§ [SECOND DAY.]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [26th October]:
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."—[Captain Balfour.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood
After a day's reflection on the King's Speech, I think the views held on this side of the House are gloomier than they were when we first heard it read. There have been many bad King's Speeches but this one will surely come into the category of the worst. It is a thing of rags and patches; it is a crazy quilt, made up of oddments of all sizes and shapes. It is not even a decent jig-saw puzzle, out of which at least it would be possible to make a coherent picture. It consists of odds and ends, some of which may be acceptable to the House but which are no alternative to a coherent and constructive Government policy. The Speech is a series of unrelated proposals, mostly of a minor kind. There seem to be two threads which tie the members of the Government together. The first is the primitive instinct of self-preservation which is very highly developed among the members of the Government. They have preserved a unity on the surface because of their desire for self-preservation, and in the full knowledge of the fact that—to quote the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) about another Government—"if they do not hang together they will hang separately."
The second thread which runs through all the actions of this Government is a thread of strong Conservatism, which explains a good many of those actions and also explains much that is omitted from the King's Speech. There is, at 88 least, unity in the Government's devotion to the economic system which they have been sent here to serve. These two threads exist—let it be admitted—but, apart from them, there is nothing in the King's Speech which would give any intelligent reader of it the shadow of an idea that the Government are pursuing a coherent policy. Complacency oozes from every sentence of it. But it is not so much what is in the Speech. The important thing, the significant thing, is what is omitted from it, and to those points I shall make reference presently. I do not propose to say a great deal about foreign affairs, but whoever drafted this formal statement about relations with foreign Powers continuing to be friendly, must have done so with his tongue in his cheek. For it is perfectly clear that if relations with foreign Powers are as friendly as they are said to be, they have become friendly very largely by capitulations of moral principle. On Spain, again, the draftsman must have had his tongue in his cheek. The Government say theybelieve that a strict application of the international policy of non-intervention in Spain will materially contribute to this end"—"this end" being peace among the Spanish people. What it means is the international policy of "non-non-intervention" which this Government has weakly accepted, and still persists in accepting. We are in a tragic situation. I say "we" because we cannot absolve ourselves from moral responsibility with regard to the treatment of refugees from Spain. I think every citizen who read the First Lord's statement in the House last night, must feel revolted. That speech deserves the complete contempt of all decent-minded people. It was a speech which was a disgrace to the cause of our common humanity. It showed a callous disregard for the loss of human life which is a shame to this House. I do not wish my indignation to run away with me—there have been occasions when I have got near the edge—but it is undoubtedly true that the speech made in this House last night, reflects no credit on the humanity of the Government.
Now I come to the first of the great omissions. Every year since 1931 in the King's Speech presented to this House by the National Government lip-service has been paid to the League of Nations. It is significant that there is no reference to it 89 in the present Speech. Year after year, the National Government have declared the League of Nations to be the very basis of our national policy. We on this side of the House have long suspected the good faith of the Government. Now we know the truth. Our suspicions are confirmed, We know the temper of hon. Members on the other side. We heard to-day, when an hon. Member asked a question with reference to the Shanghai incident and the League of Nations how it was treated with jeers on the other side. We know now that all these statements that have been repeatedly made and the attempt by the late Prime Minister to capitalise for electoral purposes the result of the Peace Ballot—we know now that all these were the acts of fraudulent people.
If the Government are prepared to sacrifice the League of Nations, they will be guilty of the gravest possible crime. The history of the last six years is not a happy one. Weakly they have acquiesced in the destruction of the League as an effective force, and they now, by this significant omission, cast it to the wolves. It is not merely treachery to the League of Nations; it is double-dyed treachery. The Government, whose personnel has been fairly constant in the last six years, resigned, six years ago, all claims to the moral leadership of the world. During these years they have just lapsed into fatalism, expecting nothing out of constructive efforts and relying solely on the possible power of arms. That brings me to a few sentences about defence. From what I have already said, it will be perfectly clear that we, on this side of the House, have no good opinion of the foreign policy of this Government. The considered statement that we have made about defence does not mean that we are "Yes"-men to the National Government. That, I think, ought to be made perfectly clear. I should not like the Government to be under any illusion that we are likely to fall in behind the Government banner.
What, however, I wish to speak about primarily are the references in the King's Speech to home affairs. There is a certain amount of social legislation, which no doubt will be of some value. There are cryptic references to housing, on which I think we might wish to have a little more explicit statement from the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health when he speaks. Yesterday the 90 Chancellor of the Exchequer, with that smug satisfaction which we always expect from him when he speaks in the House, referred to the state of trade in these very cogent terms, pregnant with unmeaning:The improvement which has taken place in the economic position of this country set in five or six years ago gradually; it has developed since and has certainly continued in this present year. I do not think there is any solid ground for saying that on the whole there is any palpable indication that this progress will be arrested."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th October, 1937; col. 25, Vol. 328.]I am prepared to take up this argument, and indeed that is the reason why I raise the matter. The fundamentals of our economic life remain what they were. [Laughter.] Hon. Members think this amusing, but it happens to be true, and unless you begin to think about taking steps now, and get your steps ready, nothing can prevent a trade slump in the next three years. I said that a few weeks ago, and the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer both pooh-poohed it in public speeches. They know that it is bound to come. What is the evidence of change in recent years to prevent this psychological fear, which has already been witnessed this week on Wall Street? What evidence is there that that is not going to come again?
§ Mr. Greenwood
That is a very valuable contribution. When the world's rearmament race finishes, what will happen? There will be a bigger hole to fill up then than there was at the end of the last great War. Of course, a trade slump is inevitable, and it is no good pretending that it is not. It is no good persuading people that they are living in a paradise without any end, and I see no signs of the Government making any kind of reference to what, after all, is a very important problem. Those civil servants who advise the Government know perfectly well that before very long there is bound to be a trade depression as bad as anything remembered within living memory. [An HON. MEMBER: "Oh!"] Time will prove. Another very significant omission from the Gracious Speech is any reference to unemployment. The right hon. Gentleman last night, when he replied, did the usual thing by saying that there are more people at work than there were last year. Well, as I 91 have said in this House before, there are a lot more people at work now than there were in the days of Queen Anne, and that is no argument. The truth is, that at this time we still have over 1,300,000 people unemployed in this country, and it is not a sufficiently important problem for the Government to notice in the King's Speech. It is not a new problem to them. It will be remembered that the Prime Minister in 1933 spoke about the possibility of 10 years of unemployment, and then he explained that speech away in the House of Commons on 22nd March, 1933, in these words:I did not mean to say that we could not expect good times for 10 years. I did not mean to say that there would be no reduction in unemployment for 10 years. What I did mean to say was, that as prosperity came back again we should not be able to employ the same number of people in producing the same number of articles as we could have done, say, 10 years ago or before the introduction of these new industrial or mechanical devices. This statement should be repeated. It is not everybody who agrees with it. There are some who say that an adjustment will take place so rapidly that it does not present any really serious problem. I cannot make up my mind to accept that view."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd March, 1933; col. 380, Vol. 276.]Four and a-half years ago the present Prime Minister, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, accepted our analysis of the economic situation, that because of increasing rationalisation and mechanisation there is no prospect for the re-employment of that standing army of people, and yet, in the very first year that he becomes Prime Minister, the problem becomes so insignificant that it is not even mentioned in the King's Speech. Nor is there any mention of the distressed areas. Has their distress vanished? Are they now sharing in this wave of prosperity? They are still there as black and bleak as ever—but not one word. We are entitled to ask whether the Government have said the last word about distressed areas. When they called them "Special" Areas—that neutral word—that did not dispose of the problem. Their very small contributions towards the solution of the problem did not go down to the roots of it. The distressed areas stand to-day as the biggest economic canker that is destroying this country, and yet there is not a word in the King's Speech about them as if they were forgotten.
92 Nor is there any reference to the rising cost of living. I do not propose to enter into that subject at any length; otherwise, I should be prepared to prove that a good deal of that rise in the cost of living is due directly to Government policy. There are many items in the policy of the Government whch have contributed to this soaring price level. The Government have taken no steps to deal with it. They dare not. They dare not rob the profiteers of their ill-gotten gains. They have not the moral courage to do it. Everybody knows that the rearmament programme has put millions of pounds into the pockets of pure speculators. That will not be denied on the other side of the House. Everybody knows that the rise in the prices of everything connected with rearmament is bound to be reflected in the homes of the poor. That cannot be denied. The Government told us when they first introduced their rearmament programme that all steps would be taken to eliminate unnecessary profits. Not a single thing has been done effectively, and the result is that the Government have succeeded in degrading the standard of life of all people with fixed incomes. They are slowly depressing the standard of life of the old age pensioner and the widow. They are depressing the standard of life of every worker who is unable to force action which will enable him to keep his same real wages. And not a reference to this problem in the King's Speech.
When the rearmament proposals were before the House I said that the people of this country would not merely have to pay through their taxes, but that they would have to pay through increased prices and through a degradation of their standard of life. That is already happening, and the Government do not even deign to notice that this problem is now gravely afflicting every working class home. We are told that it is only a penny in the shilling—told that by a man with a salary of £5,000 a year. A penny in the shilling to an unemployed person, to an agricultural worker, to an old age pensioner or a widow is more than 5s. in the pound to a man who is drawing a Cabinet Minister's salary. I grieve to think that the Government are so neglectful of the interests of the masses of our people that they do not think this problem of the rising cost of living worth one word of notice in the King's Speech.
93 Then, again, there is no mention of malnutrition. It is an awkward word for the Government. It is an ugly word. It is a word with a very ugly meaning. Everybody on that side of the House minimises the problem or refuses to admit its existtence. We have attempts made, inspired from Government quarters, to throw cold water on the conclusions reached by Sir John Orr. I will, therefore, quote a Government document, the report, which the right hon. Gentleman knows very well, published by the Ministry of Health in 1932 on diet in Poor Law children's homes. The report deals with the properly balanced diet needed for children having regard for the need for this, that and the other kind of food. They reached a conclusion that in an institution with 200 children, where all the provisions are provided at contract prices, for feeding alone an expenditure of 4s. 6½d. per child per week was necessary.
Let hon. Members look into their own constituencies and find the number of working people where the housewife can spend 4s. 6½d. per week on each of her children in food alone. Let them remember that the housewife cannot provide on a scale of contract prices for 200. She has to buy in small quantities. That diet laid down as essential cannot be bought under 5s. 6d. per week, I do not care how expert the wife is. Let hon. Members think in those circumstances whether malnutrition is a reality or not. Its existence cannot be denied. If figures mean anything at all, whatever you may do by skilful purchasing, by skilful cooking, even by descending to cold carrots and water—whatever may be done in these ways, working class incomes will not enable working class families to live at a proper standard of physical efficiency. And yet mal-nutrition is not mentioned in the King's Speech.
It is not merely that the Government are shirking the real issues; they are trying to pretend that they are not there. They prefer to ignore them because they are so awkward and so difficult for them. The really big home problems which affect every family in this country are the recurrence of slumps, bad trade depressions, chronic unemployment—which is admitted by the Prime Minister as a problem—distressed areas, fluctuating prices, and malnutrition in a community perfectly capable of preventing it. These are the real problems, and there is not 94 a word in the King's Speech about them. The Government dare not face them, because they sit there to uphold a system under which these things are inevitable. Under the present organisation of industry and commerce they cannot eliminate slumps or chronic unemployment, except by bringing the standard of life down to the coolie level. They cannot get rid of this problem of the distressed areas; they cannot, they dare not, deal with the problem of fluctuating prices; they cannot deal with the problem of malnutrition.
§ Mr. Greenwood
It is not my King's Speech. As every Member knows, these are grave social and economic problems, which this country must solve. I am saying that they cannot be solved within the four corners of that system which this Government came into this House to defend at the last election, because it is only by the application of principles and policies which are at complete variance with the principles of the existing order that we can deal with them. Therefore, from our point of view, the King's Speech is not merely a feeble fiasco; it is a document instinct with cowardice in every word, a document which shows that the Government are always ready to place behind them those ugly, lowering problems which cause go per cent. of the unhappiness in the working-class homes of this country.
Personally, I never expected a better King's Speech than this from this Government. It is about as good as we could reasonably expect them to give us. Human nature being what it is, I did not expect anything better, but from the point of view of my hon. Friends and myself it is a document which will, before the next General Election, lead this Government into a position whereby they will have lost public confidence. I can understand a Tory Government fumbling with problems, trying to make an attempt to deal with them. What is unpardonable, what is unforgivable, is that the major problems of the day are ignored in the King's Speech, and the fact that they are so ignored is a fact which will come home to roost, which will reflect no credit on this Government, and which may help on the time when we are able to turn our backs on this National Government 95 and have one which at least, whatever its faults may be, will be able to deal with them. In this Session we shall hold the Government down to these major problems which they are ignoring now. I have not mentioned them to make a debating speech, but in order to indicate that on these benches we are going to fight for the real thing, those problems which I have outlined. The Government have no reply; we shall await the verdict elsewhere.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Sir Kingsley Wood)
The right hon. Gentleman opposite has made a familiar and characteristic speech. He has, no doubt, employed part of his summer vacation in looking up a few more adjectives in the dictionary, but, as usual, we have had very few constructive suggestions from him. The impression that I gained from his speech was one which, I think, the House generally accepted yesterday, and that is that it is already evident that the Opposition have little or nothing to say in criticism of the substantial Measures in the Gracious Speech. Criticism there may be on details, but in the difficult task which the right hon. Gentleman has had this afternoon, of making bricks without straw he has had to fall back, as I myself know, on the last resources of an Opposition—forebodings as to the future, general but very vague phrases as to their own ideas of how the ills of the world can be cured, and ill-founded complaints as to the extent of the policy and programme of the Government. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying that I have noticed that he and his friends not only conceal many of their own differences, but would have us believe that the troubles of the world can be settled by more or less pious aspirations, which they accompany by generalities and words and phrases.
So far as the omissions from the Gracious Speech of which they complain are concerned, it is obvious that even a King's Speech has its necessary limitations. I should say that the best evidence of the Government's attitude to the League of Nations, for instance, is that, as all the world knows, our foreign policy is based upon membership of the League and that this country to-day remains one of its chief mainstays; and I think it will 96 be accepted that there is no Foreign Secretary who has shown such devotion to, and unvarying service on behalf of, the League as the present holder of that office. As to the right hon. Gentleman's complaint about the absence of references to the unemployed the best evidence of the Government's concern for their welfare is found not in phrases but in facts—the fact that during the last two years a further 1,000,000 workers have obtained employment, and that the number of insured persons in employment is only slightly less than the record figure; and there is the promise to them, as reference to the King's Speech will show, and as was mentioned yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that trade and industry are steadily expanding in this country.
I must say that I was amazed at one expression which the right hon. Gentleman used—and here, I think, he a little overreached himself, as hon. Members who sit with him will even agree—when he said that the distressed areas were as black and bleak as ever. That is untrue. Anyone who has been to the distressed areas will testify that in many respects there has been a considerable improvement in many of the conditions there. I visited many of those areas in the vacation, and I have seen real evidence of considerable improvement. I was looking while the right hon. Gentleman was speaking at what has recently been done. I find, for instance, that the financial commitments of the Commissioner for England and Wales at the end of August for these areas amounted to the very considerable sum of over £11,000,000. I find that so far as industry is concerned his commitment reached over £3,000,000. For health services, in which I am particularly interested, he has committed himself to the furtherance of projects amounting to £3,800,000. For housing, considerable assistance has already been given by him. Altogether there are visible signs, with all that has already been achieved, that there is considerable improvement. I could go on and illustrate that further by the trading estates that have been established—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on!"]—and matters of that kind, but I will content myself by saying again—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on!"] I repeat that I will content myself with saying this afternoon that the assertion that the distressed areas 97 are as black and as bleak as ever, certainly will not be accepted by anyone who lives there.
A reference was made by the right hon. Gentleman to certain omissions in the King's Speech, and I will deal with the more important of them at a little later stage, but I would like to congratulate him upon an omission which I note he has made this afternoon. I know of no complaint about it, and I congratulate him upon it. Last year the right hon. Gentleman sponsored the Labour Amendment which asked us to approve of the establishment in this country of a Socialist Commonwealth, a fundamental change in the basis of society. The right hon. Gentleman is growing in wisdom and modesty, for there are no such proposals on the Order Paper to-day. I have no doubt that he has realised that the capitalist system in this country is steadily growing. by the addition of hundreds of thousands of small investors, even during the last 12 months, capitalism is growing, and the country has no use or wish for a Socialist State. I should like to commend the right hon. Gentleman also, for T like to commend him when I can, for the brief reference—I confess I did not quite fully understand it—which he made to the steps which the Government are taking for the defence of the country. He in no way endeavoured by those references this afternoon to whittle away the assent which, I understand, has been given, and which was expressed in the Labour policy declaration that a Labour Government would unhesitatingly retain such armed forces as are necessary to defend our country and to fulfil our obligations as a member of the British Commonwealth and of the League of Nations.
That is right, even from the Labour point of view. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), who was the Chairman of the late Labour Conference, pointed out that it was inconsistent in one breath to call for the denunciation of the Non-Intervention Agreement and for the supply of British arms to Spain, and in the next breath to oppose British rearmament and to crab recruiting. We certainly hope and expect, from the point of view of the country, that we may look for that declaration being put into action, and that when the Defence Estimates come before the House we shall not have abstentions, but that hon. 98 Gentlemen will vote for them and support them. The right hon. Gentleman will remember what he said about non-intervention. He said:The question we have to face is really this: Is this horrible situation, which has almost broken the hearts of many of us, to be allowed to develop into one which involves Europe in a great European struggle?and he asked the conference which he addressed whether they were prepared to have a battle between Democracy and dictatorship over the bleeding body of Spain. That question is as good to-day as it was when he put it.
§ Mr. Greenwood
The right hon. Gentleman might read a little further, where I said that the only hope of non-intervention doing anything would be if it were made effective. My point was against the ineffectiveness of the present policy.
§ Sir K. Wood
The right hon. Gentleman followed, as the Government did, the proposals made by the Socialist Prime Minister of France. This policy is being put into operation, and the right hon. Gentleman and his friends then supported it. My only other comment on that is that he would be much wiser to continue to go on supporting it at this hour.
I want to say a word or two more, particularly about those parts of the King's Speech to which the right hon. Gentleman has asked me to address myself, respecting the work of my own Department. I do not think anyone who is concerned with housing, with the care of the blind and with the care of medical benefit for young children would be prepared to agree with the suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Liberal Opposition that the King's Speech could be regarded simply as a number of items of remnants, I feel that that will not be the general view of the vast number of people who are concerned and who will benefit by these proposals.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me to say something about housing and the proposals of the Government, and I will very gladly do so. I would remind him of what he himself quite recently stated—in this I agree with him—that no country since the War has done more to deal with the problem of housing of the people than our own country. In fact, the latest figures show that since the Armistice 99 more than 3,350,000 houses have been completed in this country. I am glad to say that the number of approvals in local authority house building has been mounting, and that for the first eight months of this year there were some 58,000 approvals as against some 46,000 in 1936. I am glad to tell the House that I have just received the latest figures available, and that over 70,000 houses were under construction at the end of September, a record high number for this country. I am very glad indeed to say that, as hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House know, many thousands are being completed month by month.
I should, however, inform the House that, so far as building by private enterprise is concerned, there has been a decline. The September figures of building plans show that, while the total building discloses a small increase over September of last year, the figures for dwelling-houses show a decline of some 12.8 per cent. as compared with last year. The decline in general dwelling-house approvals has been uneven. Rises in the north have been more than offset by a fall in private enterprise building in the south, and it would appear to be the judgment of a number of people that, so far as that particular class of building is concerned—and I emphasise this—the saturation point may have been reached in some areas as regards particular types of houses. I am glad to say, and I know that the House will be interested in this, that, as regards slum clearance, the five years programme has more than kept its promise. Ninety per cent. of that programme is represented by some 186,000 houses, and already the houses in submitted orders exceed that number. Hon. Members will be aware that the original programme for slum clearance has been continuously extended, and the total revised programme now covers over 400,000 houses, an increase of some 44 per cent. I am glad to report to the House that already some 650,000 slum dwellers have gone to better homes, and that they are going at the rate of many thousands every month.
§ Mr. T. Johnston
Would the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to give us the United Kingdom figures?
§ Sir K. Wood
I am sorry; I was speaking for England and Wales.
100 With regard to some criticisms which I have seen with regard to the overcrowding programme of the Government, I would like to inform the House that practically all the local authorities of the country have fixed their appointed days—the days from which the overcrowding provisions are to operate; but I would like to emphasise that in many areas the fixing of the appointed day has not postponed the abatement of overcrowding. It is not always realised that local authorities have in their control nearly 1,000,000 houses to-day. Of course, the casual vacancies which arise in that large number of houses are very considerable, and in many parts of the country, on that account, overcrowding has already been considerably abated. I will give one illustration from a very important city. The medical officer of Manchester a few weeks ago reported that, by means of cooperation between the municipality and the owners of property, some 30 per cent. of the cases of overcrowding disclosed by the housing survey have already been abated. I communicated with a number of authorities, who were able to give me a great deal of information as to what is happening in their areas, and from a number of them I received the reply that some 20 per cent. of their overcrowding as disclosed by the survey has been abated.
I know that a good many hon. Members, and I must say I do not disagree with them, would like to see the statutory definition of overcrowding improved. I would, however, point out to those who hold that view, which I respect, that of course our obvious first duty must be to achieve the elimination of overcrowding as at present laid down by Parliament, and I may tell the House that the programme of slum clearance and overcrowding still involves the erection of some 300,000 new houses in England and Wales. Therefore, anyone who has any doubts about building activity in this country and the necessity for it should bear in mind the fact that for these two items of slum clearance and overcrowding, if we are to deal with the overcrowding on the basis of the present statutory limitation or definition, some 300,000 new houses are still necessary, and I think it is my obvious duty to encourage the local authorities to tackle, as they are doing, the very considerable task which still confronts them. I would like now to say a word about building prices—
§ Sir K. Wood
I am coming to that matter. With regard to building prices, the House may do me the honour of recalling that when I spoke last on this subject I stated that the rise in building prices was giving me some anxiety, and that I was concerned about the position from the point of view of getting houses at low rents. In May last the average price for a non-parlour, three-bedroomed house was £307, but the average for the three months ending with May was £355, owing to the jump of prices in May. Since May, I am glad to say, the curve has shown a tendency to drop and to flatten out at a lower level, and the August figure—the latest that I have—had dropped to £361. That, at any rate, seems to me, and it is a matter of considerable moment, to justify the hope that the peak of prices has now been reached, and that they may be steadying for a fall. I am glad to say that there are evidences of that.
§ Mr. Quibell
Can the right hon. Gentleman give the prices as they were a year ago and as they are now?
§ Sir K. Wood
I have not got them at the moment, but I will get them for the hon. Member. There are evidences, as I was saying, of an improvement in the position. Local authorities are receiving more tenders for work than they did a few months ago, particularly in the south, and I would like at any rate to assure the House of this, and I hope they will support me in it, that I am continuing the policy of carefully scrutinising high tender prices, and of suggesting in any suitable cases postponement for future testing of the market. So far as new houses are concerned, we still need, as I have said, a considerable number in this country, and not only are new houses required, but a balanced provision which meets the variety of the needs of our people. I find that there is a need for a larger number of one-bedroomed houses for aged persons, and also for a further number for large families, requiring four or more bedrooms, and I have advised and am advising the local authorities to that end.
102 Before I deal with the point that the hon. Gentleman has just raised, I will add a word about the position of housing in rural districts. That is one of the matters to which we have undoubtedly to pay more attention. I confess, if confession be necessary, that I am not satisfied with the progress that has been made in rural housing. A great deal more has to be done. It is true that the great bulk of overcrowding and of slums is in the towns, but country districts certainly have their own quota. When I read certain articles in the newspapers I think it is somewhat difficult for some people to realise that an outwardly picturesque and attractive cottage is not necessarily a healthy home. There is also a special problem in regard to the provision of new houses in the country, and that is the gap between building costs and rents that are within the means of the agricultural workers. That gap is much wider in their case than elsewhere. It was for that reason that it was necessary to provide a specially high rate of Exchequer assistance for agricultural properties built under slum clearance and overcrowding schemes. It is for that reason that I shall propose to Parliament to give Exchequer assistance towards the general provision of cottages for agricultural workers to be let at low rents. At an early date I intend, as I hope to state in reply to a question to-morrow, to consult immediately with the Association of Local authorities as to the form and amount of the grants, and within a short time I shall submit my proposals to the House.
§ Sir K. Wood
So far as Scotland is concerned I think my hon. Friend will see from the Gracious Speech that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is making proposals to that effect. I believe we can give further reasonable and substantial financial assistance to the rural areas, and 103 that it will make a substantial improvement in the conditions under which our agricultural workers live, and I hope it will be a material help to the agricultural industry. I am more convinced than ever that if we are to keep our agricultural workers on the land we have to improve considerably a good many things, including their standard of housing accommodation. [HON. MEMBERS: "And their wages."] They have been improved considerably during the past few years of National Government. I desire to add one further thing which is very much in my mind, and I venture to appeal to Members in all parts of the House to assist me. I would emphasise this point. It is the renovation and bringing up to date of existing country properties under the Housing (Rural Workers) Act. So far as my own inclinations are concerned, I would sooner renovate a cottage, if it could be made into a good and healthy home, than pull it down. In my Department we have been making intensive efforts to make the advantages of this Act more widely known, and I am glad to say that our efforts are bearing good fruit. The quarter ended June last showed a record number of applications for grants under the Act—one-third more than for the previous highest quarter, which ended in December last. We have received already—I would be glad to see many more—applications for over 1,200 dwellings. The total number of dwellings in respect of which grants or loans have been promised is now over 15,000.
