§ [Second Day.]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question.—[24th November.]
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Commander Brabner.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
My right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), who opened the Debate on the Address yesterday, pointed out that it would be impossible to say much about the first part of the Gracious Speech, dealing with the war, as we are to have a set Debate upon that matter in a few weeks' time, but I would like to join him in the tribute that he paid to the troops and to the Forces generally for the magnificent work which 95 has been done enabling us to arrive at the present stage in the war. The Gracious Speech opens with the statement that we have been enabled to assume "the offensive in all theatres of war." A great tribute is due to the men, and particularly to the few men who were so beset and ill-equipped but who held the enemy until such time as we could send equipment and main Forces to help them. It may be said that history has few parallels on land, in the air, or on the sea to the way in which a comparatively few men, who were at a disadvantage, have turned the scales of what seemed at one time almost certain defeat into certain victory. We cannot too often express our gratitude in this House, because I am certain that the people of this country are very deeply mindful of what they owe to the men of the Forces. I was struck, as one must have been, by the way in which the people of this country, on practically the first opportunity they have had, paid a tribute to the men who were repatriated in recent days. Hon. Members must have been struck by the way in which, wherever the occupant of a house in a particular street was coming home, the people of the whole street bedecked and beflagged their houses for his reception.
But I think that Members of the House—and it is becoming increasingly felt in some parts of the country—must feel, as I feel, some amount of alarm at what I should call the easy optimism that appears to prevail in this country with regard to the war. It may be that the special circumstances in Italy, combined with our particular strategy, enabled us to land in Italy comparatively easily, and it may be that we have been misled by appearances in that direction. The time has arrived—and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War said something about this last week—when the people of this country ought to be seriously warned that, in the coming offensive, it is certain that the test will be on a much more colossal scale than has been the case up to the present time, and particularly in Italy. This warning is necessary. If it is not made and people remain in their present frame of mind, there may be a very bad reaction. I am optimistic as to the result, but there is no doubt about the price that we shall have to pay, and, in any case, 96 it is unfair to the men who will have to submit to this test not to be more sober than we are about the coming offensive. When we finish with the war in the West we shall have a situation to face in the East that will be no less onerous and difficult than the one in the West. Those of us who have had experience of prisoners of war and the treatment of them in Japan must be under no illusion that Fascism is not as bad in the East as it is in the West and that unless there is a complete end of the situation, and a victorious end, then our lot will be a bad one indeed.
Members of the House must have been struck by the difference in the language used in the first part of the Gracious Speech and that used in the second part. In the first part we have terms such as "the mounting scale of our offensive" and "the massive and unrelenting advance of the Russian Armies," and sonorous and sweeping terms of that kind. Those of us who are familiar with a certain style—a style which we have always admired and which in recent years we have come to love—must have been struck by the difference between the phrasing, easy, sweeping, sure, in the first part and that in the second part of the Gracious Speech. When we come to the second part of the Gracious Speech, we find that it is halting, that it is not sure, that it is all bits and pieces. It seems to have been difficult for the writer, if I may say so, to find terms in which to express himself adequately. We find phrases likeYou will be invited to pass such further legislation as may be necessaryand references toa special review of the problems likely to arise as hostilities … come to an endand there is talk about "adjustments." One can almost hear those who were discussing these matters saying to themselves "We cannot say that this is having special consideration because that phrase has been used too much." So they use the word "adjustments," and other new kinds of words, to express what I should call the old spirit. While realising the difficulties of the Government, the special problems which they have to meet and the special difficulties of a Coalition, I must say that when I read this part of the Speech, I asked myself "Is this supposed to deal with the Britain that we 97 have known for years before the war and during the period of the war?" I wonder whether it is realised that there was something deeply wrong with this country before the war, and that that something affected not only the material conditions of the people, but had a deep and I think a blighting effect upon their outlook, upon their faith and upon their hopes. There is also a reference toexamination of the Reports which have been made recommending the assumption, of further powers to control and direct the use of the land of Great Britain.But I do not find any sign of a tendency towards consideration of the Barlow Report or even the slightest reference to it. I have seen references in the Press to the effect that the Barlow Report is out of date. I have seen also statements which give one the impression that the Government do not intend to take the slightest notice of that Report. I must say that I have been amazed at that attitude. I should like whoever is to reply later in the Debate, to face this problem of the Barlow Report. I wonder whether it is realised that that Report is based upon an investigation that was called for in this country at a time when not only were our conditions very bad indeed, but when accounts of those conditions in certain areas had been, scattered abroad in the world and stories of depression, of want, of loss of hope had gone through all the world to our shame. I wonder whether it is realised—and I ask this because I have been struck by the silence and the sidestepping with regard to this Report—that the Report set forth, in plain terms, an even worse state of affairs in this country than most students had realised. I have read most of the evidence that was taken. It was a grand inquest into the nation's economic life and it revealed an alarming state of things in this country, a state of things which has became even worse since then. It showed that whole masses of industry had been rushed into and planted in certain areas which had not even the people there or the services available to meet their needs. So we had the melancholy situation in which, from Wales and Scotland, from areas like Durham and other parts, men women and children had to be brought by thousands and by tens of thousands to those industries. I think there were 50,000 from my own area.
98 I do not delight in raising this matter. I should not do so were I not so much alarmed at the fact that the Government seem to have forgotten it. We are in a difficult position about coal. Why are we in that difficult position? Because of the neglect which made the Barlow investigation necessary; because families by the thousand were driven away from mining areas. Miners and potential miners were driven out of those areas to new industrial areas, and ever since that time the situation has grown worse. I am telling no secret when I say—some of us have had to put this to Ministers—that practically no factories have been built in the North East for instance. That is said to have been on the ground of vulnerability—good old "vulnerability." It may have been necessary, but some of us also remember—and this extends to the Scott Report also—the light-heartedness with which industrialists were allowed to plant factories in some of the more beautiful areas of this country, in rural areas, disturbing rural life, obliterating some of its beauties and bringing into those areas great masses of people who did not want to go there and who were not wanted there.
I call the attention of the House to one occasion when we were beginning to build up our munitions in a very slow way. I recall to memory what happened in one part of the country where it was intended to plant a great munition factory. There were no workers there. It was going to spoil that area, and the Members who were in that agricultural area and the farmers there pointed out that it was going, not only to disturb the life of that area, but to plant a factory down where there were practically no workers. Fortunately, the Members on this side of the House found a satisfactory coalition—a sort of unconscious coalition—with Members on the other side, and that proposal was prevented. But the point is that employers and industrialists for their own convenience were going where they liked, without asking anybody, and when the attention of the Government was drawn to it, then the proposed factory site was moved to Lancashire, and it was found to be invulnerable. I would ask the Government a question, because at the root of all our building and planning and all the rest of it in the coming years is this question of reconstruction. I want to ask the Government a straight question. Are 99 the Government going to take control of industrial policy for the purpose of directing industry and planning in this country, or are they not?
§ Mr. Lawson
I will quote from the Barlow Report:The general attitude of modern industry in relation to the activities of Government is apt to be uncertain and to vary according to circumstances.… The Federation of British Industries itself favoured the creation of a Government Department or Commission which would gather together and make accessible all information bearing on the various aspects of location and locational change. But it is very doubtful whether industry would be willing to accept in its own interest as is sometimes proposed anything in the nature of general Governmental prompting.That is, it was suggested as far back as 1934 that industry should be licensed and that they should not be allowed to go where they liked. I can tell Members of this House that this business of planning and direction, from what one can see of the attitude of Governments, has just as great enemies in this country, as those who are openly revealing themselves at the present moment. The Barlow Report makes a very definite proposition. It touches not only the particular part of which they speak, but the whole of the country. On page 202 they say:The continued drift of the industrial population to London and the Home Counties constitutes a social, economic and strategical problem which demands immediate attention.And then they go on to make propositions about it. Everybody knows that the situation in these great areas is worse to-day than it was. Have the Government, I should like to ask first, abandoned the Barlow Report altogether? I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer can tell me that. Is it true that that Report is considered out of date and that there is a proposal to make more special surveys in certain areas like the old depressed areas? I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the Government do not need to make any more surveys in the old depressed areas. They do not need to have any surveys at all. Everybody knows what the situation is and what we want are not surveys, but decisions of the Government upon direction 100 and planning. Unless that is done, I do not see what real change there is going to be in the life of this nation.
It was said of Pitt that he did not even realise that there was an industrial revolution going on. Well, one could not blame Pitt for that. The industrial revolution was a new thing in his day. It affected remote parts of the land. It had dire results, but it was not to be expected that, in its early stages, you could get Ministers of his stature to realise thoroughly what was going on. But I must say I was staggered in recent years to find that Prime Ministers and ordinary Ministers did not seem to know that a second industrial revolution was going on which affected great parts of this country, its mobility and its general life and the outlook of the people. Is anybody in this House blind to the fact that deep changes took place in the outlook of the people of this country between the wars? We were challenged about it by our enemies; we were told about it by our friends, but did not we all know there was a change of outlook in our people, and that there was something wrong? We could not conceal that from ourselves. In politics there was not that old idealism. Even in the great voluntary movements with which we had been familiar in this country, were we not aware that a great change had taken place in the mental outlook of the people? I think, myself, that as one of its causes, it was due, fundamentally, to the disappointments, the ruin of hopes, and the breaking of faith with the people of this country after the last war.
Anybody who was a Member of this House in the first Parliament after the last war must agree that it was probably one of the country's worst Parliaments. It was called "the hard-faced Parliament." It certainly was a hard-hearted Parliament. I saw devastation in many areas as a result of its policy. That Parliament lost the peace and it also lost the opportunity of dealing with economic and social changes. I sometimes ask myself whether this Parliament or the next one that comes along, will really apprehend the needs of this country and meet them in the way that is required by the times in which we are living? I remember in the early days of the last war being at a great meeting of coal-owners and being very much moved by a speaker who, after referring to the millions of men—including one-third 101 of the men in the mines—who had rushed voluntarily to the Colours, said he had been humbled by what he had seen. He said, "I will always remember what happened in this country in its hour of need. We have not done the things we ought to have done. If we get through this conflict safely, we must make amends to those who have rendered service to this country." That was in the hour of the nation's need. But all that was forgotten. That outlook, that frame of mind, soon passed away and we saw the results. It is strange that I have heard the same kind of talk in trains, in other places and in this House since this war began. One constantly heard the phrase, "There will have to be great changes." But the situation is different now. Already we hear the harsh voices of the reactionaries and the hard-hearted in this country and in this House. I therefore ask myself: Is this King's Speech, with its halting phrases and its promises of further consideration an indication of what is to come?
Statements are to be made about the Scott and Uthwatt Reports. Those who have read the Scott Report will, I think, agree that it is written in a style worthy of the subject. It makes one feel proud of this beautiful land. It speaks of its beauties as well as its remoter parts in a way that makes me, at any rate, feel proud of our country. But that Report, in common with the Barlow Report, reveals in very clear language how the country has been mauled and scarred by the people who have pursued, and are pursuing, their own sweet way for profit, regardless of the social effects of their actions. I should like to know whether the Scott Report is to be accepted in spirit as well as in fact. Notice was given yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour of a Bill to ensure the return of serving men to their employment. That was good to hear. But is it not surprising that such a Measure should be necessary? I know there are great firms which have made it quite plain to their employees that they can return to their jobs after the war. That is as it should be. But we have also had samples of messages sent to men actually serving in the Forces that were characteristic of that cynical, hard outlook of the individual profit-seeker who thinks nothing of his nation, of the social effects of what he is doing. I am pleased that the Government are to deal with 102 what I should call that elementary right of the serving men.
I am pleased that we have had notice, too, of an Education Bill. It is not only due but over-due. I remember how the last Education Bill was mauled in this House and set at naught. I have very great sympathy with the members of the Government. They have had a thankless task, one which none would envy and although I differ from the Prime Minister politically, I must say that my admiration for him has mounted because of what he has done in his great task. None the less has my admiration mounted for members of my own party who have met a great need and have given experience such as they only could give. I see that the Minister of Reconstruction is to be in another place instead of in the House of Commons. Is it deliberate, that the new Minister is to be a member of another place? During the last 12 months particularly, we have had side-stepping, putting off, evasions, a kind of negative legalism when dealing with reconstruction. This has been very depressing. I was saying just now that something had happened to the people of this country. Faith and hope were lost after the last war. As one who loves this country I stood aghast at the failure of those in responsible position to deal with the state of things that prevailed during the years before the present war. It was not that people suffered in the material sense alone. It was that people were breaking down mentally and spiritually. I am sorry that I cannot be more optimistic but I have seen so much of it and I must say to Members that unless they take this matter in hand themselves, it looks from this Gracious Speech as if there is to be no change at all.
We rediscovered our old spirit on the beaches of Dunkirk, in the air and on the land. There is now a will among the people of the country; there is an eagerness among the men who are serving to give of their best and it is for responsible Ministers to unleash these forces. I think we are too near the experiences of this war for any one to believe that if we do not drastically change our ways we shall get another chance. That is too much to hope for. I do not believe the people of this country will be subjected to experiences such as we had before the war. But this King's Speech is general—it is side-stepping. I read an article in 103 a newspaper to-day applauding it. I wish I could be so optimistic. I can only hope that my fears will not be confirmed and that there will prevail a different spirit from that which has been prevailing in the past. Our people will not be content, and will not consent, to be thwarted again. There is a nobility of spirit among them which, somehow, will find its expression. Therefore, I trust that the Government can give us a more satisfactory interpretation of those parts of the King's Speech I have referred to and I trust that they can give us something to hold on to because we have to see this war through. I want to see the old unity continue, but I also want the assurance that, when the war is over, the people of this country will have some grounds for hoping that there will be a world different from that which they experienced in the years before the war.
