§ Commander Brabner (Hythe)
(in naval uniform): I beg to move,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 otter our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.To be entrusted with this task at the close of our first full year of initiative and victory is indeed an honour. I realise only too well my inadequacy for the task, but I take some heart from the compliment which is paid to those whom I. represent, however intermittently, in this House. I realise, too, that it is a compliment to that ever-growing body of flying men of the Royal Navy whose uniform I am proud to wear. The people of the Parliamentary Borough of Hythe have borne with me patiently in my almost continuous absence which may have a certain charm for them, up till now. I hope they will continue to do so, and, if they do, it is largely due to the kindness and hard work which my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Sir W. Wayland) has so unselfishly done when I have been otherwise engaged. The people of this strip of coast, which stretches from Folkestone to the Cinque Port of Hythe, have been closely connected with our relations with the Continent for the last 1,500 years. They are an amphibious people. The sea and the soil have combined to produce in them a temperament which, I think, is best described by an ancient historian, William of Malmesbury. He says:The country people and town dwellers of Kent retain the spirit of that ancient nobility above the rest of the English, being more ready to afford respect and kind entertainment to others and less inclinable to revenge and injuries.Whatever their future political complexion, I whole-heartedly agree with William of Malmesbury. They received refugees from the first Nazi rush Westwards, and many of the tired but unbeaten men from Dunkirk had good cause to remember the kindliness of these people. As belonging to a Cinque Port, the people of this coast, or their forbears, have seen invasion before and have helped to throw it back, and over their heads 11 during the Battle of Britain they saw another invader thrown out. But, if the actual physical destruction of war has mercifully not descended on them as heavily as on other places, the ruin and misery which war has brought with it are very apparent. Thousands of people have been evacuated, and hundreds of homes have been broken up, and those who stopped have remained to face in most cases financial ruin and the possible threat of invasion. I hope these coastal areas will be treated generously after the war, because, in an England which is not un-prosperous and which is working full out, they must of necessity be kept in the straitjacket of military control. But they are firmly united in this war because, with their unaided eye, on a clear day they can see from this area the very crown of that brown and beastly wave which swept across Europe and which has still to be flung back again.
Notwithstanding that high water mark upon the Channel coast, for a year we have been fed upon victory, by our Russian Allies and by our own Forces, combined with the Americans, in massive combined operations. As the Gracious Speech has said, the forces of the United Nations assumed the offensive on all fronts. Victory is a powerful drug, which stimulates the appetite for more and at the same time brings with it complete oblivion of the past, either immediate or more distant, and before this sets in, I hope to pay my humble tribute to the Prime Minister, who has, indeed, been the architect of victory. He has told us that a run of success, however extended, is not necessarily complete success and that there will be fierce trials yet to come. While victory complete and final is an end, it is not enough, and I would talk for a moment of the future of our fighting young men.
The Gracious Speech has outlined the vast area of the problems of reconstruction and has particularly given expression to the intention to amend the law regarding the reinstatement in civil employment of men discharged from the Armed Forces. This intention will, I am certain, be welcomed by everyone. The Seconder of the Motion will probably deal much more fully and more competently than I can with the wide domestic details of reconstruction, but what of the future 12 of these hundreds of thousands of young men? When the war is over many will have been serving for five or six years. These young men have been uprooted from normal life. They may well never have had any employment at all, because they were too young before the war, or they may just have started and will have lost the thread. In any case a great slice of their twenties will have disappeared entirely. I am not unmindful of the immense suffering which the civilian population have undergone in the war nor of the terrific effort that they have put into it, but the fighting side of this country, of the Empire and of the Commonwealth and the vast majority of young men are in the Services, and whether we like it or not in the last instance it is young men who make war. One of the chief reasons which drove Hitler on was the fanatical devotion of the youth of Germany.
If young men make war, I hope that they are entitled to some attention in the peace. I say this with the greatest diffidence and do not mean to be provocative. I do not want to be thought to be doing any special pleading, but I have been living with these men for the last four years, and I have had the honour of leading some of them into action. Nobody can ask for a greater privilege than that, nor can you get to know them better than in these circumstances. They are for the most part inarticulate; they do not easily know what they want or how they should get it. They have been taken at a very formative period of their lives, they have been disciplined and encouraged to use their initiative within an intelligent discipline, and they have become men of action. Above all, they are responsive to leadership, and I am certain that there are no better fighting young men anywhere than those from this country, the Empire and the Commonwealth. I am certain, too, that their requirement after this war will be that this thundering nuisance of a German or a Japanese war every so often must stop. We really must take every possible step to prevent this tragedy recurring. The Gracious Speech indicated that continuous attention is being paid to the study of plans for the future settlement of Europe. Whatever form the international organisation set up after the war may take, the requirement that this holocaust shall not break out 13 again can, I believe, in part be met by insisting that we maintain adequate armaments after the war, and by insisting that many young men who have become professionals whether they like it or not shall be given an opportunity for a full, intelligent and progressive life in the Services. I wonder whether they can rely on that or whether the drug of victory will operate too quickly.
The second thing is that they have been trained to action and have become quite accustomed to insecurity. What can we offer them that will be in tune with this vigorous state of mind at the opening of this tremendous year when the struggle with Germany may be mortal and final? It is a vigorous state of mind, a mixture of self-confidence, of pride in their Service and of readiness to try anything. They who have been so long accustomed to insecurity will, I feel, hardly be attracted or satisfied with the plain straightforward prospect of humdrum controlled security after the war. I hope that our thoughts will turn to more active things for them more in tune with their state of mind and development. Can we not inspire them with the prospect of activity and opportunity in a peace turbulent with the pursuit of an effective peace? I cannot believe that they will be content with anything else. After the last war and in the interim years there were continual complaints that young men were not available for this or that because they had all been killed off. It is useless crying over spilt milk and still more futile crying over spilt blood, because there is no remedy for that. All I hope is that before our casualties, which may again be heavy, do happen we can say to these young men that we are conscious of the great part this country is going to play in the post-war world and that we intend that they shall be given a living interest and living connection with the affairs of this country so that they do not again begin to feel frustrated, as I believe they felt last time.
I quote with no discourteous intent a phrase of Lawrence of Arabia. He said: Youth was good at winning but had not learnt to keep, and was pitiably weak against age. If left to themselves, they may be equally weak this time. That is why I hope that we can offer them a clear, sharp prospect of activity and opportunity and say to them that we are 14 going to work in peace as in war, that we are going to open up the Empire by air, by sea, and by trade, and that we are not going to liquidate it, because it has been well described lately as the most interesting experiment in international democracy, and it is an experiment which is far from finished yet. I hope that we can assure these young men that we are so going to organise ourselves in peace that we can compare, as we do in war, with our two great Allies, Russia and America, surely two of the greatest world Powers which have ever emerged. They are younger than we are and they are very conscious of their strength, but we too have cast off our peace-time fat and I hope that we will not put it back again after the war.
If we can promise young men great opportunities to make lives for themselves, to play, as I have suggested, a vital part in the affairs of this country, and to have such contact with other young men, particularly among our two great Allies, then I am certain that the raw material of war will be less readily available. The human and practical application of this stretches far into the future, and the Gracious Speech has mapped out the road along which the journey will probably begin. If this can be done, I believe that young men will have no cause for complaint. They will be inspired by the prospect of an eventual common citizenship which the Prime Minister has indicated, and if in future, having done their fighting and come back, they can help to bring this about and at the same time graft it on to a sturdy and tolerant nationalism, they will have proved themselves good men and good citizens of the world.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
I beg to second the Motion.
I have listened to about ten King's Speeches and to the Movers and Seconders of the Address in reply, but I do not think I have ever listened to one that has really come up to the quality of the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Commander Brabner). In fact, as I have sat here he has hypnotised me. He made me think of the case of a Salvation Army lad in Glasgow some 20 years ago. He had his breakfast very early in the morning, and the officer was full of his subject, the same as the hon. and gallant gentleman 15 was. The officer said: "What further shall I say, comrades?" This young man, who had had his meal, said: "Say 'Amen' and let us go home." That is how I really feel now, and I am not sure whether my comrades on the other side do not feel it also. I feel that this is a great honour. When I was asked whether I would second the Vote of thanks to the King, I was nervous about it, and it was a good job they asked me over the telephone. Then I thought of two or three words of the present Home Secretary when he got his first job in the Government—Minister of Supply, I believe. He said: "Go to it." When the telephone rang I thought: "I had better go to it."
Candidly, I feel that this is an honour, but I never felt more nervous in my life than I do to-day, because when I look across to the other side I feel that almost anybody, in fact everybody, on those benches could do this job better than I can. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Well, hon. Members must wait and see. I have known this House for the past ten years, and whenever Members, either male or female, are in a tight corner there is no place in the world that is more sympathetic to them. I have seen a few Members in tight corners, and I have seen the full sympathy of the House shown towards them, and I feel I shall never speak anywhere where I shall require more sympathy than I want at the moment. I asked the Mover of the Vote of Thanks, "What sort of a Parliamentary Division is yours?" Of course, we have seen one another for only two or three minutes. He told me that it was a borough. My Division is a composition of urban and rural. I have looked back at the speeches on this occasion over the past three years. I find that in 1940 the Government decided to select London Members for this duty, and picked out St. Pancras and Bow and Bromley. Next year they looked round and said, "We cannot do anything better than have Sheffield." The hon. Member for Brightside (Mr. Marshall) seconded the Vote. Last year the Member for East or West, or South or North Bristol—I do not know which—was the Mover. He represented the great city of Bristol. I feel that it is a great honour that the Government should have cast their eyes round this year and said, "We will select a Division which includes 16 an urban district and a rural district and also have a small borough." The hon. and gallant Member has risen to the occasion. He said that his constituency has borne his absence. When they get his speech in the Press down at Folkestone and Hythe I do not think they will bother about him until the next General Election, because of the able way in which he has performed his duty.
I want to say a word about my own Division. Of course, I think that my Division is the best in the country; for one reason, they give me the best job I ever had in my life. [Laughter.] Some hon. Members are smiling. I should like to pass to a personal note. Until I came into this House, for 43 long years I had never had a holiday with pay. I was returned unopposed on the Thursday before the Whitsuntide break-up, and I wrote to the Secretary of the Labour Party and asked, "Shall I come down for Friday?" He said, "No, stop at home for a fortnight." It was a holiday with pay before I started to work. Some Members will not now wonder why, since I have been in the House, I have pressed for holidays with pay for everybody.
My Division includes three important industries which are vital to the war. The first is agriculture—agriculture in the East of the Division and agriculture in the West. The agricultural industry has done marvellously, surpassing the highest expectations of the Government and the country. I do not think any of us ever thought we could produce so much food in this country as we are producing today, and we are not yet at the peak. In the past the agricultural worker was looked down upon as the Cinderella of -industry, in fact, was spoken of as a farm labourer. He is not a farm labourer; he is a skilled worker. The agricultural worker to-day, although his standard of living is far in advance of what it was before the war, his wages having risen from 35s. to, I believe, 65s. a week, is still underpaid. I should like to remind the House that the agricultural worker with his 65s., when he gets into one of these "Browning houses" and has to pay a rent of from 12s. 6d. to 15s. a week, will not have much left over to bring up a family, and I am hoping that we shall advance the wages of these skilled farm workers still further. Why, bless my soul and body, if some of us here were asked to milk a cow on a farm 17 we should not know at which end to begin. But the agricultural worker is a skilled worker, and we must pay more attention to him; and the producer of the food must also be protected. There must not in the future be the muddle and disorganisation which were detrimental to both farmer and farm worker before the war came.
