Edmund Harvey – 1914 Speech on Unemployment

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Below is the text of the speech made by Edmund Harvey in the House of Commons on 31 March 1914.

I beg to move, “That this House, while welcoming the decision of the Government to extend the provisions of Part II. of the National Insurance Act to other trades than those now insured against Unemployment, and trusting that this may be done without delay, recognises that other measures must be taken to deal with recurring periods of trade depression, as well as with chronic under-employment, and with the case of those Unemployed who are temporarily or permanently unfit for ordinary remunerative work, and accordingly urges that, while trade is still good, further provision should be made for the planning of public work, whether municipal or national, so as to regularise the demand for labour, as well as for the organisation, maintenance, and aid of graded training institutions and other agencies.”

In calling attention to the inadequacy of existing provisions for dealing with the problems of unemployment, and moving this Motion, I do not wish to apologise to the House for turning its attention to a theme so different from that which we have been discussing to-day, for I believe that the peaceful settlement of that great issue which the great majority of this House desire to achieve, may be made more easy if we can realise that there are problems of vast importance to the whole country on which good men of all parties have a substantial measure of agreement; and if, to-night, this House is able to endorse this Motion, I think we shall be able to show it to the country, in order to encourage the Government to go forward in dealing with one of the greatest problems of our time. I think it was Lord Morley who once said that we could count a day ill spent in which no thought was given to the poor. I am afraid we all of us must feel that our time must stand condemned by that high test, and perhaps Parliament as a whole must feel that judgment. Yet we do know that Parliament does care for this great problem—increasingly care for it. It is encouraging that there has been on all sides so much convergence of opinion during recent years as to the methods to be adopted in approaching the problem.

I am quite aware that many in this House may be dissatisfied with the contents of my Motion, because they feel that they are inadequate. I can feel that to some extent myself, but I have endeavoured to frame a Motion which will provide the greatest common measure of agreement amongst social reformers of all schools on that great question. It may be said, why are we dealing with this now? I think a moment’s consideration will show that the present, while we are still in years of trade prosperity as a nation, is just the time when we should approach this problem. We should not leave it to the time of acute depression, when hasty remedies, ill considered, are snatched at in the despair of the moment.

We have to remember that during these prosperous years, when the increasing trade returns are satisfactory, there remains always a constant residuum of misery, which is a constant reproach to our civilisation. We ought never to be content while there are in our midst so many permanently unemployed. Therefore, I think that if we can pass this Resolution to-night, while we are still in the midst of prosperous years, we can encourage the Government to go forward to the lean years, which we know must be coming, with well-conceived plans. I am aware too that a vast problem like this cannot be met by one remedy. It is too great for any one proposal to meet, and it is one which needs the co-operation of all Government Departments, the best thought of the State, the best endeavour of private initiative, and of religious and moral agencies, if it is to be solved.

We ought, I think, before the House turns to actual proposals for the future, to consider for a moment how we have attempted to deal with the problem in the past. We must all admit that the old method of the Poor Law has broken down. I think that is common ground in all schools of thought. The Majority and Minority alike feel that the Poor Law, as we now have it, is totally unsatisfactory as a means of dealing with the problem of unemployment. It is something to have that negative agreement amongst us. I think we should feel grateful for the experiment which was made during the last years of the late Government—an experiment which began with the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand Division (Mr. Long), the scheme which led up to the Unemployed Workmen Act of 1905. I speak with some special interest of that, because I have had the privilege of serving as a member of the Central (Unemployed) Body and also as a member of the Distress Committee.

I think that experiment was useful both for what it shows could be done and what it shows could not be done, but it was distinctly put forward as an experiment and not as permanent legislation. It was limited to three years originally, and I think it is some reproach to this House that year by year it has allowed the Act to be renewed, for the most part silently, in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, although we knew that it was only an experiment. I think if we look at it closely we shall all agree that the system of relief works which it encouraged was unsatisfactory. They were a pis aller, and we ought to have something better.

The relief works in London on which unemployed were set to work in parks was preceded by an arrangement which involved the dismissal of ordinary workpeople who would have been engaged upon that work. That was a ludicrous attempt to deal with the problem. I think, too, that we have all learnt a painful lesson as to the attempt to deal with the problem of coast erosion in hurriedly undertaken relief works. The experiment at Fambridge did not encourage work of that kind organised in the way that it was. But, on the other hand, there were points of the Act which were extremely useful, and some of which have already led to a wide extension for the nation as a whole. The Labour Exchanges began under that Act, and the work of emigration, also done under that Act, however limited, has, at any rate, been good in its effect on individuals. Yet although it is useful to the individual benefited, it is a confession of failure for the nation as a whole that we have got to get rid of persons who cannot find work here and are yet capable of doing good work as citizens in the Colonies.