§ Admiral Sir William James (Portsmouth, North)
I hope the House will bear with me for a few minutes while I refer to an aspect of post-war reconstruction. A naval officer does not, as a rule, come into contact with these problems, but during my three years at Portsmouth I learned a great deal about the lives and the hopes of my neighbours as a result of the war. If there ever had been a wall between the Navy and the city it was blown away in the early days of the war. When I took over the schools for naval personnel after the children had evacuated, I learned a great deal about those schools. I saw their harsh gravel enclosures, with houses pressing around them, and I talked to the fathers and mothers of the children. I learned from them that immense benefits would flow from giving those schools colourful surroundings and grounds where the young people could play games after working hours, and learn to take the rough with the smooth and to play for their side, and acquire some of the rudiments of leadership, instead of spending their youthful energies in the streets. We talked hopefully of the day when these young people would be proud of their schools and their cricket and football clubs, and when the juvenile courts would have gone out of existence. The city would have to be re-planned and we believed that what the children required would have absolute priority. Later I saw thousands of young 104 men and women come into the Portsmouth command. I saw them at work and at play. There was no happier sight than that of those young people at their sports, cross-country running and games, and I learnt that a large number of them had never before experienced tire exhilaration and pride of feeling fit and strong, or the fun of testing their skill against that of their neighbours. It was sometimes impossible to believe, that some of these sturdy, happy looking youngsters had come into the Command two or three months earlier, looking slouchy and peaky and as though life was a very poor adventure for them.
I often talked about them to those in charge, and they always said "This must not stop when the 'Cease Fire' has sounded. These young people have learned now a happier way of life. This must now go on. They do not now want to spend all their summer evenings in cinemas and they do not want to spend their half days watching professional football. They want to play games." I always replied innocently, "Of course, they will have all these things. The whole place will have to be replanned and what youth requires will have first priority." The days when only the well-to-do could get fresh air and exercise when the spirit moved them are past. On my last day there, I saw a very stirring sight—a march-past of the youth movements. Everyone who saw those young people marching past so gaily and proudly, must have been astonished at what the youth movement had done for the young people. They were learning not only to defend themselves but to fend for themselves and become good citizens. Their parents and those in charge of them, again and again said, "This must go on after the war. See what has been achieved." I always replied, "Of course, these things will go on after the war. The youth movement will become an integral part of the national life."
So I left Portsmouth in October last year with the picture in my mind of towns and cities in the future in which healthy-looking youngsters would come tumbling out of the schools into decent surroundings, playing football, cricket and other games after their working hours, when the juvenile court would be closed and the young men and women would be moving out to playing grounds 105 after tea on summer evenings, the youth movement would still be going on and young people would be meeting for drill and for games and learning to become good citizens. It was not a fantastic picture. It seemed just common sense. It seemed so futile, to use no stronger word, to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on fine new buildings, esplanades and attractions for visitors and not spend the tiny sum necessary to ensure that there would be a fine people to enjoy all those fine things.
But since then that picture has been steadily fading out. When I came to London I discussed these matters with many people who were interested. They all agreed that the policy of giving absolute priority to producing and maintaining a fine race of people was the only sound policy, but they all warned me that it would be extremely difficult to implement. Finance committees, rating committees, ratepayers' associations, property owners, building societies would all be on the warpath, if they were not on it already, and naturally they would be thinking much snore of dividends and balance sheets than of what our people would look like in 50 years' time. I asked the Minister of Education whether he would obtain a priority claim to the open sites of blitzed schools for schools which had no fresh air and no playing grounds. He was quite sympathetic. He did not say "No," but he did not say "Yes." After that I discussed the question with people who knew our educational system and they told me it would be quite hopeless to expect the teachers at those schools to look after the children after working hours. I was told they were civil servants who worked to exact hours and that they would never take the responsibility. I suggested that as we were building a brave new world, we might try to produce a brave new type of teacher who would take the same responsibilities as teachers in residential schools. I was told it was impossible—yet the one thing that we do not want to produce is a lot of potential fathers who can solve differential equation but who suffer from chronic dyspepsia.
Then I wrote a letter to the Minister of Town and Country Planning and asked whether he would give me an assurance that no plan would pass which did not make full provision for all that 106 the young to-day wanted and should have. He replied most sympathetically. He did not say "No" but he did not quite say "Yes." He pointed out that there were other things to be considered. Since then I have come across people who were not at all sympathetic to the idea that the young should have everything they wanted close to their homes. They say, "If they want fresh air and exercise they can go out into the country and get it." That is ignoring the fact that a young man or woman who has done a hard day's work does not want to spend an hour of his or her precious time in travelling; it is also ignoring the fact that the well-to-do have always had these things at their doors. I hope I have not misunderstood what I have heard in this House but, as far as I can make out, the future of some of the youth movements is still in suspense, or partial suspense. None of us knows when the Nazis will crack and, if they crack suddenly, some of these movements will be in a state of complete confusion. There are, of course, plenty of jeremiahs about who are saying that, sooner or later, the Government support for youth movements will be withdrawn, either on grounds of economy or on the rather quaint, old-fashioned ground that teaching young people discipline, loyalty and the higher virtues makes them Imperialistic and blood-thirsty. I hope that is past. It belonged to the seamy, dreamy years when the country slept and Ministers kept only their lee eye lifted.
The Government have given their blessing to the youth movement, but what is lacking, and badly lacking, is a clear-cut direction on what is to happen to the youth movements when the armistice is signed. There is a tremendous lot to be thought of and there are thousands of leaders of youth movements who are waiting eagerly for some instructions. For one thing, pre-war training will have to give place, to some extent, to pre-citizenship training. All that has to be thought out and planned. I think I have said enough to show that my picture has been slowly fading out, for reasons which seem to me to have no relation at all to the fact that what we are going to do to-day will affect the health and strength and happiness of the people of the country for hundreds of years. I have raised this question to-day because I feel that it is intimately connected with the present work of the House. It seems to me that 107 all these plans for new education, new security and new towns and cities will, ultimately, be of little avail unless there is a strong and sturdy people to make use of them. My submission is that our policy should be one of first things first; that the first thing is the foundation, and that the foundation is the physical quality of the younger generation. I know that when one has something very much at heart it is very easy to lose a sense of proportion. I lived in a bombed city for three years surrounded by youth and surrounded by establishments which took for their motto, "The youth of the country are the guardians of prosperity." But I do not feel that I have got this matter out of proportion because, whatever other reasons one may find, in the final analysis the decline of any nation from a dominant position is really due to a decline in the physical attributes of its people.
§ Colonel Rayner (Totnes)
It is my privilege to congratulate the hon. and gallant Gentleman on a fine maiden speech. I only wish I could speak as he does, having been longer in the House, without notes, and I can assure him that whenever I am here in future and see his name go up on the board I shall make for the Chamber. The hon. and gallant Gentleman speaks as a distinguished sailor. I speak as a humble soldier, both teacher and student in that great university of citizenship, to-day's Army. I think that it is proper that I, like other Members still serving, should tell the House about our discussions on such matters as that future that has been referred to in the Gracious Speech. I cannot, of course, speak for a majority anywhere, but I can sketch some opinions which are strongly held among the common soldiery. When I say "common soldiery" I include officers and even generals, for there is not much class feeling in our war-time Army. Though we do not change our political opinions when we put on battledress, we do tend to modify them as we see how people live in other lands and as we get a more distant view of the problems which enveloped us in civil life. The average soldier is a mixture, like most of us; reactionary in some things and progressive in others; of the deepest blue as regards that Britain which he knows and appreciates and hopes to go back to; rather red as regards 108 things which he thinks are unfair in our make-up, such as distressed areas, great wealth, great poverty, overwhelming hereditary advantages, and inequality of opportunity.
The hard practice of Army life gets one down to brass tacks, and if I may I will read three headings of debates that we have recently held: "When called upon to implement the Atlantic Charter, how much of our standard of living will be sacrificed to raise that of other lands?" "War and peace being opposites, are war-time controls likely to meet the requirements of peace?" "Will we relinquish some of our liberties in the interests of peace-time reorganisation?" I expect that hon. Members are themselves examining these problems, for, though this Parliament has no mandate for postwar legislation, it will have to make decisions now which will affect the postwar future. There are people who say that the soldier is fighting for a brand new Britain. Mostly they are people whom one would not expect to have inside information on that point. Mostly they are people who have not served. Many of them took the greatest care to get safe jobs in the last war. Some of them have foreign names. Some of them speak over the B.B.C. in broken English, and one gentleman, whose family I believe migrated not long ago from Central Europe, to the security and opportunity of England, writes in a book which I read the other day about barricades in post-war Britain. Thus the unwarlike plan for the warlike, the cloistered for the man of action, the un-British for the British, and we do not like it. We listen to a man like Priestley with respect as a regimental officer of the last war, but these other people annoy us. They make us anxious too, for catch-words stick in the mind, whereas the exercise of common sense needs that sort of effort many are unable to make in these strenuous times.
They harp on the great debt that we owe to Russia, a debt that Russia does not claim. We soldiers, more than most, give unstinted admiration to the valour and generalship of Russian arms, but we do not admit that we owe one jot more to Russia than she owes to us. That great land force would not be sweeping the open spaces to-day if we as a great sea Power had not held the seas and as a new air Power had not harried from the air. It is doubtful if she would be a great Power 109 at all to-day if this Island had not hung on by tooth and claw during those two vital years in which Russia armed herself against attack. It is very necessary to make this clear to those many people in this country who pretend that Russia has done so much better and so much more than we have and therefore we should rebuild our country on Russian lines. If there is anything that the average soldier is not fighting for it is for a Britain built on foreign lines, as all those poignant letters that appear in the Press from time to time, written by soldiers, sailors and airmen who have given their lives, bear witness. We are fighting for the old Britain in which the mass of the people have achieved an ever-improving and much-envied standard of living, and we cannot understand those strange creatures who would pull down our whole well-tried structure just because a few of its timbers are rotten. There is much to be considered by this House, for we ourselves require that those timbers shall be replaced. There are many problems, such as the distressed areas and scarcity economics, that want tackling, and I suggest that most of them want tackling at both ends. It is not only the man who restricts production by cartels and the man who throws fish back into the sea who needs to change his ways, but also those who restrict the productivity of union labour. Most of us feel that we shall have to work like Trojans to restore our prewar standards, let alone improve them. We are quite unimpressed by clever economists who speak over the B.B.C. and prophesy a world of beer, butter and Beveridge. We know perfectly well that the end of the war will find a large debit balance in Britain's passbook, and we cannot imagine that the blasting away of our wealth on the battlefield is miraculously building up a national nest-egg.
I beg the Government not to make that great mistake of the last war, the mistake of over-promising. Soldiers get tired too and are then likely to take promises at their face value. We shall require that those who are wounded and those who have had their earning power diminished by captivity and all dependants are treated as generously as the country is capable. We require now that those unfortunate West country folk who are being forced to hand over their hearths and homes at the stark call of a duty which it is difficult to understand, shall 110 be most generously recompensed. It is hard enough to be hunted from one's farm by the enemy or blasted from one's home by his bombs, but it is a great deal harder to have to cut the ties of a lifetime in order to provide Allied arms with a stage for the dress rehearsal. When all these things have been allowed for, tot up our assets and do not promise things which will not happen for years or give us things which the relentless pressures of a hard world will soon take away. Give us, as has been promised, jobs and homes, go on taking a crack at the rich man at one end of our Society and go on helping the poor man at the other, but aim rather to lift up than to scale down. Attack class barriers, if you like, by an even more drastic limitation of hereditary wealth and power, but level opportunity by building more boarding schools, by multiplying old school ties, rather than by doing away with proved institutions, Give our public schools and others like them a chance of fusing the whole nation in the way they have fused the old upper and middle-classes in the last 50 years; and for the same reason cherish our small traders that they may remain a stepping stone from the lower layers towards the top.
The other day I received a postcard from the Social Security League asking me to press the Government to implement the Beveridge Report in the Gracious Speech. I replied politely that I would do no such thing. I refuse to press the Government to distribute wealth yet to be recreated. I refused to accept the plan of one man, however eminent, as the best plan that can be produced. Surely we are not so tired a nation, so bankrupt in brains and practical experience, that we cannot get others to tender before signing so important a contract. Surely we can devise plans which will do away with some of our hoards of officials rather than mutiply them. Sir William is a great expert, and there is much with which I agree in his scheme, but I shuddered when I read an article by him in the "Observer" in which he finished up a powerful paragraph with these words:subject only to the preservation of a limited list of essential British liberties.The present-day soldier is taught, whatever his rank, to stand on his own feet, and I suggest to the Government and the House that they have no mandate what- 111 soever to draw up a limited list of essential British liberties.
I gathered the other day that the Ministry of Health is being pressed by a high authority to inspect the houses of rehoused slum dwellers. I would again tell the House that when the British soldier comes back to his home he will live just as he likes within his own four walls, slumily or otherwise, and that any inspector who tries to force his way in will get thrown out on his neck. May I conclude by reminding the House of some words of William Pitt:The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the force of the Crown. It may be frail; its roof may shake, the wind may blow through it; the rain may enter, but the King of England cannot enter; all his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement.My opinion is that the British Army fights for a Britain in which the ruined tenement becomes a thing of the past, but where our old spirit of British liberty is our passport to the future.
§ Mr. Muff (Kingston-upon-Hull, East)
Like the hon. and gallant Member for Totnes (Colonel Rayner), I should like to be permitted to express my appreciation of the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir W. James). He is afraid the picture will fade, The first picture that I ever received as a boy was a picture of another boy bubbling with vitality and boyish—well, I do not want to be alliterative, but it really was a very fine portrait. The hon. and gallant Admiral and myself represent constituencies which have received mention in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. They have not been mentioned by name, but there is a definite pledge that devastated cities shall receive the attention of Parliament, the Treasury and the Cabinet, and I therefore do not apologise for mentioning my own city, of which I share a quarter of the representation with three colleagues. One whom we rejoice in apart from any party politics has just left the Front Bench for a little refreshment. One of them is filling with dignity and efficiency the distinguished office of Minister of State. The Members for this devastated area, which has had 84 raids, can come to this House unitedly, reinforcing the expressions from the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth, to inform the House in sober 112 language that the problems there are so appalling, so vast, that it is beyond the wit of even the most enlightened local authority, by itself, to tackle the programme of reconstruction.