There is another industry in my Division—the railways. There are in my Division some 3,000 men who are railway workers. The railways of this country are the envy of the world. We have not given sufficient credit to those who manipulate our railways. Men who were ready for retiring five years ago are still on the footplate, working in the blackout, working Tong hours. They are on the footplate night and day, some of them, working seven or eight shifts a week. They are a credit to the British race. In all we have some 656,498 railway workers, of whom 105,703 are women. Who is there in this House when he goes either to St. Pancras, King's Cross, or Euston does not hear the cheery voice of the young lady shouting out "Four o'clock train for Sheffield on No. 5 platform"? And when the Welshmen in the House get uneasy, look at the clock and rush away to Paddington for the five minutes to two or the five minutes to six train, she shouts "Five minutes to six for Cardiff, Swansea, Newport, etc." I feel that we have not paid sufficient credit and due respect to these workers.
I have another very important industry in my Division, and that is mining. In my Division I have 16 collieries and 25,000 men working there. I feel a bit keen about the industry. I feel uneasy about the disturbances in the industry, and I have been giving much time to thinking these matters out. I have lived with my people in the industry. I go home to them every week-end. If I did not go home every week, the wife would want to know what I was doing. I understand the industry, and I understand the difficulties both from the managements' and from the men's side, but I am uneasy about the output. This is a day to be candid. There are faults on both sides; there is no doubt about that. There is not a man in this House representing a mining Division who does not feel that avoidable absenteeism should cease, and I want to give a word, if I may, to some of my friends—we are all friends to-day—and to ask them not to prod this ab- 18 senteeism so much in the past as it has been prodded in the future. I told the House I should make mistakes. What I meant to say was not to prod so much in the future as they have been prodding in the past, because some of my men, men of from 50 to 60 years of age, say, "George, we are tired of this prodding. We are working, and while we are working we don't want this prodding of the industry." They want a little bit of appreciation.
Our men in the mines are like the elder brother of the prodigal son when his father came to him and said, "Aren't you coming into the concert?" If you read your Bible you will see that what I am saying is true. He said, "No." The prodigal son had squandered everything; he had almost brought the old man to the edge of bankruptcy, but when he came home his father killed for him the fatted calf, not merely a calf on the farm, but the fatted calf. And the elder brother said to his father, "You have killed for him the fatted calf, but thou never gayest me a kid." He had never had any appreciation, and he had been working long hours, from dawn until dark, and what he was asking for, in a sense, was that his dad should say to him, "Well done"; and his father's eyes were opened, and he said to his son, "All that I have is thine." If he had said that years before, the son would have been far more happy and satisfied, and what I am asking to-day is this, that we should give to the miners, who are doing their best, a word of appreciation. That is the point I wanted to get over.
I will give just one illustration, and then I will say no more about the industry. I was going home to Barnsley the other day and got into a bus with a miner friend of mine who is 66 years of age. He was a little cockney boy and came out to my mining division almost 48 years ago together with his brother. They had a foster father, who took a delight in them and cared for them. These lads went into the pit that I worked down. This miner was going home on the same bus that I was on. He had a black face, because there were no baths at his pit. There was no canteen there, only a snack bar. I said to him, "How are you going on?" He said, "I am dead beat. I have done eleven shifts this fortnight at the coal face." He would have done the 19 12 shifts, but he was working elsewhere. He said, "I am tired," but there was the spirit. I said to him, "Frank, why aren't you doing an easier job?" He said, "The boss will not give me one. He says I have got to work at the coal face with my brother, who is 69 years of age." They had got to cut the coal. I was proud of that man and his brother.
I have not really the time, or I might read a letter from a young airman to his family. He wrote the letter, which was left behind, and the letter stated, "I am going, and if I do not return they are going to forward this letter to you." The airman was 22 years of age. They forwarded that letter on; I have got it here. I do not want to prolong the discussion or the Debate in the House, but the essence of that letter was this: "I am thanking you for the education you have given me. I am thanking you for the life that you have helped me to live. You know I am going; I feel it is my duty and that I shall not be enabled to fulfil my expectations that I intended to fulfil if I had come back." I went to see the father and mother on Sunday morning at half-past ten and knocked at the door. The father said, "Come in, George." I said, "I have come to have a chat with you about that letter. Where's the wife?" She was in the house—a beautifully clean miner's cottage. Only the two old people were in that cottage. The wife said to me, "Mr. Griffiths"—the husband called me "George"—"they have got it all wrong in the Press. He is not dead; he is only missing." I thought that was a lovely spirit. All the other birds had flown out of the nest, and he was the only single lad at home, but his mother had still got faith to believe, although she had got this letter which appeared to come from the grave, that he would come back again. That is a Division of which I think any Member could be proud.
I want to say one or two words—and only one or two words—on the King's Speech. I have never known two Bills to be introduced into the House before on the very same day that the King's Speech was discussed. That is a good omen for the future. My hon. and gallant Friend has been talking about the future of those coming out of the Forces, and about rehabilitation. I am a bag-carrier in one of the Government Departments, a 20 P.P.S. I feel highly satisfied with the way the Ministry of Pensions have made up their mind on rehabilitation and the fitting of limbs. They are throwing their whole soul into the matter, and are going to help everybody who makes an application or whom they know requires help. It would be a shame for us in future to see any Service-man, or anybody who has been in the Civil Defence services, who has lost an arm or a leg going about without an artificial limb. I think there will be a great advance on this question of artificial limbs. We saw an exhibition upstairs, at which you could not tell which was the artificial limb and which was the natural one. I am delighted that the Government are going to do all they can not only for the Service-men but also for the people who have met with accidents in the Civil Defence services.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education has stated that an Education Bill will be introduced soon. I hope that the Government will stand pat by the White Paper. I trust that, no matter from what quarter opposition may come, the discussion—I will not call it negotiations—which the President of the Board of Education is now having behind the scenes will not alter the contents of the Bill as set out in the White Paper. The White Paper is a greater advance in education than anything which has been brought on to the Floor of the House of Commons. I hope that we shall get agreement so that the Bill may soon be on the Statute Book. Nobody has a greater desire to push education forward than those who- have not had it. I went to a Church of England school until I was 11½, and I have never had any other education except for a few nights with the W.E.A., and then I was almost too tired to hear what the tutor had to say: I fell asleep many times over the lessons. The coming generation must have something better than what we have had.
I hope that the new Compensation Bill will be one that the workmen can understand. The Compensation Acts which have been put on the Statute Book are almost like a patchwork puzzle. You cannot understand them. In one case the injured workman is entitled to 50 per cent. of his earnings in recent years; in another, he is entitled to two-thirds; while, under the new Act which we have just passed, he is entitled to seven-eighths. I hope that we shall have a good Compensation 21 Measure, which will satisfy everybody. I believe that when a man or a woman is hurt the injured person has a right to compensation equal to the wages which were earned before. I know that not everybody agrees with that, but when a man is ill he requires more than he does when he is well: he needs more attention. I trust that the Bill will be one which we shall all understand, and that it will be worthy of the House of Commons. I have great pleasure in seconding the Motion.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)
The House has just been experiencing one of those happy occasions when we listen with full attention to two Members proposing and seconding the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech. This is an occasion when some of the hidden talent which this House possesses comes out into the light, and we realise with pleasure the resources which we have in this House, which are only too infrequently brought to light. The speech of the Mover, in particular, gave us that pleasure to-day. The hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Commander Brabner) has shown not only that he is capable of upholding the high traditions of his country in its service abroad, but also that he has the power to interest and charm this House. He has given us humour, he has given us some very solid thought, and he has fulfilled his part in the highest traditions of this House. My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) also has spoken to us in his own characteristic way. His voice we know a little better than that of the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe. We know his voice and we love his voice, because he always keeps us in good humour and always impresses us with his great sincerity. If I may say so, we recognise in him, although not in the official, technical sense, a very gallant gentleman.
I propose now to turn to the actual terms of the Gracious Speech. It divides itself into two quite separate parts. First, there is the successful prosecution until victory of the war. That remains the first preoccupation of the country, of this House, and of the Government, which is the executive instrument that the House set up for this specific purpose 3½ years ago. If I say little about this part of the King's Speech the House will under-stand 22 the reason. We shall be returning to that later on in the Debate.
I understand that some explanation is to be forthcoming from the Lord President of the Council with regard to the Dodecanese Islands. I am glad that we have the promise that my right hon. Friend will deal with the events in Cos, Leros and Samos which have exercised the minds, not only of this House, but of the country as a whole, so very seriously within the last few days. I need not remind the Lord President of the great anxiety which is felt by the country in this matter, and I feel sure that he will address himself to the two questions which the country is asking. The first is how did it come about that those islands had to be surrendered to the enemy and the second, why it was not foreseen in advance, and why, in that case, were these expeditions undertaken? It is not merely that we have sacrificed the men who have been killed or taken prisoner; we have suffered, undoubtedly, a loss of prestige, and the enemy has gained just that little bit of success which he needed so sorely, in order to restore, in part at any rate, the morale of his depressed people.
I turn to the other part of the Gracious Speech, which deals with preparations for post-war life. I notice that this Session has been called, in some quarters, the reconstruction Session, and I certainly do not quarrel with that description, provided two things are understood. The first proviso is that we do not imply by the use of those words that the war is virtually over. That certainly is not the case. We have every reason to think that long, hard days may still be in front of us. If the event should prove otherwise, of course we shall be only too glad, but we certainly cannot count upon an early or immediate victory. The fact that our thoughts are being directed to post-war life, does not mean that the war may be expected to end next week or next month or even necessarily next year. We must not count our chickens before they are hatched. But what we have to remember is that if the war is not to go on until well on into 1945, it is necessary for us in this Session, which, as I need not remind hon. Members, will go on roughly until this time next year, to make adequate preparations so that we shall not be caught as unprepared for the peace, as we were unprepared for the war when it broke out 23 over four years ago. The second proviso which I feel it necessary to set out is this: When we speak of reconstruction we do not understand the word in the sense of reconstituting the world as it was before the war. We mean planning and preparing the scaffolding for an entirely new edifice, which will be the home of a new world, better and nobler, we hope, and more worthy of human destiny than the old decaying edifice, which contained so much misery and so much injustice and which has been crumbling in Europe throughout the whole course of the war. It may be right, as the Prime Minister suggested the other day, to build the new Chamber, in which the House of Commons is to do its duties, broadly on the lines of the old Chamber, which we all loved so well, but it will not be right to build the new civilisation in which the generations of the future will live and have their being, on the pattern of the old civilisation of the days gone by.
With those two provisos, I welcome the official indication contained in the King's Speech that this is to be a Session of reconstruction. I go further, and say that I believe it is imperative that this should be such a Session. But when I turn to the actual programme outlined in the Gracious Speech, I find between the lines of the pious sentiments expressed there in almost every case the fatal word "procrastination." I look for promises of action and I find little to justify the hope that action will be undertaken. I see a great deal about the Government laying before us their views and the results of their examinations which suggests to me an endless vista of White Papers and only a meagre fare of concrete proposals for immediate execution. I am not complaining because in the King's Speech the different Bills are not scheduled in detail, but I am complaining of the apparent intention, in connection with almost every matter, to introduce further stages of delay between vague generalities and definite specific action. If my reading is correct, I greatly fear that when we come to review the results of our work a year hence the verdict will be once again "Too little and too late."
Let me give a few illustrations. There is talk about employment for everyone—a most excellent sentiment—but there are no suggestions, as far as I can see, in 24 the King's Speech on how it is proposed to create that expanding economy on which, alone, full employment can be based. There is talk about social insurance but no undertaking to implement the whole of the Beveridge Scheme, or indeed any substantial part of it, during the present Session. There is talk about the use of the land but no indication that the Government are going to grasp the nettle of controlling the land of the country in the interests of our people as a whole, either by land nationalisation, or even by such an attenuated form of control as is envisaged in the Uthwatt Report. There is no suggestion of any new and comprehensive approach on the mining impasse and there is no proposal for any immediate relief of the hardships suffered by the aged who have given their years of health and strength to producing for the needs of the community. There is no mention whatever of any proposal for the development of human resources in the Colonial Empire, and no mention of any scheme to end the deadlock in the great sub-continent of India.
