§ [SECOND DAY.]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [3rd December]:
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Mr. Wakefield.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
Yesterday the Prime Minister spoke on the Speech from the Throne, and I want, in continuing the Debate, to refer to some statements that he made. He asked us to compare the state of feeling and the state of the country in 1931 and 1935. He went so far as to accuse some of us of having completely blank minds as to what happened in 1931. I am prepared to accept his challenge and to compare 1931 and 1935, but from a somewhat different point of view. The right hon. Gentleman, with a very broad brush, painted a picture of the good that had come from four years of the National Government. It is astonishing, with that enormous volume of credit to its advantage, that in 1935 it did not do much better than it did at the General Election. [Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Members will be a little patient until I have finished my story. In 1931 the Prime Minister and his friends obtained a majority of 7,750,000 votes. Where is that majority now? In 1935 that swollen majority had shrunk to the modest proportions of 1,750,000. In 1935, in spite of this beneficent National Government which had showered its favours upon the people, 10,000,000 electors deliberately and consciously voted against the National Government. The result of the efforts of the National Government during four years, with an enormous majority, has been to lose the confidence of nearly 3,000,000 electors. I am not counting in that figure the fact 150 that since 1931 the electorate has increased by at least 2,000,000, none of whom, apparently, have supported the National Government. Such base ingratitude on the part of the electors is astonishing in view of the extravagant claims which the National Government and its spokesmen made to have recovered the confidence of the country. It is true that during the past four years—I have no doubt that the policy will be continued in this Parliament—the Government did all it could to restore the confidence of those big interests which felt themselves threatened when the Labour Government was in office, but, while it has done that, it is an astonishing thing that this victorious Government, after four years of great service, comes to the House having lost the support of 3,000,000 electors who for one reason or another supported it in 1931.
But that is not all. It is quite possible that a very small turnover of votes, not more than 250,000, might, through the accidents of our electoral system, have put us there and them here. As for the Government itself, it has lost some of its divisional commanders and many of its rank and file. It has two skeletons in its cupboard, the Lord President of the Council and the Secretary of State for the Dominions, and the question, as in all situations of this kind, is how to dispose of the remains. I am thankful that the responsibility does not lie with the Opposition. But I would ask one question. Are the remains to be deposited at the back door of two Tory constituencies or are they to be put in a mortuary for ever, that mortuary from which two other Members of the Government, the Home Secretary and the Minister of Agriculture, only narrowly escaped?
As regards the Government's allies—not allies; that is too dignified a term to use. As regards the mercenaries in the Tory army, they have become relatively unimportant. The National Liberal party remains here under the leadership of the Home Secretary, who nearly missed getting here. The National Labour group has lost its leader. Its numbers are attenuated. I understand it has eight Members in the House, five in office—five generals, one rank and one file and one cabin boy. That group is now completely submerged. I had hoped, if I had had time, to look up a poem written, I believe, by an American—"Hans Breitmann gave 151 a party." I only remember the last words of each verse:Where is that party now?So far as the National Labour Group is concerned, the answer is simple. It is not there. These fractions from the Liberal party and the Labour party which allied themselves with the National Government have always been the crown colonies of the Tory empire, there to be cruelly and shamefully exploited, and neglected in their hour of need. That is the comparison I make between 1931 and 1935—a true comparison, with a National Government which has lost prestige and which gives indication of its indecision of mind in the King's Speech.
The King's Speech reads as an even vaguer edition of the vague and verbose manifesto which the Government issued during the election. It is very difficult to attach any kind of meaning to three-quarters of the document, and the Prime Minister, whose duty it was yesterday to elucidate the Speech, to enlighten the House upon the proposals so vaguely stated there, I am sorry to say did not live up to his usual standard. The right hon. Gentleman's speech threw no light whatever on the Gracious Speech and we are still in the dark as to what exactly His Majesty's Government mean to do; we are as wise now as we were when you, Mr. Speaker, read the Gracious Speech on Tuesday.
The Speech is not only vague. Vagueness may be forgiven people who have not made up their minds. But it presents no suggestion of any coherent policy. At least I think the House is entitled to a coherent and articulated statement of policy, especially when the Government possess a Minister such as the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) who has no earthly abode, but dwells high on Olympus and thinks. I had to remark about this in the last Parliament, because thinking ought to produce something, at least thoughts. When a Minister of thought, whose high purpose it is to sit in the House as he does, looking more and more like Rodin's statue "Le Penseur" every day, we are entitled, when there is an official thinker on the Government side, to expect a coherent statement of the Government's policy. We have not got it. I am reminded of one of those war novels which were written 152 about the Civil service. The title I have forgotten. I believe it was written by Miss Rose Macaulay. It was a skit upon the War Cabinet of Five, and the superscription of the book was "Five minds with but a single thought, if that."
I am bound to say that that is the impression which the King's Speech makes upon my mind. It is a feeble effort. I have read King's Speeches which were not only magnificently phrased, which might have been drafted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill,) but speeches which did indicate some really substantial national purpose. The present King's Speech shows nothing of that. It is not even "sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal." It is like the waverings of a penny whistle, and a penny whistle heard in a storm. There is nothing new in it, not a single proposal that has not been thrashed to death year after year by Parliament after Parliament. It is a number of things strung together with about as much relationship to each other as the articles for sale on a jumble stall. It reminds me more than anything of the crazy quilts our grandmothers made, with this difference, that at least they were serviceable, and this Speech will bring very little warmth or comfort to the people who need it most.
The Prime Minister in his speech referred to his desire for peace. I do not question it. No one who has heard the Prime Minister's speeches inside or outside this House would doubt for one moment the sincerity of his desire for the restoration and maintenance of peace. The question in my mind is not the right hon. Gentleman's sincerity, but whether he will be able to do what he would like to do. Can the right hon. Gentleman protect the angel of peace from the gods of war? Yesterday we had a little quite genteel applause for peace sentiments but vociferous applause from the other side of the House at every mention of increased armaments. It is not my intention to dwell upon that question, but I am in duty bound to remind the House that the Prime Minister was curiously silent on the question of those gaps which have to be filled in the national defence. He told us what the King's Speech had already told us, that in good time Estimates would be laid before the House. While this Debate is 153 in progress we ought to know exactly what the Government mean when they say that they are going to fill up gaps. They are not going to do it by saving money obviously, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself said that he had, I think "reluctantly" was the word he used, come to the conclusion that money must be found.
It is interesting to see how, within the last year, aircraft factories whose work is primarily intended for war purposes have been extending. I have here particulars of three of them. Most of these factories have no civil business at all. Yet within the last few months they have opened or are opening new factories in expectation of favours to come. They are not building those factories because they believe in the peace Prime Minister. They are building those factories because they know that this country is about to enter on another armaments race, and that what they cannot sell to this Government they will be able to sell to competing Governments. The Prime Minister did not seem to me to be at his best when he attempted to reply to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Lime-house (Mr. Attlee) had said about the dualism of the Government's position. In fact he ended by being a dualist. I ask him to withdraw that, because I still stand by what I said about him at the beginning: I believe he is a peace lover. But the right hon. Gentleman cannot be a peace lover and agree with this idea of a powerfully armed British Empire which, roaring with the voice of the right hon. Member for Epping, switches its tail in the face of the whole world. The right hon. Gentleman really ought not to try to have it both ways. I hope that my hon. Friends will pursue him and the Foreign Secretary and the Ministers for the defence services on these points.
On home affairs let me say that if there are to be educational developments, improvements in the health services and better housing for the people, no one will be more pleased than my hon. Friends and myself. We are grateful for these proposals in the King's Speech—for what they are worth. The trouble is that we really do not know yet what they are worth. I take one example. The Prime Minister referred to education. We know his zeal for education. We have had no information vouchsafed to us as to what the Government really mean about the 154 school-leaving age. It is true that we are invited to consider during the present Session a Bill for the raising of the school-leaving age, but there was an ominous sentence in the Prime Minister's speech which led me to believe that it was not to operate for two or three years. Then I am bound to confess that in my view and in the view of experienced educational administrators in this country the raising of the school-leaving age Bill will not be worth the paper it is printed on.
This idea that you are not to have a definite and tight school-leaving age but to allow children to creep out to work under the guise of beneficial employment or work at home, means in all the industrial towns of the North that there will be no child staying at school. The Bill as it has been suggested by the manifesto is a sheer piece of hocus-pocus and it is even more hocus-pocus when the Government flatly decline to tell the people, and especially working-class families, whether they mean to attach to that further year of school life, if it happens, maintenance allowances for the children. That question has been repeatedly asked, and I hope that my hon. friends will continue to ask it during this Debate. The House is entitled to an answer, and if no answer is forthcoming we can only assume that the Government mean this as a piece of shop-window dressing and are not serious at all about the proposal.
The Prime Minister also referred to mining. I do not want to discuss that question except in a very general way, because many of my hon. friends will have a good deal to say about it. The Government are a little late in coming to deal with this problem. I recollect the Sankey Commission and the Samuel Commission. I recollect how Government after Government took no action whatever. I recollect how it was a distinguished member of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Epping, who more than anyone else was the real villian of the piece so far as the mining industry is concerned, because it was he, I believe, who gave the mine-owners £25,000,000. It was he who drove this country back on to the Gold Standard in 1925 and thereby precipitated the stoppage of 1926. It was hon. Members opposite who did their best to hamstring and sabotage the Coal Mines Act, 1930, which 155 was introduced by my old late friend, Willie Graham, as the maximum that he thought he could get out of a reasonable House of Commons. That Bill was butchered in Committee by Members who now sit in this House on that side of the Chamber, and now, after four years, the Prime Minister discovers its virtues. Having done their best to cripple it before it got to the Statute Book, having for four years deliberately evaded it and permitted mine owners to evade it, after an election, with a serious and great crisis looming before the country, the Government pick the 1930 Act out of the pigeon-hole, and the Prime Minister pays a great compliment to it as the most important of the Acts which have been passed since the War. As I say, that is a little late.
Then, he is going to give the industry something called the unification of royalties. It is becoming like the blessed word "Mesopotamia." Nobody knows what it means. The Prime Minister did not enlighten us yesterday. It is some undisclosed scheme for the unification of mining royalties, and then, miracle of all, an inquiry into safety in mines. I have 34 colleagues on these benches who can tell the Government all that is necessary to be known without a Commission. This is what the miners are offered. The miners literally are asking for bread. They are offered selling agencies, unification and an inquiry into safety in mines. What is to be done for the miners now? Fine words and inquiries will not fill empty bellies, and there is nothing in the proposals of the Government, even if they are carried into effect, which of necessity means a penny more per shift to any miner in this country. We have no guarantee of any kind, whatever may be the result of the negotiations now pending, the Government are going to lend their aid to seeing that the working miner gets something where there is something to be got.
The right hon. Gentleman did not speak as fully about distressed areas as I should have liked him to have done. I suppose that he did not do so because there is very little he could say about it. It is true that he is to give us a trading estate somewhere or other. That is not going to be a serious contribution to the increasingly difficult problem of the distressed 156 areas. As for those distressed areas, which, in the absence of South Wales and Durham, would be regarded as distressed areas, nothing is offered to them. There is a deepening gloom settling over a widening area in this country. It may be that certain trades have improved. That is true, but the position in the distressed areas is no better. To those distressed areas which have not been defined as "special"—"special" is a nice term, intended to get rid of all the odium that attaches to the term "distressed"—nothing is offered, except, of course, that the Cotton Spindles Bill is being offered to Lancashire. It is a Bill which will have a very rough passage from supporters of the Government and is the work of a section of a section of the industry. It certainly has not got the approval of a majority of the people in the industry, and if it is passed into law it will not affect the economic situation in the smallest degree. We have in this House on these benches during the past four years pleaded time and time again for large scale schemes to deal with these areas. We have received no answer. We are now to have a trading estate that will not satisfy the people of this country.
As regards the unemployed, the Government—I will give them credit for this; they would not have done it if they could have got out of it, but they made a virtue of necessity—before the House rose, did admit that they would not be ready to table their proposals for dealing with the unemployed, I think the Minister of Labour said, until next spring at the earliest. I think he has now fully earned the title of Minister of Procrastination. He has had this job a good long time. He said that he was going to think about it during the summer, but we are still some months away apparently from any specific proposals to deal with this problem. I remember the Minister of Labour when he sat on the bench below the Gangway in the 1929–1921 Parliament. Where are the old bluff and bluster now? Ah, there he is! When he comes to the House now he generally sits opposite,sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought.turning over these things in his mind, but, like his Noble comrade in the Government, the Minister without Portfolio, his thoughts have not yet been made known to the world. The right hon. Gentleman is on the horns of a dilemma, 157 and he knows it. If he changes the system as it is now, bad as it is, he is bound to get something worse. We have advised him about this. Indeed, we have advised all three of the Ministers of Labour whom the Government managed to run during their four years of office. Two of them have disappeared; the third has survived. We are very glad to see him here, but he does not look like living a long life, for the very reason that he has to settle what is, in fact, an insoluble job, accepting the principles which are guiding the Government. It is true that under electoral pressure Ministers of the Crown did during the election campaign say something would have to be done about it. None of them seemed to be quite clear what had to be done about it, and none of them made any constructive proposals. Now we are told that we have still to go on waiting before the Minister of Labour hatches out his thoughts. My hon. Friends on this side of the House will not be satisfied until the whole of the miserable Paul Pry system is swept away. The longer unemployment continues, the more obviously people become victims of economic circumstances, the less justification there is for this meticulous, humiliating and detailed inquiry into household means.
I looked at the manifesto of the Government with considerable care, and I read the King's Speech with considerable care, but yesterday the Prime Minister, instead of doing what he ought to have done and explaining the things that were in the King's Speech, suddenly told the House of something that was not in the King's Speech, which they are not going to do this year, but which they hope to do next year, that is, introduce a Factory Bill. If it were so important, as I believe it is, why was it not in their manifesto, and why was it not in the King's Speech? It could not have been invented on the spur of the moment by the Prime Minister. There must have been some reason for it. That Bill is very long overdue. There has been one in the Home Office, I believe, for 15 years.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The Noble Lady knows better than to interrupt me. I enjoy these exchanges with the Noble Lady. We shall be glad, and willing to support a new Factory Bill, but why a Factory Bill at this moment 158 and nothing for the seamen, in view of the disclosures which have been made in the last few months? This is a, problem of very great importance affecting one of our most important services, that of the Mercantile Marine, and while I should be the last to say that we should not have a Factory Bill, I am bound to say that had the Government any heart in this business at all, they would have done something to secure in this Parliament a revision of the Merchant Shipping Acts, which is even much more overdue than the revision of the Factory Acts.
Our criticism of the King's Speech is that it lacks coherence. We believe that the nation now has arrived at a situation in which we cannot allow the old economic forces to operate in the way that they have done in the past. We know that there is talk of planning in all quarters of the House. There are Members on those benches who talk about planning. It is agreed that there must be planning. We must either plan or perish. There is no question now about leaving things to take their course. It is a case of deciding how we are to plan. This Government—virtually this Government; there are not very many changes yet—in the past four years showed how it meant to plan to keep economic power where it still is to-day, to plan in the interests of the old order to which organised planning cannot effectively apply. Every King's Speech that goes by confirms those of us who sit on these benches in our own faith that there must be planning. There must be the extrusion of the motive of private gain from our big services. There must be planning under public ownership and public control, with public spirit, in the public interest. It is because this Government cannot possibly live up to that kind of policy that we shall during the whole of its miserable lifetime offer our most strenuous opposition to its major proposals, continuing whenever we can to put forward the faith that is in us.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir John Simon)
I rise at once, because we desire to bear in mind Mr. Speaker's admonition as to the cut and thrust of debate. I will try to observe Mr. Speaker's other admonition too—that speeches, from whatever bench they are made, should be strictly limited in point of time. I 159 should like to say a few words about the lively speech which we have just heard from the right hon. Gentleman. He put a number of questions about the details of promised legislation. He has completely misunderstood the nature of the occasion on which we are at present engaged. The Debate on the Address is not the occasion when any statement is made as to the details of legislation. In the first few days of the first Session of a new Parliament the general debate on the Address is largely employed in criticism from one side or the other of the results of the Election and it may be in presenting to the new House of Commons the choicer specimens of our election oratory.
With the consent of the House, I am going to examine from my point of view, and the point of view of the Government, the results of the Election. The right hon. Gentleman compared the results of the Election of 1931 with those of the Election of 1935. I submit, and I will give reasons for it, that the result which has been attained in the Election of 1935 is in some respects a more striking and a more significant indication of the view of the nation even than the result in 1931. The decision of the nation at the General Election of 1931 was, in my judgment and in the judgment of most of us, a decision of vast importance which delivered the country from great danger; but this may be said in criticism of that decision that undoubtedly it is true that the verdict given by the country in 1931 was given under the pressure of great anxiety and given at a time when, right or wrong, vast numbers of our fellow-citizens were really convinced that by giving a vote to the National Government they were helping to save the country. Hon. Members opposite must appreciate that the point that I am putting is not whether they agree with the view of the country, but it is merely a reflection which is very germane to what has just been said by the right hon. Gentleman about the Elections of 1931 and 1935. I say that in 1931 the decision of the country undoubtedly was reached by our fellow-citizens at a time when they were under the pressure of great anxiety and looking in the direction in which they could best be helped. To a very large extent the decision then made was in connection 160 with the particular circumstances of the time.
The right hon. Gentleman has made a comparison of the figures of the two Elections, but may I point out the difference? In the General Election which has just taken place the country has not been pronouncing its verdict or placing its trust under the pressure of some im mediately compelling and possibly even distorting anxiety. The result of the 1935 Election is a perfectly deliberate choice made by the majority of our fellow-citizens after four years' experience of National Government which they elected at a time of national anxiety. Although the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his friends may speak in depreciation and criticism of the results of the General Election of 1935, I must point out that never before since the War has any Government, not even a Labour Government, appealed to the country for a vote of confidence and received it. This is the first occasion since the end of the War that any Prime Minister in power has presented himself and his Government before the people of this country and has received the vote of confidence for which he asked. When, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman wishes to compare 1931 with 1935 I am prepared to state that position as I see it. If he is content with his position, I am content with mine.
Some hon. Members opposite find very great difficulty in deciding whether the recent General Election was a triumph for them or a disaster. There are two views. At the Labour party reception, which was naturally arranged before the results of the Election were known, but which none the less took place after the announcements of the poll, the Leader of the Opposition was reported in the "News Chronicle" to have said that they had had a magnificent victory. It is quite right that the leader of a party should be cheerful, but that is not the view of some of those who sit on the benches opposite. It is certainly not the view of the former Minister of Transport, who is one of the most loyal lieutenants of the Leader of the Opposition. He does not take the same view as his leader as to the triumphant success which the Opposition were fortunate enough to secure.
The real question which everybody in the House should spend a short time in 161 considering is this: What, broadly speaking, has been the cause of the result of the Election? To what can that result be mainly attributed, and what other lessons may we seek to draw from these conclusions? I will endeavour to give my answer to these very relevant questions. Every Debate in the first Session of a new Parliament largely consists of a composition played by an orchestra. It is what I may describe in musical terms as a theme with variations. The two leading motifs are, "Why we won?" and "Why we lost?" I should like to make a few observations on that subject. I think it is the judgment of most of those who have really thought about this matter, if they take a broad view, that there are four main causes for the Government's victory. Quite deliberately I put as the first cause the personality, the character and the influence of the Prime Minister. I would confirm a statement made yesterday from two quarters from the benches opposite. Yesterday we heard from the right hon. Member who leads the Opposition Liberals and also from the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) who leads the Independent Labour party group, in different phrases, an admission of that self-evident fact. It is beyond all question that the confidence which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister enjoys from such a vast mass of his fellow subjects has had more to do with the result of the General Election than anything else. If two Scotsmen like my right hon. Friend opposite and the hon. Member for Bridgeton are prepared to admit that the electors were thus moved to give their confidence to an English Prime Minister, a most English Prime Minister, the first English Prime Minister since Asquith, it may be legitimate for me on this side of the House to say the same.
The second chief cause for the result of the General Election is confidence in the National Government's record and intentions. That is a difficult thing to say without being met with the accusation of complacency. There is no question of complacency. It is a question of examining the existing facts and endeavouring to form a correct judgment upon them. The second cause why the Election went as it did is because the Government succeeded in retaining a very large and very unusual measure of 162 confidence after four years of office. It may be undeserved, and it may be that there is a great deal for which we should be reproached, but as an old Member of Parliament I say without fear of contradiction that there has never been in my lifetime a Government which after four years has retained so large a body of support as this Government. I am not saying that this can be attributed simply to the gratitude of the country; not at all. I am not saying that there have not been many shortcomings and many mistakes on the part of the Government, but the plain fact is that when the Prime Minister made his appeal on behalf of the National Government he secured a response which was in no little degree due to the fact that the people of the country, rightly or wrongly, were disposed to believe that the assurances which this Government give can be carried out. The right hon. Member opposite in a sarcastic reference to the Government manifesto, said that it consisted largely of old stuff which had been proposed long ago. Then why has it not been carried through long ago? How is it that, even with Ministers drawn from the benches opposite, these things have not been done? The reason why the country is prepared to give its confidence to the present Government is because it thinks that, after all fair allowance has been made for shortcomings and mistakes, it is a Government which will be able to carry out the programme which it announces.
The right hon. Gentleman made an observation about the Factories Bill not being brought forward in the present Session. There is a distinction between the general programme of the Government for a Parliament and the work to be done for a single Session, after proper allowance has been made for the rights of private Members. I recall that Sir Herbert Samuel, when the Government manifesto was first issued, was pleased to declare that the Government had issued a programme for four years which could be carried through in a few months. That was a much less cautious estimate than I have been in the habit of expecting from the right hon. Gentleman. It is plain that the King's Speech for this Session contains a very full list of work to be done, and I hope that the House will want to get the work done. It is surely right, at the beginning of the 163 Session, that it should be realised that what can be done in this Session is much and that what can be done in this Parliament is more.
