§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-West)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as follows: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.It is indeed a very great honour to be called upon to perform this task. In view of the fact that since July, 1945, my time has been shared between attendance at this House and my constituency, membership of the Norfolk County Council and of the Swaffham Rural District Council, and in doing a spot of farming, I feel that each of these bodies, and agriculture in general, share in the honour that this occasion brings.
If I might make one reference to the recent Election it would be to say that in my opinion the electors took their duties seriously and with a quiet good humour. I feel sure that this House will approach its deliberations in the same spirit. My constituency includes a large part of the Fen district, part of the new Thetford Forest, and a large area of mixed farming which is typical of our Norfolk agriculture. Politically, of course, it is one of the most important divisions in the whole 41 country. From the point of view of the national economy it makes no mean contribution. All classes of fresh foods in their seasons flow with constant regularity to the areas of big populations. Increasing quantities of foods are being canned, while from the Forest there are pit props for the mines.
Our West Norfolk farming is the most highly mechanised in the whole world. With more tractors to the square mile and the latest scientific discoveries being put into effect, we have made remarkable progress. Both farmers and workers are as keen as mustard, and happier than they have been for three-quarters of a century. I am sure that the whole agricultural community will welcome the renewed determination expressed in the Gracious Speech further to expand our production of food at home.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has gained the confidence and respect of all those in the industry, and I feel sure that they will respond to any further demands he may make upon them. In farming, we know everything will not always work out perfectly. When I looked out of my window yesterday morning the pigs were out and thoroughly enjoying themselves on the oats I drilled just before the Election, and if this weather continues our people will be full out on the work of drilling barley and other spring crops. Some days will be better than others. Unexpected difficulties will crop up. Farming is like that. We are, therefore, a tolerant and good natured people, even where Governments are concerned.
I should like, however, to draw the attention of the House to the possibilities that may arise as our own output increases and greater imports of food become available from non-dollar sources. We are determined to maintain a system of guaranteed prices for our principal farm products. But the producers of other commodities, such as fruit and vegetables, are just as essential to our national economy. Most careful coordination between all the Ministries involved is desirable if the imports are to be regulated in such a way that losses of home produce are to be avoided.
We can congratulate the United Kingdom on some astounding increases. Milk production, for instance, during the month of January, reached an all-time 42 record for that time of the year. There is no longer any need for restricting supplies to customers. The total cattle population of the United Kingdom in June. 1949, was nearly 10,250,000—over half a million more than in 1947 and one and a quarter million more than in 1939.
The number of sheep is on the rest again, having reached 19,500,000—an increase of 2,750,000 in two years. Over the same period our pig population has increased from 1,500,000 to 2,750,000. Perhaps the most spectacular increase has been among poultry, whose numbers have risen by 25,250,000 in two years. In June last we had 20 million more poultry on our farms than in 1939. What a welcome addition they make to food supplies to the housewife and caterers. In this respect it is as well to remember that a bird reared in this country is worth two imported. From the very day the bird is hatched it is contributing valuable humus and plant foods to the soil. There is nothing like domestic poultry for enriching the earth. Last century people spoke of the "golden hoof" when referring to the value of sheep on the land, but more recent experience has demonstrated the superb value of poultry for this purpose.
Our Norfolk turkeys have for long taken pride of place at Christmas. Before the war intensive duck farming was rapidly increasing on land that was in danger of going out of cultivation. By the method of combining stock with cropping both did exceedingly well. As more feedingstuffs become available I can see the possibilities of interesting developments. Ducks greedily devour wireworms and leatherjackets, thus ridding the soil of these pests. It may well be that those who eat the ducks can readily assimilate the robust characteristics of these other creatures. If so, may I commend to His Majesty's Ministers the value of duck and green peas for a regular place in their diet?
I welcome the indication that the Minister of Food will make a practical and human approach to his work. These islands can produce half of all the food we need. Consequently, there is no other part of the world that is so important to him as a food producing area. If, then, I may make a suggestion it would be that he should take an early opportunity of seeing the national representatives of both the farmers and the workers. 43 asking them right in and letting them talk about their difficulties. I am quite sure they will gladly listen to him. A happy solution of the problem of food supply will be their salvation, whereas an unsatisfactory solution can be their undoing. We have had examples—more so before the war than since—when untimely imports of even a comparatively small amount of a particular commodity has caused a portion of the home product to be unsaleable.
