Henry Norris in Parliament 1919

Last updated: 29 July 2008

 

FIRSTLY: A NOTE ON THE SOURCE FOR ALL THIS

 

Itís Hansardís House of Commons Debates that records verbatim what was said in Parliament, by whom, on what day, in what debate; and who/how voted if a vote was needed.They cover both the House of Commons and the House of Lords and as you can imagine there are an infinite number of volumes.HOWEVER as a source for finding out what Henry Norris did when he was an MP, Hansardís got very serious limitations.

 

1) Itís a record of what was said in debate and who said it.It isnít a record of who was in the House of Commons chamber at any time: there is no daily attendance list ŗ la a school register so you canít tell whether your MP was in the House of Commons unless he spoke, or voted; he might hardly attend at all, he might attend but sit and say nothing at all day after day; he might be there for the afternoon but leave as soon as the pubs open - you just canít tell.

 

2) I found votes in the House of Commons to be pretty rare, on the whole.Government-introduced business usually went through without any votes; at least in this Parliament.When a vote was taken, it was timed, and Hansard also prints who voted for the motion and who voted against.So you can tell whether your MP voted at that particular time but voting turns out to be less of a help than youíd think, in finding out whether your MP is there or not.

3) Even votes arenít all that good for checking whether MPís were in the House of Commons, because unless the whips are out, MPís donít have to vote, they can sit in their seats while everyone else does so and although they are in the House of Commons their name will not appear on the voting lists.

 

Rather late on in my reading through the Hansard volumes from 1919 to 1922, I realised that one thing I could do to shed light on Norrisí life as an MP was compare his voting record with those of some other MPís.I chose two that I knew about, because Henry Norris knew them and had dealings with them outside Parliament: Sir George Elliott, ex-mayor of Islington and MP for an Islington constituency; and Sir Samuel Hill-Wood, MP for a constituency near Glossop (the town where his family made their cotton fortune) and later a director of Arsenal FC.

 

These limitations hampered my efforts to assess Henry Norris as an MP.Although, in the course of an interview, Norris said he attended almost all House of Commons sessions during his time as an MP, I canít corroborate that evidence.I believe he was telling the truth, actually, based on his excellent record in attending meetings of the London Borough of Fulham; though his attendance records were not so good at the Metropolitan Water Board and the London County Council.

 


4) Unless it involved asking a question at Question Time, Hansard gives no record of what MPís did in a more informal way, chasing up enquiries, pursuing information or lobbying the powerful on behalf of their constituents.Norris did mention one or two incidents himself, but in general, that side of his parliamentary career is not recorded at all so I canít say anything about it.

 

Two more limitations on my attempts to look Henry Norris as an MP are all my own work.Firstly, I did not study this period at university and had to read up about what happened in Parliament 1919-23 while I was researching Henry Norrisí life.My understanding of it is therefore limited.Secondly,politics bore me, politicians (especially contemporary ones) disgust me.I wonít have done this part of Norrisí history to a very high standard.

 

HOW NORRIS GOT ELECTED

 

Henry Norris was elected an MP in the snap general election of December 1918 which took place in circumstances which were quite unique.The Representation of the People Act 1917 had reorganised the boundaries of many constituencies to reflect changing patterns of settlement: Norrisí own, Fulham East, was one of two new ones replacing the old Fulham constituency.Henry Norrisí wife Edith and his sister Ada were amongst those who became eligible to vote for the first time at this election; and for the first time women were permitted to stand as Parliamentary candidates; but women under 30 still did not have the right to vote.So there were good things about the election but there were bad things about it too: the flu epidemic had died down from the heights of October 1918 but many people were still very ill; soldiers who hadnít yet been demobbed (which was most of them) were eligible to vote but many didnít receive their ballot papers in time and many more were too cynical to bother with them; and it poured with rain on polling day.Under those circumstances, itís not very surprising that the turnout was the lowest ever in a general election, 59% ; even including the latest one.

 

It was seen as a comment on the coalition governmentsí handling of the war; and as theyíd just got the Armistice agreed, they won a handsome victory.The Parliament that took office in December 1918 was divided thus:†††††

Conservatives in the coalition 335††††† Norris was one of these; as were Elliott and

Hill-Wood

Liberals in the coalition††††††††††††††††††††† 133††††† Lloyd George was one of these

Labour members in the coalition†††††††† 10

Total in the coalition = 478; coalition majority at least 322 on less than 50% of the vote.

 

Outside the coalition were some small groups:

Conservatives who wouldnít join the coalition†††††††††† 23

Liberals who wouldnít join ††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 28††††††† supposedly led by ex-PM Asquith,

only he lost his seat

Labour members who wouldnít join†††††††††††††††††††††††††† 63

Others (Northern Ireland??)††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 42

Sinn Fein†††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† 73††††††† none of whom took their seat

 

These figures are not mine, theyíre from Britain: Domestic Politics 1918-39 by Robert Pearce.The comments and query are mine, though.