§ Sir K. Wood
Yes. I do not think anyone can say that that is a satisfactory figure. A great deal more undoubtedly ought to be done. I must say a few words about demolition. There have been many statements made on both sides regarding this problem. I would emphasise that under the Housing Act, under which houses are dealt with in groups known as clearance areas or are dealt with individually, the Act requires that the owner shall be given an opportunity of making an offer to recondition his house to the required standard. When houses are dealt with in areas it is open to an owner to make such an offer within the 104 time allowed for objections to the clearance order. That is not sufficiently appreciated. The Act does afford an opportunity of saving property and of putting it into habitable repair if it is capable of such repair. I agree that where such a course is really practicable the reconditioning of an existing country cottage is a good thing and better than demolishing it and replacing it with a new house elsewhere.
I am also concerned, as I think everyone is, that we should preserve buildings that are of existing value. I think that these objects would be more likely to be achieved if owners will consider plans for reconditioning before any question of action by a local authority arises. I also agree that it is just as important to create houses of architectural merit as to refrain from destroying them. At any rate, I think I can say that I have lost no opportunity of bringing to the notice of local authorities the importance of this aspect of their housing operations. Undoubtedly the beauty of the English countryside depends largely on the use in new buildings of local materials, and on design which is in harmony with the character of the older buildings. In a circular which I recently addressed to local authorities I drew special attention to the importance of their trusting to persons of experience for the execution of their schemes. In that particular I specially commend the voluntary panels which have been set up by the Royal Institute of British Architects.
My final word on the subject is this: I deprecate any suggestion that this or that person or body of persons stands primarily for schemes of health to the detriment of beauty, or for those of beauty to the detriment of health. In other words, I deprecate the suggestion that the champions of health are Philistines or that those of beauty are sentimentalists. We should rid ourselves of any notion that health and beauty in the countryside are doomed to perpetual opposition. I think we should frankly acknowledge the claims of both proposals, and we ought each to help with our own special knowledge and experience in the common task of furthering the one without harming the other. At any rate I hope I have said sufficient to assure the House, and hon. Members opposite especially, that so far as the important matter of housing 105 is concerned no real criticism of a substantial nature can be advanced against the Government. During the last 12 months there has been a record number of houses built, and so far as our future plans are concerned, the House will see that far from neglecting what I regard as one of the fundamentals of our health policy we are steadily going on with the work; and we are going to make proposals on rural housing which will greatly improve the situation.
I am sorry to trespass further on the time of the House but I must say something about nutrition. The right hon. Gentleman this afternoon said something which, when he reads it in the morning, will make him rub his eyes and wonder why he said it. Two things can be said regarding his observations on that matter. It has been only under the present Government that the nutrition problem has been seriously considered at all; and, secondly, it can be said that although only tentative steps have been taken, so far as our policy on nutrition and public health is concerned, without boasting we can claim that we are ahead of any other country. I shall not weary the House by recapitulating all that has been said in debates on the matter, but I shall mention the progress which has been ma de since the Recess in one particular matter. Although doctors disagree about many things, they all agree with the Advisory Committee attached to my Department. A committee composed of people like Sir John Orr, Professor Cathcart and all the leading men of experience agree about the nutritional value of milk. The hon. Gentleman referred to some document on the question of nutrition, and he was quite right to do so, but I ask hon. Members to look at the report which was recently issued by the Advisory Committee of my Department. I suggest that it is perhaps the most valuable document which has been issued on the subject in any country. By that committee we have been advised, as we would expect, of the great value, especially to mothers and children, of milk.
If the House will remember, directly I received that document I took up the matter with the local authorities, and I asked them to review their arrangements for the supply of milk and other food with a view to securing that the diet, particularly of pregnant and nursing mothers, combined the proper constituents, and that 106 the consumption of milk, especially by young children, should be increased. I also made a suggestion to them that the removal of various limitations, for the relaxation of restrictions as to the supply of milk and other foods. Local authorities have seriously considered this matter and have made progress, and so far as I can I am encouraging them to make still further progress. Already a large number of local authorities have improved their income scales. Forty-seven have already improved it; 62 have increased the amount of milk supplied per case, a number have extended the period of supply of milk for expectant mothers and children under five, and a number have arranged for the pasteurisation of milk. I think in that way, at any rate, I can pursue immediate practical steps in this particular matter. I would also remind the House, when it is said we have no further nutrition policy, of the statement in the White Paper issued by the Government before the House rose as to what our further intentions are on that, as I think, very important matter, and a matter which, as I believe, is going to play, and ought to play, an increasing part in the health of this country.
When I reflect on the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon I would also like to remind the House that a great deal is also being done in attacking the most obstinate problem that I suppose I have to face in connection with health problems in this country—the question of maternal mortality. I am glad to say, because I think it is a very important branch of our health work, that, for instance, schemes under the new Midwives Act are now in operation over the greater part of England and Wales, and I expect the whole of these new services will be in operation in January next. To show the extent of this service which, as I believe, has already considerably improved the remuneration and status of midwives in this country, the proposals of the local supervising authorities provide for the employment of about 2,700 midwives by the local authorities and 4,850 midwives by the voluntary organisations.
If it is made clear that 14 per cent. of maternal mortality is 107 due to attempted abortion, will the right hon. Gentleman not face up to the fact, and will not the Government take some steps about it?
§ Sir K. Wood
I will gladly answer that. There is no doubt that in connection with maternal mortality a good many people think the practice of abortion plays an important part, and I thought in view of the statements that were made by responsible people the best thing would be to have an inquiry made, and a committee is now sitting under the distinguished chairmanship of an old Member of this House who is very well remembered, Mr. Norman Birkett. I saw him the other day, and I hope I shall receive the committee's report at an early date. In the first place I shall publish this report—the country ought to know the conclusions the committee come to—and then I shall have to consider the conclusions in the light of what action, if any, is recommended. I hope that, at any rate, in that important matter of maternal mortality, we shall be able to do much, and I am glad to think that in connection with this new midwifery service we have already made a good start and improved the status and remuneration of the midwifery profession. I hope also we may be able to do the same sort of thing for the nurses. I am just about to set up a committee of a similar kind to examine into conditions of recruitment and service for the great nursing profession. It is of vital importance to our health work, not only for hospitals and institutions of that kind, but for people in their own homes.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
Will the Minister see that in the case of midwives who are entitled to compensation they get their compensation from the date the Act comes into operation, and not five or six months afterwards?
§ Sir K. Wood
If the hon. Member will send me any cases, I will look into them, but I think he will find the matter is provided for in the Act.
§ Sir K. Wood
I must apologise for speaking so long, but I wanted to speak on matters which are of general interest to all Members of the House. Very largely the work of my Department is 108 not divided by political divisions which affect the other departments of State. As the House will see, my appreciation of the position in the country and the programme of the Government is very different from that of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. What are the facts so far as our country is concerned at the present moment? I do not think there is any need for pessimism. There has been a steady rise in wages. Revenue and trade are expanding. In the last two years alone 1,000,000 more people have obtained employment. I see that the savings of our people have increased from 1931 by no less than £450,000,000 and certainly it can be said that our social services are expanding and extending, and are giving benefits and security unrivalled by any other nation. I would suggest to hon. Gentlemen opposite that in the measures outlined in the Gracious Speech we have a considerable programme of still further advance in many important fields. It will involve, of necessity, considerable demands upon the time and attention of the House, but I know that that will not be lacking, and I believe we can go forward with our task encouraged and fortified with the confidence and support of our fellow-countrymen.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Sir F. Acland
My right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) has to be away for the rest of this week and I have to deputise for him as best I can. The fact that he is away enables me to say what I could not have said had he been here, how much I appreciated having him for my leader when I listened to his speech yesterday. It was brief, bright and if it was not exactly brotherly, perhaps I might say he spoke to the Government like an elder brother. It must be due to the fact that when Liberal Members come back in October from contact with their constituencies they are particularly inspired, and I think that applies to Labour Members, too. I agree with everything my right hon. Friend said yesterday about the commissions and omissions of the Speech, and I think I will leave it there. There are other matters which it would be in order for me to deal with this afternoon, but we have a certain amount of team work here, and I think they will be dealt with at a stage when they will be even more in order.
109 As I believe in trying to make these Debates continuous, and in following up as far as one can subjects which have been raised by a previous speaker, I shall deal with matters which were referred to by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, although I did not know the Minister would speak before it was my turn. He has dealt with housing and milk and I will follow him on those two lines particularly. I hope that in doing so I shall be able to keep to my intention of being helpful. I am in a little difficulty about this, because a Cabinet Minister whom I will not specify—I had better refer to him by a neutral term; let me call him Queen Elizabeth's husband—has been recently in my constituency, where he thought it right to say he regretted that Liberal Members could not employ their time and talents otherwise than in destructive criticism and tactics. He said a great deal more and I will only say, as the B.B.C. say, "the Debate still continues." I hope we shall be able to bury the hatchet some day in the place where hatchets should be buried, which is in the skull of the person with whom we are conducting the dispute. It is almost indecent for me to be severely constructive after that, but I will try. I and my colleagues can very easily alter our attitude if the Minister—Queen Elizabeth's husband—would like us to do so. Now I come to housing. I happen to know something about that, but I must now say how, because Queen Elizabeth's husband has said that none of us takes any part in the administration of our country. I am delighted to see that measures will be brought forward to amend the financial provision for slum clearance and the abatement of overcrowding.
What I hope will be my first constructive suggestion—I am sure it is a matter the right hon. Gentleman has in mind and it is something, I know, which is very difficult to deal with—is in regard to the fact that the normal five-roomed cottage in the country is not regarded now as overcrowded if it contains father, mother and six children, not once over but twice over, not counting babies under one. That is, of course, terribly bad, and it is still legal and nothing can be done about it. That is a thing which I shall be very glad if the right hon. Gentleman, with all his enthusiasm, will be able to look at. With regard to measures about 110 which I am glad he was able to tell us something, for dealing with agricultural housing, I again humbly venture to make two points. First, although the Housing (Rural Workers) Act has worked very well in many counties, it is very uneven. The mere fact that out of 15,000 cases which have been dealt with the case which I last looked at in my county was number 1,600 and something, tells its own tale. All those cases are not through, but many which are through apply to more than one house. It might be said that in that particular county we have already probably dealt with 1,400 or 1,500 houses out of 15,000 in the whole county we have country, but that total is obviously far too small.
I was extremely glad to hear the Minister say—and he will agree with me I am sure in this—that in many rural districts a very large number of new houses are wanted, and it is no use to say that houses are already there. They sometimes are. The question arises, what sort of houses? [Interruption.] I am dealing with working class people. The children who are gradually learning what brightness and ventilation, and so on, mean in the new schools which are gradually being put up, where the classrooms are airy and bright, well ventilated and evenly warmed, cannot be expected, when they go back to the normal type of country cottage built 100 or 150 years ago, and which is inevitably stuffy, dark and damp, and without proper ventilation, to be really contented. Looking at it as a broad problem, and as Sir William Beveridge dealt with it at Oxford only last week—the drift from the country to the towns, which we all regret—there is a tremendous lot to be said for living in the country, if only conditions in the country are right. But we cannot arrest that drift from the country to the towns unless, among many other things into which I have not time to go to-night, we provide a large number of new houses, exactly as the Minister has said, and with which I heartily agree, at rents which the ordinary worker can afford to pay. I am delighted to hear that the phrase in the King's Speech has already been interpreted in that way.
May I deal with milk? Here the Minister naturally dealt with his side of the question. There is the agricultural side of milk. Although I want to follow him in debate, touching on aspects of 111 that question, may I venture to say again, nervously, because I cannot forget the Queen—Elizabeth's—husband phrase, we are going to be a little helpful. I hear that the Minister of Agriculture may be opposed in his constituency if he continues to resist the levy-subsidy idea. If that is to be so I should be very glad to come down and do what I can to support him, because I also oppose the subsidy idea. A great number of my constituents are farmers, and in this connection I am opposing the idea and am not doing anything which is likely to be of help to me. The Farmers' Union are opposing the Minister because he will not accept the levy-subsidy idea with regard to milk products, and I only want to bring into relief that I think the Minister is right. Perhaps the House will allow me to drag in one little story. Every Minister of Agriculture starts off very popular, and alas! he does not succeed. The last Minister started off only a few months ago extraordinarily popular, and now I think the Farmers' Union are thinking of running a man against him. That always happens. I once commented upon it in this House. I said then, and I say it now that it would happen to the best Minister of Agriculture there ever could be, whether in a National Government or any other Government. Commenting on that very well-known fact—it occurred at a time when one of the Minister's predecessors was Mr. Walter Guinness—I suggested to the National Farmers' Union at that time that they should adopt the motto "He that is not with us, is a Guinness." But our excellent friends the reporters, who almost invariably improve our speeches, thank goodness, got it wrong and they printed not "a Guinness" but "agin'us." I did not see it until months after, far too late to correct it, because of all the literature that appals me, my own speeches appal me more than any.
I come to another point about milk, and I am commenting on the phrase in the King's Speech. The Government will have to tackle that extraordinary subject of retail distribution. They talk about distribution, but do not say whether they mean wholesale or retail distribution. You will never get—I say this with some conviction—a fair price to the consumer and the producer—after all, they are the real people—unless and until you tackle 112 the question of retail distribution. It is an extraordinarily difficult subject, but it is surely one of those subjects which can be tackled by a Government which has a very large majority in the country, and which would be very much more difficult for any other sort of Government to tackle. On the point, again in the King's Speech, about increasing the consumption of milk upon which the Minister touched. As we all know, the milk-in-schools scheme happens to be going down. There are a variety of causes, and I happen to know them. The fact that farmers are refusing to supply milk in many cases, particularly in the country districts, ought not to be the last word in the matter. It is very important that the farmers should supply, but it is still more important that the children should get the milk when they want it. They do not all want it, but I need not go into that matter. The two things—the question of local farmers supplying, and the question of the children getting milk—are not necessarily the same thing. I might be expected in this matter to be destructive if I dealt with it further, but if I can see the Minister of Agriculture about it without Queen Elizabeth's husband knowing, I shall be very pleased to do so.
In general, as to increased consumption, I again welcome the phrase of the Minister, because it seems to point in the direction I hope for. I suggest that the very minimum that the House would accept is a scheme to provide milk for all nursing and expectant mothers, children below school age, and, wherever possible, the extension of the milk-in-schools scheme to Saturdays and Sundays, which is now not done. I hope that when the Bill comes forward we shall find that it is extended to more classes than that. Some hon. Members in this House—I think I can see one hon. Member sitting below me—are helping to run the Government's physical training and recreation policy, and they know perfectly well that that policy links up with nutrition in many ways, and that nutrition for children and for grown-up people, though they may not realise it, lies in the milk policy of this country.
These are the only subjects dealt with in the Speech upon which I will comment, but I must comment upon one omission. It is our old friend the allotment. I am rather sorry to see that there 113 is nothing in the Speech which promises any legislation which would give greater security of tenure to allotment holders and greater chances of becoming owners of their land, which is the only way in which they can have a really secure tenure. I have brought that matter before various Ministers for many years and the allotment movement has waited for six years for something to be done. We thought that it was quite reasonable to expect the Minister of Agriculture to attend to the big cultivators during the first four years, but we have waited six years. We thought that the time of the little man would come a little later, but we are getting fed up, to put it quite bluntly. Last year officials of the Ministry became convinced of the justice and practicability of the allotment holders' case, but nothing appears at any rate in the King's Speech. This is how it strikes me. You find in the King's Speech this sort of phrase: There will be proposals:for carrying out some of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Despatch of Business at Common Law; and for giving effect to certain recommendations of the Law Revision Committee on the subject of the limitation of actions.I have no doubt that these are absolutely epoch-making. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are!"] How splendid! But the allotment movement of the country has its importance, and, on the face of it, seems quite as important as these rather recondite proposals which are not so easy to understand. In this connection I will quote from a document which I received this morning from one of the men with whom I happen to work in connection with allotments, showing the change which is really being made in many parts of the country in what many Members of the House and members of the public think, are the normal appearance of allotments, with their small, ramshackle huts and the rest of it. A certain organisation are trying to establish communal huts in place of ugly and ramshackle sheds. They are to a very considerable extent succeeding, and I will quote the present position of the work. I want Members of the House to realise that an allotment is a great deal more than a little garden which man makes unsightly.The Central Allotments Committee has granted the sum of £7,771 towards the cost of erecting 308 community huts or pavilions on 114 allotments in England and Wales. In South Wales the huts are set aside one day in the week for the use of wives and daughters of allotment holders. Material for sewing is provided at a cheap rate and garments are made for the family. A cup of tea is provided, and a good library of books is usually to be found in the huts.My friend happens to have returned from a tour and from judging these huts, and he goes on in this way about a certain hut, and I will name it at the end.The hut is situated on a steep hillside rendering construction and erection difficult. Its surroundings have been laid out most artistically. Small lawns and flower borders, concrete paths and walls to prevent the allotments being washed on to the hut have been constructed. Old gas pipes running through concrete posts and painted with aluminium paint surmount the wall and look very effective. You may ask, 'If the men are so poor, how do they get the stuff to beautify their hut and its surroundings?' All that need be said is that none of them has appeared in the police court on a charge of petty larceny. The event of the year"—I cannot read it without tears coming into my eyes—is the children's treat. Mothers stay at home and fathers do the honours. They cut the bread and butter, mash the tea and make all other preparations for a gigantic picnic. Every child is presented with a new penny. Where the pennies comes from nobody knows, but they are always there.This allotment association of unemployed men adopts the hospital for two months in the year and supplies all their vegetables. The hut at Abertillery—Abertillery is a district suffering as much if not more than any other district, even in South Wales—is the champion community hut of the country. That illustration—and I could give many others—shows how these things are becoming the centre of social life and preventing that feeling in South Wales which I wonder does not grow up far more, namely, the feeling of despair. I should certainly have despair if I were in that district and were not an allotment holder. Unless we can have legislation which will give these people more security of tenure, they will be in a precarious position. They have said to the organisation concerned, over and over again: "As long as we are likely to be shifted off our allotments at three months' notice, how can we put our work into permanent huts, and then lose them without any sort of compensation?" That is the present position, and it concludes what I have to say on home affairs.
115 Now I come to foreign affairs, which I understand are to be specially discussed to-morrow. I do not know as much of foreign affairs as I know about housing, milk and allotments. I do not think I have spoken about foreign affairs since I ceased to occupy the position now held by the Noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Cranborne). That was 23 years ago. I speak, therefore, simply as an ordinary man-in-the-street. A Liberal is simply the man-in-the-street who thinks and uses his brains. If he thinks, he becomes a Liberal automatically. May I say how sorry I am that the Prime Minister cannot be here? I do not mean that I am sorry he cannot be here to listen to my speech, because that is more a matter for congratulation on his part; but I am very sorry that I cannot look at him. I understand that he has gout. I somehow thought that he would be bound to get something after his speech last Thursday. It might have been enlightenment, but that I am afraid would be even more painful than gout. Before I comment on one thing which he said, which illustrates the complacent tone of the paragraphs in the King's Speech on foreign affairs, may I make a general point as to what is believed to be generally the attitude of hon. Members not only of my party but other Members on this side of the House, in contrast to the attitude of the House on the Government side? That goes right into the middle of our difficulties in regard to Spain and Japan.
May I say, with acknowledgments, that I got this argument from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Mr. R. Acland), whose brain works more rapidly than the brain of his right hon. relative. This is the argument that I want to put. As Liberal Members we know quite well what is said about our foreign policy in the constituencies. It is said that if we had our way we should have war with Mussolini at once. That is the common form of criticism, and we put up with it. Let us, however, get away from these platformulas and come down to realities. We say that Great Britain ought to do three things—take the lead in demanding of other nations that they should take effective economic action in co-operation with us in defence of international justice; be prepared to take full economic action ourselves as long as a sufficient number 116 of others will do the same, and, thirdly, let it be known that if the aggressor tries to shoot himself out of the economic difficulty, we promise to fight for international justice. [Interruption.] Certainly, promise to fight for international justice—I speak for my party—if those conditions are fulfilled. That is the elementary understanding of League of Nations procedure. If Articles 15 and 16 of the Covenant do not mean that, they do not mean anything at all.
Let me try to define what I believe to be the general position of hon. and right hon. Members opposite. Am I wrong when I say that they do nothing about international justice as such, and that they intend to do nothing about international justice as such, but—now we come to the possibility of war—if anyone interferes with any British Imperial or economic interest, they say that we shall fight to the last. Of course, that is the automatic reaction. That is what we see put forward in the Press. Both these conditions contain a promise to fight, and I should like to examine the promise to fight in circumstances in which it can or cannot keep the peace. When will it keep the peace, and when will it not keep the peace? I hope that I am not speaking too fast for hon. Members to understand me, but I have to condense my remarks and to confine them within a limited space of time.
§ Sir F. Acland
That is a question for them, and they must answer it, and I think they could probably give a perfectly good answer. I have enough to do to look after my own end. I should like to examine the likely result of this ultimate promise to fight. It is like two children one of whom has a ball. Let us say that 117 the ball may be Gibraltar, Hong Kong or the right to turn a country into a shambles. One says to the other, "Give me that ball." The reply is, "I will not." Then comes the challenge, "I will come and get it," and that is followed by the threat, "I will lay you out if you do." The last sentence is the promise to fight. The question is, does that promise keep the peace? If the one who wants the ball is the bigger of the two, the promise does not keep the peace. If the aggressor wants something that we have got, and if he is the bigger boy, it does not keep the peace, but if the boy who wants the ball is the smaller one, it does keep the peace until he can persuade, perhaps, two other boys to come in with him and make the demand.
I want to illustrate that general line of argument in connection with existing foreign difficulties, and particularly in connection with that great trade emporium of ours, the name of which has been on the lips of everybody since I came back to the House. I have heard much of the possibilities of what may happen to Hong Kong if anything is done in connection with what, I believe, is being contemplated as to trying to stop war between China and Japan. I think I am correct in repeating what is generally said, namely, that if we do anything in this dispute, Japan may declare war and will either seize Hong Kong or try to seize it, and then possibly we may lose it. I do not think there is any risk of that, for the simple reason that Japan has plenty on hand already. While I think there would be no risk of war, I admit, for the sake of argument, the proposition that if we do anything Japan may declare war and we may lose Hong Kong. I ask myself, what is the contrast between the likelihood of war coming that way and the likelihood of war corning another way? Let us suppose that it happened, where should we be? certainly we should have the Chinese armies helping us. Chinese armies seem to spring up almost from everywhere. I suppose we should have taken our course along with other nations and have got them to agree to economic pressure. I do not say economic sanctions, because we should not be acting under the League of Nations.
Putting the position at its worst—although I do not conceive it possible 118 that Japan would declare war—if an attack were made on Hong Kong, and Japan took it, there would be this certainty that with all the other countries on our side the war would not stop until we got Hong Kong back, and a great deal more, but not for ourselves. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] We do not desire more for ourselves. If we do nothing, what is the alternative? Here, I would ask hon. Members to think of our position in the Far East. It is said that Japan having already the north, and now the middle, will seize the south. Then she builds land batteries at her leisure around Hong Kong, just as other Powers have been building batteries which command Gibraltar. She might attack Hong Kong whenever she pleased, preferably at a time when we had some slight difficulty in Europe. Then war automatically follows—if they attack the British Empire. But what sort of a war? Not a war with any allies, but a war in which we alone should be fighting against Japan under great difficulties in the Far East. Therefore, I want to make my main point. It is the inevitable conclusion that in one case our policy would mean that we should fight if necessary, although I do not think it would be necessary, and win, but we are certain in the other alternative to fight, and although we are not certain to lose we should fight with no one to help us.
A few weeks ago I wrote a letter to the "Times" which they kindly published in the fifth column of the desirable middle page in which I suggested that if only this country and the United States of America and the Dutch Republic would act together it would stop the war. That idea was supported by many people more eminent than myself, but none of us meant that this could be done by the present Government or by the present Prime Minister. If Parliament had been called together in an emergency and the Prime Minister had talked on the wireless to the United States of America, and the President of the United States had talked on the wireless to this country—the Prime Minister is not a good broadcaster, while the President of the United States is—if this had happened, if the Prime Minister had called Parliament together surely half the country would have wondered why he had gone mad, and the other half why he had become sane, and between the two we should have been rather in a mess.
119 Is not the clue to our present policy in regard to the dispute in China summed up in two words of a recent speech by the President of the United States in which he said there must be "concerted effort." If we were to ask the President to say in advance publicly that he will go to war whatever we do, it would be fatal. If the President were to ask us to guarantee publicly in advance everything that we might be willing to do that would be equally fatal. It is clear from the words "concerted effort" that the President is not likely to do that. The United States do not expect us to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them, and we do not expect them to do everything that is necessary. It is necessary to move slowly, but I hope that we shall take up that phrase "concerted action," and keep it steadily before our minds.