That is the second reason why I believe the verdict of the country has been given as it has, but there is a third reason, and since a phrase has been used by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday and repeated to-day by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) about dualism of policy, which is apparently the catch-word of the moment, let me use it also. A third explanation of the General Election result beyond all question is the fatal dualism of Socialist policy. They are willing, if they get the chance, to carry through and apply a proposition which the country is not prepared to accept, and I believe will never be prepared to accept, and, at the same time, they try to present their appeal to the country in modified terms, because if it were stated plainly and boldly, it is evident to the wiser minds that the country certainly would not swallow it. What I have just said epitomises the reflections of the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison). He was not prepared to subscribe to the proposition of the Leader of the Opposition that they had won a magnificent victory. On the contrary, he says "No." I quote from "Forward," as recently as 22nd November, in which he says:Most of us had hoped to win more seats,and then he goes on to express in moderate terms a certain amount of regret. He says that the explanation is in part the "brave" speeches which have been made by some supporters of the Opposition. The "bloomers" as he is prepared to call them in certain "brave" speeches and writings, and he points out with unerring judgment thatthis country is not going to vote in a hurry for a first-class financial crisis.If you want, therefore, the third explanation of the result of the last General Election there you have it. I should have no complaint if the right hon. Gentleman and his friends saw the error of their ways and announced that they were going in for a more moderate and what, I think, is a more reasonable policy.
§ Sir J. SIMON
During the Election exchanges on the broadcast I ventured, when my turn came, to put the simple, plain and pertinent question, whether we were to understand that the party for which Lord Snowden advised the country to vote in the election of 1935 was the party with the same policy which he denounced in such powerful terms in 1931. And for that purpose I inquired whether we were to understand that any item of the Socialist programme of 1931 was to be regarded as dropped or abandoned. I take the first opportunity I have had of thanking the right hon. Member for Wakefield for his perfect courtesy, in that within 24 hours he gave us a reply in plenty of time to be used in the Election. He said that I need not be under any misapprehension, and that he and his friends had not dropped or abandoned a single item for which they stood in 1931. That, of course, was very "brave," but it provides the justification for what I have been urging, namely, that the third reason why the General Election has gone as it has is because the party opposite has again taken up that attitude. The right hon. Member for South Hackney had given them good advice on this subject, and not so long ago either. He has not announced that he is not going to put into operation the full Socialist programme of confiscation—
§ Sir J. SIMON
The question of confiscation is dealt with in the following way by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney. The date is Thursday, 4th October, 1934, and the conference is the conference of the Labour party at Southport. Without making any comment I will quote what the right hon. Gentleman said—it would beconvenient to get this passage in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The right hon. Gentleman said:I want the conference to be realists, politically as well as financially, upon the issue which it is facing. You have got to ask yourselves whether if we go to the country at the next General Election with a policy of confiscation 'tempered to the shorn Iamb'—confiscation rather modified in order to meet absolute hardship—you have got to consider whether the country is likely to give you a majority to do it. If you are convinced as I am that it is almost certain that the country will reject a policy of confiscation, then you have 165 got to ask yourselves whether it is worth while to keep yourselves out of political power, to prevent yourselves becoming a government and prevent yourselves dealing with the very problems with which you want to deal. That is to say"—the right hon. Gentleman's language is entirely clear—you have to ask yourselves whether it is worth while urging a policy you want at the cost of preventing yourselves from being politically competent to put it into force.The quotation goes on—I will make no comment at the moment:That is the real issue. For myself, I would sooner get on with the job of socialisation, paying fair and reasonable compensation and not a penny more than we need. I would sooner the State, through a Labour Government, got into its control key industry after key industry, service after service, until within a reasonable time we are substantially masters of the economic fabric of the community and the means of production and of distribution. Put us in that position. Let a Labour Government go on with its work of socialisation. Make us substantially economic masters of the State. Remove capitalist control over the great field of industry. Then is the time to take the big decision, which I assure you I personally should not be afraid to take, when this country has become a substantially socialised country.May I tell the right hon. Gentleman exactly how I interpret that, and how I think the country interprets it, too? It is the fatal dualism of this policy. In their heart of hearts these gentlemen think that the big decision should be taken with their policy of confiscation. They do not oppose it because it is wrong or unjust, but because at the moment it is not politic to press it forward, but at the time when they are told it is not politic to talk like that, they are given an assurance by their own leaders that they personally would not be afraid to take the big decision. They are disarming the existing system of this country as far as they can, and trying to get into power by concealing, as far as they can, this proposal. According to this declaration this is a manoeuvre for the purpose of ultimately fastening on this country a system which it would never willingly accept. I think that the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) has been very hardly treated by the right hon. Member for South Hackney. He has been reproached for making his "brave" speech, for his 166 "bloomers". Wisdom, it is hinted, would consist in a fatal dualism of policy, which the country can perfectly well see through, and as long as that continues to be the official position of the party opposite, they will never get the support of a majority of this country.
There is a fourth and final reason which I will briefly mention, and it is one which I invite the House in its reflection seriously to consider. Undoubtedly there is exemplified in the history of this Government an indication of a new method of dealing with current political problems. Whether a government is entitled to call itself national or not does not matter, for every sensible man knows what is meant. What is meant is that the Government is composed of people who are not of one party, and, what is more important, that it is supported by millions of people of more parties than one. I am very sure that there are Conservative members sitting behind me who would be the first to admit that this is true, and it is a very significant fact, which in the hurly-burly and the daily pressure of immediate parliamentary issues may be easily overlooked. But it is a big fact, nevertheless, in the history of parliament in this country. The one occasion when a Government has appealed to the people of this country and has been returned again is when the Government has not been purely a party Government. That shows that more and more citizens of different political origins and tempers are disposed to believe much more than they ever did in a measure of co-operation. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) with his long knowledge of Parliament and his close sense of the House of Commons pointed this out in his speech at Oxford the other day. He stated that it would be the greatest mistake to regard the victory of the Government as merely a party victory. It is idle to argue in what proportions you are going to find this or that party in support of this Government of national co-operation, but I would point out to those Liberals who do not agree with me that this is a new trend in our political development, and I believe it is a trend which has come to stay. The people have realised that the political questions of to-day are not to be disposed of on purely party lines.
167 The right hon. Gentleman levelled a reproach just now when he said that the proposals in the King's Speech might have come from any quarter. So much the better. The whole point about the whole action of the National Government is that it can carry through legislation which in the hands of a single party, opposed by other parties, might be too controversial to be carried. Of course those who are fortunate at a General Election are always disposed to praise the wisdom of the British democracy, whereas those who do not succeed are always disposed to say that the electors have been misled, deceived or trapped in some way. Nothing was more amusing that to hear during the last days of the Election, Members opposite prophesying that there would be some dreadful trick played on them in the last 24 hours. [HON. MEMBERS: "There was."] There was never anything of the kind. I feel that hon. Gentlemen opposite are paying a very poor compliment to the democracy of this land if they do not at least recognise that the decision was a deliberate decision arrived at as the result of much argument, perhaps much rhetoric, but also much reflection, and it is very much better to accept it as a judgment for the time being of the British people.
Fundamentally the key to the whole business is this—to use the language of elementary physics: You have communities which, when they are put a little bit off the dead centre, proceed to rock, and the further they move from the dead centre the further they will move away into a state of unstable equilibrium. There are communities in Europe, it may be even in the British Empire, of which that may be true. But it is the very essence of the British spirit that when we see the judgment and temper and policy of the country swinging away from the normal course, there is a tendency to right itself and to get back to the centre. The reason this National Government is able to come here with the hope and prospect of four years useful work with the support of the country behind it, is not because a majority of the country has become reactionary, or that the Government is composed of die-hards, but because the common sense of the British people will always set itself against extremists and die-hards of every sort. It is in that 168 spirit that I beg to support the Motion that this Address be presented to His Majesty for his Gracious Speech.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Sir FRANCIS ACLAND
Bearing in mind your admonition, Mr. Speaker, that we should as far as possible follow arguments that have already been used in the Debate, I shall try to break a humble lance first of all with no less a figure than the Prime Minister in something which he said yesterday. He said that among the recent charges of the Conservatives in this House was the charge that there seemed to have been during the Election by speakers on the Benches opposite to him a complete blank of memory as to what happened in the year 1931. There may be something in that. I was too busy to follow all, or, indeed, any of their speeches, but what was I think much more remarkable was the way in which the events of 1931 were referred to by the Prime Minister's supporters, and the most charitable explanation one can give to those references when they were generally made by one's own opponents and others with whom one could keep touch was that they were caused not by a lack of memory but a complete lack of knowledge. To read them one would suppose there had never been coming to a head in 1931 the most complete and world-wide economic collapse ever recorded in history—as it happens, less serious here than in other comparable countries when one remembers that wages and the value of securities fell less here than in comparable countries, and our rate of increase of unemployment was not proportionately as great as elsewhere.
I refer to that apparent absence of all knowledge of the world economic crisis because I think in the months and years before us, it will add to the reality of our Debates and will lessen their bitterness if we can realise and admit to one another here, whatever we have been doing outside, that very much the greater part, at any rate, of the events of 1931 here as elsewhere were due to world causes, and not to the action or inaction of the Government which happened to be in office at the time. Hon. Members opposite will do well to bear that in mind, if not now, at any rate as time goes on. As my right hon. Friend reminded us yesterday, there is going to be, unless there is a revival of overseas trade, 169 according to the very grave warning of the Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee and the Economic Advisory Committee of the Government, a tendency for unemployment again to increase after the variable figure of 21 per cent. in 1940 as the Insurance Committee foretold, and it seems to me that hon. Members opposite may therefore well find before many years are past that it is very convenient when next they face their constituents to remind their supporters that the Government cannot be expected to counteract world tendencies. If they may find that line of argument useful in a few years time, they had better, I think, not dig themselves in too tight on the lines so many of them have been taking in the Election, that the 1931 crisis was due to the administration of that date. I would advise them during the Christmas recess, that argument having served them very well in helping them during the Election, to hedge a bit and be a little fair to the Labour Government.
As to the Gracious Speech, it contains nothing that was not expected, and with regard to what was expected a good deal which sounds well but of which we shall not be able to judge the real import until we get definite proposals before us. There is nothing much in it to stir the blood or make the pulse beat at all faster. It seems to be a speech prepared by men who need a good holiday more than anything else, and when in due course we are told the date on which Parliament is likely to resume after the Christmas Recess, I hope it will be some date in February rather than in the middle of January, when many of us would be perfectly willing to get to work again if there is to be a fuller programme of work set before us, particularly for those who most need the help of Parliament at the present time.
With regard to omissions that one might have hoped would not have occurred, is it really unreasonable to have hoped that the Government would already have been able to say something about remedying the extraordinary disproportion between votes cast and Members returned which we now have in every Parliament? Is it a thing which any of us really thinks it is right should continue indefinitely? As the indefatigable Secretary of the Proportional Representation Society, Mr. Humphreys, 170 says, the proportion of votes cast for the National Government candidates in all the counties south of the Thames, from Kent to Cornwall, correspond to a division of the 79 Members returned for those counties into 51 for the Government and 28 against; whereas actually there were 77 Government candidates returned out of the 79, and the others arranged to come up quite comfortably from Devon in my son's two-seater motor-car in spite of that very large number of votes given in their favour. I would only add that there are obvious advantages, if something of that kind is going to be done, in doing it early in the lifetime of the Parliament before we begin to calculate too minutely the electoral loss or gain likely to result from any change. I hope I am correctly informed that the Government were not wholly indisposed to consider a change making some form of proportional representation applicable before the Dissolution, and I hope, therefore, that we may have an early statement as to what Government policy is on that matter.
Further, with regard to omissions, I should have been glad to have seen that the Government definitely realised the necessity of dealing with that very vexed question of tithes this Session. That question really ought not to be left as it is any longer. I am disappointed, too, that there seems to be no prospect of further legislation dealing with housing. What is said in the Gracious Speech about that comes simply to this, that the Acts passed last year and previously will be allowed to take their course and remain in force, and that is all. I suppose we must be thankful for small mercies. But it is really not enough. In the rural districts particularly, the overcrowding Act of last Session hardly touches the fringe of the housing problem. A standard of overcrowding which still will permit two families, consisting of a father, mother and six children under 10, to live in the ordinary reasonably built five-roomed cottage, is simply laughed at, and laughed at, I must assure hon. Members, rather bitterly by those who know the very great need of better housing and who realise how hopeless it is to expect that houses will be built at rents which working-class people can afford to pay in country districts under any legislation now on the Statute Book.
171 With regard to the raising of the school-leaving age, as chairman of an education committee of a big rural county I would say that if the Government are going to make a really good job of raising the school age and do it at the same date all over the country—and if they do not do it at the same date all over the country there is going to be very great difficulty—they will have to give at least three years' and possibly four years' notice so that the necessary schools will be built. Nothing very revolutionary is likely to happen soon. It is impossible, for instance, not only to ask schoolmistresses in charge of hamlet and small village schools to continue the daily miracle which they now perform of teaching all the boys and girls between eight and 14 years in one room and in one class, but to make the miracle still greater by adding another school year.
The only way out is to build senior schools under the Hadow plan. That cannot be done in one or two years, particularly when negotiations with the voluntary school managers are being drawn into the ambit of questions to be decided—as they have been by the Government policy—which may necessitate re-planning the arrangements previously contemplated. One can, of course, make a pretence of raising the school age, with all manner of exemptions but without any real improvement in the structure of our educational system. I hope that the Government's proposals when they leave this House; if not when they reach the House, will not be found to be of that nature. From an educational point of view, as we all know, it is just the boys and girls who are likely to get employment who need the extra school year so that they may become really intelligent and efficient citizens.
My last point arises out of the probability to which I have already referred and to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded yesterday, that unless the avenues of international trade can be re-opened there will be an increase in unemployment starting in the next two or three years. That is an appalling prospect. Surely it is not too soon now to be thinking about it and working in some coherent and conscious way to prevent it. I have had the honour of the opportunity of helping in some small way to mitigate the degradation of unemployment 172 by helping to find occupation; if not full-time maintenance, for many tens of thousands of men on allotments and part-time holdings. I know how the need for that work continues and grows in spite of the improvement in the general figures of employment. I find as all who study the question closely find, that unemployment is not only a curse but an increasing curse the longer it continues. We have to contemplate that fact and realise that unemployment may grow, not only in intensity and harmfulness by its longer continuance but also numerically, unless we are very careful and unless we can really see a way through the international difficulties. That is simply a nightmare. Surely, even though the struggle between the League of Nations and Italy is still going on and though we do not know whether the League will founder and become impotent or not, we might already be planning to secure better things.
The very fact that war is going on has given the nations of the world a new aspiration for peace. It is no good, they realise, merely talking about peace and drifting back towards war. That is what has been inclined to happen in many parts of the world for the last few years. There is an aspiration for a constructive peace policy. This, I believe, could be worked out steadily, if not by the League of Nations then by something even bigger than the League of Nations. War, it seems to many of us, is the inevitable result of piling up armaments, but armaments, we also recognise, are the result of unrest and unrest is the result of the consciousness of grievances unredressed. Our Ministers, of course, know that as well as anyone else. They have said fine words about it—nobody finer—but the words come and the deeds seem to linger. They realise particularly how the grievances and difficulties of the world are economic even more than political in their nature.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said most notably at the beginning of October last that it was the blocking of the flow of goods and services which was to-day hindering world recovery. That, he added, was the true cause of our troubles and that fact is beginning to obtain recognition in new and influential quarters. Then there was that splendid speech made by the. Foreign Secretary in Geneva in September, about facilitating access to raw materials, among other things which 173 were important but far less important than finding markets for the manufactured goods into which those raw materials were turned. Later there was that remarkable broadcast by the Foreign Secretary to the United States, in which he commended the aspiration of the American Secretary of State for the removal of obstacles to international trade and the pursuit of a liberal trade policy. The word "liberal" in that case was spelt with a small "l," but was none the less a true and important word. The policy he referred to as being alone able to save us from the collapse of the world structure. The Prime Minister himself yesterday told us that until international trade quickened and developed there would be no guarantee for a continued improvement in the unemployment figures.
All that, surely, means something. I do not for a moment suggest that it is merely hot air. Let us remember, in this connection, that the official opinion of the Government at any rate is that the World Economic Conference, about which we hardly hear nowadays, is only adjourned—that it is still, somewhere or other, in existence and might be called together again. I do not advocate calling it together at the present moment, but I think the Gracious Speech might have given a message of hope and inspiration to the world by causing it to be realised that we in this country meant to retain that leadership in world opinion which the Foreign Secretary's Geneva speech gave us and that, as soon as ever it was possible, we meant to get the nations together for the discussion of serious, constructive proposals for the removal of grievances, economic and political. Only in that way can there be produced that feeling of greater security in which the nations may be able to live together without being tempted by internal distress and unrest to resort to war. Sometimes I think that in human beings the desire for change is so great that they do not stop to think whether a change will be for the better or the worse. That reckless desire for change can be allayed only by the combined wisdom of mankind and a nation like ours ought to take the lead. We ought to initiate proposals. We ought not to delay longer. Until we show our leadership in that way our nation will fall short of what should be its ideal and of what I hope may be 174 its destiny. Of that supremely important question there is no mention in the King's Speech, and I profoundly regret the fact.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander JAMES
I wish briefly to express an anxiety which is troubling many of us in regard to that part of the Gracious Speech which refers to the need for strengthening our national defences. I want to express that anxiety to the Prime Minister and perhaps in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman I may address myself to the Secretary of State for War in the hope that he will convey to the Prime Minister the substance of what I am about to say. What is troubling many of us is that in connection with the strengthening of our defences we have seen no indication that the Government are going to tackle the problem of securing efficient co-ordination between the services. I do not think that this is a subject on which there is any party controversy. Indeed, if I remember rightly some of the remarks made in the last Parliament by the Leader of the Opposition, I think he will be in substantial agreement with most of what I am going to say.
Both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for War read that very important leading article which appeared in the "Times" on Monday. No doubt they appreciated more fully than many others who read it the purport of some of the sentences in that article—an article, I may say, with which I was in complete, whole-hearted, and unreserved agreement. It is not because I read that article that I raise this subject to-night, for in the last Parliament I lost no opportunity, and in fact created one, to secure the ventilation of this problem. It is an extremely distasteful and difficult task to endeavour to emphasise this point to the Government. It is distasteful because anybody undertaking it finds himself apparently in conflict with the views of the Prime Minister and that most distinguished civil servant the Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence, and there are no people with whom one is more loth to find oneself in disagreement. It is difficult because, obviously, so many of the most powerful arguments which one would like to use cannot be used, either because of their source or because it would not be desirable to discuss them on the Floor of the House. I would like 175 the Secretary of State for War to convey to the Prime Minister the fact that it is widely believed among those who take an interest in this matter that there is today one principal obstacle to reforms in the composition of the Committee of Imperial Defence, one obstacle to a review of the whole problem, one obstacle that is standing in the way of reforms which many of us believe to be vital, and without which, we fear, much of the money that unfortunately has to be spent in strengthening our defences may be diverted into unprofitable channels.
When, towards the end of the last Parliament, I learned that the views which I and others put forward in this House were not acceptable to the present Prime Minister or to that distinguished public servant who is undoubtedly the right hon. Gentleman's technical adviser in these matters, I was not so conceited as not to be prepared to assume that I was more likely than he to be wrong. Therefore, during the last two or three months I have lost no opportunity of trying to re-examine, as objectively as possible, all the evidence that I had previously examined. I have lost no opportunity of seeking the opinions of persons in the various services who are well entitled to hold views and to express privately opinions on the subject. After the most careful re-examination of the problem, I am bound to say that I have come to the conclusion that if the Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence is right, then everybody else is wrong. He may be right, they may all be wrong, but if he is right, it is one man against many.
It is no use for the Prime Minister to tell this House that all is well between the defence Ministries. It is probably true to say that before the War there was less informed opinion in this country upon the problems of service strategy than in any other country in Europe, but that it is not true to-day. There are in this House a great many Members who, through no fault and no merit of their own, but merely by force of circumstances, between 1914 and subsequent years have been compelled to acquire some knowledge of naval, military, and air matters, and there are further in this House a number of Members who since the War have served in one capacity or 176 another in one or other of the defence Ministries; and to tell us that all is well between the various Government Departments concerned with the Services will not do. We know that it is not the fact of the case, and I am afraid that the Prime Minister may be unaware of the strength and the depth of the feeling on this subject. I am afraid that he may be deriving his impressions so much from one source as to be impervious to argument from other sources.
The conclusion obtrudes itself upon me that when a man, even a man of the utmost distinction and the utmost discretion, has held a post for more than 23 years, it may be, almost must be, that he is acquiring a certain rigidity of outlook. Chiefs of staff come and go, deputy-chiefs of staff come and go, but the Secretary to the Committee of Imperial Defence goes on for ever. As I say, it is most distasteful to have to make observations of this kind about a man who is so admired, and so justly admired, for his immense work in the public interest, but it does seem to many of us that a burden is placed upon one man that not only could no one man possibly undertake, but that it would take several staffs to replace. I venture to ask this of the Prime Minister, and I want the Secretary of State for War to be so good as to convey this message to him: I do hope that before the Government ask this House to agree to the deplorable but inevitable increase in expenditure upon the defence Services, we shall receive some very definite assurance that the overwhelming, strongly held views of Service Members in this House will receive some recognition and that some change is going to be made. The Prime Minister said yesterday that he would ask this House to give free expression to its views. I am afraid that if he does ask this House to give free expression to its views without preliminary reassurance on this point, he may find, and will find, that there is a strength of opinion on this subject which will surprise him.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
In the course of the Debate yesterday several hon. Members on these and other benches expressed their disappointment with the substance of the document now before the House. I cannot join in those manifestations of sorrow. I am not in 177 the least surprised at the Government's policy. Here is, as I see it, an exposition of policy which emphasises the importance of armaments and" derogates the social services entirely to the back-ground. In short, this is traditional Conservative policy. Nevertheless, I make no complaint. The right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) was quite right when he stated that the Government had obtained a great victory. They have. They are in the majority, and we are in the minority. Nevertheless, we have the right, and we propose to avail ourselves of it, to expose the futilities of the National Government and of the policy embodied in this document. There is here a succession of futilities, all the scrapings of the Tory cupboard, a scraggy bone thrown to the unemployed, and a set of nebulous proposals in relation to the mining industry. It is to the last consideration that I propose to address myself.