There were two other experiments undertaken under the Act. One was that of workrooms for women in London. They met with very severe criticism, and some of it economically perhaps sound, and yet they were undoubtedly the only other alternatives to the Poor Law. They did provide work under proper conditions, and not degrading conditions, for poor women who ought not to have been driven to the refuge of the Poor Law, which was the only other alternative, except that of private charity. There was a most interesting experiment at the Hollesley Bay Farm Colony. That, again, has been very much criticised. Part of the criticisms were due, not to the management of the colony, but to the limitations of the Act. It was intended originally that the men taken there should be trained to work as small holders and also, in some cases, for emigration, but the Act prevented them staying for more than sixteen weeks. It was not found possible, as hon. Members who are familiar with the work of agriculture will understand, in most cases to train men adequately, or anything like adequately, in that period. It was through no fault of the colony that failure occurred. As far as certain cases were concerned, very useful results were achieved in training for emigration. In almost all cases there was a remarkable result in the improvement of physique in the men who went there. They went there underfed and injured in morale, and regular employment, fresh air, and wholesome diet made a very great difference to those men. On the other hand, there were defects, inherent also in the Act, which necessarily prevented their training being what one would have liked it to have been. It was not found possible to provide adequate technical training.

I think in some ways life was perhaps a little too easy in that it might have been better for the men if a course of work could have been arranged in addition to the manual work out of doors. Worst of all, I think, when cases occurred of slackness or of lack of discipline, the only penalty that was possible was a penalty that fell, not on the men themselves, but on their wives and families. The only penalty was to send a man away back to his home in London, and that penalty fell heaviest on the innocent wife and family. That, I think, must be clearly a case to be remedied in future. We have not stopped fortunately at the Unemployed Workmen Act. I think we must in approaching this problem recognise some of the other steps that have been taken since the Act was passed, and notably the Labour Exchange Act and the Act providing for unemployment insurance. The House all welcomed two weeks ago the admirable statement of the President of the Board of Trade in response to a universal demand from all quarters that there should be an extension of the provisions for unemployment insurance to other trades not at present insured. We were very grateful for his sympathetic speech and for the attitude of the Government which he represents, and I think to-night, although I do not want to enlarge on it, we ought to reaffirm the decision come to on the Resolution moved by the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. A. Henderson), and urge the Government to go forward now. This is not a small matter, because we know that the whole actuarial basis of the scheme for unemployment insurance is based on the insurance beginning while trade is still good. Therefore if there is to be an extension of this Act during the next six or seven years, it must be made now if it is to be actuarially sound. We ask therefore that the Government should be bold and should enlarge the Act as far as it is possible in these years of prosperity. I know that it will be very difficult to enlarge it to other trades in a few years time, until the cycle of prosperity has come round again.

I mention in this Motion the grave problem of under-employment. We can never neglect that when we are dealing with the question of unemployment. We believe that the machinery of the Labour Exchanges in the years to come will help by the readjustment of labour to lessen that problem, but it is one which has to be faced by our Statesmen, and as to which we look to the Government for guidance. Then we have to deal also with the question of trade cycles, and seasonal, and especially cyclical aspects of trades, which we can hardly prevent, but the hardship of which we believe to some extent, by wise foresight, can be mitigated. Here, again, I think we must express our indebtedness to the action in past years of the President of the Board of Trade. He was one of the first, I believe, to recognise the importance to the Nation of wise foresight in the planning of municipal and national work in time of prosperity, so that we should not put forward all that work while trade was good, but reserve necessary work for the season of depression.