It may be that I am unduly pessimistic. It may be that the Government are much further on with their plans than I am suggesting. If that be so, I hope that when the Lord President comes to speak he will dispose of all the fears that I have expressed and explain what definite action the Government intend to take. But if, unfortunately, I am correct in my reading, then I make bold to inquire why there is this inaction. I do not find it in the character of the Prime Minister, or, indeed in that of his Cabinet colleagues. The Prime Minister is a man who likes activity. It is the tradition of his life that he likes to see things happening and to take his part in events. Consummate orator as he is, his real genius lies not in words but in deeds. Now that he has begun to allow this matter of reconstruction to have a place in his thoughts, he must desire not merely to talk about it, but to do something to bring it into being.
The impediment does not lie in the lack of time in the House of Commons. We curtailed our days of sitting while the war was not merely the main but the sole preoccupation of our minds, because in the sphere of war the House of Commons could do little more than criticise. It could comfort and sustain the Government by what it said or did and could help the Government by refusing to im- 25 pinge too much upon their time. But now that the character of our work is changing and we are being asked to pass legislation, that is the function Of the House of Commons. I am quite sure that if it is asked to do so, the House of Commons will not hesitate to spend more days in the week than it has done during the earlier days of the war in order that it may do its duty to the nation and be worthy of it, by a rearrangement that will not, necessarily involve taking up more time of members of the Government.
Looking about further for an explanation, I cannot help beginning to wonder whether the real obstacle to action does not lie in the nature of the Coalition or rather in the way in which the nature of the Coalition is being interpreted. I was all for the formation of the Coalition Government and, for the prosecution of the war; I believe that every section of it has a common purpose and a common mind. It was and remains essential for that purpose; but where views differ, Coalitions can only continue to exist by compromise. What action is possible when some cry "Forward" and some cry "Back"? Or, to put it in another way, what is the true basis of compromise between those who want to stand still and those who want to go rapidly forward? It certainly is not to remain motionless or to move forward at a snail's pace. The hon. member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) contributed a very interesting article to one of the evening papers yesterday, and I had the pleasure of reading it. It was, if he will allow me to say so, a very clever article and a very good piece of electioneering. I agree with him that if we can have unity in action between all parties, it is a most excellent thing, but if so-called unity means inaction, then I have no use for it at all.
This Coalition Government, as I see it, is still essential for the prosecution of the war, but there is now being thrown upon it, by the logic of events and by the definite decision of the Government, the further task of laying the foundations of the new world. If it is to do that worthily, it must insist on action. If the majority of the Members of one party are going to put their veto on all-important progress, it may be their form of war, but it is not magnificent, and it will not inure to the future prosperity of the 26 people; and if that veto is going to be sustained by the Government, the hope that by means of the Coalition Government and this Parliament we can prepare the way for the post-war world, will, I am convinced, be frustrated.
I appeal therefore to the Prime Minister and his colleagues not to take this narrow view of their responsibility, in their leadership of this House and of the country. It is their duty to prepare these schemes of reconstruction which they have undertaken and not to be afraid of giving such a lead, as will result in positive and constructive action.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)
It would be a poor compliment to the two sparkling Beeches that we heard from the Mover and the Seconder of the Address if we took the advice somewhat sardonically given by the Seconder that we should all say "Amen" and go home. When I heard him say that he was going to tell a story from Glasgow I rather thought he was poaching on my preserves, and I will say that that is not usually the spirit in which anybody in Glasgow attends a public or any other kind of meeting, so far as I have knowledge of that city. I think it is desirable in the first place to say how much we in all quarters of the House enjoyed the speeches of the Mover and Seconder. The speech of the Seconder, of my hon. Friend, if I may call him so, not only on this day but every day, was the speech of one who is a true Member of Parliament without prefix or suffix. He is, in fact, in addition to his many other qualities, one of those who has not allowed physical disability to be an obstacle to his part in public life, and he takes his place with that great man the President of the United States and all those who have successfully overcome disabilities which, with less courage, might have seemed insuperable.
The Mover of the Address, my hon. and gallant Friend, spoke of his own constituency, with his usual restraint and modesty, as amphibious. He can be no reader of recent political literature, or he would have realised that the word "amphibious" is practically reactionary nowadays. We are all triphibious in a moderate way and polyphibious if we aspire to real heights in modern literary style. He had better regard himself as the first triphibian from this previously amphibious constituency. The hon. and 27 gallant Member comes here with his feet firmly planted on the ground, with the blue uniform of the Navy on his back, and on his arms a decoration which shows that he is also a creature accustomed to living in air, and also in fire.
The two Members who moved and seconded the Address so ably to-day bore out the great tradition which is also exemplified by the two Members who have latest joined us, which is that there is no service, however arduous and dangerous, to which this House urges the people of the country, in which it is not willing and ready itself to take part. Nor is there any service or adventure from which men, returned to this House, will not find here Members who have shared in such dangers and adventures and who can take counsel with them and speak at first hand of these things. It is a great and noble tradition, and we are very glad for that reason to give a special welcome to the representatives of that young and gallant band, of which the hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Commander Brabner) is so shining an example.
It would also be a poor compliment to the Gracious Speech from the Throne, and indeed to the speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) if no voice was raised from this side of the House as to the problems which it presents and the opportunities which it offers, It was said that this was to be a reconstruction Session. I will put it otherwise. It is the first Session of a two-task Parliament, a dual-purpose Parliament, a dual-purpose Session. This Parliament, which has confronted so many tasks, is now to confront a task of further difficulty. It has to make that most dangerous mixture, of the facts of war with the thoughts of peace. It is a dangerous mixture in every circumstance, a hazardous thing, when men are engaged in battle, to discuss the joys of peace to which they may never be able to return; yet it is a task, as, has truly been said, from which we cannot escape. The people will delay no longer. They know that the strategy of the early years of war is determined by the policies of the later years of the peace and that therefore the early years of the peace will be determined by the strategy and the discussions of the later years of 28 war. The peace which we are framing here in the later years of this war is what this Parliament has to examine and to do its best to mould. There is some interesting and novel phrasing which enters into the Gracious Speech from the Throne, such as:My Ministers will present to you their views and proposalsand:they will decide, in the light of your discussions, what specific proposals for legislation on these matters can be brought forward at this stage.In Royal parlance, "Le roi s'avisera" is a phrase indicating that a Bill is rejected. Translated from the Norman French, it would have an awkward ring about it, for it is a mild way of saying "Go away, and don't bother me with it again." We are, however, accustomed, at least in Scotland, to the same phrase in Latin, in the courts, where it is said that a thing is taken ad avizandum. It means that the learned judge in question is not very sure of himself and would like to go and talk the matter over with somebody who knows better. It is never taken as a bar to future action. So let us hope that it is the ring of the ancient Latin, rather than of the harsher Norman French, which we hear on this occasion.
There are, indeed, many lines of action which it will be most necessary for us to proceed along as speedily as possible. Let me say on behalf of all Members on this side of the House that it is not from a mere lust for inaction that we query or criticise proposals brought forward by the Government. There are many spheres in which we are as anxious as any other Members for progress. Take agriculture. We can only wish for action in that respect. Another line along which I think we all agree as to the necessity for speed is in the production of plans by which bombed-out cities can be brought speedily into shape again. There action speedy and forceful will receive assent and encouragement from all sides of the House. Take the Bills of which notice was given to-day, for education, for rehabilitation, for full economic citizenship for men injured in the war; no questioning voice will be raised about them from this side of the House. On many other matters unity will certainly be necessary throughout the whole House. Let me remind the House that the great Education Bill 29 brought forward by a previous Minister was not defeated by the Conservative side of the House. It was lost on an Amendment brought forward by a respected Member who—
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
It was supported by Members of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's party.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Elliot
Let me put it that on that occasion, owing to an unfortunate division of opinion, an opportunity for educational reforms was lost. The argument is being brought forward on all sides that you should not allow opportunities for division to arise again. It is a fair thing to say that that Bill did not come to an end through any sabotage by our party but was brought down by an Amendment introduced by a Member of the party supporting the Government which had introduced that Bill. That shows the dangerous and ticklish ground on which we have to tread if we are to solve present problems successfully, especially in war-time.
This is not the day for long and—for myself—controversial statements. The lust of battle naturally thrills in our hearts when we see a new Session and a King's Speech, but we must avoid those tempting paths. We are perfectly willing to exchange blow for blow, but that will not get us very far. The people of this country are not looking merely to wordy exchanges in this House. They are not looking for anything which would dissolve the present Government, which they hope will be the victory Government. They do not want us to plunge this country into the whirlwind of an election. Instead they wish us to keep four square to the terrible tasks which lie before us. Along many of the lines sketched out in the King's Speech there must be give and take and good will. Given that, we can have long and successful months of work in the present Parliament and put many fruitful Measures on the Statute Book.
If there is one criticism I should make of the Speech, it is the criticism which was made by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, that although there are mentioned many specific subjects, the great subject of employment is not receiving the full stress and emphasis that I should like to see in the first reconstruction King's Speech of the war years. On Clydeside, on Tyneside, and, it may well 30 be, in South Wales and other industrial areas they have two fears—one, that the war may go on and the other that it may stop. There they lost their economic citizenship by millions in those years before the war. A man out of work is a political citizen, but he has not the full rights of citizenship; he does not feel that he is taking his full part in the world. A post in the ranks is very different from a place in the queue. The man in the queue feels himself not fully a man. These people fear, above all, not only the horrors of war but what they have come to regard as the curses of peace. For that reason the programme of the Government will be scrutinised in the light of its appointments. The appointment of the Minister of Reconstruction, with a place in the War Cabinet, was greeted everywhere with the greatest interest and the greatest approval, especially because of the character and achievements of the noble Lord who has taken on that task. This is the setting up of the General Staff of peace, which will have to conduct quite as much work as any staff in war-time. A very useful start has been made with the appointment of the Minister of Reconstruction and in the placing of that Minister in the centre of things, in the War Cabinet. There he will also find the Minister of Labour, the Adjutant-General, so to speak, the Minister of Man Power. What I do not see yet is the "Q" man, the Minister for stores and gear.
There are other phrases in the King's Speech, some of them not very well defined, such as:You will be invited to pass legislation conferring special powers for the re-development of areas which by reason of enemy action, over-crowding or otherwise, need to be re-planned as a whole."Otherwise" that is a small portmanteau into which to pack the great industrial areas of this country, but, still, it is evidence of good intention, and we take it that along these lines the Government mean business. The dangers before us are still, as everybody admits, very great indeed. There is the danger of faltering and weakening as we begin to use this two-purpose approach to the affairs of our country. I believe that with the help and assistance on the two lines which the Mover and Seconder represented—the man with the plane and the man with the pick—in that partnership, we shall go very far. Whatever happens, the partnership must be conducted wisely if the 31 Government and Parliament are to survive, for a dual-purpose Parliament must be united, or it will instantly disappear. When men of old built a wall with a trowel in one hand and a sword in the other they could not afford to fall into internal strife, and along the path on which we have now embarked there is no dropping out save by a General Election. The people of this country do not want that. They believe there is plenty of steam and vigour both in their institutions and Parliament to carry matters through to the end which they want, and that end is victory.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
I would like to be allowed to add my praise to the Mover and Seconder of the Address. That praise, I can assure them, is no mere formality. I am an old hand on these occasions. I have now been 24 years in the House of Commons, and I have seen many Members go through the ordeal through which my hon. Friends have had to pass. The characteristic of their speeches was a freedom of expression and a novelty of point of view. I do not think it could have been a happier selection by whoever was responsible for selecting two Members so far apart in age, in outlook and in occupation—a young man in the Air Force, in the middle of the battle, and my hon. Friend the old warrior, who spent 42 years risking his life in hard work down the pit in the common, everyday occupation of a mineworker.
What is apt about these two speeches is that nobody, not even our greatest enemy, would describe these Members as "Yes" men. I remember the speech which the hon. and gallant Member made just after the fall of Crete, when he showed great courage and independence of thought and that he was ready to speak his mind on occasion. The same applies to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths). His worst enemy could not call him a "Yes" man. There is no man more independent or ready to speak his mind and call a spade a spade than my hon. Friend. We may regard these two speeches as symptomatic of national unity, and I hope that this new Session we are now starting may bring good results.
