§ 2.11 p.m.
§ Captain Sidney(in military uniform) (Chelsea)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth:Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
I must, first, crave the indulgence of the House as this is the first occasion on which I have had the privilege of addressing it. I am deeply conscious of the honour which has befallen me so early in my Parliamentary career, and I am certain that the House will believe me when I say that my gratification is not unmixed with anxiety. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Mr. G. Lloyd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Sir W. Wakefield), to both of whom fell the onerous duty of making their maiden speeches on similar occasions, will, I feel sure, sympathise with me when they recall the emotions which they experienced when they rose to address the House. I realise that in honouring me the House is paying a tribute to the Army, which, in Europe and in Asia, is pursuing relentless and bitter struggles against our foes. It is an honour as well to the division which I represent here, the Parliamentary Borough of Chelsea, and I am sure that the electorate of Chelsea will be gratified that, for a second time within recent memory, their Member has moved the Address, for my predecessor, now Lord Templewood, did so some 23 years ago at the beginning of a special Session of Parliament which had been summoned to ratify the Treaty with Ireland.
Chelsea is a neighbour of the famous city in which this Palace of Westminster stands. It is small in extent, but feels no sense of inferiority on that account. Rather it prides itself that London, in its passage to the West, has flowed round and beyond its boundaries and has left Chelsea a small riverside village, with its original character and with all the local patriotism and attachments which are implicit in the life of such a community. Although we are small in extent and not very numerous, we have sent some 6,000 men and 10 women to join the Forces, and I know that to-day they will be gratified that this distinction has been conferred upon their borough. They are to be found in Belgium and Holland, in Italy and the Middle East, in India and Burma, wherever the Armed Forces of the Crown are in grim contact with our enemies. They have been taking part in those resounding events to which the Gracious Speech refers.
It is well that every now and then we should look back and gauge the distance we have travelled, and the pace at which we have moved. A year ago, Africa had been cleared of the enemy, Sicily was ours and, by our invasion of Italy, we had established ourselves on the Continent, but the Germans were still the uneasy masters of nearly all Europe. They had their outposts in the Aegean and the Arctic Ocean. Their armies still stood on Russian soil and, in the West, they felt themselves secure behind their elaborate fortifications. With the permission of the House, I will read a quotation, which, I think, is relevant to my argument:Every new landing which the enemy may undertake will pin down more shipping, and will split up the enemy's forces, giving us opportunity for counter-blows.Thus Hitler last November, on what used to be considered his annual outing at Munich. He added, in the same speech:What is it but a trial of endurance if we have to surrender a few miles, or a few hundred miles of territory, so long as we are able effectively to defend our lines so far away from the frontiers of the Reich?The Germans have had plenty of opportunity for counter-blows and plenty of scope for endurance, but some of the lines which they are now defending are inside the frontiers of the Reich. It seems a pity that the world has had no opportunity this year of hearing the German leader's comments on the situation as it is to-day. It may be that Munich beer is a little flat.
The House will remember that a year ago exactly the Prime Minister was conferring with President Roosevelt and Marshal Stalin at Teheran, and it is well, I think—in the words of the examination papers—to compare and contrast several words of the joint statement that was issued at the end of that Conference:We have reached complete agreement as to the scope and timing of the operations which will be undertaken from East, West and South.11 We have seen translated into action that agreement, which signified the fall of Rome and the expulsion of the enemy from three-fourths of Italy. It has meant the greatest invasion in history, and the freeing of France and Belgium. It has meant that Russia has been swept clean of the invader. It has blown down the top-heavy structure of German domination in Central Europe and in the Balkans, and it has brought, after unimaginable suffering, liberation to Greece. The Alliance has not only been able to exercise enormous pressure on the so-called fortress of Europe from outside; it has also been able to aid and concert the powerful resistance movements inside the gates, so that when the day came the peoples were able to rise and rout their hateful oppressors.
I do not know whether it would be a serious breach of discipline for the cabin-boy, having so recently signed on, to say a word in commendation of the captain who has been on the bridge continuously for 4½ years in a lot of very dirty weather, but I hope my right hon. Friend will forgive me if I pay my grateful tribute to him, as the architect and contriver of the Grand Alliance, which has accomplished so much during the past year. I have been able to see something of the work of that Alliance in Italy. Last summer, after the fall of Cassino and the piercing of the two fortified lines, if one stood beside the highway which leads to Rome, one could see there Indian police directing the steadily flowing traffic up that road, Canadian tanks, United States jeeps, Polish despatch riders, French Moroccan mule teams and New Zealand sappers—all part of the great Allied and Empire force under the command of Field-Marshal Alexander, and all intent on one thing, the pursuit of the beaten and retreating Germany Army.
When the object of this Grand Alliance has been fulfilled by the defeat of our enemies, I do not underrate the difficulties which we shall experience in extending that co-operation which we have achieved for war to the more constructive purposes of peace, but I believe that it is the most fervent desire of every man and woman in this country that, after victory, peace, the "unassailable peace" which we have heard mentioned in the Gracious Speech, should be enjoyed, not only by themselves 12 but by their children. I believe that in strengthening the ties which unite the family of nations within the British Commonwealth, we can go far and do much in the service of the cause of peace. I would like to add, if I may, that I hope that the Conference of Prime Ministers which was held in this country last May, will be frequently and regularly convened in the future.
My hon. Friend who is to second the Motion will, no doubt, deal with the various and important measures which, the Gracious Speech tells us, are to be brought forward for the consideration of the House in the forthcoming Session, but I would say a word about one or two of them. I think that the most urgent problem in domestic affairs which confronts us is the grave shortage of houses. There has been a five-year gap in building, and this has been accentuated by the grievous destruction wrought by enemy bombing. So I particularly welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the progress which has been made in fulfilling this vital need. Local authorities will have to play a great part in our building programme and I trust that the Measures foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech for financing the capital expenditure of those local authorities will give them ample scope to fulfil their responsibilities in this field.
We are at the beginning of the sixth war-time Session. We can enter it, I believe, with pride in and thankfulness for what our country has achieved. We can undertake our tasks of preparation and reconstruction with great hope that the Session may see the defeat of Germany, and Japan following her evil partner down the hill into the abyss with ever-increasing momentum; and I believe we shall go about our tasks better for the knowledge that our country will continue to play its full part in the struggle, until tyranny, both in the East and in the West, is finally overcome.
§ 2.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Fraser (Hamilton)
I beg to second the Motion.
In rising to do so, let me first congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the mover on a truly remarkable maiden speech. A maiden speech for any of us is an ordeal, but a maiden speech in these circumstances is a task that would not lightly be undertaken by any hon. Mem- 13 ber. It is needless for me to express the hope that we may hear much more of my hon. and gallant Friend in the future. With such eloquence, I am sure that he will try, from time to time, to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and that he will have no small measure of success. Let me also congratulate him on the unsurpassable distinction which he has recently won. We are very proud indeed to have among us one who has so distinguished himself in the war.
For my part, I have not worn uniform in this war, unless I should mention that old Home Guard uniform of mine; and that I have worn since those very dark days in 1940 when it consisted of a four-inch arm-band with the letters L.D.V. printed thereon. That was before the Prime Minister found us a much better name. My job has been in industry. I started work in the coalmines when I left school at 14 years of age, and for almost the first 3½ years of this war I was still working at the coal face, in the front line of the industrial front. It is quite impossible to measure the debt we owe to our Fighting Services, of which my hon. and gallant Friend is such a striking example, but let me say that I was particularly pleased to note in the Gracious Speech a phrase referring to the contribution of the civilian population in the struggle through which we have come. It may be that I would be permitted in the circumstances to take a bow on behalf of the civilian population.
I have said that I am a miner, and I recognise that my being chosen to do this job this afternoon is an honour conferred on the industry. But more especially, I understand, is it an honour conferred on my constituency. This is the first time that Hamilton has been so honoured. Hamilton itself is, I think, a rather pretty town to be centred, as it is, in the midst of so much heavy industry. It is only part of my constituency however, and I am equally proud to represent the Lark-hall and the landward areas. That part of the country is one, I suggest, which any hon. Member would be proud to represent, in view of its historical record. Fundamentally, we have always been very democratic in those parts. I am reflecting just now on the Covenanting period and the almost indescribable sacrifices the Covenanters made in defence of religious freedom. Coming to much 14 more recent history, Hamilton and Lark-hall are place-names always associated with two great Labour leaders. I refer to James Keir Hardie and Bob Smillie. These names are not unknown to any student of politics; they cannot be unknown to any hon. or right hon. Member of this House, and I am exceedingly proud to represent an area with which they were so closely associated for such a long time, and in which both had their political beginnings.
My hon. and gallant Friend has said a word or two about the war, and I shall not dwell on that at any length. But let me say that all of us are certain that Hitlerism, or Himmlerism, is doomed. None of us can say when the war in the West is likely to end. The date of the end seems to be just anybody's guess, but now that Goebbels himself is talking in somewhat despairing terms about the outcome of the war, we may be permitted a little optimism as to the end of it. Then there is the other war—or is it another war? Whatever the description, it seems to me to make no difference. Sufficient is it to say that we must continue to prosecute the war in the East with the same vigour as that with which we have prosecuted the war in the West. It must not be neglected. We must go on adding to our current victories, until the world has been really and truly freed. And at that stage we must, to quote the words used in the Gracious Speech, and repeated by my hon. and gallant Friend, undertake the task of building and maintaining "an unassailable peace."