In connection with this let me read to the House an extract from the evidence given by Mr. Bowley to the Poor Law Commission. It puts better and in fewer words than I could the whole statement of the case:— In round numbers it may be estimated that 200,000 or fewer able-bodied adult males are out of work from non-seasonal causes one year with another, and have no sufficient resources, and that this number fluctuates between 100,000 in the best year and 300,000 in the worst. … There is consequently need in the worst year for wages to the extent of £10,000,000 to bring it to a level with the best, so far as those men are concerned; for the whole of the last ten years £40,000,000 would have sufficed. The annual wages bill of the country is estimated at £700,000,000. … Is it possible for the Government and other public bodies who employ labour in large quantities to counteract the industrial ebb and flow of demand by inducing a complementary flow and ebb; by withdrawing part of their demand when industry needs all the labour it can get, and increasing the demand when industry is slack? To have a useful effect, this alteration would have to be commensurate with the stun named above (£40,000,000 in ten years). Surely that is a problem which ought to be capable of solution by us as a nation. When we remember that £150,000,000 is spent annually in public works and services, excluding pensions and interest on debt, it ought to be possible by wise adjustment to meet the demands made in that statement by Professor Bowley. When we see the example set by the great Government Departments in this matter, I think we shall feel that as a nation we are to blame. In the two great spending Departments of the Army and Navy there is a constant demand, roughly speaking, regular from year to year. It ought surely to be possible for those Departments to arrange the work in such a way as to meet the cyclical need and, to some extent, the seasonal depression also. It would be a very great help to industry if that could be done. In the giving of orders for clothing and boots, and the new works of construction by the great Departments, both the cyclical and the seasonal periods should be considered. But the matter concerns other Departments also. The construction of new post offices in different parts of the country is always going on, and, as far as we can see, without any relation whatever to the seasonal or cyclical changes of trade.

Another great Department which is expanding under the care of the President of the Board of Trade is that of the Labour Exchanges. I am glad to say that hitherto in years of prosperity very little has been done to provide permanent accommodation, but I hope that during the years of prosperity sites may be chosen and plans made for suitable buildings, if we are to have, as I hope we may, Labour Exchanges which shall be centres for trade union activities, as well as for their own work, providing, at nominal charges, meeting places for working people, friendly societies, and trade unions, as in Germany. When we get large public works undertaken to meet that need, it will be for the benefit of the whole nation, and they might be constructed in seasons of distress, unemployment, and trade depression. There are also the great Government Offices shortly to be put up in Whitehall. While the plans may be hastened forward now, the actual construction can be postponed until times of greater need. The Local Government Board has done much in the past to stimulate public opinion in this direction. It has issued circulars in times of depression, pointing out the need for this action on the part of municipal authorities. I would ask that they should go a step further. Municipal authorities look to the guidance of the Government, and if we could have a regular demand made upon municipal authorities by the Local Government Board for the planning of work with this end in view, we should do a great deal; and if, in addition to that, the Local Government Board would issue year by year a separate Report—it might be very small, simply a few pages— stating how municipal authorities throughout the country had been making these plans for work, and what steps had been taken, we should be bringing into force the greatest of all engines—the force of public opinion—to urge local authorities onward to do their duty in this respect.

I come now to the last part of the Resolution, which, unlike the earlier parts, can be met in large measure only by legislation. It can, however, to some extent, be met even now. If legislation is to be satisfactory, it should be based on careful preparation by an Interdepartmental Committee. Any system of graded institutions and colonies touches not only one Department, but a number of Departments in the State. It must necessarily deal with the great problem of vagrancy, which is a Home Office question. It must deal with the products of our prison system. It must deal with the products of our existing workhouse system, which we hope to see replaced by something better. It must also be in touch with the authorities of the Board of Trade. I hope, therefore, that in the preparation of legislation, some such Interdepartmental Committee or Commission may be got to work. We have already before us many suggestions. My hon. Friend the Member for Montrose Burghs (Mr. R. Harcourt) and my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie) have brought in measures of a far-reaching character on this subject. It may not be possible at present for the Government to go to any extent as far as those Bills suggest. But there are certain measures which command almost universal assent, and I think that to that extent we may demand early action.

It seems to be agreed that, sooner or later, we must have some form of detention colonies for dealing with the most difficult case of those, whom I am 10th to call unemployable, who come under the existing vagrancy law. It is very easy for us to deal with these unhappy products of our present civilisation in a selfish spirit. I do not want to see them dealt with merely in a spirit which would sweep our streets clean of sights which distress the feelings of the comfortable and well-to-do. We owe a debt to these men, even when we may feel that there is moral wrong which has brought them to the position which they now hold. We must not shut them up in a place like Merxplas, in Belgium, leaving them to themselves in a penal institution which is almost an Inferno. We want an institution which shall be in the true sense of the word a Purgatorio, with a way up to the highest place of all, with a door always open leading upwards. Although there may be detention for a time, it must only be with the object of reform.