§ Sir F. Acland
Yes, but the Conference has not yet been held, though I am hoping it is what the Conference will do. A phrase used by the Prime Minister last Thursday did not seem to me to conform to what I suggest ought to be done. Everyone will agree that concerted effort is not only the path of safety but the path of success in stopping this appalling war.
As to the position of the war in Spain my feelings are almost too strong to be expressed. The First Lord of the Admiralty yesterday said that if a bluejacket helped an old woman to get into a boat in the north of Spain it would bring non-intervention to an end. The fact that Mussolini admits publicly that he has got 40,000 troops in Spain is entirely a matter of non-intervention on the highest and most splendid British lines! Let me take an illustration from the Prime Minister's speech. He said that there was nothing unfair in the proposal to withdraw 5,000 from both sides. Did not everybody who heard that know exactly what would happen? Is it in any way throwing any sort of suspicion on the high principles of the ruler of Italy to say that we entirely fore- 120 saw what would happen? Here it is. I saw in an evening newspaper last night this passage:As a guarantee of good faith"—that is a lovely phrase—Mussolini proposes to withdraw 5,000 regular troops on his side if the Government withdraw 5,000 regular troops on theirs.He proposes to withdraw 5,000 troops for whom probably he has no further use on the condition that the Government of Spain withdraw 5,000 of their troops, which will include the regular soldiers who went out from Russia some months ago as an armed force to help the Spanish Government in the air. That is what the Prime Minister declares in advance as being absolutely fair. I feel very strongly on this matter. That speech shocked me horribly. I did not rejoice as perhaps I should as a Member of the Opposition. I was terribly shocked that the Prime Minister should so amazingly play Mussolini's game for him. The Foreign Secretary in his speech seemed to he fed up, but the Prime Minister out-Mussolinied Mussolini. I do not want the people of this country to laugh at the Prime Minister. That is never a good thing in a democratic Government. But they must have laughed when he said on Thursday that the withdrawal of 5,000 soldiers on both sides was absolutely fair and then saw the inevitable interpretation which Mussolini has put on that speech. I do not want Mussolini to laugh, because he may laugh once too often.
If hon. Members will read the appalling accounts of what has been happening in Spain owing to the fact that one side has all the aeroplanes and the other, owing to non-intervention, has practically no aeroplanes at all, they would take rather more seriously than they seem to do the possibility of getting non-intervention either definitely brought to an end as the tragic farce it has been for the last 18 months, or in some other way letting the thing fight itself out in Spain without the enormously overwhelming intervention of Italy on one side in the struggle. The effect of the Government's policy is that since January this year some 200,000 men and women in Spain have been killed. Is it not time that we began to think more seriously than we have yet how this struggle in Spain can be brought to an end?
I am glad that the Government have left out the League of Nations from the 121 Gracious Speech. It is a belated but none the less welcome exercise of elementary honesty. In the last two King's Speeches they have used the phrase, and it has meant nothing. I am glad they have left it out. They talked about armaments being a contribution to pooled security for two years after the phrase had ceased to have any meaning. They have gone on using the phrase "nonintervention" after it has ceased to have any meaning whatever. Are we to have real non-intervention? If so, I wish they would tell us.
§ 5.14 P.m.
§ Mr. Lipson
In venturing to address the House for the first time I know that I can claim the indulgence and sympathy which hon. Members in their generosity give to a new Member who is making his maiden speech. I feel that I cannot better illustrate my ignorance of the mysteries of this House than by confessing that I am totally ignorant of the reference to Queen Elizabeth's husband made by the right hon. Member who has just spoken. I am happy that in my maiden speech I can give my support to the programme of legislation outlined in the Gracious Speech. It is great in variety and in scope. It touches the life of the nation at many points—industrially, socially, and commercially. One might have expected that Members of the Opposition would have recognised this as a non-party programme, or rather an all-party programme, and that they would have welcomed it as an evidence that the Government continue to maintain its truly national character. Apparently the Government, by their proposals, have put the Opposition in a quandary, not, I believe, for the first time. Finding it impossible to criticise any of the proposals made in the Gracious Speech, the Opposition have complained about what is left out. I suggest to them that when so much is offered it is somewhat ungracious to complain that something has been left out.
I gather from the speeches to which the House has just listened that one of the chief complaints against the Government is over their foreign policy, and I would like to make a few observations on that matter. It is true that in these days foreign policy is the most important matter with which any Government has to deal, and I agree that any Government must be prepared to stand or fall by the 122 way in which it deals with this important subject, with which the lives, the prosperity and the happiness of the people are all bound up. I wish to consider what are the criticisms that have been brought against the Government by Members of the Opposition. At the outset, I want to say that I have no desire to embarrass the Foreign Secretary in anything that I say; on the contrary, I would like to express my sympathy with him in the great responsibility that he is called upon to hear in these days, and also my admiration for the ability with which he faces that responsibility and the patience which he shows in extremely trying circumstances. I do not interpret that patience as a sign of weakness, but rather as a sign of strength.
What are the criticisms that are levelled against the foreign policy of the Government? They are not against the original proposal for non-intervention in Spain, because the grounds for that policy are very good ones. I think it will be agreed on all sides of the House that it should be left to the Spanish people themselves to decide their own political destiny. I think it will also be agreed that it would be a good thing if the war could be brought to an end as soon as possible, so as to prevent any further grave loss of life and treasure, and also to prevent the very serious danger of an extension of the war to other countries, for what is serious enough as a civil war in Spain might develop into a clash between the great Powers. Those are the grounds on which the policy of non-intervention was first accepted. Granted that since the non-intervention policy was accepted certain nations have not been faithful to their obligations under it. But no charge can be made against the British Government that they have not been loyal to their undertakings to preserve strict nonintervention. That has placed them in a strong position in trying to impress upon the other signatories to the agreement their duties and obligations in this matter.
The difficulty of dealing with this subject has been made the greater because clearly there has been intervention on both sides, and I, for one, do not know which of the countries that we know have intervened in Spain was the first to do so. Nor does it affect the principle of intervention that one side undoubtedly has received more help from foreign 123 Powers than the other. Faced with a situation of that sort, what are the Government to do? Hon. Members opposite suggest that they should scrap the policy of non-intervention and allow the Spanish Government to buy arms from this country. The policy of the Government is that having once adopted the policy of non-intervention, it would be dangerous to admit that it had completely broken down before it was absolutely certain that it had done so. Therefore, the Government's efforts have been directed towards bringing home to the other nations who are parties to the agreement that it was their duty to abide faithfully by their obligations.
When one realises what would be the effect upon the confidence of the world if it was necessary to announce that the non-Intervention Committee had broken down and that we were likely to be exposed to all the dangers which non-intervention was intended to prevent, I think hon. Members will agree that the Government are right in doing everything possible to prevent such a state of things from being brought about. The news which we have read this morning indicates that there is some hope that the patience of the Government in this matter will meet with a reward. In any case, the Foreign Secretary has stated explicitly that, in the event of the failure of the non-intervention policy, the Government reserve the right to freedom of action; but I submit that it is for the Government, with their knowledge of all the facts and of the consequences of such action, to decide when that freedom of action should be exercised.
Another argument that is made against the Government is that they are too afraid of war. If that means that the Government are not prepared to rush lightly into war, I think it is something of which the people of this country will approve; but if it means that this country is afraid of any other Power, it is simply stating something that is not true; and if, from our restraint, moderation and desire for conciliation any country draws the conclusion that we are physically afraid of them, then I think they will find, as nations in the past have found, that they have made a mistake. It has been suggested that we should call Mussolini's bluff, and at the same time the Government have been accused of being short- 124 sighted in their policy. I would rather suggest that the Government have shown that they take a long view of policy when they refuse to adopt such an attitude. It is no good adopting any line of policy unless we are prepared to see it through. When it is suggested that we should call Mussolini's bluff, are we prepared to take the consequences if he wants to call ours? It is no use saying that we should take an attitude of that sort unless we are prepared to carry it through ultimately to war.
I would also remind hon. Members that a situation in which war was inevitable might be brought about by action of that nature. It might cause a situation in which nobody intended a war to take place when negotiations began, but things might get to such an impasse that some incident might make war inevitable. I believe that is probably true of what has happened in the Far East. I think there is good reason for believing that the Japanese Government did not at this juncture want war with China, but that circumstances arose which brought the war into being, because it had been led up to by a series of events which made it inevitable that it should happen. Therefore, I maintain that if we want peace we should talk peace, and not use the language of war, and that we ought not to talk lightly about calling Mussolini's bluff, or anything of that sort. The first aim of our policy should be to try to bring this unhappy civil war in Spain to a speedy conclusion, for the sake of the Spanish people and for the sake of the peace of the world.
I would apply the same conclusion to the struggle that is going on in the Far East. It has been suggested that we should impose a boycott on Japan as a means of bringing pressure to bear upon her, but those who suggest such a policy should pause to think as to what exactly might happen to the Chinese people in the event of there being a boycott. We have before us the lesson of what happened in Abyssinia when sanctions were imposed upon Italy. The only result was that the frightfulness was intensified, and that the Abyssinian people were exposed to still more dreadful conditions in order that the war might be brought to a speedy end. We ought to ask ourselves who would have to pay the price of any action that we might be called upon to take.
125 It may be said, "If those are your views, what is your justification for the rearmament policy of the Government?" My answer is that the country has not given to the Government the power to rearm for that power to be used lightly. It has given that power because it knows that, whatever armaments the country possesses, the Government will use them with profound consideration of the responsibilities involved, and also because it believes that if the armaments are there, there is a very strong likelihood that they will never be needed. We ought also to be on our guard against the suggestion that if we do not face up to the dictators today, we shall have to deal with them at some future time; in other words, it is suggested that we should fight them now because we might have to fight them later at a disadvantage. My answer to that is that it is always dangerous to prophesy. If we prevent war now, we secure some definite good, and we all hope and pray that the to-morrow which the prophets are so sure is bound to come, will never come.
I do not think it is necessary for us to be pessimistic about the future and to assume that as the years go by, if we try to preserve peace we are necessarily weakening ourselves, and that the totalitarian States are necessarily growing stronger. Our economic foundations are much more secure than theirs. They are already existing on what is practically a war economy, and they are using a good deal of their energy and strength in military adventures of one kind or another, whereas we are conserving our powers, and our defences are growing steadily stronger. For these reasons I believe we can look forward with confidence to the future, In any case, I do not believe we are likely to secure by war any of those ideals for which hon. Members in all parts of the House stand. One of the lessons which many of us have learned from the last War is that the results, as far as ideals are concerned, are extremely disappointing. Let me remind the House of some of the things for which men fought in the last War. It was a war to make the world safe for democracy, a war to secure the rights of small nations, a war to see that law was observed and treaties were maintained. Look round the world to-day and consider the position of democracy. Consider the security of small nations, with 126 Abyssinia and China in mind. Consider the sanctity attached to agreements, having in mind the violations which are so common. Yet all that is in spite of the fact that the soldiers, sailors and airmen in the Great War gave the Allies a greater victory than they had ever deemed possible. It all goes to prove that though war may be a necessary part of human life, it is not, in itself, the way in which human ideals are to be realised. Not by war shall God's Kingdom be established on earth.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
I am sure I speak not only for myself, but for every Member in the House when I offer my sincere congratulations to the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) upon his maiden speech. There were moments during it when, if I had closed my eyes, I could have imagined that I was listening to a fellow-countryman, were it not for the fact that I am sure, if the hon. Member were a Welshman, his eloquence would have been used in a better cause. However, we all hope to hear his voice very frequently in the future.
I listened to the King's Speech yesterday and read it carefully. I also listened with great care to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and in both the King's Speech and in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman I detected a note to which I must take exception. The note which runs through the King's Speech, and also the statement of the right hon. Gentleman is one of satisfaction, almost amounting to complacency. The tenour of the programme which has been outlined to us indicates that the Government are satisfied that they have now only to mark time. They refer to the continued expansion of trade and to the growth of prosperity, and they seem to assume that all they have to do is to "stand pat" and that everything is for the best in the best of all possible countries, under the best of all possible governments. That kind of optimism, I think, is fatal, and that is my fundamental criticism of the Government.
What are the Government in effect saying, when they speak in these terms? They say, "Look at what we have done. The condition of the country is a testimony to our efficiency as a Government and a proof that the present 127 economic system can solve all its problems." I wish to direct the attention of the House for a moment to the skeleton which is in the cupboard, though its existence is not disclosed in the King's Speech. We have to-day over 1,300,000 people unemployed in this country. That is at the peak of prosperity. The Minister of Health this afternoon confessed that one of the factors in the present boom was already showing signs of decline. This boom has been ascribed to many factors. One is the enormous expansion of house-building, but the Minister of Health has confessed that that expansion has not only reached its limit, but is declining. That brings me to a reference to the depressed areas. Most of the young people who have been attracted from South Wales and elsewhere to new industrial areas have found employment in the building industry. They are now finding themselves unemployed once more and are beginning to drift back again. There is clear indication that house-building has reached saturation point.
Appeals have been made to the Government and warnings have been given to the Government, on the ground that the time has arrived when serious preparation should be made to meet the slump which is coming after the present boom, but I wish to deal with the position as it is now. What does this prosperity mean? As I say, we have nearly 1,500,000 unemployed and what the Government are saying, in effect, now is that, accepting the continuance of the capitalist system and the continuance in office of this National Government the best we can hope for is a state of things in which about 1,500,000 people will be perpetually unemployed. That is what it means. You have that number of unemployed now and you accept the proposition that now the boom is at its height. What will the number be when the slump comes?
The problem of unemployment in this country at present is, perhaps, in actual figures not as grave as it was two or three years ago, but in its incidence it is even graver. Take the example of an area like South Wales. The young people have been taken away from that area and if things do not look quite as bleak in South Wales as they did a few years ago, it is because those young 128 people have been taken away. But there has been left in South Wales an unemployment problem which is even more tragic than the problem of three or four years ago. Of the present figure of nearly 1,500,000 unemployed, we learn from a statement made by the Minister of Labour, that one in three are over 45 years of age. I direct the serious attention of the House to that problem. This industrial boom is leaving untouched an army of nearly 500,000 people who have reached 45 years of age. Even at a boom time they are not wanted in industry. And 150,000 out of these 450,000 have been unemployed for six months or more. Is that the kind of system, is that the sort of conditions, in which the Government can show any pride? Some of these men are my own contemporaries. Some of them I have known for years. They are among the best of workmen and at the age of 45 in a time of prosperity they are left stranded and high and dry.
That is why I wish to protest against the note of optimism in the King's Speech. There is no reference at all in it to unemployment. Apparently nothing is to be done in that respect. I am sorry that the Minister of Labour is not in his place. I do not complain of his absence; I only wish he were here, because I desire to refer to a question which I put to him on Thursday last. I had particularly in mind then, this large number of men over 45 years of age, whose sons have been taken away from them, whose unemployment benefit is exhausted and who are coming under the means test. They are fine men of the type to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) was referring this afternoon, but employers do not want them. They are cut off from industry; they are condemned as too old at 45 and they are left on the streets with their benefit exhausted. Then the "means test man" comes along. I wonder whether hon. Members opposite have heard of the "means test man." He is one of the creations of their own Government. He comes along and makes investigations and my question last week to the Minister of Labour was whether, in view of the position of these men of 45 or over, and the fact that these investigators were hunting them to find out whether they had small sums in the bank, or little bits of property, he would give instructions that the 129 "cuts" imposed on our unemployed people should be stopped. The Minister's reply was:I am aware that the plan outlined to the House 18 months ago is being carried out—and carried out with surprising swiftness and satisfaction throughout the country.''—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st October, 1937; col. 4, Vol. 327.]I am sure it must be a consolation to hon. Members opposite that if the Government are afraid of Mussolini and tremble at the name of Hitler, at least they are not afraid of the unemployed. If they make haste slowly in international policy they are—to use the words of the Minister of Labour—surprisingly swift in attacking the unemployed in their own country. I challenge the statement that the plan outlined 18 months ago is being carried out with satisfaction in the country. Does any hon. Member opposite take any satisfaction out of cutting the means of a poor unemployed man? Will any hon. Member opposite go to his division and say that he is pleased to inform his constituents that the plan for doing so is being carried out with surprising swiftness? I invite any hon. Member to do so. I invite occupants of the Front Bench opposite to repeat that statement publicly outside. I am positive that the country is not satisfied at this time of rising cost of living, with the plan which is being carried out, and I think I speak for every decent-minded Member in the House when I ask the Government to stop the persecution of these unemployed men whom they have left destitute.
I have said already that the situation in the special areas looks a little better. That is largely because the transference scheme has been at work. In many areas, however, the situation is still tragic. Just before the House sat to-day I looked up the Ministry of Labour local index figures of unemployment to discover the actual position now in South Wales. I found attached to the index for September a slip which explained that the method of calculation has been changed and that the change affected the figures. Therefore, I take leave to use the August figures which are on the old basis. I find that there are in South Wales, in this time of boom and prosperity, four Employment Exchanges with percentages of unemployment of over 40; five with percentages of between 30 and 40 and 18 with percentages of over 20. There in a circumscribed, concentrated area 130 with 25 or 26 Exchanges, a quarter or a third, or in some cases nearly a half, of the people are unemployed. Do the Government think that that is a problem which ought to be left unmentioned in the King's Speech? But if it is not mentioned in the King's Speech, be assured that hon. Member's on these Benches will mention it, and will continue to mention it until something tangible has been done.
I wish in this connection to refer to the Special Areas (Amendment) Act of last Session. That Measure was brought in to deal with the problems of those Special Areas which had not been scheduled. The Minister of Labour told us that he and his advisers had been looking into the question of what they could do for those areas. I have some in my division, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) has some in his, while there are hon. Members in all parts of the House, from Yorkshire and elsewhere, who know that changes in industry are leaving derelict areas that are outside the scheduled areas. The Minister said they were going to deal with the problem, that they had been thinking very hard, and that they had discovered a new method of tackling it. They would not extend the geographical boundaries of the Special Areas, but they had got a great new idea, embodied in Clause 5 of that Bill, which is now an Act, and this new invention was that in these areas there would he set up site companies, which would attract new industries, and in that way the problem of these Special Areas outside the old Act would be dealt with. It is several months ago that this marvellous new cure was held out, but there has not been a single site company formed yet, and I want to repeat now what I said then, that that proposal was one of the worst frauds ever perpetrated on this House. The Government knew there was nothing in it, and they were simply holding out some kind of promise, which has not been fulfilled. The result is that not one site company has been formed in the whole of that time. Therefore, we know that this problem of the Special Areas is not being solved. The fringe of it has not been solved.
Last year, I notice from the Board of Trade industrial survey, the number of new works opened in South Wales was three, employing 450 workpeople. It may 131 be slightly better this year, but taking last year, at the rate at which new industries were then being attracted to South Wales, it would take all these Special Area inducements 100 years to replace the men displaced in the pits in the last 10 years in South Wales. Therefore, I want, at the beginning of this Session, to say that, although the Government may omit it completely from the King's Speech, we shall remind them that this is a problem for which they are responsible. Those old industries have been destroyed by a combination of great technical changes for which the men are not responsible and by actions of the Government, and international actions of Governments, beginning with the Versailles Treaty. They are areas which we believe cannot be restored or rebuilt except by national planning, nationally directed, and under national ownership.
The trend of the Debate has not gone that way, so I will forbear to speak in regard to the coal industry. There are two important Measures in regard to it that are indicated in the King's Speech, but I want, before I sit down, to say a word or two about another matter. I have not yet in this House intervened in a Debate on foreign affairs, not because I do not feel strongly about them, nor because I have no decided views about them, but because there are other people whom I regard as being more competent to speak upon them in this House than I. But I want now to say a word or two about one aspect of foreign affairs. I sat here last night and listened to the First Lord of the Admiralty. I heard the right hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) making an appeal to the Government to come to the rescue of the Asturian miners, and I feel that I should be betraying my people if I sat down this evening without saying a word on behalf of those miners. Before I came to this House I was for 10 years privileged to be a miners' agent in the Swansea Valley, and in one of the villages at the top end of that valley there was a colony of Spanish people, some of them Asturian miners, who had been there 25 or 30 years. I am a Welshman, proud of my race, but some of the best people I have ever known and worked with are those Spanish people at Abergrave in the Swansea Valley, and I want, speaking not merely for 132 myself, but also, I believe, for all the Members on these benches, for the South Wales Miners Federation, and for the Miners Federation of Great Britain, to make an appeal to the Government, to this House, and to the country, that whatever the risk may be we shall deserve to be branded as cowards for ever if we leave those brave Asturian miners to the mercy of the people who in the last few days have captured their territory and made them prisoners.
Miners are not cowards. If they were, they would not be miners. They fight bravely for themselves and for their country, and let me remind some hon. Members opposite—and I heard to-day with a good deal of pain a laugh from those benches—that when it comes to fighting for any good cause the miners in this country do not take any second place. I therefore appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Are the Government going to say, "No, we will not take every step possible, even if it means taking risks, even if it means stepping slightly over the boundary of non-intervention"? We ought to take risks to rescue those brave people, those Asturian miners, and I say that the miners of this country will be bitterly disappointed, first of all, if we do not rise in this House on this question and if the Government do not take any steps in this matter. Therefore I want to leave these words with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I believe that if the Government took steps immediately to offer help, and if they were prepared to take risks to go to the aid of those Asturian miners, they would earn the gratitude of the million miners of this country, who want to help their comrades in the hour of their distress.
§ 5.53 P.m.
§ Sir Hugh O'Neill
The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) always speaks in this House with great knowledge and eloquence on matters pertaining to social reform and labour, and he will, I am sure, pardon me if, in the course of the few remarks that I intend to make, I do not follow him on those aspects of the domestic situation with which he dealt in the first part of his speech. This Debate on the Address in reply to the King's Speech affords Members of the House of Commons an opportunity which they do not very often get of dealing with a large number of subjects in considerable 133 detail, and it is a Debate which generally becomes somewhat disjointed as a consequence. There are two points arising out of the King's Speech with which I should like to deal. The first is quite a short point, and the second is in connection with the foreign situation.
I was very pleased to see in the King's Speech that it is the intention that His Majesty the King shall visit India at no very distant date and thereby repeat the Durbar visit which his father paid to India shortly after his accession. I hope that the visit to India is a foretaste of what we shall see in the course of this reign, and that is, visits by the Sovereign to the other self-governing Dominions of the British Empire. It used to be said, I think, that the King could not leave the country or go so far as to the Dominions, but I feel very strongly, as one who has had the advantage of having visited Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, that now that we have a young and active King, it would be a matter of tremendous Imperial benefit if, during the course of the next few years, the Gracious Sovereign could pay a visit, as Sovereign, to the different Dominions of the British Empire. The amount of loyalty which it would provoke and the tremendous asset which it would be to Imperial strength are almost beyond the possibility of consideration. However, I have no doubt that very likely that will happen, and I hope it will in the course of the years that lie immediately before us.
Now I want to say a few words on the general foreign situation, which, after all, to-day overshadows everything else in the world. I am not an expert on foreign affairs. The hon. Member for Llanelly also said that he was not an expert on foreign affairs, but nevertheless he made a few trenchant remarks with regard to the foreign situation. The foreign situation to-day is so vitally important that it seems to me that it is not only experts upon foreign affairs who ought to deal with it, but it is the ordinary men in the street, because these are the persons affected by what happens in the world outside and by whether or not there is a war. Therefore, as one who does not pose in any respect as an expert on foreign affairs, I make no excuse for referring to the foreign situation this evening. It seems to me that amidst these bewildering circumstances and a constantly changing situation, the ordinary 134 man has definite views on foreign affairs on only one or two points. I think the ordinary man has views to-day specially on three points, which I intend to enumerate. First of all, I think he wants to be friends with Germany; secondly, I think he does not very much like Russia; and, thirdly, I think that he has made up his mind that he will not agree to this country going to war except in defence of its vital interests, and I feel sure that he would be supported in that by the general opinion of the average person throughout the various self-governing Dominions.
With regard to this question of an attempt to bring about better relations between Germany and ourselves, I have been through Germany in the last few weeks, not to stay for any length of time—I have visited Germany on previous occasions as well—and I am told by those who have visited Germany recently that there is among the German people just as strong a desire for friendship with this country as I believe there is among the British people for friendship with Germany. We have only to remember what the general reaction of people in this country was at the time when Herr Hitler reoccupied the demilitarised zone on the Rhine. I think at that time that the general view of the average man in this country was that, after all, the Germans were only reoccupying what was really their own soil, and he had the kind of feeling that, although it was contrary to treaties and absolutely unjustifiable and illegal, yet somehow there was something to be said for it. I think the average man knows also that within the last few years proposals have been made by Germany which seem to him reasonable, and he sees that nothing has come of them all. I seem to remember that while the Disarmament Conference was sitting there was a proposal made by the Germans, when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was Foreign Secretary, which looked to many people to be a very favourable proposal. It contained many points which to-day we should be delighted to have if they had been possible. M. Barthou, the French Foreign Minister, would not have it, and the opportunity was allowed to pass.