I regard this coal problem as a primary consideration. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister informed the House yesterday that this problem had baffled succeeding Governments. He was right. Even the Labour Government, in spite of the Coal Mines Act now on the Statute Book, were unable to improve the conditions of the mineworkers, but that was not the fault of the legislation. The responsibility lies heavily upon the shoulders of both the mineowners, who were there to administer the provisions of that Act of Parliament, and the National Government. But failure to improve the conditions of the miners arising out of coal legislation was not peculiar to the Coal Mines Act of 1930. It had happened before. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in 1925, faced with the imminence of a great coal dispute, provided out of the public purse a large sum—I think £24,000,000, probably £25,000,000—to enable the mining industry to provide higher rates of remuneration for the mineworkers, but even that large sum of money failed to improve their conditions. Whether it passed into the pockets of the mineowners, or whether it was used partly to supplement the meagre wages of the mineworkers, I am unable to say, any more than the right hon. Gentleman is able to say. The money was paid, but the rest is wrapped in mystery.
178 Moreover, we have had repeatedly the reports of Commissions bearing upon this problem. On occasion the recommendations of a Commission in part have been accepted and embodied in legislation, but in the main they have been rejected by successive Governments. Therefore we have to begin in our inquiry into the coal problem by asking the very pertinent question: Why is it that, in spite of legislation for which successive Governments have been responsible, once more, in 1935, we are confronted by a grave industrial dispute in the mining industry? To that question—and if I may say so with respect to the House, it is a question of grave importance—the Government have furnished no substantial answer. We on this side are entitled to impeach the late Government, the Government which have continued on the benches opposite, for having failed in their four years of power to improve not only the conditions of the mineworkers but the position of the mining industry as a whole. Is it not an unflattering commentary on the coal policy of the Government that, after four years of unprecedented power, a Government able to do as they pleased, a Government with friends in the ranks of the coalowners, a Government that could have exerted their great authority in the realm of coal affairs, we are now faced with a situation where the owners decline to meet the representatives of the men, where the wages are unbearably low, where exports are diminishing, and where coal production in our own land is on a lower level than ever before? Is it not, I repeat, an unflattering commentary on the policy of the Government that we have now this great national industry, once the most valuable of our national assets, sick and disordered, battered and shattered, because of the neglect of the mineowners and the futilities of a capitalist Government? That, I submit, is a fair question to put to this House.
I listened with some attention and, if I may say so, with some amazement to the dialectical utterances of the Home Secretary this afternoon. I am not afraid to say—I understand this House want plain speaking—that it was a shameful utterance in the existing industrial circumstances. What do we care about a post mortem examination? [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but the problem remains, and 179 laughter will not remove the problem from our midst. What, I repeat, do we care about the dissection of the corpse? What do we care as to which pathologist on that side or this scores a great victory? Nor are we concerned with the oratorical feats of medical jurisprudence for which the right hon. Gentleman is responsible from time to time. We are concerned at this moment with the document before us and the policy outlined there; and, in particular, we are concerned with the deplorable conditons of our mine workers in these depressed areas. Small though we be in numbers, we accept our minority position, for we can do no more, but we are entitled to speak on these benches for the unprotected, helpless and hapless mine workers of the country and for those who are less fortunate and who are without employment.
We shall at a later stage—and in this regard I bring myself within the traditions of the House—deal with the details of the Measures outlined in the Gracious Speech. We shall deal with the question of the reorganisation, as it is called, of the distributing agencies in the coal industry. We shall have something to say on the question—whatever it may mean, for the proposal is far from clear—of unification of coal royalties. There is something to be said on the general aspect of these proposals. After all, what is the purpose of legislation unless it is designed to improve social conditions? I was interested yesterday to hear the Prime Minister quote from the times of the Plantagenet kings. It was a very interesting quotation. He spoke of the duty of men and the need for compassion—both fine things. I did not observe, beyond a mere lifting of eyebrows on the other side, any special interest displayed. If I may say so with respect to the Prime Minister, not all his piety or wit can change by a jot or tittle the present situation unless more drastic devices are employed than mere expressions of opinion, modern or medieval.
I make no appeal to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I understand them and I understand their interests. I say that deliberately, because of what I have now to say in connection with one of the proposals outlined in the Gracious Speech. I repeat, what is the purpose of legislation? Is it merely to promote efficiency, or is there not something more 180 substantial and more human to be considered beyond that? If the proposal to create selling agencies in the mining industry is to eliminate ninny of the middlemen—for it is hard to believe that the Government propose to eliminate them all—if it is proposed to undertake a task of that kind, which I believe to be a very desirable one, what is the end in view? Is it to put more money into the pockets of the mine workers? All other considerations are of little value. In these scientific days efficiency is desirable. The more efficiency we have the better we like it. But it is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end, and unless the Government can demonstrate—we are entitled to ask for a demonstration—that the creation of unified selling agencies in the coal industry will lead to higher wages for the mine workers, their time will be wasted, as will be the time of the House.
We ask both for efficiency and for improved wages for the producers in the mining industry. One is valueless without the other. We shall await with interest and expectancy the detailed proposals of the Government on this head. I do not envy the task of my hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary for Mines in his negotiations with the coal owners in this regard. I know the coal owners. There are many among them, I am bound to say, with progressive and liberal minds and sympathies. I can recall occasions when coal owners whom I met at the Mines Department were willing to reduce the working day, were anxious to raise wages and to promote schemes such as are now outlined by the Government, but they were prevented from so doing by the Mining Association, and they may be prevented in future. Therefore, I do not envy the task set my, hon. and gallant Friend. But we beseech him to stand by his guns. If the coal owners are against him, we shall stand by him, not so much in his interest as in the interest of the coal industry and the mine workers.
I turn to another proposal in the Gracious Speech bearing on this situation. I refer to the question of the unification of coal royalties. What unification means I am unable to say, beyond interpreting it as co-ordination, a closer working, and the removal of that large range of leases and wayleaves that present a constant obstacle to the smooth working of the mining industry, but I cannot believe that unification 181 means national ownership. Does it mean that the Government propose to create a body of experts from the coal industry, presumably mineowners and their friends, to undertake the task of supervising the leases and wayleaves and royalties in general, for if that be what is meant I am afraid that it falls far short of what is necessary. Let us consider what the purpose of the unification of coal royalties is. I quote from the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister in the speech which he made yesterday:The underlying motive of Part II"—that is, of the Labour Government's Act of 1930—is co-operation—organisation for co-operation—instead of unregulated competition, and in that co-operation it is meant to deal with the case of pits where the margin between their proceeds and their cost of production is such, as I said a minute ago, as to exercise a continuous depressing effect on the general or average level of wages."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1935: col. 70, Vol. 307.]Something was said yesterday about the nebulous character of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, but I understand that. The right hon. Gentleman proposes a unification of coal royalties which can have the effect of removing uneconomic and unprofitable mine undertakings and thus to help more workers to receive higher rates of remuneration. That is what he means, but unfortunately for the right hon. Gentleman the unification of coal royalties would have a further effect. The closing down of what is called uneconomic mines would mean throwing thousands more miners out of work. I repeat that efficiency is desirable, but the throwing out of thousands more miners is something to which this House must pay due regard. Efficiency is of little value if we do not pay proper regard to social considerations. If the Prime Minister had presented a set of proposals one of which was to deal with unemployment in the mining industry, I could have understood its purpose, but not a single line in relation to that aspect of the problem is embodied in the Gracious Speech.
There are at present about 300,000 miners unemployed. This proposal will throw more men out. What is to be done with them? May I remind the House that in 1930 I was, with others, successful in 182 obtaining at Geneva an international convention on miners' hours of labour. The intention was to reduce the working day from 7½ hours in this country to 7¼, in Poland from 8½ to 7¼, and there was to be a corresponding reduction in other coal producing countries. It was a very desirable proposal, not merely for the mineworkers of Europe, but for the owners themselves, because it would assist materially to eliminate competition. How often have we heard the coal owners in this country complain of the long hours worked abroad? Here was an opportunity for them to remove that aspect of corn-petition. Here was an opportunity for the Government to assist. What has been done? There have been hesitations, fumblings, manoeuvres and a great deal more at Geneva, but no ratification of that Convention as yet, and not a word in this document about a contemplated ratification.
What has been done for the unemployed miners? Something was said from these benches and the opposite benches yesterday, quite properly in the circumstances, about the depressed areas. I understand that the depressed areas are the special regard of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Something has to be done, they say. Has it ever occurred to them that if the mining industry is put on its feet we will not have a depressed area on the North-East Coast, or in South Wales, or to a considerable extent even in Lancashire? The special areas exist primarily because of the existence of an abundance of underemployment and unemployment in the mining industry. What is the Government's proposal to deal with this problem, or have they none? The Prime Minister told us yesterday about the creation of trading estates to assist in absorbing the large army of unemployed mine workers. It can have no more than a negligible effect. I extracted from the "Times" this morning the report of a speech delivered by the newly elected Lord Mayor of Newcastle. Newcastle has not a Labour majority. It has a Conservative majority and has returned, I am sorry to say, Conservative Members to this House.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
The Noble Lady applauds, and she will, therefore, pay due regard to what I am about to say. The Lord Mayor said that the Government's policy was not sufficient for their 183 purpose. They had a list of public works of various kinds which would cost something like £10,000,000. Where was the money to come from, he asked. He plaintively replied to the question he had put to himself "From the Government alone." Do the Government propose to come to the assistance of that depressed area, and, if so, is it through the medium of these ghostly and, if I may add, ghastly trading estates which have been adopted elsewhere and which to a large extent have failed in their purpose? It is not enough.
Therefore, if this problem which besets the mining districts and besets the nation—for the coal problem is not essentially a miners' problem, but is a national problem, affecting every man, woman and child in the country, and a problem which concerns the depressed areas—is to be grappled with and removed, clearly the proposals outlined in the Gracious Speech are insufficient for the purpose. The Home Secretary has now returned after his bout of rhetoric this afternoon in which he displayed that he is no mean dialectician. If the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary or their friends, however rhetorical, could offer advice as to how this problem can be tackled, instead of parading their virtues and, in the case of the Home Secretary, justifying his position in the National Government—for that was all he was doing this afternoon—this House would be a House of realism, and would not court the criticisms and the opprobium which are cast against it from time to time in the country.
It may be said that we on this side ought to present constructive proposals. My reply to that is, first of all, that it is not the duty of the Opposition, as such, to present constructive proposals. We are ready to do it, I am going to do it now, but it is the business of the Government to present constructive proposals and to embody them in legislation, and to do that speedily. What is to be done about the mining industry? I have pointed out that in 1925 the right hon. Member for Epping wasted his £25,000,000, and that in 1930 the Coal Mines Act, amended and emasculated by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, was passed. When the Prime Minister talked yesterday about utilising Part II 184 of the Coal Mines Act, 1930, for his purpose I could not help recalling that when I sat on the opposite benches the Conservative Members, who were then on this side, opposed ruthlessly Part II. Let it not be forgotten that the proposal emanated from the Liberal benches—it was Sir Herbert Samuel who was primarily responsible for its submission—but it was opposed by, among others, Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister, now gone to another place, who represented coal interests outside as well as the Government in connection with that problem.
Suddenly the Government have discovered a, virtue in the Labour Government's legislation, but the trouble is this. In spite of our legislation we failed. Why? Because something stands in the way, a definite obstacle. It is the coal-owners, private ownership. You can create your selling agencies over and over again, you can effect reorganisation in the mining industry, you can fiddle with it as you please, you can unify coal royalties, but in the end the coal-owners can frustrate your legislation and your changes in organisation. I advise the House to ask the coalowners to stand aside. What I am now about to say will not be accepted by the other side, but nevertheless I say it. I come to the conclusion, after close examination of the problem—and this is the opinion of many experts who do not accept my political views or those of my hon. Friends on these benches—that nothing short of public ownership of this industry will suffice. But, anxious as I am to promote such a scheme, I would, speaking for myself and in the interests of the mining industry and of the mineworkers, accept even a public corporation, a coal trust, if only those recalcitrant ill-advised, mischievous, avaricious and short-sighted mineowners were asked to step out of the way. I do not pretend that that is the end of the problem, but it provides a foundation upon which we may build up and expeditiously reach a solution of this problem that menaces the nation.
I add to that two observations. I come now from a depressed area. I represent, for what it may be worth, a constituency formerly represented by the Lord President of the Council. I observe that his absence from those benches is being borne by his Conservative friends with their 185 customary fortitude. I say no more about that. But there is something the Government may do in that depressed area to assist in the recovery of the coal industry and to assist in the recovery of trade and to infuse new life into the industries of that neighbourhood. What is to prevent them dealing, as they have done to some extent at Billingham, with the further production of oil from coal? The Government regarded this as one of their pet schemes, but there is not a word of it in the Gracious Speech. Have they come to an end of their tether, having handed over the scheme to Imperial Chemical Industries? Is that the last word on the subject? The Lord President of the Council occupies a unique position in the Government, apart from his absence from our deliberations. He is responsible for the Scientific and Industrial Research Council, which includes the Fuel Research Board. He made a great song and dance during the Election about what the Government were going to do in the promotion of oil from coal schemes. Not a word of that in the Gracious Speech. Is that due to the absence of the Lord President of the Council, or to some other cause? Something must be done along those lines, and it must be kept under Government supervision, if not under Government ownership. We ask for that. Nothing has been done, nothing has been said. I hope that something will be said at a later stage as to the Government's intention in regard to the promotion of schemes of that kind to assist the mining industry.
There is a further observation, and with this I conclude. The Durham area is one of the largest, if not the largest, gas-coal producing areas in the country. I yield to no one in my desire to improve conditions in South Wales, and know much of the desolation that lurks in the mining valleys there and in coal districts elsewhere, but Durham is the primary source of our gas coal for the production of gas throughout the country. Why not create a great gas-grid in the Durham coalfield and lay pipelines to transport the gas over long distances? You speak of creating new industries in Durham. There is one. Instead of there being unsightly gasometers in residential areas we will accept them in the coalfields, because it means work. We are accustomed to them, and we will accept them there. That scheme will provide 186 an abundance of additional work, much better than your nebulous trading estates. If you want something constructive we can provide it. There is much more.
If you cannot provide work what are you going to do? Subject the men and their wives and families to the indignities and humiliations of the means test? Is that the sole alternative? During the Election the Lord President said this—I quote accurately, I have reason to quote accurately since it was during the Election—"I will see to it that my colleagues and myself will reform the means test, and if not I shall resign." As to the question of resignation I need say nothing. What did he mean by "reform the means test"? Incidentally, the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate the subtlety of the argument, if there is subtlety in it. If you reform something it means that it was not so good before as you hope it will be later on. Does that mean there was something wrong with the means test? Is not that a very reasonable deduction? If there was something wrong, when did you discover that something went wrong? Was it just before the General Election, and, if so, had it anything to do with the General Election? Or did it happen two years ago, and, if it did, why did you allow two years to elapse before you decided to reform the means test?
Some of my friends believe that hon. Members on the other side are opposed to the abolition of the means test because it will mean further expenditure of a public kind. I do not believe that is the primary reason for the opposition from the other side. I believe the trouble is that hon. Members on the other side are afraid the unemployed may get too much. They have often complained that the unemployed get as much when they are unemployed as when working. What a disaster. What a scandal that unemployed men should get as much when they are out of work as they may get when they are in work. As for an unemployed man getting as much when he is out of work as when in work, or getting as much when he is out of work as somebody is getting when he has got a job, that is not a fault of the unemployed man but the misfortune of the man working, and the responsibility for the low wages rests upon the shoulders of the employers and not on the unemployed or the workers.
187 And so I conclude with a very pertinent question. It will be asked over and over again from these benches, and in spite of the rhapsodies of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary—quite appropriate rhapsodies in the circumstances, because he had a very narrow squeak, nothing like my 20,000 majority—in spite of the rhapsodies of the Home Secretary, for which we forgive him, questions will be asked, even by electors in his own division. If men are unemployed, either because of industrial depression or economic dislocation—whatever you may like to call it, whatever the excuse may be—or because of the creation of more efficiency and reorganisation in industry, as is now proposed in the Gracious Speech in connection with the coal problem, what are you going to do about it? That question will be asked over and over again, and sooner or later we shall demand an effective answer.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Captain HAROLD BALFOUR
We have just listened to a third speech which, I think, has that common factor which in great part led to the defeat of the present Opposition in the General Election, and that is that they made a gross over-statement of their case. All of us who have read the Socialist party's manifesto can trace something of it in the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). All of them claimed complete perfection for everything the Socialist party had done in the past and absolute confidence that everything they are going to do is going to be perfect in the future, and that there had been no health in the Government for the past four years. It is just because the opinion of the country as to events in the last four years was so entirely different from the opinion of hon. and right hon. Members opposite that they have come here in such diminished numbers. The hon. Member for Seaham said we had in the Gracious Speech a policy that glorified arms and starved the unemployed—that was very roughly his indictment of the Gracious Speech. He went on to say that it represented the scrapings of the Tory cupboard, and that there was but a scraggy bone thrown to 188 the unemployed. I do not think I misquote him. It was the hon. Member and his party who were responsible for taking away part of the very meagre bone which the unemployed had got between 1929 and 1931. If it had not been for the policy of the last four years of sane and solid Government, the unemployed to-day would not be in the position in which they are, and which is very much better than when the hon. Member and his Friends were responsible for their administration and upkeep.
Indeed, the hon. Gentleman took unto himself full credit for everything which had been done, and he included what I thought was a very cheap sneer at the defeat of his opponent in the Election. Although the hon. Gentleman has been away from the House for the last four years, he has had a longer Parliamentary experience than I, but I would remind him that we are not accustomed to come to this House and sneer at those who have fallen by the wayside in the battle. I have the honour to represent a South of England constituency, and it may be a surprise to some hon. Members to know that there are some thousands of mining workers in my division whom I enjoy representing, although perhaps they show me sometimes that they do not enjoy my representation of them. There are some 45 hon. Members above the Gangway who represent mining constituencies, and I feel it is time to say in this Debate that through the country to-day is going one of those curious psychological waves that we see two or three times in a generation, when the country is of one mind and is thinking one particular thought. To-day the psychological wave going through the country is that the miner, for better or worse—never mind the past and apart from politics—is not getting a fair deal. Among men and women who have no connection at all with the mining industry, who are working in black-coated work in the south or who are not dependent upon industry at the moment, having possibly retired for their lives; on all sides of the community there is a feeling to-day that the miners ought to have, and must have, a better deal than they have been getting. If I may say so without impertinence to hon. Members who represent mining constituencies and to the political and trade union leaders of the mining industry, I believe that, because of that psychological 189 wave, the trust and the responsibility of those who are leading the miners at the present time are so much the greater. They have this wave of sympathy and of support.
The Government will have a tremendous measure of support in this House, from Members on all sides and representing every type of constituency, for any Measure that they put forward to aid the miners. Let there not be a form of political leadership at the present time on the part of those who are responsible for leading the miners, or a leadership for political objectives; let it not be the sort of leadership which we heard in the speech of the hon. Member for Seaham just now. Otherwise the trust that is placed in those who are leading the mining community will be betrayed by them, and the men whom they are leading will lose the benefit of that psychological wave which is of such tremendous value to-day to the Government in any proposal which they may advance.
I would turn for a moment to another point in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, one with which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition dealt yesterday. He accused the Government of lack of support of the League of Nations and at the same time twitted us with increasing the defence forces of the country and not giving true support to the principle of collective security. It seemed to me that in his speech he betrayed to us an entirely new form of Socialist policy. He did not seem to carry out in some of his words those ideals of the international brotherhood of man, the strong giving to the weak, the new order for humanity in which those who possess give up something for the benefit of other people, such as are so loudly proclaimed by the Socialist party. These are the words of the Leader of the Opposition:Do not we intend to' follow out the collective system? If we do not, what, I ask is the good of our being in the League? We merely accept obligations without any protection in return."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1935; col. 61, Vol. 307.]That is a new sort of materialist policy of the Opposition. Summed up it really means: "What is the good of being in the show if you are not going to get something out of it." That is an entirely sound policy, and we are indeed glad on this side of the House to see that some 190 of the hypocrisy of the Socialist party in the past as regards the proclaiming of their ideals and of the motives for their unswerving allegiance to the League of Nations has been exposed by their own leader.
The trouble is that the Opposition insist upon treating all problems upon the emotional plane and in the emotional arena. Scientists have told us that if you remove something from the emotional arena and put it upon the plane of hard, critical, mental analysis, it immediately becomes interesting and tractable. Just as disease is repellant to any one of us here, so, to a bacteriologist, it is of intense interest. A rank weed, which is a thing of horror to most of us who are gardeners, is a matter of great interest to a botanist. Hon. Members above the Gangway continue to treat all their problems emotionally instead of being willing to divorce them from the emotion and to analyse them upon their actual merits. It is the refusal on their part to divorce from emotionalism this problem of national defence that has made the country reject the Socialist proposals on that score. If you divorce national defence from emotionalism—take it away from those gas-mask posters and posters of graveyards, of the waving of flags and the beating of drums—and look at it in the hard, analytical light of the present situation of dictators on the right and dictators on the left in Europe, it becomes a problem which has to be tackled in this House of Commons in a cold, calculating and detached manner.
We have to do that with two objectives in view. The first objective is to achieve, with the least possible degree of expansion, the security necessary for our defences. In that connection our hope lies in limitation of armaments. I believe that it is the universal desire of Members on all sides of the House, that while we are expanding our armaments on the one hand, there should lie at the back of that expansion the hope that there will be limitation by international agreement in the not long distant future. I sincerely hope that, as regards the air arm, we shall see in the not distant future a pact limiting the number and size of first-line aircraft of the leading air powers of the world. I hope that the Minister, when he replies on this Debate, will give the House some indication of the progress of 191 the Western Air Pact negotiation, and will say whether it can be expanded towards a world air pact of the leading first-class Powers.
The second objective is to get the greatest efficiency at the least possible cost. Here I come up against a fact mentioned by the hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James). Getting the greatest efficiency with the minimum of cost at once presupposes agreement, harmony and understanding among the three great Services of the Crown, and at once we come up against the fact that we are entering an expansion era without that essential condition having been established. It is common knowledge that there are opposing views in the Air Ministry and the Admiralty on the very vital questions of coast defence, sea defence of our home shores and the defence of our trade routes abroad. We who have studied the question are all aware that it is no good blinking our eyes to the fact that there are diametrical divergencies of view as regards policy and administration in the proposals of the two staffs. Those who decide these questions, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, know that when, through the Committee of Imperial Defence, the cases for the divergent views are prepared and presented to them, it is by members of the staffs who hold these opposing views.