 


By the terms of the coalition, David Lloyd George continued as Prime Minister in the new government.J Austen Chamberlain was chancellor of the exchequer.Andrew Bonar Law was leader of the House of Commons, and a very effective one; he led the Conservatives in the coalition.The Unionists were organised separately, by Sir George Younger and in this connection Iím not clear whether the word Ďunionistí refers to a supporter of the inseparability of Ireland, or a supporter of the coalition; in reading about politics in the Times Iíve got an impression (probably a confused one) that at different times it can refer to both or either.

 

To be elected as an MP had been a political ambition of Norrisí for many years, so it must have been a proud day for him on Saturday 28 December 1918 when the general election votes were counted.On the back of his ten years as mayor of Fulham, Henry Norris was elected in Fulham East, having polled over 10,000 of about 14,900 votes cast: a very comfortable majority.His new constituency covered the eastern side of the old constituency of Fulham, including Sandís End which heíd represented as a councillor, and parts of West Kensington.

 

The new Parliamentary session began on Tuesday 4 February 1919 ďat a Quarter before Three of the clockĒ, the normal start-time unless it was seriously behind schedule.The members of parliament were all sworn in on Wednesday 5 February 1919 and business began as soon as the swearing-in was over.The newly-elected MPís who supported the coalition lost no time in getting together as the New Membersí Coalition Group, under Sir Ernest Wild MP.As of August 2008 Iíve only just found out about this group; Iím investigating whether Norris joined it.Taking his seat in the House of Commons was probably the point at which he joined the Junior Carlton Club.The Club had been founded in 1832, specifically for Conservative MPís and peers, to coordinate party activity; it still exists, though most of its political functions were by Norrisí time carried out by Conservative Party central office.It was exactly like other gentlemenís clubs in London and elsewhere, in that to become a member you had to be proposed and seconded by two members.When Norris was a member, the clubís premises were on Pall Mall.I havenít been able to find out who proposed and seconded Norris.There was a parallel club for ladies which Edith Norris would have been eligible to join, if sheíd wanted.

 

Iím not going to list every single dayís Parliamentary business and every vote that Norris cast in it.But I do want to look more closely at his first few months.

 

The first time Norris had a chance to vote came at just past 9pm on 5 February in a debate on the current industrial unrest (troops sent in to quell rioting in Glasgow).I mention it because certain features that I noticed about it established patterns which continued throughout Norrisí time as an MP: Samuel Hill-Wood didnít vote; Norris voted with the Government; and the Government won the vote by a large majority, in this case 257:43.

 


On Friday 7 March 1919 the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Bill came up for its second reading: a subject Norris would be interested in and informed about; in fact at this time he was a member of a national association which lobbied on behalf of those whose income was dependent on property rents.Several MPís made their maiden speech in the debate but Norris wasnít one of them; up to this date he hadnít said anything at all in any House of Commons session.He may not have been in the House of Commons that day, of course, as just like now, Friday was a day for Ďany other businessí - private membersí bills and such, and just like now, attendance was low.The debate on the Rent Restrictions Bill resumed on Tuesday 11 March 1919 and finally, at gone 9pm that day, ďCaptain Sir H NorrisĒ (as he was always referred to in Hansard) got up and said something.In his speech he admitted that he was ďone of those abominations known as landlordsĒ and it was in that capacity that he was speaking; but that heíd ďnever given a tenant notice to quit, nor have I ever raised my rentĒ.Norris was arguing against the Billís proposal that the Billís provisions should apply to properties with a rental value of less than £55; he said that such a provision would penalise landlords who were owners of less expensive properties; while owners of more expensive ones would not be subject to the Billís restrictions on the amount of any rent increase.Norris proposed that the break-point of £55 should be increased to £100 or abandoned altogether so that the Bill would apply to all rented property.

 

That dayís debate, the second on the Bill, continued without agreement until MPís went home after 11pm; and resumed for a third session the following day (Wednesday); and then on Friday 14 March 1919 with a vote just after mid-day in which Norris cast a vote but Hill-Wood didnít.

 

 

Res of this long debate on 11 Mar 1919's was that Mps cldnít agree on the Billís provsns.So, as it was aft 11pm, the HofC went home and fur debate tk pl on the fllwg day.P1621-22 cttee stage contd [Fri] 14 Mar 1919 w vote on wording ď12.9pmĒ - HGN voted, SHW didnít.

 

In the next few weeks Norris took part in several MPís question times sessions in the next few weeks.Perhaps he had gained a little confidence, having got his first speech out of the way.