Then again, when my right hon. Friend who is now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, visited Berlin in 1935 in company with the present Foreign Secretary, and interviewed Herr Hitler, there were 135 other proposals made which I think the general public of this country at the time thought formed the basis of a possible settlement. Then there were the more recent proposals made after the Rhineland coup in 1936. I only refer to these different points in the recent relations between the Germans and ourselves to show that the average person in this country does feel that there have been opportunities in the last few years which have been allowed to slip and which, if they had been seized, might have led to a much more favourable situation in Europe than exists at the present time. What has happened? We could not come to any agreement with Germany on these various occasions and the result has been that she has taken by unilateral action far more than she might possibly have agreed to if some of the previous suggestions had led to consultation and possibly to an arrangement.
Why have these possibilities of a general settlement in Europe been allowed to slip by? I think it is because we have allowed ourselves to be persuaded by others against our better judgment. The result is that there is in Europe to-day a new alignment and, in my view, a much more dangerous situation than has existed for many years. That, of course, has been aggravated by the deplorable civil war in Spain. Now we have Europe once again divided into two main opposing camps—Germany and Italy on the one hand, and France and ourselves on the other, with always the sinister figure of Russia looming in the background owing to the Franco-Soviet Pact which, in my view, is the greatest stumbling block in the path of European appeasement. These new alignments in Europe, which appear to me to lead to great dangers, have caused us to drift right away from the idea which underlay the Covenant of the League of Nations towards the pre-War situation. We have drifted towards the pre-War situation of alliances of one set of Powers standing in array against another.
For a moment, while the situation in Spain is so acute and so difficult, it is obvious that nothing very much can be done about a general settlement in Europe, but when the opportunity again occurs for a general settlement in Western Europe I hope that the Government and the country, whoever they may be at the 136 time, will be firm, and will not allow their better judgment to be overborne by either French or any other susceptibilities. Our armaments are growing. We are getting stronger. We are told that the armament campaign is progressing satisfactorily. It is, I think, admitted by nearly everybody in this country whose outlook on affairs is at all reasonable, that it was absolutely necessary for this country to start to rearm and that it was unfortunate we did not start very much sooner. It seems to me that one of the chief advantages we shall gain by the new armed strength is that we shall be able to pursue more and more our own line of action instead of being dragged by the heels by others who, in our own hearts, we believe to be wrong. We can only hope and pray that during the period covered by this King's Speech we shall see an improvement in the European situation and the settlement of the outstanding problems created by the peace which followed the Great War.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I saw Parliament opened yesterday for the first time. I saw large numbers of people arriving outside in limousines and dressed as I have never seen people dressed before. I went into the Lords in order to hear the Address, and while I stood there I saw scenes which are described in this morning's newspapers as wonderful. It was a scene never to be forgotten. I saw the ladies of the land dressed in silks and in furs and ermine, and with diamonds dazzling in their hair. I saw elderly men sitting there looking the picture of health, saw people who were well toileted, well perfumed and well manicured. The scenes were truly wonderful. I listened to the conversations of the men and women who were present, and when I came out I could not help but think of the men and women to whom I belong, the men and women who have made this country. This country is a great country. It has a great history. It has led the world in the development of constitutional government and in the pioneering of social reform.
As I came away from the Lords yesterday I thought of the questions which we put to the National Government in these days when, according to what they tell us, they have been able to bring about a return to prosperity; and I thought of our old mothers and the men and women 137 of our class who have made this country great—not the people at whom we were looking yesterday, but the men and women who have toiled in the mines for generations, who have toiled in the workshops and on the land. These are the people who have made this country great, and yet they are expected to live on a 10s. a week old age pension and the meagre unemployment benefit which they receive after going through the humiliating treatment of having to answer questions from the means test officer. I hope that this party is going to resume its historical function of directing the attention of the nation to these questions, as the pioneers of the party intended it should do. I remember men like Keir Hardie in particular warning the people of his day to be aware of those in charge of the country who are constantly diverting and directing our attention to what is going on abroad and trying to make us forget what is going on internally. Therefore, I hope that this party will more and more direct its attention to internal affairs, as well as to foreign affairs, in order that we can truly represent the people whom we are sent here to represent.
I want to concentrate this evening on one specific issue. Twelve months ago, as a result of constant pressure on me and of my own experiences, as a result of walking down the street and seeing the large number of men with medals across their breasts begging coppers, I felt compelled to concentrate on the question of the treatment of ex-service men. Time after time I put questions to the Prime Minister and others asking them whether they would deal with this question. Very little notice was taken of it and we got very little support. We are pleased to see that the question was raised at the last Conservative Conference, where, not Socialists, but members of the medical profession raised the question of the treatment of ex-service men, as a result of their own experiences. There must be something seriously wrong with the treatment of ex-service men when a complacent conference like the Conservative Conference, after a speech made by the Minister of Pensions and after the platform had appealed to the Conference not to support the Resolution, passed the Resolution with acclamation. Therefore, national attention is at last being drawn 138 to the way in which ex-service men are being treated.
When I first raised this question 12 months ago the then Prime Minister was good enough to send his secretary to see me. I want to say this for Earl Baldwin, that he certainly did give to the matter the attention which one could expect of him, but at that time his hands were full as Prime Minister and he was dealing with a situation such as this country and very few other countries have ever experienced. The late Prime Minister was very decent about it. He showed great interest in the matter and sent his secretary to interview me. The secretary said we could not expect the Prime Minister to receive a deputation then, as he was occupied with a very serious internal situation. Therefore, we reluctantly agreed to a suggestion to see instead the Minister of Pensions. I shall never forget that interview with the Minister of Pensions. He answered us by saying that the British Legion were going to make investigations, and asking us to await the result of them. We agreed to that request, although we considered that it was the responsibility of the Government to undertake such an investigation in view of the growing volume of complaints; but I am more convinced than ever that we made a mistake in agreeing to that course, that we were lacking in our duty in not carrying on with our questions in this House; because there must be something seriously wrong with the treatment of ex-service men when a complacent Conservative conference agrees to such a resolution as it passed only a few weeks ago.
During the Recess I have been reading the first and second Reports of the Public Accounts Committee, and there I find the clue to an understanding of the policy pursued by the Ministry of Pensions and the Treasury in particular. The Public Accounts Committee have been very critical of the Ministry of Pensions. They state in their Report, under heading No. 7:Your Committee were informed that the principal causes of the excess were an unusually small number of terminations of pensions by death.What is the only interpretation which can be put upon that? We find that the Minister of Pensions had suggested that a superannuation scheme for the nurses 139 employed by the Ministry of Pensions should be agreed to. That is quite a laudable object and one with which we are in full agreement. But this is what I want to bring out: the policy which the Ministry of Pensions and the Treasury have pursued is that the finance for the superannuation of the nurses should be found at the cost of the ex-service men. Throughout these reports of the Public Accounts Committee we find an indictment, a criticism, of the policy pursued by the Ministry of Pensions, because they were economising at the expense of the ex-service men in order to carry through a superannuation scheme for the nurses. Every Hon. Member ought to read those reports, because the Public Accounts Committee are critical of the Minister of Pensions for not coming to this House and asking for a Supplementary Estimate, but adopting instead the policy of taking the money out of the funds granted by this House for the purpose of assisting ex-service men.
I wish to remind the House of what these men went through. From 1914 to 1918 6,000,000 men in this country joined the armed forces, and 2,000,000 of them were wounded or affected in some way. Those 6,000,000 men were the cream of the manhood of that day. Many of them had never had any previous Army experience, and under normal conditions would have lived normal lives, but owing to the War they were subjected to abnormal conditions. Thousands spent months, and many of them spent years, in open trenches; they lived in the open; and they suffered frostbite, trench-fever and illnesses of all descriptions. Let Hon. Members recall what those men went through in Flanders, the Dardanelles and other places. At Suvla Bay, in order to hold their own in the trenches, scores of men spent weeks up to the waist in water owing to the lie of the land. Is it to be wondered that thousands of men who passed through such experiences are now suffering from rheumatism and other diseases?
I have in my hand a publication issued in 1917. It says that men who join up will receive pensions in addition to any money they draw from their employment, that whatever they get from their employment will make no difference to the pension, and, further, that a board 140 would decide whether a man's disease was caused by or made worse by military service. The undertakings given in that publication are not being carried out by the Minister of Pensions at the present time. I shall not take up time by reminding the House of the glowing promises made by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) or the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). Some of us who are only relatively young can remember the promises made during the War. It was men of my generation who went through the last War, and it is men of my generation who now stand in the Strand and Trafalgar Square with their medals on because of the treatment they have received from the Minister of Pensions during the past 10 years. The growing accumulation of discontent and the growing agitation arising out of the treatment of these ex-service men has even found expression in the National Conservative Conference, a conference not addressed by men representing our party but addressed by medical men who were telling of their experiences.
I have put question after question to different Ministers, but have got little satisfaction, and now I should like to give some actual evidence of the position of these men. I am not asking the House to accept my word. In order to avoid the accusation that I am trying to create trouble or to exaggerate the position I will give evidence from independent sources—from the Officers' Benevolent Department of the British Legion and from actual letters which provide concrete illustrations. If I had time I could produce a whole bundle of letters giving a clear indication of the position of ex-service men at the present time. What are we asking for? We are not asking for any increase in expenditure, only that an investigation should be conducted by a Select Committee of this House into the position of ex-service men, and more particularly into the policy being pursued by the Minister of Pensions.
Before I give this evidence I would remark that while sitting here I have been thinking what a very capable Minister the Minister of Pensions is. During the past nine months I have listened to him making speech after speech from that Box. He has been the chief assistant to the Minister of Agriculture in this House. He must 141 have given days and days of study to agricultural problems in order to prepare himself to make the competent speeches which we have heard from him. He must have spent hours and hours in the preparation of the actual speeches. Also, he has for several months been the chief propagandist for the National Government throughout the country. I suggest that if the Minister of Pensions had been attending to the duties of the Ministry of Pensions he would not have had time to devote to agricultural affairs and to being the chief propagandist for the National Government. The result is that the Ministry of Pensions has become a strongly organised centre of bureaucracy; it is being left to the permanent officials to administer the Ministry of Pensions instead of to the Minister of Pensions. In a report issued in 1935—not a Labour publication—by the Officers' Benevolent Department of the British Legion I find the following:Numerous applications were received during the year for advice regarding claims to the Ministry of Pensions under the special arrangements made for dealing with claims. In the majority of cases the Bureau approached the Ministry of Pensions in the matter, but with little success, owing to the great difficulty in establishing the continuous medical benefit required.The report makes an analysis of the cases which the Bureau has dealt with, and shows that 65 per cent. of the cases have not concerned men who were wounded but have arisen out of nervous disorders, diseases of the heart, tuberculosis and other ailments. That is our case; the plea that we are making is not altogether for men who are wounded, although we are also appealing for them, but in particular for the men who endured the conditions I have described from 1914 to 1918 and are now suffering from rheumatism, weak hearts, and other diseases contracted as a result of an undermined constitution. If they had been left at home to follow the life of the average man their constitutions would never have been undermined, but owing to the blood stream being weakened and impaired they are not now able to withstand the winter's cold and disease as they otherwise would have been. The Minister of Pensions ought to be prepared to face up to this situation.
This Officers' Benevolent Society says that the chief criticism is of the unsatisfactory attitude of medical advisers of the Ministry of Pensions, in face of the opinion 142 of doctors who are in constant attendance on patients for war disabilities and who give certificates in support of their claims, and that even the opinions of specialists are ignored when certificates are sent. Every hon. Member, whether he be National Liberal, Conservative, Labour, or Independent Liberal, knows that I am stating facts, and nearly every one of them would be prepared to substantiate what I am saying out of his own experience, if only they were prepared to speak the truth with regard to it. I have had many letters sent to me from pensions committees throughout this country, and impartial committees such as British Legion committees, substantiating the evidence which I am trying to produce.
A man whom I knew when I was young is 40 years of age and is a married man with four children. He has a total income of £1 19s., made up of a pension of 10s. a week and 29s. from the public assistance committee. I hope the House will give to this case the attention it deserves because it is a typical illustration of the policy that is pursued. I contend that it is not fair to expect ex-service men, after the sacrifices that they made, to go before public assistance committees when they find themselves in this position. This man was wounded in France. He had shrapnel in both legs. He was left with a short leg because of a wound, and on this account he received 10s. Later on, he was supplied with surgical boots and a leg iron. He has had to undergo three operations during the past few years; first of all he had his toe off and then he had his foot off. Then he had the leg off. Now he is a cripple, with the right leg off and the left foot and leg in a surgical boot and leg iron. He receives a pension of 10s. a week. Another man, in the Newcastle district—
Lieut.-Colonel Sir Mervyn Manning-ham-Buller
Would the hon. Member tell us the ages of the four children?
§ Mr. Smith
I am sorry, but I have not the information as to the ages of the children. If the hon. and gallant Member is interested to that extent, I shall be only too pleased to supply him with that information. I began to refer to another case from Newcastle of a man whose spine was badly affected. I am not going to read all the letters, but 143 there are letters from specialists and infirmary medical officials in Newcastle, claiming that they have done all that was humanly possible to get justice for this man, but that they failed, despite all their efforts. The Officers' Medical Benefit Department of the British Legion went to the trouble of preparing a long statement arising out of their experience. They have sent certificates by some of the finest medical practitioners in this country and statements from some of the most brilliant specialists, from infirmaries, from Harley Street and the British Red Cross Association. Despite the fact that men were able to produce those certificates and to bring all that specialised medical assistance, knowledge and evidence in their support, it was of no avail when their cases went before the Ministry of Pensions.
The last case with which I wish to deal I have examined for myself. This man has been trying to obtain justice for about 15 years. I have written letter after letter to the Ministry of Pensions and finally I went to see the man himself. He took off his trousers and stripped to his waist and I saw on both sides of his legs wounds which have affected him to an extent that has undermined the whole of his physique and has sent him dizzy on numerous occasions. If hon. Members doubt what we are saying with regard to these complaints and what passed at the Conservative Conference, and would come along and see this man, they would no longer have any doubts in this case. Four years ago the local pensions committee made a special plea to the Minister of Pensions for this man. I am not blaming the Minister of Pensions as an individual, except that I say that, in these days of great activity and of need for being specialised, a Minister cannot devote the attention, as he has done in this House, to assisting the Minister of Agriculture, or go throughout this country acting as the principal propagandist for the National Government, and at the same time carry out his duties as the Minister of Pensions. The fact of the matter is, as I stated earlier, that the Ministry of Pensions has now become a highly bureaucratised centre, and the Minister has very little knowledge of what is taking place. He is leaving it to the permanent officials. Every hon. Member knows the phraseology which 144 those permanent officials use when answering letters to Members of this House.
This is the position of this man: Four years ago his local pensions committee made a special plea. This is an extract from the newspaper report of what Mr. Green, the chairman of this pensions committee, said:I am once again appealing to you to assist me in order that we can deal with this through the Minister of Pensions.Then he goes on to say, according to this newspaper report of four years ago:I feel very sorry for this man. It is the worst case that we have ever had to deal with.I got a letter from the man's wife only a few weeks ago saying that the man has completely broken down and can no longer follow his employment. I have brought here four X-ray photographs of this man's leg, showing shrapnel which is still in the leg. These are actual X-ray photographs produced in the local infirmary. They were sent on to the Minister of Pensions, and this is the reply of the Minister of Pensions:The X-ray plates which you forwarded with your previous letter do not differ materially from the X-ray evidence already in the possession of the Ministry. The fact that foreign bodies are, however, present, does not necessarily mean that material disablement is being experienced therefrom. The question of the payment of disablement pension does not depend upon whether foreign bodies are or are not retained.I do not know who is responsible for phraseology of that description, but whoever it is he ought to be ashamed of himself when he sees the X-ray photographs and the history of this individual.
§ Mr. Smith
The hon. Member reminds me of my experience. We went to the Ministry of Pensions. So far as the Minister himself is concerned, I have no complaint, but sitting behind him were the permanent officials, and all the time we were stating our case they were smiling behind their chief, cynically and sarcastically, and not smiling openly. Hon. Friends of mine who came along can substantiate what I am saying. They produced evidence to show that the case which I was presenting was not exaggerated. The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) has referred to a half-witted doctor. That 145 may be true to his own experience. I have no hesitation in saying that the permanent officials indicated in no uncertain way that they had not the feeling which is conducive to getting the best out of the administration of the Ministry of Pensions. Therefore, I have no hesitation in saying also that anyone who is prepared to treat men like this, after the men have given of their best to the country and their constitutions have been undermined, are not fit to fill any position, and that an immediate investigation ought to be made into this administration.
This man is being cruelly and inhumanly treated, and if ever there was a genuine case it is his. It is not an isolated case; practically every Member of this House could produce cases of his own, if he were prepared to say publicly what has been said to me privately. As a result of my asking these questions, Member after Member has come to me in the Lobby, the Smoke Rooms and the Library and said: "We agree with all you have said and we could all produce evidence." I ask such Members whether the time has not arrived for them to be prepared to say publicly what they have said privately, in order that we may carry out the desires and the complaints of the Conservative Conference and of the medical profession of this country. An immediate investigation ought to be made into the policy and the administration of the Ministry of Pensions in order that it might be worthy of the men who gave their all from 1914 to 1918.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Magnay
I do not propose to cover the ground of the previous speaker, except to say that I have had one or two very unfortunate cases of constituents of mine. There were one or two very bad cases. I would like to see a permanent official who would sneer behind his chief's back in my presence; I think I would get very hot under the collar and use the very plainest of English and tell him exactly where he got off. I think a commission is to be set up to look into these matters in the humane manner which hon. Members of this House would desire.
I will be as brief as I can in the time at my disposal because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. I would never speak in this House if others would say the things that I wish to say, but if 146 there is something which I think ought to be said, then, Mr. Speaker, I come to you and ask you to be good enough to call upon me. I am not going to speak upon all the paragraphs in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, but I would say that I welcome such proposals as the provisions for better and cheaper milk and other beneficent Measures.
§ Mr. Magnay
I understood that there was to be a commission, but I learned it only from the Press. I may have overstated the case. I should have said that I assumed that there will be a commission appointed to deal with the matter.
§ Mr. Magnay
I am not the Minister in charge of the thing, but I assume that that will be so. The Gracious Speech said:My Government will further develop their social policy by introducing legislation to enable meals to be supplied to boys and girls attending junior instruction centres.I have seen boys in such cases in my locality, and I am glad to say that there are not so many as there were two years ago, when there were between 300 and 400. Some of the teachers have had to be discharged because of the lack of young persons, who have been getting work, even in the distressed areas. I saw these boys and I know that they need milk and good food in the mid-day to equip them for the knowledge which is to be imparted to them. It is a humane and very necessary thing to make them efficient. I have already said to the Minister of Labour, who, I am glad to see, is present, that adequate remuneration should be paid to the instructors in these centres. I was shocked to find how poorly some of these expert men, accustomed to teach these trainees, were paid. I hope that they will be paid uniformly throughout the country at these junior instruction centres. As I see it, the beneficent measures proposed in the Gracious Speech are all conditional on this major one:I rejoice to know that the outlook for trade and industry remains favourable, and that there is every indication that the progress made in the last year will he maintained.147 Obviously, unless trade and industry flourish, these measures will never be seen at all. The Gracious Speech says that the outlook for trade and industry remains favourable, but, being a plain man from the North, I suggest that it must be remembered that it all depends upon, first, who is looking; secondly, the strength or the weakness of the looker's eyes; and, thirdly, where he is looking—where the outlook is. Many are deliberately putting on dark spectacles when they talk about trade and industry. I heard one last night on the wireless, and I think this House should make representations to the British Broadcasting Corporation that these lunatics at large should be stopped from propagating false news. This supposed expert on the wireless was saying, "Sufficient for the day is the slump thereof." A wireless speaker has one obvious benefit, namely, that nobody can sling anything at him. If I could, he would have known about it. But I would take this opportunity of saying, in this national forum, that I think he is very much misinformed, and has no business at all to broadcast to the whole world that we anticipate a slump. It is sheer nonsense.
It may even be that some in this House are talking about the inevitability of the slump. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said as much this afternoon. He asked, looking at me particularly, who would dare to say that there is any difference in the fundamentals of trade within the last few years? I will, and I will give him chapter and verse for it. I say to him, as I say to all those people who talk about the inevitability of the slump, that they are spiritual cousins of Rip van Winkle. What is the background of the present situation in regard to our national trade and industry? Is it necessary to say here that the world is an entirely different place from what it was in 1914? Politically it is, without a doubt; everyone who runs may read the signs of the time. In Russia, Germany and Italy there are dictators, and in the United States of America there is a dictator—a financial dictator, but a dictator.
Industrially the world is quite different. Here in Britain the inventions of two generations were telescoped in the four dreadful years of the War. Specialists tell us that, for the same unit of 148 physical energy plus the machine, the average ratio of productivity is 20 times more than it was in 1914. I was talking some time ago in Birmingham to this effect with a friend of mine, a big man in business, and he said to me, "You are quite right. I have a machine in my factory which at half-past five at night they set going, and, when they come in at half-past seven in the morning, it is still going on turning out stuff. If there is anything wrong with the machine, it automatically shuts off and spoils nothing." That is a sample of what is happening. With the same unit of physical energy, plus the machine, the ratio of productivity is 20 times more on the average than it was in 1914; or, to put it in another way, one man plus the machine is doing the work of 20. There we have the basis of all our trouble; there are 19 men to find work for.
I watch the queues at the Employment Exchange, and they look at me with unblinking eyes, like the Sphinx, asking me to answer the riddle or die. The riddle is that their unemployment is lop-sided leisure, ill-distributed leisure, which, when we have more sense, will be distributed in better fashion. Our modern education has not kept pace with science. As was said at the British Association the other day, man is not yet fit to use the tools that science has placed in his hands. Industrially, the world is an entirely different thing; economically, it is vastly different. On the 21st September, 1931, the Government took charge of the Bank of England; it determined the control of money and currency—the volume of money, the purchasing power of money, the rates of interest. Who would have dreamed in 1914 that, in these times of comparative boom, we should have had a fixed rate of interest of 2 per cent.? No one would have believed it. But the Treasury have done that. They have taken charge of the Bank of England. In other words, it ceased to be a partner, and it is now, like just another joint stock bank, an agent for the Government. It will continue to be only an agent, and, if we have any sense as Members of Parliament, we shall see that it will never be a partner again. The old Bank rate policy, the prime cause of what is called the trade cycle, was then discarded as the useless failure it had proved to be. Few people outside the banks realise that it was a 149 financial revolution. When I hear Members of Parliament here talk about the nationalisation of the banks, I wonder what world they think they are living in. The Bank of England is now under the charge of the Government.
Few people outside the banking circles—and they kept it as quiet as possible, as may be imagined, for reasons of their own—realise that since 1931 there has been a financial revolution. How did it happen? We have suffered from two Norman conquests. One happened in 1066, at Hastings, and the other in Threadneedle Street, at the Bank of England, in 1924. The first was more beneficent in its effects than the last. Experts then advised going back to the Gold Standard, and in 1925 it was done, and we were done—done very badly. We all know what happened. New enterprises were stopped, and consequently there was less demand for constructional material and for capital; there was inevitable unemployment; there was a less demand for consumption; there was a lower standard of living; stocks of goods, largely held by overdrafts, had to be allowed to go at sacrificial cost and great loss; and the holders had to sack their workpeople by the thousand. We all know what happened after the return to the Gold Standard in. 1925. We had the general strike in 1926, the effect of which on our foreign trade was devastating. [Interruption.] I am quite serious. It does not matter who did it; we are all to blame for allowing it to happen. [Interruption.] The miners were no better than their leaders. There are no more loyal people than the miners, who, once they have pledged their word, will fight a losing battle just as they will fight a winning one.
The effect on our foreign trade was devastating. It was to give at once from 2s. 6d. to 3s. in the pound to our foreign competitors. And not only did this policy almost ruin our export trade; it was also one of the causes of the slowing down of the trade cycle. Let me give a few figures; I hope I shall be challenged if they are wrong. The price level in 1924 was 179; in 1928 it was 140. The result was 1,300,000 unemployed. The price level in 1931 had gone down to 89, and in the dreadful year 1932 it had gone down to 84. The result was an unemployment figure of 2,600,000; it had doubled in the four years. In the autumn 150 of 1931 we were swept off the Gold Standard against the advice of all the experts. We did not come off of our own volition. It was like a rope tied to a boat at high tide. If the rope is not sufficiently long and strong, it snaps at low tide. In desperation we got out of the strait waistcoat imposed by the moneylenders, and shortly afterwards set up the Exchange Equalisation Fund. The price level went up, and by 1936 it had reached a figure of 110. In September, 1936, as a result of agreement and joint action with five other nations, it rose to 120, and again we saw the result in the benefits that have accrued to us in employment. It has reached the highest point that has ever been reached in this country, and unemployment has decreased.