On the vital question relating to the trade route defences of this country, whose views hold sway of those opposing views? I do not know. Whose view is right? Hon. Members do not know. No one can say. How, under the present system, when the question is decided, will one staff reconcile itself to the inevitable rebuff which it will receive? None of us can tell, except that there will be a continued state of discontent. The curious thing is that both the staff of the Air Ministry and the staff of the Admiralty are imbued with the highest patriotic motives. Both have behind them a history of years of departmental strife and bickering, and both staffs are profoundly dissatisfied with the position as it exists. That is what faces us when we enter upon an era of expansion. I submit that it is not a happy state of affairs to see, as regards this vital question, and it makes us come to the conclusion that the machinery is inadequate 192 for dealing with the modern problems and is certainly not to be relied upon for dealing with the even greater problems which have to be solved in the future.
It is not within the compass of this Debate for me to suggest remedies, whether from below by developing an exchange of staffs and an interchange from the Imperial Defence College, or from on top by the creation of a Ministry of Defence, or, it may be, by the adoption of the interesting machinery outlined in the leading article in the "Times" on Monday and referred to by the hon. Member for Wellingborough. Sufficient be it to say that the problem of defence co-ordination needs clearer constructive thought at the present time than any other problem. Having said that, I think it is sufficient if we remind ourselves of the words of Bagehot who said:The most destructive forces of constructive thinking are distraction and routine.Let us remember that our Ministers suffer from a distracted routine all the time.
We ought to pause, before we enter an era of expansion of our Forces with the heavy expenditure that is entailed, when we know that there is this position of impasse between the patriotic, efficient and enthusiastic staffs of two of our great Services. We ought to pause and say, "Are we wise to go forward with this expansionist policy without a clear-sighted determination that there must be put in hand without delay new machinery to cope with the new and ever-increasing problems?"
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Mr. F. ANDERSON
As a new Member I want to claim the indulgence of the House, and I hope that, if I make any slips, I shall be pardoned. I come from a constituency which, in three parts of its area, has the highest unemployment in the north-western counties, and it is also an area that is classed as a special area. It may therefore be looked upon as a pair of twin brothers. I want to speak on two aspects that have been mentioned from the Government side. The Prime Minister said that lie had not lost hope that something would come from the appeals he has made from time to time for the establishment of new industries in the special areas, but the 193 Special Commissioner's report mentions that no fewer than 5,800 letters on that subject were sent out to industrialists in England and Wales, and only 1,711 replies have been received. If that signifies that the industrialists of this country are not prepared to give special consideration to the special areas, I think it will be agreed that the idea of persuasion or of appealing to their morality has fallen on hard ground, and I feel that, unless something is done of a compulsory character, we cannot hope that new industries will come into the special areas. I think the Government ought seriously to consider, not simply the setting up of factories, but whether, in the development of new industries, steps ought to be taken to compel them to come into the special areas. In the district which I represent, where, for instance, in the very near future the iron ore industry may have become a thing of the past, what hope is there for the people unless new industries come into the district? The people there are specialised and are accustomed to industrial life, and I feel that first and foremost consideration should be given to the question of compelling new industries to come into these areas, particularly after the reference in the Special Commissioner's report to the lack of response to the appeals that have been made.
The Special Commissioner also tells us in his report that in his negotiations he has always been met with the reply that in these special areas there are very high rates. We heard nothing in the Gracious Speech as to how that aspect of the problem is going to be tackled. In my view it is a problem which can be tackled and which should be tackled by the Government. How can the Commissioners or the development councils that have been set up in these areas ask responsible people to come into their districts when they have to face these very high rates? We know that local authorities which are not controlled by Labour or Socialist majorities have appealed to the Government to take special measures to help these areas, and especially those that are so highly rated, and if something were done with regard to the high rates it would in my view help very considerably to encourage new industries to come into the special areas. The Commissioner also mentions the difficulty of getting capital, and that 194 brings me back to the point that, unless some means are adopted to compel capital to come into the special areas, I am afraid that no real result will arise out of the idea of persuasion referred to by the Prime Minister.
With regard to the means test, my constituency has been affected by it as much as any other part of the country. What do we find? As a result of the application of the means test, we find that medical officers of health are telling us that it is bringing a high maternal death rate. It is also showing itself in the bad nutrition of the children, and is increasing the rate of tuberculosis. I want to appeal to the Government to look at this question, not from a pounds, shillings and pence point of view, but from a humanitarian point of view, from the point of view of the effect upon the lives of people who to-day are unfortunate enough to be unemployed. Behind the curtains of these industrial districts there is a tragedy that cannot be expressed in words; I have seen it in my own division; and when one considers that these people are suffering through no fault of their own, I think that, apart from whether it is right or wrong that they should draw equal money with those who are in work, we should look at this question solely from the standpoint of what effect it is having upon the lives of our people. If we do that, there should be no question about the horrible, despicable means test being withdrawn from our ordinary life in this country. I would ask that consideration should be given to the withdrawal of the means test absolutely, on humanitarian grounds and not from the standpoint of pounds, shillings and pence. I would also appeal for the taking of some steps in the direction of setting up what might be termed a clearing house, or some body to which people who are about to set up new industries should have first to submit their position, and that it should be compulsory to give favourable consideration to the bringing of new industries into the special areas.
§ 6.39 p.m.
I must congratulate the hon. Member for White-haven (Mr. F. Anderson) on his very feeling speech. It is obvious that he feels desperately the condition of the depressed areas, one of which he represents. 195 I am sure he will understand if I beg to differ from him with regard to one or two of his statements. He suggested that a high rate of maternal mortality had something to do with the depressed areas, but I would like to asure him that the maternal mortality rate is higher in Eastbourne than in Merthyr. It has been found that that idea does not bear investigation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] That is not my view; it is the view of experts; and it is a fact that the maternal mortality rate is higher in Eastbourne than it is in Merthyr. The hon. Gentleman also referred to the malnutrition of the children, but I think it is one of the glories of the National Government that the health of the country has never been better than it was last year. We have not got to the bottom of the question of maternal mortality. The Government in the Gracious Speech have taken a step which we all greatly welcome in the proposal that there shall be salaried midwifery, but I do not think that even that is going to solve the question of maternal mortality; it is very involved and very difficult.
We are deeply grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for having warned Members of the House not to come down with prepared speeches, and you also begged them not to be too long. They may not be prepared speeches, and it is not necessary that they should be very long in this Debate, but it is amazing how difficult it is to shorten one's speeches when dealing with a topic in which one is interested. Listening to the Debate, I think the strength of the Government is shown in the weakness of the Opposition. I thought that yesterday the Leader of the Opposition was really almost pitiful. He upbraided the Government about the League of Nations, and asked why they did not deal with the causes of war; but how can anyone deal in a King's Speech with the causes of war? Let us come down to practical politics. The causes of war are vast. I believe they lie in the hearts of human beings, and I do not see what right we, as a materially minded people, have to express peace on earth when we have not good will towards men. The Leader of the Opposition said that the programme of the Labour party is the brotherhood of man. A lot of brother-hood 196 we have had from the Member for Seaham Valley this afternoon—
§ Mr. ATTLEE
May I ask whether the Noble Lady is referring to the right hon. Member for Spen Valley, or to the hon. Member for Seaham Harbour?
I have been in the House long enough not to be taken in by that. I am referring to the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). Some of those hon. Members who got in on the question of the brotherhood of man ought to take note of the speech of the hon. Member for Seaham. He said that he knew what was in our hearts, that he knew us ill enough; but he showed us what was in his own heart. He has not learned anything in those four years in the wilderness. He comes back with all his brilliance, and all his venom, and all his hatred, which I am quite certain is not real. I believe that the hon. Member would be quite willing to go with nearly any Government as long as he could get a job. [An HON. MEMBER: "He defeated a man who did that!"] A man whom the country honours for having put his country ahead of a political theory which would not work. It did not work, and it will never work unless you really get that brotherhood of man into your hearts, and not at the tail-end of your programme.
As regards the League of Nations, we all saw what happened in the country. We saw a year ago that the National Government was doing so well that the Labour people, thinking they could not get them on their record, tried to make a party question of the League of Nations. They fought by-elections on it, and won them, but not permanently, I am glad to say. They said that we were the party that wanted war. They tried that at the General Election. My opponent even went so far as to say that the first thing the National Government were going to bring in was military conscription, and that the second thing they would bring in would be industrial conscription. Most of its have come back with deep gratitude for the National Government, and a real desire in our hearts to work harder and harder for a country which is so full of common sense and still refuses to believe, no matter how well they are put, the blandishments of Socialists who, as far as I can see, are only Socialists in their speeches.
197 The hon. Member said that he wanted to exclude the motive of private gain from, as far as I could snake out, the whole of industry, legislation and so on; but have the party opposite succeeded in excluding the motive of private gain within their own party? We have all been making election speeches, and I am going to make one to-day. I do not find that in the case of our trade union leaders. They are taking more than the people who follow them. Why do not they set the example? I do not blame them at all; I think they are perfectly right. Why do you not set us an example? Why do you not give us a lead on real brotherhood? You give the country no lead at all and you have misled them in a shocking way. Hon. Members talk about the means test and said we promised to do away with it. We did nothing of the kind, because no country and no body of people will give away public money without a means test. If we have to have a means test when our money is taken away, why should not the people who have our money given to them have a means test? We want to make it better, and we will, but we are not going to take it away. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, who will not fight for the Abyssinians but fought me for my seat all right, himself said that he would not give away public money without a means test. It is misleading the people to make these speeches about the cruelty of the means test. [An HON. MEMBER: "It would do you good to have a taste of it!"] I have had a taste of it. They take my money away. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is not a fair comparison."] I think it is an absolutely fair comparison. The hon. Member himself would not give away money without a means test. If he did, he would be a flat.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
On a point of Order. I hope to have an opportunity of replying to that specific charge. I raised the point of Order, because I do not intend the Noble Lady or anyone else in the House—
Would the hon. Member give his own money away without a means test? Of course he would not. Let us come down to practical politics. If he did it, his wife would not. The women responded to the National Government because they are practical. We have got hearts, but we have got heads too. One of the greatest tributes to the National Government was the way the women backed them throughout the country. I have always said that in giving the women the vote you were saving the country from all sorts of wild cat schemes and wild cat speeches. We have got cold common sense. We know you men.
I am not going to follow hon. Members down into the mines. I do not represent a mining constituency but I represent one in which the people are just as courageous as the miners and are getting far less than they are. I mean of course the fishermen. I want to ask the Government whether they will consider at some time bringing these men into unemployment insurance. We could bring an almost heartbreaking case before the House. I congratulate the Government on their record and also on their programme. Some hon. Members have said the Government have not said enough, but we remember "Labour and the Nation." You said too much in 1929. We have not forgotten that and, when the Government give you a programme, they give you something that they can carry out. That, I think, is why the country wanted them back. They do not make wild promises. They only make promises that they know they can carry out. We are deeply grateful to them for their educational programme, but I do not think they will be able to carry it out with exemptions.
Hon. Members opposite assume that everyone wants something out of the Government. That is not true. There are maintenance grants under the London County Council and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) has a means test. He is a practical man. That is why he is not leader of the Labour party. He knows what he is talking about. I am certain that, if you keep children at school until they are 15, you will not have the whole of the parents applying for maintenance grants. Some would need it, and they would get it. I am sorry the 199 Government left out the question of nursery schools, but I know they did not mean to leave it out. I am deeply grateful to them for having gone as far as they have. We have the experience of the Labour Government which got in on the promise of nursery schools, but we never got them. I also think we ought to be grateful that the Government are going to bring in a Factory Bill. The Labour Government promised that, and it is long overdue. One hon. Member asked why they had not done it in the last four years, but think what we have done. We had to clear up the mess that they made in two years.
Coming to the question of the fishermen, we have had a particularly difficult time in Plymouth on account of sanctions. We export pilchards, and Italy is our great market. We know you have to do it, but our fishermen in the last two or three weeks, so far from making money, have actually lost it. They find themselves in debt, and one of the reasons is that the catch has been so heavy that it has broken their nets but, when they bring their pilchards to market, people will not eat them; they have gone out of fashion. They could not sell them and they had to throw them overboard. Everyone knows how necessary the fishing industry is to the country and we ought to have a Secretary for Fisheries in the House. The late Government helped the herring industry, but that has not really solved the problem of the fisheries. The men are the best in the country. I do not want to say anything against the miners, but I went to see model houses in Kent occupied by miners, and after two years they did not look very model. They look neglected, and they are really a blot on the landscape. I could take you to Plymouth where fishermen live in the oldest houses in the town, but they are spotless. The fishermen are the very best of our citizens and certainly the most neglected. I hope the Government will consider whether they cannot bring them into insurance. They got over the difficulty of the agricultural labourer, and I hope they will get over this.
With regard to Abyssinia, I am glad that the Government has stuck to their guns. No one in his senses believes that this or any other Government in the world wants war. One man may want 200 it, but I cannot believe that the Italian nation wants it. [Interruption.] They are doing it and, if you had your way, you would go to war with them, too. Make no mistake about that. You wanted to close the Suez Canal. I do not say that you want war. You did not want unemployment to go up by 3,000,000, but you got it. If the country had been unwise enough to put the Socialists into power you might have had war, not because you wanted it, but because you would not face up to facts which the National Government have faced up to. They have shown the whole world that we are for peace and disarmament as long as other countries will disarm, but we are not going to disarm in the face of a great world rearmament. Hon. Members opposite make no protest against Russian armaments. They talk as if we are the one country that is rearming. They know that we are the one country which has disarmed almost to a dangerous pitch. They would risk a war to save Soviet Russia. I do not care what government Russia has, but I am deeply interested in the government that Great Britain has, because the world depends so much upon it. It is a tremendous responsibility for the Government. I am convinced that, with the majority they have, and with an honest desire to work for peace and to make conditions better at home, we shall go forward in real progress.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
As a new Member, I have been given advice by many older Members of the House, and I will endeavour to avail myself of it in so far as it is consistent with what I am supposed to do as the representative of a great working-class constituency. I have been advised that, on rising to address the House, one should make at least a reference to the preceding speech. I am sorry that in this case I cannot accept that advice. I cannot tolerate such flippancy, coming from a constituency where the medical officer last year could issue a report that 50 per cent. of the children attending the schools were suffering from disease or defects. I have seen the harrowing effects of the most terrible poverty and suffering in the homes of the people, and I am not of the temper that takes these things lightly.
201 In the Bing's Speech are many questions that must be dealt with frankly. There is the conflict in Abyssinia. I want to bring out clearly the issue that is involved, for some of my hon. Friends for whom I have great regard have won applause from the other side of the House on this question. I hope I may never see the day when I win applause from the opposite side of the House. I am concerned with the fact that confusion is being created on this vital question, and is being used by supporters of the Government. The great Labour movement in this country stands for rigid opposition to robber aggression on principle. These benches represent support for the Abyssinians, a colonial people, in the fight they are making to maintain their independence. That is the vital difference between this side of the House and the other. Questions of sanctions and the application of sanctions cannot be allowed to confuse this difference.
The leader of the Liberal party yesterday gave an exhibition of the most deliberate self-deception on this point. I do not mind his deceiving himself, but I object to his trying to deceive others. He said that the Foreign Secretary's speech at Geneva represented a change of policy. It represented nothing of the sort, but only a continuation of a policy that has been pursued by the National Government, adapted to a new situation. It represented the brazen hypocrisy that has appeared time and time again in the utterances of representatives of the National Government. How any man could make such a speech I do not know, with a National Government imposing its military control over Egypt, with the iron heel of British Imperialism crushing down the Indians. If there is to be independence for Abyssinia, for which we stand, then there must be independence for Egypt, for India, for all colonial peoples, and the right of the colonial peoples to work out their own destiny associated with and assisted by the more advanced Western peoples.
Is the National Government co-operating with the League of Nations? Reference was made by the Leader of the Opposition to dualism, but that word is being used now to create an entirely wrong impression. You can easily have an immediate programme and an ultimate aim. The National Government are pursuing not a dual policy but are playing 202 a double game, and are preparing, if the opportunity presents itself, for what the Americans call a "double cross." The National Government are ready at any moment to double cross the League of Nations and to double cross Abyssinia if it can make a deal with Italy. The Foreign Secretary when he made his speech was pursuing exactly the same policy as the previous Foreign Secretary when he was handling the Japanese affair.
Never until this situation arose did we see in the National Government any passionate desire for the League of Nations. When Japan invaded Manchuria, the then Foreign Secretary did not support the League of Nations against Japan; he became the spokesman for Japan against the League of Nations. Why? Because he told you that he was trying to get a deal with Japan that would guarantee British railway interests in Manchuria and China. The passion for the League of Nations only arose when British Imperial and financial interests were threatened in the North of Africa. The attitude of the National Government towards the League of Nations is to utilise it as far as it can in order to force Italy to make a deal for the safeguarding of British interests in the Sudan and Egypt.
When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) was in Moscow last year, in a real atmosphere of peace. [Interruption.] Yes, war does not come from the heart of human beings; it comes as a consequence of the greed for territory and trading profits. Take away the incentive of the element of profit and you take away the incentive for war. In Soviet Russia there is no desire for any territory outside their own. Stalin has said that they do not covet an inch of anybody else's territory, but will not give up an inch of their own. For the building of Socialism they must have peace, and so a peace policy is being pursued. While the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington was there in what he himself declared to be a real peace atmosphere, the Foreign Secretary was grovelling before the butcher of Berlin. The door was slammed shut and you had the spectacle of the British Foreign Secretary waiting until he was given permission to enter. Did that produce 203 peace or peace discussions? It produced the German Naval Pact, drove France away from Britain into the arms of Italy, and gave Italy the opportunity, as a result of the unsettling of the whole European situation, to make an attack upon Abyssinia.
I challenge anyone to deny that had there been no pro-German policy there would have been no war against Abyssinia. The German Naval Pact was the coping stone on the remilitarisation of Germany. There is a Cenotaph in Whitehall, erected to a million young Britishers done to death in Flanders and on other fronts. There are a million more broken men. I will take you round some of the asylums, I will take you to the hospitals. They were sent to die to destroy German militarism, which was menacing civilisation. But now German militarism is erected stronger than ever before. Will hon. Gentlemen take down the Cenotaph? The rearming of Germany is a serious question, and has brought a menace to the whole of civilisation.
Now the scene having changed. The one-time Foreign Secretary, Hitler's Man Friday, is now at the Home Office. We are getting a German invasion of London. Is any hon. Member prepared to say that this has nothing to do with bona fide football and sport? [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen may laugh, but do not let them forget that this invasion may be the forerunner of a different invasion. Whatever animates the German militarist, whoever they would desire to crush at the moment, there is one thing will always stand before them, and that is the hope that the day may come when they may crush the Imperialists of Britain and invade London. An hon. Member with a touch of humour said that if you put men on to making armaments, 16s. in the £ will go in wages. If you put men to dig holes in the sand, 20s. in the £ will go in wages. If hon. Members are so engaged about armaments, why not get men and boys piling up metal on each side of the House and we can settle our quarrels by throwing scrap-iron at each other.
You cannot ever hope to combat the war spirit that has remained in Germany by building up armaments. That can only be done by denouncing the German Naval Treaty, and then, associated with that greatest peace power in the world, 204 the Soviet Union, associated with and supporting the Franco-Soviet peace pact, and around this building all the peace nations of Europe. If you have 50 nations co-operating for peace and carrying forward a steady policy of peace and disarmament, through their economic and financial power you can force the other nations to disarm also. If you use your economic and financial power Germany and Japan will be forced to disarm. The National Government, composed of Tory die-hards with the discredited remnants of other parties thrown in, will never lead the fight for peace.
What of defence? Have you defended the miners' families in Wales, Lancashire, on the North East Coast and in Scotland Have you defended these places—go and look at them—which give the appearance of a country that has been devastated by the enemy? Have you defended the miners? There were over 1,000 men killed in the pits last year and nearly 200,000 injured. Have you defended them? Come with me to the mining villages, and, day after day, you can see the terrible tragedy of the pit, and the tragedy of the miners' homes. Have you defended the unemployed? We have heard about the means test. Yesterday the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) drew attention to the gyrations of hon. Gentlemen opposite in connection with the means test during the Election. There was not one Member on the other side prepared to stand up for the means test as it was being operated in any industrial constituency in the country. Why? Because of the terrible effects the means test was having upon men, women and children in the country. Not one of them would defend it or stand for it. When pressure is brought to bear upon the matter, we hear some flippant talk about going to change it. You are going to change it, but are you going to compensate in any way for the evil you have done during the past four years?
I have heard of hundreds of cases, but one of the most outstanding in my mind at the moment is that of one of the heroes who came back from the war paralysed. He has lain in bed since the end of the War and has never moved. Do you remember the promise we made as to the treatment that these heroes were to receive? Do you remember how the duke and the worker were to walk along the 205 road hand-in-hand, with roses on every side and happiness lying close at hand? Here is a paralysed man lying in bed. His boy grows to manhood—he is 21 years of age—and gets a job. The means test is operated in that home. He is persuaded to leave home and live with relatives so that the family income shall not be interfered with. He leaves his bedridden father and weeping mother and goes to his new home. He cannot eat; he cannot sleep. Despair settles upon him, and in a week comes the end—suicide. He is driven to death by the means test, as thousands of others have been done to death. Were you anxious for them? Are you going to change it because you have seen the ghastly work which you have done? I have seen it, and I cannot forget it. You have not defended the unemployed and the mothers and the children. It is all very well for the Prime Minister, in his introductory speech, to say that on the question of maternity and midwifery there will not be any need for political opposition. It is a very serious problem and one which is dear to his heart. The Chief Medical Officer in his report last year drew attention to the fact that we were making no headway against maternal mortality. Where does the trouble come from? It comes from low wages and low unemployment relief. The mothers and children have to suffer. You may pay tribute to, or worship, the Madonna and Child, but day after day you are doing the Madonna and Child to death.