When I called at my butcher's shop on Friday for the week-end joint I saw an aspect of his problem. He had three qualities of beef in the shop. He had a very nice piece of home-killed beef, and needless to say my choice was from that. There was also a quarter of prime imported beef. Then he pointed to the third. It was imported cow beef. Being a Yorkshireman he remarked, "We can do nowt with that, it's not even good for sausages." If the butcher cannot do justice to his trade the customers will not be satisfied. I am, however, glad to see the increasing quantity of home-produced beef. Prospects are very much brighter in that respect for the future. Together with the improved quality of our Yorkshire puddings and a plentiful supply of vegetables, the dinner table will be all the more attractive.
There has been a very interesting experiment in my division in the erection of a crop drying factory. It has cost dollars, but this factory has turned out, in its first season upwards of 3,000 tons of dried meal and cubes made mostly from grass and lucerne. The resulting product is of a very high quality. This produce is from land which was derelict before the war, and it makes a valuable contribution to our requirements in feedingstuffs.
The efforts of the Swaffham Rural District Council in meeting the housing requirements of their people are worthy of the notice of this House. By the end of this month which is the close of the financial year, they will have completed building 240 permanent houses since the end of the war. Forty-one more are under construction, and tenders for a further 26 are in hand. These figures should be viewed in relation to the population, which is only 8,000, and to the prewar building efforts, which reached 230 by 1940 after having made a start before 44 1914. During this post-war period, with all its difficulties, this Council will have built 10 more houses in these years than in the years before the war.
It should be noted that these post-war houses are of a much higher standard. All have three bedrooms, a piped water supply, electricity and modern sewage disposal, whereas those built before I became a member of the Council in 1936 had no piped water, bathroom, sink or even drains. The lavatory was the usual little house, a respectable distance down the garden. Now, not only have these houses a piped water supply but it is also laid on to neighbouring privately owned houses. That, however, is not the full story on housing. Farmers and landowners are now building in greater numbers. I know of one large farming company that has already completed or has under construction 19 new houses for its workers. They not only believe in ploughing back some of their profits for new farm buildings, but also in ploughing them back for the better accommodation of their workers.
There is one other matter concerning Norfolk to which I should like to refer. We have already purchased six large houses and are beginning the work of converting them into old people's homes. This work was begun when I was chairman of the Public Assistance Committee and, later, of the Welfare Committee. One of these properties was formerly the home of a Member of this House. It is one of the dearest hopes of my life to see this work completed. It is a costly business, but my earliest recollections are of our elderly workers and widows having to apply for Poor Law relief. A meagre half-crown a week was all they were allowed. Just how they kept body and soul together I cannot understand. Today, we have set a standard for those who enter into well-earned retirement that will not be easy to maintain. Yet it must gladden all our hearts to know that an increasing number of people can spend the evening of their days with every comfort in such lovely surroundings. If I do nothing else as a result of 30 years of public work I shall consider the part I have played in providing these modern homes for old people to have been well worth while.
The associations connected with gardens and allotments will be interested in the reference in the Gracious Speech 45 to amending legislation. A former Member for South-West Norfolk, the late Sir Richard Winfrey, took an active part in earlier legislation on both allotments and small holdings. I share his interest in these matters and hope to see further progress made.
The extent of the water and sewerage problem in rural Britain has been underestimated in the past. The qualified technical staff to prepare and carry out schemes has been inadequate. But a great deal more knowledge is now available than at the end of the war. From the progress that has already been made we can see more clearly the next steps that should be taken to overcome the difficulties surrounding this problem. I think it would be unwise, at this stage, to say "Go ahead" with water supply but to defer sewerage schemes. In a number of our small towns canning factories and other developments disposing of large quantities of sewage have created an urgent problem. Before any decision is made in allocating money for either of these two important matters I trust that the Ministry concerned will consult with the county councils involved, who have a general oversight over the district councils in these matters.
Finally, I think the whole nation is anxiously waiting to see how, in the present circumstances, this House settles to its job. What matters most is that we should remain a living example of how a mature democracy works. To overcome our economic and financial problems and to safeguard the welfare of our people must be our constant aim.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Miss Bacon (Leeds, North-East)
I beg to second the Motion so ably moved by my hon. Friend. If I differ from him at all, it is in his assumption that Norfolk people know anything whatever about Yorkshire puddings.
In conferring upon me the honour of seconding this Motion, I feel that a triple tribute has been paid—a tribute to women, a tribute to my constituents who form a highly important section of the great city of Leeds, and a tribute also perhaps to those teeming centres of the north which always show such solid good sense. I must not enlarge upon how in recent weeks they have shown solid good sense, 46 or I shall be in the realms of that controversy which must be avoided on these occasions.
