Engineering Trade Dispute (Poor Law Relief).

Oral Answers to Questions — Ireland. – in the House of Commons on 18th May 1922.

Alert me about debates like this

Mr. ALFRED DAVIES (Clitheroe):

by Private Notice—asked the Minister of Health whether it is a fact that a recommendation or instruction has been given by his Department to any boards of guardians that relief should not be granted in cases where the head of the family is not at present employed in consequence of the dispute in the engineering industry, and, if so, will he state the reasons for this action?

Photo of Sir Alfred Mond Sir Alfred Mond , Swansea West

No, Sir. But where boards of guardians have consulted me, I have felt bound to remind them that, by the decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of Attorney-Generalv. Merthyr Tydvil Guardians, 1900, relief cannot lawfully be granted to any man for whom work is, in fact, available.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

Is it a fact that these instructions have been issued, and that such instructions constitute taking sides on the part of the Government? Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that although the works have been thrown open —which is the excuse given by the right hon. Gentleman—the lock-out notices still appear posted on the gates of the works locking out these men? Will he therefore take into consideration the withdrawal of such a recommendation?

Photo of Sir Alfred Mond Sir Alfred Mond , Swansea West

I have already stated that I have made no recommendation and sent out no instructions, nor is it my duty to do so. Where I have been asked by boards of guardians to advise, I have had to advise them on the law as the Court of Appeal has decided it. If a workman applies for work at a works and the employer cannot employ him, the case would he different from that to which I have referred.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

Does the decision of the Court of Appeal not refer to cases where there is no dispute in operation?

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

Does it not apply to a general case of work being there for individuals who are of that particular trade? Is it not the case that in this particular instance there is a dispute in the industry, which has thrown a large number of men idle, that the lock-out notices are still posted, and that any decision come to by the Court of Appeal in a previous case is not on parallel lines, and consequently cannot apply to this particular instance?

Photo of Sir Alfred Mond Sir Alfred Mond , Swansea West

The question dealt with previously by the Court was the question of the coal strike in South Wales. The Court of Appeal then laid down the law on the subject, and to it I refer the hon. Member. It is not my duty to interpret the decision of the law, but to draw the, attention of boards of guardians to the law laid clown by the Court, and to leave them to take what action they think fit.

Photo of Mr John Clynes Mr John Clynes , Manchester Platting

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the advice of which he speaks has had the effect on certain boards of guardians making them discontinue the relief which they were giving to then who were thrown into a state of idleness through the lock-out? Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that work is now available for all the men in the engineering trade who may be disposed to return to work on the employers' terms?

Photo of Sir Alfred Mond Sir Alfred Mond , Swansea West

The facts may be as the right hon. Gentleman states. It is not my duty to investigate whether it is a strike or a lock-out. It is my duty, if I am asked by a board of guardians what the law is, to refer them to the case which the Court of Appeal has decided. I am not a judicial authority. It is for the boards of guardians to interpret the decision of the Court of Appeal as best they can, and to keep within the law. I am not seized of the fact whether or not there is work in these factories. Neither is it my duty to inquire.

Photo of Mr John Clynes Mr John Clynes , Manchester Platting

Will the right hon. Gentleman state precisely and fully in terms what advice he has given to the boards of guardians?

Photo of Sir Alfred Mond Sir Alfred Mond , Swansea West

I have stated that already. I have referred them to the ease of the Attorney-Generalv. the Merthyr Tydvil Guardians, 1900, as reported in the Law Reports. I would advise the right hon. Gentleman and his friends to read that case, of which they do not seem to be aware. I have said that if the boards go outside that decision they are acting outside the law. I have informed the boards of guardians of that.

Photo of Mr Rhys Davies Mr Rhys Davies , Westhoughton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Clerk to the Manchester Board of Guardians only yesterday told some members of that body that he had received an intimation from the Minister of Health that a lockout no longer existed in the engineering industry and that in consequence no relief could be given unless employés could show that no work was available, and that, acting on that assumed authority of the Minister, some guardians have already refused to give relief, and that those who give relief are told that they were liable to a surcharge?

Photo of Sir Alfred Mond Sir Alfred Mond , Swansea West

The hon. Member has given me no notice of the particular case he mentions. If the Clerk of the Board of Guardians asked the Ministry for advice I have no doubt the Ministry gave him the proper advice by referring him to the law of the land as it exists. We neither make the law nor alter it. The law exists.