On this side of the House we represent and speak for the workers of this country, the men who toil and sweat. [HON. MEMBERS: "So do we."] Oh, you do speak for the workers, do you? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] All right. We shall see. The leader of the miners says that theirs is the hardest, most dangerous and poorest paid job in the country. Is there anybody who will deny it? The miners make a demand. They ballot for it, and the ballot is a record, and we who speak for and on behalf of the miners demand an increase of 2s. a day for the miners. That is how we speak for the miners. Now it is your turn. Speak now. Two shillings a day for the miners. Speak, you who claim to represent the miners. We say not a penny for armaments. It is a crime against the people of this country to spend another penny on armaments. 206 Every penny we can get should go in wages for the miners, towards the health and well-being of the mothers and the children and adequate pensions for the aged and infirm. Ten shillings a week. I would like the Noble Lady to receive only 10s. and then she would change her tune. Last night the Chancellor of the Exchequer was meeting some friends, and they were having a dinner, the cost of which was 35s. per head. Thirty-five shillings per head for a dinner, and 10s. a week for an aged man or woman who has given real service to this country and has worked in factory or mine. We require every penny we can get in order to make life better for the working class. If the £7,000,000,000 which we spent during the War in ruin and destruction had been spent in making life brighter and better for the people of this country what a difference it would have made.
I would make an earnest appeal to hon. Members of the House who have not yet become case-hardened in iniquity. The National Government are travelling the road of 1914, which will surely lead to another and more terrible war, and to the destruction of civilisation. Are hon. Members going to follow them down that road? The party which is represented on these benches, from which, at the present moment, I am an outcast, has set itself a task of an entirely different character, that of travelling along the road of peace and progress and of spending all that can be spent in making life higher and better for all. We invite those of you who are prepared to put service to a great cause before blind leadership of miserable pygmies who are giving a pitiful exhibition by masquerading as giants, to put first service not to a National Government such as is presented before us, but to a Labour Government drawing towards itself all the very best and most active and progressive elements from all rarties and constituting itself, as a consequence, a real people's Government concerned with the complete reconstruction of this country, with genuine co-operation with the other peace nations for preserving world peace, a Government that follows the road of peace and progress. I make an appeal even while I give a warning. Do not try to stop us on the road along which we are travelling. Do 207 not try to block the road by the meshes of legal entanglements or by Fascist gangs. Do not try it, lest an evil day come upon you and you have to pay a price far beyond any present reckoning.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. FLEMING
The hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) asked us on these benches not to pay him any compliments. I am afraid that it falls to me to dash his hopes at the very start, because I have the duty to compliment him upon his maiden speech, and I do so most readily because it was one of the most vigorous and forcible speeches that I have ever heard in this House. There is no doubt about it. His constituents, when they hear of it, will have to agree with me that he has certainly made his voice heard in the House of Commons. There are one or two things to which I should like to draw the attention of the House. I am not unmindful of what you, Mr. Speaker, said last week from the second bench above the Gangway on the Government side of the House—that short speeches were advisable in this House in order to give any Member who wanted to speak a chance of doing so. In the last Parliament I always did my best to obey that rule, and I intend in this Parliament to do the same. I have enjoyed every speech I have heard to-day. I enjoyed the sparkling wit of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), but I enjoyed much more the weighty wisdom of the Home Secretary when he replied to him. I have never heard so well balanced a speech as that of the Home Secretary, and I have heard him on many occasions both inside and outside this House. When hon. Gentlemen opposite to-morrow come to read the words of the Home Secretary in cold print I think they will agree with me that he has certainly given them something to think about. Although I enjoyed the wit of the right hon. Member for Wakefield, wit without wisdom is not of much value even in this House, and I much preferred the wisdom of the Home Secretary without any wit at all.
What has struck me forcibly in the Debate on the Gracious Speech is the different ways in which the Members of the Opposition have tackled the question of defence. I am left absolutely in 208 the dark as to what really is the policy of the Opposition with reference to defence. The position of the pacifist, as represented by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), has been made clear to all of us in this House on more than one occasion. That right hon. Gentleman's position strikes me as being perfectly logical. He has told us that he has no use whatever for armaments, that he has no use for a war and that he would not raise a hand to defend anything. I think that is a fair interpretation of what the right hon. Gentleman said in the last Parliament. I can understand that as the logical attitude of a pacifist, who is really a pacifist, but there are other types of pacifists sitting on the benches opposite. They seem to be agreed about keeping the League of Nations in force. They agree that the Covenant should be carried out, but they seem to be ready to leave the carrying out of that Covenant to the extreme end to somebody else, to some intangible body, whether of the League itself or not I do not understand. On the other hand, the Prime Minister, who yesterday spoke on the same question of defence, was perfectly logical when, on behalf of this country as a member of the League of Nations, he pointed out that Article 8 in the Covenant had to be kept as much as any other Article. Article 8 allows this country to build up its defences to such an efficient state that this country will be an efficient member of the League of Nations. That is what I as a Conservative ex-soldier want this country to do.
During the Election there were certain pacifist members of the Labour party, not of the Independent Labour party, who went about my division saying that it was impossible for me as an ex-bayonet fighting officer to be anything else but a man filled with a lust for blood. I know several other ex-bayonet fighting officers, and I do not know one who wants to see this country embroiled in another war. After listening to the utterances of some of my pacifist friends, I am afraid that if they had had their way some months ago this country might very easily have been embroiled in another war. The curious position of such pacifists, unless I misunderstand them, is that they would not have taken their part in such a war. They would 209 have done exactly as they did in 1914. They would have stayed at home and let the other fellow go out to do the fighting. I have no objection to any man who is a pacifist and who keeps to that view through thick and thin, but what I cannot understand is that type of pacifist who is unwilling himself to defend his country—it is a war of defence that I am thinking of—but is perfectly prepared to embroil this country in war and to take jolly good care to keep out of the fighting himself. That type of pacifist does not interest me in the least; and it was shown clearly in my division, where that type of pacifist was opposing me, by the majority that was recorded against him, that in my part of the world such pacifism is not required. Throughout the length and breadth of the country such ideals as those have no weight with the working man, be he an ex-soldier or not.
There is one further subject with which I should like to deal before my self-imposed time limit expires. There has been a good deal of talk from the benches opposite about the means test, but no one from those benches has dealt with the point as to where the means test originated. I will leave to some of my hon. Friends who were turned out of the Labour party and who were more converant with that dispute than I am, to deal with it in detail. I would, however, point out that the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) made a statement on that subject, and I did not hear any reply to it by any of the hon. Members above the Gangway opposite. There has been no reply in my hearing to the attack made by the hon. Member for Shettleston as regards the originators of the idea of the means test, not in its present form but the original idea about it. Hon. Members opposite accuse hon. Members on this side of being in favour of the means test. On 16th April of this year I told the House that I was not; in favour of the household means test, and I say so to-day. I have never been in favour of the household means test, and there is no one who can produce any speech that I have made in which I have said otherwise. Here, however, is the difference to which I would direct attention, and that is that although on that point I differ from the Tory party I have not been kicked out of the party. But there are hon. Members 210 in this House who because they differed from the Labour party have been asked to leave the party, or it has been made uncomfortable for them to remain. Nothing like that has occurred to me in the Conservative party. That is why I said during the Election, and to-day I repeat that there is only one democratic party left in this country, and that is the Conservative party.
§ Mr. FLEMING
I hope the day will come when the hon. Member for Silver-town (Mr. J. Jones) will join us.
§ Mr. FLEMING
I do not intend to take up the time of the House any longer. Although hon. Members opposite have dealt with the Gracious Speech, picking holes here and there and asking why this, that or the other is not in the Speech, every sensible man reading the Speech will agree that the proposals are honestly made by the Prime Minister and the Members of his Cabinet and that they are proposals that can be carried out. Moreover, we have a Chancellor of the Exchequer who knows his business and who will assist the Government to carry out those proposals. That is what I want the National Government to do, and I feel certain that that will be done.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. LESLIE
As a new member I crave the indulgence of the House in case I should make any mistake through my not being au fait with the rules and procedure. Like other hon. Members, I regret that there is no statement in the Gracious Speech with respect to the abolition of the means test. I hope that the hon. Member who has just spoken will use his influence with the Government to see that the family means test is abolished. I come from a Division, the Sedgefield Division of Durham, which has been very hard hit, and I should like to quote one or two instances which show how families are being treated under the means test. Here is a case of a man with a wife and three 211 children. The man happened to have an allotment, and officials were sent to take stock of what he had on the allotment so that it could be assessed before they could declare the amount to which he was entitled. There is another case of a man who had a few hens on his allotment for the purpose of having fresh eggs for an ailing child. Despite the fact that the hens are a liability at the present time because they are not laying, those hens were taken into consideration in assessing the amount that he ought to receive. I have a further case of a man receiving compensation for nystagmus, compensation which has been reduced to 4s. 6d. per week. He has three daughters under 15 years of age, one son in the Army and another son who has left home. The latter son was told that he must contribute to the support of the family, while the son in the Army was allowed to escape. That man gets only 20s. a week for the support of his family. His income, with his compensation of 4s. 601., amounts to 24s. 6d., out of which he has to pay rent and feed four mouths. I have received a letter, one of many that I have received in the last few days, which says:I am a man who is on light compensation for nystagmus and on the dole. There is a family of six at home, mother four boys and myself. The eldest is 14 years of age. He has now got a job in the pits. He has had to go below and his pay note shows that he is in receipt of 10s. 9d., with the result that they have taken 4s. off me, leaving me now with 22s. a week, and there is the rent to pay and six in the family.That is how the means test is operated at the present time in the division that, I have the honour to represent. We contend that a system which cannot function properly and provide work for every willing worker has no right to exist.
I should like to touch on the mining situation. I think it will be agreed by all that coal mining, being a basic industry on which the prosperity of this nation largely depends, should be properly organised in the interests of the nation. The mining industry to-day is a sweated industry, paying to men less than women earn under trade boards. The case for a living wage for the miners is unanswerable. Apart from the nature of the work, there is the daily risk to life and limb. I was somewhat surprised 212 to hear the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) making disparaging statements with respect to miners' homes. If there is one thing that stands to the credit of miners more than anything else it is the provision that they make for the aged miners. I have visited aged miners' homes. They take a pride in these homes. Everything is spick and span, and I only wish that it were possible to have such homes for aged people generally instead of these people having to suffer the haunting dread of the workhouse at the end of their lives of toil.
Mention is made in the King's Speech of the unification of mining royalties, whatever that may mean. Royalties are an anomaly that ought to have been swept away long ago. Landlords sit tight, do nothing and reap a rich toll at the expense of the industry. Another matter which I regret is that the Government have made no mention about ratifying the Convention restricting hours underground. I know that ratification of that Convention was made conditional on other countries ratifying it. I also know that Germany is now out of the League. But the Government have entered into an agreement with Germany with regard to the Navy, and I would ask whether there is any reason why they cannot enter into an agreement with Germany with respect to the mines. Some country must take the lead. Why should not the British Government take the lead in ratifying that Convention, making it a condition that other countries should do likewise?
I want to touch briefly on agricultural workers. I welcome the promise made in the King's Speech to bring agricultural workers into Unemployment Insurance. These workers of the soil are silent no longer. I knew that during the election campaign, and I was glad of the fact. Think of the plight of agricultural labourers thousands of whom have been thrown out of work during the last few years with no unemployment benefit for them, only the Poor Law, and the haunting dread of the workhouse after a life of toil. I regret that no mention is made in the King's Speech of black-coated workers. I had the honour to represent the black-coated workers for many years, not only as secretary of my trade union but as a member of the Professional 213 Workers' Federation. Probably the Government are awaiting the report of the Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee. Last week I gave evidence before that Committee. Through rationalisation, amalgamation and trustification, thousands of these black-coated workers have been thrown on to the scrap-heap. Compensation has been given to directors for loss of office, but there has been no compensation to old and faithful servants for the loss of employment. Servants who by their initiative, tact and ability have helped to build up prosperous businesses have been suddenly thrown on to the scrap-heap, in some cases with only one week's notice. These men have endured considerable hardships. In many cases they have had to sell their homes and sacrifice their children's education, and finally have had to have resort to the Poor Law, because as they had been in responsible positions they were unable to be covered by Unemployment Insurance. I hope that when the Government consider the report of the Statutory Committee they will agree to raise the insurance limit. Such a step is long overdue.
I also want to refer to the school-leaving age. Unfortunately, no mention is made in the king's Speech of maintenance allowance. Everyone will agree that it is nothing short of a tragedy that thousands of children are thrown on to the labour market every year at the age of 14, with no possible prospect of continuous employment, with the result that thousands drift into blind alley jobs and drift out again. They have no proper training, they feel that they are not wanted and the future seems hopeless. Almost any magistrate will tell you that every week before our courts boys and girls appear who are gradually drifting into a life of crime simply because they cannot find work. To my mind education should not be viewed as a luxury but as a necessity. An illiterate democracy is the greatest menace to any nation.
In conclusion I desire to associate myself with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Southampton (Sir Charles Barrie) with respect to the problem of the Highlands and Islands. As one who hails from the most northerly town in the British Isles—I come from the sea-girt Shetlands—I am naturally interested in the welfare of my native 214 isles. Therefore, I want to call the attention of the Government to the need for an improved steamboat and mail service to the islands. At present there is serving the islands one boat which is older than, most hon. Members of the House—68 years old—and another 35 years old, and there is a cattle boat which used to be in the Irish trade but is now in the passenger traffic and mail service. None of these can be claimed as speed boats, and I hope, therefore, that the Government will give some consideration, to the claims of the islands in this respect.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. PEAT
I have the greatest pleasure in offering my congratulations to the hon. Member who has just addressed the House in a maiden speech. I congratulate him on the moderate way in which he spoke, and I can tell him that he will always receive an attentive and sympathetic hearing if he addresses the House in the same way in the future. I do not want to go into a post mortem on the General Election, but as far as I can see much of the argument which has been delivered by Members of the Opposition has its origin in a view which was expressed during the Election and, therefore, with the permission of the House, I will refer to one attack which was made in my constituency, which it appears to me was used as a sort of basis for a general attack throughout the country. It was based on a scriptural quotation which I am not able to give completely, but as far as I can remember it accused the national candidates of placing grievous burdens on the shoulders of men which they were not prepared to touch even with the tips of their fingers. To my mind that was one of the most unfair and disgraceful attempts to create prejudice by those who themselves placed the burdens upon the people in 1931 and who have refused to take any part or parcel in the efforts which have been made to dislodge those burdens in the four years which have passed since then.
The speech of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) was redolent of that sort of thing. He accused the present Government of allowing the working people of this country to deteroriate in their standard of living, never recognising, if we are to be fair and look things in the face, that the economic conditions which existed in 1931, 215 which were very largely the responsibility of the then Government, were entirely responsible for the conditions which have existed since then, but which have been modified by the present Government. The Opposition have no right to suggest that by some great volte-face in our economic policy, by the nationalisation of mines or industries, they can ever get away from the eternal truths of our economic life, which they tried to root out and blast in the years 1929 and 1931. We have had to grapple with that situation and have been partially successful. That is the reason why we have been returned to office in 1935. I am privileged to have been returned for a Durham constituency. [An HON. MEMBER: "No miners."] In the constituency of Darlington I have no miners, but Darlington is very dependent on the mining industry and on some of the great basic industries of the north-east coast. I want to say that I feel more strongly than ever before that the responsibility rests upon my shoulders, as well as on the shoulders of all those who represent the north-east coast, to do my best to see that the particular interests of those who live in Durham shall not receive scant consideration. With this thought in my mind, I want to lie quite frank. I hope the family means test will be very radically modified. The northern Members in the last Parliament stressed this point and did their best to influence the Government towards some modification, and I think that their actions were partially successful. I hope that they will be found to have been completely successful when the details of the Government programme in connection with this matter are laid before the House. I desire to stress this point because I believe there are few Members not living in northern constituencies or constituencies which are depressed areas who appreciate the deep feelings which exist on the family means test.
As we are dealing with the family I want to press on the Government the further point, that some steps should be taken to see that the wife of a man who has an old age pension but who is under the pensionable age herself should be given a pension. In present circumstances it mitigates against the family and the homes of old people when only one partner in the family receives an old age 216 pension, which is inadequate to support both.
A word on the reorganisation of industry. I have always attempted to be frank in this House and give my own opinions, because that is that for which I am here. I believe that the reorganisation of the coal industry and the cotton industry and other basic industries is an essential feature in the future industrial policy of this country. I am unblushingly a planner. We must plan these things, not according to State control but according to the need for individual effort, so that the cumulative effect of this effort shall be in a national direction. At present the organisation of the coal industry and the cotton industry is lamentable, and until we can get the position rectified neither the investor nor the wage earner in these industries will get a fair return. Only by a national reorganisation of our basic industries are we going to attack the great problem of the reduction of hours of work, which is another essential feature of our attack on unemployment. If we get industry properly organised on a national basis, represented by some national body, it will be possible for that national body to get into touch with a similar body representing its competitors in the markets of the world, and get an international arrangement not only regulating competition but making it possible to reduce the hours of work in an internationally organised industry, and an international agreement on wages. That is the only way in which we can approach this subject.
The Prime Minister in his speech yesterday touched upon the obligations of industries which had received protection from the last Government. He referred to the iron and steel industry. His words will be welcomed by the iron and steel industry. I am not in a position to speak for them, but I know something about the industry, and I know that they are perfectly aware of what has been done for them by the present Government. In my view they got nothing but justice, and if they had been allowed to carry on as they were before it would have been a gross injustice. I am not putting that forward as any excuse why they should not be called upon to take their part in helping the position in the distressed areas, but it leads me to this point. Industry has one great function to perform for the community, and that is to make 217 itself as efficient as it possibly can. The hon. Member for Seaham said that efficiency was not an end in itself. But efficiency is a necessary step towards the amelioration of our working conditions in this country; very often, it may be, at first sight almost a cruel step, but I am sure it is a necessary step, but I think that is the great obligation on industry, to make itself as efficient as it possibly can be with the object of cutting out waste, reducing costs, and handing on its goods to the consumer at the lowest price possible. We must do nothing to stultify that progress towards efficiency. We must be very careful not to mix philanthropy with industry, because they do not go together. Make your conditions for industry if you like. Say to industry, "You must take care of your unemployed. If you put a factory down in a green field you will be expected to bear a proportion of the expenses for schools, sewage, roads, buildings and everything else." But when you have made those conditions be very careful not to hinder efficiency in industry, because on that rock we are going to build a structure strong enough to carry what we want it to carry, that is, a further improvement in our standard of life all through the country.
There has been an inclination in the policy of the Government towards the distressed areas to say to people who are tendering for Government work, "You need not put in your tender unless you are situated in a distressed area." I do not think, and I expect very few in the House think, that you can cure unemployment or really help distressed areas by taking 100 men out of employment in Darlington and putting 100 in employment in Jarrow. I do not think that is a very constructive step to take. At the moment contracts for aeroplane sheds and bridges are being refused in some constituencies like Middlesbrough and Darlington on the border line of the distressed areas, and I want to protest against that with all the energy I have, not because I represent Darlington, but because it is a fallacious doctrine which gets us nowhere. Work ought to be given to the distressed areas which is at present being done by firms outside the distressed areas when those firms are working something near capacity. It is a point upon which I feel very strongly, 218 and I hope the Government will take some notice of my remarks. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are taking no notice."] I feel that the Government programme should be to shepherd into the right channels the steady improvement in our economic affairs in this country. Our opponents in the last elections failed because they tried to convince the people of this country that no improvement had been made in the condition of this country between 1931 and 1935. They hopelessly failed in that attempt, and I hope the Government will see to it that that improvement will be directed into the right channels, towards the distressed areas, to cope with the unemployment, which is chronic, and that steps in this direction will be carefully regulated so as not to check that improvement. Many of the suggestions which are made by the Socialist party, by their recklessness and lack of business sense would entirely stop the steady progress which is being made. They would vitiate our attempt, which must be a mass attack on the distressed areas from every side, coupled with world peace and constructive economic organisation in the home markets.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. SIMPSON
I must ask the indulgence of the House on taking my first plunge into an oratorical sea which is not bounded by the terms of this particular Debate. I appreciate that in the latitude allowed in those circumstances there may be some freedom for the orator, but on the other hand in the matter of longitude it may give rise to apprehension in the House. For the purposes of brevity, therefore, I propose to confine my remarks to two or three specific points. The constituency which I have the honour to represent is undoubtedly suffering very severely from the effects of many of the problems outlined in the Address and the discussion on it. I do not propose to go into the question of the means test, or the "mean" test, or the needs test, or however one may care to describe it. It is sufficient to say that in my own constituency I can add to the illustrations that have already been given pointing to the very urgent need for adjustments providing for more humane and adequate relief of those who are unfortunately unemployed. I do not want to disparage the remarks of specialists in 219 this particular field, but personally I cannot enthuse in regard to its authors or the folk who are being legislatively associated with it. We want something done, and that immediately, and certainly we want the election promises that were entered into by Members on the other side made good. This problem is only one dealing with effects and relief, and not one dealing with causes and remedies. Useful employment is a cardinal factor in any healthy individual human life as well as in any political and economic discussion. Therefore, we should primarily concern ourselves with national means availability with regard to remedies rather than being so much concerned with the narrow and sectional considerations in regard to this temporary relief. It is the greatest crime and the most cruel thing of all that men and women who are deprived of the opportunity of useful work and helping themselves should be in some cases subject, because of the unfortunate position they are in through no fault of their own, to all the humiliations associated with tests, however they may be made. There is an enormous amount of useful and indeed essential work to be done in this country. Our big industrial cities are not monuments to architectural success nor a tribute to the industrial successes and resources of the 19th and 20th centuries. In the direction of re-making or re-shaping of many of our industrial towns, and in regard to the question of housing, there is a very real and useful field for drawing on the collective resources of labour and material. I therefore welcome most heartily the reference in the Speech to the question of slum clearance, which talks of encouraging a direct attack on that problem I would like to remind the House that in one very well known industrial city in the North the party in power were getting busy with that great issue both in the interest of better housing and of increased employment, but because of a slightly shifted balance of power in a municipal council, continuity is to be broken down, and members representing the party opposite are hindering, obstructing, and completely destroying the good work that had been done in that direction. Therefore I think one is entitled to ask if the party opposite is 220 going to make an electoral triumph municipally an opportunity of obstructing the purpose and policy which in this House they are boasting is a policy of advance. My own constituency is unfortunately situated in the matter of houses. Large numbers of families are herded in wretched hovels that would provide a very suitable instance where the party opposite might do something to stimulate the municipal council. Dualism has been rather a fancied phrase in this House this afternoon. There is a very useful form of dualism in this connection that would do something to beautify our cities, help us towards better homes, and make practical efforts towards curing unemployment.