Like the hon. and gallant Member for Totnes and also my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), we are somewhat sceptical. We are asking ourselves, "Are we going to have action in the matter of the reconstruction of these devastated areas?" We are not very much reassured by the Ministry of Town and Country Planning. That Ministry is not yet in the dock, but evidence is being prepared which will put it upon its defence unless we can have more positive and direct contact with it and know where we stand, we who are in need of all the national help we can receive in order to reconstruct the 100,000 houses and homes which have been destroyed in a very circumscribed and narrow area. I am speaking of the cottage homes of the people. While I realise that central areas will need reconstruction, I claim first priority in the attention of the House and the attention of the Front Bench for the homes of these people who are now living in very difficult and unpleasant conditions. I wonder whether, in the majority of the houses in my constituency, one could find every real pane of glass in its proper place and no canvas substitutes such as we see around us here, shutting out the light of day. I stress most strongly that the Ministry of Town and Country Planning must take positive action, even though at the back of my mind I do not know whether it is at the door of the Ministry of Town and Country Planning that I should knock, or at the door of the Ministry of Health or that of the Ministry of Works. There is a ray of hope—the new Minister of Reconstruction. I do not know whether his name is to be Pooh-Bah or not, and whether we should knock at his door. I will say this in his favour. One of the great reasons for his success in his previous office was his human consideration of its problems and his approachability, if I may use that word. So far as that is concerned, what are left of my constituents live hopefully and look eagerly to this House for succour, help and financial assistance.
Yesterday we had a speech from the right hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris). He speaks 113 as leader of his party, and maybe what he said was only in passing, but in cold print his words are that the soldier of to-day is looking with cynicism to the future. The members of the Armed Forces are certainly not angels—and they do not want to be angels, but to come back home—but with all their faults the average young men of to-day are no cynics. I can speak with a little knowledge. I was commissioned by the War Office, without uniform, within a few weeks of the war breaking out, and I am still doing my job as well as I can, without uniform and therefore free to contact soldiers without any social or any other sort of barrier. For nearly four years I have been contacting the younger generation, not by speech-making but by personal contact. I think I have spoken within the last nine months to more young fellows of the present generation than most Members of this House. I say that humbly and not in any way boastfully, although, in passing, I am proud of it.
I would remind the right hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green, not in any bitter way, that when he speaks of the soldier of to-day as he does he does not realise the trend of the modern soldier. When we brought into being, now nearly four year ago, our educational welfare programme, it was received with some suspicion by the few "Colonel Blimps" left to us. There are a few. I once asked the Secretary of State for War whether there were any Colonel Blimps in the War Office, and he told me, "No, I have only seen one in my life." That is by the way. But there is a new spirit in the Army. Not in the men's spare time but in the Army's time tactual programmes for education purposes are provided every fortnight. They are not uplift, but designed for the extension of the ideas of the average soldier. That is all to the good. My hon. and gallant Friend reminded us that the programme for last fortnight was "Transatlantic Soundings." One of the great men who can talk on relations with America wrote the script for the young soldiers—what they had to talk about. The fortnight before the subject was the broad scheme of education, and before that it was "How to understand our Russian comrades," and the subjects of other programmes have been Spain and Latin America.
114 When I received my commission, without uniform, four years ago I was reminded by the Director-General that we had now a citizen Army, that we were to have an even greater citizen Army, and that the policy of the Army Council was that after the war these men should be returned to civil life better equipped than they had been when they entered the Army. I want to tell the right hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green that those are the real facts; that it is a more enlightened Army, not a cynical Army; but certainly an Army with a greater minatory—not a threatening—spirit. After all, we are fighting for the right to grouse and grumble, and the soldier can still grouse and grumble. But what he is saying to-day he is not saying in any cynical spirit; only, our soldiers refuse to be led up the garden again as were their fathers after 1918. That reminds me of the speech made on the Consolidated Fund Bill by the Senior Burgess for Cambridge University (Mr. Pickthorn). He accused Members on these benches for their share in the débâcle of muddled thinking which occurred after the 1918 election. He was wrong. He is, I suppose, the greatest authority in this country on Henry VIII and his wives. I have sat under him at Cambridge—as a gate-crasher. I would ask the Senior Burgess for Cambridge University to take a refresher course and look up the files of his own Cambridge paper for November and December, 1918. There he will see that it was in Cambridge Town that much of the "bunk" and the "guff" which afterwards deceived the people of this country was produced by the sitting Member for Cambridge. The famous, "We will squeeze the Germans as we squeeze the pips," "Twenty thousand million golden sovereigns," and other political tripe was the export of Cambridge and Cambridge Town. It is interesting when the hon. Member for Cambridge University talks about education to remember that it was the hon. Member for Cambridge Town who was the instrument of the then Government that sabotaged the Fisher Education Act overnight and the coal industry, as well as the corn subsidy, when wielding that aye of his so vigorously. The right hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green spoke yesterday about one of his friends being in the Gallery and looking down 115 upon this assembled multitude, deploring the number of bald heads. He stated that the Members in this House—and these are his own words—looked like a lot of hard faced men who had done well out of the war."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1943; col. 34, Vol. 395.]I would agree that there is no beauty chorus on the Front Bench at the present time. I do not say that any of us would pass muster, although I have a great personal regard and affection for some of them. During its existence in the last eight years this House has endeavoured to do its duty, not altogether to the dissatisfaction of the country, and it can take credit for preserving the unity of this nation. Whatever may come in the future and whatever the future Parliament may be like, we can say that during the present Session we are going to face some of the more difficult problems of replanning for the peace. It is the most difficult job that we have had to perform.
Another privilege I had was of being introduced to an Isolationist Senator of the United States of America. I was told to keep clear of him because he was an Isolationist, but I said that I would try to make a contact. Perhaps the gallant Admiral who spoke would like to know that it was not through cricket but baseball. When I had finished that little interview with that Isolationist Senator of the United States, he said that the poor little Island of Britain was carrying a terrific burden, practically the whole burden of Europe, upon its shoulders. In a great measure he was correct. That is what this little Island has taken on—almost insurmountable risks—and so far it has come out most triumphantly, because of the essential unity of the nation and of this House, except for a small handful of congenital noodles. I take heart of grace that our young men are neither Martian Socialists nor stand-pat Tory reactionaries.
§ Mr. Muff
The hon. Gentleman needs a lecture at times. We have to give real leadership to the nation. There is a tendency to our degenerating into mere bellwethers. We have had bellwether leadership from Cambridge when the Armistice was signed. We cannot afford bellwether leadership, narrow-minded political party warfare or obstruction. I believe that the young generation will refuse to recognise or to tolerate such a state of affairs. I humbly suggest to this House that it is our duty, recognising that great reservoir of good will, to try to do the things which are necessary in reconstruction and to do nothing to break down the dam. It is our duty to render what little we can to the common stock in rebuilding our community.
§ Mr. Higgs (Birmingham, West)
Reference was made in the Gracious Speech to industry, coalmining and agriculture, but there is another component which was not mentioned, and it is our overseas trade. The word "rehabilitation" has been much used in the last year or two, but one has not heard it used in connection with our overseas trade. If we are to have the full employment that we hear so much about, the rehabilitation of our overseas trade is of paramount importance, but it is very Seldom referred to in this House. I think one of the main reasons is Lend-Lease and the possibility of difficulties with the United States of America. A White Paper has recently been issued pointing out that Lend-Lease is no longer a one-way traffic and has become mutual aid. Mutual aid has been substituted for Lend-Lease, and therefore I see no reason why we should not consider the expansion and development of our overseas trade immediately hostilities cease.
We are doing our present share. President Roosevelt has already admitted that. We are proud of our effort. I would like to give the House extracts from letters which I have recently received or rather which have come into my possession, to show what is occurring with regard to our overseas trade. I have one here from which I will extract some sentences. It is from a Liverpool firm to one of the largest scale-makers in the Midlands. It refers to an order for platform scales and runs as follows: 117We made the necessary application for export licences. Applications for French West African Territory have to be submitted first of all to the Fighting French authorities in London to obtain a certificate of essentiality.It goes on to say:We submitted the application in question. They returned it, stating that we should obtain these scales from the United States of America. We wrote back and pointed out that the goods were a special order for one of our rubber plantations and that the import licences at the destination covered goods of British origin, but no reply has been received. As a matter of fact we have a number of similar instances.Why is it that these orders would have to be placed in the United States? I could cite many similar instances. I propose to trouble the House with a more glaring case. This is a letter received from the Crown Agents to the Colonies, on 30th September last, and sent to a Birmingham firm of bedstead manufacturers:We propose to place an order with you for all the items quoted, and providing that we can obtain the necessary export licences.Then from the Board of Trade a letter is received by this Birmingham firm of bedstead manufacturers saying:With reference to your letters of the 1st and 18th October. I write to say that it is regretted that we are unable to release materials for use of hospital equipment for export to Jamaica.Following on that, a letter is received from the Crown Agents of the Colonies by the firm:With reference to your letter of October 27th concerning our inquiry for beds under the above reference, the Board of Trade now insists on our obtaining requirements of such items for the Western hemisphere from the United States of America. We must therefore ask you to cancel the order.What is happening is that we are not permitted to export goods for hospital purposes to one of our oldest Colonies. The position is ridiculous, and we have to look alter ourselves more if we are to rebuild our industry in the future. Are we to become a vassal trading nation of the United States of America? We are getting this inferiority complex with regard to our overseas trade, and it is about time we took some sort of action to remove that feeling.
A friend of mine the other day informed me that as soon as the war was over he was going to export cycles as the demand was colossal. I said to him, "Whence are you going to get your rubber, leather, oils and so forth?" This House knows 118 that we have to export before we can import and import before we can export. The Atlantic Charter gives us access to raw materials, but we have to pay for them. There will be no freer access to raw materials for this country after the war than there was before the war. Are we to export our coal and not be paid for it? Certainly not. Payment has to be made in goods and services, In Birmingham and district, 30 per cent. of the manufactures were exported prior to the war. I can understand hon. Members suggesting that secondary industries overseas are likely to prevent our exports expanding. It is a selfish idea. Britain, one of the most completely developed countries in the world, imported something in the order of £240,000,000 worth of manufactured and semi-manufactured goods in 1939. If this developed, country can import goods to that value, the possibilities for other countries are enormous. I should like to know what preparation the Department of Overseas Trade is making for the expansion of our overseas trade after the war. We have a Secretary to the Department for Overseas Trade, and I understand that there are at least 116 people engaged in that Department. What are they doing? There are highly-paid officials; there is a Controller-General, with £1,850 a year—I will not worry the House with further information—but I should like to know what the two intelligent officers do. If we are to live at anything approaching the standard we did before the war, far greater attention must be paid to this matter, not when the war is over, but now. As far as I can see, the Department of Overseas Trade exists to restrict trade rather than to develop it.
A White Paper was issued recently on the reform of the Foreign Service. It was a very appropriate document. It dealt to a considerable extent with the training of men. I admit that the diplomatic training is of considerable importance, but the references to industrial training in that White Paper are negligible. Our industrial representation overseas is deplorable. One has only to visit foreign countries to see the difference between our industrial representation and that of the United States. Germany, japan—yes, and even Italy—before the war could set us a great example. The White Paper says:Candidates will be examined in their special subjects.119 Then it goes on:They will then undergo a year's training in this country, part of which will be spent in the Foreign Office, part in getting a grounding in economics and commercial and social questions.Note that that is all in 12 months. It is absolutely impossible for candidates to get any idea of or interest in industry if they are not given a reasonable period of training in shipping, insurance, and commerce generally. I consider that all these candidates for the Foreign Service should go into industry for at least two years. Such firms as, for instance, I.C.I., Dunlop, and dozens of others would be prepared to take them. If we are to continue as an industrial nation, we have to develop our industries; we have to carry the bag. All the nations in the world will compete against us. The industrialist must get to work, and the Government must lead. I have referred to our overseas representation. The premises that house our staff are most ill-suited to the purpose. The departments are grossly understaffed. When one calls, and the usual card index is referred to, it is my experience that the information given is unreliable. Their pessimistic outlook is deplorable. If one is interested in such commodities as oil engines, machine tools, and so forth, one is not encouraged to sell, one is informed straightaway that the market is saturated already. That is not the way to receive men who have travelled 5,000 or 10,000 miles to represent this country's industries. The Department of Overseas Trade have not much to do. I wish they would get busy on their preparations in the immediate future.
The Colonial Secretary, for whom we have very great respect, recently visited Africa, and made a speech, which was reported in "The Times." He referred to agriculture, to fostering the secondary industries, to education, and so forth, but there was not a single reference to the possibilities of developing trade from this country to Africa. The speed of travel impressed him. That would be common to all nations, and no particular advantage would be gained by Britain from that. It is my impression that if he had been asked a question about trade, he would have said, "Well, trade will come if we get other matters in order." That is where we go wrong. We have to get after 120 trade: we have to carry the bag; and the Government must give some lead on the subject. I would like to refer to currency and exchange problems. I agree that that is a question of considerable importance, but I believe that too much attention is being paid to it. New international currency plans are being produced weekly. I admit that they are interesting academic speculations, but if we make the goods the method of exchange will be easily found. Exchange depreciation occurs only through unbalanced trade. It is work the nation wants, not charity. Think more of industry, and less of the easy life. We must trade overseas, or we perish. Will the Government take action before it is too late? Our obsolete methods are not going to work after this war, and grave responsibility rests upon the industrial community and the Government unless some methods are found to develop this most important side of our industrial life.
§ Mr. Furness (Sunderland)
I had not intended when I came here to-day to take part in the Debate, but I feel it is most important that somebody from this side of the House should endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) has said about the location of industry. No one in this House can speak with more authority than my hon. Friend can about the hopes, the fears, and the disppointments of the people of the County of Durham. I cannot claim his record of service to those people, but I was born among them, I have lived among them all my life, and I know something about their problems. It is fortunate that the Minister without Portfolio is on the Front Bench, because when he was younger, and when I was younger, he sat for a County Durham constituency. He knows, and all of us this House who have come from the County of Durham know, that our trouble for 50 years and more has been our dependence on a very limited range of heavy industries. Along the coast it has been a dependence upon shipbuilding; in the interior it has been a dependence upon that great industry of coalmining. In these days, when we hear so much about coal-mining, it is only right that it should be said, and said by someone like myself, that something more must be done if we want this country to be the commercial centre of the civilised world. For 50 years 121 people who have seen the signs of the times have seen that it was exceedingly dangerous for us in the County of Durham—and no doubt in other areas where conditions were similar—to depend so much on certain industries. Even in my own lifetime, I have seen ships built in the shipyards of The Hartlepools to the order of Japanese shipowners. That will not happen again. We have seen, even in my own lifetime, the working-out of many great pits in the west part of the county.