Before returning to domestic affairs, let me say that I was gratified to see a reference to the Colonies in the Gracious Speech. We have a big responsibility towards those 60,000,000 people. I am sure all Members of the House are aware of the provisions of the Colonial Development and Welfare Act, 1940. It provided for £5,000,000 per year over a period of 10 years, to be spent on the economic and social development of the Colonies. That was a ceiling figure. Many of my very good friends have complained that the terms of the Act have not been implemented, but we have been advised that, for reasons outside the control of the Government—it may be that the war had something to do with it—only a small part of that sum has been spent. So we are delighted to learn that legislation is 15 to be introduced extending the scope of the 1940 Act. Now that the war clouds are lifting, I should imagine that the supply position may be made easier, and that before we have such legislation laid before us, the Act of 1940 will have already been extended, in relation to what has been done in the last four years.
We are much concerned about the change-over in industry, and how that is to be accomplished in this country, without having too much of an upsetting effect on the prosecution of the war. We are pleased to note that the Government are aware of the problems in commerce and industry that lie immediately ahead of us. As the demand for war supplies lessens, inevitably labour will become available, and indeed it is now becoming available, for alternative employment. It must be a risky business to turn over plant and materials to the production of household goods and the like whilst the war is still in progress, but many of these displaced workers are unsuitable for the Services; they may not be absorbed in His Majesty's Forces, and so a balance has to be struck.
The public will be heartened to learn that care is to be taken that a fair distribution of the necessary goods will be maintained so long as there is any scarcity. It is also gratifying to learn that the Government are aware of the need to maintain a high level of food production at home. The agricultural industry has shown remarkable efficiency during the war period, and it is up to us, in the days before us, to take to heart the lessons we have learned during the war. The development areas may be a little encouraged by the reference to them in the Gracious Speech, and the undertaking that their needs will be kept in mind all the time, when we are reorganising and re-equipping our industry in the difficult transition period.
All these matters inevitably raise the question of controls. Nobody wants controls for their own sake, but it seems to me sheer madness to imagine that the economic life of this country can be protected in the days immediately ahead, without some centralised guidance. This House can surely supervise that centralised authority. In the Session that has just come to a close, we have had quite a spate of White Papers, some deal- 16 ing with matters to which I have just referred, others more directly concerned with our general social services. The country has given a warm welcome to these White Papers, and I suggest that the country is keen for an implementation of the policies declared in them. We must not disappoint the country. There is every need to speed the proposed legislation on the health services and on national insurance. I am perfectly sure that in putting these Measures through the House, many of us will have to choose between offending our consciences and offending our friends, but the vested interests of a few of our friends should surely come second to the general interest of the people.
We are promised legislation dealing with family allowances, and the country is looking forward to it with eager anticipation. Then we have the proposal to replace the present Workmen's Compensation Acts, and to introduce new legislation dealing with industrial injuries. On such legislation, as in relation to family allowances, there does not seem to be any great difference of opinion on matters of broad principle. The differences seem to me to be mostly on matters of detail. That being so, we can hurry on with legislation, and get it through the House as soon as possible. Do not let us keep our people waiting any longer than is absolutely necessary. The legislation to which I have just referred is generally applicable to the whole of the United Kingdom, but there is the prospect of one Measure specially designed for Scotland. I refer to the Scottish Education Measure. I am specially interested in it because of my membership of the Advisory Council on Education in Scotland. Let it be sufficient for me to observe now that Scottish Members must take the fullest advantage of every opportunity given them in the discussions on that particular Measure to shape our legislation so that we may have in Scotland that supremacy in the field of education which we so often assume for ourselves.
In putting all these Measures through the House, we shall have a very busy time. The year of 1945 will surely be the year of victory in the war in the West at least. Let it also be the year of making good the White Paper promises of 1944. This Parliament can do the job. This Parliament has shown a remarkable 17 capacity during the war in the way we have mobilised the total resources of the country. Democracy once again has proved its superior efficiency. The country expects this Parliament—and I say this Parliament advisedly—to show the same vigour, the same sense of realism and the same singleness of purpose in tackling the tasks of reconstruction, as it has shown in dealing with the war situation.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood (Wakefield)
The first day of a new Session always revives one's faith in this old House of Commons. During my time in this House, covering many years now, I have never known an occasion when the mover and seconder of the Humble Address to His Majesty have not fully justified the House of Commons, and done honour to the House of Commons. In the vicissitudes of my political life I have played many parts, but I was never honoured by being allowed either to move or to second the Loyal Address. But I can imagine the feelings of trepidation of Members who are called upon to perform this essential function. To-day's speakers have been no exception to the rule. They have lived up to the high standards set by many distinguished predecessors. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chelsea (Captain Sidney) showed the becoming modesty of a very great gentleman, to whom the King has thought fit to give a signal honour. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Fraser), whose experience is different, has played his part in public life. They have both spoken not only with felicity, but with modesty—a quality which, as a Member grows older, often fades into the background. Perhaps following the modesty of the mover and seconder of the Address to-day would improve the quality of the Debates in this Chamber.
Having done, in the opinion of the House, I hope, justice to the speeches that we have listened to, I now turn to the King's Speech. If an element of discord enters into the discussion to-day, it is because of the nature of the occasion. I heard with very great interest the Prorogation Speech. I think it was a great recital of great events and great achievements during the past year. It was a recital of which we all ought to be proud. It showed a developing confidence in the 18 future, and it proved the accomplishment of the past. Now we have arrived at the stage when we must think a little more about the future. There is a reference in the second paragraph of the Gracious Speech to the part we must play in the struggle against Japan. To me this is not two wars: it is a single war. I think the enemy, and our friends in all quarters of the world, ought to appreciate the view of this House, which I venture to put. It is that, as far as we are concerned, whatever our political affiliations may be, we shall march to the end of the road leading to the final destruction of the Japanese power. It is as well that some of our doubting friends should appreciate that that is the firm intention of the people of this country, and that, however long that war may last, whatever Government may be in power, this House will assure them of undivided support in the prosecution of the war in the East.
Hopes are expressed of the rebuilding of prosperity and the maintenance of an unassailable peace. Steps have already been taken, as was pointed out in the Prorogation Speech; but the nearer we march to final victory the clearer ought to be the policy adopted by Allied Nations to maintain peace and develop the world's prosperity. One hopes that the projected conference of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister with the President of the United States and M. Stalin may take place at a fairly early date, and that when they have settled such strategic questions as may be still at issue, they will turn their minds to the building of an organisation which, when the war in the West finishes, will begin to operate for tire salvation of the world in future. I am convinced that whatever we may call the organisation which is set up now, there can be no doubt in any quarters of this House that the friends of freedom, the United Nations, are really the custodians of peace and prosperity in the future. It would be more than a crime, it would be a tragedy of the first importance, if the bonds of comradeship, forged in war, were broken, or even damaged, in times of peace.
I come to the specific proposals in the King's Speech, primarily dealing with home front matters. I should imagine that many Members of the House, certainly many of my hon. Friends, are a little disturbed about the phraseology of certain parts of the King's Speech. The 19 proposals fall into two categories: those which we are going to deal with quite definitely, because the Government say so, and those which we may deal with, because the Government intend that they should be dealt with "as opportunity serves." There is a great distinction between those two categories. A Bill will be laid before Parliament to deal with electoral reform. A Bill will be laid before Parliament to provide forthe resumption of local elections at the appropriate time.We are to beinvited to pass measures relating to the provision of finance for the capital expenditure which local authorities will incur,and so on, and we are to be handed out on a plate someproposals for the adjustment of local government areas in England and Wales"—which looks to me like a controversial subject, in spite of anything the Prime Minister may say about it. These matters, of course, will be welcomed; but what the country is hoping for is the fulfilment by this Parliament of the pledges given to the country by this Parliament. I realise that we may be in for very difficult times, but it is quite certain that the country would regard it as a betrayal if, when we resume party political struggles, this House and the Government did not substantially fulfil the promises that they have made and satisfy the hopes that have been raised, not only among the people at home but among the people in the Services overseas. That means that this Session is likely to be, and, indeed, ought to be, a very hard time for the House of Commons. We cannot pretend that we have overworked ourselves in this Chamber during the last five years, and it is incumbent on this House now to make it clear to His Majesty's Government that what time is needed for Parliamentary business this House will afford. So far as I am concerned—and I think I speak for many Members in all parts of the House—I would never grumble if we were worked, and worked hard. If we have to alter our hours of sitting, if we have to spend long hours in those Committee Rooms upstairs, let it be so, but let it never be thought by the people of this country that the House of Commons is unwilling to grant to the full, all the time that is necessary to imple- 20 ment the pledges and the undertakings given in the last four or five years.
I appreciate that war needs must come first. If new legislation is needed to deal with the war situation, that legislation will be gladly granted by the House. But there surges to the surface now a demand for the fulfilment of the hopes of the past five years. A day is coming—and it may come before long, for all we know—when we shall cross swords again in the political arena as men of honour, I hope, conducting the campaign on a level becoming to people who may become Members of this House, each of us pledged to serve the national interest as we see it. I am not imputing base motives to any Member of this House. I say that we have in this country kept a dignity in our political life such as is to be seen in no other country in Europe, or in the world. But in this Session, before we get back to the old strife, there is a high duty on the Members of this House to fulfil the promises which have buoyed up people, not only in the fields and in the factories but everywhere, and which have been an inspiration to our European friends who are now being liberated. It is a high duty upon us to see that, so far as we can do it, the promises that were made are implemented. It would be a sad day if we, in this House, were to complete the disillusionment which exists among people in many quarters.
There is a cynicism in some quarters in this country amongst people who think that politicians are worse than fools—that they are knaves. That view is expressed, we know, and we have to face it, but it would be a shattering blow to the prestige of Parliament, the greatest Parliament in the world and the very symbol of the freedom for which we are now fighting, if, at the end of this Session, the people came to the conclusion that we had, during these months, let them down. I appeal to the House and to the Government to make this Session one of dedication to public ends, and to the fulfilment of those promises and aspirations which the people of this country, in all quarters, so richly deserve to have realised.