Leeds is the star of the north amongst cities. It twinkles in a hundred different ways, everyone of which adds to the industrial lustre of our land. I know that there are other small places in Yorkshire, like Bradford or Sheffield, which think that they have some claim to be considered the country's leading towns, but that is not so. A short time ago I heard about a letter which arrived from abroad addressed simply "The Mayor of Yorkshire, England," and it was delivered promptly by the postal authorities to the Lord Mayor of Leeds. The view taken in Leeds quite definitely is that "Leeds leads and all the others follow." People from the south sometimes think of our northern industrial cities as being ugly and dirty places. It is quite true that we have our share of smoke and grime, but there is a well-known Yorkshire saying, "Where there's muck there's money," and it is quite certain that our northern industrial cities have contributed a large share to the industrial prosperity of our country.
No other city than Leeds has such an astonishing variety of activities. In Leeds we make clothes, for Leeds and tailoring are synonymous terms; indeed, Leeds is the world's largest ready-made clothing centre. I have in my constituency the biggest clothing factory in the world, whose moderately priced but durable suits have become a household word—suits with which, perhaps, even hon. and right hon. Gentlemen are not unfamiliar. In Leeds we make clothes of every kind, for export as well as the home market. We make woollens and worsteds for export, and we also have our great engineering trades which send machinery to every part of the world. We have many other industries, too, from the making of boots and shoes to the canning of fish. It would, indeed, take a very long time to mention all the industries in Leeds. It is certain that in the last few years the people of Leeds have worked hard and played a very great part in the post-war industrial recovery of the nation.
Leeds is a city with great civic pride. We have pride in our parks, our university and our medical school; we have pride also in our shops, which are second to none, and even in our rattling noisy tramcars which always get you there, no 47 matter what the weather. The Leeds City Council has taken full advantage of the powers conferred upon it by the Government to provide cultural activities for its citizens; we have our art galleries and our civic theatre, and last but by no means least our municipal orchestra, the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra. I believe that this orchestra is the only one which is truly civic in the country, all its players are employees of the City Council. Today happens to be a great day for them because this evening they are giving their first performance in the Albert Hall. The success which this orchestra has achieved and the quality of its music disproves the theory that public enterprise stifles creative art.
The visitor to Leeds, after the first shock of being called "love" by bus conductors and shop assistants, finds a friendly, generous and hospitable people. It may be that those are characteristics of all Yorkshire places and all Yorkshire people, but in Leeds there is a broadminded and tolerant people. In one road in my constituency there are the Church of England, the Nonconformist chapel, and next door to each other the Roman Catholic church and the Jewish synagogue. All those who attend these various buildings and follow their differing creeds live together amicably as good neighbours, and in this respect Leeds teaches a lesson and sets an example to a wider world.
I listened with some interest to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye) about housing conditions in the rural areas. We have in Leeds many new and up-to-date houses. We have in my constituency the famous Quarry Hill flats, the largest single block of flats in Europe, but we have also in Leeds many streets of two-roomed back-to-back houses—a legacy from an era when builders built quickly investment property for the purpose of making money quickly. In such circumstances, overcrowding is inevitable and produces, as in other large cities, not only a housing problem but a social problem as well. I know that the Government will do all they possibly can, as they have done in the last few years, to build more new houses so that we can alleviate this condition.
48 I should like to say a few words about the women of our country. I am reminded of a remark by Dr. Johnson who said, "Nature has given women so much power that the law has wisely given them little." That remark would not have been made today. Our housewives, our factory workers, teachers, nurses, shop assistants, and other women in a hundred different occupations have done a great deal for this country in the difficult war and post-war period. During the last few years our housewives have co-operated to the full with the Government in order to make our fair shares policy work, and they will continue to co-operate so long as they are getting a fair deal.
Housewives in the last few years have appreciated the regular weekly wage packets which their husbands have brought home to them, and they will welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the maintenance of full employment. I believe that today women are more politically conscious than ever before. There was a time when people used to go canvassing and the women said, "I must wait until my husband comes home and see what he is going to do." Today women vote independently of their husbands, and indeed the recent election has brought to light cases where the husband has said, "I must wait and see what my wife is going to do." I am disappointed that so few women have been returned to our benches in the House of Commons, but I know that my women colleagues will more than make up in quality for their numerical inferiority.
This Session will naturally be historic. It is also going to be exciting. Every Division will be exciting. I am not at all sure that my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council and the Government Chief Whip will appreciate the excitement quite so much, but it is good to see in the Gracious Speech that the era of progress which began in 1945 is to go on. Like my hon. Friend who moved the Motion, I am pleased to see that we are to have improved water supplies, not only for the countryside, for the drought of last year showed that this was also of importance to the towns. The towns will welcome, too, the announcement that there is to be legislation on leasehold reform.