We have realised that we must get new industries in the great centres of population if we are to keep people busy. That was talked about in my great-uncle's time, and it is talked about to-day, but nothing has been done. It was talked about before the war. We had that great survey by a man very familiar to hon. Members, a former Civil Lord of the Admiralty, whose death we all deplore, Captain Euan Wallace. He made a great survey. Surveys have been made since, and no doubt surveys will be made again; but it is not surveys we want. The disease has been diagnosed, and we want treatment and cure. I should have thought that when war came the Government, being so well aware of the disease which afflicted the North East Coast, would have put down the war factories in places where there were people available for them. How very different was what they did. Wherever there seemed to be a very pleasant agricultural area, the factories were built, and people were hounded out of the towns to go and live there, in conditions of great hardship. Even where the Government have built factories inside the county, they have usually managed to put them where the people have to travel long distances, in conditions of great difficulty, to reach them. That opportunity was lost—why, I know not, but it has been lost—and complaining will not help.
The new Minister has been appointed. He has a responsibility, we all have a responsibility. The Minister without Portfolio has a great knowledge of the problem. The very big opportunity has gone, but something still remains. Let us not lose it and throw it away. Of all the things that could be done for the working people of this country and of my part of the country and which would help them more than anything else is the adoption of some system of control of the 122 location of industry. No one would like more than I would to have the Beveridge Report, but if I had to choose between the Beveridge Report and the location of industry, I would choose the location of industry. It is very much better to have work for your people than better means of helping them when they are not at work. Hon. Members who sit for constituencies on the North East coast will agree that now, for the first time for many long years, our people in those towns are leading something approaching the normal life. They are having work, employment and good wages, and it is a shocking thing that it has required a war to bring that about. If the Government throw this opportunity away, they will be throwing everything away and there will be no hope for our people.
I was recently at a shipyard in the constituency of one of my hon. Friends where one of the men who was being praised by a Government Minister for the good work they were doing said, "It is all very well praising us for our good work. We are doing good work and giving of our best"—as they are everywhere in that part of the country—"but do not forget us after the war is over." This country does not know how much it is indebted to the people in my part of the world. For many years there were hardly any apprentices in the marine engineering and shipbuilding industries. There was no work for the boys, and the skilled men out of the shipyards drifted away and took jobs as doorkeepers in London, where they could find some means of living. We need these men when the yards are busy and have to scour the country to find them, and we cannot afford a slump and conditions like that again. We realise that coalmining, steelmaking, and shipbuilding are all industries upon which we have to depend, and we ask the Government to see that we have a wider range of industries so as to make us less dependent on these industries and also provide work for women and young people who cannot be employed in them.
§ Mr. Naylor (Southwark, South East)
There is only one point I wish to make with regard to the King's Speech. This is the first time I have intervened during the period of the war in any Debate on His Majesty's Gracious Speech. I do so on this occasion because I have one or 123 two matters to mention more particularly with regard to the expression that is used in the Speech bearing upon the finishing of the war with Germany and the continuance of the war with Japan. I am afraid there will be great possibilities of psychological error in the words that are used in the Speech. Reference is made to "adjustments" to be made when victory over Germany has been reached and the war with Japan has to be continued. It is the experience of other hon. Members that the population in various parts of this country has formed the opinion that, once the war with Germany is over, it will be the complete end of the war as a whole. It would be a great mistake to assume that because victory has been achieved over Germany there is an excuse for relaxation of effort and the contemplation of great changes in the industrial sphere.
I am certain that the Government have no illusions as to what the position will be when Germany has been overcome, as seems to be now coming very near indeed. But what is the precise meaning of the word "adjustments"? I am asking the Government, because they are responsible for the wording of the King's Speech. What adjustments are to be found necessary when victory over Germany has been secured? It would be fatal, or at least most injurious, to production if the opinion gained strength in this country that when Germany had been overcome all the restrictions relating to the war would either be modified or, in some instances, eliminated altogether. A general feeling of relaxation would follow, to the detriment of war production. I take it that the Government are fully seized that, even when the war is over as far as Germany is concerned, there will still be the same necessity for wholesale production and intensification of effort, even though Japan is in the Far East and is the only enemy left to be conquered. Therefore, if the word "adjustments" gets into common circulation, I am afraid that it will have a most harmful psychological effect upon the people of this country, and especially upon the industrial workers. The Government are already under a cloud with regard to a certain psychological reaction upon one of their most recent decisions, and I would be sorry indeed to see another reaction 124 if the Government were not in a position to assure the people that we must continue the war effort even when Germany is defeated. That is all I wish to say as far as that part of the King's Speech is concerned.
Like other Members of the House, I welcome the reference to the Education Bill, which is to be introduced in a very short time. My only concern about that at the moment is as to whether the announcement that has been made in the Press of agreement having been reached with the denominations in reference to non-provided schools is an actual fact. It is a matter of regret that the cause of education should be obstructed by religious controversy of any kind, and it will be hailed with great satisfaction if the announcement already made in the Press can be confirmed by a Government spokesman in this Debate, that the denominations are now satisfied with what the Government intend to produce in the new Education Bill, and it will thus give us an opportunity of giving the Government and the President of the Board of Education all the support that is needed in the passing of that Bill. I hope that a statement will be made giving the House an assurance that agreement has been reached and that religious controversy as far as the provisions of the Bill are concerned is once and for all removed from our discussions.
Another point is the absence from the King's Speech of any reference to setting up a Ministry of Security. Reference is made to the Beveridge Report, and it is suggested that the Government intend to implement the greater part of it. But we shall never succeed in carrying out the provisions of the Beveridge Report unless we provide the Ministers who have to implement those decisions with a Ministry of Security, which alone could command the facilities necessary to bring the Beveridge proposals into legislation. If it is not too late to make an appeal to the Government in that respect, I would ask those responsible to consider whether even now it is not possible to set up a Ministry of Security. We have had a Ministry without Portfolio for so long, and it would be a great mistake and a misuse of their opportunities if the Government do not decide in favour of setting up a Ministry of Security instead of splitting the different proposals into several Departments and thus, in my opinion, vitiating the 125 whole element of security that would exist if such a Ministry were actually set up.
I want to make a comment upon the question of rehousing after the war. I stand here representing a constituency that has suffered as much as any other in this country. Homes have been broken up and women and children of my constituency, as in the constituencies of other hon. Members, have been scattered all over the place. The question which naturally suggests itself to me, as to other hon. Members, is, What preference is to be shown to these evacuees, and what facilities are to be given to enable them to get homes once more at the earliest possible moment? The question of priorities in regard to housing will be one of the most conspicuous to be decided when the time comes, but we should throw our thoughts a little forward in considering this particular aspect of the matter. We shall expect those who have lost their homes in the blitz to be given preference over certain forms of reconstruction.
I daresay that when the time comes great influences of the City of London will be brought to bear on the Ministries of Planning and Reconstruction and that every endeavour will be made by the City interests to gain priority with regard to the rebuilding of blitzed areas, when The first consideration of any Government should be the homes and happiness of the people rather than any consideration of the demands made by the business men of the City of London. We know that in the City great warehouses have disappeared. I am quite certain that the demand will be made that these warehouses shall be re-erected, even, it might be, at the expense of homes for the people. I do impress upon members of the Government the desirability of giving consideration to that question of priority so far as the homes of the people are concerned.
I will go one step further: there is another class to be considered in regard to priority for homes. A large number of men and women in the Services are, at the moment, without homes and without any possibility of getting the homes to which they are entitled. I would ask the Government that these, too, should have priority. I hope it will be possible to share the priority as between the evacuees and the men who come out of the Services. I apologise to the House for keep- 126 ing them so long, but may I express the hope, in conclusion, that when the next discussion on a King's Speech takes place, the war will be over and we shall be well on the way to the solution of these problems?
§ Mr. Eccles (Chippenham)
I rise in this House for the first time and I do so with diffidence because the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir W. James) has set such a hot pace, and because I wish to speak about employment after the war and many hon. Members know much more about that subject than I do. In the Gracious Speech it is said that it will be the primary aim of the Government to ensure that, in this period, food, homes and employment are provided. I had a chance during the by-election at Chippenham to see just how anxious the country is for a policy for work after the war. I found that in every home people were talking about the unexplained contrast between the struggle to fill jobs in war-time and the struggle to find jobs in peace-time. What the ordinary man sees when he looks at the war effort, at industry and agriculture to-day is that we can have full employment without nationalising industry and without running into inflation. But what strikes him most is that a great part of the demand for production is, to-day, directed by a Government who know what they want and that in the process of getting what is wanted for the war, every man and woman has a good job. He also knows that the country is pretty unanimous about the things we want after the war—food and homes and exports and babies—but he is very far from confident that these things are going to be produced under conditions of full employment. It is this contrast between experience in war and experience in peace which causes much uneasiness.
From a very humble position in the House, I would like to ask His Majesty's Government to use the lessons of the war effort to bring up to date the machinery for preparing economic policy. I believe that unless this is done, we cannot hope to conquer unemployment, or to harness our resources for the production of the things we want most in the order in which we want them. We have all seen the method of waging war change from the use of the three Services separately 127 to combined operations. The House is familiar with the machinery of strategy which enables these combined plans to be prepared. The day-to-day work is done by the Joint Staff planners, officers drawn from the three Services, who sit permanently together and work out plans which the Chiefs of Staff bring up to the Minister of Defence for approval. The essential feature about this admirable structure is that the three Service Departments are willing to delegate the responsibility of preparing the plans to a single joint body and no longer insist on working out a separate strategy for each arm of the Forces, I imagine no one would suggest that because strategy is now pooled, the Service Ministers cannot answer for their own Departments. Combined operations are characteristic of all the activities of a modern State and, as unemployment cannot be solved by any one remedy, we must, I submit, adopt the technique of combined planning in dealing with it.
Trade, industry and finance are just as interlocked as the Army, Navy and Air Force. Recognising this, we should expect a change to be taking place in our economic machinery parallel to the change which has already taken place in our strategic machinery. But, as things are at present, it looks as though our economic machinery is going to be one war behind our military machinery. If this were not so, we should find responsible officers of the Treasury, Board of Trade, Supply Department and the Ministry of Labour and National Service sitting down together to do for post-war employment what the joint staff planners do so successfully for military operations. During the war we get along all right with our production policy, and surely the reason for this is that what we have to produce is dictated by Allied strategy. The Supply Departments are never short of requirements to fulfil and are helped, I venture to say more than is recognised, by the Ministry of Production in planning our production.
The point I want to make is that the testing time will come when the blue print of Allied strategy is no longer there. Then the one-way process will have to be put into reverse, and that is why I would respectfully ask the Minister of Reconstruction to pick a team of first-rate civil servants and add, perhaps, an economist and a scientist, and form a staff capable of 128 preparing and co-ordinating plans for full employment. If the House will allow me, I would like to give one example of what may happen if we do not have such a staff. I believe all parties are agreed that British agriculture should not be let down after this war as it was after the last war. What are the consequences for industry of a prosperous agriculture? What steps will be taken to supply the things which farmers will be eager to buy? The farmers will be constantly in the market wanting more implements and more machines than ever before. We used to import most of these things. I suppose the reason was that British farming was so often poverty stricken that British manufacturers did not engage in large-scale production of farm machinery. After the war we shall have plenty of engineering capacity suitable for supplying the increased home demand and there will be another market—a very big one—abroad, big enough to enable British and American exporters to prosper. How can the expansion of the production of farm machinery be tackled? It might come about in a haphazard way, but I think it would be much better done if the engineering industry and Government Departments were to co-operate in forecasting the demand and steering the expansion of the industry, through Government controls.
My imagination falters when I think of the difficulties which would confront a factory now making tanks, which wanted to turn over to making tractors. That is an operation which, the House might think, conformed to the maxim of beating swords into ploughshares. But we have never produced tractors heavier than Fordsons, in any quantity, in this country. A great deal of information would be needed before the industry could get under way. I have tried to think out what the factory would really have to do, and if I make any mistakes I hope the House will forgive my inexperience. As there is no central economic staff available, they would have to go to nine separate Ministers to find out the demand and the nature of the tractors wanted. They would have to go to the three agricultural Ministers, the Minister for Works, the Secretary of State for Air, the Secretary of State for India, the Colonial Secretary, the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department, and, I think, for the requirements for the 129 Dominions, they would have to go to the President of the Board of Trade. All these requirements are very well-known as the result of statistics collected during the war, and there you have a mass of information which would be the indispensable basis of the new industry. There is still another requirement—the special requirement for the reconstruction of occupied territories. I understand that the Minister of Production has that all to himself. That is the nine-fold demand.
Then come the questions of whether the new industry would be profitable and how soon it could be begun. They would then have to set about the production Department. Here is a curious network of authorities. Although the Minister of Agriculture has control over a corner of the engineering trade, because he is the production authority as regards farm implements, he has no power over tractors. The Minister of Supply has the power over tractors and he also looks after tanks with the result that he has the unique advantage of knowing the industry thoroughly but, as his Department is not responsible for post-war industry, it would have no reason to look into such a scheme. I think the firm would then have to go to the President of the Board of Trade, who would probably be the right man, unless post-war production of tractors, like that of synthetic rubber, should be the duty of the Ministry of Production. Even supposing they are satisfied on the principle of going ahead, they have then got to go to St. James' Square and ask the Minister of Labour for the draughtsmen to make the preliminary drawings. They would then, no doubt, go to Gt. George Street where they would have to pay two calls on the Minister of Production, one for machine tools and the other for materials. I think at this stage the enterprise of the firm would be at a low ebb, but they need not despair because there is now a new door at which they can knock. They can now pay all their calls at one door in the confident hope that the Minister of Reconstruction will knit up 13 or 14 strands which previously they had had to pursue separately. It comes to this, that by Government action, since it will involve control of the imports of some foodstuffs and guaranteed prices for some others, we hope to stabilise British farm- 130 ing at a reasonable level of prosperity. Are we to stop there, or are we to make the best use of all the consequences and opportunities of employment which postwar agriculture on a decent level will afford?