§ 3.1 p.m.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South West)
It is an old tradition of this House that the representatives of the various parties should congratulate the mover and seconder of the Humble 21 Address in reply to the King's Speech. In this case, it is no mere formality. I congratulate the Prime Minister on the selection he has made. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the Address, and who has won the greatest distinction which His Majesty can bestow, the Victoria Cross, was admirable in the way be put his case. It is right and proper, at a time when our soldiers are going through appalling hardships in Italy, North Africa, and, above all, in the Low Countries, in the mud and slush, that a distinguished officer fresh from active service should move the Address, and it was happy, too, to select for the seconder a member of the great army of workers. Most of us have read that remarkable document, the White Paper showing the tremendous war production of the workers of this country—greater per head of the population than any other part of the world—and the seconder is a young man from that working army, from the mines.
I cannot resist, at this particular moment, referring to the remarkable success of our French Allies. I remember that, on several occasions, I prophesied that it would not be long before we should see a resurgence of the French people. To-day, with the French flag flying over Metz and Strasbourg, we have ample evidence of that resurgence, and we have France taking her proper place in the Councils of the Nations. The visit of the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary was a fine gesture, which will do much to encourage the French people in their resolve. Forty years after the Entente Cordiale, we now again see the hope of an intimate and close association between our two countries, and long may it last.
The next conference that will have to be arranged will be between the Prime Minister, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Stalin. With the election behind him, President Roosevelt will be freer to enter into discussions about the future organisation of the world. After all the blood and suffering, we have a right to hope that the foundations for peace will be built on a firm basis. Fine work has been done at Dumbarton Oaks which should be generally approved, but it has only been on the official level and I hope that, before long, the subject will come before the leaders of the three Great Powers. One blemish in the White Paper on Dumbarton Oaks, in my view, is the 22 Security Council. There is a missing word—the word "voting." The Gracious Speech has referred to the maintenance of an unassailable peace, and, to establish this, the Great Powers must show their willingness to submit to the same discipline as the smaller nations, otherwise, we are in danger of being landed in another Concert of Europe, and the new machinery will suffer the same discredit as the League of Nations.
One special feature of the Gracious Speech is its brevity. Last Session we were almost snowed under by White Papers, but the nation has a right to expect that this Session these White Papers will be translated into law. When you go through the Gracious Speech, you find that there is a lack of definiteness in the constant use of that word "progress." Progress is promised, but definite achievement seems to be doubted. There must be some reason behind this. It may be that the Government's attitude is that, before we can complete the programme fore-shadowed there will be a General Election and a new Parliament will be elected, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) that, if this House means business, it can achieve a great deal. If necessary we must be ready to change the hours of sitting and revive again Grand Committees. We have had plenty of promises from the Government, not only in White Papers, but in other ways, but what the whole House wants is to have these various schemes translated into Acts of Parliament. The same faint-heartedness is shown in another direction, and I was very glad that the mover of the Address, representing a residential part of London which has suffered from the blitz, made special reference to housing. Houses are scarce now. You cannot get a house now for love or money.
§ Sir P. Harris
Yes, as the Noble Lady says, because they are non-existent. When the war is over, there will be a house famine, and I say that we want something far greater than the progress suggested in the Gracious Speech. I suppose that the appointment of the new Minister of Works, who will sit in the House of Commons, is a recognition that this House is in earnest in this matter. 23 One of the weaknesses at present is that there are too many Ministers involved. In the multiplication of Ministers is confusion. I know that some of my hon. Friends on the other side want one more Minister, a special Housing Minister, but I say that there are already too many Ministers concerned. The real responsibility for the building of these houses will not be on a Government Department but on the local authorities. What I want to see in this House is one Minister responsible for the building of these long overdue homes for Servicemen. We must also see that there is no exploitation by vested interests, and the main duty of the new Minister, I suggest, is to see that supplies of material are available at reasonable prices and that the nation is not held up to ransom.
§ Sir P. Harris
I agree. That is what I am saying. One Minister should be responsible. Then there is the question of timber. There is a timber famine in the land. That can only be made good by imports, but we can only get those imports if we can revive our export trade. President Roosevelt, last Friday, referring to Lend-Lease and Reverse Lend-Lease, pointed out that it should end with the war but that the United Nations partnership must go on, and grow stronger. How better than through trade—that is by exports and reverse exports? The Gracious Speech says that the Governmentwill try to create conditions favourable to the expansion of our exports.I suggest that that is not the master touch of the Prime Minister. We want something more than the mere creation of conditions, and a better note was struck by Lord Halifax in his remarkable speech at Chicago, which seemed to me to show a tone and temper which the Government ought to adopt. I myself am a firm believer in multilateral trade as the only satisfactory way to bring about economic stability and full employment. The American Secretary of State, Mr. Cordell Hull, who has just resigned, has been a true friend of this country and a great statesman, and he for years advocated the breaking down of trade barriers. The new Secretary of State, Mr. Stettinius, 24 has a great understanding of trade conditions in this country and he can be trusted to follow in the footsteps of his distinguished predecessor. In my view it will be a tragedy if we fail to open up better trade relations with the United States. Close co-operation in industry between the United States and ourselves after this war is almost as vital as co-operation is to-day for the prosecution of the war but, if the United States will not play, we shall be forced back on the second best and be compelled to make regional agreements with other nations which will be most regrettable. In conclusion, let me say that this is the last Session of the longest Parliament in the history of our country. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Certainly the longest continuous Parliament. Perhaps the Prime Minister will put me right. Anyhow this is the last Session of a long Parliament and I hope that it will be marked by vigour and by vitality.
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)
Everyone will agree with my right hon. Friend who has just sat down that this has been a long Parliament. We need not embark on historical controversy as to the claims to continuous life which would be put forward on behalf of a Parliament much longer than this, but I am very glad that the closing Session of this long ten years' Parliament should show all the respect for the traditional and ceremonial occasions which ignorant, unthinking people who have not meditated upon matters or studied the true movement of events and of forces in the human breast might easily regard as meaningless performance. Here in the Speech from the Throne and in the Debates on the Address may be seen all the workings of the British Constitution or all the principal workings. The Sovereign, advised by His Ministers, delivers the Gracious Speech. The House then proceed to express their thanks, but have a perfect right to move Amendments saying that they regret that this or that has been put in or left out of the Gracious Speech, and if they carry such an Amendment, the Government of the day are defeated on a major point of confidence, and it is not easy to conceive a situation in which they could continue to retain their office. I have on another occasion reminded the House that this Debate on 25 the Address is the beginning of what is called "the grand inquest of the nation." A new Session begins, and at this moment and in this progress of the Address, there is nothing that can be held back from discussion. Amendments can be moved on any matter and considerable periods are left by Mr. Speaker, either at the beginning or during the course of the Debate, when the Debate is general and open. There is no time similar to the period of the Debate on the Address where real trials of strength can be brought about in days of party conflict between the Government and the Opposition.
I have always been of opinion that the wishes of the House in respect to the Debate on the Address should be met by the Administration. If the House wish for a few more days to discuss the special Amendments and so forth, the Government should put no obstacle in the way within reason. Of course, we are governed by the end of the year as well as by 31st March, in regard to certain legislation. I have always felt that the Debate on the general aspects of the Address should be a considerable feature. Perhaps I am trespassing beyond my duty, but I have always rejoiced that the Debate on the general aspects of the Address was a considerable feature, because then is the time when a Member who has got no friends and has got no group can get up and speak about anything in the world which he thinks will advance his fellow creatures.
§ The Prime Minister
If he should catch Mr. Speaker's eye. This is customary in a Parliamentary sense, a democratic feature in our annual procedure. Of course, I must admit, as an aged Member of this House, and as one who has done some 42 years of service here—unhappily for me there was a break of two years, two Parliaments which lasted for a year apiece—that after all this long experience and service in the House, I find it very unpleasant to have the Debate on the Adjournment one day, and the Debate on the new Session the next. In the high and far-off times when I first entered this building, there was usually a six months' or five months' Recess, between the 26 grouse on 12th August and the latter part of January or the beginning of February, when the House reassembled. I do not consider those days were without their wisdom. Do not—and this has a bearing on some of the remarks which have recently been made—ever suppose that you can strengthen Parliament by wearying it, and by keeping it in almost continuous session. If you want to reduce the power of Parliament, let it sit every day in the year, one-fifth part filled, and then you will find it will be the laughing-stock of the nation, instead of being, as it continues to be, in spite of all the strains of modern life, the citadel as well as the cradle of Parliamentary institutions throughout the world; almost the only successful instance of a legislative body with plenary powers, elected on universal suffrage, which is capable of discharging, with restraint and with resolution, all the functions of peace and of war.
This digression on general topics will, perhaps, be excused by another digression which I find it my duty to make, and this is a more sober and more sombre digression. All our affairs, down to the smallest detail, continue to be dominated by the war. Parliamentary business is no exception. I must warn the House and the country against any indulgence in the feeling that the war will soon be over. It may be, but do not indulge that feeling, and think that we should now all be turning our thoughts to the new phase in world history which will open at the close of this war. The truth is that no one knows when the German war will be finished, and still less how long the interval will be between the defeat of the Germans and the defeat of the Japanese. I took occasion some months ago to damp down premature hopes by speaking of the German war running into January and February. I could see disappointment in several quarters as I looked around the House, and I followed this up quickly by indicating the late spring or the early summer as periods which we must take into account as possibilities. My present inclination is not at all to mitigate these forecasts, or guesses, as my hon. Friend the seconder of the Address said; "guesses" is the right word, for they can be little more. Indeed, if I were to make any change in the duration of the unfolding of events it would be to leave out the word "early" before the word "summer."