The experience of Belgium shows that small colonies, even of this class, must be better than larger ones. We do not want to see a place like Merxplas with 6,000 inhabitants. I would rather see places like the smaller Swiss and German colonies. I hope we may not content ourselves with the discussion of this very difficult problem, but that we shall also affirm the need for a system of graded training institutions which will be necessary as the stagnant pool of labour becomes clearer under the action of the Labour Exchanges. As casual labour is to some extent decasualised there will be a large residuum left which will have to be dealt with in one way or another. These men deserve to have honourable training, with no stigma attaching to it, given under conditions which demand and expect the best. The training institutions which one would like to see must be of a variety of types to suit differing needs. We shall have to have a great deal of experiment before we can arrive at a satisfactory system. But there are obviously certain things which they can do. A great number of our under-employed and unemployed labourers at one time possessed industrial skill. Graded institutions might aid such men to re-acquire the skill which they once possessed. It might also aid men who had specialised in some department of work which had become obsolete owing to trade changes to learn some other branch of a trade that they had really made their own in the past and which was slipping from them. Apart from these questions, and these special cases of readaptation to industrial environment, training institutions might fit everyone who went into them to be more adaptable and more alert, and might give back the stamina and strength some of these men had lost. I hope, also, that we shall have in the future a system of rural colonies and agencies.

Foreign experience has shown us that this can be useful, at least to a limited extent. British experience in voluntary experiments has shown the same thing. We have, unfortunately, too few of them, and they are very inadequately supported. The Salvation Army made their experiment at Hadleigh. The Christian Union for Social Service has made theirs at Lingfield and Wallingford. I believe the Church Army has a small experiment, and there are other agencies, churches, and societies that I believe would come forward to under- take a work of this kind if they could get some encouragement and some more adequate financial aid than is at present forth-coming. I would ask the President of the Local Government Board if it would not be possible for him, even now, without waiting for a new Bill which would, I know, be requisite before the State could undertake institutions of this kind itself, to make provision for a Grant-in-Aid, this year, if possible, for institutions of this kind, which might begin with a small sum, but which would be extremely useful as an experiment. I hope when he considers a Bill to deal with this question, he will consider the possibility of a half-way house between a State Detention Colony and the present Voluntary Colonies. It ought to be possible for men of weak will who have sunk and gone under in the industrial struggle to he willing to place themselves under voluntary guardianship for a limited period. That is already being done with success in the case of inebriates asylums. There are many cases of men unemployed who have gone under, who recognise their own moral weakness, and in their better moments will be anxious to be thus under restraint to a limited extent in order to recover their morale. I think that ought to be possible under a voluntary system of colonies.

Before concluding, I should perhaps say a word as to the financial possibilities involved. I believe that the average cost in British prisons at present is something like £23 per inmate. In convict prisons it is £27 per head. Our small British colonies for the unemployed are a lot more expensive. Hadleigh, I think, costs £48 per inmate per annum. Although I believe Lingfield is less expensive, it is still more expensive than the prison. But these experiments have only been working a comparatively short time, and under very unfavourable condition. They have had, when supported by Poor Law guardians, very inadequate Grants paid to them on behalf of the inmates. The foreign colonies, which have been working much longer, have been able to reduce the expenditure to a remarkable extent. I believe the average cost of administration at Merxplas, which is very largely self-contained, is £9 per head, and the German colony costs about £10 per head. This is reduced by the average earnings of the inmates to £6 per head. It ought, therefore, to be possible in the future, under wise management, to have a very economical system of colonies. They will always cost something to the State—and I think they should! We have to remember that the men who are there would be costing something anyhow. In the worst cases they would be preying upon the community as vagrants; in the case of the unhappy unemployed person, who is unemployed through no fault of his own, there is a constant indirect charge upon the State. If through his unemployment he sinks clown into crime or goes ultimately to the hospital with disease, he is a further charge on the State. It would be a wise economy on the part of the community to prevent this.

Finally, I think we ought to ask the President to encourage voluntary effort in this work, because it would enlist new forces of enthusiasm in aid of the very poorest in the community. I believe that the churches of this country would come forth and take up this work, and that men outside the churches would band themselves together for it, too. If this work is to be done well, it depends upon getting the very best men and the very best women to give themselves to it. It would be worth while making a generous Grant in order that you might have not only efficient administration in Colonies like these, but an admirable educational work done there too. It would be a very great thing for the State if we could re-enlist in its service, and in the service of the whole community, those noble religious forces which in the Middle Ages expressed themselves in various guilds and in the furtherance of works of mercy. We want to get the same spirit showing itself in caring for, in colonies and institutions, the unemployed and the unemployable, and those who through no fault of their own, through sickness, blindness, and accident, are unable to make their own way in the battle of life.

Fred Jowett – 1914 Speech on School Meals

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Below is the text of the speech made by Fred Jowett in the House of Commons on 27 March 1914.