It would be a queer thing if a municipality should decide to set up a gas works and should take no thought at all about the processing and disposal of the by-products, and yet unless there is a related plan at the centre we have no chance of making the best use of our opportunities after the war. There are people who object to any kind of economic planning. They deny that there is any parallel between combined military operations and combined economic operations because industry and agriculture are not, and I trust never will be, disciplined servants of the Crown. These objectors say that unless the agency that makes the policy also executes it, the policy is sure to be bad, and that as they do not want the State to run industry the State must not make the policy. That is to confuse the architect and the builder, who are two quite different functions. The builder does not mind who gives him a job so long as the drawing is one he can understand and can turn into bricks and mortar. He recognises that the better the architect the freer he is to get on with his own work. For this reason I am quite sure there is no need at all to confuse those two functions. Planning is the architect's function, and controlling of the processes of industry is the builder's. Controls in the narrow sense are very unpopular, especially with people of British character, and especially when they look like an attack by infiltration on the private management of business and farming. I think that Members will agree from their personal experience that control in the narrow sense often means in Whitehall language access to the brake. What I plead for is a foot on the accelerator, and there cannot be actions more different than braking and speeding up. To-day war is the foot on the accelerator, but that pressure will be removed, and when it is removed unless another pressure is applied I doubt whether the machine can negotiate the change from full employment in war to something like full employment in peace.
In the last 12 months all the world has acknowledged the quality of our military 131 staff work and the enterprise of our Forces in carrying it out. It is this skill and this initiative on which we must rely in the peace. The hon. and gallant Member for Hythe (Commander Brabner) told us yesterday most impressively that we can count on the enterprise of our young men and women when they come back after the war. Are we so sure that we can count on the staff work? It is for this that everyone looks to the Minister of Reconstruction, and I ask him to consider setting up, either in his own office or elsewhere, an economic general staff, for I am sure it will be found that all the elements of economic policy are linked together in so close a natural federation that when any one of them becomes a subject of post-war planning all the others are instantaneously affected, and unless somewhere in the machinery of government there exists a staff which can fit all the projects for employment sponsored by Government Departments into a grand design of material and social reconstruction, we shall not achieve the most desirable object set forth in the Gracious Speech.
§ Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)
I believe I echo the sentiment of all present when I say that we have listened not only with interest but with appreciation to the maiden speech delivered by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles). It was both an interesting and instructive speech, well reasoned, and we hope that he will take part in many Debates in the future.
I understand that subjects to-day are to be confined to domestic issues, and as usual we can deal with what is contained in the King's Speech and what we think it should have contained. We are told in the Gracious Speech:… in the months to come My Ministers will complete their provisional plans for the period of transition through which we must pass before the troubled times of war give place to settled conditions of peace.I think it is a thousand pities it has not been done before now, so that something concrete might have been presented to the House. We can certainly welcome the promise that in industry, mining and agriculture a smooth transition will be made from war to peace. Then, on the subject of education, let us hope that a satisfactory solution of outstanding differences over non-provided schools will be arrived 132 at before the promised Bill is introduced. I think it well that the House should not forget the great part played by the trade unions during this war. In this they have borne out the truth of what the one-time Grand Old Man of the Liberal Party once said when he declared that trade unions were the bulwarks of democracy. They have certainly proved that during this war. It is true to say that strikes have been fewer than in the last war, and in general these strikes have been condemned by trade union officials. Joint industrial councils have rendered valuable assistance, and I hope that they will be extended to every industry after the war so that employers and workers can meet together and settle differences without resorting either to lockouts or strikes.
The subject of control or decontrol is being very freely ventilated at the present time. If, as the King's Speech says, food, homes and employment are to be provided, can this be done without control? Control has been proved necessary in war-time. The nation's life had to be planned to make victory assured, and to those who cry for decontrol, who want us to go back to the pre-war days of everyone for himself and the devil take the hindmost, I would ask, Are we to have a repetition of what happened after the last war—mess and muddle, through decontrol, followed by unemployment, poverty and misery throughout the industrial areas? What advocates of decontrol suggest that we should get rid of the Ministry of Food or the Board of Trade or the Ministry of Agriculture, three Ministries that are certainly all-important in postwar reconstruction? Then, again, is social security to be merely a slogan without any attempt being made to put it into operation? Are jobs to be found for those who can work, as has been stated by Government speakers on many platforms. There is so much that needs to be done—land to be drained to make it fit for cultivation. The Minister of Agriculture declared recently that we must cultivate more land up to 1947; I hope it will continue long after 1947. There are flooded mines to be dealt with. Today in many mines only the top seam can be worked, because the rest are under water, a dead loss to this nation. Then there is the question of harbour improvements, so necessary to us as a maritime nation; electric power to remote villages 133 and farms, but, above all, homes for the people. I contend that the resources of the nation should be planned and utilised in the interests of the nation's well-being. This is the only effective policy for achieving real prosperity.
Government speakers have declared that there must be no unemployment such as marked the period after the last war. The Beveridge Report seeks to some extent to deal with this pressing problem, and it seeks to some extent to remove the spectre of economic poverty from the lives of those haunted by it. Then again the provision in the Report for a national health service should be welcomed, and a unification of social insurance is a reform long overdue. My contention is that compulsory State insurance should guarantee equal benefits to all. Then, again, I think that all will agree that prevention is better than cure and that the greatest asset in the nation's balance-sheet is a healthy nation. If the Government will introduce a Measure going one better than the Beveridge Report, we shall welcome it with open arms. I hope that when the Government introduce their Workmen's Compensation Bill it will be something far superior to what was outlined in the Beveridge Report. I hope also that when the Government deal with old age pensions they will deal with them on a much snore adequate and better scale than was outlined in the Beveridge Report.
We have heard recently a good deal about safeguarding small traders. Much of this is a Press stunt. Traders' Associations, built up after many years of effort, have been doing their best to protect traders. Therefore it was entirely unnecessary to have a mushroom body floated by a certain newspaper. Newspaper sellers, some of the smallest shopkeepers, have been trying for many months to get their pre-war profit margin improved, but without success. They consider it is necessary in order to meet increased costs. Therefore, these small shopkeepers would welcome the help of the newspaper in question instead of the setting-up of another traders' association that is entirely unnecessary. They would also welcome that newspaper's help in meeting their claims for more newspapers.
We know that shopkeepers in general require certain protection. We want no repetition of what happened after the last war, when ex-Service men were cajoled 134 into buying little shops. They embarked on businesses of which they had no experience, with the result that, despite opening early and late for seven days a week, they were unable to make ends meet and lost their all. Genuine traders should be protected against the entry of interlopers who might try to exploit the situation after the war. The only solution is one which I have long advocated, namely, a proper system of registration and licensing. So far as the shopworkers are concerned, they want no return to long hours and low wages. I notice that in the King's Speech it says that the law relating to the reinstatement to civil employment of persons discharged from the Armed Forces is to be amended. That is rather vague. I wonder in what direction it will be amended. I want the House to understand that there is no occupation in the country that has contributed more to the Armed Forces of the Crown than the distributive trades. After the last war many shopworkers, when they returned from the war, were stranded. Many firms pleaded reorganisation and reluctance to dismiss the women they had employed during the war. If reinstatement is not carried out, it will be a gross betrayal of the men and women who have risked life and limb in the service of their country. The Government must keep faith with those who have endured hardships on land, at sea and in the air to protect our homes and make this country safe for democracy.
§ Mr. Spearman (Scarborough and Whitby)
I would like to join with the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Eccles) on his thoughtful, constructive and knowledgeable speech, which showed what very useful contributions he will be able to make to our Debates in the future. I, too, would like to take up the point of post-war control. I hope that during the course of this Debate Government speakers may be able to give us some in dication of the control which they think it necessary to impose upon us after the war. I think this is one of the most important post-war issues and one on which the country wants more information. I hope that Government speakers will make it clear that they intend in the immediate post-war period to continue such controls as are necessary to ensure that there 135 is an adequate supply of goods at reasonable prices and also to enable us to give adequate aid to devastated countries. I also hope that after the war the Government intend to continue such measure of control as will prevent any artificial restriction of production, whether that restriction comes from employers who do not make full use of the latest inventions in the hope of maintaining the value of their plant, from employers who tend to keep down output in the hope of maintaining prices, or from associations of employees who hope to keep up work or wages by making conditions of work and limiting the numbers admitted into their industries. That sort of restriction from employees is just as injurious to the public good as the other restrictions which I have mentioned.
I remember an hon. Member of this House, who is a very respected and very prominent occupant of the Socialist benches, telling me the other day of an instance of this sort of restriction. In this case work on workers' houses urgently required was held up, to great public inconvenience, because the joiners concerned unfortunately refused to allow plumbers to put small pieces of wood between the pipes in the bathrooms, work that took only a few minutes. It is the job of the Government so to plan our economic framework that we can make the greatest possible use of our resource of material and of labour. In the past we have tended to produce only that amount of goods for which there was an existing demand. That meant that the national wealth was very much smaller than it need to have been or more was produced than was a demand for with the result that we had a slump. We must produce in the future all we can, and it is the Government's job to see that there is an effective demand for all we can produce. They can do that by encouraging private demand for capital goods, by Budgetary inducements, by stimulating private demand for consumption goods, by a redistribution of income where necessary, or by encouraging public demand for capital goods by public works or by combining all three.
I wonder whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer would agree that less expenditure does not necessarily mean more saving. I would like, if I may, to 136 give an instance of that, a very small example which, I think, illustrates my point. In the depression in the early 30's, when there was an enormous number of unemployed, expenditure by the Forestry Commission was cut down. This meant that 50,000 young trees had to be thrown away because of lack of labour. Quite apart from the fact that these trees would have been a useful asset now, what happened to the men thrown out of work? Obviously, they had to consume less food and clothes, the shops that sold them the goods made smaller profits and the manufacturers who supplied the shopkeepers had a smaller output. So, all through the circle, there was a diminution of the national wealth because of a false attempt to save. I would like here to quote what Lord Keynes recently said on that topic, and I hope the Government gave it some attention. He said this:We have lately come to understand how employment and the creation of new income out of new production can only be maintained through the expenditure on goods and services of the income previously earned.If we are to make full use of the national resources in future, and have full employment, it can only be if the Government make use of the lessons they have been able to learn during the last few years. A great deal has been learned about financial and monetary affairs, and this is perhaps a great deal due to the remarkably clear thinking and brilliant powers of exposition of the great economist whom I have just quoted.
I should like to ask the Government what is their policy with regard to the great monopolies. I do not think that any believer in private enterprise can regard with satisfaction the position of these gigantic monopolies, representing tens of millions of pounds and employing tens of thousands of people. Their very existence is due to the facilities granted them by the State in the Companies Act, their ability to trade with limited liability. I do not believe it was ever the intention of the authors of that Act that these gigantic concerns, with excessive powers, should come about. I believe they combine the defects of a centralised administration with the power—though I do not suggest that they always use it—to exploit the public. I am certainly no enemy of the profit motive. I wonder really whether any of us in practice are. I believe that the profit motive, in the present state of 137 our civilisation, is an essential incentive to progress. [An HON. MEMBER: "How about Russia?"] May I remind the hon. Member what Lenin said in 1921?We have suffered a greater setback on the economic front than any previous military reverse.He then instituted a policy which he expressed as a retreat from Communism. I believe in the profit motive, but, like many useful things, I think it would be the better for being diluted. I think we have got, by social arrangements, so to control it that it encourages private enterprise and at the same time contributes to efficiency. It seems to me that there are two sorts of planners. There are those who realise that the State has for a very long time interfered and planned, and all they want is to see that it does the job well and not badly. They do not want to plan every minor detail. They rather want the State to supervise and see that the job is carried out. Then there is the other sort of planner, who likes planning not only because he thinks it will produce useful results, but because he thinks it is good in itself. He thinks it is good for the people to be planned, and perhaps he thinks that it is enjoyable to be a planner. For the glorification of the State and the good of the people he wants to plan every minute of their lives. I believe that is the sturdy, independent outlook of the typical British man and woman—and I think that this is characteristic of their outlook, and I suggest that it is one of the prime duties of legislation to promote that independent outlook; if anything is more repellent than a State that regards him as a clog in the machine it is a State which wants to reform, refine and generally uplift each one of us, A totalitarian State animated by the spirit of a Victorian head mistress is a vision from which any man might quail. When I hear some of the proposals put forward for a new England they sound to me rather like Plato's Republic edited for a suburban audience. I hope the Government are going to make it clear that they intend to adopt an expansionist policy. I think that will give great encouragement throughout the country. I hope, at the same time, that they will make it clear that that is not incompatible with individual liberty. I hope they will never interfere with anyone's individual liberty if they can possibly avoid it, that they will interfere with anyone and everyone when it is for the public welfare but 138 never with anyone for his own good. Let the individual himself be the judge of that.
I should like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer for two assurances. I think it was the hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Higgs) who thought that altogether too much attention had been paid to consideration of monetary systems. I cannot agree with him. I think it is of the first importance for the improvement of trade, for which he was so anxious, that we should have the best possible monetary system. I should like an assurance from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that we shall not be committed to any monetary system so rigid that our national wages policy is subject to dictatorship from abroad and that our prospects for cheap money, which is so necessary for prosperity and full employment after the war, are at the mercy of what may happen in other countries. Secondly, I would ask for an assurance that the Government intend to do everything in their power to remove national barriers and promote world trade. It was encouraging to read in the currency proposals produced by the American Treasury this sentence:We at last realise that prosperity, like peace, is indivisible.We can sit secure on the firm foundation of world prosperity, but I am sure that we should perch perilously on the artificial prosperity which we might obtain for a time by sheltering ourselves under trade barriers. If we adopt an autarkic policy, it will be at the cost of promoting depression abroad in which in the long run we shall inevitably be submerged.
§ Mr. McEntee (Walthamstow, West)
I am glad that the Minister of Health is in his place, because I think he will probably play the largest part in the only subject with which I propose to deal, namely, housing after the war. I put down some Questions a little while ago in the endeavour to induce the Government to make some statement which would indicate to local authorities what was in their minds in regard to two aspects of housing that are closely associated one with the other. One concerns almost all local authorities in the Greater London area, and I think the same would apply to areas in other parts of the country in and near large industrial towns. The question in the London area is the population before the war in the various 139 boroughs and the population that is desired after the war. My own borough of Walthamstow is typical of many others, and we figure it out something like this. We were an overcrowded area before the war, and we do not desire to be overcrowded after the war. Our population before the war was about 136,000. In view of the serious damage that has been done to the town by enemy action and the opportunities that are offered to us in rebuilding or refusing to rebuild the houses, we had to ask ourselves what our population should be. We decided that a reasonable population, with the idea of preventing overcrowding, would be about 100,000 to 110,000.