My last point relates to a question of unemployment. There is a reference in the speech to the surplus productive capacity in the spinning section of the cotton industry. I do not desire to anticipate the Debate on that subject, but I want to ask the party opposite what will be the effect of that Measure in regard to unemployment. Is it the case or is it not that the effect of this Measure will be to add to the number of unemployed and increase the problems with which we are concerned to-day? While one does not desire to resist any change which may make for efficiency and progress yet one has the right to ask for security and protection on behalf of those engaged in this industry who will, it seems to me, be adversely affected under existing conditions by the measure as now proposed. In this, as in so many related subjects, it seems to me that the approach to the problem is being made from the angle of restricting production, rather than that of expanding consumption. One could not fail to be impressed by the Prime Minister's appeal that the people who are securing the benefits of the various protections afforded by the Government should share those benefits with others. I fear, however, that the unemployed and those who are exploited in industry will not be satisfied with benevolent gestures or appeals of that kind. They will ask for some legislative power and authority to bring about a more equitable sharing and increased production in many industries.
I do not know what authority the Home Secretary has for assuming that the thinking, reasoning, common people of this 221 realm will refuse to make such electoral or social changes as may be necessary—not under the stress of fear or anxiety but as a result of common sense applied in a courageous way to our problems—to enable that increased production to be brought about, with a more equitable sharing at the end. After all, this House has been responsible for many important social changes. At the time those changes were repugnant to many people and were referred to as unthinking, as bringing about the end of all things, as leaps into the dark. It may be that some of the proposals made on these benches for the solution of our problems are regarded in that way by the party opposite but such fears—I am afraid in some cases they are hopes—are entirely groundless and unjustified. I believe that many of these proposals, instead of being leaps into some kind of terrifying darkness, will be found to be steps in the direction of hopefulness and enlightenment, will help us to solve many of the problems that press so hardly upon our people and will give the people new hope and justify their faith in our democratic system. I appeal, therefore, to the Government to act in the directions I have suggested in the specific matters of housing and the Cotton Spindles Bill. These matters are of particular importance to the constituency which I represent, but I wish to indicate them also as examples of action that might properly and profitably be taken in relation to other industrial problems to-day.
§ 8.19 p.m.
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Simpson) and to have this opportunity of felicitating him upon his excellent maiden contribution to our Debates. I am sure everyone in the House will agree that we have had two or three excellent maiden speeches to-day from the Socialist benches and that it is a very happy augury for our proceedings throughout this new Parliament. The hon. Member who has just spoken expressed great concern for the basic industries with which his constituency is most intimately concerned. He asked very pertinently how the National Government proposed to proceed, both in legislation and administration, during its new term of office in order to bring about a further expansion of industry and increase employment 222 in order to absorb many of the people who, unfortunately, at present are, more or less, permanently out of work.
I can hardly expect a member of the Opposition to be completely or even partially satisfied with the arguments and answers which have been produced from the Government benches to show how the present administration hope to cope with the situation. But I would ask the hon. Member and his friends, including the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), to reflect on the manner in which the National Government have been attempting to deal with these matters during the last four years. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to rid himself for the moment of the party complex and to consider whether the next four years under a National Government are not likely to see a further considerable increase in prosperity just as the last four years witnessed increased prosperity in the basic industries of this country leading to the gradual reabsorption—because we are still on the basis of gradualness—of large numbers of those who were out of work.
This Debate has, so far, served its general purpose as an inquiry—I was going to say inquest—into the results of the General Election and into the question of the methods by which victory was obtained for the National Government. I am sure I should have aroused a chorus of approval from the Socialist benches if I had said the "unfair means" resorted to by the National Government to secure the very satisfactory majority by which they were retuned, but I cannot be expected to agree that the methods which I and the overwhelming majority of Government candidates used two or three weeks ago, were such as hon. Members have suggested. We have had in this Debate many references to the international situation, to the continuity of our foreign policy and so forth, and it has been suggested that National Government candidates during the Election unscrupulously exploited the international situation for electoral gain. I have already used the term "party complex," and in that connection I would express a hope. To use a phrase of the right hon. Gentleman who was Member for Seaham in the last Parliament, I hope that in this present House of Commons we shall more and 223 more approximate to the idea of a Council of State. If we do that we shall be acting on lines which the vast majority of the electorate and the general public of the country undoubtedly wish us to adopt.
With regard to foreign policy and the use made of the international situation by National Government candidates, and indeed all candidates at the recent Election, it is very difficult for a huge democratic electorate, or even for more or less enlightened members of the general public, to grasp the intricacies and details of foreign affairs. I think it augurs well for the future of our democratic electoral system that the general body of the public were so readily able to grasp the basic facts of the situation and to see that the National Government candidates were not seeking to exploit the international situation and that voting for or against the present administration did not mean voting for or against continuity in our foreign policy. They realised that all parties in the State to-day intend to maintain one of our highest traditions, namely, that foreign affairs should be kept outside the arena of party warfare. Therefore they realised, as the presence of many Members on the Socialist benches proves, that they were free to vote for or against candidates of the National Government, while realising also that they would not be taking on their shoulders responsibility for the interruption of our foreign policy.
Hand in hand with this debating point that is made about the exploitation of the foreign situation, we have had many protests also about the increased armament proposals which took such a prominent place in the Election manifesto of the Government. Here again the electorate showed two or three weeks ago that they clearly grasped and sized up the situation. They realised that there was nothing sinister intended in the additional defence forces and that those forces were being asked for by the National Government simply and solely for the defence of our own shores and, what is so vital to remember, in the interests of the civilian population.
In the last few months the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has repeatedly used very forcible language to 224 bring to the mind of the general public the unsatisfactory position of our naval, military, and aerial forces, and in doing so I think he has rendered a great public service. The general public showed that they were impressed by his words, but let no one think that the hearty approval which was given by the 11,000,000 votes cast in support of the National Government meant that the electors were enamoured of any policy of what, for want of a better word, I will call jingoism. Not at all. The people of this country have no aggressive or sinister ideas of that kind, but they have not forgotten the terrible lessons of 1914–1918, and they realise that, with the advance of science in the last 17 or 18 years in relation to engines and weapons of modern warfare—and I am sure the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley will agree—if it should ever happen again, as God forbid it ever shall happen, that there should be a European or a world conflagration, the heaviest burden would fall on the shoulders of the civilian populations. Further, the hearty response given to the National Government's foreign policy showed conclusively that the people of this country realised that a position of isolation is for them completely out of the question. They realised that the peculiar geographical situation of this country renders it impossible that we should adopt such a detached position in regard to European and world affairs.
I want now to touch upon two points in connection with the domestic programme outlined in the Gracious Speech. One is the reference made to the policy of His Majesty's Ministers with regard to fostering the general recovery of agriculture, and the other is the reference made to the proposal for bringing agricultural workers into the scope of unemployment insurance. Here again I am sure that, as was the case with the foreign situation, this domestic question is not a matter upon which we ought to try to score any mere debating point, and I am certain that, with the magnificent social services that we have in operation to-day, there is no one in this House on any bench who would wish to deny the benefits of unemployment insurance to any large class of workers who should find themselves in need of it. But it would not be fair for me to stand here, representing as I do a large agricultural constituency in Scotland, and not 225 point out that there are very considerable difficulties in the way of bringing such a scheme into satisfactory working, and I hope that hon. Members above the Gangway will bear that point carefully in mind, because when we come to the specific legislation and the Committee stage of the Bill which will be necessary, we shall expect to have very valuable assistance from them, and not merely destructive criticism or attempts to score debating points.
Speaking from the point of view of Scottish agriculture especially, I must point out to hon. Members above the Gangway that Scotland is a vastly different proposition from England when it is a question of ascertaining the thoughts of the agricultural workers. An hon. Member who preceded me in this Debate called attention to the plight—and I think that was the right word to use—in which so many of the agricultural workers, not only in Scotland, but in England and Wales as well, find themselves to-day. Nobody, of course, wishes to deny to a large class of industrial workers such as they are benefits to which they are justly entitled, but the difficulty is that there may be—and I will go so far as to say that I think there are—large classes of agricultural workers in Scotland who may not see things in the same light as do my hon. Friends above the Gangway.
It is more difficult to assess the thoughts and wishes of the agricultural community than of workers in any other of our great industries, and I hope the hon. Member will agree with me there.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
If a man has a wife and family to maintain, and is out of work, the only way he can get help is by getting an income.
I was going on to say that up to the present, mercifully, there has been very little unemployment among the agricultural workers in Scotland, and there are many among those workers who may not view these proposals in the same favourable light as do my hon. Friends above the Gangway. It may appear to many of them as placing an additional penalty upon them at a time when, for most of them at least, the standard rate 226 of wages is deplorably low. In other words, they may be asked to contribute to a scheme from which an enormous percentage of them, a very large majority of them, will fortunately be very unlikely ever to draw any benefits.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The hon. Member has misled me in this matter. My point is that the farmer should pay his men more.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I did not wish to mislead him, but I wished to make this point, which every party would do well to remember. There are many among the workers—I leave out the question of percentage—who think that such a scheme is not necessary. We all agree to the principle, but when we come to the details of the Measure we may have a good deal of advice to give. When I was interrupted I was about to say why this scheme may not be so acceptable to the agricultural workers as many of us in the House may think at first sight it ought to be. It is because the standard rate of wages is at present unfortunately deplorably low. Hand in hand with the letters that I have been receiving about unemployment insurance for agricultural workers has come correspondence to the effect that we shall soon have to face the issue of the formation of a wages board in Scotland for agricultural workers. Fifteen years ago, when the Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales was set up, the workers of Scotland emphatically rejected such a proposal. They thought that at that time they could make a far better bargain in the open market than any wages board would be likely to secure. Things have much changed since then. We have had the economic blizzard of 1929–31, from which we are now gradually emerging, and I realise that we cannot for all time set up a certain standard or maintain a particular idea. If there be a desire from the agricultural workers of Scotland for unemployment insurance and a wages board, this House will be bound to consider the matter and lend a ready ear to it. I am sure that the House will be ready to shoulder the responsibility and face this great task.
I would like to make a reference to agriculture generally. In the last House of Commons more was attempted for the agricultural industry than has possibly been attempted by any previous Parliament, 227 but it is only fair to point out that the main branch of farming, the great livestock branch, has unfortunately not had the benefit of all the assistance that we believe it ought to have had and that it might easily have had from a National Government. I refer to the lack of a long-term policy for beef. I am well aware of the many reasons, such as the Ottawa and Argentine Agreements, which prevented my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture producing such a scheme. At the last Election candidates in agricultural districts naturally heard a great deal on this subject, but I am certain that those who were asking for the agricultural vote completely allayed the fears of the farmers on this point. I am sure they feel as I do that in this new House of Commons, before the first Session is ended, the full details of the long-term policy for beef will be forthcoming. We shall then speedily see that great revival in the agricultural industry for which we have been waiting for such a long time.
When the livestock branch of the industry is in its proper place I believe that we shall see a great revival all round, and, as a result, increasing prosperity and a raising of the standard and conditions of life and comfort for all concerned. Then perhaps we shall see again the attitude of mind of the Scottish workers somewhat approaching that of 15 years ago, when they thought that they could make a better bargain in the open market in regard to wages than they could through a wages board. That is, however, for them to decide, and if they wish a board I am sure that the House of Commons will not deny it. I have taken up rather longer than I intended, but these are important points. [An HON. MEMBER: "Question."] I am sure the hon. Gentleman will not deny that unemployment insurance for agricultural workers is important and that the revival of agriculture is a matter which the House of Commons cannot for a moment neglect.
§ 8.43 p.m.
Mr. J. J. DAVIDSON
As a, new Member of this House, I ask, as others ask, for the indulgence of the Members should I transgress in any way the rules and customs of the House. I recognise fully that it is my duty as a Member of the 228 Opposition not to offer merely destructive criticism in this House, but to offer to the best of my ability constructive criticism and assistance that will, in my opinion and in the opinion of my party, assist in producing good legislation for the majority of the community in this country. I therefore desire to offer as fairly and generously as I can my criticisms as a Member of this party of the speech that has been presented to the House. I feel strongly that in this Speech, especially for newcomers to this House, we have no definite specific information for our guidance or for the guidance of our constituents. All who take part in political work must construe such vagueness in this Speech, such a neglect of important topics, as hesitation on the part of the Government to come to this House with a straightforward and clear-cut policy.
On the question of armaments I should very much like to have received some definite information as to how far the Government will lead the nation, because I think it must be recognised by any man or woman of average intelligence that on the day this House decides to spend millions of the nation's wealth on armaments, on the day we decide to show superior force by bayonet, bomb and bullet, we shall have instilled into the minds of foreign peoples and foreign statesmen a suspicion and a distrust of British foreign policy and a suspicion that oar membership of the League of Nations is insincere and not to be trusted. I desire to draw to the attention of the Government the fact that during the years 1919 to 1929 nearly 100 international disputes were settled peacefully and amicably by the machinery of the League of Nations. It was done without any threats of rearmament or of reorganising the military, naval and air forces of this country, and I suggest, with all due respect to the leaders of the Government, that as those disputes could be settled peacefully by such methods during those years there is no reason on earth why they cannot be so settled to-day, when the Government are demanding that we should show loyalty to the League of Nations as never before.
As to the references to mining in the Gracious Speech, I must say, having had some political experience and having listened to the Prime Minister, that I feel with the hon. Member for Bridgeton 229 (Mr. Maxton) that the Prime Minister has become infected by past associations, because the reference to mining in this Speech can only be described as words without meaning. The Government must recognise that so long as they allow this great nationally-necessary industry to be controlled by nearly 1,500 different companies, all striving by cut-throat competitive methods to undercut one another and to obtain from that industry the maximum of profits, just so long shall we have chaos in the coal-mining industry and injustice for the miners. As to the paragraph referring to the unification of coal royalties, can we not to-day, in the year 1935, agree as men of intelligence, as men who understand business and industry, that the royalties taken from the mining industry are the extreme form of profiteering and should not be tolerated in an industry upon which the nation depends so much?
I regret that practically no reference has been made to the means test. Coming from an industrial constituency in Glasgow, and knowing the needs of very many people in that constituency and of the hardships in which this means test has involved them, and remembering also the pledges made by Ministers of the present Government during the Election, I expected, even as a new Member, some measure of support for the modification or the clearing away of this means test. None of the hon. or right hon. Members on the benches opposite can justify the moral plane upon which the means test rests. No hon. Member can say that an aged worker in industry who has been thrown idle through no fault of his own should be left under the stigma of having to depend on some other member of the family for his existence. No one will disagree when I say that our workers in industry have their rights as citizens separately and individually, and that the hardships of one individual should not have to be borne by members of his family, but should be borne by those responsible for the creation of unemployrnent, namely, the State or the Government.
I was very much amazed when reading this Speech to see no reference to such an important subject as old age pensions for aged workers in industry, or to widows' pensions, or to a question which is of paramount importance to one of the most respectable, decent and long-suffering 230 sections of the community, the question of restoring again to the ex-service men the cuts made upon the pensions granted to them for services given during a time of distress. Whatever else the Government may have done, one of the most contemptible actions of the past was to take from those men by a means test some part of the reward that a grateful country was supposed to bestow on them. I regret very much that those important subjects have been left out of this Speech. They are topics in which the nation as a whole is most interested.
I desire, in conclusion, to enter my very strong protest with regard to the treatment meted out to the country from which I come, Scotland. One paragraph of 35 words deals vaguely and indiscriminately with the raising of the school age. The problems of Scotland are many and manifold. Scotland is a country that has contributed in no small degree to the greatness and the prestige of this nation. I ask as a representative of a Scottish constituency, with all due respect to the Government of the day, that they should give more consideration in future to the problems and the difficulties of Scotland. I trust that I shall be able as a Member of this national Parliament, and that I shall be allowed as a representative of Scotland, to contribute my share to the work on behalf of the nation.
§ 8.55 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir WILLIAM ALLEN
I should like to compliment the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. J. J. Davidson) who has just spoken. His was a very earnest contribution to our Debate, and not at all overdrawn. If hon. Members of this House uphold their principles and deliver their speeches here in the same way, it will be an advantage to all concerned. I heartily compliment the hon. Member upon his speech.
There are a few of us in this new Parliament who have been sent here under very different conditions and different circumstances. Ours was a very peculiar election; that is nothing unusual for Ireland. It has been a unique kind of election. While our people are suffering in the way that has been described by Members opposite, during the whole course of the electioneering campaign the words "means test" and "mining industry," and the cause of war or sanctions 231 had not the slightest interest for the voters of Ireland. There was only one issue before us on that occasion. My own electioneering address consisted of about four lines, and that was because of the peculiarity of the occasion. I simply said to my people:You have trusted me for 18 years. I am coming before you again to let me know if you have the same confidence as you have had in the past. The issue is a choice between the British Empire and a republic. What is your choiceThat is all I said, and that was all I had to say. The result of that appeal was that I got 4,000 more votes than I had before.
§ Sir W. ALLEN
The people who voted for me knew that if my opponent gained the victory he had not the slightest intention of coming to this House. We have, indeed, another peculiar condition of affairs in Ireland that I suppose never obtained before. Two Members were elected on the Republican ticket and they are making a present to the Chancellor of the Exchequer of £800 a year plus £300 deposit. They will have nothing to do with the constitution of the British Parliament. We can easily imagine that those two gentlemen did not come from Scotland.
I have listened to a number of speeches which dealt with individual cases of hardship under the means test. They were very moderate speeches but very grave and important speeches. I remember an ex-serviceman who has to wear some kind of instrument on his left arm because of a severe wound, has an injured back that prevents him from working—he has always been discharged as unable to work—and has a bullet wound in the throat and is unable to articulate, and a grateful nation gives him the magnificent sum of 8s. a week. I am sure that every hon. Member could say something similar with regard to the position of soldiers and their pensions. The means test? Why, nothing that I have ever heard in this House could compare with the means test which is applied to the retired pensioners of the old Royal Irish Constabulary. That is a Star Chamber means test of the most flagrant character; so much so that some of those who are entitled 232 to pensions do not get anything. Others who have borne the burden and the heat of the day during the most difficult and strenuous times in Irish history get less than £1 a week, while the modern constabulary receive as much as £150 per year. I appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer last year to do something for these men. I would like the House to remember that most of them are, I suppose, from 65 to 85 years of age and that they are a diminishing quantity every year. A very little expenditure by the Chancellor of the Exchequer would relieve them of distress and of almost despair, in the closing days of their lives.
I listened to the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) who found nothing in the King's Speech to stir his hopes. He found nothing but profound disappointment in every paragraph. I would not have expected the hon. Member to say anything less. He did, in the end, give the Government credit for a few words with regard Lo the means test. Some of us have very short memories. One hon. Member insisted upon contrasting the years 1931 and 1035. I seem to remember that about 1931 the then Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that the Budget of that year was £2,000,000 short, and I seem to recollect his saying that the future Budget might be £170,000,000 short. What about 1935? What are the prospects of the Budget of 1936. Have not the Government, who have been responsible for this country's finances from 1931 to 1935, deserved some credit for raising the nation out of its morass of financial difficulty to its present position? Listening to the speeches of hon. Members opposite, one would think that, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer were the cause of all this wrong-doing during the last four years, he would not only be unable to balance his Budget, but would be faced with a tremendous deficit, and yet the contrary is the case. I also seem to remember that not so many years ago there were 3,000,000 unemployed, while, as far as I know from statistics printed lately, the number of unemployed is now under 2,000,000.
I know the difficulties with which the Government have been confronted with regard to Italy and Abyssinia, and I listen to hon. Members talking about the 233 causes of war, but there is one thing that they never seem to take into consideration when they are talking about the causes of war, and that is the construction of the human individual. You have only to listen to the speeches of some hon. Members opposite to realise that man was created a born fighter. If you want to avoid war, you must ask the Creator to create man over again. People talk sometimes of the awful destruction of life and property as the result of war, but I have never heard any mention of the destruction of life and property through volcanic eruptions or through typhoons. Man is not responsible for these, and I suppose that that is the reason. The present Government are not responsible for volcanoes, and that is why they are not mentioned. I am rather surprised that the Government are not blamed for the typhoons that have swallowed up the lives of so many thousands in Japan, or that they are not blamed for the wiping out of Quetta. It is just possible that some hon. Members would like to say that, but out of shame they will not. I notice that our present Prime Minister has been twitted with imbibing, or taking to himself in some unknown physical way, the leaven of the late Prime Minister, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald. Over in Ireland we have looked upon the contest at Seaham with shame and disgust, for the simple reason that we always thought the British people stood for freedom of speech—
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Since the hon. and gallant Gentleman has made an allegation against the electors of Seaham, will he be good enough to offer accurate evidence in support of that allegation?
§ Sir W. ALLEN
Really, I am surprised at that question. There is not a British paper but published most disgusting details of the way in which Mr. Ramsay MacDonald was treated.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I am sorry to intervene again, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman has made an accusation against the electorate of Seaham, nearly 39,000 of whom voted against Mr. MacDonald. Is he alleging that those electors did something of which they need be ashamed? Will he give us some evidence in support of that gross allegation?
§ Sir W. ALLEN
That is not a question of freedom of speech. I am quite prepared from my place in this House to tell what I know of what happened in Belfast. This is not the time, but I hope that at some time the opportunity will be given us to put the facts of Belfast before the House. With reference to the hon. Member's question, I am not prepared to say that the 39,000 voters who voted against Mr. Ramsay MacDonald were 39,000 people who were responsible for the fact that he was not able to speak, that he was shouted down, and that at many of his meetings he was not listened to at all. That is public property, and I am very much surprised that the hon. Member denies it.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that it is not public property in the place that really matters, namely, the Seaham Division? These allegations are strongly contested by the respectable and intelligent electors of Seaham.
§ Sir W. ALLEN
I do not think that anything is to be gained by carrying on this discussion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"] I will withdraw nothing that I have said. It was a disgusting exhibition of the lack of freedom of speech. I shall not give way any more—
§ Sir W. ALLEN
When you discover an Irishman that is frightened—[Interruption.] I was going on to say, with regard to Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, that he gave his best to the nation when the nation required it. His former friends deserted him. No doubt they would say that he deserted them, but what was the reason for his maintaining his position? It was the financial mess into which hon. Members opposite had got the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Their own Chancellor of the Exchequer said so from that Box; they cannot get rid of it; and I think it is all to his credit that he stood there for the last four years against the opinion of his former friends.