I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a second time.”

The Bill covers certain points which have been the subject of discussion before in this House. Its objects are, first, to legalise the provision of meals when the schools are in vacation; secondly, to remove the limit which applies under the Provision of Meals Act, restricting any education authority to whatever action they can take within the yield of an arbitrary rate in the pound; and, thirdly, to enable steps to be taken for feeding underfed children where an education authority has failed to apply the Provision of Meals Act to the purpose for which it was designed.

I purpose to pass in review the three main objects of the Bill, taking them in the order that I have mentioned rather than in the order in which they appear in the Bill.

The first object, I repeat, is to enable meals to be provided for underfed children during school vacations, and in regard to that it is hardly worth arguing that if food is necessary during the time the school is open for ordinary purposes it is equally necessary when the school is not open for those purposes and during the holidays. I am in a position to give what I submit is very valuable evidence of the necessity for this particular part of the Bill. In Bradford, for one of the Constituencies of which I have the honour to be the Member, this matter of the provision of school meals has been gone into with exceedingly great care and seriousness. The experience of Bradford is that, while the schools are in operation and meals are being given, the poor children who need the meals consistently improve in physique, and that when the schools are closed, if meals are not provided, they deteriorate in physique and lose part of the advantages which they had previously. The particulars I am now going to give will prove that.

A number of children were put aside by the school medical officer in order to watch the effect during holidays, when there were no meals. The first week during which school meals were given the average gain in weight for the whole of those children was 1 lb. 4 ozs. each. The next two weeks a smaller gain was registered, but still a substantial one, being 5½ ozs. in the first week and 4½ ozs. in the second week. Then there was the Whitsuntide holiday. That should be a time of joy for the children and not a time of extra privation and suffering, but mark what took place during that week of holiday. The loss per child on the average was no less than 1 lb. Then there were seven weeks school, and during those seven weeks there was an average gain of 1¾ lbs. Four weeks’ holiday ensued, and, instead again of being improved in physique, as they ought to have been, the loss on the average was 1 lb. 2 ozs. each. Comparison with other children confirms the evidence that there is a serious deterioration during the times meals are not given, because the children who had never been on the school meal and who were fed regularly at home, improved consistently in weight during their holidays just as they did at other times. Could you have proof more conclusive of the absolute and imperative necessity for the welfare of the children that this object, which is sought to be fulfilled by my Bill, should be effected?

I have here on a rather smaller scale than is possible to be seen across the floor of the House a diagram showing the weight increases of the children during the time the school is open and they are being fed, and the way they lose at other times, but I am prepared to hand it round to such as care to observe it.

The second object of the Bill is the abolition of the halfpenny limit. Surely, if it is necessary that the children should be fed, it should not depend upon the mere incident as to the precise amount that a halfpenny in the £ brings in. Moreover, this tells definitely against the children who need it, because it is precisely in those areas where the yield is often the least that there are most children requiring the meals. The poorer the district the smaller the yield. Thus children who need to be supported are penalised according to the poverty of the neighbourhood. Bradford, I think I may say, is not specially poor, because work on the average is as regular, and wages are as high as in other towns and cities of this country, and certainly there is nothing like the welter of poverty that is to be found here in the Metropolis, or in certain other large cities such as Liverpool and Glasgow; and yet, notwithstanding, that it was found to be quite impossible to do the work laid upon that community within the limits of a halfpenny rate.

The consequence has been that, from year to year, the authorities have been faced with the necessity either of letting children they knew to be underfed continue to be underfed, or of overspending and taking the risks and consequences of so doing. This is the record for Bradford: In 1909, with a yield from the halfpenny rate of £2,885, £1,795 was overspent. In 1910, the halfpenny rate yielded £2,878, and £2,370 was overspent. In 1911, with a rate yield of £2,900, £1,163 was overspent. In 1912, when the rate yielded £2,912, £374 was overspent. In 1913, with a yield from the rate of £2,963, £1,176 was overspent; and in 1914, for this is still going on, and it will go on as long as the need exists, the overspending, on a yield of £3,060, was £793.

All through these years the Bradford authorities had to risk the consequences of this overspending. The Local Government Board, however, ceased to press for the payment of these surcharges, although year after year there was continual controversy between the Bradford corporation education authority and the Local Government Board with regard to the surcharges. Individuals who had been rather hard put to it to pay, cheerfully faced the prospect of whatever the President of the Local Government Board might choose to do in consequence of their action.

Mr. NEWTON Will the hon. Gentleman give us any explanation of the varying figures in the total expenditure of these years?