Then we had to ask what we were to do with the excess population which could not be housed in the area. In similar areas in and around London where the local authorities desire to prevent overcrowding and to reduce-the population they will be faced with the problem of what to do with the large number of people who will be left over and for whom no houses will be provided. I have considered this problem and have been faced with this fact. Within the Greater London area, within the Green Belt, there will be great numbers of people for whom no accommodation can be provided in the area. As soon as they start to go outside to seek accommodation they will be faced with the fact that the Minister will not permit any housing on a large scale Green Belt. As a consequence, great numbers must seek accommodation outside, the Green Belt area. That raises two problems—one, whether you are to bring industry to the people out there, or, two, whether you are to institute some form of cheap transport to enable the people to get to the existing factories in the Greater London area. It is a serious problem and the answers I got to my Questions told me exactly nothing, so that I am no wiser than I was before.
I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to the problem, because it is one that will require solution, and it will not be easy to solve. It gives rise to a number of similar problems. Great numbers of people are coming back from the places they went to during the blitz, and in Walthamstow they are worrying me every day of the week. I am not blaming them. They say, "Why cannot we come back here, because we have lived here all our 140 lives?" When I tell them that Walthamstow is a built-up town, they ask why the houses cannot be rebuilt, and I am forced to tell them that, although there was accommodation for 136,000 people before the war, there will not be accommodation for more than about 110,000 after the war. They immediately ask, "Where are we to go?"—a very natural question, and one which I cannot answer. I have to explain that Government inaction is due to war-time conditions, but I hope the Government will seriously consider the problem. The question arises as to the land outside the Green Belt. The Scott and Uthwatt Reports are available, and I am wondering what action is to be taken with regard to that land. Most of it is agricultural land, and the policy appears to be that houses must not be built upon it. In my view, however, large tracks of land will have to be released from agricultural purposes outside the Green Belt to accommodate the people I have referred to.
I would like to ask the Deputy Prime Minister whether it is possible to do something to take away the awful worry that local authorities have in regard to whom they are to approach about housing after the war. When a local authority has a scheme it approaches in the first instance the Minister of Health. May I take the opportunity of congratulating the new Minister on his appointment? I hope that he will have an easy time after the war, but I am afraid that he will not. When we approach the Minister of Health, he says, "There seems to be a good deal in the scheme, but have you approached the Ministry of Transport with regard to road development? Have you approached the Ministry of Supply about the import of many things that will be required in the scheme? Have you approached the Ministry of Works about sanctions, which you must get with regard to the general structure and its relation to other work that has to be done in building and other kinds of industries? Have you approached the Town and Country Planning Department, because they have to be satisfied with your scheme and the situation of it? Have you approached the Board of Trade, because they also come into it, and you would have to come to some satisfactory arrangement with them to enable you to get various materials, many of which are in short supply, and they will have to give you a 141 permit to get some of the materials? Then, of course, you will have to approach the Minister of Labour; he controls all the labour necessary for housing, and see how far he can release labour having regard to the claims of other industries. You really must do all those things before you come back to me." And when you are going out of the door he will say, "By the way, is your housing scheme in an agricultural area, because if it is you will have to approach the Minister of Agriculture in the first instance, as he has a good deal to say about housing in agricultural areas?" And before you get half way down the stairs he will call you back and say, "What about the Treasury? Unless you approach the Treasury, it is no use my discussing the scheme with you at all." All those different authorities have to be approached and satisfied about a housing scheme before very much can be done. I put it to the Deputy Prime Minister that the number of Ministers who have some power in regard to determining whether a local authority shall or shall not be permitted to build houses is almost farcical, and I hope that state of affairs will soon be altered and some quicker procedure adopted.
A word on priorities. I think it is the desire that priority shall be given to the building of houses in areas that have been badly blitzed. I have heard it said they will have first priority. But outside those areas there may be other areas, as there are in my own constituency, which are quite close by but are fairly open country. A permit would not be granted there, because they have not been badly blitzed. That, I suggest, is a bad and wrong policy. The people who cannot get houses in my area have a desire to get as near to it as they can, and there are some open spaces in neighbouring areas where houses could be built, but if anybody suggests that houses should be built in, say, Woodford or Chingford or Loughton it will not be permitted because those areas have not a first priority. In overcrowded Walthamstow, or overcrowded Leyton, or overcrowded Tottenham, houses may be built as quickly as you like, although they do not want to build too many there because the places will be overcrowded again. That is a matter which needs thinking over.
Then there is the question of partly-built houses. Not very long ago the 142 Ministry issued instructions which enabled local authorities to repair houses up to a limit of £250 in the London area but at the same time prevented them from finishing partly-built houses. Close to where I live there are houses which were badly damaged in the blitz, and almost next door are partly-finished houses. Some of these partly-finished houses could be completed for less than £100, but they cannot be completed, whereas up to £250 can be spent on these badly blitzed houses. I think all partly-built houses ought to be completed if they will be useful for housing people. There must be a great number of them in almost every area.
On the subject of building trade workers, I can speak as one of them, though it is now a long time since I worked at my own trade of carpenter and joiner. A great number of these men have been taken into the Services, and many of them are not doing anything there, and are not likely to do anything, in connection with their trades. To replace them new people have been brought into the trade, including women. After the war there is to be an increase in building trade workers from 800,000 to 1,250,000. If we keep these building trade workers in the Services or in Civil Defence and allow others to be brought in to take their places in the industry after the war we shall be seeking trouble, and most certainly we shall get it. I hope an effort will be made to get an early priority, I would not say a first priority, for the release of building trade workers who know their job, rather than allow young trainees to be brought into the industry to take the place of those who are already well equipped to do the work.
In conclusion, I ask the Minister not to worry about vested interests when housing accommodation is so badly needed. I do not care whether they are vested interests in materials or in money or in work. I would not allow any vested interest of any kind, either that of employers or workmen, to stand in the way of people who need houses and who ought to be able to get them as quickly as possible. I am speaking of something I know about when I say that new materials, some of which have never been used in the building industry before, are now available. Plastics will play their part, and cement is being used in a way in 143 which it has never been used before. Its use is being rapidly developed, and the old horror which I and most other people had of living in houses built of cement will pass away when it becomes known that we can provide well-equipped and well-designed cement houses without the drawbacks of the old type. That ought to open up an opportunity for rapid building. As to the question of money, I remember the late John Wheatley, when he was Minister of Health, telling us from the Front Bench opposite that out of the rent of 10s. a week charged for a house 4s. 9d.—I think that was his figure—represented interest on the money. That is a terribly high proportion for interest. The Government ought to make some provision by which the interest paid on borrowings for housing purposes is lower than it has been.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
I feel that we have all enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee), and I think most of us have agreed with the greater part of it, but I would remind my hon. Friend that it is not quite so easy to borrow money cheaply, because the Government have not got money. It is strange, but everybody thinks the Government have the money. They have not. It is the taxpayers who have the money; it is the lenders who have the money. You can only lend cheaply if you borrow cheaply, and I imagine that with proposals coming forward for financing all kinds of projects the Treasury will not look so happy as they have done up to now, when they will not allow us to spend our money on ordinary goods and force us to lend it to the Government at a low rate of interest. It is a delusion to imagine that the interest on money will remain at 3 per cent. It is bound to rise. It is fortunate that the Minister of Health, whom I congratulate on his new appointment, should by chance be present to-day when so much of the Debate has ranged round houses. I want to say a little on the subject and would like to mention one or two domestic matters.
I told the Minister of Fuel and Power a few minutes ago that when I look at the lighting in this Chamber I am rather horrified, because I realise that the lamps used are of a kind that have not been made for about ten years. They are not 144 modern gas-filled lamps. They use twice as much electricity as the lamps which I have at home and I imagine everybody else has. During a day's Sitting we use about three-quarters of a hundredweight more coal which we might save because we have these inefficient lamps. The Mother of Parliaments might be a little more economical and set an example. We should save the whole cost of smashing those lamps in about three weeks. We buy electricity at the highest possible price in this building. We have to use direct current, because the wiring is very ancient. If we used alternating current, they might fuse all over the place. There has to be a special substation for this building, which is the dearest lit building in the world. It is the fault of the Office of Works, because they have not rewired the building. I notice that when a Member says things like this results happen much more quickly than when he writes to the Ministry, who hate things being said out aloud. I hope that something will now happen.
The Deputy Prime Minister, when discussing another matter, said that His Majesty's Government were considering the possibility of modifying our Standing Orders so that when we had Debates on Supply we could discuss legislation. I hope the Government will think twice before they do that. We have the well-established principle of grievances before Supply, and there are 20 days in the year on which we do not examine expenditure but we examine Ministers. If we are to be diverted from our inquiry into administration into talking about legislation, the House of Commons will lose its whole control over administration. I hope the Government will think twice on the matter.
There is another minor matter, affecting the comfort of Members. There was an important Debate some little time ago, and I wanted a constituent of mine to listen to it. We know that tickets are not available until a certain hour. I went to the office, and I was horrified to see about 60 busy men, all Members of Parliament, who had been waiting in a queue for half-an-hour because we have some curious arrangement whereby we cannot get tickets in advance. I hope that arrangement will come to an end. It is an intolerable nuisance to every Member of Parliament. I do not know 145 who is responsible for it, but this seems to be the right time to speak about it.
I have been looking at the Hansard which came out this morning. It is a very useful number, because it contains the list of all the Parliaments we have ever had, up to date, a list of all the Members, with their Christian names, and members of His Majesty's Government, which is the interesting part. It is difficult to find out haw many Members of Parliament are in the Government, because some appear twice in the list. They appear in the War Cabinet, and they are repeated under their jobs. I think I have counted rightly. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) wrote an admirable letter to the Press on this subject. If I have counted rightly, there are 80 Members of Parliament who are in His Majesty's Government, and that compares with 56 at the corresponding date in 1939, when the war was on. In the days of Queen Anne, the House of Commons insisted that when a Member of Parliament was appointed to an office of profit under the Crown he should seek re-election. That was in the days of Marlborough when the thing had become so bad and there were so many placemen and when the Crown exercised a rather greater influence in the management of the House of Commons than it does to-day, when it is on a different basis. It was realised that the executive were getting excessive power, and therefore an Act of Parliament was passed that most persons, on being appointed as Ministers, had to seek re-election.
I was one of those who in 1925 actively supported the Bill which amended that Act so far as Members of Parliament were concerned, because we took the view that a Prime Minister was very much hampered in his appointments if he had to say, "If I do appoint so and so, he will have to be re-elected." We had the terrible spectacle of the late Charles Masterman. I did not agree with his views, but he was a very able man. He wandered round the constituencies, and was beaten three times running after he had been appointed as a Minister. On the other hand, there are 80 Members of Parliament now in the Government, all, or most of them, with their P.P.S's. We were talking about Private Members' time; we shall soon be in the condition that the Government themselves will be 146 in the majority. Constitutionally this is very bad. Offices have been fabricated for party reasons. Many Departments have two Parliamentary Secretaries, and there is no justification for it, merely because it is loaves and fishes. There are too many parties in this Government, and they all want their share. What I am saying a lot of other people are beginning to say. They use a popular phrase, which I will not use in this House. I do not think it is yet in the Oxford Dictionary; it describes a certain thing you play tennis with; but we are reaching that stage. In Queen Anne's time Parliament took the step I have mentioned in order to prevent the corruption of public life by the fabricating of too many offices.
Now I want to talk a bit about housing. The other day I asked my colleague the right hon. and learned Member for North Croydon (Mr. Willink) a Question. I asked the Minister of Health whether he couldfurnish an estimate of the present annual increase in the number of persons of old age pension age, that is to say, of men over 65 years of age and women over 60 years of age?I did not ask that Question because of anything connected with old age pensions. I asked it as a classification, and the answer was very interesting. It was:The increases in the number of men over 65 were, during each of the past two years—I presume that is the calendar year 1941–2—estimated at about 50,000 and 60,000 respectively. These figures represent an average percentage increase of about 3¼ per cent. per annum."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd November, 1943; col. 1444, Vol. 393.]Then, later on it stated that the comparable figures for women over 60 were given as about 93,000 and 102,000. That means that the population at those ages increased in 1941 by a total of 143,000 and last year by 162,000. I suppose this year we might guess about 180,000. In five years from now the population over those ages will have increased and the population under those ages will be diminishing. My object in asking the Question was entirely concerned with housing.
I think that most people are 24 years out of date in their outlook on housing, because they think it is the problem which faced us in 1919. It is an entirely different problem. So far as I can estimate—it is a little difficult, and some 147 detailed inquiry would be necessary to establish correct figures—we have to build houses—by "houses" I mean any separate habitation—for elderly people. They will consist of elderly widows, masses of them, elderly widowers, not so many, because women do live longer—it does not only seem longer, but it is true—there will be elderly spinsters and elderly bachelors and a substantial number of elderly married couples. They do not want accommodation in the house for five people which everybody is talking about. If we are not careful we shall be trying to house the wrong people. What is the curse of people who live in a cold climate? It is the high burden of rents. That has nothing to do with the landlord, but is only a deferred method of paying the bricklayers and others who were concerned.
§ Sir H. Williams
But interest has nothing to do with the capitalist system. It is a function of time. If I have a banana now it is worth more than a banana I am promised in 12 months' time, and it is obvious that a half-crown I have in my pocket is worth more to me than a half-crown that somebody has promised me in 12 months' time. The difference is interest. You cannot escape it. If you introduced a Socialist system, you would still have interest. Even in Russia, where some kind of Socialism is practised, money is lent for financing the war at 4 per cent. free of tax, whereas here it is 3 per cent., subject to tax, and that is 1½ per cent. Do not think that you have done away with interest because certain people who support that theory call themselves Communists You cannot dodge interest; so just forget it. But let us not be wasteful in the dispersal of our financial resources. If you want cheap money, try to kep your taxes low. If taxation is high, you will have very expensive money in the long run.
We have to look on this housing problem with quite new eyes. We are, first, going to be faced with the problem of having to build a lot more public institutions. Many of these people will become decrepit, unable to look after themselves. We shall have to enlarge our institutions—we used to call them workhouses; now they are public assistance institutions, in- 148 firmaries, or whatever you like to call them. At any rate, at the public expense we shall have to look after an enormous number of people. There will be, in addition, people who want to look after themselves. Some will be content with a bed-sitting-room, kitchenette, and sanitary arrangements; others will want something more; but we must contemplate building accommodation of a kind which we have not been building hitherto. I addressed a Question to the Minister of Health, to find out whether he had been looking into this matter. Apparently one of the innumerable committees which is looking after His Majesty's Government has been seeing to this.