27 The vast battle which is in progress in the West has yielded to us important gains. The enemy has everywhere been thrust back. The captures of Metz and Strasbourg are glorious and massive achievements. The brilliant fighting and manoeuvring of the French Army near the Swiss frontier and their piercing of the Belfort gap and their advance on a broad front to the Rhine is not only a military episode of high importance, but it shows, what many of us have never doubted, that the French Army will rise again and be a great factor in the life of France and of Europe, and that the French soldier, properly equipped and well led, is unsurpassed among the nations. I had the opportunity of visiting this Army, and one had hoped to be there at the moment when its attack was delivered upon the Belfort gap, but in the night 12 inches of snow fell and everything had to be put off for three days. Nevertheless, I had the opportunity of seeing a very large number of the troops who were going to be engaged, if not in the first stage, in the second stage of this battle. For an hour or more they marched past in a swirling snowstorm and as the light faded I had a good look, at close quarters, at their faces. These are all young men from 18 to 22, average 20. What a fine thing to be a Frenchman, 20 years of age, well-armed, well-equipped, and with your native land to avenge and save. The light in these men's eyes and their alert bearing give one the greatest confidence that our nearest neighbour and long friend in war and in these great struggles of our life-time will rise in power and force from the ruins, the miseries and the disgraces of the past and will present us once more with a France to be numbered among the Great Powers of the world.
I have spoken of the fighting in the Belfort gap and I have mentioned Strasbourg, and, further to the North, the very great battles which the Americans have gained around Metz. Opposite Cologne and North of it the fighting has been most severe and it is here that the gains of ground will be most important and consequently are most disputed. The weather, which it is always customary and excusable, even legitimate, to abuse at this season of the year, in these regions has made the tasks of the American troops and those of the British on their left flank 28 extremely difficult. What is called the fourth element in war—mud—has played a formidable part. We have not yet succeeded in driving the enemy back to the Rhine, let alone have we established a strong bridgehead across it. The battle there is continuing still with the greatest vigour. Immense losses have been inflicted upon the enemy. The wearing down process here, burdensome as it has been to the United States and British Forces, has been far greater upon the enemy, and, of course, any large and effective break in the German front in these regions—Cologne and Northwards—would have the highest strategic consequences.
I may mention that in the interval between the liberation of France and that of the greater part of Belgium Field-Marshal Montgomery's group of Armies, with substantial United States assistance, drove the enemy back to the line of the Maas, or lower Meuse, and established a sure flank guard, a flank barrier, in Holland protecting the whole line of the main Armies operating Eastwards. It also opened the great port of Antwerp, which was captured intact, to the reception of large convoys of ocean-going ships, thus making an incomparable sea-base available for the nourishment of the Northern group of British Armies and the various groups of American Armies also deployed. In these operations, including the storming of the islands, which contained episodes of marvellous gallantry, grand feats of arms, the British and Canadian Forces suffered about 40,000 casualties—that is, in the interval between the two great battles. In the new battle which runs from General Montgomery's Army, broadly speaking opposite Venloo, down to the Vosges Mountains, where the French take up the long line, the whole front is held by the Americans, who are bearing the brunt with their customary distinction and courage.
I am not giving a review of the war situation. I have no intention of doing so; later on, perhaps when we meet after Christmas, it will be right to review it, and it may be very much more easy than it is now. There may be hard facts and cheering facts to put before the House. The House knows that I have never hesitated to put hard facts before it. I know the British people and I know this House, and there is one thing they will not stand, 29 and that is not being told how bad things are. If it is humanly possible to do it without endangering affairs one is always well advised to tell people how bad things are. I remember occasions when I have greatly revived the energy and ardour of the House by giving them an account of the shocking position we occupied in various quarters, and how very likely things were to get worse before they would get better.
§ The Prime Minister
We share the glory, but my motive in doing so was to strengthen the position of the Government. I say that I am not giving a review of the war situation to-day, but I mention these outstanding, these commanding, facts in order to dissipate lightly-founded sensations that we can avert our eyes from the war and turn to the tasks of transition and of reconstruction, or still more that we can turn to the political controversies and other diversions of peace, which are dear to all our hearts, and rightly dear to the democracies in action, because without controversy democracies cannot achieve their health-giving process. But I do not think we can look on any of these matters with a sense of detachment from the war issue, which is right over us, which weighs intensely and preponderantly upon us and upon every form of our national life. All else must be still subordinated to this supreme task. It is on the foe that our eyes must be fixed and to break down his resistance demands and will receive the most intense exertions of Great Britain, of the United States and of all the United Nations and converted satellites—all forces that can be brought to bear.
This is just the moment not to slacken. All the races which the calendar holds, or nearly all of them, are won in the last lap, and it is there, when it is most hard, when one is most tired, when the sense of boredom seems to weigh upon one, when even the most glittering events, exciting, thrilling events, are, as it were, covered by satiation, when headlines in the newspaper, though perfectly true, succeed one another in their growing emphasis and yet the end seems to recede before us, like climbing a hill when there is another peak beyond—it is at that very moment that we in this island have to give that extra 30 sense of exertion, of boundless, inexhaustible, dynamic energy that we have shown, as the records now made public have emphasised in detail. Tirelessness is what we have to show now. Here I must observe that it is one thing to feel these tremendous drives of energy at the beginning of war, when your country is likely to be invaded and you do not know whether you will not all have to die, honourably but soon; it is one thing to exhibit these qualities, which certainly the House has never been estranged from, at such a moment, and quite another thing to show them in the sixth year of a war. On the other hand we must remember that the enemy whose country is invaded has also these supreme stimuli which we ourselves responded to in the very dark days of 1940 and 1941.
I have said enough to emphasise the preponderance of the war, weighing down upon us all—the German war—and after the German war we must not forget there is the war with Japan. It is on this footing and in this mood that we must address ourselves to the Gracious Speech and to the loyal Address which it is now our duty to present to His Majesty. My right hon. Friend who spoke from the bench opposite and my right hon. Friend who spoke for the Liberal Party have both paid their compliments to the mover and the seconder of the Address. It has become almost a hackneyed phrase to say that their performances have never been surpassed. In the 42 King's Speeches—or something like it—which I have heard I think that that phrase must have been used twenty times at least and it certainly can be used on this occasion. But what is the note that is struck by those two young Members of the House of Commons? It is Youth, Youth, Youth; efficient youth marching forward from service in the field or at the coal face, marching forward to take their part in Parliament; and I am of opinion that those who have toiled and sweated, and those who have dared and conquered, should receive, whatever party they belong to, a full share of representation in any new House of Commons that may be called into being. I must say I thought they were extremely good speeches, and I cannot doubt that those two young Members will be real additions for a long period of time, as I trust and pray, to the membership of this House.
31 Remember, Sir, we have a missing generation; we must never forget that—the flower of the past lost in the great battles of the last war. There ought to be another generation in between these young men and we older figures who are soon, haply, to pass from the scene. There ought to be another generation of men, with their flashing lights and leading figures. We must do all we can to try to fill the gap, and, as I say, there is no safer thing to do than to run risks with youth. It is very difficult to live your life in this world and not to get set in old ways, rather looking back with pleasure to the days of your youth. That is quite right, and tradition is quite right. A love of tradition has never weakened a nation, indeed it has strengthened nations in their hour of peril, but the new view must come, the world must roll forward.Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.as Tennyson said many years ago. Let us have no fear of the future. We are a decent lot, all of us, the whole nation. Wherever you go you need have no fear. I was brought up never to fear the English democracy, to trust the people. We need have no fear in these matters, and those speeches made by those two young Members give one the feeling that there must be rich reserves in the Army, in the industries and in the workshops of men of assured quality and capacity who, whatever their differing views on political affairs, are none the less absolutely united in maintaining the historic greatness of Britain and of the British Commonwealth of Nations throughout the world.
I must now refer to several matters which concern the Business of the Session and the Business of the House before I come to topics of a more engaging character. We intend to allow reasonable time for the Debate on the Address, and under your guidance, Mr. Speaker, we shall endeavour to meet the wishes of the House in regard both to the general Debate and Debates on specific subjects, as may be desired. The course of the Debate on the Address is a matter for consultation, and the proposed arrangements will be announced in the usual Business statement. Before the end of the year it will be necessary for us to ask the House to pass the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill through all its stages, 32 as well as a short Bill to continue in operation the Local Elections and Register of Electors Act until 31st March next. The existing Act expires on 31st December, according to my right hon. Friend who has assisted me in this portion of my speech, and it will be necessary to pass that Measure before that date.
As regards the future, a Bill providing for the resumption of local elections and dealing with the assimilation of the Parliamentary and local government franchise—an important step on which both parties have agreed—is being prepared with a view to its introduction, if possible, before Christmas, and its passage into law early in the New Year. Certain Supplementary Estimates will also be required, including one to provide a grant-in-aid to Jamaica for the relief and repair of damage following the hurricane, and a special Consolidated Fund Bill must be passed for the issue of money. Any other Business will be brought forward as and when required.
I have also to inform the House that it is the Government's intention to propose a Motion to-morrow to give precedence to Government Business, to provide for the presentation of Government Bills only, and to stop the ballot for Private Members' Bills—all following the precedents of the last five years, as well as of the last war. I regret to have to ask Members again to forgo their rights and privileges. They have been induced to make this sacrifice readily, if not cheerfully, in the past when our whole energies have been concentrated upon the war. The moment has not yet arrived for us to resume our normal arrangements, and I fear I must ask for the whole time of the House to be put at the disposal of the Government in view of the heavy programmes and the many months of hard work which lie before us, into which a contingent of my hon. Friends on this side are so eager to plunge.