I suggest that we should not adopt this slump psychology, but should talk of prosperity. The price level is still going up. The Macmillan Committee recommended that it should be fixed at 137. In May this year it was 124. It will fluctuate up and down, but there is no reason at all why it should not be raised, and that is why I am quite cool when people talk about the increased cost of living. I do not know any other way of raising the level of our people than by raising the cost of living. What I am concerned about is that wages should go up with it. I hear someone whispering that we must have a gold reserve. In 1931, our gold reserve was nil. Now we have, in the Exchange Equalisation Fund, £550,000,000, three times more than ever we had in the boom times of Free Trade. The Colwyn Committee, it may be remembered, suggested that there should be a gold reserve of £150,000,000, a purely arbitrary figure for which no one could give a reason. As a matter of fact, Mr. Speaker, if you and I had charge of that information and had kept it to ourselves, and if it was 150,000,000 cherrystones, it would have the same effect, because trade and industry are built on confidence and faith. That is how all these materialistic experts get wrong—totally wrong. These spiritual, imponderable, immeasurable factors comprising what we call mutual confidence and trust cannot be tabulated. We ought to be done with the slump psychology. To anyone who talks about an inevitable slump I would say,Dark is the world to thee; thou art thyself the cause.151 Why cannot such folk see the obvious facts? It is the international price level that governs industry for us. Settle that and the question of the internal price level and the cost of living is a minor and, I suggest, an easily adjusted matter. Then and then only will the primary producers all over the world be able to sell at a profit, and therefore be able to buy our exports and pay for our shipping. If anyone says that it cannot be done, let me remind him that the Government, on its own account, has raised the price level 16 points in four years and, with the help of other nations, a further 10 points. After all, there are 30 nations in the sterling group with us, and we can shape trade in the world as we wish. I am quite aware that all the experts disagree with me. Well, when experts disagree honest men come by their own. The biggest slump of all since 1931, believe me, has been in economic experts. I have read Clay and Beveridge and Macgregor—I have got them all, and all disagree with one another. There is no consensus of opinion. They are just the same as the people who give tips for horse races in the daily Press—just as much reason in them.
George Stevenson 100 years ago was told by all the experts that a smooth-wheeled engine, drawing a train on a smooth line, could not run with safety at a speed above 20 miles an hour. And George, coming from the far North as I do, said: "Nonsense, put more weight on it." And the answer to these experts is this. I came down from the North in four hours at 80 miles an hour in exceeding great comfort, and reached my destination at the scheduled time. And how is it done? I am not an engineer, but when you go to the engine you see a pressure gauge. What is that? A standard of measurement. Measurement of what? Of steam. What steam? The steam in circulation. The engineer knows the load he has got to take—so many hundred tons at 80 miles an hour, and he can do it because he measures it. He knows that diffused energy is wasted energy, and he gets every ounce of steam behind the piston rod of his engine. And if it is possible to do that, it is not beyond the wit of man to measure the prices of commodities and have the currency equal to it. There is not the slightest need in the world, if we have 152 any sense, to talk about slumps and booms. An engine driver does not shut off steam and wait, saying "I am going too fast." If I am in perfect health I do not go to the doctor and say, "Doctor, in four years I do not think I shall be very well." I take it that I shall be well in four years' time if I use common sense and obey the laws of hygiene and health. It is precisely the same; there are no water-tight compartments in science. Let me read what Lord Bradbury said. He refused to sign the Report of the Macmillan Commission in June, 1931, because, he said:the policy of a stable price level meant abandoning the gold standard, and such a policy would not come within the range of practical politics within the lifetime of the youngest among us.And within three months we were swept off the gold standard and we have never looked back since. The vice-like grip which the Bank of England has had on trade and industry for 200 years was relaxed, and we ought never to suffer from it again.
There are many Opposition Labour friends of mine here, and I want to say a word or two about the Ottawa Conference. At that Conference our delegates did not consider the pound sterling to be a fixed yardstick to measure purchasing power, but a lever to raise world wholesale prices. More than that, they were told there should be a control of purchasing power instead of the old moneylenders' policy of making money scarce, and therefore clear, arid therefore causing the strangling of trade; and when wholesale prices had reached equilibrium level they were to be stabilised more in keeping with the level of costs and fixed charges. They were told further that foreign exchange would be no longer reckoned on the basis of gold, but on the price parities of the various nations. I suggest most seriously that this sound policy of the present Prime Minister has succeeded. Who would have believed in 1914 that the Wall Street crisis of last week would have had no repercussions here? We have insulated its effects. We have made it impossible for these shocks to do us any harm.
In conclusion, I suggest that the right outlook is for our people to get on with the investments that matter in our own country. I was in Glasgow the other day, and there were thousands of slums 153 there to he pulled down and houses to be built. There are thousands in London, and thousands all over the country. Before the War we had 300,000 people leaving this country every year as emigrants. Multiply that by 10 and you get 3,000,000 in 10 years. I do not say there is a ready-made cure for unemployment, but there ought to be communities emigrating together—not a lad or a lass from a certain district but, say, another Gateshead, or another Newcastle, or another Stoke going to selected places with Government help and a guarantee to have a trip home after seven years if they wish. That would be a reasonable migration policy which would help us in the future. I am very sorry I have gone on so long, but I hope the House will forgive me because I think it is essential that our outlook upon trade and industry should be a sane one.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Lansbury
I always enjoy listening to the hon. Member, because he is so absolutely sure and convinced that, whoever else is wrong, he cannot possibly be wrong. I do not know whether he made that kind of speech in the country during the Election that followed the turning out of the Labour Government.
§ Mr. Magnay
I never said the Labour party were wholly responsible for the 1931 crisis. I said they were not competent to deal with it.
§ Mr. Lansbury
Being a modest sort of person, I take it that that remark is quite true. But the whole case against the Labour Government was that they had created the conditions, and that those conditions were such that we ought never to trust the Labour Government again. If that is not so, how is it that again and again figures are quoted to prove how many more unemployed there were during the two years of the Labour Government than in the previous years? The effects in the year or two following the Labour Government were put down to the stupidity, and sometimes the cupidity, of the Labour Government. But I have riot risen to answer the hon. Gentleman, because I did not know that he was going to deal with the Gold Standard. When I dealt with it a little while ago I received a, lecture, which I am sorry I did not hear, from the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams). I am sorry he did not hear his hon. Friend to-night.
154 May I say that I should like to join with other hon. Members in saying that I hope the Prime Minister will soon recover from his illness? "A fellow feeling makes us wondrous kind." I had a dose of sciatica in February—a complaint I have never had before; and although the Prime Minister's complaint is gout, I understand that rheumatism, sciatica, gout, and all such ills have something in common, and if he feels anything like I did, he has my profoundest sympathy, and I hope he will soon be better.
Now I want, if I may, to deal quite briefly with two or three points in the Speech from the Throne, and I deal with it not as His Majesty's Speech in the ordinary sense, but as the Speech which gives us the Government's statement of policy and their programme. I want to join with the hon. and gallant Member for Wallasey (Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon) in regretting that it is not proposed to do anything with regard to the massacre on the roads. I have had a great deal of experience this year in London and around London—rather more than usual—and I am confident that the accidents on the roads are due to two, or perhaps three, causes. I think the most important one is that there is no defined rule of the road now. Cyclists and motor cars and motor lorries pass on the near side and cut across in a fashion that was never allowed in the days of horse traffic. It is defended by motorists by saying that they have more control over the machine. Well, I think if I have escaped one serious accident during this year I have escaped by inches quite a dozen, and each time it has been through some motorist coming from the kerb-side and driving right across. I think there ought to be a rule of the road in regard to driving and no one should be allowed to pass except on the off-side of a vehicle. The cutting in is done in such a way that I wonder that there are not many more people killed and injured than there are.
With regard to the cyclists, I have great sympathy with the cyclist who rides in the City of London. It is a very difficult and sometimes very treacherous place to cycle in. But I do think that cyclists often take terrific risks in going between sometimes very fast-moving traffic, as well 155 as slow traffic of very big vehicles, when the least slip would knock them over. I think there ought to be in the Highway Code something quite definite about these matters, so that the cyclist shall know that it is a very bad thing to get right in the middle of two lines of traffic. Very often he can get through, but if he makes a little slip, or one of the vehicles goes too far one way or the other, the poor chap is done for. I know also that there are road hogs who use the roads in a disgraceful manner, both in the country and the towns. I have tried to keep account, going about London this year, of the sort of reasons for accidents which come under one's notice when travelling in a car—or a bus, but this year I have travelled more in somebody else's car.
Then I want to say a word or two about young people and prison reform—and old offenders too. I spend a good deal of my mornings seeing people who are in trouble in one way or another. Home Secretaries know how often I bather them about different cases. I am sometimes appalled at the number of young people who come to me just out of prison or just going to be tried for some offence. I put it to the Government and the Chancellor of the Exchequer who represents the head of the Government to-day that it is not quite so much prison reform you want—you do need that, because the day when you have got to the end of these young people is not yet—but prevention. I was down by the Lincolnshire Wash the other day and I was told that there are just one or two small settlements there in connection with a kind of Borstal effort for dealing with young people by starting in a very small way the reclamation of the Wash. is it not rather extraordinary that we should allow these young people to go travelling about the towns looking for work, getting into mischief, getting into prison, and then send them down to do that useful work? Surely it would be more common sense to say that that great scheme, which has been talked about ever since I have known unemployment talked about, should be proceeded with, and to organise a real, definite, clear-cut scheme for reclaiming the Wash, and to put young people to work on it at proper wages and under proper conditions?
156 I have said in this House once or twice before that I was born alongside railway cuttings, and my father and mother had to go from place to place as the railway advanced. We lived in my very young days in wooden huts. I think that to-day we could very easily take down hundreds of young people to Lincolnshire, settle them in decent hutments and have recreation centres for them. They would be quite near the town, where they would be in touch with ordinary life, which my people were not when they were building railways, and they would have advantages that were not possible years ago. Instead of waiting till these boys are in prison, and then devoting a lot of money to trying to deal with them in prison, why not deal with them before they are in prison? I am quite certain that, if any inquiry is properly made into this question, you will find that a large proportion of them are in prison because they have been unable to get regular, decent, wholesome work.
On the question of unemployment and the welfare of the country, I am sorry the hon. Member has gone because he seemed so complacent about present conditions. I am not going to belittle a single one of the proposals the Government are making to ameliorate certain conditions of life, but I put it to them that when we are talking of prosperity it is rather extraordinary that a King's Speech, by a Government such as this, should have to contain so many, even inadequate, proposals for dealing with people who cannot get their own living in the ordinary way. Why should we have to give away free milk and have all this housing business? Why should it be that in my own district there were, when we took the census, 40 per cent. of the people overcrowded in our new tenements, and 20 per cent. of the London County Council tenants and 11 per cent. of the tenants in the private houses, which are smaller houses, overcrowded? Not because people want to be overcrowded. Why are there all these slums, and why is it that the rents have gone up 37 per cent, in all the decontrolled working-class houses in that district? The reason for all that—not the last point but all the other points—is that they cannot afford to pay the economic rent that is charged, even with the subsidy, and they will not be able to pay it.
I am looking forward—I did not hear the Minister—with some anxiety to know 157 what it is the Government are proposing to do in regard to overcrowding and slum clearance. It is very likely that the Minister did deal with it, but I hope that if he did not the Parliamentary Secretary will, because in my district it is a very burning question. I have this year taken more part in the local government of Poplar than I have been able to do for some years, and I am appalled at the manner in which people live. I am not going to give instances, because you might say: "One instance does not prove your case," but I do say I have never been so bothered about overcrowding and slums as this year. And this is at a time when everything is said to be better than well. We have no right to challenge the rising prices, the hon. Member said just now, and he said he would be satisfied if wages went up. But wages do not go up as costs go up.
Then I want also to call attention to old age pensions. I have tried once or twice in this House, and so have my hon. Friends, to ascertain the number of old age pensioners in receipt of parish relief. We never can get those figures accurately, because the figures we want are not the figures of the contributory people, as large numbers of those people still go to work. The ones we are concerned about are the non-contributory pensioners of 70 years of age and over. Although I have wrestled with the lions of the Treasury on this matter, they still say it is quite impossible for these figures to be produced. They give us the gross figures dealing with old age pensioners, both contributory and non-contributory. Whether there are 200,000 or 100,000 or 50,000, I tell the House the plight of the old age pensioners is a disgrace to this country. They ought not to have to go to the Poor Law to get their rent or the added means of living that they need. I am pretty old, and I could not live on 10s. a week. I do not smoke, I am a teetotaller, but rent would knock me out anyhow, and everyone knows that. Although we may be told that the pension to-day is double what it was before the War, it is not nearly enough for the conditions of to-day, for rent and rates and the cost of living.
I should like to say, and I want to give it publicity, that we have had a scheme in Poplar that has dealt with just a handful of old people, but it has been made possible only because of the good 158 will and the financial assistance of a big firm of ship repairers, who have not only given the men some pension but have also given us a site and built very nice permanent dwellings in which, with the co-operation of the borough council, the old people can get really good accommodation, bedroom, sitting-room, bath and a good open space in front at as. 6d. a week, inclusive of electric light, water and everything else. I think that is rather unique in this country. I wish those who controlled the funds raised as a memorial to the late King had spent the money on that kind of scheme rather than on a memorial of the kind which is going to be erected.
I want to say another word about pensions. Being a very old married person, I am very interested in the claim to pensions at 55. I think there is no more pathetic figure coming before any local authority than the woman between 45 and 60. I mean in the walk of life in the East End. I am not thinking of myself at the moment, because you will tell me, as I wanted to tell the hon. Member, that it is very well for us to say the cost of living does not matter, because we have just had a good rise, but for these women'. the cost of living is terribly pathetic.. Many of them have no friends, most of them have done some service to the community, and in the end the people for whom they have worked cannot employ them and others will not employ them. I hope that when these women get organised, as most of them will, this House will have to face up to their position and the question of these pensions will not have to be talked about, but you will have to grant them.
I would rather it was unnecessary for us to have to come here and say a single word about free milk or free anything else. Although I, with my friends in Poplar, have fought hard for the poor, I hate poverty and the conditions which compel us to treat a large portion of our community differently from the manner in which we treat ourselves. Food, clothing and shelter come first of all in all our lives, and if people are denied the right of earning sufficient, then the community must shoulder the burden. I agree that a tremendous amount has been done, but now, when everything has been done of which we can all boast, there are still 1,125,000 unemployed of whom we know, not to mention another 159 1,000,000 of whom we do not know, people who are not registered, who do not register and are not entitled to register, and so on. The hon. Member started by telling us how production had increased and how one man and one machine could turn out this and that commodity. That is true all over the world in all what are called civilised countries, and it is the crux, not only of our national difficulties, but of international difficulties. All nations who have the kind of capitalist plan under which we live turn out commodities without any regard to markets or to consumption, and in the competitive struggle that takes place there is the demand from each country for further markets, further expansion and development in order that their commodities may be consumed.
It is exactly the same problem with which we are faced in this country. We could produce in this country, as is proved by what we are doing in armaments, everything, and more than, we need for all the people, but instead of devoting all our energies to the task of supplying the needs of the people, we are devoting our energies to preparing to destroy each other. That brings me to something which probably I ought to try to speak about to-morrow, but, as we have already been told by the right hon. Member for North Cornwall (Sir F. Acland) this is a general debate, and we are entitled to speak upon subjects in a general way. The King's Speech says:With the full co-operation of My people the work of expanding and equipping My defence forces is now making rapid progress.My Ministers are anxious that energetic steps shall be taken to complete the measures for the protection of the civilian population against air raids. A Bill to put the necessary arrangements on a statutory basis will be brought forward for your consideration.In another part of the Speech it says that the Government will further develop their social policy by introducing legislation, and it goes on to say also:to enable further information to be obtained for the study of the population problem.We heard about that this afternoon. I ask the House to consider for a moment the position of women in regard to the question of air raids and air raid precautions. It is true, I think, to say, that there is no defence against air raids. Lord Baldwin told us that. But just think of it, Here is an encouragement for 160 mothers to bear children. Gas masks for toddlers is the next concern of the Home Office Air Raid Precautions Department. Have you ever looked at a little child? I often see my grandchildren, and I hate to think of them wearing beastly masks. Masks are now being made for the millions in three sizes—small, medium and large. Will the small size be too big for children in the two- or three-year-old stage, the children who have just passed the baby stage?
Official tests to find out about this matter are being made. Some homes at Hawkhurst have volunteered the use of their babies for experiment. There are 70 children, ranging from a few weeks to five years, being cared for there. They are either orphans or children of destitute parents. The Home Office will go down there with gas masks, and will try them on a number of the children. The respirator has to be a tight fit. The size of young children's heads varies enormously, and if the respirator is too big, they will have to obtain a smaller one. Experiments are still going on so that the mother when her baby is born will immediately be supplied with a gas mask or something of the kind. We have to consider carefully the psychological factor. We do not want a child to go into hysterics or the mothers to think that their children are being suffocated. But that is what we have come to in this civilised year of 1937. This is the last word in Christian devilry, as I call it. I did not ever dream that I should stand in this House and make such a statement as that, but I want to recall the fact to the House because we become so blase about these things, and are liable to forget them. Lord Baldwin when Prime Minister said in this House on 10th November, 1932, speaking of the man in the street:Whatever people may tell him, the bomber will always get through.…The only defence is in offence, which means that you have to kill women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1932; col. 632, Vol. 270.]That is what we have come to with our bombers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was reported in the "Times" in September of last year as saying that another great war would extinguish what was left of the civilisation of the world. I want 161 to ask all people who are indignant—and I am indignant about what is happening in Spain and China—how can we be indignant when we are preparing, if circumstances in our judgment warrant it, to go and do the same damnable thing in Berlin, or Rome or Paris? Paris and Berlin have been blacked out, and East London is to be blacked out pretty shortly. This is being done, whether war comes to-morrow or in 10 years' time. That is the war for which you are piling up these armaments and the reason why you have asked the King to say that he is rather pleased we are getting on so well with it. What we are getting on with is the preparation of the world for barbarism. We read the other day, much to the astonishment of all the pundits, that Dick Sheppard had become Lord Rector of the University of Glasgow. Someone below says, "Shame." I will tell him what the shame is. It is that it is necessary for a priest of the Church of England to come out and make a stand in order to recall Christians to Christianity. The fact is that Members of this House are living like ostriches with their heads in the sands.
When the right hon. Gentleman speaks about a priest of the Church of England coming out to recall people to Christianity, may I remind him that Canon Sheppard said, after the result had been declared, that the election had not been fought on Christian pacificism but on political pacificism.
§ Mr. Lansbury
I would not believe the newspapers. Everybody who knows anything about this knows that Dick Sheppard takes his stand not on politics—he is not a politician—but purely and simply on his interpretation of the Scriptures, which he believes commands him not to kill. The point I want to make is that the newspapers of this country boycott what is going on. There are in the Peace Pledge Union at this moment something over 700 groups and branches up and down the country; at this time 162 last year there were only a couple of hundred. Those branches sprang up without any advertisement from the newspapers, and without any reports of the hundreds of meetings held throughout the country. People say that those of us who attend these meetings distort the Scriptures and misrepresent our political opponents, and so on. That is what they say, if they say anything about them at all. But the root fact is that would-be mothers refuse to bear children to be treated in the way I have just read out, and also they do not want to bear baby boys to grow up and kill the sons of women in other countries. I am certain that the Rectoral Election in Glasgow is a sign of the times. You may treat Canon Sheppard and his followers with all the contempt you please, but I am confident that in the end we shall win, and for this reason.
We are ourselves sure that war is futile. Speakers on those benches say that it is futile, and I make this challenge. Will anyone deny that all soldiers and all politicians in every country say what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping says, that another war will end in barbarism? Do not think that war settles anything. It leaves the seed of future wars. Look at the results of the Great War. An hon. Member said this afternoon that the last war was fought to make the world safe for democracy and to abolish German militarism. Here you are to-day arming because you think that possibly—I do not say that you think it probable—you may go to war with Germany, and also Italy, or perhaps Germany and someone else. The argument that if you have an immense force on one side, smaller forces will not attempt to fight you is not true. It has never worked out in that way. It did not work out in that way in Abyssinia, and it is not working out in that way in China. There has always been a point at which people have fought, and they have gone down fighting.
We are living in an age of superabundance, when it is possible for mankind, if they will put as much energy into the task of dealing with economic conditions as they are putting into the task of trying to see how they can destroy one another, to reorganise the life of the world. You have to pay the price of peace. Imperialism has always meant war. Imperialism, built on force, has of 163 itself created outside its own borders another force which ultimately has overthrown the original power. To-day it is not so much material force as economic force. Each big nation wants to get out into the world. The peoples of the world long for peace. I think of the Italians I have met and how they love their children and their country. I think of the Germans I have met here and all through my lifetime in the East End of London, and also in their own country. I met them during the time of the Poor Law Commission and at other times. They are just ordinary people like ourselves, wanting only to live in peace and security.
What prevents that? This is what prevents it. Three great nations own most of the world. Great Britain owns most of the sources of the necessary raw materials of the world. I do not believe that my countrymen wish to continue a policy of sheer, selfish nationalism. I do not wish that we should hand out either to Germany or to any one else any territory, but I want to remind the Government that over and over again since the last Economic Conference they have said that the economic condition of the world was of the utmost importance and that it was the one question of importance. Let hon. Members read the speeches made at the Economic Conference, also the speeches made at the Treasury Box, the speeches of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) and of the present Leader of the Opposition, and also the occasional speeches that I have made. All of us have agreed that the solution of the economic problem was the one thing that would save the world from war.
Somehow, we have got into our present terrible plight. Like other hon. Members I trust neither experts nor statesmen. They have no more brain power than the average man or woman. Here they are, all declaring that war means barbarism and that there is superabundance for everybody. Where is the intelligence of statesmen and experts if they cannot turn that abundance to the use and service of mankind rather than to the destruction of mankind? The problem to-day is not security by force, but security by justice and co-operation between the nations of the world.
164 In Italy and Germany I saw children being trained, and I hope the Minister of Health will send to those countries and get a report as to what they are doing for their children. You may say that they are doing it in order to create soldiers and fighting men. Let us do it in order to create decent human citizens. Do not let them beat us in building up the life of their young people, but let us say to the nations of the world that in Great Britain, this great Imperial nation with great possessions, good, free-hearted, kind people that we are, we are willing not to hand out territory to others but to put into a common pool, under a new international commission, all the non-selfgoverning parts of the Empire and allow them to be used for the service not only of ourselves, but of mankind.
§ 7.50 p.m.
The right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) will forgive me if I do not follow him into his argument on pacifism. We know that he represents that cause with passionate sincerity but, if he will allow me to say so, there are some of us—and I say it with great humility—who do not believe ourselves any worse Christians than his friends because we support the Government.
§ Mr. Lansbury
I should be exceedingly sorry if hon. and right hon. Members thought that I was such a self-righteous prig as to imagine that I and my friends are the only Christians in the world. I am simply trying to convert hon. Members to my view.
I should never think that the right hon. Member was a prig, but if he was in a responsible position in the Government, seeing what the conditions are throughout the world to-day, I cannot see how he could possibly remain in that Government unless he took steps similar to those which the National Government are taking.
I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith), and what he said about ex-service men's pensions. I am not questioning the details of any specific cases that he brought forward, but it is only right that someone should say what I think is generally held not only in this country but throughout the world, that the ex-service men of this country receive better 165 arid more sympathetic treatment than the ex-service men in any part of the world.
I could answer that remark, but we have to compare country with country, the numbers affected, and so on, and I think it is generally accepted that the ex-service men in this country have received generous and sympathetic treatment by Governments of all shades of political opinion. We have all of us had cases brought to our notice of hardships, but when I have brought such cases to the notice of the Minister I have always been met with the utmost sympathy. The Minister himself has taken a personal interest in the cases, and I think that almost every one of the cases has been able to obtain extended benefit or increased relief.
§ Mr. E. Smith
I should like to ask the hon. Member how he accounts for the resolution passed, with louder cheering, at the Conservative Conference?
The hon. Member referred to specific cases in which he was interested, and I can only say what my experience has been in regard to the cases that I have brought forward. I do not doubt his statement, and I do not think that he will doubt me when I say that I have been fortunate in regard to the cases from my own constituency.
Some hon. Members have remarked that the differences and the divisions between hon. and right hon. Members on domestic matters are fewer than they were in times gone by, and I think the King's Speech explains in a large degree wily this should be so to-day. I find in that Speech the promise of the introduction of two Bills, one dealing with coal royalties and the other with the distribution of electricity, both of which 20 years ago would have been considered pure Socialisic legislation. I believe both those Measures to be right in principle, but I have no intention of passing judgment on them until they have been introduced. I have no doubt that by the time they have gone through this House they will be much better Bills than when they were originally brought in.
The National Government is approaching its seventh year of office, and public opinion throughout the country continues to support it in the same proportion as 166 at the last General Election. If by-elections are any criterion I think that is a statement that every one has to accept. It is a remarkable fact that the public of this country should support any Government, however good it may be, for seven years. The political history of the last 20 or 30 years teaches us that such a state of things is very remarkable. If that be the case, it proves that the National Government is continuing to be national both in policy and action as well as in name.
We have heard complaints about complacency, but there was nothing complacent in the speech of the Minister of Health. He admitted that there is a great deal more to do in the matter of nutrition, housing and other matters. I do not think that anyone could deny that almost every single aspect of our national affairs to-day shows that things have improved greatly compared with a few years ago. I represent a constituency in Wiltshire where we have been extremely fortunate, and I am grateful for it. I remember the time when the unemployment in one of my towns ran to over 700 in a comparatively small town, whereas to-day it is a question of being able to get sufficient men for the jobs. I am fortunate in that respect and as I am fortunate it behoves me to express my gratitude for what the Government have done to help the people in my constituency.