The Gracious Speech, that has not been too often referred to in this discussion, 32 abounds, naturally, with references to the great progress made to win the last ounce in the fortunes of war. From Egypt the Eighth Army has moved right up to the mainland of Europe. There are critics of Allied strategy and a suggestion that it is too rigid and lacks imagination. This we all recognise. There is always a danger when you have to work with Allies, and when you have four or five Powers working together it is not so easy to be elastic and adaptable as when there is one army under one general staff and unified organisation. We are gratified at the courage of the Prime Minister in constantly making personal contact with the leaders of other countries. I recognise the strain it must be on his health, and it is an addition to the burdens of Ministers that on the top of their ordinary ministerial work they have constantly to be making personal contact with, and having long journeys to meet, the heads of various Allied Powers. I am satisfied that, however great the strain may be, it is worth while, and we are grateful for it. The more personal contact there is between the heads of the various Governments—Prime Minister Stalin, our own Prime Minister, President Roosevelt and General Chiang Kai-shek—the more likely we are able efficiently to make use of our overwhelming man-power and material.
I am inclined to think that it was a lack of personal contact that made possible that unfortunate business in Lebanon. I say deliberately "unfortunate business," because it has bad and unfortunate reactions on our people who are fighting for democracy and freedom when they see an incident of this character, no doubt magnified, but still unfortunate in the shape it took. I hope that Members will exercise some restraint in their criticism of the Committee of National Liberation. They are trustees for the French people of a great French Empire, and if perhaps occasionally, as they have done, they show lack of contact and wisdom, that fact ought to be borne in mind. But I cannot help making this comment. If we are to prevent this kind of misunderstanding, it might be well to consider whether it would not be possible to have our French Allies—because they are still our French Allies—represented on the European Advisory Committee. We must have all sides, of various Governments, to guide us into policy and action, which must go together in order to be effective 33 and enable us to take full advantage of our overwhelming strength.
The most important part in the Gracious Speech in the view of most of us is that referring to the Measures foreshadowed for forward post-war policy. Some of us would have liked to have seen these words in the last King's Speech. It has wanted a good deal of pressure from Parliament to stir the Government to realise the necessity of preparing their plans for post-war conditions. The war cry—for that is what is amounts to—in the King's Speech of "food, homes and employment" is a large one. I do not know whether it is going to be the battle-cry for the election. I believe that with that aim—food, homes and employment—we could have a united House and get the support of all parties. When it comes to translating these objects into practice there may be some differences. MY experience is—and everything I hear confirms it—that most of our soldiers are cynical about the Government's post-war intentions. My right hon. Friend who spoke referred to White Papers. White Papers have now come to be regarded by the man in the street, and particularly by the soldier, as a method of burying problems and shelving them. I was very glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary give notice of a Bill to deal with education. I hope that it is to be produced forthwith and that we shall get on with its consideration before Christmas. I have heard a rumour that it is going to be held up to await another White Paper on the Fleming Report. That Report deals with a comparatively narrow phase of education, the public school, the importance of which is very much exaggerated. It looms too large in our consideration of educational problems. I hope, therefore, that the Bill will be printed and that we shall get on with its consideration with a determination to translate it into law, which will be a proof of our sincerity.
I could not help noticing in the King's Speech the rather peculiar reference to social security, promising us what we have been asking for for 12 months, legislation at any rate to deal with part of the problem. All we are told is that Ministers who will present their views and proposals regarding an enlarged and unified system will decide, in the light of discussions, proposals for legislation on these matters. No wonder our soldiers are getting a little 34 cynical about the Beveridge Report. They have come to regard it as an attractive disquisition on an interesting problem, but they very much doubt whether the Government are going to make it a reality and to give conclusive proof that they accept in principle the greater part of the Report by producing a Bill to give it legislative effect. I think that is important. The time factor, too, is going to play a big part in legislation. This is a slow working machine. I suggest that, rather than that Bills should be held up, as we cannot set up Grand Committees, it may be necessary to sit five days a week instead of three. In normal times that does not put an undue strain on Members of Parliament. Soldiers and munition workers are required to do a full week's work, and now that we are coming to a time when we are going to prepare for the future, it is not unreasonable to ask Parliament to show its sincerity by giving more time to legislation. Perhaps if we apply our minds to legislation it will keep us out of mischief and enable us to unite our energies in putting these Bills through their final stages.
The concluding paragraph of the Gracious Speech refers to the desire of the Government to give full consideration to the extension of the franchise law. That, I assume, confirms the promise of the Government to set up a Conference under your chairmanship, Sir, during this Session of Parliament. I hope that Conference will be given a free hand, will have as broad a reference as possible and will be composed of impartial Members who are prepared to consider all these problems with open minds to see whether by our ingenuity we can improve the machinery of elections, so that the criticism which was made on the last post-war House of Commons should not apply to the House of Commons to be elected after this war. I remember going into the Gallery and looking down on Members with their bald heads. They looked like a lot of hard-faced men who had done well out of the war. We want the next House to be a representative House of Commons representing all that is best in the country and securing the election of some of the younger generation and to be a Parliament of real authority, representing all that is best in the nation. So I can with satisfaction congratulate the Government on the last paragraph of the Speech. The 35 Speech itself is short, but, on the whole, I think it is one on which the Government can be congratulated.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Attlee)
I should like to join with my three right hon. Friends who have just addressed the House in congratulating the Mover and Seconder of the Address on the admirable way in which they have discharged the duty laid upon them. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hythe (Commander Brabner) has himself seen active service in the war, and he fitly represents that younger generation which is called upon to fight. My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) typifies the older section of the nation and those who do no less necessary service in the industrial sphere. Perhaps, as members of different political parties, together they symbolise the unity of effort which the House and the country have shown during all these war years. I was very much impressed by the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I thought he struck the right note—the aspirations and high endeavour of the young, and the need that after this war we shall not sit down, thinking only of safety first, but shall take part in a crusade on behalf of real peace. My hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth delighted us with his characteristic Yorkshire humour, into which he always contrives to get so much shrewd commonsense. I think those speeches were well up to the standard of any of the speeches I have heard on these occasions for many years now.
Before dealing with the subject matter of the Gracious Speech and the points raised by my right hon. Friend I should like to deal with certain matters of business. The Debate on the Address is one of the best opportunities the House has of raising matters of general policy and for Members to raise particular points of interest. It is our intention to allow a reasonable time. Under the guidance of Mr. Speaker, we will try to meet the general wishes of the House in regard to the genaral Debate and also the discussion of specific subjects. Consultations will be held and the proposed arrangements will be brought before the House in the usual business statement. There are two urgent Bills which we shall ask the House to pass through all stages before the end of 36 the year, the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill and the Local Elections and Register of Electors (Temporary Provisions) Bill, to continue for a further year the suspension of local elections. There is a third Bill that we want to see passed before the end of the year, and that is a Bill to maintain the welfare levy on coal at the present level of a penny per ton, in order that the Miners' Welfare Commission may be assured of the funds necessary to make provision for pit-head baths, when that work can be undertaken. I hope that it will be treated as an unopposed Measure. We also intend very shortly to put before the House, a White Paper. Let me say in passing, in reply to the right hon. Member for South West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), that I really think the kind of statement he made is rather misleading to people outside, because the method of the White Paper has been adopted here, as in other countries, expressly in the interests of the House, in order that before Regulations are actually put before the House, the House may express its opinion. It is right we should, in present conditions, have the opportunity of testing the opinion of the House. In my experience, a White Paper laid before the House is rather a prelude to action and there is not any suggestion of putting a thing into cold storage. The White Paper which we are bringing forward will set out the codification and simplification of the Regulations relating to Supplementary Pensions and Unemployment Assistance. I hope that it will be before us in a very few days.
§ Mr. Attlee
Yes. Other business will be brought forward as time allows. I have also to inform the House that the Government intend to propose a Motion on the next Sitting Day to give precedence to Government Business, to provide for the presentation of Government Bills only, and to stop the Ballot for Private Members' Bills following the precedent of the last four years. In recent Sessions, the Government have provided many opportunities for hon. Members to raise matters of general interest. It is our hope to continue this practice, at any rate until such time as urgent and essential Government Business occupies the whole time of the House. I must warn the House that we 37 have a heavy legislative programme which I think will necessitate some reconsideration of our present arrangements. The House may be asked later on to sit on additional days. As the volume of work increases, we may have to consider again setting up some Standing Committees. On these matters consultations will take place at the appropriate time and the Government will inform the House of any proposals they desire to make. The Government have also considered the request which has come from many quarters of the House for an alteration of the Rules of the House in order that the opportunity of raising matters on the Adjournment Motion may not be lost on days on which the Rule is suspended. The Government will propose an alteration in the Rules to meet this desire and to ensure to Private Members the opportunity of the half-hour Adjournment discussion at the close of Business, even when the House sits beyond the usual hour. There is one further matter which concerns the proceedings to-day. It will be necessary to go into Secret Session before the end of to-day's Sitting to renew the Motion relating to the Sittings of the House. We must obtain this Motion to-day, in order to regulate our future proceedings, and I hope it will be possible to adjourn the Debate at a reasonable hour.
Last year, on the occasion of the moving of the Address the Prime Minister gave the House a very full account of the battle of El Alamein, of the Lybian Campaign and of the landings in North Africa, which had just then taken place. In the Gracious Speech which we are considering to-day the sequel to these great events is recorded—the expulsion of the enemy from North Africa, the invasion of Europe from the south, the capture of three great islands, the advance in Southern Italy and the breaking of the Berlin-Rome axis. These events mark a great change in the war. They mark the swing over by the United Nations from the defensive to the offensive, and that change is reflected in the contents of the Gracious Speech. On 21st September last, the Prime Minister gave the House a general and comprehensive review of the war situation and the progress to that date of the Italian campaign. I, therefore, do not intend to-day to give any lengthy survey. Within the last two months our Forces and those of 38 our American Allies have continued to advance in Italy in the face of obstinate resistance by the enemy. The country is mountainous and the ways of approach and the roads narrow and winding, and at this time of year the weather makes rapid progress very difficult. At the same time, week by week, the armies have moved forward. In the battle of the Atlantic the war against the U-boat continues unceasingly with success. Our losses are far less than we expected in the earlier part of the year and the toll of U-boats is maintained at a high level. It must not be thought for a moment however that there can be any relaxation in that war at sea. The attacks on our shipping to-day by U-boats and from the air have to be countered on our side with increasing vigour, and we have to meet the varying changes of tactics employed by the enemy.
Our bomber offensive, as the House knows from the events of the last few days, is being maintained steadily with some pauses due to weather, and a heavier and heavier weight of bombs is being dropped on Germany with growing success on German war industry and on German morale. These blows, let it be noted, are delivered not only from the west but from the south. In order to meet these attacks the enemy has to divert a large proportion of the Nazi air force for purely defensive operations and the requirements of his ground staff make heavy demands on his man-power. In the Balkans and in Greece, the numbers and activities of the gallant guerilla forces are steadily increasing and a large number of German divisions have to be held there to contain them. In all occupied territories the resistance movements grow in strength and in intensity. The attempt to hold down millions of people united in a common detestation of Hitler and Naziism, is a growing embarrassment for Hitler. Meanwhile, in Russia the summer campaign passed without pause into an autumn campaign, and passed into a winter war with no slackening of this tremendous offensive by our Allies. The successful advance begun in the summer continues, and the Gracious Speech fitly expresses the admiration we all feel for this magnificent achievement of the Russian Armies.
We must bear in mind that these operations, sustained with such great valour 39 and skill by our own forces and those of our Allies, whether in the air, at sea or on the land, whether in Italy or in Russia, are not disconnected efforts. Each one has its bearing, each one has its effect on the others. The onlooker in this country, or the United States, or it might be in Russia, will perhaps have his eye focussed more on one effort than another, but Hitler must see them all as part of a concentric attack which he must try to meet. He has to dispose of his ground forces and of his aircraft so as to try to parry these blows which come upon him, and if he sends more aircraft to Western Europe or to Italy or to the Aegean, he has so much less for the Russian Front. If he has to keep extra divisions in the occupied areas of Europe he has so much less for the fighting fronts. Every new commitment is an added weight on forces already stretched and strained. The Italian defection meant that forces have had to be sent to replace Italian divisions in the Balkans and the Aegean.