 

Norrisí first question was put to the Prime Minister as part of a session on Monday 24 March 1919.He asked whether the PM was aware that in the window of a shop in Spring Gardens (where Norris had, until recently, been going to attend sessions of the London County Council) there was a poster denouncing one particular government minister (whom Norris didnít name) as a traitor.On the PMís behalf, Bonar Law replied as leader of the House of Commons saying that yes, the Government had noticed; steps were being taken and the matter was now sub judice.

 

On Tue 25 March 1919 the Rent Restrictions Bill came back from some sessions in the House of Lords.A House of Commons committtee was set up, to argue with the House of Lords about some changes made to the Bill and this process established another pattern: despite having a great deal of knowledge of the property market and landlord and tenant law,Henry Norris did not sit on this committee.As far as I know, he was never chosen to sit on any House of Commons committee on any subject during his time as MP.

 

Given Norrisí belief in free trade (I deal with this more in my file on Norrisí Politics) it would be interesting to know whether Norris was in the House of Commons later on Tuesday 25 March for the Imperial Preference Bill, I presume an opposition piece of legislation indicting the Governmentís delay in giving imperial manufacturing industries legal protection from cheap foreign imports.But Norris didnít speak in the debate and no vote was taken on the Bill so I canít tell whether he was there or not.

 


Norrisí second question was asked in the session on Monday 31 March 1919 and on this occasion he was questioning whether the Inland Revenue had the right to demand duty from someone whoíd recently bought the freehold of their house, it previously having been leasehold.His question sounds as though it might have a personal application: either for Norris and his partner William Gilbert Allen for the properties they were still leasing in Fulham and Wandsworth; or as a result of a query made by a constituent.The Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed to look into the question of whether duty was payable in those circumstances; presumably, in due course, Norris received a written response from someone at the Treasury, the matter wasnít referred to again in the House of Commons.

 

As a feminist Iím glad to be able to report that later on that day, Norris voted to give a second reading to the Womenís Emancipation Bill, which sought to remove some legal barriers faced by women over 30 in certain types of work.He also voted for its third reading, on 4 July 1919; after which it became law.

 

Norris also asked a question in the session on Monday 7 April 1919, this time of the President of the Board of Trade: had he agreed the recent rise in tube fares, as a result of which some fares were 50% more than they had been at the outbreak of World War 1.Norris was told that the Board of Trade did not have to sanction rises in tube fares; so Norris asked the Board of Trade about bus fares - what control did the Board of Trade have over those?And if it had none, would it consider getting some?To which he got a two-part answer: none, and no not at the moment.A very modern conversation, you would think - or it would be if todayís MPís ever used public transport.For most of the sessions Norris attended in Parliament, he took the train to Westminster; he said so in 1929, I think.

 

Later that day the House of Commons debated the second reading of the Housing and Town Planning Bill.Mr Pretyman MP, of the national property ownersí lobbying association, took a big part in this; but Norris didnít speak on it.Just noting that twice-found-innocent of fraud Horatio Bottomley was a prominent speaker when the debate on this Bill continued the following day, Tuesday 8 April 1919; I wonder if Norris ever spoke to him?

 

On Wednesday 9 April 1919 Norris asked a question about the financial circumstances of some conscripted soldiers who were continuing their military service in the Army of Occupation in Flanders: they needed new uniforms, would the Government give them a grant to help pay for them?The answer again was no; and I suppose Norris was asking these questions he must have known the answer to, to get the Government to make a public statement of its position, so that everybody would know.

 


In this question time session, Norris asked a second question, this time of the President of the Local Government Board: could he produce any figures for the expenses of the elections held in London to the LCC (March), the Boards of Guardians (April), and the London boroughs (November)?Norris was suggesting that the amount spent on these local elections could be cut if they were all held on the same day - which happens now, but wasnít common then.Major Astor for the Local Government Board did produce some figures; but he said that as the various bodies didnít actually cover the same geographical areas it was not possible at the moment to hold elections to them on the same day.

 

Norris didnít say anything more in the House of Commons before Wednesday 16 April 1919 when Parliament shut down for the Easter recess.He didnít speak again until the question time session of Wednesday 7 May 1919 when he asked the Prime Minister whether he was going to introduce as a matter of urgency some legislation to prevent what Norris described as ďpersons of alien birthĒ from being eligible to stand as members of parliament or be awarded peerages and sitting in the House of Lords; and from being eligible for elected posts in local government and on boards of guardians; and from working for local and national government bodies.For the MP, a Mr Shortt replied that a similar question had been asked on 24 October 1918 (before Norris had been elected) so he was welcome to look up (in Hansard) the response that had been given on that day.This particular question really grates with me: that Norris, so keen on European travel and representing a constituency which had had (at least until the war) a number of German-born people living and running businesses in it, should show himself to be such a Ďlittle Englanderí; but Iím sorry to say his attitude at this stage in his life was typical of the population as a whole in the immediate aftermath of World War 1.