On a previous occasion I gave my reasons for believing that we are entering upon the last Session of the present Parliament. The Gracious Speech contains references to a number of important Measures which we hope to bring forward this Session, in continuance of the progress of the reform programme and social advancement upon which the Coalition Government embarked two years ago. If events take the course I have previously indicated, if we are to attempt to com- 33 plete our legislative programme, if we are to attempt to make any marked progress in our legislative programme, we shall require all the available time of the House. In recent Sessions Members have had many opportunities of raising matters of general interest, and we hope most sincerely that such occasions will be available from time to time. The Debate on the Address is supposed to clear a lot of things out of the way, but in Parliamentary usage we have never been reluctant to give to any large number of Members who may request a Debate on a particular topic the opportunity they deserve and desire. Of course, anyone who chooses to learn Parliamentary procedure will see that in the course of a Session there are very few topics that he cannot find occasion to vent, but careful study of the rules of procedure is recommended to those who wish to find these opportunities.
There is one further matter which concerns our proceedings to-day. It will be necessary to renew the Motion relating to the hours of sittings of the House. We must obtain this Motion to-day to regulate our future proceedings, and I hope it will be possible to adjourn the Debate on the Address at a reasonable hour in order that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be able to explain and carry it.
All this may be considered to be preliminary to the very few words I have yet to say. No one can complain that the King's Speech is not heavily loaded with legislation—a more elaborate and substantial King's Speech in regard to legislation has rarely been produced. I have here a paper which sets out all the Bills—of which I think there are 12, it might easily have been 13—which figure in the programme: the great health and national insurance group—the National Health Service Bill, the National Insurance Bill, the Industrial Injury Insurance Bill; Family Allowances holds a high place; the Water Bill, the River Board Bill, Reform of Parliamentary Franchise Bill, Local Elections Bill, Public Authorities Loans Bill, Adjustment of Local Government Areas Bill—a topic which offers itself to expansive conversation—Export Credit Bill, Requisitioned Land and War Works Bill, Wages Council Bill, Education (Scotland) Bill—which has already been given a special emphasis by the 34 seconder of the Address—and Colonial Development and Welfare Bill. All these are mentioned, and that is the order in which they are mentioned in the King's Speech, but not necessarily the order in which they will be taken in our Business procedure.
I myself should like to put in a word for a decision on the Report of the Select Committee on the Rebuilding of the House of Commons, because I think a Resolution from the House on that subject would liberate certain energies, not on a large scale, which might be detached from the war—some very aged lapidaries exist who can be getting on with the work. We really will need a House to sit in, I can assure hon. Members, after this war is over, when so many great matters will have to be decided on which agreement will not be so perfect and so unanimous as it has been found to be in respect to the general structure of the new Chamber.
We shall proceed with this programme which has been unfolded in the King's Speech. We shall proceed with it as opportunity serves—one cannot do more than that—and we shall proceed with it also in accordance with the time which is left to this Parliament. Our tenure now depends upon the official end of the German war. It is a great inconvenience not to be able to forecast that date. I can only say that we shall press forward perseveringly with the great programme of legislation which this remarkable Coalition has framed, and we shall press steadily forward until the hour of our separation arrives. Hurried legislation is not usually successful; prolonged sittings do not necessarily mean rapid progress. The Dissolution undoubtedly hangs over us, and there is no question of postponing the Dissolution in order to carry a programme of legislation which, with the best will in the world, could not be carried this Session. If, most unhappily, the end of the war in Europe should be unexpectedly deferred, we shall make more progress in the social field, but if it should come to pass at dates which it is reasonable to hope, the summer, the early summer, or earlier if good fortune crowns our arms, then we cannot expéct to accomplish more than a small part of what is set down in the Gracious Speech. Much will turn on the result of an appeal to the nation conducted under extraordinary circumstances 35 out of our reverence for democracy, with many difficulties not present in peace time, with an electorate which has not voted for 10 years, and with scarcely any voter under 30 years who has had the chance to vote before. I shall not attempt to pierce the veils of the unknown. I see there are already some prophets in the field who know exactly how all these complex forces and circumstances will in the end express themselves.
§ The Prime Minister
I have not had the pleasure of reading in detail his statement, but I was not aware that he had predicted results—results are, of course, often predicted by people who wish to encourage their followers—and as to the time when it would take place. It is only natural that one who is responsible for the actual marshalling of the armies should set the time and date a little in front of what may actually prove to be zero hour.
However, whatever may be the doubts as to when the election will come, and how it will finish up, and where we shall all find ourselves sitting at the end of it, and what our relations with each other will be—all these are uncertain—there is one thing which is quite certain; all the leading men in both the principal parties—and in the Liberal Party as well—are pledged and committed to this great mass of social legislation, and I cannot conceive that whatever may be the complexion of the new House, they will personally fail to make good their promises and commitments to the people. There may, therefore, be an interruption in our work, but it is only an interruption and one which must not be allowed in any circumstance to turn us from our purposes on which our resolves have been taken. This is a matter on which anyone has a right to speak for himself, irrespective of what may be the consequences of the General Election. No one can bind any future Parliament, but some of us, I suppose, will get back; and I cannot believe that any of those who have set their hands to this great social programme 36 —insurance, health, compensation and the other matters that are in it—I cannot believe that any of us, whether in office or in Opposition, who have been sponsors of this programme will fail to march forward along the broad lines that have been set forth.
As I have said, I could not at this stage lay out the exact order of priority of the various legislative Measures which have been set down. The Debate on the Address and the necessary legislation which must be passed before the end of the year will take up our time until we return. There is then a great deal of necessary financial business to be discharged, in getting you, Mr. Speaker, out of the Chair—sometimes arduous—on the Army, Navy and Air Force Votes and the Civil Service Votes. This will all take time. The Consolidated Fund Bill must be disposed of: here is another opportunity for a great many topics to be raised for which Members come along asking for special days to be given. They should just study the precedents of the past and see all the things that have been worked in on that Bill. Easter falls early this year. It falls on April Fool's Day. I hope that is not an irreverent thing to say, but in case anybody thinks it is perhaps I may be allowed to say April 1st. We must have a Budget of a more or less uncontroversial character to tide us over the election period, and as much legislation as possible will be fitted in with these obligatory features of our Parliamentary work. More than that it is premature to define.
There is one matter which was referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris). Housing is the most threatened sector in the home front. I have for some time been disquieted by the situation. During the last four or five months I have been continually referring to it by Minute and by personal discussion. The objective is painfully plain, namely, to provide in the shortest time the largest number of weather-proofed dwellings in which our people can live through this winter in reasonable comfort. The subject is divided, like ancient Gaul, into three parts—repair, prefabricated and permanent; or, using the code names which have become so common in military matters, "repair," "prefab.," and "perm." At the summit of this problem sit Lord Woolton and what I will venture 37 to call somewhat disrespectfully "the housing squad," including not only War Cabinet Ministers—it is not usual to give details of Cabinet Committees—but also some who are not ministerial at all. These collect, co-ordinate, and in a great many cases decide, subject to the War Cabinet in the last resort, what is to be done. I have reserved to myself the right to take the chair when and if at any time I think it is necessary or desirable.
That is the function, the relationship, of Lord Woolton to this general scheme. I may say that Lord Woolton has shown a very great deal of energy and grip in trying to meet the difficulties of the past, difficulties which are being continually added to by the fire of the enemy. He has taken a number of steps, but I did not consider that the situation, borne in upon me by Questions and answers which I have had to give in this House, was such that we did not require to smooth out and make more precise the arrangements for gripping this problem. Naturally, with the war going on, one's mind is drawn to the focusing of the executive forces of an emergency character upon the really serious parts of the problem. On a lower level, but of equally practical importance, an importance which outweighs the superior level, is the great field of emergency executive action.
I can say a word—and it is only a word—on this matter of the relations between the Minister of Works and the Minister of Health in this field of London repair. The Ministry of Health is the great ambassador Department which deals with local authorities, and nothing must be done to hamper that long usage. Therefore, the Ministry of Health is the ambassador for the Ministry of Works in respect of the taking over of areas, streets and so forth that really require more power than any local authority can bring to bear. For the rest, executive power will increasingly rest with the Ministry of Works which will have to discharge all the tasks of repair which cannot be undertaken, or are not being effectively undertaken, by the local authorities; which will have to produce the prefabricated houses which I spoke of at the beginning of the year but which cannot be produced in the numbers I then mentioned but, still, can be produced in very great number and of varying types. Further, they have to 38 make, with the assistance of the Board of Trade in the closest liaison, as the military would say, the fittings and parts of all kinds which must be made not only for the repairs and for the "prefabs.," but also for the "perms.," which must get forward as fast as they possibly can under the driving power of the Minister of Health and, of course, the Secretary of State for Scotland. I do not want to go more into this now, because we shall very likely have a special Debate on the subject, either on an Amendment to the Address or on the resumption, if desired, and if Mr. Speaker would permit, of the general Debate on the Address. People sometimes do not like to have an Amendment to the Address, because it must take the form of a Vote of Censure, but we are in the hands of the House and under the orders of the Chair.
I do not think it is any use for me at this time to enter upon the subject of foreign policy. I have a list of 25 countries on which I am prepared to give information about their tangled politics and their relations to ourselves, but the House may rest assured that I have no intention of doing so, as no sufficient provocation has been offered to His Majesty's Government to induce me to embark upon this lengthy excursion. After all, a Foreign Affairs Debate can be brought on as part of the Debate on the Address. All I have tried to do at this time is to give a general survey of the tasks which lie before us, of the limitations which may be assigned to our powers to discharge these tasks, of our duty to persevere in all we are pledged and committed to, and of the sense of the overlying obligations which we have to carry the war through in its closing stages with all energy and unity, not only at home among ourselves but among the great united Powers of the Grand Alliance, who, I am happy to say, were never more closely and intimately and comprehendingly united than they are at this time.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ Sir Charles Edwards (Bedwellty)
This is the 26th Gracious Speech from the Throne I have listened to since I have been in the House. I cannot say, like the Prime Minister, that there have been any breaks in that time, although I do not know whether to call that fortunate or not. I find this Speech very much like those which have gone before. It is made 39 in the usual presentable and very careful form, inasmuch as there is always a way out for the Government if they do not, or cannot, choose to carry out by legislation what is contained in the Speech. That, I think, is a wise provision. There is the usual get-out in the word, "considering". A Government can consider for a long time; they need not do all the considering within the Session. Then the Speech states that "progress will be made" contingent on something else happening. That is another safeguard, and there is a further safeguard in the words, "as opportunity serves", which the Prime Minister mentioned just now. All this means that at the end of a Session nobody can come forward and say to the Government, "You have not done all you promised to do", because the Government have made sure that they have not burned their bridges behind them. They can always retreat with comparative safety.