It is in the light of the general strategy of the war that we must consider such an event as the loss of Leros, on which I know the House would like me to say a few words. The loss of brave men and of strategic positions of value is grievous and I shall not attempt to minimise that setback in any way, but it must be seen in its proper perspective. The House will remember that the Prime Minister explained that our landing at Salerno, at the extreme range of fighter aircraft, was a hazardous operation. That risk was taken. It was a close run thing, but it succeeded. Similarly, our occupation of Sardinia awl Corsica, beyond the range of fighter protection, involved risks. In war, risks must be run and should be run if commensurate advantages may be obtained, and our actions in the Aegean were undertaken with a two-fold object, first, to help the attack on Italy by causing the Germans to disperse their forces, and, second, to take advantage of those fleeting opportunities which the collapse of Italy brought in its train. Our commanders in the Middle East, within the necessarily restricted limits of the forces at their disposal—for of course our main effort was being directed against Italy—made their plans with this two-fold object in view.
Let us see what the position was in the Aegean in early September. Crete was 40 held by 55,000 troops, including 30,000 Germans, while Rhodes, which is the key of the Dodecanese, was held by 9,000 Germans and 40,000 Italians. There were also Germans in the larger islands of the Aegean, but in the Dodecanese, other than in Rhodes and Scarpanto, there were only Italians. Here there was an opportunity to harass the extended Germans and obtain strategic gains of great value. Accordingly, on 9th September when General Alexander's Fifth Army landed in Salerno and Italy made an unconditional surrender to the Allies, General Wilson despatched a small party to Rhodes. Unfortunately, despite their overwhelming numerical strength, the Italians did not respond. They made no effort to deal with the Germans and nothing could be accomplished there.
Attention was then turned to the islands of Cos and Leros, although operations there were, necessarily, carried on well inside the range of the enemy's powers and activities, but the former was important for its air field and the latter as a naval base. Troops and aircraft were ferried in. Let me say that very good work indeed was done by the Royal Navy in running, in the face of heavy disadvantages, these narrow waters between the Middle East and these outposts, and its work was augmented by transport aircraft. The immediate result was to attract the enemy's air resources. First-line aircraft which might have been used against us on the Italian mainland, or in Sardinia, or Corsica, were retained in the Aegean. In fact, some 35 per cent. of the total German air forces in the Mediterranean were contained in the eastern half of that sea and some aircraft are known to have come from the Russian and from the Western fronts. The enemy began at once heavy air attacks on our small air base at Cos where, short of anti-aircraft defences and of room for dispersal, and in the absence of supporting fighters within 300 miles, our aircraft were overborne. On 3rd October, Cos was attacked with great determination by sea-borne and airborne troops in great force and despite a gallant resistance and the infliction of heavy casualties on the enemy the island was lost. Four thousand Italian troops offered no assistance.
In this operation the enemy lost heavily in aircraft, and as I say the diversion had its effect on the fortunes of the Italian 41 campaign. We lost only by a narrow margin. A little more time in which to build up our strength might have made all the difference. The weight of the attack brought by the Germans showed their sensitiveness to events in this theatre of war. But the loss of the airfield on Cos seriously affected the defence of Leros and our commanders in the Middle East had now to decide whether or not to continue to try to hold Leros and Samos. Had we evacuated the islands, the Aegean would have been restored to the enemy and he would have been free to switch his forces elsewhere. As it was, our light mobile naval and air forces were harrying his shipping and inflicting losses. With a full knowledge of the risks involved, the commanders-in-chief in the Middle East decided to hold on to the island, and in this they had the full support and approval of the Government. A naval striking force was maintained in the Aegean. Heavy bombers from the Middle East, with support from North-West Africa, continued their attacks on the air forces in Crete, Greece and Rhodes. It was unfortunate that adverse weather conditions prevailed and curtailed to a large extent the effectiveness of these attacks. Their offensive on Leros was begun on 4th October. On 7th October our naval forces found and destroyed six landing craft and two merchant vessels, with a heavy loss of personnel, and air attacks were sub-sequently made on the enemy landing craft and on enemy airfields. Those losses inflicted a toll on the enemy and, in the meantime, reinforcements were put into Leros.
The long-awaited assault came at 6.30 on the morning of 12th November. The British garrison amounted to some 4,000 men and the Italians to about 6,000 men. On 13th November the enemy succeeded in establishing bridgeheads on the east coast, in the north and in the centre of the island. The island consists of two parts connected by a narrow neck in the centre. In the afternoon, parachute troops were dropped on Rachi Ridge, which is in the narrow connecting link. Throughout the day bombing was severe. Long-range fighters, operated from 300 miles away, opposed by enemy short range fighters were unable effectively to interrupt it. During the night of the 12th and 13th more parachute troops were dropped on Rachi and our garrison was cut into two parts. On Sunday, 14th, an attack 42 against our troops in the central sector of the island was made by parachute troops from Rachi Ridge. This was beaten off and counter-attacks by our troops in the north and from the south drove the enemy from the high ground and re-established our communications. On Monday our counter-attack was renewed but in the face of unceasing attack from the air it was unsuccessful. That night the enemy succeeded in landing reinforcements. On Tuesday, 16th, attacks developed against our head-quarters with heavy bombs. But the commander then thought if he could get further reinforcements he could hold out. Affairs however deteriorated. The result was that the island fell. The garrison had been fighting incessantly for five days and exposed to concentrated bombing attacks. In the end this produced a weariness, too great to be resisted.
Our troops fought throughout with the utmost courage and gallantry. They inflicted very heavy losses on the enemy and the Navy took a very full toll of any efforts of the enemy to bring in reinforcements. On 14th November alone, three landing craft with German reinforcements were sunk and the enemy casualties were such that for some time the fate of the island hung in the balance. It is estimated that at least 4,000 of their troops were drowned. The British and Greek troops have now been withdrawn from Samos, which, through the loss of Leros, became untenable, and some of the Italian garrison with a portion of the civilian population have also been evacuated. The Germans have now announced the occupation of these islands with their troops. The loss of Leros with its gallant defenders is a matter of profound regret but the operation did contain superior forces at a critical period of our operations for the invasion of Italy.
That inflicted serious losses on the enemy. War has its chances. In this case fortune was against us, but I am certain that had this attempt not been made, we should have been blamed for lack of enterprise in not having tried to exploit a situation which offered great opportunities. The arguments against undertaking operations beyond the range of really effective air cover, were, of course, present in the minds of our commanders and the War Cabinet, but if they were disregarded, it was because other considerations and other hopes were held by us and our advisers.
43 In reviewing the war situation, we must not look only to the West. In the Far East also, against Japan, the forces of the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States have moved to the offensive and in the sea, in the air and on the land commendable successes have been scored against the Japanese. In planning these operations of war there is increasingly close consultation and collaboration between the Allies. While looking back to the past, as we may on the occasion of a Debate on the Address, we can see a great change in our fortunes. We cannot afford to indulge in any illusions as to the magnitude of the task that still faces us. The enemy is still strong and determined. He is energetic and enterprising, and war is full of surprises. We cannot afford to relax for a moment our utmost efforts towards victory. Whether it is the fighting troops, or the workers behind who support the fighting troops, we cannot relax at the present time and this remains always the prime preoccupation of the Government. At the same time, while carrying out this primary task, it is the duty of the Government to see—
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
May I ask my right hon. Friend a question—whether General Sir Maitland Wilson made that curious statement on the authority of the Government, or of his own volition and on his own responsibility?
§ Mr. Attlee
Certainly, the question of the statement did not come before the War Cabinet. I think he made it on his own responsibility. I was saying, that although the end of the war is not yet, it is the duty of the Government to see to it that, as far as possible, plans shall be made to meet the conditions that will face us when the war in Europe comes to an end. It is a great mistake to suppose that there will be a sudden change from total war to total peace. It may be that the war in the West will end before the war in the East. We cannot tell. We cannot conjecture whether the war will end soon or whether we have still a long way to go. But whatever may be the event, there is bound to be a period of transition, a difficult period of transition, before we can settle down in a peaceful world. It will take a long time before we can overtake the ravages of war and get an orderly 44 settlement of world problems. And the world is going to be short of food and consumption goods. Months, if not years, will elapse before those shortages can be made good.
§ Mr. Attlee
My hon. Friend anticipates me. In our country also, just as the complete change-over of industry from peace to war was slow and difficult, so the restoration of industry, the return of the fighters and war-workers to civilian life, is not going to be a short or easy business. I am certain that in a well-ordered and peaceful world mankind can attain in time higher standards of life than have ever been enjoyed before, but the difficulty of the immediate post-war period must be understood, and all the more is it necessary that we should see that we utilise to the full the services of our own people and do not allow the workers to rust in enforced idleness.
World problems are, of course, intimately connected with our own problems at home and our reconstruction has to be undertaken within the framework of world reconstruction. The House heard the week before last from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary an account of that successful Conference at Moscow. Most important, the nations who march together and particularly the British Empire and Commonwealth, the United States of America and Russia should stand firmly together in war and in peace. The House knows too, that broad questions of world economics and relief and rehabilitation have been under the constant discussion of the Allies. International agreement is essential for the establishment of peace, security and prosperity after the war, and the further we can get with these plans, in the wider sphere, the more certainly shall we be able to plan for our own problems.
The Government have undertaken a special review of the problems of the transition period. During the past years my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), and my right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio, were in charge of reconstruction and did an immense amount of very valuable and preliminary work. Decisions can be and are being taken. Members have been 45 critical of my right hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio—I think unjustly—just because he could not announce decisions on matters which were still under examination and it does take some examination when you are dealing with enormous problems affecting the lives of all our people. I am certain that the work that was done by my two right hon. Friends will bear fruit. Now my Noble Friend Lord Woolton has been appointed Minister of Reconstruction. I am sure he will bring to the task those qualities which have made his tenure in the Ministry of Food so valuable, but it would be a grave mistake to suppose that reconstruction can be handed over to one man or to two men. That is, truly, to misconceive the nature of the problem, though I see that kind of suggestion made in some quarters, and it is not fair to Ministers who deal with reconstruction.
No one man, no one Department, can deal with the wide range of problems involved in the turn-over from war to peace. There cannot be clear-cut spheres between administration in war-time and administration in the transition period. Every Minister must remain primarily responsible for the subject-matter with which his Ministry deals, and the work of the Minister of Reconstruction is to correlate and supplement and not to supersede the work of departmental Ministers. It is his function to see that the plans of Departments are brought into relation with each other and with the general scheme and that there is no overlapping or conflict between them. But as the planning of reconstruction proceeds fresh powers will be needed and new legislation will be required. Some of these matters are already in legislative form, such as the Education Bill and the Bill for the Training and Employment of Disabled Persons. Other legislative proposals may arise in the transition period and from the plans that are being made to ensure employment, food, and homes for the people and to get a smooth transition in industry from war to peace.
Then there is another group of Bills, which will depend on the decisions Of the Government after the House has discussed proposals which will be laid before it. Among these proposals are those for social insurance, a comprehensive health service, workmen's compensation, and the control of the land. I note that there 46 are in some quarters suggestions that the Government are taking a long time over the consideration of those projects. I wonder how many Members have sat down and tried to translate these projects into the actual legislative and administrative changes that have to be made. These things are not being done in a vacuum. You have to consider what has been done before. It requires an immense amount of hard work. I was sorry that my right hon. Friend seemed to express some scepticism on this matter. We have been working on these security plans week after week. It is not so easy. All kinds of interests have to be considered—I am not talking of vested interests in the bad sense, but workers' organisations have made all sorts of arrangements, and there are all kinds of State schemes. You cannot just steamroller all these schemes without consideration. I shall never try to steam-roller the Amalgamated Engineering Union, for instance. I shall have to give great consideration to them. The fact that these proposals were brought before the House in the form of a White Paper, and that we have asked the views of the House, is, I think, only reasonable.