Photo of Mr Rhys Davies Mr Rhys Davies , Westhoughton

Has the right hon. Gentleman sent out any intimation, either verbally or otherwise, to the boards of guardians, without a request coming from them?

Photo of Sir Alfred Mond Sir Alfred Mond , Swansea West

No, Sir. I have pointed out that already in the answer I have given.

Photo of Dr Christopher Addison Dr Christopher Addison , Shoreditch

Will the right hon. Gentleman inquire if any circular has been sent out by the Poor Law branch of his Department, and will he lay upon the Table of the House copies of the advice he has sent out, either by request or otherwise?

Photo of Sir Alfred Mond Sir Alfred Mond , Swansea West

The right hon. Gentleman is aware as to whether or not it is the habit of the Ministry of Health to send out circulars to Poor Law guardians. Where Poor Law guardians ask the Ministry for advice, we conceive it to be our duty to advise them on the law as it stands, to enable them to keep within the law and not run the risk of being surcharged.

Photo of Mr John Mills Mr John Mills , Dartford

In view of the observation made by the right hon. Gentleman during the putting of the question by the leader of the Labour party, will he state to the House whether he is of opinion that the lock-out is ended? [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"]

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

That is not part of the right hon. Gentleman's duty.

At the end of Questions

Mr. ALFRED DAVIES:

In view of the unsatisfactory reply to the question I have previously submitted, I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, "the action of the Minister of Health in influencing boards of guardians in the withholding of relief from families, where the breadwinner is unemployed in consequence of the dispute in the engineering trade, which action is causing immediate distress and suffering in many quarters."

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

That is not a Motion which I can accept. The Minister has distinctly stated that he has not tendered any advice or recommendation. The limit of what he has done, in reply to a question, has been to refer inquirers to a case decided in the Courts. Therefore, clearly the Minister has not exercised any administrative power in this matter, and it is only on an exercise of administrative power that he can be brought to account under Standing Order 10.

Photo of Mr James Thomas Mr James Thomas , Derby

is informing boards of guardians that, if they take a certain course they will be surcharged, not influencing them in their decisions?

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

To inform an administrative body what is the latest case decided by the Courts of Law cannot be said to influence them. It is merely giving information, and that, of course, is an obvious duty in the ordinary course of events.

Photo of Mr John Clynes Mr John Clynes , Manchester Platting

In view of the effects following from the action of the right hon. Gentleman, as stated in the Motion now submitted, are we not entitled to ask for an opportunity to call attention to that action, in view of the grave distress that has followed upon it?

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

If an opportunity be given, that, of course, is not a matter for me. What I have to do is to interpret the Rules of the House and this particular rule. If this opportunity be given by the Government I will accept it.

Photo of Mr Neil Maclean Mr Neil Maclean , Glasgow Govan

In view of the, statement made by the Minister of Health in submitting to certain boards of guardians a decision of a Court on a coal strike, as he said, and seeing that the particular dispute that is presently going on is not a strike but a lock-out, does not the fact that he has transmitted to those boards of guardians a decision upon another question entirely influence those boards of guardians in a dispute which is not a strike; and, consequently, does not this particular Motion come within the category of a definite matter of urgent public importance?

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

Clearly, the responsibility for the action taken under the law lies with the guardians, and not with the Minister of Health. If hon. Members could point to a circular or something of that kind which had been issued by the Minister, I might be able to accept the Motion for adjournment.

Photo of Mr John Clynes Mr John Clynes , Manchester Platting

Will the right hon. Gentleman lay all the Papers on the Table of the House?

Photo of Sir Alfred Mond Sir Alfred Mond , Swansea West

I shall be very pleased to do so.

Photo of Mr John Mills Mr John Mills , Dartford

Is it relevant to this particular situation that a decision given as far back as 1900 should be quoted, seeing that since then there has been an entire reform of the whole system of Poor Law and that a Royal Commission has reported?

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

Neither the hon. Member nor I can alter the law.

Photo of Mr Walter Halls Mr Walter Halls , Heywood and Radcliffe

Is not this quite a new departure on the part of the Minister? We have not heard of anything similar taking place in this dispute until the last day or two. It seems to me quite obvious—and it will be to the man in the street—that it is being done for a definite purpose.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

The Minister has promised to lay the Papers on the Table. We shall then have the facts before us.

Mr. A. DAVIES:

Was not the Minister's reply based upon the assumption that these men have work to go to, whereas, we submit, they have no work to go to? They are locked out.

Photo of Mr John Whitley Mr John Whitley , Halifax

That may be so, but it is not a question into which we can now enter.