235 The Gracious Speech from the Throne contains much, but how can it contain in detail everything that has to be done? I notice one particular thing with regard to education and the building of schools. May I offer the Government a little bit of advice in regard to that? I suppose we have lately built the finest educational schools in Northern Ireland that can be found anywhere, but will the Government beware of closing up small country schools and taking the children away from the country and bringing them into the towns to attend the larger schools? Taking away children from the land is against all the principles of using the land and distributing it amongst the people.
There is another point with regard to the organisation of maternity services with a view to providing better care for women in childbirth. Nothing could be nearer the hearts of the nation, I am sure, than care for the mothers, but will the Government also remember that there is no use looking after the poorer women at that particular time if they have to go back to their homes in the slums. It is like erecting large hospitals for tuberculosis and, when they have been there for three or four or six months and have put on some weight, sending them back to the same old homes, with the beds saturated with the same disease, instead of spending some of the money in clearing them away and burning them. Start your slum clearance first and then there will be some chance for the mothers when they go back to decent homes. I want to give my whole hearted support to the National Government in all the measures that they may adopt in the years to come, and I have every confidence in the Prime Minister and the Cabinet lifting the country even higher than it has been lifted up to the present.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I have listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman's speech. I am glad to know that there is such deep interest in freedom of speech in this country, and also in the right of the late Prime Minister to have that freedom of speech, because I remember during the War being associated with Mr. MacDonald, when we had to defend him with iron pipes in order to allow him that freedom of speech against Tory hordes 236 who tried to burn down the very hall in which he attempted to speak. We were told then that it was just the indignation of the population against a man going there and saying things that were against the national interest. If Mr. MacDonald got a taste of it in a working-class constituency because of their indignation, it does not become his friends on that side of the House, who sought to prevent him speaking from 1914 to 1918, to try to make us believe that they have an interest in freedom of speech. What Mr. MacDonald was subjected to at Seaham can be looked upon as the natural indignation of a population which for four years had no opportunity of showing resentment against people who had starved and driven them to death because of the indignities that the means test had inflicted upon them. I cannot, like the hon. Gentleman opposite, begin to weep because of that which has been the lot of the late Prime Minister at Seabam. I believe in freedom of speech and I believe that all men and women ought to be allowed to have their point of view, because there are some people who, if they were allowed complete freedom of speech, would secure fewer votes than if they were prevented from having it.
I cannot express any amazement at what the King's Speech contains. It is the usual type of Speech, which proposes little things here and there, but nothing drastic and nothing very definite that will be of any general assistance to the working class. In its main features it is intended for the defence of the capitalist interest, and we stand for the defence of working-class interests. We do not believe that the working classes require guns to defend them. For most of them a poker is quite sufficient to defend them on their doorstep, and it is generally against the landlords and house factors and clubmen, who are the enemies of the working class in their own domains. Our advice at all times to the workers is to remain at home and allow the capitalist class to defend their own interests in any part of the world where they are being menaced.
The policy put forward by the National Government comprises great plans for national defence. I have often heard of the honesty of purpose of the Prime Minister. We have been told that he is a very simple man. I listened to him on the wireless one evening and I did not 237 think he was the simple man that was made out. The photos on the walls are the simplest thing about him. He said, "Of course, you will be told from many angles that the National Government intends to spend £250,000,000 on armaments. Various sums will be given you. I ask you not to believe them, because it will be all guess work." He was the one man who could have told us over the wireless what the Government intended to do, but in a very cunning way he avoided telling the electors what was intended, because he was afraid of the repercussions of that policy at the poll. There was an attempt in some divisions even to bribe the electors into voting for the policy of national defence on the plea that they would get employment by the provision of armaments.
In our area we had the most brazen-faced attempt that I have ever seen in public life, and I even questioned the legality of it. A huge motor lorry paraded the streets with a gun on it from Beardmore's works, on which was inscribed, "Vote for the National Government and make Shettleston a happy place." It meant that they were to vote for the Govment candidate, whose name was Russell, in order to get work in the gun shops of Parkhead. On the walls were posters saying, "You can risk your shirt on Russell." Needless to say, no one lost his shirt in Shettleston, because they had a little more intelligence. I only know one man who was prepared to risk it. He said to me, "John, in the present state of my shirt I would not mind risking it on Russell." It was a case of bribes from end to end of the division. Every single appeal was to the workers to obtain employment by engaging in the production of arms. In that area are the Parkhead works of Beardmore, where they manufacture armour plates and guns, and an attempt was made to tell those who were unemployed that if they voted for the National Government they would have plenty of employment in producing guns and the material for battleships. If that is to be the kind of policy that is put forward by the National Government, which calls itself simple and honest, I have another description of it; it is cunning and dishonest, and the leader of a party of that kind cannot be called the simple Simon that he is made out to be in this House and in this country.
238 The Government have blown hot and cold between the League of Nations and a policy of re-armament on a large scale. They say in this Speech that they have convened a conference for the purpose of concluding a naval agreement, but at the same time they show us their lack of faith in the conference achieving anything by saying also that they intend to go ahead with a policy of re-armament. At the Election I stood frankly against anything in the nature of re-armament. I stated in my literature and, on the platform that if they wanted a man to vote for armaments they should get another candidate, because I refused to go into the Division Lobby to bring about a state of armament in instruments which I refuse to use myself. Armaments are for the defence of the capitalist interests in this country, because of their Empire and investments in various parts of the world, and as far as we are concerned we shall appeal at all times to the workers to refuse to defend those capitalist interests and to overthrow the system of society which lives by plunder and war throughout the world.
We are told that the Government made some kind of promise to reform the means test. We are not believers in any kind of reformation of the means test. We stand for complete abolition of the means test. We have never supported it, and we never will support it, because we realise the effects of it. The Government that initiated and carried out this means test for a period of four years came on the eve of a General Election with further bribery, and the late Prime Minister said that he would refuse to continue as a member of the Government unless it reformed the means test in relation to family life. The allegation contained in that was that the means test had been instrumental in destroying family life, and, if it has, why does not the Prime Minister go to that Box with his pious promises and say that he is out to bring about at the earliest moment a complete change of affairs as far as the working class are concerned? Any man or woman who has passed through working-class areas and has seen the effects of the means test cannot but stand aghast at the wreckage which it has caused. We say to the Government that they ought at the earliest possible moment to eradicate the means test completely. They should get 239 rid of it for all time, because when it was instituted it was not instituted as something of a permanent character. We were told that it was an economy measure for a period of crisis. If the crisis has been got through, so that Cabinet Ministers can have their salaries raised from £80 to £100 a week and Members of Parliament can have their salaries restored from £300 to £400 a year, then we say that this hideous and ghastly means test ought to be eliminated for all time from the lives of the people of this country.
Let me ask further, in a friendly way, where exactly do the Labour party stand in connection with the means test? They, like the Government, have been vacillating from one position to another in the last four years. They started off by backing the means test which is in existence to-day. The late Labour Cabinet defended the means test. I want to know—I should be glad to have the assurance of the right hon. Member for Stirling and Clackmannan, Western (Mr. Johnston)—that this means test has been completely thrown over by the Labour party. I would be glad to hear that; it would be most welcome, and we should not need to return to it at any future date. In the Election we have had some sections of the Labour party saying that they do not stand for a Poor Law test. Could the hon. Member tell us what kind of means test other than a Poor Law test he stands for? We are surely entitled to know that, and not to have wrangling between sections of the working-class movement on the platform. I heard one Member of the Labour party say the other day: "I stand for a personal means test." I say that that is entirely wrong because there is no means test applied to the Royal family. They get their Poor Law relief without consideration of any kind as to what their incomes and investments are. If it is good enough for that section which has done no labour and has never done any labour—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)
The hon. Member must not make such references to the conduct of the Royal family.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I am afraid that I cannot accept that. I have referred time and again in a passing way to the Royal 240 family in this House of a passing kind. I am not making any attack; I am simply contrasting that which is paid to one section with what is paid to another useful section.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
If the hon. Gentleman listened carefully to what I said he would find that I did not complain of the first words he used about sums paid. I referred to his later words in which he was getting dangerously near to references to matters of personal conduct.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I did not intend to make any attack of any kind. I simply say here that the means test cannot be defended in any way. I want here and now to allude to something which was circulated in my own division by the Labour party. It has to do with the Anomalies Act, which has cut off over 300,000 workers from benefit in this country. We say that that is wrong. We think that it ought never to have been brought about, and it ought not to have been placed upon the Statute Book of this country. If any person believes to the contrary he has a right to hold that point of view, but he should be prepared to defend it in the open and not attempt to come out with a lying leaflet of an attacking character concerning the working classes. I think that the workers even in their own organisations are prepared to defend that point of view. Here is such a statement:The Anomalies Act was passed by the Labour Government on the demand of the workers.Has there ever been such an election leaflet circulated containing such a damnable lie as that the Anomalies Act was passed on the demand of the workers. Who were the workers who demanded that it should be passed? Can anyone name a trade union branch, or a branch of the Labour party, or of the Co-operative Society, or a Socialist branch in this House to-night that demanded that this Act should be passed and placed upon the Statute Book? There is not a Member in this House who can name a single organisation that asked that that Act should be placed upon the Statute Book. It is an attempt to defend the indefensible, instead of coming frankly before the House and the country and saying that it was passed during a period of, if you like, minority government 241 when we ought never to have accepted the leadership of Ramsay MacDonald. Do not forget that there are people in the Labour party to-day who are attacking Mr. MacDonald as viciously as they attacked the Independent Labour party for attacking this policy in 1929–31. They say it wason the demand of the workers who protested against unscrupulous individuals who were not really unemployed, who were taking money from the workers' insurance funds.If they can defend that, it is an easy matter to defend the means test. I ask frankly in this House, who were the people who were unscrupulous enough to rob the Unemployment Fund? Had not the courts of referees sufficient power to deal with any individual? And they say that:Men earning over £5 were lifting 15s. insurance. Men earning £6 10s. in four days were drawing two days' benefit.It is a shameless lie to say that this Act was put into operation in order to deal with these men. There are men in trade unions to-day who are drawing two and three salaries for work which they never perform, and the means test ought to apply to them. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] The Labour party passed the Act. This is a Labour party leaflet. You might have thought that it was in the "Daily Mail," but it is a Labour party leaflet which says:The Labour party passed the Act to protect the workers and their families.Is not that what is said of the means test, that it is to protect the funds of the State? The people returned the National Government and the National Government handed the power to others, and issued the regulations, but did not work the parts of the Act which protected the honest workers. All the others were dishonest. The 300,000 who were cut off benefit are the dishonest ones and the workers who have retained their benefit are the honest ones. The regulations were worked by the National Government in an unfair way. You all know my opinion of the National Government and of yourselves. I believe that you all live on rent, profit and interest and that you defend that class. At the same time the Labour Government, do not let it be forgotten, passed that Act and took the power out of the hands of this House; and Viscount Burnham was the chairman 242 of the Committee when power was taken out of the hands of this House. That Act has been modified by the actions of the Umpire since the time when it was passed by the Labour Government. This leaflet is being circulated through the areas where we are fighting, and it has to be replied to. The strange thing is that if you reply to the Labour party upon anything it is assumed that you are making a general attack on the working-class movement. If a leaflet is issued to the general public it is right that it should be brought to the tribunal here. Those who issued it ought to defend it in this House.
I am not antagonistic to any reasonable reply that may be made, but, frankly, it must not be assumed at any time that if the Labour party come into my division and oppose me and the National Government oppose me I have to reply only to the National Government and say that the Labour party are my dear friends. The Labour party have left £300 of deposit in our area and they say that they can defend this leaflet. I am prepared to give them the utmost opportunity to defend it or give us their attitude to the means test and to the Anomalies Act. It would be much better if they would admit that both these things are wrong. The National Government's attitude in connection with the means test will soon be the same as the Labour party's attitude. If they do away with the household means test and only insist on an individual test the Labour party would be in agreement and could not condemn it in any shape or form. I hope that the Government are going to abolish the means test root and branch and give to the common people of this country an opportunity to live. Those who have been longest out of employment are most in need of what might be termed standard benefits, because their blankets, clothes, bedding and furniture and everything else become depleted and life becomes miserable. I hope that at an early date this Act will be removed from the Statute Book.
I will say a word or two in connection with sanctions and the Abyssinian dispute. It was marvellous how in the country the Members of the National Government all piped down on the Abyssinian sanctions question. We did not hear so much of military sanctions as we heard some time ago. The 243 members of the Labour party all ran away from the sanctions policy. Although the leaders were prepared at the Trade Unions Congress and the Labour Party Conference to stand by it, I have yet to meet one candidate who is prepared to go full blast for the military sanctions which were sponsored by Labour leaders at those conferences. It is a, good thing that the rank and file are running away from their leaders, because their leaders do not express working-class sentiments in this country. They expressed that which was only the will and desire of leadership and not the will and desire of ordinary men and women throughout the working-class ranks. I certainly heard the statement made in the maiden speech of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) and I am sorry he is not in his place. I should have been inclined to have replied to one or two of his statements. I am glad to see that to-day instead of being the roaring lion of Communism he is becoming the bleating lamb on the Labour doorstep, and seeking admission. It is a change at last.
While we on these benches attack the policy of the Labour party, we have not gone the length of slandering and lying about them in the way the Communist party have done. If the Communists have changed their attitude in order to gain admission, all I can say is that it is a welcome change for the general good of the working-class movement in this country. I do not intend to say any more here tonight because other opportunities will be afforded me, but I am glad to be back in this House and to run the gauntlet between the two right wings of the National Government and I got through very easily on this occasion. I am glad to have the opportunity of criticising the policy of the National Government. I do not expect any great things from the National Government. I think they are the defenders of private property and being the defenders of private property all that we can do is to attack, criticise, analyse and from time to time make our contributions in this House in the hope that as the years go by the people of the country will develop more wisdom, that the working-class movement will develop a more courageous leadership, even in the Labour party, and that it may be possible in the days to 244 come at the end of the four years the working class if they are given that courageous leadership and that honesty of purpose may be able to come together and we can present a united front to attack privilege and monopoly in this House and the constituencies and work for its general overthrow.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Mr. J. P. MORRIS
The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) wanted to know exactly where the Labour party stood in regard to the means test. I also am a little intrigued, and if possible this evening I should like some kind of answer to the question raised by the hon. Member for Shettleston. In the speech delivered yesterday by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Mathers) dealing with this question, he said:I hope that after this explanation we have heard the last of the charge that the late Labour Government established the family means test and thereby established a new principle."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1935; col. 104, Vol. 307.]In looking up the records of the Debate in this House on the question of the means test I find that the late Member for Darwen stated, on 14th September, 1931:The new savings on unemployment would amount only to £5,000,0000 and these were to be obtained by imposing a needs test for transitional benefit."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th September, 1931; col. 547, Vol. 256.]My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking in the same Debate said:In the original proposals as put before us"—he was referring to the three-party conference in face of the crisis—we were told that there were under consideration proposals, not merely to reduce the number of weeks from 52 to 26, not merely to increase the contribution, not merely to put a means test on to those in receipt of transitional benefit, but also to adopt the trade union practice of deducting the contribution from the benefit"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th September, 1931; col. 642, Vol, 256.]Furthermore, Viscount Snowden, in an article in the "Daily Mail," with regard to this question used these words:The present Labour leaders agreed to the ordinary unemployment pay being cut down to 26 weeks, after which the unemployed were to be thrown on to transitional benefit, with a means test, which they estimated would reduce the payments to this class by £5,000,000 a year.245 This question ought to be settled once for all, and I invite any hon. Member opposite to deny that those words are the truth.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I must ask the hon. Member to understand that in rising to interject an argument he cannot claim to do so as a point of Order. He cannot interrupt to put an argument unless the hon. Member whom he interrupts chooses to give way.
§ Mr. MORRIS
I state definitely that the genesis of the idea of the means test was evolved by the party opposite, and in view of the references that I have made this evening I would ask them whether they can deny that statement. The hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. J. J. Davidson), in a maiden speech which was forceful and sincere, asked how far the Government were going on with armaments as outlined in the King's Speech. If the hon. Member had listened to the Prime Minister's broadcast during the election campaign he would have found that the right hon. Gentleman pledged himself and his party not to spend one iota more than was necessary for the modernisation of our defence forces, in order to fulfil our international obligations under the Covenant of the League of Nations. If any further proof were needed that that pledge will be carried out, I would call the hon. Member's attention to the fact that in the policy outlined by the National Government for social reform the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take good care that no needless expenditure on armaments will be indulged in, in order that he may be able to find the money necessary for the Government's programme of social reform.
I am very pleased with two items in the Gracious Speech. The first item that gives me great gratification is the reference to the proposed arrangements for the assistance of the unemployed. I have never been in favour of the household means test, and I hope that the Government in the new Bill that they will bring before the House will alter the incidence of that test and that instead of its being a family means test they will make it an individual means test. I should like to tell the House of an 246 experience that I had during the election campaign. A man said to me: "I am drawing £3 a week. A little while ago when I was in receipt of £2 10s. a week my brother had to undergo the means test. An ascertainment was made. When I received an increase of 10s. a week, owing to my own ability, my brother's benefit was reduced." That man asked me if I could defend such a principle. I said that I could not defend such a principle. I have never defended the whole principle of the family means test. I believe that it is morally wrong and I sincerely hope that the Government in their new Bill will alter it and make it a personal means test.
The next point in the Gracious Speech which gives me cause for satisfaction is the Government's reference to the League of Nations and their determination at all times to exercise the full weight of their influence for peace. I stand for peace and am prepared to taks risks for peace. I do that because during the last war I served 4½ years abroad, and I know the horrors of war in all its details. I know perfectly well that any future war will be of much greater enormity than the last war, and I do not want any man in this country unnecessarily to have the experiences that I went through in the years 1914–1918. Peace can only be secured through collective security and collective action by the League of Nations against any aggressor nation which refuses to submit its cause of dispute to arbitration and conciliation. For that reason I am pleased that the Government are determined to uphold the principle of the League of Nations.
I should like to ask what, but for the League of Nations, would have happened in this country during last year. Instead of having recourse to the Council of the League we should have been forced to go back to pre-war diplomacy in Europe, which would have meant leagues with other countries, armaments, fears and jealousies, and in the end, war. For that reason I am very proud that the Government are determined to uphold the League and to secure and maintain peace for this country. War means not only the stoppage of the wheels of progress but the wrecking of the machinery which provides for the people of this country a higher standard of living than is possessed by any other people in the world. Therefore, I am a whole-hearted supporter 247 of the League, and I congratulate the Government on their determination to support it in all its aspects. Great tasks lie ahead of us both at home and abroad, and I am very pleased that the people of the country have shown their confidence again in the National Government and that the Government are prepared to meet all emergencies with a policy constructive, courageous and coherent. Therefore I congratulate the Government on the terms of the Gracious Speech and on their ability and determination to carry out the programme outlined at the General Election.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
By a polite fiction the programme of business which is presented for the next Session of Parliament is blamed upon the Throne, whereas it is well known to every hon. Member and to the public outside that it is the programme of business agreed upon by the heads of His Majesty's Government, While it may be perfectly true that with two notable exceptions the paragraphs in the King's Speech represent pretty fairly the average opinion of hon. Members opposite, I think the Prime Minister has misinterpreted on two vital and major issues the opinion of the majority of his supporters, if not in the House at least in the country. This afternoon we have had a succession of speeches from hon. Members opposite, and without exception everyone has criticised in some form or another what is known as the means test. That test indeed has had no supporter during the last two days' discussion in this House. Some hon. Members have said that it must go, so far as the family is concerned. Others have labelled it iniquitous as far as the household is concerned, and hon. Members have indulged in various other forms of criticism. We have been asked who first thought of this means test. I understand that it goes back to some legislator or statesman in the days of Queen Elizabeth. In various forms a test of one kind or another has been the common practice of legislation for hundreds of years.
What we are now discussing are the wholesale and indefensible cruelties of the means test as applied to the poor and the unemployed during their period of privation and necessity. The attitude of the party on these benches, as 248 declared before the General Election, admits no dubiety whatever. In our election manifesto scattered broadcast up and down the land are the words:Labour will sweep away the humiliating means test employed by the National Government and will provide adequately for the unemployed.By that pledge we are bound. We stand for the abolition of the means test as applied to the unemployed and the poor in their hour of greatest necessity and trial. But we are not discussing a Labour party's King's Speech this afternoon but the proposals put forward by the Government for this Session of Parliament. We have had a very skilled exhibition, I say without offence, of verbal ballistics and dialectics by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. One thing which the Home Secretary did not discuss was the first and most important paragraph in the Kings Speech. That paragraph says:My Government's foreign policy will as heretofore be based on a firm support of the League of Nations.I think we are entitled to ask how far back "heretofore" goes. Does it go back prior to June of this year? Does it cover the attitude of His Majesty's Government during the Manchurian discussions at the League of Nations? Does "heretofore" cover the period in December, 1932, when on the, 14th of that month we read in the newspapers a message from the Government of Japan in the following words:The Japanese Government is most appreciative of the friendly tone displayed by the British Foreign Minister throughout the proceedings at Geneva.Does "heretofore" cover that period? Does it cover the famous oration of the late Lord Privy Seal, in which he stressed the sacrifices he had made and the struggles he had made to save the use of bombing aeroplanes? Does "heretofore" give us any explanation of the fact that these two Ministers who were so largely responsible for League of Nations policy until recent months are now no longer responsible for it, that for some obscure reason not disclosed to the nation the two Ministers to whom I am referring have been transferred from their posts? Does "heretofore" cover the agreement announced in this House in June of this year with the German Government, under which the Nazi Government of Germany was permitted, behind the back of the 249 League of Nations, to build as many submarines as are possessed by the entire British Empire? Does "heretofore" explain why M. Laval declared the next day that he was stupified by the news? Does "heretofore" give us any clue to the admitted fact that this decision strengthened the hostile and suspicious opinions which had been growing up all over Europe and all over the world as to the bona fides of His Majesty's Government so far as the League of Nations was concerned?
I make the admission—I have done so elsewhere, and I repeat it here—that since June of this year His Majesty's Ministers have adopted another tone in their attitude towards collective security. But we on these benches do not believe that you can run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. You cannot conduct secret negotiations with Germany behind the backs of France and other nations in the League. You cannot set about a policy of encouraging secretly or permitting or authorising the re-armament of the German military forces and at the same time expect the other 50 nations in the League to believe in your bona fides, to believe that you stand for collective security and peace through collective securities.