There are some things not mentioned in this Speech which I think should have been mentioned. Housing, of course, has been mentioned, and the Government say they will see what can be done about it. I put a Question to the Minister of Health some time ago about local authorities building permanent houses at the same time as temporary houses. That is something which ought to be done, because temporary houses will be put up largely by unskilled labour, while skilled labour could be used to build permanent houses. So far, the Ministry have not agreed with local authorities as to the conditions under which permanent houses are to be built, or the subsidy which is to be paid, and there is still no real arrangement between local authorities and the Government as regards the building of permanent houses. We have lost five years of permanent house-building up to now, which will need a lot of making up. Large numbers of young people coming into the building industry will have to be trained. I believe that the Government have said that 1,000,000 extra people would have to come in the industry. These can only be trained by building permanent houses. I know that these negotiations are proceeding——
§ Sir C. Edwards
I am glad to hear that, and I hope the Ministry of Health will 40 hurry the matter up because it is important. Local authorities have been asked to secure sites, and I daresay that that has largely been done. I assume that temporary houses will not be put on the best sites, but that the local authorities will put them in odd corners and places where they will not interfere with permanent building.
I am glad to see in the Speech mention of the distribution of industry, which is of particular importance to Wales. Our coal, iron, steel and tinplate industries in Wales were so successful at one time that we did not think of anything else, but now the time has come when we should have more varied industries, and I am glad to note that this has been promised. The Government are considering the methods by which the policy of the maintenance of a high level of employment can be implemented, especially with regard to the distribution of industry in the development areas. South Wales is certainly a development area and we are hoping for a far greater variety of industry there than before.
Reverting to the question of material for house building, we have in Monmouthshire the best stone in the world. In the old days the sea walls, river walls, bridges and everything else were built of stone, and a house built 80 or 100 years ago of this material still looks well. I am surprised that it is not being used to-day. It seems to have gone out of fashion altogether, and I am not sure that you would find a stonemason now. It is a strange thing that one scarcely ever sees a stone-built house to-day. We had a quarry at Cross Keys where there would be a hundred people working with a dozen or more stone-dressers. That represented the maintenance of a large number of homes. It was an important industry. If we reconsidered the position, and brought this stone back into our building operations, we should be doing a very good thing indeed. Amalgamation and concentration have been the rule during the last few years. We have amalgamated our small places almost out of existence. I make a plea for the smaller places which have had industries and I hope to see them introduced again. A large number of people were employed in the three brickyards in my constituency, but none are employed to-day. They have been centralised, and gone into some big 41 unit elsewhere. We have carried amalgamation too far, and we should do well to get away from it, and distribute our industries much more than is done at present.
I am very dissatisfied about the Severn Bridge project. As far as I know, it is called a first priority. The Government need not worry about the priority, if they do not go on faster than they are doing to-day. I asked recently whether a site had been agreed upon, whether the plans for the bridge had been made or were being made, and whether the Government had considered the material to be used. The reply was that the site had been definitely agreed upon, but that was the only definite thing about it. They said there had been some difficulty about the bridge, and they were now considering a tunnel. If we are to consider every suggestion that is made, we shall never have a bridge. Some people say that the bridge and the Severn barrage ought to go on at the same time. If we are to wait until everyone is agreed, and the barrage is settled, we are never going to see a bridge. I do not know who is responsible for the delay, but it is time we knew where we were, and what we intended to do about it. I hope the matter will be taken up with greater determination, and that we shall get some definite arrangement to carry on the work.
I notice that there is not a word in the Gracious Speech about the health of the people. I know that the Government cannot put every detail into the Speech from the Throne but surely there should be some words about the health of the nation. It is important enough. The Welsh death rate from tuberculosis in 1901 was 1,730 per 1,000,000, which is enormously high. It came down last year to 751, which is a great reduction on the previous figure but is still very high. In the case of a hospital in Monmouthshire the medical officer of health tells us that the waiting period is six months, and for Monmouthshire people it is over three months. There are 35 children under five and 93 of school age, all in contact with persons suffering from tuberculosis and awaiting institutional treatment. That is a very serious matter. Of the 250 awaiting admission no fewer than 42 are sharing their bedroom with another person. Surely these conditions are serious enough 42 to be considered at a time like this, and put into the King's Speech.
With regard to building factories, and extending our industries, there has been a complaint that in Wales we have very little floor space. I suppose there is some truth in that because we have relied particularly upon the three industries that I have mentioned and have not had the variety of industry which could give us a lot of floor space. But we have plenty of land, and we know how to lay out a place for floor space. We have had very large experience during the war and it could easily be done. The county council has issued a little book giving interesting figures as to where factories could be put down. In my constituency there is a plot of not less than 40 acres by the main road and by the railway. There are other plots of land in the neighbourhood of 40 and 60 acres near road and railway, which would be very convenient. I hope that consideration will be given to this, and that we shall be able to secure a greater variety of industry than we have now.
Another very important point relates to the leasehold system, which I think is a disgrace to the country and ought to go. If you build a house, you pay ground rent for the whole term, and at the end of the lease it goes back to the ground landlord, though he has not spent a halfpenny in putting it up. The matter will have to be considered before long. It cannot continue very much longer. It is unjust and unreasonable.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Windsor-Clive (Ludlow)
In the Gracious Speech, the Government declare their intention of trying to maintain a high level of food production at home. During the last five years the agriculturists of this country have done a magnificent work in increasing food production at home in spite of very many difficulties, of which the shortage of labour has not been the least. The Minister of Agriculture has often urged agriculturists to be efficient. I think that all they have done in the last five years shows that they are in no way less efficient than people engaged in other industries. Good work has also been done by the war agricultural executive committees. The value and usefulness of these bodies depend very largely on the extent to which they are composed of 43 men who have a practical working knowledge of agriculture. I wonder whether it is intended that these committees shall continue in existence after the war. If so, I think it may be more difficult in peace-time to get suitable men to serve on them. A man who has to look after his farm may not be inclined to spare the time to undertake what is a thankless task.
If these committees should be composed after the war of men who are not practical agriculturists, their decisions will not be readily accepted. If they are to continue, I feel that there should be a right of appeal to a tribunal, in cases where a man is ordered to quit his farm. There was a Debate on the subject not long ago, and the Parliamentary Secretary said that he thought a man got as fair treatment if his case was investigated by the Minister of Agriculture as he would if it came before a tribunal. I am sure that the Minister would take all possible trouble to investigate every case, but we all know how important it is to make sure, not merely that justice is done, but that it shall seem to be done. Where a man has received notice to quit his farm he would be less dissatisfied if he knew that he had a right to bring his case personally before a tribunal.
After the war many farmers may want to retire on account of age or for other reasons, and new men will be wanted to take their places. New men, however, may not be forthcoming in sufficient numbers unless the future of agriculture is more clear than it is at present, that is, unless the Government declare their long-term policy for agriculture. There was a Debate on this subject about a fortnight ago, and the Parliamentary Secretary said that in his experience farmers were not very much worried about the future. That is not my experience. Wherever I go in my constituency, I am asked the same question—"When are the Government going to declare their long-term agricultural policy?" Recollections of what happened after the last war are fresh in the minds of farmers, and the longer the declaration of policy is delayed the deeper their suspicions grow. This afternoon the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said that he thought there was a feeling of cynicism in some quarters. I have noticed a certain feeling of cynicism among farmers, who are afraid that they 44 will be let down again. I have heard it said, "The Government will get all they can out of us while the war lasts, and when the war is over we shall be thrown aside as we were last time."
I do not believe that the Government mean to let agriculture down, but it is difficult to convince the farmers of that, and they will not be convinced until the Government declare their long-term policy. They have not very much encouragement from the Gracious Speech. All that it says is that the Government will try to maintain a high level of food production at home. That statement certainly does not err on the side of rashness. It seems rather a halting approach to the subject, and I hope that we may soon get an assurance that something rather stronger than that is intended. What we know is that prices are guaranteed for four years. During the war we have been compelled to realise that home-produced food is an essential part of national defence. The danger of war will not have finally disappeared in four years' time. We have been told that the danger period may be some 20 years hence, when those who are to-day boys in Germany, who have been educated under the Nazi system, have reached an age when they may be in control of affairs in Germany. With that menace hanging over us we must have a policy for agriculture for a great deal longer than four years.