The three gentlemen whom I call Freeman, Hardy and Willis—Mr. Justice Uthwatt, Lord Justice Scott and Sir Montague Barlow—have published Reports. In consequence, the land of Britain is frozen. If the war came to an end tomorrow, there would be no land for building. The local authorities cannot build, and the private enterprise builders cannot. The other day a friend of mine who has a small factory in Surrey thought he would like to build a baby Welwyn City. He found a nice site of 200 acres in Kent. He was going to build a house for himself and a number of houses for his employees, lay out playing fields, and make a nice show. He paid a deposit. On the day before he was going to complete the local authority said that, as a result of the Town and Country Planning Act, they could not give him any decision as to whether he was to go ahead. That kind of nonsense must end. The Government must make up their mind and announce their decision, so that people will know what to do. None of us wants bad housing: we want the best; but at present the land of Britain is frozen. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) likes the Uthwatt Report.
§ Sir H. Williams
I am glad of that, because I do not, either. They are going to buy the incremental value of all undeveloped land for a global sum. It will take thousands of years to share out the global sum, but in the meanwhile all land will be on a kind of mysterious ground lease. Every five years all land will have to be revalued. If you adopt the Uthwatt proposals, there will be no building of 149 houses in this country by private enterprice. Some people want private building to cease. Just before the war three-quarters of the houses of this country were being built by private enterprise, without a subsidy, and, to an increasing extent, were being built to let. [Interruption.] If you demand a very high standard of accommodation, you must have a very high rent. The biggest curse of the British people is the cost of shelter. There are far too many elaborately-constructed buildings about. There are in London fortresses called schools which ought to have been pulled down long ago, because they are out of date. When a hospital was built before the war it cost £1,200 a bed, and you could house people much better than monarchs were housed a century or two ago on the basis of £100 per person. When a public building is put up in this country it is built on the most extravagant assumptions. We think that everything must be a monument. There is one monument, which will never be pulled down, not far from here. Who designed it I do not know, but he ought to be interned under 18B.
I hope that His Majesty's Government will take account of the vital need for decisions in regard to town and country planning. Unless decisions are made soon, there will be chaos in the building industry after the war, and unless provision is made for a change in the design of accommodation the chaos will continue. I hope that the Government will be a little more forthcoming than the Prime Minister was the other day when he said, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee), that there was to be no more house-building during the war. The situation is becoming tragic in many districts. From my own constituency I am receiving most dreadful letters. I am certain that in a very short time His Majesty's Government will be forced by the pressure of indignant public opinion to make some provision immediately for the accommodation of people.
§ Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)
I am sorry that the Minister of Health is not in his place just now! I should have been glad to offer him my congratulations. I am not sure that I may not find it in my heart to offer him, in the course of what I have to say, my commiserations. He has inherited a very difficult post. I want to refer to the comprehensive health 150 service which is foreshadowed. I am not sure that the people of this country quite realise all that is embodied in a really efficient health service; too much attention has been directed to the medical side. I view this question as one which is divided up into, first, preventive, next curative and remedial, and, lastly, restorative. It is no good attempting the curative and remedial unless you have really efficient preventive measures. Reference has already been made to housing. When the Minister of Health embarks on any housing plan, I hope that questions of health will occupy a very important part in his considerations. Houses should not be merely brick boxes with slate lids, giving shelter to people who are anxious to get in somewhere. Houses should be built for the comfort of the people, the health of the people, and their general wellbeing.
In priority, houses should occupy the first place. Next, there are those other preventive considerations, such as drainage. There are in this country at present quite important towns which have not yet got a main water service. You cannot expect to have a healthy community unless the people are given an opportunity of living healthily. It is obvious to anybody that you can do what you like on the curative side, you can embark upon T.B. schemes, discover the incidence of the disease, relieve people by giving allowances to them when undergoing treatment, you can give them treatment in expensive sanatoria, and, after you have done it all, if you send them back to the places that gave it to them, you will be neutralising all that you have done. Therefore, housing is a very important aspect of the question. If you are to have a service to deal with the preventive, the remedial and the curative, that pre-supposes the necessity of having an efficient administrative machine with which to deal with it
There is an absence in the King's Speech of any reference to the reform of local government, and I am curious to know whether the Government have any intention of embarking upon the reform of our local government system. I am not sure that it should be called a system. The differences that exist in various parts of the country in regard to local government are such that there clearly is a need for some improvement. Take finance alone. In the geographical county of 151 Lancashire, there are no fewer than 16 county boroughs, and there is an administrative County Council of Lancashire. The administrative county of Lancashire is responsible for the administration of services for a population of approximately 2,000,000 That county council is able to raise £40,000 by means of a penny rate. If it is compared with the administrative county of Middlesex—and I compare it because of the population, which is roughly 2,000,000—that county can raise no less than £84,000 by means of a penny rate. It is clearly impossible to have the same quality of social service when you can raise £40,000 only by a penny rate in one county, while, on the other hand, a penny rate raises more than double that amount. I realise what has been done by the block grant. That does not meet the difference completely. The administrative county of Rutland can only raise the sum of £435 by means of a penny rate. Such a thing is ridiculous. It is clear that if we are to have the improvement foreshadowed in the social services, the public health services and education there will need to be some reform of our local government machine. The trouble is that local government in this country has never been planned; it has just grown up, and as it has grown up, it has grown out of date. It is not enough to take men and women in need of treatment and put them into a hospital or an institution, spend money on them, and then discharge them and leave them to get on as best they can.
I referred in my opening remarks to the third aspect of this question, which I called restorative. The aim of an efficient health service must be to restore to a working man his opportunity of going back into industry as a wage-earning unit, but I am not suggesting that it should be studied merely from its material aspect. There is nothing more demoralising than for men and women to find, when they are desirous of making some contribution or service to the community, that they are unfit to do it, not because they have not the physical capacity, but because the type of thing from which they have suffered means they can never go back to their trade. They are not merely surgical or pathological cases. The Minister of Health is very interested in rehabilitation. The emphasis on re- 152 habilitation mostly deals with the surgical side, with men and women who have met with accidents. Fracture clinics helped by remedial exercises enable improvements to take place in the injured part so that the patient can go back to work, but there is need for the rehabilitation of medical cases. There are men and women in industry who have become affected by their industry and suffer from skin diseases, such as industrial dermatitis. A man working at a trade at which he may have spent years of apprenticeship, such as French polishing, may develop dermatitis and never be able to go back to his old job and use the necessary essentials of his trade. There is a possibility therefore for the occupational therapy department in hospitals to be strengthened and so to make a step in the direction of rehabilitation.
I would like to see every patient who goes into a hospital regarded not as an incident in the professional career of the doctor but as the reason for the doctor's existence. The object should be to see that the patient gets back to his place as an effective unit in industry. A patient might need to be taught a completely new trade, and, if a natural aptitude could be discovered in a certain direction, not a great deal of difference would be required in the measure of training. If in this case we can seize the opportunity for the occupational therapy department of the hospital to create the first step in rehabilitation we shall get on the road towards an efficient and comprehensive medical service. One cannot in a Debate of this description give all the details one could give to support the plea that early steps should be taken to bring within the reach of every man and woman who needs it the opportunity of once again becoming, what they may not become without the help of the community in this direction, a self-respecting member of the wage-earning community.
§ Lieut.-Colonel H. Guest (Plymouth, Drake)
I intervene in this Debate in order to express my appreciation of the words in the Gracious Speech which deal with the good progress that has been made with the rebuilding of our damaged cities. This, in my mind, is one of the most important things which is before the State at the present time. When the time comes to consider the question of rebuilding our 153 damaged cities, I think the necessary rebuilding will fall under three categories. The first category will be the rebuilding of damaged municipal building or public institutions; secondly, traders' premises, shops and warehouses; and, thirdly, factory buildings and the dwelling houses of the workers. I hope that, when the time comes to consider this problem, the third category will have priority over the other two. The first priority of all should be the reconstruction of the private dwellings. Then, having done that, we should concentrate the next priority on the reconstruction of the places where those dwellers shall go and work and earn their living. I admit that the other categories have importance, but not so great an importance as the private dwelling and the place where the private dweller can go and work.
The only exception to that priority which should be made is in the case of hospitals or schools. The hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) who has just spoken, has dealt with the question of rehabilitation of workers. Nothing is more important than that, and nobody expressed it better than the hon. Member who has just sat down. I feel at the moment that it may be impossible to proceed with the rebuilding of dwelling houses at a very great rate, partly because we are short of builders and partly because we are short of building materials, but it is enormously important that every city should have its plans made out for exactly what it will have to do when the time comes that builders are available and building material is also available. Only the Government are able to give us a clear statement of what their policy is on this question of the reconstruction of our damaged cities. Our city authorities are quite unable to gauge what areas will be available for them for the purposes of development or construction. They cannot say what standard of housing they will need; they cannot say what terms that building must be constructed upon or what rents or sales shall take place with regard to the Windings which they erect, and they certainly do not know where the finance is coming from With which to undertake the necessary rebuilding or rehabilitation of their city.
I represent a city that has suffered, like many others, very serious damage during this war, and I can assure the Government that the one thing that is preying 154 on the minds of the people in these cities is the anxiety they have about the future. All of a sudden, in one night, their home and all their savings may go and they are just in the street. If we can give those people some sense of security, relieve some of the anxiety they suffer, either on account of houses which they have built themselves or on account of houses for which they are paying under a purchase arrangement, so that they can feel they have something to look forward to, that, I think, is the thing of prime importance in our damaged cities to-day. I would press the Government not to delay in giving the clearest possible guidance to these damaged cities as to what is expected of them, where they can lay their hands on land to build on or what they will have to do in the way of arranging for their arteries of traffic, and to give them at least this guidance, so that they can really get to work and let the people who have suffered have some compensation—some relief from anxiety—for what they have suffered as the result of this war.
The employment of the people in the factories, which is the second priority that I think must be adopted, should be worked out in some way to ensure that there is work available in the towns and cities of the country. To do this it means that we have to have some system of control, some headquarters system of control, in the hands of the Government in regard to the location and development of industry in certain areas. I listened with very great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Sutherland (Mr. Furness), who spoke on this point. Experience has shown us that you can train labour, although it is not inherited skill, in a great many activities of industry. A new industry can settle where that industry has never been before, and the skill of the people is sufficiently great to acquire the technique necessary to carry out even the most difficult industries if the training is properly supervised. We must have a board—I should like to call it the Location of Industries Board—which will decide whether an industry is to settle in such and such an area or not. There may already be sufficient industries of that nature in that area, and we cannot possibly have one whole district slumping because there is a slump in a particular trade. As long as the work is spread over 155 a great many sorts of industries and areas, I think you can avoid those times of depression which we have all experienced in the past.
Although I must admit that I am not in favour of control to a very large extent and that I want to see private enterprise have its full opportunity and its due reward for its enterprise, there are certain questions in which Government control is absolutely necessary, and one of these is, I think, the location of where industries are to be started. We know that in London we have far more industries than London really needs or can really accommodate. We have country towns where the populations can be trained skilfully to do the work which need not necessarily be done in London, and I believe that a Location of Industries Board could give a decision as to whether an industry was required in a certain area or whether it was redundant in that area and had better go somewhere else.
I think we all feel nervous about the future of the distressed areas, the distressed areas which loomed so large in this House five or six years ago and for which the Government made generous concessions to industries which went to settle in them. I know that many industries in these areas have gone to these places by virtue of the dispersal of industry to the country. There is a very great fear that some of those industries may go back to the more centred industrial districts as soon as this war ends. That would mean that we should again throw these distressed areas into the same position of depression in which they were before. There is need for some control to decide whether industry is to have complete freedom to come and go exactly as it likes and whether it leaves the workers stranded or not. I happen, myself, to be associated with the distressed areas, and nothing would give me greater sadness than to think that any such area would go back to the position it was in before the better conditions prevailed due to the war period.
In conclusion, if we can first give homes to our people and then establish industries in the midst of these homes, then, I think, we can provide work for the people, and with the natural skill and talent of the British people, and certainly with the technical skill of 156 our craftsmen, we shall be able to produce from that work a sufficient export trade to bring the food and wealth which this country must have in the future if it is to sustain its great industrial position.
§ Mr. Norman Bower (Harrow)
I think this Debate has revealed, so far, a general consensus of opinion on the overriding importance of giving attention now to questions of post-war reconstruction and the grave anxiety which exists in the minds of Members in all parts of the House on the subject. Personally, I think the Government are entitled to a measure of congratulation if not on the number at any rate on the scope of the proposals contained in the Gracious Speech dealing with this subject. Some of us tried to draw the Government's attention to the vital importance of this matter during the last Session in a Debate which took place on the Adjournment for the Easter Recess. Although a great deal has, certainly, been done since to allay the anxiety we then expressed, at the same time a great deal more will have to be done before the anxiety which is felt by millions of people throughout the country to-day is fully and completely allayed. Certainly the appointment of a Minister of Reconstruction is a great step forward. I have always held the view that if the Prime Minister is too fully occupied with carrying on the war to give his attention to home affairs—which of course is quite understandable—then he ought to appoint some one with the power and capacity to take decisions on home affairs at the highest level. I think it is generally agreed that he could scarcely have made a better choice than he has made for what is likely to prove a difficult and exacting task.
I submit that it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this question at the present time, not only because of the effect which measures taken now will have on the post-war situation, but also because of the effect they will have in furthering the war effort itself and extracting the last ounce of energy from those working in the factories and those serving in the Armed Forces both at home and abroad. The psychological effect on those people of knowing that constructive and adequate plans are being made to ensure that there will be no repetition after this war of what happened at the 157 end of the last war, will be immense. Efforts have been made in some quarters to distinguish between those measures required for the purposes of carrying on the war and those which are not bona fide requirements for war purposes, and it has been suggested that controversial measures are justified only if they are required directly for carrying on the war. It seems to me that you cannot divide the war period and the post-war period into watertight compartments as if a sort of curtain were going to come down and separate them at a particular moment. They are parts of a continuous period and it is certain that the pressure of events in the post-war period will not wait while we strive desperately to make good the failures and omissions of the war period. The Prime Minister in the course of his speech in the Coal Debate said that without wishing to cast any aspersions on the Government that was in power at the end of the last war, this time we should carry through the transition from war to peace in a more orderly and disciplined fashion than we did on that occasion. I hope that that will not prove to be a mere fanciful and overoptimistic phrase, but that it will prove to be a fact because I am absolutely certain that if we fail this time to carry through an orderly transition from war to peace the social repercussions will be so tremendous that the stability of the Realm will be shaken and perhaps the very Constitution itself endangered.