I have one or two questions I would like to ask some right hon. Gentleman who gets up to reply, if not to-night, at some later date for the Government. I should like him, if he would be good enough, to tell us what is the attitude of the Government to oil sanctions. Is it the case that the Anglo-Egyptian oil refinery at Suez for months past has been supplying its total output of benzol, petrol and lubricating oil, packed in tins and drums, to the Italian Army? Is it the case that they are working night and day? Is it the case that they have taken on extra hands to supply the Italian Army with this necessary military sanction, because oil is undoubtedly a military sanction. If we ask who the Anglo-Egyptian oil refinery are, as we are entitled to, we discover an amazing state of affairs. We discover first of all that Anglo-Egyptian Oil Fields, Limited, is managed by a concern called the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company Limited; that Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company, Limited, along with Anglo-Persian, or Anglo-Iranian now, owns all the capital 250 of a concern called Consolidated Petroleum. Consolidated Petroleum is owned jointly by Anglo-Persian and Anglo-Saxon, each owning about 50 per cent. of the shares. Consolidated Petroleum in turn is an organisation owning shares in trading companies in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, the Sudan, Aden and the Red Sea.
In other words, this is the organisation which is supplying and is in the best position for supplying Mussolini's army with the necessary oil and petroleum supplies which we are for the moment discussing. Anglo-Persian or Anglo-Iranian has British Government directors upon its board. Official representatives of His Majesty's Government sit on the Board of Control. Further, the chairman of Consolidated Petroleum is a director of 73 companies, 71 of these companies being oil concerns, and when we come to analyse this great organisation controlling the oil supplies of the Near East, so far as Italy is concerned, we discover a state of affairs which compels us to ask His Majesty's Government for a full and frank statement before this Debate ends on its real attitude to the arming and the strengthening and the fuelling of the army which has been declared an aggressor army, and which in other directions we are informed His Majesty's Government are seeking to obstruct.
I should not like any misunderstanding of my attitude or of the attitude of my friends on this side on this matter. I believe that since June of this year the Lord Privy Seal, the Foreign Secretary, and indeed most Members opposite, have come genuinely to the conclusion that only by a collective peace system can the world get free from the horrors of militarism. But we also see sinister influences operating in the Press, doing their utmost to crab the operation of effective sanctions, and these sinister influences we trace back in some degree at any rate to the great oil corporations, to the mass plutocracy which we find embedded there, and the Opposition will take an early opportunity of doing its utmost in this House and elsewhere of exposing the machinations of a gang who are undoubtedly making fabulous profits out of the prospective misery of every section in this land.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite who believed that war was not near, so far as we are concerned. The 251 last war never was paid for and never will be paid for. We pay the interest on our debt. But there is no means of paying off the capital cost of the last war. No other war will ever be paid for. If hon. Gentlemen in this House persist in supporting a system which might ultimately lead to war, if we have to expend our resources on preparation for war and have war, we can rest assured that the cost of that war will never be met. Whatever the rights or wrongs of a dispute may be, however a war may end militarily, financially it means disaster and ruin to every section in this land.
Out of every pound that we raise in taxation, 11s. goes to pay the cost of past wars—interest, service pensions and so forth. Another 3s. goes in preparation for the next war—Army, Navy and Air Force budgets—making a total of 14s. out of every £. Thus 6s. is left for all purposes of peace, for all social services, for the administration of police, education, housing and health. If we impinge on that 6s. in this Parliament, if we add to the military burdens, however those burdens may be temporarily disguised by means of loans, we weaken the structure of peace. I believe that war settles nothing. The Franco-Prussian War ended with the Uhlans galloping through the streets of Paris. Provinces were taken from France and an indemnity extracted from her but that did not bring peace. It sowed the seeds of another war which duly arrived in 1914. This time the French and their allies won, militarily. This time black troops camped on the Rhine. This time provinces and colonies were taken from Germany. This time an indemnity was exacted or sought to be exacted from Germany. But that did not bring peace. Only a few years after that war German militarism is stronger than ever, the tramp of armed men is heard all over Europe and the nations are groaning under militarist burdens.
If in this House we permit preparations for the settlement of future disputes between nations to be made on the basis of militarism, we get nowhere. We achieve no peace. For my part I would welcome, at the expense of any party advantage, any steps taken by His Majesty's Government to strengthen the collective peace system in the world, to abandon militarism and to cancel even now the preparations 252 which we know they are making for re-armament. Your re-armament will not stop air raids. You spend £250,000,000 as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) proposed, on re-armament and other nations will spend £251,000,000. You spend £252,000,000 and they will go to £253,000,000. Both sides pile up expenditure and ten years hence your ratio will be what it is now. All you will have done will have been to squander resources that ought to have been spent on the re-creation of a civilised life, and on bettering the conditions of all the people. Surely at this time of day we ought to have something better from the Government than the proposals which are now being discussed for the essaying of a new competition in armaments.
So far as His Majesty's Opposition are concerned, we take our stand upon the collective security system. We need not for the moment discuss the precise methods of getting there; we shall have other opportunities of doing that. I should like to see greater attention paid to propaganda for an international police force, and I should like to see a tribunal of equity set up to settle disputes between nations where there is no law now to act as a guide, something to supplement the peace conferences at the Hague and the Hague Tribunal. At any rate, whether we be right or wrong in our methods, the Opposition take the stand that through militarism there can come no peace, that through militarism there can come only death and destruction, and we most earnestly trust that His Majesty's Government will use every effort in their power to strengthen the collective peace system and to abandon militarism as a method. There are certain steps to be taken, we think, at once, but at the moment it is imperative that the Government should prevent the oil ring under their own control from supplying the armies of Mussolini with the necessary fuelling for their aeroplanes, their tanks, and their mechanised sections, a fuelling which was described by Sir Arthur Salter the other day in the "Times" as the most important, the most necessary thing that Mussolini can get. Sir Arthur Salter said, "Stop the oil fuelling of Mussolini's mechanised armies, and you compel peace by the world boycott." A new era, a new chance for the children of men, can then come.
§ 10.24 p.m.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I confess that when I entered the House this evening it had not occurred to me that I should attempt to add any contribution to the Debate, but the speech to which we have just listened calls, I think, for some prompt observations. We are all glad, on personal grounds, to see the right hon. Gentleman back in the House again, but I cannot help thinking that he has really been playing the part of Rip Van Winkle during the intervening period, because he seems to have overlooked the fact that His Majesty's Government in the last four years have transformed what was really only a visionary ideal when he left the House into something which now is a living reality, a reality which commands the enthusiasm of the people of all sections of the country at the present time. When the right hon. Gentleman last graced the House of Commons with his presence, the League of Nations had really not become a sentient force in this country at all. It is due to His Majesty's Government that it has really become a thing that people think about and rely upon and repose their confidence in. It has won the confidence of large masses of people that the right hon. Gentleman and his party have not been able to reach at all. He was talking a few moments ago about "as heretofore."
Has the right hon. Gentleman forgotten that the one great collective peace effort of the last four years was the dissolving of the angry situation in the Saar, which was entirely due to the efforts of His Majesty's Government? It was a matter in which they took the lead of the nations in Europe and which transformed all the gas and wind that had been talked about an international police force into a reality. The right hon. Gentleman has indeed been a Rip Van Winkle in the last four years. Has he forgotten the efforts that His Majesty's Government made in the dispute between Bolivia and Paraguay? That occurred while he was hibernating in his Scottish fastnesses, nursing the constituency which we congratulate on having returned him to the House of Commons. Has he forgotten the dissolution of the tension between Yugoslavia and Hungary and the part that His Majesty's Government played? I venture to think that the present policy of the Government represents not a departure, 254 but a continuity of the policy which has been pursued with great difficulty and without adequate support from the party opposite continuously throughout the past four years.
It is really to point out a patent contradiction in the right hon. Gentleman's speech that I rose. He talked about, and paid lip-service to, the collective peace system. If the collective peace system means anything, it means a collective effort to achieve peace by co-ordinated means. How could that be reconciled with efforts by His Majesty's Government to effect a unilateral attack upon the oil situation? How could it be reconciled with a one-sided attempt by His Majesty's Government to prevent the supply of oil to Italy? It is obviously a contradiction in terms, and when the right hon. Gentleman suggests that His Majesty's Government should bring pressure, as he put it, to bear upon the oil ring which controls the supply of oil to Italy, he is advocating and supporting something Which is the antithesis of the peace system which we are supporting. Collective peace, if it involves anything, involves the collective application of sanctions, the collective working out of methods, and not a single-handed attempt at what would be a very ineffective blockade on the part of this country alone.
The right hon. Gentleman went back then to 1932 and blamed the Government for not having taken steps in regard to the Japanese situation in the Far East. As he spoke as the mouthpiece of the Labour party, no doubt he will be able to tell me—and I shall be delighted to resume my seat while he explains to an interested House—what the Labour party would have done vis-à-vis Japan in 1932. I will at once resume my seat if any explanation can be given by him or by any responsible representative of the Labour party as to what their attitude would have been in 1932 if they had had supreme responsibility. We heard at that time a great many bellicose speeches, none more bellicose, I think, than that from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), who no longer graces the Front Bench, but now adorns Mount Carmel, and whom I am sorry I do not see in the House now. At that time he was all in favour of a policy which undoubtedly would have involved the 255 gravest possible consequences in the Far East, but at the Trade Union Congress, in that salubrious resort to which they repair, and in which they disagreed not so very long ago, there was a complete departure from that policy, and there was, on the other hand, only the advocacy of turning the other cheek, even if it be the other fellow's cheek.
As regards Japan, it is in my belief quite obvious that to have put upon the League of Nations in 1932 the strain of a decision as to what should occur in the Far East would have gone very far towards rupturing its usefulness for the purposes of collective peace. We live in a world of realities, and I personally believe that the real reason why the League of Nations has been able to give some effective support to the collective peace system at the present time is that the material force of Britain has been sufficient for the League to rely upon. If it had not been for the fact that we could put an adequate defence force in the Mediterranean I do not believe for one moment that the League of Nations would be having the success it is having at the present time; and it is precisely because we were unable to do that in the Far East that it would have been unwise in the extreme and unfair to this, what after all is—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
But what success has this League of Nations been having? I have been waiting to hear that.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
If the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) cannot recognise that it is a success to have galvanised 40 or 50 nations into self-sacrifices for the purpose of preventing a friendly nation from going to war I do not know whether he will ever recognise success, even if it be under his nose. It is one of the greatest triumphs, but a triumph to which my hon. Friend's imagination has not yet leapt. Up to the last four years there has been no occasion upon which the system of aggregating the peace-loving nations against an aggressor has ever really been tried. Now it has been tried. You have got them together. You have got 40 or 50 nations, with entirely different outlooks, punishing their own people, demanding great sacrifices of their own 256 people, and curtailing their trade; and ready to do all this, under the guidance and leadership of Britain, in order to enforce an abstract principle. If that is not a successful proceeding I do not know what could be se regarded.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
It is worth while reminding hon. and right hon. Members of this. In my opinion the Abyssinian-Italian war would have been over at the present moment under the pre-war system that we maintained. Supposing that we had been disposed to utilise the method of the balance of power, maintaining forces in our hands and throwing in our weight upon the side that we chose to support, we could have truncated that situation. We were quite strong enough, and still are quite strong enough, to prevent war between Italy and Abyssinia. But we have abandoned that method, and that is perhaps the most signal contribution we have made to the collective system. We have abandoned it, and in lieu of doing that we have made our contribution by collective discussion—doing the exact opposite of what the right hon. Gentleman wanted to do a moment ago—not by cutting off oil supplies but by sitting down in the council chamber with the League and trying to get the other nations to come in and say what they would do, with us, to enforce a really collective mandate upon the nation which has broken the Treaty. That is a departure, but it is a departure which, like other departures, is in the nature of an experiment, and we have to see how this experiment works out.
It is a real testing time for the League. Can the League do something which we indeed would undoubtedly have done ourselves? That is the real test we impose upon ourselves at the present time. If the League can do it—and I believe it will do it—that will be a triumph against what hon. Gentlemen opposite persist in calling power politics. It will be an indication that there is a method which, although new, is more effective than the method that prevailed up to 1914. I believe this method will prevail, but I do not believe it will prevail if we are to be exhorted to do what the right hon. Gentleman opposite was exhorting us to do a moment ago, namely, 257 play a lone hand and to go back in fact, if not in express intention, to the very method which he and his party were loudest of all in condemning.
For that reason I very much regret the speech that the right hon. Gentleman made a moment ago. I hope that it does not represent the considered opinion of the Labour party, and that we shall have their support in giving to His Majesty's Government the support and enthusiasm which I believe they enjoy in large measure in the general opinion of all parties throughout the country. It is because hon. and right hon. Gentlemen from the other side of the House have never understood the great waves of public opinion, but have segregated themselves in little compartments and have attached themselves to doctrines, nostrums and catchwords which really do not appeal to the people of this country, that they have never had with them any flux of public opinion. They have had little ripples of the tide that have brought in some old faces here and there, and have, so to speak, re-populated benches which were unfortunately decimated in the last Parliament, but there is nothing to show that there has been any tide of enthusiasm. That is because they have attached themselves so much to slogans and to catchwords. I beg them to forget them, and to come in with us, if they can, to help us on an issue which is not a party issue, but one which is going to decide in this Parliament whether Britain is to maintain the lead for peace which I believe she has established at the present moment.
§ 10.38 p.m.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
Like the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) I came into the House to-night without any intention of addressing it. I listened with amazement to his statement that the Government had translated the conception of the League of Nations from a visionary ideal into a practical reality. He accused the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last from these benches of being something of a Rip Van Winkle. The speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman rather showed that he is something of a Rip Van Winkle because it is only a few months ago that the Prime Minister, speaking at Glasgow, said, in effect, that the collective peace system was not a practical proposition. Of course, subsequent 258 to that speech, came the result of the peace ballot in which, we were told, more than 11,000,000 persons, prospective voters, had definitely taken their stand in support of the collective peace system which the Prime Minister had said was not a practical proposition. It is an extraordinary thing that although, during the past four years, the Government, the hon. and learned Gentleman has told us, have transformed the League of Nations into a living reality, it was not until the four years were nearly over that the Government took one practical step of any importance to indicate to the country and to the world that they believed that the League of Nations was a practical proposition.
So far as the Manchukuo question is concerned, the hon. and learned Gentleman has asked Members on this side of the House whether they do not believe that, if the League of Nations had taken a firm stand in 1932, it would not have ruptured the fabric of the League. That is one of those questions that those of us who belong to the legal profession are very apt to ask. It is one of those questions that cannot be answered, for the simple reason that nothing was done in 1932 which would have enabled us to answer the question. I suggest to the hon. and learned Gentleman that, if we had taken a firm stand in the early days of 1932, before Japan had taken such action as to prevent her, without losing a good deal of her prestige, from withdrawing from Manchukuo—if the representatives of this country had taken their courage in their hands and made it as plain to Japan in 1932 as they did in 1935 in the case of Italy—we have as much reason to expect that Japan would have seen the error of her ways as the hon. and learned Gentleman has to expect that she would not. At any rate we should have had the satisfaction of having demonstrated to the world that we in this country were prepared to give a lead to the League of Nations, whether or not the other member States would have followed us.
There is one other point to which I should like to refer. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Gentleman meant it, but he said that we were still strong enough to impose our will upon Italy if we desired to take unilateral action, that is to say, outside the collective peace system. Like other Members 259 of the House, I have just fought an election, and I read time and again, in speeches by representatives of the Government party, that one thing that was demonstrably clear at the present time was the necessity for strengthening our armaments. It is an extraordinary thing that at one minute the hon. and learned Gentleman says we are still strong enough, so far as armaments are concerned, to impose our will upon one of the most powerful nations in the world, and yet in the same breath we are told that the most urgent necessity for this country is to fill the gaps in our armaments and rebuild as we did in the bad old days before 1914. I hope that, if this new-found faith on the part of the Government in the collective peace system means anything at all, they will realise, as they must realise, that it cannot be just as necessary for us to have the same strength of armaments as it was two or three years ago, before the Prime Minister had discovered this faith in the practicability of the collective peace system.
It cannot he just as necessary to have powerful armaments with a practicable collective peace system as it was years ago before that system had been found to be practicable. I hope that at any rate those of us on these benches who fought the last election in opposition to any attempt on the part of this country to lead the world into an armament race will do all that we can—it may not be very much in view of the number of votes that we have—to show the Prime Minister the error of his ways on this question and that, with his unrivalled authority in the councils of the Government he will indicate to the world that we are going to take the risks of peace, that we are going to change our policy, that we are going to give other nations an opportunity of getting round the council table at Geneva, that we are going to do everything we can to retrace our steps and to save our civilisation, not by increasing our armaments and setting an example which will be followed by all other counrties in the world, but by taking the risks of peace to which he referred some months ago, and by setting the example, not of increasing, but, if necessary, of reducing our armaments. Then we shall be able, if the world does not follow, to say that we at any rate 260 have done our best to stabilise our peace system, and then, but not till then, will be the time to talk about increasing our armaments.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Sir FRANCIS FREMANTLE
I should like to say a few words on a part of the Gracious Speech about which we have not heard much in the speeches to which we have been listening. A right hon. Gentleman on the front Opposition Bench a short time ago spoke as if our armaments were intended purely and solely for destructive purposes. One has to realise that there is another side to the question of armaments. We recognise the great difficulty of employing our young men usefully. There are very few ways in which you could so usefully employ the time of young men between 18 and 23 as by allowing them to serve in the armed forces. Although the expenditure on our defence forces is a heavy burden, incidentally it is probably as good a form of physical recreation and education as could be devised. We are all considering the question of the difficulty of providing physical education and training for unemployed young men. We are all agreed as to the difficulty of finding some form of physical and educational improvement which does not actually sicken them by its repetition, its routine, and its apparent meaninglessness. In the Army as it is nowadays, with its educational trend, or in the Navy, and not least of all in the Air Force, with the great enterprise and courage that is involved, you have really a discipline and an object which is invaluable for these men and which, I believe, helps to relieve the unemployment situation as well as, if not better than, all the other definite physical training systems, which are obviously very much desired on both sides of the House.
It is obviously a great advantage that we have in the Gracous Speech a very definite promise of attention to the physical education of the people. Those who are concerned with the physical improvement of the people know how very difficult it is to get an improvement in these matters from the very fact that it is dull work and it is difficult to interest people for any length of time in what is called physical education. However, new ideas are being brought forward. There is one started by and in the name of a 261 former Member of the House, Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth. There is a Lucas-Tooth gymnasium in Tooley Street for the benefit of unemployed men from the Northern coalfields and unemployed areas. I am told that the improvement in these men is something extraordinary during the time that they are there. This is bringing a new phase of educational training into the field. Instead of being a mere dull system of gymnastics it is work that is amusing to them and really recreative, and as they get used to it during the months they are there it is of enormous value. I hope that will be taken in hand, and that it will be of advantage to our educational system. I believe that the approaches between the educational authorities and that gymnasium up to the present have not been very helpful. I hope that the Board of Education and the local authorities may be able to make use of that extremely valuable new enterprise in Tooley Street.
There are other paragraphs in the Gracious Speech which deal with the health of the people, and from our point of view that is a notable improvement, for in most Gracious speeches there has been little if any reference to these important matters. I hope that in the general improvement of the school medical arrangements the greatest possible care will be taken to co-ordinate the system of school medical work in the general medical provisions for the health of the people, not merely during school age but afterwards, and that we shall get a continuity of inspection and assistance. The gap before school life has now been largely filled, and I hope that the other gap between school life and the employment age will now be filled.
There is one point I was sorry to see not included, and which I hope will be included in effect. It is an appalling sight to many of us to see how enormous areas of the countryside are being covered with street after street of the same kind of houses, and that no consideration seems to be given to putting them on a proper town planning basis. There is no allusion here to the bringing of town planning schemes into force at once, while all this building is going on. In my own constituency, where the electorate has increased by 21 per cent. during the last four years, hillsides are being covered with ordinary houses and yet there is not a single hall or place in which men may 262 meet—still less for a meeting, as we found during this Election—or for community purposes. That is very bad for the people. There is nothing to bring them together where they are being housed and there is no community life. You are simply repeating the gradual growth of suburbs which has been the bugbear of the growth of London outwards during the past century, and which with all the legislation we have had should have been prevented. Why are these great areas of housing going up without being properly planned?
I hope the Ministry of Health will be able to get a move on with the local authorities and see that a plan is arranged and quickly brought into action while there is time and that in any case they will be able to see to it, either by circular to local authorities or otherwise, that whenever any large estate is being developed provision should be made, or some site reserved in advance of town planning areas, for community buildings of one sort or another. Churches, chapels and schools are, by degrees, being erected in these places, but often it is not until after the land has gone up in price and the developments have taken place. I hope that the efforts now being made by the churches to meet the needs of new housing areas will be effective, and that they will be helped more than has hitherto been the case by local authorities responsible for the planning of their district.
I want to add my voice to the hopeful expectation of the Measure to be introduced with regard to an organised service of salaried midwives. It is a very difficult subject. It is easy enough for us all to assent to that pronouncement, but the difficulties will be before us when the Measure is introduced. I had the privilege of helping to put into operation the first Midwives Act, 1902, and consequently for 33 years I have watched the difficulties, and the advantages of the working of this provision, which is so vital to the whole community and requires considerable strengthening and helping, as is proposed in the Gracious Speech. The subject raises many thorny issues including the whole question of a salaries service and how far the State is to support any one profession however useful. How far will it be possible to get an arrangement partly under the local authorities and 263 in co-operation with the voluntary associations so as not to spoil voluntary effort? I know that a certain section of political opinion is adverse to the use of voluntary effort and considers that voluntary effort or private enterprise is not the solution of these problems. I hope, at the same time, our hon. Friends on the opposite benches will recognise the necessity, from the point of view of expediency, of using the organisations which are in existence at the present time.
Maternity is an extraordinarily difficult and intricate matter and of great importance to the nation, and especially at the time of confinement the intimate and personal service of private voluntary associations is of the very first importance. I hope, therefore, that we shall manage to make every effort, quite apart from our political principles, to secure co-operation between the local 264 organisations and local authorities on the one hand, and private organisations, such as county and borough nursing associations, which have done excellent work. If we can get that co-ordination, I hope that all parties in the House will join in giving an unopposed passage to the Bill, so that it may become law before we rise for the summer holidays.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Sir G. Penny.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.