There are two matters touched upon in the King's Speech which also affect many in my area, namely, milk and rural housing, and I am delighted that the Government propose to take steps to deal with both those matters. My constituency probably produces as much milk as any other constituency, and any Measure that is going to increase the consumption of milk is welcome not only because it helps the producers but also because it is going to those who need it most. In regard to rural housing, I should like to put one matter to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, although I do not ask for an answer to-night. I think it will be found that a great many cottages which in times gone by have been at the disposal of and been occupied by rural workers have recently changed their tenants and are now occupied either by week-enders or people with considerably more income than agricultural workers. 167 These people are prepared to pay a higher rent than the agricultural workers can afford, and consequently in the agricultural districts within motoring or transport distance of towns these agricultural cottages are no longer at the disposal of the agricultural community. This is a matter which I suggest deserves attention.
In regard to the agricultural workers' Housing Act, my right hon. Friend said that he was disappointed that not more than 15,000 houses have been reconditioned since the Act was passed. It would be well perhaps to look into the reasons why the Act has not been used more. It is a most generous Act as regards the landlord, and I am surprised that it has not been made more use of. It also brings considerable comfort and convenience to those who occupy the houses which are reconditioned. Is it because landlords have been unwilling to use it? Is it because county councils have been unwilling to grant the applications of landlords, or is it because of some inherent defect in the Act; is it because of some limiting conditions in the Act? Is it because a house when it is reconditioned may not be valued at more than £400? It is worth looking into the reasons why an Act which appears to be so inviting has not been more effective than has been the case.
Let me say one word in regard to foreign affairs. At times there appear to be more differences of opinion between Members of the House on questions of foreign affairs than in regard to the Measures I have mentioned. I think the difference may be more apparent than real. On the question of rearmament, with the exception of the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley and a few of his friends, there is practically unanimity. After all, British rearmament is by far the most important factor to-day in foreign affairs and its influence on events has already been considerable. It is a melancholy fact that there are thousands in Spain and China losing their lives every day. Death, sorrow and suffering, loss of relations, as far as individuals are concerned, are just the same whether they happen on one side or the other, and all we appear to be able to do is to stand by and try to confine the conflicts to certain areas. During the last few weeks sometimes it has looked doubtful whether we 168 would be able to achieve even this, and the fact that we have so far been successful in this direction has been a substantial step in preserving peace to the rest of the world.
I know that on the subject of Spain hon. Members of the Opposition feel strongly, but even in regard to this question we are all agreed on certain things. We are agreed that foreign intervention on either side is deplorable. I have always felt that if there had been no foreign intervention it would not have made much difference to the duration of the civil war in Spain, and I do not think that if you withdraw every foreigner in the course of the next few weeks victory will come much sooner to one side or the other. I am supported in that view by the hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James) who has visited both sides in Spain during the past year. In London the Spanish civil war at times appears to be almost an Italian question, and in France it is sometimes a German one. I can assure hon. Members that in Spain it is still considered very much a purely Spanish affair. I am told that on the Government side there is an army of about 500,000 armed men, and I believe the figure is comparable on the side of General Franco.
I would ask hon. Members not to believe that all the arguments are on one side. There is just as much patriotism, idealism, self-sacrifice and courage on General Franco's side as there is on the other. To us, born and bred in compromise through centuries of history, it seems incredible that men of good will cannot be found on both sides in Spain who are prepared to come to some settlement. Here I blame intervention more than anything else. I believe that foreign intervention has intensified the bitterness inside Spain as well as extended the sphere of danger outside. It has made it very difficult for Spaniards of good sense with progressive views on both sides to find any compromise upon which they can agree to help bring the conflict to an end. I was glad to hear the Prime Minister's statement with regard to the integrity of Spanish territory. Although I hold certain views on the Spanish conflict, I say that if at the end of the war foreign troops are in occupation of any part of Spanish territory, Majorca, or anywhere else, I should certainly advocate that this country and France should take every 169 measure, even of a naval and military character if necessary, to dislodge these foreigners, and I believe that we should be backed up by the whole of the Spanish nation in our efforts.
It is difficult at times to say exactly what the Non-Intervention Committee is doing. It changes from day to day. It is true that it certainly has not prevented non-intervention, but equally it is true that it has diminished it. It has lessened considerably the flow of recruits and material. I know well what has gone over the French frontier as well as to the other side but I think we must all admit that the Non-Intervention Committee has diminished the flow both of men and materials and, in addition, has kept the peace outside up to now. It is only right and proper that this Committee should continue in operation. Whatever may result from the decisions of the last few days it is surely a good thing that they should be discussing the withdrawal of troops and volunteers from Spain, although it may take some time before this suggestion is actually put into practice. Both sides have said that they are prepared to withdraw certain numbers. That, at any rate, is a step in the right direction. Everyone is agreed, as far as this country is concerned, that we have maintained an attitude of strict neutrality. It is perfectly obvious that in a civil war in which many things have been done and said which have poisoned the natural courage and patriotism of Spaniards in all parts of Spain, an attitude of strict neutrality must at times appear to favour one side or the other, but it has been only by maintaining our attitude of strict neutrality that we have been able to do the great humanitarian work on behalf of both sides.
On the question of our relations with the United States of America there is no division of opinion in any part of the House, not only as to the advisability but: as to the necessity of the closest cooperation between the two countries. I happened to be in the United States when President Roosevelt made his important speech—a noble utterance from the head of a great country. But we should be making the greatest possible mistake if we deluded or deceived ourselves into thinking that the speech meant that the United States would in the course of the next few weeks or months take any active 170 steps, economic or military, to deal with the situation in the Far East. I am convinced it means nothing of the kind, and we should be doing real harm to the cause of Anglo-American co-operation if we placed a false interpretation on that statement. After all, the United States have already done all they can by maintaining the fiction that there is no war between China and Japan. They do this in order that the Neutrality Act which was passed a year ago shall not come into operation. If it is accepted that there is a war between Japan and China the Neutrality Act comes into operation and the United States is thereby prevented from supplying China with any materials or armaments which she is now able to buy. That is the motive which prevents the United States bringing the Neutrality Act into operation.
We should also remember the circumstances in which the speech was made. A week or two previously the President delivered a speech after the first bombing of Shanghai in which he definitely stated that America would do nothing to protect the lives and property of Americans in China and that they stayed there at their own risk. There was a certain amount of reaction to that statement. Actually during the particular week-end in which he made his Chicago speech the subject of controversy in America was not China or Japan, but whether Senator Black should take his seat as a Justice of the Supreme Court. Nothing else was discussed in America. The newspapers were filled with this all absorbing domestic question. It is impossible to exaggerate the suspicion and hostility of American opinion to any foreign commitments. A large number of Americans believe that it was England, somehow or other, which brought them into the last War, and they believe by some Machiavellian means we are going to bring them into the next. I have no doubt that if we were deeply engaged in any conflict the United States would be found on our side, but they will not come in by asking them to sign pledges and make commitments, or to join the League as it is constituted to-day. We do a dis-service to the cause of peace or co-operation by advocating anything of that kind. I do not want to diminish the importance of the declaration of the President. It has stirred the Americans to think, if not to act. It means that if any conflict takes place the sympathy 171 of the United States will be found on the side of the democratic countries of the world. The reason why I have poured cold water on this aspect of the matter is because I think it is only right we should understand the facts of the situation.
Now as to what I would do. I would make a commercial treaty with the United States. It is extremely important that we should do so. I know the difficulties in regard to the Dominions, but, I understand, Canada is about to sign a commercial agreement and Australia has every intention of following the example of Canada. I do not believe that any difficulties or differences with our Dominions should prevent a commercial agreement being negotiated between ourselves and the United States. I would like to see included in such an agreement some settlement of the debt problem—it may be only a token payment—but it is important that that grievance should be wiped off the slate once and for all. It must be remembered, of course, that it is extremely difficult for the United States Government, with years of high tariffs behind them, some of which are as high as 95 per cent. of the value of the goods imported, to agree and to get through Congress any commercial agreement which means a reduction in tariffs. The Secretary of State, Mr. Cordell Hull, has already signed a number of such commercial agreements—I believe sixteen—which I consider constitute perhaps the greatest contribution that the United States have made in foreign affairs during the last few years.
I believe that the signing of a commercial treaty between this country and America would have a tremendous moral effect. At no time has there been in the United States such latent and overt admiration of this country as there is at the present moment both about the way in which we conduct our financial affairs and deal with our labour problems. I have been in America many times since the War, but this is the first occasion on which I have found real unstinted admiration for this country from New York to California. In speaking to wage earners in various parts of the United States who left the old country but who still remember it, I noted that, whereas formerly they invariably used to say how much they would like to re-visit it, but 172 how much better conditions were in America, to-day, for the first time, every one of them asks, "How could I get back again; could I get my British nationality again?" I think that is a great tribute to the condition of affairs in this country at the present time.
I am after all only advocating what many hon. Members in all parts of the House and many people outside have already advocated again and again. We still ask, Why is it then that something is not done? I know there are great difficulties in the way, but it is the duty of the Government to overcome them. I believe it would be of immeasurable moral value to world peace quite apart from the intrinsic merits and benefits of the treaty itself, if there could be signed some commercial arrangement between the two countries. It is the only way, at the present time, of capitalising the good will between the two countries, which in my opinion had never been greater. The accomplishment of such a treaty would delight as many on the other side of the Atlantic as on this, and bring in its benefits for all mankind.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Burke
The hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet) referred to ex-service men, and I would like to comment on one or two of the points he made. He told the House of his experience with the Ministry of Pensions, and said that in a number of cases that he submitted to the Minister, the benefits were extended or some improvement made. The hon. and gallant Member has had a very happy experience which is contrary to my experience and that of some other hon. Members. In the vast majority of cases, one receives a stereotyped reply to the effect that the Minister is not satisfied that the illness complained of has either been caused or aggravated by the man's war service, and that he wants proof of the fact that the illness has been caused as a result of war service. How is it possible to give proof that an illness which occurs 20 years after the War was really caused between 1914 and 1918?
I have had cases of that nature, but I am speaking of my general experience, which goes back nearly 14 years. It was only fair to refer to that.
§ Mr. Burke
I am not speaking of experiences 14 years ago, but of my experience with the present Ministry of Pensions in cases of men whose condition is deteriorating as the years go by. It is impossible to give proof that the illnesses occur as a consequence of war service. There are cases where one gets two sets of medical evidence, that of the man's own specialist and that of the best specialist that can be found in the North, and they say that in their opinion the illness has been either caused or aggravated by war service. Finally, after a good deal of pestering, the case is tried again, and then one gets the usual stereotyped reply that the original findings of the Minister are borne out by the medical examination. It is very seldom that there is any other reply. If a man goes through experiences of the sort that men went through from 1914 to 1918, they are bound to have a very great effect on his health in coming years. It seems to me that if there is a conflict of medical evidence, the benefit of the doubt should be given to these men who, at the present time, are trying to exist in conditions of very bad health and on very meagre pensions. The hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham said that the position of ex-service men in this country is better than the position of exservice men in other countries. I do not think that is true.
§ Sir Francis Fremantle
Does the hon. Member know that there is, or at any rate was, an instruction from the Ministry of Pensions that the medical officers should always give the benefit of the doubt?
§ Mr. Burke
I do not know what the instruction is, but if there is such an instruction, I can only say that my experience, and that of others, is that they do not act on instructions. Indeed, so general is the dissatisfaction that only last week the cry that we have made from these Benches for years was taken up at the Conservative conference. It proves how widespread is the dissatisfaction when it reaches the ears of a conference of that description. The hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham said that the position in this respect is better in this country than in other countries. The payments to the men during the War were better in the case of America, Australia and New Zealand, and the pensions pay- 174 ments in those countries are better at the present time. It is not true, in comparing the position in this country with that in others, to say that our men are better off. But even if they were better off, what comfort would it be to a man who is suffering from rheumatism—I am thinking of a specific case—who cannot get out of his house, who has been suffering for years and years, and in whose case every doctor says that the rheumatism was caused as a result of his trench work and War experience, to be told that somewhere in the world there is a man worse off than he is? That does not give him one particle of comfort, and it does not help him to buy the necessities of life.
The hon. and gallant Member then went on to say that surely everyone must admit that during the seven years in which the National Government has been in office things have improved in all departments. I do not think there is anyone who will admit that there has been an improvement in the international sphere during those seven years. I represent Burnley and I followed in the representation of that constituency the late Mr. Arthur Henderson. Seven years ago he was at the Foreign Office and the prospects of peace throughout the world then were a good deal better than they are to-day. The international situation was better and there was more security throughout the world. But for the past seven years we have been drifting away from that position. We have left disarmament behind us; we are talking in terms of rearmament, and we are engaged on the same kind of mad race as that which occurred before 1914. It is, I think, the general opinion that in international affairs there has been a steady deterioration.
This is the first King's Speech I have heard, and I came here yesterday expecting that the first King's Speech in a new reign would give the world some message, or, if it did not give a message to the world, it would, at least, give a message to the 42,000,000 who out of 44,000,000 people constitute the working-class of this country. I confess I have been profoundly disappointed. There is no reference in the Speech to the League of Nations. Perhaps that is just as well, because previous references to the League of Nations have proved to be the mere payment of lip-service—the kind of thing 175 that was done before 1935 in order to win elections. But this time not merely is there no reference that matters to the League of Nations, but certain words are used in the Speech in such a way as almost to treat the League with contempt. We are told that on the issue of the Far East the Government will co-operate with other nations, whether in the League or outside it. and with that reference the whole matter is dismissed. There is no statement as to what kind of co-operation there is to be or to what end it is to be directed. To end the war in the Far East would be all to the good, but there is no statement in this Speech backing up the 52 Governments who called attention to Japan as the aggressor. There is no indication that the Government have come to the conclusion that Japan was wrong in invading China.
We have all received resolutions passed by churches and various other bodies calling attention to the horrors of the bombing of Nanking and Canton, and everybody is shocked by the systematic devastation of defenceless cities and the killing of non-combatants. But the real trouble is not the bombing. The real trouble is the aggression. That is the real crime. The bombing is merely incidental to something which the League of Nations has not so far been able to stop, very largely because the big nations have not given it a lead. In 1931 the present Chancellor of the Exchequer made Japan's case for her before the League. He was congratulated by the Japanese delegate and told that he had made Japan's case better than she could have made it herself. To-day's happenings are the natural consequence of what occurred in 1931. We complain of bombing, but we have to remember that two years ago in another place the Marquess of Londonderry told us that he had been at great pains to preserve the bombing plane as an instrument of war, and that if the League had had their way it might have been put out of existence as an instrument of war. He told us that these planes were necessary to us for use on the frontiers of India. What is the use of complaining about other people using the instruments which we use ourselves?
The Government ought to turn their attention to the real crime in this case—the fact of the aggression by Japan. We 176 are told that there is to be an inquiry into the question of population. I think it will be discovered that the horrors of which we have heard in China, in Guernica and elsewhere have had some effect in connection with the decline in our population. People are not satisfied at the present time that children should be brought into the world to face horrors of the kind about which they read every day, and to the ordinary fear of death there has been added another fear.
We are told that we are to have two major Bills, one dealing with the coal industry and the other with electricity. Most of the other items mentioned are either complementary or supplementary to legislation already passed. There is however no mention of one industry which for eleven years and more has been going through great distress. I refer to the cotton industry. The Minister of Health to-day said that while we criticised the King's Speech we did not say what we would do ourselves. We have heard that argument often from the benches opposite and it seems a futile argument. We in this House are used to debating points of that kind, but when the ordinary man-in-the-street hears or reads that kind of argument he says, "What do we pay them for?" Right hon. Gentleman who sit on the benches opposite are paid £5,000 a year, not for asking us what we would do, but for telling us what they propose to do. It is silly for Members of a Government with a tremendous majority asking other people what ought to be done. They also tell us that we are criticising things which are not in the Speech, and that we ought to deal with the things that are in the Speech. There is not much of consequence in the Speech, arid one thing of great consequence which is not in the Speech is, as I say, the question of dealing with the cotton trade. There is one reference which might be made to apply to the cotton trade:Other Measures of importance will be laid before you and proceeded with as time and opportunity offer.The Government have done a great deal for the beet-growing and wheat-growing industries. They have spent about £55,000,000 trying to put the beet-sugar industry on its feet, and we have been told that the 4,000,000 tons of sugar produced have cost the Government more 177 in subsidy than they would have paid for it at world prices in the open market. They have helped the coal industry and propose to do so again. They have helped the steel industry; they have done something for shipping. But the largest export industry of the country has been left alone. It is not that that industry has not tried to help itself. It is not that that industry has not asked the Government to do something. Deputation after deputation has waited on the Board of Trade, but the Ministry has declined to accept any of the proposals made.
At one time we were told that the Government could not do anything because the various sections of the trade would not agree. I think the President of the Board of Trade will remember a deputation to him in the Spring of this year, when the whole of the cotton trade were united. Employers and employed in all sections came along with a scheme and asked the Government to do something in order to get them out of their difficulties. The late Prime Minister, in a speech made to the Federation of British Industries, told us that we had to concentrate on our export trade and that our home trade was not enough. In Lancashire we depend very much on our export trade, and there is great disappointment that in the King's Speech, when the Government are coming again to the help of the coal industry and when we know how much has been done for other industries, the cotton industry has not even been mentioned with one word of consideration. We are down now to a quarter of our prewar export. The position in the industry is so bad that for some considerable time past juveniles have not been going into the industry, and in practically all districts there is a very great shortage of juvenile labour. The industry wants powers to give it majority control. There will have to be a reorganisation of the industry, which must pass from the sphere of private initiative into one of national policy.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of health twitted my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) that: on the last occasion when an Amendment was down to the Address we had mentioned something about the Socialist Commonwealth, and he said that on this occasion we had very wisely left that in 178 the background. It seems to me rather amazing that the Minister of Health should talk in that way. He went on to suggest that we were all satisfied with the progress of capitalism. Industry after industry, since I have been in this House, has been coming along and asking the Government to prop it up, and there is scarcely a single industry at present to which the Government have not had to apply artificial respiration. They have had to go to the help of one industry after another. The Minister talked about the success of his own Department. It is a successful Department largely because the services which it gives to the community are outside the range of private profit and the profit-making motive. He mentioned that the local authorities of the country have 1,000,000 houses in their ownership. Why are the local authorities owners of 1,000,000 houses? The answer is that private enterprise has failed lamentably and that the local authorities have had to do its job. The area of activity that is outside the sphere of capitalism has been growing year by year, and it is idle for people on the Government Benches to brag about the success of capitalism when very many of their own Members are fearful of the steps that the Government have continually to take in order to prop up industry.
There is one other point to which I wish to refer, and that is the question of pensions for the aged. The Minister frequently tells us that they cannot increase the old age pension of 10s. because, he says, there are only 214,000 persons involved. If there are only 214,000 who have to apply for poor relief in order to supplement their pensions, does that not mean that the amount of money necessary to improve their position would be very small? To the Ministry of Health the number of persons who are applying to the public assistance authorities for relief is very small, but to the Treasury it is very high. What is the precise figure, I wonder, that would be big enough to interest the Minister of Health and yet small enough not to frighten the Treasury because of its cost? Some 214,000 old age pensioners trying to live on 10s. a week have to apply to the local authorities and get extra money. That is putting an increased burden on the rates of those local authorities, in the main, who can least afford to bear it, and with the rising cost of living all classes of 179 persons who are on fixed incomes, whether they be old age pensioners, exservice men, or people on unemployment relief, are suffering very great hardship. I think that a King's Speech, in a time of prosperity, which ignores so many people who might very easily, and at no great cost to the community, have their economic position improved, is a King's Speech which must be regarded as being complacent and a failure. I hope that the Ministry will do something for that class of persons who at the present time, in the face of an increased cost of living, are trying to meet their heavy burdens with very inadequate remuneration.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Erskine Hill
I propose to touch on one aspect of the Gracious Speech which has not yet been touched upon. It is with reference to the preparation of counter-measures against air attack. I think I am right in saying that the general public are showing a growing interest in this question of civil protection against air attack. There are some matters on which there may be doubt as to what would happen if there were a war, but one thing that I think all of us would agree about is that the civil population has been, from the necessity of things, brought more and more into the region of war. I had occasion to be in Germany some weeks ago, and I was extremely impressed with the very careful arrangements which have been made there to protect the civil population. I have made some inquiries since, and I should like to give the House some particulars about the preparations that have been made. I think we are all in agreement in our desire to avoid war, but as long as there is the possibility of war, there is the responsibility on the Government—and the Government, as is clear from the Gracious Speech, have accepted that responsibility—to take action for the protection of the civil population.
I should like to instance the case of the town of Hamburg and to outline to the House the various steps that have been taken there to protect the civil population. In the year 1932 instructions were issued by the authorities in Hamburg to all householders as to how to provide cellars and make them gas proof, so that they would be a measure of protection against gas raids. In February, 1933, two special training 180 schools were opened in the city, and 250 persons had undergone up to that time special medical courses lasting 26 weeks; and there had been voluntary domestic fire brigades set up to deal with the dangers of attack from the air by the dropping of incendiary bombs. In July, 1933, it was decided that 75,000 air raid wardens were necessary to give the population adequate protection. These requirements are now fulfilled, and they have 75,000 air marshals. That is taking only this particular instance, which might be multiplied in many of the towns in Germany. To focus the interest of the population there is the formation of the National League for Air Protection, and General Goering himself issued certain particulars of the League, which I think it is right that the House should consider. There are over 12,000,000 members of the National League for Air Protection. There are 2,400 instructors, over 5,000 trained personnel and 3,400 schools in Germany.
These figures illustrate the interest that is being taken among the population in Germany that adequate steps should be taken to protect the civil population. The actual precautions are not only along the lines of providing suitable anti-bomb or anti-gas shelters, but in certain cases of providing public places where a large section of the community may be safe. I should like to mention the new large public shelter in the Alexanderplatz in the East End of Berlin, which is the largest of its kind. In it there are cellars divided into small apartments where there are medical appliances and in large rooms accommodation for 3,000 or 4,000 people. In peace time the concreted top of this refuge place is used as a car park where 200 cars can be placed.
I do not say that we should follow entirely the precautions which have been taken in Germany, but I should like to have an assurance from the Government that comparatively we stand as well as Germany and the other European countries. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) has remarked on the tragedy of gas masks having to be provided for children. I should be inclined to agree with him that war is a tragedy, yet the tragedy is not that gas masks are being provided but that gas or bombs are endangering the lives of the children. The greatest tragedy would be if children were 181 attacked and there were no adequate remedies to meet the situation.
§ Mr. Erskine Hill
I think that there are steps which can be taken which have been taken and which will be taken by the Government to provide protection. Steps have also been taken in Italy to meet the air situation. Among them is the provision of large underground places for the railways. The Central Station at Rome will shortly be underground with a large section of lines leading up from it. The precautions which have been taken by the totalitarian states provide us with an example of efficiency that we must not be behind-hand in emulating in protecting the civil population. General Goering said in a speech in Berlin last summer:Only by having an air defence which is ready down to the last man can we show the world that no country can bring us to our knees.We must as a great democracy take equally strong steps which are to safeguard our people. The Home Office in this country has always stressed the importance of the local organisation. The Home Office Circular of 9th July, 1935, after dealing with what the local organisations had to do, said that activity on the part of the central Government could not compensate for the failure of any particular district. While that is true, the Government have always the duty to look to the safety of the civil population in the event of war, which one hopes will never occur. They cannot relieve themselves of that responsibility by leaving it too much to the local authorities. If one takes as an example the case of the protection of hospitals against air attack, one sees at once that it would be wrong for a hospital in a particular district to be better protected than a hospital in another district. When the Government outline their plans I hope they will see that the protection is adequate in every locality. In the extension which is being built at the Children's Hospital, Great Ormond Street, which I saw this morning, steps are being taken to protect the new building against the incendiary bomb. It is common knowledge that the risk in the event of war will be as great or greater from incendiary bombs as from any other form of attack. Every hospital should be pro- 182 tected against this risk as the extension of the Children's Hospital is.
In drawing attention to these particular features of precautions against air raid attacks, I am talking about only those steps about which one would think everybody would be agreed. It seems to me that here is one matter on which even hon. Gentlemen opposite might agree. Surely they can support a Defence programme which has no particular offensive purpose and can have none. Those on this side of the House welcome the fact that the Government are taking steps to protect our population against air attack. None of us would grudge the money spent on such precautions, which are essential if we are to protect ourselves. They are steps which no reasonable Government would fail to take as long as there was any possibility of war. The Government can rely on the support of every reasonable Member of the House.
§ 8.54 P.m.
§ Sir John Withers
I should like to draw the attention of the House to a somewhat less sensational subject. It is the omission from the Gracious Speech of any mention of the preservation of the amenities of the country and of places of historic and national interest. No one appreciates more than I do the past attempts of the Government to preserve them, but it must regretfully be realised that the country amenities are still being damaged and that places of historic and national interest are, to put it mildly, being jeopardised. The fact is that action under the Ribbon Development Act and the Town and Country Planning Act is merely voluntary and not compulsory. Could it not be made compulsory for local authorities to put those Acts into operation? I understand that the great objection and obstacle is the compensation which has to be paid to landowners when any restraint or restriction is placed on their land. Surely in this matter we cannot wait for voluntary gifts, because in that case all the amenities of the country may in due course be swamped and our places of national and historic beauty be destroyed. I suggest that the Government should take a bold line and deal with this obstacle; and, of course, at the same time, although it will not be at all popular on my side of the House, they must deal with the question of betterment. When schemes are carried 183 through which better land there ought to be some possibility of the other side being made to contribute.
