor have we the authority which the hon. Member seems to think over the action of the Board of Guardians. So long as Boards of Guardians keep within the limits of the law they are the sole judges of their own action, and are not responsible to the Local Government Board. At the same time, I venture to express the opinion that, if a Board of Guardians interfered on one side or the other in this dispute, they would be acting in an improper manner, and would deserve the censure of the Local Government Board and this House. The hon. Member was good enough, through the usual channels, to inform me that he intended to bring before the House the conduct of the Hull Board of Guardians —for there are two. But he did not furnish me with the specific cases, and therefore I have not been able to obtain any information, with respect to 456 those cases. But I lost no time, when I received the intimation from the hon. Member, in telegraphing to the Boards of Guardians to give me what information they could respecting their conduct in this matter. As I know nothing of my own knowledge, I think the most satisfactory way of dealing with the question is to read their communications to the House. The following is the letter which I have received from the Clerk to the Hull Board of Guardians:—Since the strike commenced in Hull, the Board have only had two applications for relief from able-bodied men who, so far as the Guardians are aware, were in any way connected with the strike— one, at the meeting of Guardians on the 3th, and the other on the 12th. In the first case, the applicant implied that he could obtain work if he applied to the Free Labour Bureau; and, in the second case, the applicant admitted that he was a member of the Dockers' Union, and he declined to make application for work as a free labourer. After due consideration, the Guardians felt that these cases were not suitable for out-relief, as both men could obtain work if they would apply for it; and, consequently, that the only proper relief was to offer an order for the house, which was done. But in both eases the order was refused; and, so far as I am aware, no further application has been made to the relieving officer.We communicated, with the Union of Sculcoates, and this is the letter we received in reply—I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your telegram, and to state that there were, on Tuesday last, at the ordinary meeting of this Board, 36 applications from able-bodied men out of work for out-door relief, and it was unanimously resolved, by a full Board of 23 Guardians, that the applicants should be offered the house, the Board being of opinion that work existed to a large extent, if the men chose to avail themselves of it, and of this the men were fully aware. The first applicant was a docker who, on being reminded that placards had been posted in the town stating that men who would apply for work could have it, replied: 'Yes, for men who will do it, but I am not of that gang.' On being informed that he could have admission into the house, he replied: 'Not if I know it,' and left the room. Each application was taken on its merits, and, in effect, the answer of all the men was the same. Two of the men said that they would apply for the work. The Board was of opinion, without going into the question of the labour dispute, that, if a man is offered work which he declines to accept, it would not be right to use the ratepayers' money to maintain him and his family, which would be to put a premium on pauperism. I may add that, although several of the Guardians were of opinion that the applicants should not be offered the house, in nearly every case the house was offered; and, under these circumstances, not one of the applicants for relief was refused.457 I may say for the information of Members of this House that the position of the law is this: a Board of Guardians has no power absolutely to grant out-door relief to able-bodied men; but, under the out-door relief regulation or order in force in Hull, relief can be given to all destitute persons out of the workhouse, whether able-bodied or no; but, in the case of able-bodied men, one-half of the relief must be given in food or fuel or other articles of absolute necessity, and every able-bodied man so relieved must be set to work by the Guardians and kept employed so long as he continues to receive relief. If the Guardians, in a particular case, deem it expedient to depart from any of these regulations, and, within 21 days, report a case to the Local Government Board, and the Local Government Board approve, the relief is not illegal. The House will see, therefore, and the hon. Member will see, that the jurisdiction of the Local Government Board in cases of this kind does not arise until an application is made for the Local Government Board to sanction the giving of out-door relief. In that case it is for the Local Government Board to decide whether the relief should be given. In the present state of the case the discretion of the Guardians was absolute. It is not my duty or intention to express any opinion whatever on this case, except to submit the facts to the House so far as the Local Government Board is concerned. But, if any fact is brought to our notice of an infringement, by Guardians of the fair position of neutrality, in a great dispute of this sort, and we have the power to interfere, that interference will be given.
§ MR. J. WILSON (Durham, Mid.)
said, the charge made by the hon. Member for Battersea was not so much one of withholding relief as that the Guardians had sifted the relations of the applicants to the strike. He would submit to the President of the Local Government Board this question; Did the Guardians of Hull carry out the powers of their office when they inquired into the relations of these people on strike with their employers, and were they violating those powers when they told the people that they should go to work irrespective of the merits of the strike? He should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman—because many of them were interested in 458 these labour disputes—would express an opinion as to the conduct of this Board of Guardians in particular. It might guide other Boards of Guardians as to the principles on which relief should be granted.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
I have no information as to the conversation which took place, except from the statement sent to me, and it would be clearly improper for me to express auy opinion of the conduct of the Guardians, except upon facts which I have satisfied myself to be correct. On the general question, I will say that the whole of the examination rests within the discretion of the Local Authorities. I do not think it is a matter in which I shall have power to interfere. If the hon. Member will put down a specific question, stating the specific facts, I will have inquiry made whether the facts are correct, and then I can express an opinion.
§ MR. CHARLES WILSON (Hull, W.)
The right hon. Gentleman has given us a reading of the law. The statement of the hon. Member for Batter-sea was evidently an ex parte statement read from—
§ MR. CHARLES WILSON
At the present time, and in consequence of the action of the men who are on strike— incited, as they have been, by very violent speeches, made by their leaders——the town of Hull is in a state of terrorism.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
It would obviously he irregular for the hon. Member to go into the general state of Hull in consequence of the strike. I have already confined the hon. Member for Battersea to the special point of the conduct of the Guardians of Hull. It is true that some expressions escaped him before I saw what his argument was leading up to. It is not regular for the hon. Member addressing the House to speak on the general question.
§ MR. CHARLES WILSON
Under these circumstances, Sir, I will confine myself to stating that what was said by the hon. Member for Battersea is entirely contrary to the facts of the case. If I am not permitted to state what the facts are, I can only say that, having been in 459 the town of Hull from the commencement of the strike, and having been asked by the Civic Authorities to remain there, to endeavour to bring it to a termination, I know personally what the facts are. I have been threatened in the most violent manner, and the inhabitants of the town of Hull generally do not consider their lives sufficiently protected.
§ MR. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)
Should I be in Order, Mr. Speaker, in moving a further adjournment, which would give the House a better opportunity of considering this question?
§ MR. SPEAKER
I am afraid it would not be regular to bring up another question on the same day. That point arose some years ago, and I had to give a ruling on the subject, and I decided that it was only competent to bring before the House one question each day asking the House to adjourn for the purpose of discussing a matter of urgent public importance.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
My object was to give publicity to certain facts and evidence by bringing them before the House. I have brought them before the House; and, that publicity having been given, and the President of the Local Government Board having practically confirmed my evidence and adduced other facts in support of my main charge, I will take another opportunity of raising the general question. I ask leave, therefore, to withdraw the Motion that the House adjourn.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.