As one example of the kind of anxiety felt on this subject, I would like to mention this wave of unofficial strikes we have been and are still having, particularly in the coal industry. I do not condone those strikes by any means. I think, on the contrary, that all strikes in war-time are deplorable and reprehensible. But one has to face the fact that there are reasons for them. I admit that one of the reasons is partly psychological, that these people who come out on strike do not feel any certainty at all that their position after this war is to be any different from what it was after the last war or during the years between the two wars. The result is that certain unscrupulous people have been able to get at them and say, "You, are in a very strong position now; now is the time to use your strength. Throw your weight about and make yourself felt because the time will come when your ser- 158 vices will no longer be required and you will not be in nearly so strong a position, and you will be thrown on the scrap heap again." That is the sort of thing which, I believe, is going on and is responsible for this wave of unofficial strikes. I submit that if the Government want to stop these strikes, particularly in the coal industry, and get more production from the miners, what they ought to do first, and what is more important than anything else, is to allay the anxiety of the miners regarding their post-war position. Let the miners know they are to have security of employment, which they have never had before, or at least have not known for many years past; it has been completely foreign to them and it is something to which they attach tremendous importance. Let them know they are to have security of employment at any rate for a definite period after the end of the war. Also, I would say, give them proper compensation for injuries. It seems to me that these are the two most important ways of tackling this vital and difficult problem.
Another subject on which great anxiety has been felt—and this has already been dealt with very fully and adequately by a number of preceding speakers—is the question of housing. Men in the Forces, the people of this country, who will want to set up homes after the war, are asking how long it will be before they will be able to obtain the necessary houses. It seems to me that nothing can be done to prepare the way for the gigantic housing programme that will have to be undertaken or to enable the building industry to be ready to get off the mark immediately hostilities cease, until some effective steps have been taken, in the words of the Gracious Speech,… to control and direct the use of the land.…What the Government say in the Speech is, that they propose to lay before the House, in due course, the results of their examination into these affairs—reports have been made on all these subjects—and they give no undertaking that they propose to introduce legislation to give effect to any of these recommendations whether good or bad. That is a matter on which opinions will differ, but the point is that something must be done. Therein lies the greatest shortcoming of all in the Gracious Speech. The Government still seem to be afraid of tackling questions which might be 159 called controversial. Rumour has it—I do not know whether it is true or not—that the Prime Minister himself is rather afraid of introducing controversial Measures and sometimes feels rather impatient of all this talk of planning and reconstruction. I do not know whether that is true. If there is any truth in it I do hope that he will realise that those of us who are foremost in urging this question on him and the Government are doing so, not in any spirit of hostility, but, on the contrary, because we are his best friends.
We want to save him from the one thing that may possibly tarnish his glory. Surely it would be the height of irony, if not of tragedy, if it were to be said that he who has been so aptly called the architect of victory, the man who has brought us through perils and suffering, was in any way responsible for our failure to utilise to the full the fruits of that victory which his own herculean efforts have done so much to win. After all, public memory is very short. We can all remember Prime Ministers in the heyday of their power and fame. We can all remember them a few years later when their names were objects, not of veneration but of execration. We want to save the Prime Minister from any such possibility. I hope he will realise that, and will also remember, when the cheers of the multitude are ringing in his ears that the true test of statesmanship is to win not merely the plaudits of one's contemporaries but the gratitude of posterity.
§ Wing-Commander Grant-Ferris (St. Pancras, North)
After an absence of almost a year from this House I intervene to raise a subject which is quite different from any that has been raised so far today. I have been told by Mr. Speaker that I shall be in order in doing so and I feel the House will, therefore, allow me to give some account of my experiences in India and the conclusions I have formed during a tour of Royal Air Force duty in that country which lasted for the greater part of last year. In the first place, I would like to say how grateful I am to the former Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, to his secretary, Sir Gilbert Laithwaite, and to his secretary, in his capacity as Crown representative, Sir Kenneth Fitze, for the excellent tour which they planned for me and which I was able to make during my embarkation leave, for six weeks before I 160 left the country. During that time I visited all but two of the eleven Provinces and some of the larger cities, and I had the opportunity of discussing the Indian political situation with more than 100 Indian political people, leaders of all shades of opinion. I feel that I have had an opportunity such as has seldom been afforded to any Member of this House and I felt that before I returned it was incumbent upon me to avail myself of it and to put myself as much as possible "I.P."—as we say in the Royal Air Force, for "In the picture."
Often people tried to draw me into controversy about the food situation in Bengal and about the question of detinues. On all occasions I did my best to avoid being drawn into discussions on these matters for two reasons. Firstly, Lord Wavell was expected within a week or two of my journey and I did not want to raise a Press controversy about something on which I could supply no facts, and which might have prejudiced anything he had in mind to do in the near future. Secondly, I wanted to stick entirely to the Indian constitutional question of the future and not to be drawn into discussion of a question which, however important, will, we know, be of a passing, nature. I started out with a completely open mind. I suppose I was one of those people who until then, had not taken very much interest in Indian political affairs. Now, as a result of my journey, I think I may say that am rather an enthusiast for the study of India's affairs. I am sorry to say that I found wherever I went great mistrust of the bona fides of Great Britain in the promises which she has made to India. I did all I could to dispel this feeling but I cannot say that I had very much success. I found many Indians who were anxious to trust and believe us, but undoubtedly the collective view of all, as expressed through their Press, was one of mistrust of our efforts. I would like, right away, at the risk of offending some of my friends in India and perhaps ort both sides of this House, to say that I am convinced, as a result of my experiences, that India is not yet ready to reap the full benefit from full self-government and, to my mind, will not be ready to do so for many years to come. It is a tragedy that Western democracy and Dominion democracy as we have made it, has been allowed to attach itself to India, which is fundamentally unsuited to it. In any case, India is not yet trained 161 in the arts of compromise on which Western democracy rests. Their system of patronage, which is highly ingrained, is utterly incompatible with the minimum standards which we have set ourselves in our style of Government. That is not to say for a moment that their standards, in themselves, are immoral but they are Eastern standards; they are standards whereby the head of the family has a religious duty to do all he possibly can to safeguard all his dependants and friends. But that sort of thing will not work in our system.
However, the die has been cast and whatever conclusions individuals like myself may come to we cannot now in the circumstances turn back. The Government's offer stands, and the prize which was India's for the taking last year, is still within India's reach and, no doubt, will be until India finally decides. The constitutional position in India to-day might be likened to an ill-regulated nursery. In one corner, with its face to the wall, stands the Congress child. Nurse has said that the child can come out of the corner if it will promise to be good. The child has replied that it has not been naughty, that in any case the nursery belongs to it and not to the nurse and that the latter can go to hell. At the top end of the nursery is a very militant child, in the shape of the Moslem League, beating the drum and yelling that considerable parts of that end of the nursery belong to it alone and top no other child, while another, and equally militant, child, in the shape of the Hindu Mahasabha, is screaming with equal violence that the nursery is common to all the children. The rather down-at-heel, neglected and depressed-looking child, representing the scheduled castes, is standing at the other end of the nursery murmuring continually that the nurse bestows no attention on it. On the other side of the nursery is an overdressed child, representing the Princes, announcing that in no circumstances whatever will it stay in the nursery one moment after the nurse leaves it.
This, roughly, is the present picture. It may be due, as some believe, to too much discipline and too little sympathy on the part of the nurse or, as others hold, to the fact that she has pampered the children so consistently that they have become ineradicably naughty. Whatever the reason may be, the effect is depress- 162 ing, especially as the children cease abusing each other only for the purpose of abusing the nurse. I hope the House will not think that I have overdrawn the picture, but it is a pretty accurate one of what is going on in India to-day. If the nurse left the nursery, the hubbub would be indescribable.
With this in our mind, it seems to me that the approach of the Government and the steps that must be taken must be very wary, so that in certain eventualities they may be in the best position to act strongly with the backing of conscientious right and dominion and, one hopes, world opinion behind it. There is a considerable measure of agreement that the substance of the March, 1942, offer is what India wants, but in form and name it seems to be discredited. I regret to say that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) seems to be universally unpopular in India. His methods of approach to the problem, his attitude to the minorities, including the Princes and the scheduled castes, have produced bitterness. Hence, they say, his sudden departure. Whether their attitude is a just one to the right hon. and learned Gentleman I cannot say, as I was not there at the time, nevertheless it is the attitude. It may be said that all this is not of great importance, but what I feel is important is that we, the British, should come out of this problem with clean hands and our intention to fulfil our promise be made demonstrably clear in terms of complete simplicity. In the past whenever India has been offered anything she has drawn back and said, "Not enough." Let us offer her no more formulae. It is through this type of offer that so much misunderstanding has occurred in the past. I would spike the not-enough argument by a Royal Proclamation, if not now at the end of the war, stating shortly the substance of the 1942 offer. Ever since 1858 the Indians have attached very great respect to and belief in a Royal Proclamation, and it is a suggestion which I have heard on all hands that, if this were done, it would go a great way towards relieving that chronic attitude of mistrust which exists throughout the country to-day.
Now I should like to pass to something else. It is not yet clear that there is primary agreement among the political 163 parties in India as to the constitution of the Constituent Assembly which will have to be formed in order to frame a Constitution for the country. To this end I think the Government should as soon as possible invite the leaders to agree to its constitution. It may be that argument will drag on, and tire Government will have to set a time limit, and I suggest that after four months, if they have not come to any arrangement, the Government should say they are willing to go for another three or four months but that unless agreement on the formation of the Constituent Assembly is then arrived at the Government will treat the situation as though there had been a breakdown in the Constituent Assembly itself. From my discussions I am of opinion that there is a good chance of the parties getting over this stile, which would set the ball rolling properly. In the last resort the whole crux of the situation, as far as the agreement is concerned, is whether Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Jinnah are prepared to compromise at all. If they are able to agree, I am sure the others will not dare to risk disagreement.
Here I find there is considerable divergence of opinion, which falls broadly into two groups. On the one hand the Congressmen and the Moslem leaders whom I saw are convinced that, if Britain plays her part in the way I suggest she should, agreement will be forthcoming if the Assembly are left free to draw it up themselves. I had a long talk with that wise and patriotic statesman, Mr. Rajagopalachari, the last Prime Minister of Madras, who has done his best to solve the deadlock and assist in the war effort. He is of opinion that agreement will be reached. On the other hand, I had another long talk with Mr. Jinnah, who stated categorically that the Moslem League will agree to absolutely nothing but Pakistan. So, as I saw it, the position is one of deadlock.
The second group includes the Princes, the scheduled castes, the I.C.S., landowners, Europeans, Parsees and many others, and they feel, with varying degrees of certainty, that the chances of agreement by Congress and the League, which at present means Mr. Gandhi and Mr. Jinnah, are very slight. On all the evidence that I heard I have come firmly to the conclusion that the chances against 164 agreement are in the nature of 60–40. I have no doubt that the mission of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol broke down for one reason only, and that was that Mr. Gandhi was not prepared to grant self-determination, and all questions of defence and the Viceroy's veto were not really germane to the case at all. The unfortunate thing about the whole Indian question is that the nearer these people have got to self-government the greater have become the communal differences which will make it well-nigh impossible. None the less, Great Britain must play her part with circumspection, loyal to her promise, placing nothing which can be construed by Indian, Britisher or foreigner as being in the way of agreement, in fact doing everything possible to help. I feel very deeply that only by taking this line shall we find ourselves in a position to act strongly in the event of a breakdown in the Constituent Assembly.
Thus fortified, and with the knowledge that we have kept our word and, further, made it as clear to Indian and world opinion as is humanly possible, we can go forward with a new policy. Should the breakdown occur, it seems to me most likely that we shall have to come forward with another award, the exact nature of which I have not had time to consider. When we make this award, if we have to do it, we must make it clear that there is an absolute minimum time of at least 15 years during which further discussion of constitutional questions cannot be tolerated. Unless there is to be a truce to this political wrangle, I am convinced that nothing that is of the slightest good to the country can possibly be done. We shall have to broaden the whole basis of Indian government. The war has shown up the inadequacy in scope of both Central and Provincial Governments. All this must be broadened. Communication, education, public services and improvement in agricultural methods must be tackled on a big scale. I wonder if the House realises that this Government is run with a combined Indian and British staff of something like 600 civil servants, about the size of the Birmingham City Council staff, I should think. All this will have to be changed and will involve additional taxation, the same as it has done in this country, and India will have to learn to pay additional taxation and like it, just as we do, or do not. It seems to me of 165 the utmost importance that a certain number of Members here should have a chance to see what I have seen.
There is a great demand in India for Members of Parliament to come out and see for themselves what the country is like, and on all hands I find a demand for the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) to be one of the first to come out and see for himself exactly what the position is like. I seriously suggest that the Government grant facilities to a certain number of Members to go out in two and threes and see this country in the same way as I have been privileged to see it. Then they will be much more enthusiastic for the task which still lies ahead of us.
I would like to say a word about the types of men we send out there and may have to continue to send out in future Why is it that the names of Lord Willingdon and Lord Brabourne are household words in India to-day? It is because they possess that priceless gift of being able to touch the hearts and emotions of a kindly and emotional people. If you will but show them kindness and open your hearts to them, you are half way to being successful and doing the job of Governor really well. I hope and pray that in the selection for that most difficult Province of more than 60,000,000 people, Bengal, these considerations have been carefully studied. I would like to conclude by saying something with all the emphasis I can. We cannot and must not escape our responsibilities. There must be no thought of walking out and leaving them to it. Such a step would be a complete negation of 200 years of constructive work in this great country. In spite of the Congress slogan "Quit India," which I have seen all over India, I never spoke to one Congress man who said he wanted to see us out of the country once and for all. Nevertheless, our word is pledged, and we shall stand by it to the letter. If India cannot yet get together and agree their Constitution, we must go forward together with a new and broader policy, conscious that upon our united efforts the happiness and progress of 400,000,000 of our fellow men chiefly depend.
§ Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Captain McEwen.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon the next Sitting Day.