 

 

It must have been a rare thing for the coalition government to need the whips out but there was a big attendance in the House of Commons on Tuesday 20 May 1919 for the debate on the Finance Bill, so perhaps the whips were doing their job that day.The result was 317 for the Bill as against 72 brave souls against.Norris was with the 317 and so was Samuel Hill-Wood, voting for the first time since the session had begun in February.Thus far, Hill-Wood had not made any speeches or asked any questions.

 

After his maiden speech Norris didnít speak again in a House of Commons debate until Tuesday 27 May 1919, when Hansard makes it clear that Norris had handed in an amendment to the Housing and Town Planning Bill, that the schedules to clause 12(3) of the Housing of the Working Classes Act 1903 should not apply to this new (and different) Bill.The Speaker of the House of Commons responded to Norrisí amendment by saying it wasnít relevant but Norris held that it was, and a debate ensued about what had happened to a previous, similar amendment put forward by Mr Locker-Lampson, MP for Wood Green, but somehow lost at the Billís committee stage.The amendment Norris was trying to put in now turned on what exactly constituted a working-class person: not an easy thing to define.Eventually the Speaker agreed with the point that Norris and Locker-Lampson were trying to make: that the Bill did need some definition of the working-class people it was supposed to be trying to build housing for; and Norrisí amendment did go into the Billís wording - quite a triumph for a new MP in the face of some opposition from the Speaker.A vote was taken on the Bill at 9.15pm that night but Norris didnít cast a vote; which is in another pattern, of Norris tending throughout his time as an MP to miss votes that took place around dinner time.

 


Norris did not speak again in the House of Commons until after its summer break had come and gone; but he did submit a written question once the Housing and Town Planning Bill had become law, which it did very quickly.Norris asked for a great deal of information about the kind of people who would be appointed to oversee the working of the bill as law, and what kind of office space and administrative support they would have as they went about their task of assessing the current state of British housing.On Wednesday 28 May 1919 Major Astor gave a spoken part-reply to Norrisí questions, in the House of Commons, and promised him a copy of the Government circular on the matter, when it was published.†† Later that day Norris voted against the Government in a debate on whether to allow £49 million extra in the armyís budget that year.When he voted against the Government at all, it did tend to be when it wanted more spending money.The Government won the vote as Iím sure Norris knew it would; 149:47.

 

It was only in June 1919 that I started looking at the voting patterns of George Elliott as well as Norris and Hill-Wood.

 

I canít believe that Henry Norris was missing from the House of Commons on Thursday 3 July 1919 when Prime Minister rose to begin the debate on the Versailles Treaty that formally ended World War 1.Lloyd George got a standing ovation.I canít prove Norris was there, though, because both the bills required by the Treaty went to their second reading without a vote.Norris was in the House of Commons at 6pm; he voted in the debate on the Government of India Bill - not a subject I would have thought he had much interest in.

 

 

The last session of the House of Commons before its summer break took place on Tuesday 19 August 1919; for several weeks before there had been a lot of votes but Norris, Hill-Wood and Elliott had none of them voted very often.

 

Henry Norris was in the House of Commons on Tuesday 12 August 1919 for a debate on the Profiteering Bill, whose provisions meant such a lot to his small-business constituents.Neither Elliott nor Hill-Wood voted when Norris did that night; youíd think Elliott would be interested in the Bill as he ran his own business, but 12 August was grouse-shooting day so I expect Hill-Wood was elsewhere.The rest of the debate on the Profiteering Bill took place on one very long day, Wednesday 13 August 1919 as it was considered important to get it made law before the Parliamentary recess.A lot of that dayís discussion was on the powers the Board of Trade should have to enforce the law; though in fact the agent of the law would be the local authorities.The first vote on that long day was taken at 5.20pm; and they were still voting as the session went into Thursday 14 August, the last vote being done at 6.58am.Norris was there for all the votes; Elliott and Hill-Wood didnít vote at all that session and probably werenít there. Those MPís whoíd stayed throughout the marathon finally went home at 7.36am.The Bill was given its third reading at 8pm on the Thursday; no vote was taken so I donít know whether Norris went back to the House of Commons to see it through to the end.

 

By the time Parliament went on holiday there were only a few days until the start of the football season.Henry Norris didnít attend the pre-season practice match played on 23 August 1919, so I guess he was on holiday then; he was back by 17 September 1919 to do his last two months as mayor of Fulham.

[ROGER SLPARL2 FOLLOWS ON FROM THIS FILE]

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE SOURCES OF ALL THIS INFORMATION, SEND ME AN EMAIL AND IíLL SEND YOU THE SOURCES FILE.


 

 

Copyright Sally Davis July 2008

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