Mr. JOWETT The variations were due to trade depression and other circumstances. In one year the coal strike caused a large amount of extra poverty and necessitated considerably more feeding. I need not, however, go into details. I will simply say that the variations are due to fluctuations of trade and the increasing or decreasing amount of poverty. How came it that this amount of money was paid? Probably the hon. Member opposite, who appears to be interested in this question, would like to know. It so happens that under the Municipal Corporations Act the Bradford Corporation is possessed of powers which make it possible for it to transfer funds from one department to another, and to utilise the profits—and we are happy to think there were profits available—of municipal enterprise in order to fill up the gap in the education accounts, and thus to take away the power of the Local Government Board to visit them with any serious consequences.

There are 2,000 children now being fed in the city of Bradford by the education authority. It may be suggested that this is probably due to the fact that there is either laxity or over-generosity, and that there is no need for all this. But that is not the case, because, in only a very few instances indeed does the income of the families represented by these underfed children amount to 3s. per head per week, exclusive of rent, and in 57 per cent. of the cases it is less than 2s. per head per week.

Those who have gone into this question are familiar with the Rowntree figures. Some thirteen years have elapsed since those figures were drawn up showing the absolutely necessary cost that a household is put to in order to maintain its inmates, and these figures prove that to maintain a family of five in food equal in quantity and quality to the food supplied in the workhouses of the country—and surely ordinary citizens are entitled to as good food as is provided in those institutions !—the food of that family of five on that standard would, thirteen years ago, have cost 12s. 9d. per week. Add to that 15 per cent., which is the very least which can be put as the additional cost of living since that period, and you have a figure of 14s. 8d. for food alone.

Hon. Members must remember that there are other necessary things for a household, such sits clothing and fire and light, and when they bear that in mind they will be inevitably driven to the conclusion that, exclusive of rent altogether, the amount required for food, fire and light, and clothing and sundries for a household of five necessitates a wage of not less than 21s. per week. Rent would bring it up to 25s., 26s., or 27s., according to the town in which the family resides. On any less wage it would be impossible to maintain children and to feed them as they ought to be fed. Before the settlement of the railway dispute we were told on exceptional authority that there were over 100,000 railway men working on wages of not more than £1 per week. I admit that some little adjustment has since been made, but that adjustment, whatever it may be, is largely, if not entirely, nullified by the extra cost of living which has been added since the time of the settlement. Thus we are driven to the conclusion that if Bradford needs to spend more than a halfpenny rate—and I do not think anyone can deny the necessity for that—when it is merely giving meals to a household with an income of less than 3s. per head per week, exclusive of rent, then it must follow that in other districts, where nothing at all is being done, there is equal need.

That brings me to my third point. I have dealt with the first point, the power of giving meals during the vacation, and with the second point, which seeks to remove the halfpenny limit. My third point is directed to extending the system of school meals in the districts where the education authorities have hitherto refused to act. There are 317 local education authorities in this country. Only 134 of those authorities are doing anything to meet the necessities of the children in their districts. It cannot be argued that there is no need. It simply means that those authorities are not acting. That it is necessary to act there is evidence more than sufficient to convert the most sceptical person, if he will but try to consider the question without prejudice.

The Medical Officer of the Board of Education himself, in his most recent Report, states—the President of the Board of Education will, I think, approve of the words I am going to read, which I have extracted from that Report— Upon the growth and maturity of the body of the child depend mental power, self-control, and ultimately character. If that is so, is it reasonable, even from the point of view of the State, and not thinking of the terrible and awful injustice and hardship on the individual child, that this vast area should be uncovered, and that the work should not be done by those authorities who are now refusing to do it? Therefore in the Bill it is proposed to allow certain action to be taken in those districts where the local education authority has hitherto done this, and the action suggested in the Bill is entirely in harmony with the suggestions contained in the most recent Medical Officer’s Report issued by the Board of Education, as will be seen from this extract.

The Medical Officer says:— In the Board’s view no scheme can be regarded as wholly satisfactory unless the school medical Officer has the right to nominate for school feeding any children found at the routine medical inspection or on special examination to be suffering from malnutrition due to insufficiency or unsuitability of food. Secondly, the Bill provides that any child or children supposed to be underfed may be examined by the school medical officer, or other medical officer, on. the application of the education committee or the school managers, or the head teacher, while, in the interim between the application being made and the report of the medical officer being available, the Bill puts it within the power of the head teacher to provide meals, so that the hardship is not continued during that interim. Where an education authority will not act, although the evidence is clear, and it is shown that the need exists, the Bill provides that five of its members or twenty ratepayers may appeal to the Board of Education for an inquiry, and if the Board is satisfied that the authority is in default the Board may reduce its Grants or proceed by mandamus. Such are the proposals of the Bill. I will not go into them in greater detail, because that is more a matter for the Committee stage.