In the last year or two, there have been many reports and memoranda published by various organisations, some of them political and some representing agricultural interests. There has been a considerable measure of agreement among those reports. I believe that there is more agreement as to what should be done for agriculture than there has ever been before. The Government have a great opportunity to-day of bringing forward a policy which will be acceptable to the nation as a whole. I hope that they will not lose this opportunity and that they will declare their policy with the least possible delay.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken has taken full advantage of the King's Speech. I always look upon this day as giving an opportunity for Members to bring forward points which they cannot raise in the ordinary course of business. 45 Parliament sticks rigidly to its procedure, and unless we take advantage of an occasion like this, our chance has gone. I have a complaint to make against the Government in this respect. Hitherto, the first day has been given wholly to back benchers. At one time, it was the rule to rise on the first day after the speeches of the mover and seconder of the Address. Then the back benchers took a hand, and the Government left it to them for a while. Now the Government are taking up a good deal of the time. Last year the Deputy Prime Minister took a long time declaring the Government's policy, and to-day the Prime Minister has again taken a long time. I understand that at five o'clock the Government intend to intervene again and take more time. I want to lodge a complaint about this and to tell the Government that it is unfair to back benchers to take advantage of them in this way. I hope that the next time the Government will have regard to the men on the back benches who keep them going. It is they who, as a rule, keep the House going, while those on the Front Benches make their speeches and then go.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
The hon. Member will remember that the normal peace-time practice is for the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister to speak on the first day. We have not done anything abnormal to-day. Knowing exactly the desire of the House, we have arranged that back benchers shall have a chance to speak, by not having any Ministerial speeches to-morrow.
§ Mr. Tinker
I am glad that our grumblings have brought some satisfaction. I want to thank the right hon. Member for Bedwellty (Sir C. Edwards) for bringing forward some valuable points which will be of great interest to his constituents. I am pleased that the Prime Minister spoke to-day because he is in a more optimistic frame of mind than I have known him to be for some time. I gather that he believes the war position is much better now, and I hope that what he said will be justified. I have always been optimistic about the war and have many times predicted an early finish. It has not come off, but I am still very hopeful that, before very long, Germany will be beaten and that Japan will not last much longer. 46 However, whatever does happen, we have to bend all our energies in that direction, because until the war is won completely very little more will be done by way of legislation.
I want to bring forward a point with which I have always tried to deal every time I have spoken on the King's Speech. I want to mention the old age pensioners. Once again there is no mention of them in the Speech. I feel it my duty to draw the attention of the House to this important point. The agitation of the old age pensioners is for 30s. per week for all those who have passed the age of 60. That is their appeal. I have tried to find out what the actual cost would be. Assuming that there are 4,000,000 old age pensioners, I believe the cost would be £312,000,000 per annum, a tremendous figure on the face of it, but not so bad when we come to examine what it means. At the moment we pay about £163,000,000 for old age pensions, widows' pensions and all that kind of thing. I assume that with administrative expenses the cost is not far short of £200,000,000. If we try to get something on a fair basis, to give to these people some hope in life, we shall be doing good.
I would criticise the Prime Minister's speech. When he spoke of the mover and the seconder of the Motion for the Address he said that youth must have its say and the younger men must have an opportunity to display their ability. Nevertheless, we must recognise that the young men of to-day are the old men of to-morrow. Are we to have no regard to the old men of to-morrow? Does it always mean that when you have passed your zenith and proceed to a position in which you can neither toil nor spin, if you have not been able to save money to carry you on no regard is to be paid to you, as an older man, by the House of Commons?
I speak of the older men of what I call the working class and not of the older men who occupy such positions as that of Member of Parliament. Most of us, by the power of our resources and the money we get in our job, can provide for the rainy day. When age overtakes us at 65 or 70 we have no need to fear. In the House of Commons, some of the older men have no right to say that the younger men must have their chance, to the discouragement of the older people. Let me give the 47 House one or two instances. I have been to meetings of old age pensioners. At the last one, a man who was walking alongside me spoke to me after the meeting and asked me whether anything could be done for him. He made a statement, from which I would like to read. His wife has died and his family have all gone. He is left alone. This is his weekly budget: "House rent, 11s. 7d.; coal, 4s. 6d.; gas, 1s.; beef ration, 2s.; milk, 1s, 5d.; clothes, 1s.; groceries, 7s.; tobacco, 2s. 5½d." His weekly budget comes to 30s. 11½d. He gets 31s. 7d., by way of pension and supplementary pension, so he has just a few coppers left, about 8d. Do hon. Members think it is fair that a man who has brought up a family and has given all the help he can to the nation should be driven to the verge of poverty when he can no longer work? He is not actually starving, but there is no pleasure in life for such men as he. The tobacco they want they cannot get, and as for a glass of beer it is out of their reach. They cannot afford the money. I came across another man and I asked him how he was getting on. He said: "My trouble is that if I could get a little tobacco I should be happy, but I can't afford it." When a man has given his best to the State and reaches the end of his days, he ought to have some little enjoyment from life, either a glass of beer or his pipe of tobacco, but with the present allowance he cannot get it. I have pleaded in my speeches for 30s. a week, at least for the immediate needs, but I would plead for something much better to be done for them.
I put a question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day asking what it would cost to increase the old age pension to 35s. a week and rent, and to give them 5s. each extra, that is to say, 45s. for a man and wife with the rent, and, for the single man, 5s., which would mean 25s. and rent. That would be a further uplift towards making things better for them. I was told that it would cost £21,000,000. Is it too much to ask in times like these for something better to be given to these aged people? I put this proposition to the House that some regard should be given to these people.
I will leave that subject for the moment. I want to deal with the mining situation. I wish the Prime Minister had been here, because I have something rather strong 48 to say on this matter. The situation is far from favourable. The men will never get satisfaction until the mines are nationalised. It may be the psychological effect that it would have, but there it is. They cannot give their whole being to the work in the mines because they believe—and sometimes it is true—that much of their labour goes to benefit people who are not entitled to it. Those are the mineowners. Until we have removed that grievance we shall never get the best out of the miners. Here is where I blame the Prime Minister. On 13th October last year during a Debate on the White Paper, he had a grand opportunity to deal with this question. The appeal from these benches was for nationalisation. The Prime Minister made a lengthy speech in which he said that until a crisis arose and made it imperative to take over the mines, the Government would not be justified in doing so, or until the country decided in that way by their votes. The Prime Minister occupies at the present moment the greatest position that any man has occupied in this country. If he had said from that Box that the time has come to nationalise the mines, it would have been done. He missed that grand opportunity and it may never come again to the Prime Minister.
There is another point, touching the mining industry but apart from the getting of coal. I come from a constituency where there has been much undermining of the land in coal-getting and many of the houses are being broken. From one part of the constituency I have a petition signed by 149 residents, who bought their own houses and plots of ground, and where mining subsidence has taken place. Many of them have had to leave their homes and others can hardly carry on because of the broken state of their houses. That is happening all over the constituency, and other mining constituencies are faced with the same difficulty. So long as the mines are privately owned there is no redress for this kind of grievance. We have tried several times in this House, and we have met with opposition from the coalowning class and have never been able to succeed. Until the mines are controlled and owned by the nation there will be difficulty in remedying this terrible defect in housing in mining areas. These are points with which I think the Government ought to be impressed.
49 There is one other point with which I wish to deal. Since war broke out, men who joined the Forces and made allotments to their wives or to their families—mothers and other dependants—have had to prove that they were sustaining their people prior to joining up, before the Government grant could be added. Some who joined up before the war, and have not been able to prove that they contributed anything to the family, cannot get anything from the State at the present time. My plea is that when a man is making an allotment to his family out of his pay that should automatically carry with it the Government allowances. We have not been able to prevail on the Government in that sense. I claim this as a right to which these men are entitled. Those are the three points I have brought forward which are not contained in the King's Speech, and which I claim ought to have been included. It is our business here to-day to take this opportunity of letting the country know what the King's Speech ought, in our view, to contain, and to press forward with all our might until we receive satisfaction.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Barr (Coatbridge)
I have the utmost pleasure in supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) in those points of view he has brought before us. I entirely agree with his statements. There is another matter I would like to bring before the House and I promise to do so succinctly. We have heard something to-day about the Colonies, and the welfare of the Colonies, and I myself am most anxious that the honour of our country should be upheld, and that there should be no suggestion that we are exploiting the native peoples of the Colonies, or doing other than to contribute to their "development and welfare," to use the words of the Act. I know there are some in this House who do not think there is a real problem at all. Even the Secretary of State for the Colonies himself has spoken from his own experience on gin, and does not think that gin would do much harm, if any, to the natives, either spiritually, morally or physically. There are some who look on these matters with pious composure. I am told of a man who went on a long journey through the Colonies, and came back and said he had not seen a drunken native in all his journey. That is like 50 the man who came back from an extensive tour in America, and said he had not happened to see a funeral in the long course of his journey. Yet we have to, bear in mind, and it has been brought well before us, that in these Colonies there is, for the natives, no margin of living that can allow an indulgence of this kind.
My hon. Friend and neighbour in representation, whom I congratulate on his achievement to-day, in seconding the Address in reply to the King's Speech made fitting reference to the passing in 1940 of the Colonial Development and Welfare Act. I would remind the House that the late Lord Moyne, soon after that Act was passed, speaking of it said that they would seek to see that the words "material welfare" were interpreted in the very widest sense, to mean the spiritual, mental and moral as well as the physical uplift. These are the words he used, showing what care there should be in securing a higher level of living in every sense for these natives. He said on 5th June, 1941—it is in Command Paper 6299:I turn now to the other aspect of Government policy which I wish to emphasise, namely, the obligation to raise the standard of living of all those classes in the Colonial Empire whose standard is at present below the minimum that can be regarded as adequate.I have made some investigation of this question, and I find that while it can truly be said that drunkenness is much rarer than it was at one time, we have very sad descriptions of social customs. One bishop described the funeral ceremonies which extended over many days—for a fortnight at a time—to permit of these celebrations and said:We see a whole week in which most of the women, and even many of the children, were drunk.The late Reverend Kenneth Horn, who was a missionary of the Methodist Church, said he had seen these customs at funerals, and he had seen that they were the scene of "demoralisation and debauchery," We know that even the Missionary Churches have strongly protested against this asone of their greatest obstacles to social changeand we have testimony on all hands that here is an evil we should seek to remedy.