I gather that many places of historic and national interest, such as the university towns, are seriously perturbed at the dangers which threaten them, and the need of action is urgent, and I feel that any action in this direction by the Government would have the support of all sides of the House. I am rather surprised that nothing has been said about this in the Gracious Speech, because early in last Session a private Member's Motion in very strong terms was moved by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) and carried nemine contradicente, and I understood from the Minister at the time that something was going to be done along the lines I have indicated, and also something about national parks. I would also remind the House that an important deputation from both Houses of Parliament waited upon the Prime Minister some time ago with this end in view, and though they did not receive an assurance, because he would not give an assurance, he gave an indication that the Government were going to do something. Although I have not elaborated the point and will not keep the House a minute longer than I need, I do sincerely hope that this subject will be brought to the notice of the Government and that something will be done.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Sexton
I hold in my hand a copy of the Gracious Speech, which I take to be really the advance programme of the National Government. In the first part of that Speech I notice the phrase:My relations with foreign Powers continue to be friendly.Seeing that not so long ago a British Ambassador was bombed from the air, and later that a British soldier was killed by Japan, I think the term "friendly" in the Gracious Speech must be used in a very elastic way to include Japan as a friendly nation. I also find a reference to the international policy of non-intervention. There may be such a thing as a policy, but there is certainly no nonintervention about it, because intervention has been going on all the time, and is continuing. Out of the failure of nonintervention there has grown a new kind 184 of action. The activities in the Mediterranean of the modern Dick Turpins of the high seas have compelled the Governments of three of the nations of Western Europe to get together, and so we have the development of non-intervention into that of Nyon intervention.
I have heard it deplored in this Debate that there is no mention in the Gracious Speech of the collective security of nations. Further, there is no mention of the collective security of the workers, whose lives and livelihoods are unsecured. There is a reference to a form of collective security for royalty owners. In another place yesterday it was suggested that the mineral owners are to be thrown to the wolves in this matter of compensation to royalty owners. What about the workers in the great coal industry? Have they not been thrown to the wolves in their thousands? Are they not thrown to the wolves in their thousands to-day? What of the men maimed and injured while working in the mines? Are they not thrown to the wolves when they have to accept the meagre compensation offered to them? There is indeed a promise of compensation for royalties, but nothing is said about compensation for brutalities, the brutalities which arise, very often, from the evasions of mines Acts and of factory Acts. The workers in the mining and other industries are thrown to the wolves in the matter of compensation for injuries.
I come now—and I make no apology for it—to the distressed areas, because I have said on more than one occasion that every time I get an opportunity I shall say something about them. I know that some people will say that this is "sob stuff." It is necessary to put some "sob stuff" across here. I represent a distressed area; at least it was called a distressed area in the first place, but the name was too distressing for the National Government, and so now it is euphemistically called a Special Area. Were these areas not worthy of mention in this Gracious Speech? Have the people who live in them passed into the category of forgotten men? Have the Government seen these areas? Has the Minister of Labour really seen them in his wanderings during the last few weeks, or has he merely touched the frayed fringes of these derelict places? In 1914 the men in these Special Areas were asked to go to defend their country and their homes. The 185 men there went in their thousands. I include all the workers, especially the miners. These same men are willing to-day to defend their homes, and are asking to be able to defend their homes by working for decent wages. Their wives were willing for them to go in 1914, and their wives are asking to-day that they may get work and wages in order to defend their homes.
There has been set up in the North of England a trading estate, as promised by the National Government. It is called the Team Valley Trading Estate. There are enough unemployed in the immediate neighbourhood of that estate to work a score or more of factories. In the part of Durham I represent, South-West Durham, the Team Valley Trading Estate will have no value at all. As well set up a trading estate in the Jordan Valley as in the Team Valley, to assist South-West Durham. These people, denied work and wages, and living on meagre subsistence of various kinds, are compelled to live in parts of the country where the marks of the beast of profit-mongering are to be seen. During the last week-end I was in Northumberland, in the Morpeth Division, and I found there what I found in South-West Durham, excrescences on the surface of the earth, heaps that have been left there, foul mountains of refuse. The people who are denied work and wages have also to live in these most depressing surroundings. In the past, financiers and industrialists have made heaps of money in those very areas. They left behind them heaps of muck. Those who have made money ought to be compelled to leave the land at least as they found it. In some of those areas were many of the fairest spots in Britain. Why should people have to suffer the indignity of dwelling in such surroundings now?
The people in the Special Areas have read in their newspapers of the wonderful prosperity which is going about the country, and they are wondering why it has passed over them. The newspapers tell about prosperity not only in their news columns but in their advertisements. From one edition of the "Observer" I took out four advertisements. One recommended that you should follow the sun. The charge for following the sun was £16 per week. At the present time, unemployed men receive 16s. a week from the Unemployment Assistance Board to live on.
§ Mr. Sexton
When you have followed the sun and come back to this climate I expect you want something to keep you warm. I find a fur coat advertised in this paper at the price of 750 guineas. That would pay 10s. per week to an old age pensioner or to a widow for 30 years, but it goes on the back of one of the butterflies in this country. These people who follow the sun and can afford to buy fur coats at 750 guineas, and those who take the eight-roomed flats advertised in the same paper at £950 a year, have felt the prosperity. In the same paper I read of hot tea, bread and dripping being given to hundreds of hungry and homeless men and women in London. I wonder if these people have felt the real prosperity when they have got down to hot tea, bread and dripping?
You have your unemployment problem in London, but in spite of that fact you bring people down from Wales, the North of England and Scotland to be drawn into this modern Babylon. There were 113,632 unemployed men in London in September, 1937, 25,932 women and 5,132 juveniles, yet you bring our boys and girls from the North of England, Wales and elsewhere because you want to get cheap labour. I find in the Gracious Speech that jobs are to be found for judges. Why can you not find more jobs for the people in the Special Areas instead of letting them continue to live in those horrible conditions? Why can you not do something? You cannot stop the rise in the cost of living. That is beyond the powers even of the National Government. You cannot control food prices but you can surely do something. There should be some hope in the Gracious Speech for the aged and for widows. Power should be given to the Minister of Health so that Poor Law allowances might be increased. These people have not found the short cut which the Chancellor of the Exchequer talked about in one of his outside speeches. He said that the Socialists, by their shortterm programme had found a short cut to the Millennium. I wish every worker had found the short cut to the Millennium that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has found. Then the Minister of Health, in another speech, said he thought it was surely worth one penny in the shilling 187 that the safety of the country might be provided, but I would advise him to go and ask the old age pensioner if he can afford to spend one penny on safety when he is still lacking food. People in the Special Areas are dissatisfied with what has been done, but when they find that there has been no mention of their difficulty in the Speech, they will be even more dissatisfied. When I was speaking some time ago an old age pensioner came to me. With a few of his friends he had been talking about the hot tea, bread and dripping, and he said to me: "Governments in the past have had names of various kinds. We have had the Long Parliament and the Rump Parliament. I believe the best name for this Parliament would be the Bread and Dripping Parliament."
§ 9.12 p.m.
Mr. Edmund Harvey
During the course of this Debate we have heard at intervals two themes recurring, that of the persistence of unemployment at home and the burden of poverty, and the theme of the continuance of civil war in Spain and all that is involved in it, and the conflict in the East and what is involved in that; and beyond that the menace of even greater disaster and of a war in which our whole civilisation might be submerged. Those two themes are the most important ones to which we can address ourselves and our thoughts. I am very glad of the appeal that has been made by more than one speaker on these questions of policy on unemployment in the Special Areas, and I join with them in the earnest desire that we shall have greater activity than has been foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech. Yet I feel that all our efforts for social reform and all our hope for a changed and better society are linked up with the maintenance of, or rather I should say the making of, peace. We have been going on, drifting from year to year in a precarious state that is rather a state of international truce than of real peace.
The right hon. Baronet the Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) made a speech which contained a number of things with which I could not agree, but he said some very wise words on that point. He said that foreign affairs were the concern of every citizen and of 188 every Member, even the ordinary Member who could not claim to be an expert, and he pointed out that in the past opportunities of appeasement have been passed by, with lamentable results. He referred to one offer made by Herr Hitler, but some of us can think of other opportunities further back in the past that were missed, when Germany was still under a democratic government. I earnestly hope that the Government, in their sincere effort for the maintenance of peace—for I believe they are sincere in their effort—will put earnest thought more and more into the making of peace. We cannot keep the peace simply by preparation for war. However necessary the rearmament programme may be felt to be, it can be at best only an opportunity for us to get the peace which the world needs, and for which the peoples of the world are hungering.
I beg the Government to take the opportunity, even now, to make the appeal to other nations for which the peoples of the world are waiting—to call them together to a preparatory commission which shall prepare the way for another and more successful Peace Conference. The work has to be done at some time. Everyone admits that there must be readjustment, that the status quo cannot continue for ever; and now is the time for preparation. I do not say that the moment has come for the calling of a Conference, but the moment has come for inviting the nations to make the necessary preparations, and for showing that this country is prepared to give a lead to the nations of the world. We should not be alone. In every country there are people who are waiting for such a lead. Only recently, President Roosevelt uttered words which I think have found an echo in many hearts on this side of the Atlantic, when he said:The kind of peace we want is the sound and permanent kind which is built upon a cooperative search for peace by all the nations which want peace.I do not want to throw in the face of the Government any charge of betrayal of the League of Nations. I believe that in their highest moments they believe in the League. But I want to see them apply that belief, which they have sometimes, not only in a parenthesis in a speech or in the pious hope of a peroration, but as the main inspiration of all 189 their foreign policy. The League has got to be rebuilt. It cannot be rebuilt by leaving things as they are; some nation must take a lead. I hope it will be our country. Now, as we face the immediate problems of the conflict that is going on with such disastrous results, surely the Government can do their part in bringing the spirit of peace near.
There were phrases in the King's Speech, with reference to the conflict in Spain, for which I was thankful. We were told that it is the aim of His Majesty's Ministers to do everything that lies in their power to assist towards the restoration of peace among the Spanish people. That is a magnificent aim. If it can be faithfully carried out, the people of this country and the people of Spain will be grateful for the effort that is made for the bringing of peace. It is sometimes said that what goes on in Spain is no business of ours, that it is a Spanish affair. But when civil war goes on in any country, other countries must suffer. The body of Christendom is rent, and it is not the affair of one nation alone. Although I am far from suggesting that we should try to impose any form of government upon another nation, it is our affair when conflict breaks out into the form of civil war, and we can do something to relieve suffering and misery.
Appeals have been made to the Government to use their influence for the saving of life, for the saving of the miserable refugees, for the saving from execution of officers of the Government, leaders of trade unions, and civil servants of the late Government in Northern Spain. I was delighted when I heard the Prime Minister say the other day, in reply to a question, that the British Ambassador had been requested to use his influence strongly on the side of mercy in pleading with General Franco. We have not heard the result of that plea; I hope it will be reiterated with all the power that the Government can lend to it. I would say the same, if it were needed now or in the future, for such a plea made to the Spanish Government for mercy to its prisoners. Wherever these horrible executions go on, you have hatred and bitterness and the piling up of feelings of revenge, which can never make a good foundation for the social structure of the future. We can be helping the future of Spain in lessening these evils.
190 Meanwhile, as we ask the Government to address themselves to the rebuilding of the League, there are surely things which can be dealt with, and must be dealt with. The Imperial Conference passed a resolution saying that the Covenant of the League should be separated from the Treaty of Versailles. Nothing, so far as we know, has yet been done by the Government to implement that resolution, but I hope that this country will take the lead in making that suggestion internationally. It should not be left to the countries that were defeated in the War to remedy the defects of the Treaty. We have stood by silently and seen Clause after Clause of the Treaty of Versailles torn up. Would it not have been far better for the good of the world, for the future peace of Europe, that Great Britain and France together should have taken the lead in suggesting revision where it is needful, instead of waiting for action to be taken by the nations that are aggrieved? We need a peace that will endure. I believe that the Government want this, and I ask them to make a further effort—an effort in leading. Let them give a lead to the nations of Europe to secure a peace that will endure.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ Sir F. Fremantle
I desire to draw attention to one part of the Gracious Speech which has so far not been very much dealt with to-day, and that is its reference to the question of health and housing. We naturally, and rightly, in this House frequently hear of cases of great distress in one respect or another, and I think it is a pity that we are inclined to deduce therefrom the idea that it is necessary to legislate, instead of simply administering more closely the powers that exist. I am inclined to think that is so in regard to the distressing cases we hear of constantly in the matter of pensions. I will not deal with that subject at length, but I think it is necessary for someone on this side of the House to say that the medical opinion is naturally always in favour of the patient. I have cases again and again from my own constituency and elsewhere, and my own inclination is always in favour of the applicant being granted some further help.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point will he explain 191 to the House how it is possible under existing legislation to provide for the old age pensioners?
§ Sir F. Fremantle
I was not dealing with the old age pensioners. I want at present to deal with the war pensioners, which is a matter that has been brought forward; therefore, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to pursue my argument. When we have brought these cases before the Ministry of Pensions I have naturally been in a privileged position, being able from a professional point of view to go into the technical side of matters. It is quite true, as has been said on the other side of the House, that many of these people come forward armed with opinions from specialists, giving their definite view that the complaint in respect of which application is made to the Ministry is really due to war service, though it has arisen after very many years.
My own conclusion is that there are no specialists in this matter equal to those of the Ministry of Pensions. They are an extraordinarily able set of men, who have been devoted to this extremely difficult problem, a problem for which the medical profession have not been trained hitherto—the problem of deciding many, many years afterwards to what extent you can trace an illness or a lesion to an injury suffered 20 years before, or to what extent it has been aggravated by that injury. It is a special department of the profession, and I would trust the word of the Ministry's specialists over and above that of any outside specialist, however eminent in his own private practice. That does not mean that there are no mistakes made in the Ministry of Pensions, and therefore we are always justified in bringing forward particular cases before the Ministry, and it may be necessary, of course, to have a revision made. I do not know enough about the present state of the matter to say whether it is necessary to have a revision, but I do think it is desirable for Members to bear in mind how difficult it is for specialists to give an opinion that can really weigh against the opinion given by the medical officers of the Ministry, and that those officers have no reason for not letting the balance turn in favour of the applicant. That is what they are inclined to do. I am quite certain that there is no idea in 192 their mind of trying to bolster up any financial or economic requirements of the Government by a recommendation in the opposite sense.
I want to pass now to the question of housing and to mention rather briefly how much has been done, and is being done so helpfully. We have heard one or two speeches on the subject of rural housing. Perhaps hon. Members have not noticed the announcement made only two days ago of the publication by the Ministry of Health of the report on rural housing by a sub-committee of the Central Housing Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Health. That report dealt most thoroughly with the whole subject. The sub-committee has taken evidence from every source, and has dealt with the different problems that have been raised by two or three speakers in to-day's Debate and given a definite line to the Government for action. But I hope that the somewhat vague references in the Gracious Speech to the proposals for housing will include a very definite line of action, which must mean legislation this Session, on the subject of rural housing, and this will require certain generous provision—although I do not think it will mean a very large sum—in order to help the particular conditions of the agricultural labourer.
That is one thing that has been done in housing, but attention should be paid to this Central Housing Advisory Committee, because really it has been a very great success in its early stages. It has been confined to one or two departments, and I think its work should be extended elsewhere. This Central Housing Advisory Committee, with its sub-committees, has dealt with one subject after another already. In the first year and a half of its existence it has taken up some of the various subjects that are constantly being raised by us Members in our ordinary conversation and our speeches, and which we hear about in our constituencies. For instance, one of the first subjects taken up by one sub-committee was the question of vermin infestation. That has resulted in a report to the Ministry, showing the need of certain further inquiries, and those further inquiries have been carried out. Inquiry has also been made on the subject of the type and the efficient furnishing of the new houses. That is a very important subject, too. There are 193 various other subjects, but I wanted to point out how useful it is, after the cut and thrust of debate here year after year, that the Ministry should have committees of this sort which are independent of the official element in the Department, independent of us in the House, and which take an independent line. I hope therefore that we shall have a further announcement about the Central Housing Advisory Committee.
§ Sir F. Fremantle
I am always doubting medical officials, as that is my own profession. That is one of the essentials of a good doctor—always to doubt every other member of his profession.
Then there is another point, obviously of the very first importance, which will be coming up this Session, that is the Rent Restrictions Acts, which come to an end in the middle of next year. All of us must be seised of the enormous importance of this subject, especially to our poor constituents in industrial areas. But not only to them. Right through the whole country in every constituency there are cases, and in many constituencies the great majority of working-class houses come under the Rent Restrictions Acts. As matters now stand, those Acts are to come to an end, and the houses will come out of control next year. Therefore, it is obvious that the Ministry will have to take action. A committee is sitting at present, of which I have the privilege of being a member, as I have been of two previous committees, and that will have to take action very soon. I only hope we shall discuss this very complicated subject without undue acrimony, because it arouses, and rightly arouses, a good deal of feeling, but if it could be dealt with on scientific and technical lines, I believe it could be dealt with helpfully.
I am glad the Minister did mention one point in his speech which he has been pushing home to the housing authorities, and that is the need not only for providing small houses, with one or two rooms, for aged couples and so on—very necessary that is—but also for providing some houses with four bedrooms. Thank Heaven there are still, and always will be, big families. We are confronted with this big programme, at which we rejoice, and 194 the houses are being made small in order to meet the decline in the birth rate. We come there to one of the most pressing problems of the whole of the future of the race. Do we believe we are going to make headway when there is this declining birth rate? [An HON. MEMBER: "I hope so."] It may be hoped so by some. An eminent American professor who is lecturing in London at present believes the world will be better off with half its present population. [An HON. MEMBER; "Hear, hear."] Those who lightheartedly say, "Hear, hear," may well be asked which half they want. If other countries are going to reduce their population there may be something to be said for reducing ours, but it is just like disarmament. I do not believe in unilateral depopulation. We shall be in a tragic condition if other countries do not depopulate, too. This method of reducing our population in order to relieve ourselves of troubles and difficulties is short-sighted and shallow and does not really meet the case. I believe that if we adopt it we shall get to such a position that the next generation will be lamenting the shortsightedness of this.
Whether it be so or not, here we are putting ourselves into a strait waistcoat with these small houses. Suppose people again say, "Let us have large families. Let us have, say, six children." Where are we then to get our houses? If there is such a turn of the tide as I believe there will be with an improved economic position for the working classes, I believe people will again go in for large families, and then the cry will come to pull down the small houses built in the post-war time, when both sides in the House of Commons were infatuated with this idea. It is a terrible thing that depopulation should go on because people will not look ahead. I do not believe any woman ever refrained from having a child because she was afraid of what would happen 20 years hence. That is not the reason for a single child not being born. There are many others of which we are well aware. We have to look into not only those personal reasons, but also the national reasons.
I want to allude to two points, and I will not dwell on them. One is the question of diet and the other is the question of providing meals and milk. That is a question which we want to see advanced in any way as long as people do not expect that simply by pouring 195 out Government money they are going to get a solution. While we are having this big campaign for which the Government deserves the greatest credit for initiating, for national fitness, do not let us forget that while the campaign is being arranged in order to call attention to public services and public institutions already provided, nine people out of 10 can remain perfectly happy, if they like, on their own resources, without going to outside help or institutions. It is personal effort that has got to be at the bottom of making ourselves and the nation healthy, and I hope that that will not be forgotten in the great campaign for national fitness, in which I hope we shall all join.
§ 9.44 P.m.
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander
We are coming to the end of this day's Debate. With regard to the subjects mentioned in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, I think we are in general agreement that the two themes mentioned by the hon. Member for the Combined Universities (Mr. Edmund Harvey) are those which are chiefly interesting most Members of the House, though their thoughts may be directed to those two things from different aspects. We desire to let it be known that however perplexed the country may be, and however interested it is—and it is interested—in the difficulties of foreign relationships to-day, we are just as interested and insistent on immediate attention being given to the grievances and inequalities in our social life in our own country, and, whilst we shall say what we have to say in relation to the Amendment which will be moved later in the course of these Debates about foreign affairs, we have a great deal to say to the Government about social conditions, which we think are not adequately treated in the Address before the House.
There is no one on this side of the House who does not know that it is to a large extent the Government's handling of international relationships which has weakened the prospects of social amelioration. The condition that we look out upon to-day in the world at large, the lack of confidence in what has been hoped for in the direction of collective security, and the terrible conflict going on in the Far East, are not only bringing home to our hearts and minds the tragedies of 196 modern warfare and the horrors of the bombing of open towns and civilian populations, but are having a very serious effect upon the trade and investment position of this country in the Far East. It is a serious effect which is not merely immediate but is bound to have a farreaching influence on the industry and life of our people. Not only does it bring to our minds all the horrors of what has been going on in the civil strife in Spain, but it shows to us that a Government capable of all the weaknesses with which we charge it in the handling of foreign affairs can, nevertheless, when it is aroused, when it cannot find money, find credit and add to the National Debt in order to pile up armaments.
At the very moment when our requests from this side of the House for social reforms for our people are most persistent, we have the answer that we have had for years, that the country cannot afford money for the common people of the country, but it can be found at once for the provision of the implements of death. That is one of the aspects that we wish to bring before the House and the country, and into the light of day. On that particular point, I would like to make a slight reference to one of the answers given across the Floor of the House this afternoon by the Minister of Health. In reply to one of the points raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), he said he hoped that a remark of my right hon. Friend did not mean that we on this side of the House were going to whittle away in any shape or form—I think I have the right words—Labour's statement already issued about the armament position. I think that I can speak for my right hon. Friend right away and say that we are not in the habit of whittling away our statements. It is perfectly true that the capitalist Press, as soon as the National Council of Labour issue a statement, will put its own construction upon it for its own purposes. It is true that the national Press and that some Conservative politicians—[An HON. MEMBER: "Some?"]—I say "some "; I cannot count every one of them and I speak only of the ones of whom I have read—some Conservative politicians have said that Labour has executed a volte face in relation to its armaments policy. That is not true.
197 What is true is that we have constantly, from the moment that the Covenant of the League was laid down at Geneva, said that we stood behind the Covenant. We have always insisted in the official programme of the party that a proper observance and support of that Covenant would mean disarmament by agreement. We have always said that we believed that if you supported the Covenant effectively you would get collective action, and that, if you told us what you wanted for collective action, we would vote the money. That has been the actual attitude of our people consistently right the way through, and the fact that you now have an armaments programme which is costing many fortunes—an enormous sum in the next five years—is in no sense due to any fault or action by Labour in the past. On the contrary, we say to the Government that, in so far as this volume of expenditure is necessary to-day, it lies at the door of the National Government who for four solid years, from 1931–1935, neglected to take their opportunities in obtaining collective action, and that since the General Election of 1935 they have, by their handling of the Abyssinian situation, and, if I may say so with respect, the non-intervention position in Spain, and by the encouragement thereby given to dictators, allowed the international position to deteriorate.
We have to say to our people in the country that, although we shall go on with the exact view we had before, behind the Covenant and collective security, we cannot promise them immediately reduction of armament programmes until we can rehabilitate the position so sadly deteriorated by the National Government. That is the position, and I will challenge any one of the Ministers on the bench opposite to say anything contrary to what I have just said in any statement of mine on Defence Estimates at any time from this Box. That is the position we have taken up, and there is not the slightest official change in the attitude of Labour in the explanation it has now given to the country of its position.
We face this situation as a result of six years of National Government. We face a difficult position at home largely because the situation has deteriorated on the failure to handle the foreign situation. What a situation that is. We shall deal with it later on. One of the most 198 regrettable things, when a citizen like myself goes abroad to-day, is to find a sort of lack of faith or trust in the British word. That is a very serious factor indeed in the present international situation and I hope that the Government are going to make up their minds to act, in regard to international affairs in the near future, in such a way that more reliance will be placed upon them. I do not like to overstate a case, and it is not that we wish to suggest at all that there are not other very serious contributory factors in the international situation. We would not be so foolish, but we do say that the vacillation and the weakness in the last five years in the National Government's handling of foreign affairs has led to that lack of confidence in our action and our word in the foreign situation.
I shall not forget for a long time—I think I mentioned it once before in this House, but I will repeat it—the way a Chinese leader put his view to me on the Manchurian situation at a conference which we attended last year. We had been making overtures to try and get common action for peace between China and Japan. He said, "Do you think we can trust Japan?" He then said, "I will ask a more pertinent question. Do you think we can trust you?" When I asked him to explain it a little further he said, "We have looked at the situation largely from the point of view of the speech made by your former Secretary for Foreign Affairs, in which he said, when challenged in the British House of Commons, As for me, I am enough of a pacifist to say that whatever else comes from this position in the Far East my country, at any rate, must not get into any trouble about it.'" It is the assessment of that attitude to the Covenant of the League by Chinese leaders which made them say to me last year, "There is only one thing for us to do and that is to proceed with the unification of the mind, the heart and the spirit of our nation and to ask them to fight to the last, if it means that the liberties of our people are to continue, and repel the aggression of Japan." If that is the measure of the Government's loyalty to and support of the League, we can only expect them to distrust us.