My right hon. Friend rather suggested that delays are due to differences of political opinion within the Government. They are due to the intrinsic complications of the subject. You have also to consider the differences of opinion in this House. Opinions are held strongly on both sides. Working under the conditions of a National Government, we endeavour to get the greatest amount of assent. That does not mean that there is any lack of vigour in pressing forward these proposals. I assure my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) that repeating that kind of statement that the soldiers are all sceptical and think that nothing is to be done, is doing a bad service to the soldiers themselves.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
I do not object to the Government laying these proposals, and all that, but do I understand my right hon. Friend to say that during this Session, which is, after all, likely to last another 12 months, specific legislation dealing with some of them, at any rate, is likely to be produced? It does not say that in the King's Speech.
§ Mr. Attlee
What the King's Speech says is that we shall consider what amount of legislation we shall be able to introduce, following discussion. I think it is quite specific. I am sure that hon. Members will realise that it is one thing to accept general principles, and another thing to work them out in detail. That takes a long time. Any experienced Member who knows the working of the Parliamentary machine, will realise that the present King's Speech will mean a very heavy legislative programme. It was for that reason that I suggested that I should have to reconsider our sittings and our methods, We have a great responsibility to all those who, whether in the Fighting Forces, in industry or in the performance of the manifold tasks which war entails, have saved this nation and civilisation. We must see that the change to a peace-time economy is made with a minimum of friction, that as men and women are released from war service to return to civil life, they will find that they are needed by the community and have their places in society. They will not expect to find things easy in the transition period but they will expect, rightly, to find food, employment and homes available.
Those things I mention not exclusively but to indicate that in the transition period there must be a concentration on essentials, putting first things first. These things may sound only elementary, but I am afraid hundreds of thousands of people in Europe will be seeking with the very greatest difficulty to obtain them in a post-war Europe. I would remind Members of what the Prime Minister said in his Mansion House speech on 9th November:I regard it as a definite part of the duty and responsibility of this National Government to have its plans perfected in a vast and practical scheme to make sure that in the years immediately following the war, food, work and homes are found for all. No airy visions, no party doctrines, no party prejudices, no political appetites, no vested interests must stand in the way of the simple duty of providing beforehand for food, work and homes. They must be prepared now during the war. These plans must be prepared and they must come into action just as when war breaks out, general mobilisation is declared. They must come into action as soon as the victory is won.That is the Government's intention. I believe that all parties in the House will support the Government in getting that intention carried into actuality. It is the 48 duty and responsibility of the Government to make the best plans they can. This House will also have its responsibility. Legislation will be necessary. In the proposals which will be brought before the House there are bound to be things which will be disagreeable to some sections. There are bound to be interests, perfectly legitimate interests, which will think themselves hardly used. There are certain to be points where one school of thought will hold that the Government have been too timid and another school of thought will think them too rash, but I believe that a very large portion of the proposals we shall bring before the House will command general agreement. If we take too much time in this House in contending on minor points of difference, we may lose the major things on which we agree. There is always a danger that what some people think the best, may be the enemy of what all people agree to be good. I am not suggesting for a moment that the proposals of the Government cannot be improved by amendment in this House. Indeed I hope that they will be improved by the collective wisdom of the House. But I am quite sure that these things must be approached in a practical and constructive spirit with a firm resolve to get the necessary things through in time, it being realised that it is not possible for any section or party to get everything it requires. It is obvious that measures for the transition period will have their effect on the long-term future and some measures will be designed to take their part in the permanent structure of the country. Here it may be said that it is more difficult to avoid party controversies, but long-term apprehensions should not deter us from doing now these things which are absolutely essential. I am certain that this House, which has shown the world such a remarkable example of a live democracy working for victory, will not, when called upon to make provision for the peace, fall below the standard which it has itself set.
The war is not yet won, but as we draw nearer to victory, the minds of men and women turn more and more to the future and ask "What will our position be when peace comes?" I can, recall very well in 1918 in the trenches in France, asking that same question. I can remember in those days our hopes and our fears. It is the duty of this Govern- 49 ment and this House to remove the fears and to satisfy the reasonable hopes of all our fellow citizens who, in the days when extremest peril threatened all we hold dear, added to our history one of its most glorious pages.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
As the first back bencher to take part in this Debate, perhaps I. may be allowed to pay tribute to me two back benchers who moved and seconded the Motion. What I would say of those two speeches is that if the Government, in the legislation that they propose to introduce in the coming Session and in their approach to post-war problems, will be imbued with the spirit of both those speeches, not only the House but the country will be well content. I want to make a brief comment on the speech of the Deputy Prime Minister with regard to what he had to say about the incidents in the Dodecanese. I hope that the Government realise that what has happened in Cos and Leros has caused very great concern throughout the country. That concern will still remain, in spite of the explanation that the right hon. Gentleman has given, because the impression that it left, on my mind anyhow, was that it was an attempt to gloss over a failure. It was a story reminiscent of many that we have heard in this war of brave men exposed to very grave danger, showing the gallantry that we would have expected of them, but being called upon to do the impossible. I hope that at long last the lesson has been learned that without proper air cover and protection our men should not be put in positions of that kind again.
I want to deal with two matters referred to in the Gracious Speech, education and housing. I was delighted that there was an announcement to-day that an Education Bill is to be introduced. I hope it means that the Bill will be introduced at a comparatively early date. The country is ready for an education advance, and I hope that advantage will be taken by the Government of the feeling in this matter, to get early action. I cannot agree with the Seconder of the Motion that the Government should introduce their proposals exactly as set out in the White Paper. He told us that negotiations were going on; surely in that case the Government ought to enter into the negotiations with an open mind. If they find as a result that their proposals can be 50 improved, I hope that they will improve them. In certain directions the White Paper proposals can be made better. I hope that the Government will not persist in their determination to destroy units of education administration that have been efficient in the past. It would be folly to destroy efficient education bodies in the name of educational advance and to put them under less efficient bodies.
In regard to the vexed question of denominational teaching in schools I hope that the Government will pay proper respect to the conscientious views of those who feel strongly in these matters and if their policy is, as apparently it is, that denominational teaching shall be allowed in schools to those to whom they think it right, they will not make that teaching impossible by putting upon those who run the denominational schools an impossible financial burden. Lastly, I hope that the Government will bear in mind that education is not the only item on which local authorities will be called upon to spend money after the war and that the Exchequer must therefore be prepared to pay a bigger contribution towards the expense of these proposals if the proposals are to be implemented. Otherwise the proposals brought forward, which sound all right on paper, will never be carried out in practice, because the difficulties in the way are too great.
I want to turn to the question of housing. Everybody will agree that decent housing accommodation is one of the most important factors in the health and happiness of the people, but I have to confess that, though the domestic problems of the war have been extremely well handled by the Government for the most part, housing has been one of their failures. At the very outset the Government ought to have controlled by law the sale of all houses below, say, £1,000 in value. Instead, they let the speculators get to work and buy those houses for the sake of profit and create inflated values. The consequences have been serious, and they are likely to have an effect in the post-war period. In my area the speculators have been allowed to be all too busy. People who may not have wanted to sell their houses have been tempted to do so because of the prices offered, and speculators have offered fantastic figures. Within a few days they have been able to sell again for a few hundred pounds profit. We have heard 51 a great deal of the high wages that a limited number of workers have been able to get in munition factories, but we must remember that in order to get those wages the men have had to work very long hours, and that they have to pay Income Tax on their earnings. The speculators I have mentioned make no contribution to the war effort but do a great deal of injury to it by trading on the scarcity of houses, yet they pay no Income Tax on the profits of their speculation. This sort of thing has created very bad feeling.
Another evil which has caused much feeling has been the rent charged for so-called furnished houses. I would make a comparison between the way in which the problem has been tackled by the Secretary of State for Scotland and by the former Minister of Health. The Secretary of State for Scotland has introduced legislation to set up local tribunals who know what would be a reasonable rent for such places, and I think that will be an effective way of dealing with the matter. In England there is exactly the same problem, but the former Minister of Health only appointed a Committee, or at any rate said he would do so. I do not think he has got any further than appointing the Chairman, and I do not think the members have actually been appointed. As there is the same problem to deal with in both countries, there ought to be some kind of co-ordination between the two Ministers. In Scotland this evil is being effectively dealt with by one Minister, whereas in England we are being continually put off by procrastinating methods. The local authorities have been given certain powers by the Government to deal with excessive charges for furnished lettings, but the answer of the local authorities is that in practice they are unable to obtain a conviction because of the way in which the Regulations are worded. Many local authorities, my own among them, are refusing to take any further action because they have taken cases to the courts in which, obviously, there has been overcharging, but because of the technical phrasing of the Regulation the magistrates, quite properly, because they have their duty to administer the law, have been unable to register any convictions, and the Authority have just given up the struggle.
52 I am dealing with the houses that are there, but the real need is that more houses ought to be built even during the war. I want to give some reason why in my own constituency at least—and it applies elsewhere—this should be done. The position at present is that when a house becomes vacant for any reason it can be requisitioned easily by the local authority for people who come from away—workers directed there by the Ministry of Labour. The procedure is simple, requisitioning can take place, and these people from away can be given the house, but there are local people living under terrible conditions. I have examples here from my own constituency of a man and his wife and three children, for whom the accommodation consists of two rooms on the third floor, water on the ground floor, no sink in flat or W.C.; of a man, his wife and four children aged eight, five, one-and-a-half, and six months, accommodation two rooms and scullery in basement, condemned by the local health committee, three children bronchial and fourth suffering from heart trouble; a man, wife and four child, boys 16, 14 and girl 8, accommodation two rooms, sharing cooking and sanitary conveniences with another family, rooms very small, bedroom too small to hold sufficient beds for the family. I have a list which has been drawn up by my own local authority of some of the urgent cases with which they have to deal. These cases exist in one of England's loveliest towns which is called the garden city of England.
When a house becomes vacant it is at once requisitioned for somebody from away. Naturally, it is asked, why should there not be the same requisitioning powers to meet local needs? The local authorities say that their present requisitioning powers for this purpose are no use to them at all and not worth the paper on which they are written. I asked the former Minister of Health whether he would make the requisitioning conditions the same whether for someone from away or for local needs, so that there might be a 50–50 or some such kind of arrangement, but he refused a reasonable request like that. I am concerned about what will happen when the men come back from the front—because many of the people living under these conditions are the wives and children of the fighting men—when they find the housing conditions under 53 which their families are living. It is all very well to talk about reconstruction and post-war action, but there are some immediate problems to which we ought to face up, and there are some conditions that we ought really to tackle even now.
I would urge on the Government, even at this late hour, to make up their minds that there should be a limited amount of building by local authorities during the war, even if it is only of a temporary kind, to meet urgent needs. If things are allowed to go on as they are, you will have in what you call the transitional period immediately after the war—which everybody realises is bound to be a very difficult period—a great opportunity for the agitator and the demagogue to work upon these people, with disastrous results for all concerned. All local authorities realise that in their own areas a certain amount of building is necessary during the war in the interests of common humanity and decency, and in fairness to the men who are fighting our battles all over the world, so that their wives and children may have at least reasonable conditions in which to live.
My final point with regard to the housing problem is this: I do not think it is enough for the Government to have told local authorities that they should take powers to acquire land at pre-war prices for one year's building after the war. Speculators are busy. They say, "Let the local authorities get their land for one year. We will look to the years afterwards." They are buying up land all over the country, and with this speculation going on and an increase in the cost of building I do not see how the Government's housing proposals are likely to be carried out. We are told that 4,000,000 houses are to be built. I would like to have an assurance that there is to be prefabrication on a large scale. It is the only way to meet the urgent need. We all want to see a long-term programme sketched out, but in the meantime people have to live and be housed in proper conditions. The housing problem is one of the most urgent the Government ought to face up to during the war. I am grateful for the opportunity of putting this case. Living as I do among my own constituents and knowing the conditions under which they live, I know they feel that they would like the House of Commons to be acquainted with the facts. The conditions 54 I have described do not apply only to my constituency; I believe they are general in other parts, and one can do a service by drawing attention to them in this way. There is no doubt that people who are allowed to take advantage of the nation's needs are doing a great deal of harm to public morale. One hopes that after the war there will be a juster and fairer system. At present it is not the men and women who are rendering the greatest service to the community who are getting the best rewards. There is something wrong with that, and I hope that that is one of the things we shall try to put right in the new era which we all hope is to come about.