51 I have questioned the Secretary of State from time to time on the quota that is allowed. The amount of gin or Geneva consumed last year in the Gold Coast was 9,540 gallons, whereas the quota amounted to 73,500 gallons. I questioned the Minister as to whether, in making the quota so large, he was thereby keeping a wide open door for the bringing in again, when the war was over, of these large quantities of liquor—of gin and geneva. When I questioned him in that way he said that the quota represented "what the territories normally needed" and the amount of consumption was "what they were able to get in." I would remind the right hon. and gallant Gentleman—I do not think he is present—that former Colonial Secretaries were not concerned so much with what amount of liquor could be got in, as with what could be kept out. Those who took a leading part in this question in the past were not narrow temperance fanatics. At the close of every war the conscience of the nation was aroused, and there was an effort to have drastic legislation on these matters. On 10th September, 1919, the Protocol that prohibited the giving of these liquors to natives was signed at St. Germaine-en-Laye by Arthur Balfour, Bonar Law, George Barnes and Viscount Milner.
At the close of the Boer War, in Command Paper 904, published in 1902, Lord Milner speaks in a different manner from that of our honoured friend the Colonial Secretary, who says that to have any drastic legislation of this kind would only bring in unhealthy and illicit distillation. On the contrary, Lord Milner set himself to put down illicit distillation. He said:The real fight has to come, but it will be a great fight. But while I realise the difficulties, I also feel that we are bound, by hook or by crook, to overcome them. The whole credit of the Administration is at stake in the matter, and I feel confident that His Majesty's Government will support us in the view that no effort and no expense should be spared in carrying out a policy which, if successful, shall mean a momentous triumph for civilisation in these parts of the world.When he saw by the returns how successful his policy had been he rejoiced, and said that this was something that should be made known. He said:As you know, we are going in for total prohibition up here, and I hope in time to see it extended to all South Africa. It is worth while making the most we can of so good an illustration as this Report affords of 52 the benefit of keeping drink away from the natives altogether.I often wonder, in view of our present attitude, and in view of the strong pronouncements in the past of these people, most of them from the other side of the House, whether these liquors have lost their potency, or whether we have lost our courage. Certain it is that men who have made vast fortunes in the past this way, out of the miseries of the natives, are laying their plans to make them once again; and that the trade is waiting anxiously for the open door at the present time. Therefore, I think it is not out of place to repeat the warning of Viscount Milner, which is contained in Command Paper 904, of 1902:There is no doubt that the New Administration has before it a severe struggle with one of the most powerful, as it is one of the most degraded, agencies in making money by the corruption of one's fellow-creatures.
§ 4.58 P.m.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
I would like to say a word or two in support of the strong plea that the hon. and gallant Member for Ludlow (Lieut.-Colonel Windsor-Clive) has made, as to the necessity of the Government making known with the least possible delay their long-term agricultural policy. The hon. and gallant Gentleman, who speaks with first-hand knowledge, called attention to the necessity of keeping in being when the war is over the agricultural committees, which have done such gallant and splendid work throughout the war. He was afraid that it might not be so easy in the difficult years which will follow the war to get the same good service, and he asked the Government to bear that in mind. I support him very strongly, and I go further and say that it is imperative that, in these difficult weeks and months, with the shadow of the General Election over us, the Government should tell us what treatment our agriculturists may expect. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that he found great depression among agriculturists because of their uncertainty about their treatment when the war is over. He said that they called attention to what took place in the 1920's, after the conclusion of the first round with Germany, when the Corn Production Act went, and many of them were in very sore straits. I am in constant touch with agriculturists in Scotland, and I would not go quite so far as my hon. and gallant Friend did, as to their depression, 53 but it is undoubtedly the case that there is this fear at the back of the minds of agriculturists throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain.
I am very glad to have that support from my hon. Friend, who represents a constituency which is very largely devoted to agriculture. Of course, he speaks principally for the Northern end of his constituency, which contains those valuable mines in Ayrshire. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ludlow said that agriculturists undoubtedly fear that they will get the same treatment on this occasion as they did before. When I hear that from agriculturists I always point out that on that occasion we had not the agreement which we, now have between the leaders of all the political parties. No matter what kind of Government succeeds this Governmentment, no matter what the composition of the new House of Commons may be, we have a guarantee from the party leaders; and I presume that the Socialist Ministers speak for their supporters. We have agreed on the necessity for keeping the agricultural industry in the position from which it ought never to have been allowed to drop at the conclusion of what I have described as the first round with Germany, over 20 years ago. I realise that the Leader of the House will not be able to speak on this subject to-day, but I have heard the Prime Minister say that the Debate on the Address is a golden opportunity for any Member to put over—as the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has done to-day—any special point of view that he or she may be particularly interested in.
I remember the right hon. Gentleman, a number of years ago—I think it was before the war and he was not in office—saying that he rather deplored that the Debate should be curtailed on the opening day, and I hope, therefore, that the Leader of the House will not object this afternoon.
The other point I want to raise is a matter which is mentioned in the Gracious Speech and is one to which the Prime Minister devoted quite a long time in his speech—the question of housing. Again, I wish principally to stress the need for the Government to be up and doing with regard to housing in rural areas, and I 54 feel sure that I shall have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) on this matter also. He must know, going about that very large constituency, as he does, that conditions there, in the rural areas, are very bad indeed. Housing conditions in Scotland, as has been said in this House, are very much behind what obtains in the southern part of Great Britain. This is true of the towns, but especially true of the housing conditions in the rural areas. Perhaps in the past we have not stressed so much the conditions of housing in rural areas, and that is why I take advantage of this opportunity to-day, following upon the remarks of the hon. Member for Leigh.
The hon. Member for Leigh concluded his speech by making an impassioned appeal for the immediate nationalisation of the mining industry, and he criticised the Prime Minister for not having taken advantage of the situation a year ago and not having nationalised the mining industry in the lifetime of the present Parliament. This Parliament is a very old institution, and it certainly has no mandate—though it has done several things without a mandate, admittedly—for such a far-reaching scheme as the nationalisation of the mining industry, or of the land or anything of that kind, and the hon. Member for Leigh must know that as well as any other hon. Member.
I urge the Government to announce at the earliest possible opportunity their long-term policy for agriculture and give a speedy indication—and this plea will be made over and over again as this long Debate proceeds—of how they intend to cope with and overhaul the arrears in our housing problem throughout the land, which so formidably confront us to-day and which the Prime Minister recognised in his speech.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Muff (Kingston-upon-Hull, East)
My hon. Friend who has just spoken said he wondered if the back benchers of the Labour Party would implement an agricultural policy. Seeing that the Government adopted the Labour policy, which has proved so successful during the war years, my hon. Friend can rest assured of the cordial support of the Labour Party so far as that is concerned. The mover and seconder of the Address, though dissimilar in their outlook, were harmoniously united in the common purpose they had 55 in expressing their thanks for the Gracious Speech. The mover, I think, symbolised not only the Armed Forces of the Crown but the Armed Forces of the whole of our Allies, and I wish to emphasise what is said in that Gracious Speech with regard to our relationships with our various Allies abroad, and especially those Allies who have been so recently liberated. I wish my voice could be heard in Belgium, in Greece and in other countries to try to make the burden of our Foreign Office a little easier than it is to-day. We have no right to dictate what should be the internal policy of any of our Allies who have been liberated but, when we realise that our other Allies have helped towards the liberation of these countries, without a semblance of dictation, I think we have a right to appeal to those countries to do what we have done—to agree to differ, but be in agreement on common principles of unity. If this nation had wasted its time on matters not essential and germane, this nation would have gone under, and I appeal to these people to do as we have done and be united in the common purpose of restoring the fortunes of their own countries.
I deplore the absence of any mention in the Gracious Speech of the introduction of a Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill. I should have deplored this more some time ago than I do to-day, because I will impress upon the House, and also, I hope, upon the Whips, who might bring it to the notice of the Home Secretary, that many reforms can be achieved without bringing in any Bill at all. I remind the House that our present population has gone up 10 per cent., and I would also try to bring home to the House the fact that, in those prisons which house the women, there are no facilities whatever for putting them to what I call positive or useful employment, such as growing produce on allotments which could be consumed in the prisons. We send women for nine or ten months' imprisonment, and then we find there is no real remedial employment which can rehabilitate them either morally or physically.
I have to ask the indulgence of the House to emphasise that point, because a great many reforms can be undertaken without any Act of Parliament by the Prison Commissioners themselves. One of the greatest reforms we have carried out was the establishment of the Wakefield 56 Camp, and no Act of Parliament was needed for that, but it has done a beneficent work in restoring the moral and psychological outlook of men sent there for their country's good. Again—and this is a matter of supreme importance to those who have to spend their time in visiting prisons—at the large prison which serves Yorkshire—it is what is called "an old lag's prison"—you will find 60 to 80 youths with no positive work to do.
Some of them are awaiting trial, and others are to be sent to Borstal. When they go to Borstal and have been there for two or three months, they are released to be a prey upon society again. There is no real exercise for these youths in a prison like the one we have in Yorkshire, and I want to bring this to the attention of the Home Secretary, who should bring in a Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill despite the fact that it would be eminently controversial, and he should say to his Prison Commissioners "Get on with the job."
I do not apologise for using the opportunity of the King's Speech in order to ask the House to support the Home Secretary, and especially the Prison Commissioners, to get on with this job by providing them with the means to do it, in order that we can, by having smaller prisons and more varied and positive work for the people who are incarcerated, at any rate attempt to redeem society. My hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge (Mr. Barr) has been dwelling upon the evils of drink abroad. I do not want to dwell upon the evils of drink at home, but we have the problems of delinquency to face. We have to face the fact that there is a great increase in our prison population, and I close by emphasising the fact that there is not one bit of really constructive or positive rehabilitation available for women who are at present unfortunate to be behind prison walls.
§ Ordered: "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Captain McEwen.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.