Coming to the home position, notice has been directed by the Labour party to omissions from the Gracious Speech. There has been reference to the omission of any mention of unemployment. When 199 hon. Members from this side have drawn attention to this point, we have had speeches from the other side, from hon. Members like the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay), deprecating anything which would seem to paint a gloomy picture of the future or to cast any shadow of doubt on anything in the trade position. I listened very carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Gateshead and I welcomed both sections of it, because no one from that side of the House up to to-night had so completely whitewashed the Labour Government and absolved them from any responsibility for the financial crisis of 1931. I think he did it very well. He was very anxious for us to refrain from anything in the nature of pessimism; he thought that we ought to talk up the position and not to grumble about high prices.
I want to look at the position and see why it is that the Labour party thinks it necessary to draw attention to the fact that unemployment is not mentioned in the Gracious Speech. I will take the returns for the last few months in order to show why we are anxious about the situation. Anyone who watches the records of building contracts in the past few months knows that although the Minister of Health dealt with housing, that was a small part of the picture. When we deal with the whole building position we find that there are thousands of pounds less in contracts than a few months ago. I am glad to say that in the last six weeks in one or two departments there has been some striking improvement. I hope that it will continue, because I want to see good trade and not bad trade. But it is no use putting our heads into the sand, like ostriches. We have to view the situation as it is and not as we want it to be.
Look at the evidence of the stock market. I know that the hon. Member for Gateshead does not like me to mention that. However much we may discount the amount of speculation that gees on on the Stock Exchange, and whatever little sympathy we may have with the man who uses his money in speculation on the Stock Exchange, there is a very large part of the business that takes place on the Stock Exchange in this country and in New York that gives a very fair assessment of what is going on. The evidence from the Stock Exchange has been 200 used many times in this House as a justification for the condemnation of our arguments. Confidence in the stock market has been made a very important point of argument by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and others on the Government side, and I am therefore entitled to use the argument now. Although there has been a good deal of the bottom falling out of the market owing to over-speculation, a considerable amount of doubt has been revealed there as to the future.
When we look at the position in America we see that that view is confirmed. For instance, the production of steel in the United States is going down instead of up. That is a very serious position. If we go to the steel industry leaders in this country and get them to talk frankly and honestly they will admit that they are having a very fair time, especially those who are engaged mostly in production for munition purposes, but when one asks them about cancelled orders from the Far East and the restriction of trade in our export markets, one finds that they have little or no confidence in the position beyond the next nine months. I am not talking without the book in this matter and I am sure that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke yesterday he also had received certain hints about the situation. He was very careful to say that there was no need to have fears over the whole of the field. I do not complain of what he said, because I think he put it fairly from that point of view. What I want to stress is this, that when my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield quoted the Prime Minister in regard to the whole movement of industry in relation to employment, he could have added, and he would have done so had there been time, the actual figures which make us nervous of the effect on employment of any near recession in trade. We can stand a recession in trade to-day less than in any prewar period.
Let me take the relation of unemployment to production. I will take the official figure for comparative years. If we take June, 1929, that will be the first month in which the Labour Government operated and the last normal month of the previous Government. In that month the figures of unemployment amounted to 1,163,000, but if we take the corresponding month of this year, June, 1937, we find that the registered unemployment 201 amounted to 1,370,000. In assessing that figure we have to remember that there was an alteration in the method of publishing the returns in 1933, so that in order to make the figure comparable to June, 1929, we ought to add approximately 170,000. Therefore, the figure of unemployment for this year is 1,540,000 compared with 1,163,000 in June, 1929, so that there is an increase of unemployment of 380,000 or 390,000 over the 1929 figure. I want to put alongside that the Board of Trade official index of production. From those figures the average monthly production for 1929 was 108.5 and the production in June, 1937, was 135 in round figures, an increase in production of nearly 26 points in face of a net increase of 380,000 in the number of unemployed.
That is the point my right hon. Friend was bringing out this afternoon in relation to the quotation from the Prime Minister's speech, and also what the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) had in mind in what I thought was an excellent speech. That is why we are so anxious to bring to the notice of the Government, not merely as a criticism of what is omitted from the Gracious Speech, although we do not hesitate to do so, but because we are concerned about it. We ought to be preparing now to deal with a possible recession of trade and the handling of that situation. If that is not the attitude of the Government, then all I can say is that so far from the Minister of Health being able to refer in Committee on the Estimates to the hard core of unemployment as those who have been out so long and are found in the distressed areas, we shall have to accept the whole of the present figure as the hard core of unemployed, 1,300,000 with no hope and no chance of having a job.
When the Government have made no real preparation in the Gracious Speech they will find some difficulty in resisting the claim of Labour, not a new claim as it was made as far back as the last year of the War by the late Mr. Arthur Henderson in the book he published, for public works and other operations to prevent unemployment. [Interruption.] I overheard that remark. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says, "Why did not they use it when they were in office?" We were told that we spent so much public money in other directions that we created 202 an unsound financial situation. The right hon. Gentleman is now in charge of the finances of the country. He is a party to, even if he was not the adviser, an inflationist policy for dealing with armaments. He is borrowing the money to a large extent.
I take my "Economist" every week to see how things are going. We have already increased our floating Debt by well over £200,000,000 since March 31st, and by at least £70,000,000 or £80,000,000 over the comparative week of last year, and that is on top of the issue of the 2½ per cent. National Defence Bonds amounting to £99,000,000. If you can do that for armaments you are going to have great difficulty in persuading the working men of the country that it is a wrong policy to borrow for real assets in public works. In these circumstances we are entitled to ask now for schemes to be laid before the House for dealing with the provision of employment and preventing a slump in trade, which is being referred to so much not merely by us but by business men throughout the country. In regard to the trade position I remember that in the financial crisis members of the Conservative party continually insisted about the balance of trade. I have been looking up the figures. In 1936 we showed an actual visible adverse balance of £347,000,000. The Minister of Transport, who is to reply, will no doubt talk about the situation with great clarity and great insight, whether he is going to give us any hope is another matter. We argued about this on one or two occasions last year, and the net result is that, in spite of tariffs, quotas and licences, we showed an adverse balance of payments of £19,000,000.
I want to draw attention to the position this year. The adverse balance of trade in the first nine months of this year is already £54,000,000 more than last year, and if the growth of imports over exports goes on at the same rate we shall have an adverse balance increase this year of over £70,000,000. If we have the same experience as last year, in which we gained about £35,000,000 on the previous year in invisible exports, if we allow the same growth in increased receipts on investments overseas, in that case we are going to show a net increase in the adverse balance of payments of something like £35,000,000 to £37,000,000 203 more than last year, which means that we shall be defaulting on our balance of payments to the extent of £54,000,000 to £60,000,000. I am entitled to say that this is probably an under-estimate and that in all probability at the end of the year we shall have an adverse balance of payments of over £60,000,000.
If that is so, what is the effect going to be on our credit, our exchange and upon the export trade position about which we are so anxious if we are to keep our people employed? It is no wonder that hon. Members who represent constituencies in which the heavy industries are concerned, which depend so much on the export market for their trade and the employment of their people, are disappointed that there is no mention of unemployment and the trade position in the Gracious Speech, and until we get satisfaction from the Government we shall continue to draw attention to proper provision being made in this respect.
A word or two about the cost of living. We have had a remarkable speech from the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) about one aspect of ex-service pensions, and the House is indebted to the hon. Member for the way in which he drew the widespread feeling among exservice men to the attention of Members of the House. As far as the cases in my own constituency are concerned, there are many of great hardship, where the present pension warrant is not meeting the situation fully, and other cases where the claims for pensions are difficult to establish after so long a period since the termination of the War. They clearly show also that there are medical cases which are often turned down because of a formula in the Act.
When dealing with the sort of case put to the House this afternoon by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke, it is always necessary to speak not only with feeling, but with caution and reserve as to the legal position; but I was very interested to notice that my hon. Friend did not press the Government for any money or for any special promise on a given line of pensions advance. He asked for an investigation, and I think that he made an overwhelming case for an investigation. From their general experience, I think my hon. Friends will say that the whole basis of ex-service men's pensions 204 needs re-examination. That re-examination should be made in the light of medical experience since the War, and should also have regard to the difference in the cost of living.
As regards the cost of living, my hon. Friend drew attention to the position of old age pensioners, both contributory and non-contributory. Earlier in the Debate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) emphasised how difficult it is to get adequate data as to the extent to which old age pensioners are turned on to the public assistance committees owing to its being impossible to get evenly-balanced returns as between contributory and non-contributory pensions. When we have raised this question, Ministers—including the Minister of Labour, with regard to unemployment allowances—have said that the cost-of-living index figure has not yet reached the position in which it was in 1931 or 1929, or whatever year they seize upon. I beg the Minister of Transport, when he replies, not to treat our case regarding the cost of living purely on that basis, because I do not think that would be dealing fairly with the present social situation.
If the right hon. Gentleman will do me the honour, before the Debate is finished during the next few days, of reading the statement I made in the Debate on the Budget as to the cost of living since the new consciousness on matters of nutrition led to inquiries and the formulation of scales, he will see that there was a British Medical Association scale laid down on the basis of the cost of living in 1933 when the Ministry of Labour index for food alone was 18 as compared with 43 now. That is an actual increase, in food alone, of 25 points in the Ministry of Labour index. Under that scale about 5s. 9d. was the figure fixed by the British Medical Association, but on present prices one would require about 8s. per person per week on that very low scale drawn up by the British Medical Association.
§ Lieut.-Colonel the Marquess of Titchfield
I should like to know what the co-operative societies are going to do with their workers in the matter of the cost of living.
§ Mr. Alexander
If the Noble Lord will persuade all the employers he knows to bring the wages of their workers up to the co-operative standard, we could immemediately give co-operative workers more.
Marquess of Titchfield
From what I gather, I do not think the co-operative workers are very satisfied.
§ Mr. Alexander
I believe there are large sections who would like more, but most of them get more than the workers in other concerns. If the Noble Lord will persuade the employers he knows to bring their workers up to our standard, we shall be very glad to give further increases. What I am pressing upon the Minister of Transport is that it is no answer, in dealing with the cost of living, simply to refer to the comparative levels of the indices for those respective years. Since we began to have any consciousness with regard to the special inquiry on malnutrition, when these scales were laid down, there is no doubt that the basic figure which was taken for the scales has been very gravely affected by the rise in the cost of living, and therefore, there ought to be a clear revision of the Government's views as to what is necessary if we are to have afforded a standard of living which is a proper basis for the physical improvement campaign which the Government desires to advertise to the world.
My time has gone, perhaps a little more rapidly than I expected, with the aid of one or two interruptions. May I say that we reiterate to-night what the Leader of the Opposition said on Tuesday. We do not grumble in any shape or form at these small measures of reconstruction and amelioration which appear in the Gracious Speech. What we do find, however, is this. First, there is a complete absence of any evidence of a change of heart in regard to a greater application of the principles of the League of Nations, which would be likely to lead to a better situation in international affairs—and we know that unless these international relationships are improved our home situation will go from bad to worse. Secondly, we find that at a time when profits have been rising and when the State is using large credit for other purposes, the Government make no provision for unemployment, for any special treatment of the distressed areas, or for any improvement in the standard of life of those with the smallest fixed incomes in the country. For those reasons, we are dissatisfied with the Government's programme and will continue to press for its revision.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Burgin)
The right hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat is such an attractive speaker and lays about him with such good will that I would have liked an opportunity of replying, line by line, to what he has said. But time does not permit of that luxury, and I can take only one or two of the statements which fell from him and see whether they represent the whole of the case. If I understood him aright, he said, with regard to the Government's rearmament programme, that that programme and the necessity for it were not due to any fault of the Labour Opposition. I agree. Nor is the fact that the Defence forces have been strengthened due to any support from the Labour Opposition. It falls rather ill from the right hon. Gentleman to refer in that way to the rearmament programme when one remembers the voting against the Service Estimates in 1936.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that in the course of his travels in Europe and elsewhere he had been struck by the lack of faith in the British word abroad. I hope he will address a word of comment and of warning to some of the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House against the irresponsibility of certain utterances, which are seized upon by the Press of other countries and which do something to bring about the results he seems to deplore. We have heard a good deal of the fallacy of comparing the like of the present with the unlike of the past. I may have misheard the right hon. Gentleman, and it is not easy in the concluding speech of a Debate to catch every sentence that is used, but I thought I heard him say something about the Government being unable to afford adequate moneys for social reform. If by that he meant that this Government had failed to provide money for social reform on a larger scale than before, of course it is grossly untrue. In 1931 the figure was £171,000,000, and in 1937 the figure is £219,000,000, in spite of the burdens of debt and of rearmament.
I thought I detected him saying that the Labour party had made its plans for dealing with increased unemployment all complete after the War. How often have we heard the argument of the then Minister of Labour, Mr. Tom Shaw, that 207 he could not produce schemes like rabbits out of a hat? The other figure to which I would call attention is this: The right hon. Gentleman said, if I gathered him aright, that the numbers of unemployed now were 370,000 more than in 1929. Turn to the positive side. Look at the figures of those who are in employment, and you will find that the numbers now, on the positive side, earning wages, engaged in industry, their respect restored, useful citizens, performing the tasks that they wish, are over a million more than they were in those times. What is the use in these days of referring to public works as if they were the cure for all the troubles of unemployment? The Labour Government know perfectly well that the most they ever had employed on public works were some 115,000 and that unemployment went up at the rate of 200,000 a month. Really, that will not do.
On the second day of the general Debate on the Address we are reminded of the fact that in the Debate on the Gracious Speech little can be out of order and that almost any subject can be surveyed. Certain it is that hon. Members in all parts of the House have taken full advantage of that liberty today, for hardly have two speeches touched on the same topic, and we have covered the world and covered a great many problems. I must admit that, to my mind, there was a curious detachment about some of the speeches, and a sense of confusion between the British House of Commons, dealing with the affairs of the United Kingdom, and a world court dealing with the affairs of the world. It is very attractive to hear of the possibility of remedying all the ills from which the world is suffering, but the Government of the United Kingdom is engaged in the rather more prosaic and a rather more practical method of dealing with the affairs of this country and Empire and, further, giving a lead to Western civilisation.
Before replying to some of the more general matters that have been dealt with in the Debate, I might perhaps be allowed, as Minister of Transport, to refer to two speeches by hon. Members dealing with the slaughter on the roads. I am grateful to both hon. Members for having raised the point. If anything can 208 be done to arouse the conscience of the country to the importance of reducing the toll of the roads, I indeed shall be grateful. It is not a matter the blame for which rests on any one class. One hon. and gallant Member seemed to suggest that the blame had been placed on motorists alone, but that is contrary to the facts, for less than a third of the accidents, according to the analyses that we have made, can be directly attributed to the drivers of motor vehicles. The problem is much wider than the concern of any one class; it is a matter which concerns all users of the highway, and I invite, and invite again, the greatest possible co-operation from all users of the highway in endeavouring to produce greater safety. It is not true that the roads themselves or the vehicles themselves are the primary causes of accidents. Those are not true statements. It is really a human problem, and everyone on the roads can make a contribution to lessening that toll.
Another question was raised with regard to the extent to which there are roads in this country. There has recently been an important delegation to visit some of the great roadways of some of the countries on the Continent. When I heard of that deputation I extended the most cordial invitation to the deputation to lay before me any conclusions which their visit had given them. That invitation has been accepted, and I am hoping, as soon as the report reaches me, to learn precisely any advantages which that deputation thinks can accrue from adopting anything that is current practice abroad. I want to make this observation for the benefit of the House generally. Per square mile of area, the mileage of roads of the United Kingdom is greater than that of any other country. The mileage of England is greater than that of the United Kingdom generally. The country that comes nearest to that is Belgium. The country next is France, and the mileage in Germany of roads to square mile of area is rather less than the mileage of roads in Scotland.
I mention these matters because it is necessary that some of these facts should be clearly stated. One speaker referred to the Government's policy of dealing with roads as tinkering, as if only small sums of money had been expended on their building and upkeep. Let me remind the House that during the six 209 financial years ended on 31st March, 1936, the gross expenditure, excluding loan charges, incurred by highway authorities in Great Britain on major improvements and new construction, without taking maintenance into account, was no less a sum than £80,000,000. If anyone calls that tinkering he is welcome to make that description.
§ Mr. Alexander
I should like to hear the Minister of Transport's answer to the charge as to the relation that that amount bears to the enormous sums that motorists pa y.
§ Mr. Burgin
I am not going to be drawn into the argument whether contributions paid to the national Exchequer by any particular part of the community can be hypothecated to any particular use.
§ Mr. Burgin
I decline to enter on that subject at present. We are dealing with the Gracious Speech from the Throne, and there seems in some quarters of the House to be a misconception as to what a Speech from the Throne is. The Speech fixes the time and place of the meeting of Parliament, and, fixing the time and place of the meeting of Parliament, announces the cause of the summons. The King's Speech is not a series of articles of faith. It is the immediate programme of the matters that are to be laid before the House for their consideration. It is no more necessary to put your articles of faith into the King's Speech than it is necessary to recite the articles of association in the agenda of a board meeting of a company. The object of the Speech is to describe shortly the matters that are to be presented to the House in the immediate future.
It is objected that this Speech does not contain an express reference to the fact that the foreign policy of this country is based upon the League of Nations. Perhaps hon. Members opposite will look at the Speech of theirs in 1929, which they will find does not contain it either. This Speech contains the statement that our relations with foreign Powers continue to be friendly. There have been some sneers at that statement as if it were an empty statement. It is one full of profound gratitude. How easy it would have been for it not to have been possible for that statement to be included. 210 This House, this country, the world owes a great debt of gratitude to those in charge of affairs for the fact that that statement is possible in this year 1937, possible with its full meaning, with all the consequences it has for a country in which so much attention is paid to social reform and in which the whole of the payments for that social reform come out of the profits of industry and commerce.
The Speech contains the statement that the Estimates will be laid before the country. Yes, they will be laid before the country—and will be met; and that power to meet them is a tremendous credit to this country. When I read some of the descriptions of the worn-out system under which this country is supposed to be operating I think of how, during the time of depression, during the years when other countries were in difficulties, we were the saving grace of the world, the market with the greatest purchasing power, the market which not only bought commodities but paid for them and prevented many another country from going into financial collapse. [Interruption.] No, it is no good pretending that the system under which this country is governed and the system under which industry is regulated is worn out and useless when the facts refute the very statement by the way in which the country came through the years of depression, brought other countries on to safe ground as well and led the way to recovery. The Gracious Speech continues:With the full co-operation of My people"—including His Majesty's Opposition—the work of expanding and equipping my defence forces is now making rapid progress.No knowledgeable person in any part of the world objects to the strengthening of the British defence forces. No one pretends that these forces, or any part of them, are likely to be used for any aggressive purpose. The greatest bulwark against the disturbance of peace and the preservation of settled industrial conditions is a strong united British Empire prepared against all emergencies, and for that the country looks entirely and solely to the National Government. [Interruption.] A great deal has been said by various speakers as to what ought to have been done in various areas of the world in which there are disturbances, in Spain 211 and the Far East, and I would ask them this question; How is it that you deal with law breakers? You do not deal with them by taking the law into your own hands. A problem of that kind is dealt with by strengthening, upholding and supporting the law. [Interruption.] Will hon. Members allow me to conclude my sentence? In international affairs precisely the same law applies. If there is a breach of international law you do not commit a breach on your own part, you the more faithfully observe the requirements of international law. You strengthen, support and uphold the international law. The rule of law is the important rule in the matter. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Burgin
I was making a plea for the maintenance of the rule of law in the world, and pointing out how dangerous it was to incite breaches of international law if you wish at the same time to uphold international law, and I was endeavouring to make that point quite clear.
The Gracious Speech continues with references to trade and industry on the one hand and to social reform on the other. I want for a moment or two to call the attention of the House to the fact that trade is two-way, and to the enormous advantage that comes from an increase of imports of raw materials and of partly manufactured goods into this country. A reference was made by the right hon. Gentleman to the cost of living. He was referring to retail prices, and in some way to the profits of the middlemen. He has not disclosed whether the party to which he belongs has any method of dealing with the middleman or with retail prices, but he will at least agree with me that within limits an increase in wholesale prices is desirable. He will agree with me that in 1931 the wholesale price of commodities had fallen to such a level that it was uneconomic for primary products to be produced. If he is the economist I believe him to be he must feel some satisfaction that the price of primary commodities has increased. That fact alone has meant a large increase in purchasing power which has resulted in increased sale of manufactured goods and increased ex- 212 port trade for this country, and in a real measure of distributional prosperity.
Some of the countries from which we obtained raw materials and semi-manufactured goods are within the Empire, and I will quote only two instances of what I mean. In 1937, as compared with 1936, the figures from January to June of purchases by the Gold Coast were £4,300,000-odd compared with £2,800,000-odd the year before, this immense increase being rendered possible by the increased imports into this country of raw materials from the West Coast of Africa. In the case of British Malaya, the figure was £47,270,000-odd in 1937 compared with £33,500,000 in the previous year. I will be content merely with those two examples from our general trade of what I am endeavouring to show, which is that a reasonable rise in wholesale prices of primary commodities is desirable. The fall of primary products to a low level was one of the features of the 1931 slump.
One of the advantages in the last few years has been the steady climbing back of prices to a level remunerative to planters and growers, a level at which they can dispose of their commodities. This country, in preaching that international trade should be freer and that restrictions to that trade are harmful, has actually purchased something like £1,000,000 a day more of raw materials and the improvement in imports is something of the order of £350,000,000 in the last 12 months, the greatest contribution in international trade, and far the most practical move for the payment of raw materials that come into this country. There is great fallacy in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman opposite if he imagines that cheapness itself is an object to be pursued. It is small comfort to know that prices are at a very low level if employment and wages are relatively low at the same time. It is much better that there should be a slight rise in the retail prices of commodities if it brings with it a corresponding improvement in employment and wages. What is much more difficult, and what is never actually dealt with by hon. Members opposite, is how they would propose to deal with anything so intractable as the retail prices of commodities.
I have heard it said that one of the objects of the party opposite would be 213 to limit the number of people engaged between the production of an article and its ultimate sale in the shop. That, no doubt, is an attractive theory, but, of the 13,500,000 insured workpeople earning less than £5 a week and covered by National Health Insurance, what is the only group of workers in which there are 2,000,000? It is that of the distributive trades. Let hon. Members opposite beware lest, in the pursuit of their elimination of the middleman, they eliminate the middleman's employés as well.
The Gracious Speech contains the items to which I have called attention. It contains these references to peace; it contains the reference to providing taxation to meet the needs of the country; it provides for the Defence Forces; it contains the references to trade; and it provides for the social services to be maintained at their existing level, and even to be expanded. Certainly, there are some things that the Gracious Speech does not contain. It does not contain any reference to Socialism, for the very good reason that no one has yet defined it, and any definition that we have had has proved to be theoretical, vague, abstract and impossible of application. When we read, in a pamphlet entitled "Socialism and the Condition of the People," thatLabour alone can rescue mankind from the trammels of competition and private enterprise,we are inclined to wonder where this industrial country would have been had it not been for private enterprise. Who was it that directed the sailors from Devonshire to sail across the seas to discover other countries and other markets? It was not Government control; it was not any nationalised industry; it was pioneering by private enterprise. And when one thinks of this hallucination of some order of society in which all people are equal, one wonders where the reward for the inventor is coming from. How are you to encourage invention, itself probably the greatest employer of labour in the whole country? How are you going to find the reward for an inventor under an equalitarian system under which invention is not rewarded? One of the most interesting exhibits in the Motor Show this year was a car the price of which to the consumer was enormously reduced as compared with its price for the previous year. I was intensely interested in this, and I asked how it was 214 that the price to the consumer had been so reduced. "Oh," said the manufacturer, "a very large increase of capital placed at the disposal of the manufacturer resulted in the manufacture of tools and jigs so that this could be produced for the consumer at a lower price." I wonder whether hon. Gentlemen opposite all realise the relation between the accumulation of capital in the hands of industry and the reduction of price to the eventual consumer. When I read on in this same pamphlet, at page 5, that:The only basis on which ordered planning of industry and trade can be carried out is that of public ownership and control,I say, with my knowledge of industry, that it wants neither ordered planning nor public ownership and control. We have heard to-night from the right hon. Gentleman and from previous speakers some reference to the fact that industrial conditions cannot always continue in expansion, and that we ought now to be making plans for a slump. There is no reference to that in the King's Speech. We do not believe that the period of expansion has come to an end. All the proofs that reach us are exactly to the contrary effect. But if Labour were in power what is the sort of contribution which Labour would make to such a problem? The community must command the main levers of finance, land, transport and so on. And those who sponsor such a programme are those who tell us the slump is approaching. Well it might. The programme that is announced in the Gracious Speech contains all the items which, in our judgment, really are important for an industrial country. The essential ingredients of British policy are peace abroad, sane finance at home, expanding trade here, in the Empire, and outside; and, as a direct result of that practical policy, power and ability is given not merely to continue the social services at their present high level, but even to expand them.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.