In conclusion, let me say that the issue is a very simple one indeed. Who is there in this House, or outside of it, who, being a decent citizen of this country, will say that if children are unfed they ought not to be fed? If there be no such individual, then what is the conclusion to be drawn but that they should be fed? The Bill proposes to do it, and that is all. All the debating of small points and all the cross currents are beside the mark. The need is there, and it ought to be met. More than ever at this day, when not only is there so much poverty, but even the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken up this cry at his meetings, is it necessary that we should act, and act speedily.

I can say nothing better or more eloquent than the words used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself at Huddersfield last Saturday. He said:— Has another generation to pass away in wretchedness? Not if we can help it. Is England so poor that she cannot afford to feed, clothe and shelter her own sons and daughters; so mean that she will not spare her wealth to do it; so callous and hard-hearted that she is indifferent to the wretchedness in her own household? These are the questions which, above the din and clang of partisan and sectarian fury, I mean to continue to ask until the proud flag of Britain shall no longer be ashamed to ware over squalid homes and hungry children. I have also been knocking at the door for some years with this little Bill. In that period other questions have been taken up which cannot be said to have anything of the same importance as this one. You have dealt with gooseberry mildew, the Government has given great attention to improvement in the breed of horses, we are now passing a Plumage Bill, and the bee disease has received attention.

Now, at long last, let us have a step taken in the direction indicated in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s speech. Let the British flag no longer fly over squalid homes and hungry children. If the Government are sincere they will welcome this Bill; they will see to it that it passes its Second Reading to-day, and they will afford it every facility, and it will be placed upon the Statute Book within a very few weeks’ time.

Basil Peto – 1914 Speech on Suicide and Bullying in Army

Below is the text of the speech made by Basil Peto in the House of Commons on 24 March 1914.

I desire to call the attention of the House to a matter of urgent importance, which is one in which the War Office can do something, and do it at once, and in which something is urgently needed to be done. It has reference to the suicide of Lieutenant and Quartermaster Martin at Devizes Barracks on the 11th of March.

The facts that led up to the suicide are these. The lieutenant, who was a quartermaster in the second battalion of his regiment which is now stationed at Gibraltar was recalled home more than four mouths ago. He was ordered to report himself at Knightsbridge, where at the time certain of the defendants in what is known as the care teen scandal case, who have a sort of overflow into the Wellington Barracks, were quartered. He consequently thought from the fact of his being ordered to report himself there that his recall from Gibraltar was in some way connected with the canteen scandal. He was at home for four months: first of all at Knightsbridge for something less than half the period, and then for two months and some weeks he was at Devizes Barracks, and he was kept with no employment whatever during the whole of those four months with no charge formulated against him and nothing told him as to whether he was brought home as a witness or as a defendant.

At the inquest, which was held the day after the suicide, one of his fellow officers said, with regard to Martin’s condition of mind, that he was in very low spirits and quite upset. His brother a sergeant-major in the 1st Wiltshire Regiment also said that he was not expecting any charge to be made against him, but what worried him was the fact of being brought home for so long while nothing was preferred against him, and having a wife and family at Gibraltar. The Coroner said:— I can quite realise and understand what a terrible, condition of mind he was in. having been recalled is I presume in connection with the canteen scandal, and then having nothing at all to happen for months either in the way of acquitting him of any suspicion or formulating any charge against hint, or even calling hint as a witness.

Two points arise on those facts. First, I say that such procedure cannot possibly be defended on the ground of Army discipline, or anything of that kind. It practically amounts to a suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, in the case of this particular quartermaster and others who are now in this country under similar conditions, one at Devizes Barracks, and others to whose case attention was called on the 16th March by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet. These men have now been here for many months in the same state of doubt. and uncertainty and mental strain as Quartermaster Martin.

In answer to the question which I asked on 18th March, the Secretary of State for War said that this particular officer had not been under arrest. There was nothing in my question to suggest that be lad been under arrest, and I think that the answer given shows the attitude of mind of the War Office in the matter. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that as long as the man was not under arrest they were entitled to bring him home under conditions of terrible suspicion and mental anxiety, and to keep him waiting an indefinite period and formulate no charge whatever against him.