§ Mr. Barr (Coatbridge)
I lament very much one omission from the King's Gracious Speech. I should like to have seen in it some promise of a definite improvement in old age pensions, in regard to both the basic rate and supplementary allowances. I know that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated that we must wait and see how things turn out at the end of the war. I have only one answer to give the Government. I state it in the words of a great philosopher whom I studied at college, Immanuel Kant:Thou oughtest, therefore thou canst.I rose particularly to refer to a question which is giving a good deal of anxiety in Scotland, and I am sure also in England, the question of temperance in some of its aspects. I have raised the question of the supply of geneva, or gin, to the Gold Coast before. It is not so long ago since the Secretary of State for the Colonies, when asked whether gin was good for the moral, spiritual and material welfare of the natives, said he occasionally took gin himself without any danger either to his moral, spiritual or material welfare. I cannot think that he was altogether speaking for the Government in that regard, because I find that for many years, to those who were going abroad to the Colonies, and particularly to West Africa, they issued a pamphlet in which they said: "Remember that alcohol is not a necessity in West Africa, except when given medically. Pay no attention to what you may hear to the contrary while you are on your voyage to that Coast." You might translate and apply that and say: "Pay no attention to what you hear from the Front Bench 55 on this subject in the House of Commons." I recall that when the Governor of the Gold Coast instituted a Commission of Inquiry in 1929, important evidence was submitted as to the excesses which obtain at times among the natives. They had this testimony given by the Bishop of Accra, who submitted to the Commission his letter to The Times on 28th March, 1929, about funeral orgies:For a week at a time every man and woman, and not a few of the children, are drunk, some in a torpid state and some in a raving condition. This is the kind of scene which burns itself into one's soul.The Roman Catholic Fathers in the area gave evidence that there were these excesses not only at funerals but at festivals and among Chiefs and Judges after sitting in their Tribunals. The Church Council, for the Protestant Churches, gave evidence that they regarded this traffic in geneva and gin with the natives as "morally indefensible," and said it was "an evil fraught with great danger to the community." These excesses are still going on, as I have been assured by the Rev. M. B. Taylor, Superintendent of the Gold Coast Methodist Mission, and now honorary member of the Legislative Council. He sums up his conclusions in these words:Finally, I am of opinion that the trend of official and public opinion is for the present surging away from the attitude adopted by the Government and shown in the 10 per cent. reduction, and that if we are not careful we shall lose all the ground that has been gained.I would say to the Government that if they are not careful about taking drastic action in this matter, we will lose much of the ground we have gained. I am thinking of the future of our Colonies. Is there to be continued exploitation, and profit making? Is that our idea about the Colonies? Have we not some higher ideals than that? Are we to have a new system of trading with our Colonies? I hope we will. If we look at the past history of the liquor trade in regard to the Colonies and the natives, it is War and not Trade.
I pass from that to the home front. There is not time to go into various systems of controlling the liquor traffic. I might have addressed myself, if time permitted, first to the Carlisle Scheme. I would only say in regard to it that the advocates of that scheme have much that 56 they can praise in the early efforts of the scheme. On the other hand, they have to explain this fact. I have been through the lists for every year since the scheme was instituted, and have found that in every year Carlisle takes a place lower than half way down the list of county boroughs ranged according to those which had fewest convictions for drunkenness. In one year it reached 50th place, but in the last two reports I have seen it occupied the 67th and 61st places out of 85 boroughs.
I see that there is an agitation at present for the national ownership of the liquor traffic, but under it there is to be "no such concession as local option." We have had a good experiment for over 20 years in local option, and in "No Licence "and" Restriction." While it is not by any means quite all that we would have wished, it has some fine results to its credit. I take one town in my native Ayrshire, that of Stewarton. In 1923 it carried No Licence, as it had done before. In 1926, the "Daily Mail" came into the district and sought to work up an agitation against it, but received a crushing reply from the Provost of the town. His reply was to the effect that when a new vote had been called for in 1923 to overturn "no licence," the request was signed by no medical man, no teacher, no banker, no lawyer and no minister of religion; and that there were at least 100 convictions a year before "No Licence" came in, but that in the last year of "No Licence" (1925) there was not a single conviction for drunkenness. The Provost's report concluded:We place these facts before the "Daily Mail," and contend that the benefits which come to this town through being dry are greater than can be described by any words in the English language.Needless to say it was carried again by the largest majority that had been known.
Looking forward to the future and the new world that is to be, it is remarkable to me that this subject is hardly ever mentioned, although I venture to say it should occupy a prime place among those changes that will bring new conditions, for the liquor traffic, unless we stay it altogether, will corrupt the best social system we can set up, it will poison the communal life at its source, it will besmirch our noblest ideals, it will turn our rising sun into darkness and eclipse for us our new millenial dawn. I am not 57 putting forward this plan or that plan, but I should like to see a changed attitude on the part of many in this House. I should like to recall some of the old testimonies that we had from the great statesmen of the past. Here is one from Daniel O'Connell, and I do not need to tell the Members of this House that Benjamin Disraeli said of Daniel O'Connell that he was "the greatest public orator that ever existed." He was an assiduous teetotaller, devoted to this cause, and here is his last public utterance, made on the 22nd April, 1846:Next to religion temperance is the greatest blessing God can confer upon mankind. There is no vice which it does not discourage; there is no virtue which it does not foster.Without recalling or detailing the very drastic action that has been taken by our great ally, Russia, in this regard, I would put forward and endorse two remarkable pronouncements of Lenin. This is one:Vodka and other opiates will lead us back to capitalism, not forward to socialism.And this is the other:The proletariat is an ascending class. It needs alcohol neither as a narcotic nor a stimulant.Lest it should be thought that I am in any way too critical, I want to mention some of the things that give me satisfaction and hope in what has happened, particularly in Scotland, but also in England. Owing to the action taken by the Secretary of State for Scotland under Defence Regulation 42D we have virtually eliminated the bona fide traveller, as he has been long ago eliminated in England. I find that 24 out of the 33 counties in Scotland are now under this Regulation, and while it is a war measure I venture to say that the bona fide traveller has gone out never to return, even with the return of peace, and he has gone out "unwept, unhonoured and unsung." I am also grateful for the action taken by the Secretary of State for Scotland, by the Home Secretary, and by the heads of other Departments in regard to wet canteens when they brought in regulations one of which was that no profit was to accrue from these canteens. The result is that there are only 15 wet canteens in the whole of Scotland, and I am grateful to the Secretary of State for Scotland and to those who steered a similar course for England.
58 That brings me not quite to the end of what I have to say, but to my last topic. Regarding the increase in drinking, or the alleged increase in drinking among young lads and girls, I thought to dispose of this question, or of any argument regarding it, by approaching the Salvation Army, and I found that there had been investigations touching 50 towns and villages, large and small. This is a summary of the results of the Salvation Army's investigations. There was a considerable amount of treating of young women and girls by men in the Forces. It was also found that girls far below the age of 18 were being served with liquor. In one public house it was found that two girls of 14 years of age had been served with liquor on the same evening. I have evidence from a member of the staff in Glasgow of the church with which I am connected, of great disorder on a bus where the conductress came down from the top to say that there were two drunken men upstairs. She could easily manage them, but she could not manage the crowd of young girls, ostensibly of the age of 16, who were the worse for drink. The Secretary of State for Scotland and the Home Secretary have taken commendable action in this regard, and with the aid of the trade, they have had notices put up in public houses warning against the purchasing of liquor for young people under 18 years of age. I think the wording is the same in the notice put out by the Home Secretary and in that by the Secretary of State for Scotland. The wording says:It is an offence for any person under the age of 18 to buy or attempt to buy excisable liquor for his or her consumption in this bar. It is also an offence for anyone to buy or attempt to buy excisable liquor for consumption by a person under the age of 18 in this bar, and may we ask the co-operation of our customers …and so on. That is the position, and I am grateful both to the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Home Secretary who are keeping a watch on this subject. They have effectively dealt with the treating of young people, boys and girls, under the age of 18. I wonder whether they could not carry it a little further and perhaps think of raising the age possibly to 21 and apply it both to England and to Scotland.
To the defence of the young men and maidens of this land we are called by the highest literary appeals. In his Common- 59 Place Book, in the year 1785, Robert Burns made an appeal to any young manon the vestibule of the world, who shall throw his eye over my pages, to pay heed to the fruit of a poor devil's dear-bought experience to shun my example in this regard and to begin keeping up a regular, warm intercourse with the Deity.That is why one of his greatest poems has this verse:O Man! while in thy early years,How prodigal of time!Mis-spending all thy precious hours,Thy glorious youthful prime!Alternate Follies take the sway;Licentious Passions burn;Which tenfold force gives Nature's lawThat man was made to mourn.In another of his very greatest poems, his appeal on behalf of innocent maidenhood is still more impressive. As I read it to-day, in the circumstances to which I have only distantly alluded, I would ask Members to remember that sobriety is the prime guardian of virtue:Is there, in human form, that bears a heart,A wretch! a villain! lost to love and truth!That can, with studied, sly, ensnaring artBetray sweet Jenny's unsuspecting youth?Curse on his perjur'd arts! dissembling smooth,Are honour, virtue, conscience all exil'd? Is there no pity, no relenting ruth, Points to the parents fondling o'er their child?Then points the ruined maid, and their distraction wild.In the closing verses of that great poem, the "Cottar's Saturday Night," he reaches, I would say, the purest, noblest patriotism ever penned in any country:Oh Scotia! my dear, my native soil! For whom my warmest wish to Heaven is sent,Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toilBe blest with health, and peace, and sweet content!And O! may Heaven their simple lives preventFrom luxury's contagion, weak and vile!Then, howe'er crowns and coronets be rent,A virtuous populace may rise the while,And stand a wall of fire around their much-loved isle!
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
Whenever I listen to the reverend Gentleman I always feel impressed by his sincerity and his determination to bring before the House of Commons the evils of drink. Whenever he addresses the House, it is about old age pensioners or the evils of drink, and 60 he grips everybody by his earnestness. I must congratulate the Mover and the Seconder of the Motion. The Mover was the right choice for the task, but I was particularly interested in the Seconder. I was glad that the Government had, for the first time in a long while, recognised the mining industry. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) is a typical miner. I hope the House will recognise the present position in the coalfields. The King's Speech refers to mining in a vague sort of way. At the moment there is terrible unrest in the coalfields, and we recognise that unless the Government are prepared to do something quickly there may be further trouble. Our members in the coalfields are waiting anxiously for the result of the conference that will take place on Thursday and Friday of this week. I am very much afraid that unless the Government exert some pressure to improve conditions in the mining industry, we shall not be able to hold the men at work.
It is very hard to say this in time of war. The miners' leaders are doing all that they can to impress upon their people the necessity for keeping at work, but I am of the opinion that unless some better offer is made by the Government than that which was outlined by the Minister of Fuel and Power, it will be difficult for us to prevent further trouble in the coalfields. I hope that attention will be given to this matter. It is no use hon. Members saying here that people ought to keep on working. We who represent the coalfields know the trouble that is happening there. I trust that before the end of the week the Minister of Fuel and Power will pay more respect to the appeal made to him by the Miners' Federation and will go some way towards alleviating the trouble.