I will call the attention of the House to the fact that at first it was intended to proceed by court-martial. A court-martial was constituted, and was subsequently disbanded, the War Office having decided to proceed in the ordinary Civil Courts, and I believe that the magistrate who is hearing the case is only sitting one day a week, and consequently the inquiry will be protracted to an almost indefinite extent.

I desire to read to the House the answer of the Secretary of State to a question which was asked by my hon. Friend (Mr. Norman Craig). It is a very long question, and his ingenuity has enabled him to fill a column of the OFFICIAL REPORT, but the important part of the question is at the end:— Why, in these circumstances, the officer named was not included in the prosecution and so afforded an opportunity of defending his good name, but was placed upon retired pay?

The answer of the Secretary of State for War was:— Until the present proceedings have been completed and I ant in a position to be advised on the whole matter, it is impossible for me to say who are the persons who are or may be implicated.”—[OFFICAL. REPORT, 16th March, 1914, col. 1685.] From that I conclude that all these officers who are at present in these circumstances are to be kept waiting till the magistrate sits (one day a week) to investigate this long and complicated matter. I really feel that those circumstances—one officer having already taken his life, as was clearly brought out at the inquest, owing to his mental condition, arising from his being kept in this country four months doing nothing, while his wife and children dependent upon him were at Gibraltar—may lead to further disastrous results, unless the War Office see that these proceedings. are carried out with reasonable speed. and that those officers are either accused or acquitted, to join their proper battalions. The second fact I want to bring out—and it has nothing to do with the actual case which is pending—for the consideration of the House is whether there is not a grave responsibility resting upon the War Office in this condition of affairs.

I contend that the pay of the quartermasters is wholly inadequate for the great responsibilities that are placed upon them: and the style of living which is necessitated by their promotion to commission rank. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that we frequently have in the civil courts similar cases to these, and where it is shown in the trials that people in posts of responsibility are paid an utterly inadequate salary in respect of the great duties they have to perform, the judge invariably comments in the most severe manner upon the parsimony of the. employer who is paying inadequate salaries. I say that applies to this case. where the salary is 9s. a day, amounting to £164 a year, which is wholly inadequate considering the responsibilities.

What are the responsibilities that a quartermaster has to take up in the course. of his duties? He is responsible for the ammunition, clothing and equipment of the whole battalion, for the correct receipt and distribution of forage and rations, and he is responsible for barrack equipment in barracks and in camp. He has nothing to-do under the King’s Regulations with the canteen proper, but, of course, for his position, his advice is naturally asked, and it is very important that it should be given absolutely independent of any consideration whatever. Not only so, but I am informed—and I do not think it is open to dispute—that in the Guards the quartermaster is also assistant paymaster, and in that capacity he handles something like £500 a week, and for that additional responsibility he is paid by the War Office the magnificent additional salary of £20. That is not all. The pay that he receives is utterly inadequate, considering the social Position he has to assume and that his wife, as it was put to me, is a bridge between the officers’ wives and wives of the non-commissioned officers and men on the strength. She has to keep a servant and to keep up certain style. He has to pay for messing expenses and things of that sort, and so utterly inadequate is the provision, that I am informed, quoting the words of one who knows from personal experience, he is appointed to a position that he cannot possibly keep up, and has become a charge on the officers of the unit, which is entirely wrong, because he would not possibly pay his mess bill unless he depended on the generosity of officers in the commissioned rank.

Therefore, I say that on that second point the War Office are to blame, for when they raised the pay officers of commissioned rank, on 1st January, there was no addition made to the pay of the quartermasters. Their pay is insufficient for their post, considering their position and responsibilities. The first point I ask the hon. Gentleman to see at once is that reasonable steps are taken to bring this long drawn out inquiry to an end, and that he should not take up the position that was taken up by the Secretary of State for War when he answered me by saying that this man had not been under arrest.

I say that the conditions under which these men are kept in this country without accusation, without exoneration, is far worse than the position of arrest. At least the man in the latter case knows where he is, and under the other conditions he does not, and I say that it is simply placing the man in a position where it amounts to nothing less than mental torture, which is being deliberately kept up week after week until the whole thing is settled and threshed out, and until, with slow process of law, the right hon. Gentleman can form an opinion as to who is or is not implicated. I feel bound to raise this question, although I fancy the Secretary of State has other and grave matters for his consideration, and I do so because I wish to shorten this period by every day that I can. I am perfectly certain it is an urgent matter, and that the man should never have been put in the position to take his life under those circumstances, and the War Office is directly responsible for it.