I want now to mention a point which arose before the end of last Session. I think it was on 2nd November that a Petition was presented by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) signed by 4,000,000 old age pensioners. Controversy arose whether the signatories could present the Petition at the Bar of the House of Commons. I always understood that the Bill of Rights, passed over 300 years ago, gave to any member of the community the right of approach to His Majesty, and it meant that they could, if sufficient numbers of them signed a Petition, present the 61 Petition at the Bar of the House of Commons. That matter has fallen into disuse, and consequently it is very hard now to get it revived. I am asking the Government to recognise the rights of democracy. If a certain number of people feel so aggrieved on any point that they present a huge Petition to the House of Commons, they ought to have the opportunity of coming to the Bar to let us know exactly how they feel about it. I am on the Select Committee which deals with Petitions, and I was expecting this Petition to be relegated to us to find out what mode of procedure should be adopted by which the attention of the House could be directed to it. Strange to say, nothing has yet come to us, although we have sat since that time. I am of the opinion that the Government are not attending to this important matter, and I want to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is here representing the Government, to examine the point and at least to allow the matter to go to the Select Committee on Petitions to see by what means the ancient right belonging to our people can be revived.
What did this Petition mean? It was an appeal from a vast number of people for the recognition of what they claimed to be the right to an increase in their pensions. The Petition asked for 30s. a week for every individual in the country. Something ought to be done by way of putting that suggestion into operation. In order to prove the case to the House of Commons, I want to examine the overlapping system that is in operation in relation to pensions. If there was a new basis for old age pensions, it would do away with this sort of thing. At the present time old persons are maintained on public assistance when not eligible for pension, by contributory old age pensions administered by the Ministry of Health and by non-contributory pensions under the Customs and Excise, and these three bodies administer a sort of means test. The man under 70, not a contributory pensioner, who appeals for public assistance is submitted to a means test, and if anything is granted to him, members of his family have to contribute towards it. When he reaches the age of 70 he has again to be examined by a means test committee to see whether he is entitled to pension, and, if his claim is admitted, he has the right to claim a supplementary pension, and again he is examined by 62 another body to see whether his means entitles him to a supplementary pension.
All these bodies have to be maintained by the State, and I claim that under one system—the giving of a statutory pension of 30s. a week to everybody—it would do away with all these subsidiary bodies. I have heard it argued that the State could not bear the cost of granting a pension of 30s. to everybody. It would cost a tremendous sum of money, but if it were established, it would do away with the existing system of the means test. Members of Parliament and millionaires or whoever they might be would have the right to a pension of 30s. a week on reaching the age of 60. It may be said that that would be a new thing in our legislation, but I would remind the House that Beveridge has already outlined the idea in his scheme for a certain class of people. Beveridge claims that anybody with children, whether a millionaire or a lord, or whoever he may be, can claim benefit if a child is under working age. Therefore there is nothing outrageous in advocating the same principle in a scheme for old age pensions. If the cost is said to be too excessive, I want to prove how the scheme could be worked out in another way. All taxation now is largely met by the Income Tax payments. If we gave 30s. a week to everybody and did away with the means test, a man would have to put the amount on his Income Tax paper, and many would have to pay back a large proportion of the 30s. The Chancellor of the Exchequer does not seem to approve of that, but I can assure him that it is one of the things that will have to go forward before very long. I want to read a quotation taken from some papers. It reads as follows:We have therefore been irresistibly forced to advocate that the means limit be abolished altogether, and that the old age pension he given to all citizens. We are of the opinion that no other course will remove the very serious objections to the present system.This is an extract from the Report of the Departmental Committee on Old Age Pensions, issued in 1919. It was recognised even then that what is called the means test would have to be abolished. The State recognise the position of every man over a certain age being entitled to an old age pension. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government to be bold enough to embrace the scheme outlined by these old age pensioners. 63 These old people are a growing force in the country, and if an election was imminent and Members were wondering how votes would be cast, there would be few who would not admit that the demands of the old age pensioners are worthy of consideration. I would pledge myself on their behalf on any platform. So I am taking the opportunity to-day, in dealing with the King's Speech, to advocate that the House should do something immediately for these people. Remove the means test. It is a bugbear to everybody. Thrifty people who have saved money have to disclose all they have to other people. We used to advocate thrift. Now we are saying, "It is your fault for having been thrifty." People say to me, "I should have been far better off if I had spent my money as I earned it. Instead, I have scraped and saved, and I now have a few hundred pounds. Another man who has not been so careful can claim benefit from the State while I have to spend what I have before I have any such-right." That is not a fair position, and so I ask the House of Commons to give attention to everybody. If taxation is required to meet it, then the money which has been paid to some will have to be paid back.
§ Commander Prior (Birmingham, Aston)
As I have to return to duty in a short while, I trust the House will forgive me if I speak now for a few moments. In His Majesty's Most Gracious Speech reference is made to our growing offensive in all theatres of war. In the Mediterranean we have seized and ousted the enemy from three great strategic islands. The Deputy Prime Minister spoke to us about our operations in the Aegean, where we have suffered a small reverse. He explained to us that our garrisons inflicted great damage on the enemy. It is the duty of the Armed Forces to seek out the enemy and destroy him wherever he is to be found and I sincerely trust that the House and the Government will not pay too much attention to criticism. Defences must fail sometimes. In war, all operations are not always successful. It is only by an offensive spirit we can win the war and it is only by attacking the enemy where we can bring him to fight and by destroying him that we can hope for victory. I trust the Government will continue in their offensive spirit and will allow us to seek out the enemy and de- 64 stroy him in the interests of our country, and of all suffering humanity. I trust that we may be able to continue, because all of us in the assault forces are looking forward to the day when we shall engage the enemy and bring him to action wherever he is to be found.
§ Mr. Sexton (Barnard Castle)
I should like, first, to add my tribute and congratulations to the Mover and Seconder of the Address. This is the annual occasion when we have before us the King's Speech or, in other words, the Government's programme for the coming Session. The King's Speech is, as it ought to be, a charter. This is the age of charters, but to-day we are coming down to our own immediate programme, not entirely domestic, because part of the Speech refers to the progress of the war. During the past week I have addressed three public meetings, two in agricultural areas and one in a mining area. I read in the King's Speech that the captive peoples of Europe are everywhere preparing to throw off the yoke of the oppressor and we should continue to afford them such help and encouragement as lies in our power. When I read those words I wonder if we are encouraging them to the height of our power, because my experience during the last week has led me to believe that there is a popular suspicion that the big bosses of Fascism are being too timidly and tenderly handled—so much so that many consider that the Kaiser vanishing trick is going to be repeated. People point to Mussolini, Badoglio, Victor Emmanuel and now to that carbon copy of the Duce, Mosley, as instances of the Government's tenderness. Mussolini has slipped away and Badoglio and Victor Emmanuel, by a death-bed repentance, seem to have gained a reprieve, while Mosley has been released from internment. All these events may jeopardise the production of arms and munitions and the fighting forces may suffer owing to bewilderment. It requires some more definite assurance on the part of the Government to convince the public of their determination to extirpate the foul disease of Fascism.
Comparisons are odious, but they are also necessary. It is no good closing our eyes to the fact that comparisons are being made between the treatment of those who imposed this terrible conflict on democracy, and that meted out to the de- 65 fenders of the faith. The rights of the common man seem to be giving way to the privileges of the uncommon usurpers of liberty. Look at the tender treatment of Mosley and compare it with the incarceration of British prisoners of war, many of whom have been handed over to the Nazis by the Fascists of Italy. Examine the cases of our wounded warriors in the North African hospitals suffering not only physical injury caused by Mosley's friends, but the indignity of having 2d. per day docked off their allowances when they go to hospital. I hold in my hand a detailed statement of the credits and debits of a Weardale boy, the son of a widow, which records the callousness of the British Army Regulations because this boy was debited 2d. for dying too late. Had he died earlier, before he was admitted to hospital, he would have received the full allowance on the credit side of 4d. Because he was carried to hospital and died there he was debited 2d. of that amount. I repeat that all is not well in the country among the people when they look at what I have called this tender treatment of our enemies.
I come to the domestic side of the King's Speech. We have some very timid and woolly assertions of what is to be done. It is true that we have had evidence to-day, and I welcome it, of something definite in the programme of the King's Speech. I refer to rehabilitation, mentioned by the Minister of Labour, and the Education Bill, mentioned by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education. On the side of social reform, there is no doubt that in the country the word "Beveridge" was the synonym of hope, but I am very much afraid that the synonym of the Government is faint heart. A great writer tells us: "It is folly to entrust a great deed to a faint heart." We hope that the Government will show a stouter front towards these problems of social reform. I notice in the King's Speech thatthe devoted and untiring effort of My peoples throughout the Commonwealth and Empirehave helped in the mounting scale of our offensive. That includes the women and girls of this country. They are not specified separately as a sex, but they are included in the compliment. We have, however, women and girls who are not being paid the rate for the job they are doing. I welcome the fact that the Min- 66 ister of Labour has introduced that principle. I know that if the head of the State is a ruling Queen, she receives the same emoluments as a ruling King. I know that a woman Parliamentary Secretary receives the same rate as a man Parliamentary Secretary. I also note that when places are advertised by public authorities in the law and in medicine the salary is the same for either sex. Coming down to the munition workers, we now have established the rate for the job. In between what I may term the higher and the lower, we have the Civil Service and the teaching profession, where women who are doing the same job as men are being forced to do it at less money than they ought to be receiving. In my own profession, the teaching profession, we have examples now, during the war, of women teachers taking the place of men teachers who are serving in His Majesty's Forces, and as heads of schools they are receiving less in emoluments than male assistant teachers on the same staff. What we should like is that the rate for the job should be paid not only to the queens of the land, not only to the queens of mumtions, but also to those other queens who are serving their country in other spheres.
The Prime Minister, speaking at the Mansion House, referred to food and clothes and homes. In the Gracious Speech those words are emphasised. It is said that in the transition period we must supply all the members of the community with these three. I hope that that is only the minimum, because kindly owners of slaves in times past provided them with food, clothes and homes, and we provide food, clothes and a home for convicts. I think we must stake a claim for something else, call it what you will—liberty, education, chances of culture, chances of recreation. All these must be added, so that the people in this country will be kept not only like beasts of burden, being given food and shelter, but have something else. I have referred to education, which is also mentioned in the Gracious Speech, and I again emphasise my pleasure that the Parliamentary Secretary has given notice of an early Bill. Then I notice in the Gracious Speech something of immediate—the word "immediate" is used—importance, and that is the rehabilitation of the men and women who come back from the Forces maimed, injured or sick, and not 67 only from the Forces but from Civil Defence. In my constituency recently I had an example of a young man, 28 years of age, married, and with one child, who had been shot through the arm in North Africa. For weeks he was signing on at the employment exchange. The more immediately this rehabilitation of returned warriors is effected the better. In regard to mining, I notice in the Gracious Speech the words:smooth transition from war to peace.Those are very vague words indeed. I hope they do not mean a return to the pre-war status in the mining industry, or the other great industry of agriculture. The miners, the farmers and the agricultural workers are worth a great deal more than they were valued at before the war. I hope the smooth transition does not merely mean a return to the status quo.
Then it is also stated in the Gracious Speech that special powers are to be given for the re-development of areas which need to be planned. I have very vivid recollections of 1933, 1934, 1935 and up to about 1937 in my own area. I know that there are other areas equally hard hit. I represent that part of Durham which was known in the special areas as South-west Durham. Between the two wars 12 mines were closed down in my district, and we had the men and the women eating out their hearts because of unemployment. And so I hope that these special powers are going to rehabilitate these special areas, and I hope that the newer industries, in addition to the heavy 68 industries for which we are noted in County Durham, are going to be provided so that the people who live there will not have to go through the same again.
In conclusion, I welcome the specific recommendations that are laid down in the Speech. I deplore all the woolliness that is there as well. I hope that the Government and the country will realise that after this war the workers do not intend to go back again to where they were before the war. I hope the Government will realise that the workers deserve something better for all that they have gone through and are going through now, and with these words, Mr. Speaker, I wish Godspeed to all the real construction in the King's Speech.
§ Ordered, That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Mr. James Stuart.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon the next Sitting Day.