49 I was particularly pleased to see reference to improved medical education and to the midwifery services. I think we shall all welcome anything to improve the midwifery service to save the lives of babies and mothers. In the last few years our maternity mortality figures and our infant mortality figures have been very low. This rapid decrease has, it is true, been due a great deal to medical science, but not wholly; one important factor is the extent to which the findings of medical science are readily available to all.
Medical science is improving and so is physical science. Any advance in medical science can only be for the good of mankind. An advance in physical science can be for the good of mankind, but it can be for the destruction of mankind. It is, indeed, a terrible thought that the children whose lives we are saving today may grow up to a diabolic destruction which hovers on the horizons of mankind. I, therefore, welcome in the Gracious Speech the determination of the Government to persevere in the high task of saving humanity from the menace of the atom bomb and the hydrogen bomb. Unless their efforts are successful—and I pray that they will be—everything else will have been in vain.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Eden (Warwick and Leamington)
It falls to my lot to extend the congratulations which the House on this occasion will, I am sure, most readily and indeed warmly extend to the mover and seconder of the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech. I thought I noticed in their speeches a warm-hearted loyalty to their constituencies which is certainly beyond praise. It was observable to an extent. perhaps, rather in excess of that to which we are accustomed from all movers and seconders of the Address, and this passed through my mind—was it just possible that the mover and seconder were not only grateful for the past but also had an occasional thought for things to come? At any rate, they gave praises so fully that if the President of the Board of Trade is looking for any salesmen for the products of either South-West Norfolk or of Leeds, I suggest there are possible dollar earners upon the bench behind him. In the meanwhile I, for one, suggest—and I hope the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk 50 (Mr. Dye) will not take it amiss—that as he spoke so warmly of the turkeys and of the ducks, to say nothing of the green peas, we hope that somebody may perhaps find in him a candidate for the many vacancies which I understand exist at the moment upon our Kitchen Committee.
I observed in "The Times" last Wednesday a remark to the effect that this new Parliament would have "its niche in history as the frustrated Parliament." They went on to describe us as "this unhappy House." I must say that I do not agree with that description at all. Indeed, if I have to confess my whole thought, I feel very much less frustrated now than I did in the last House of Commons and I do not feel at all unhappy. In fact, I almost feel that the appeal I made in my election broadcast for the fifth freedom—freedom from frustration—has been granted to my hon. Friends on this side of the House. I hope we shall be forgiven for taking the view that the balance of Parliamentary forces is now very much more healthy and stimulating than it was in the years 1945–50.
I am sure you will understand, Mr. Speaker, that in a Parliament with a large majority it must inevitably seem to the Opposition that their arguments, however, excellent—and of course, as you know, they are almost uniformly excellent—could have but very little effect against the big battalions which could always be called together in support of any Minister, however harassed or hard-pressed he may be. However, some have moved along the line a little and we will not talk about that this afternoon. But the odds are now nearly even and the battle can be more fairly joined; and that surely can hardly be described as frustration.
At the same time, I admit that the fact that our numbers are now so nearly equal does place upon us all a special responsibility. The essential machinery of Government must not be brought to a standstill. In such conditions as these there would be no excuse for indulging in factious or fractious opposition and we have no intention of doing anything of the kind. [Laughter.] We have not, and hon. Members would be wise to accept that assurance without ribald laughter. The King's Government must be carried on, and while, therefore, we must reserve the right to criticise and to move, for 51 instance, to reduce items of Government expenditure, should we wish to do so, or to take other similar action which forms part of an Opposition's duty, it is not our purpose to seek to deny to the Government its essential requirements in supply.
Much the same can be said in respect of foreign policy—the broad aspect of foreign policy. I have seen it remarked in the Press of a number of friendly countries, notably the United States of America and France, that one of the consequences of the narrow Government majority must be to weaken this country's authority in world affairs. I see no reason at all why that should be so. On the contrary, I should hope that exactly the opposite would result, that our foreign policy would be strengthened. I would hope that the even balance of parties in the House will encourage the prosecution of a strong and, indeed, of an imaginative foreign policy. It is certainly our desire to see our country playing such a part in world affairs, in close partnership with the other members of our Commonwealth and Empire, and for our part we on this side of the House will be ready by active support or by constructive criticism to do all in our power to help bring this about.
Such an undertaking, of course—and the Prime Minister, I am sure, would agree—involves no forfeit of the rights and duties of the Opposition, but it does involve, as I see it, in the special circumstances of this Parliament, an obligation to discuss world issues with the understanding that the responsibility on both sides of the House is the greater because our numbers are now so nearly matched. That is what I submit to be the position.
I must preface my remarks on the international situation by saying that it is for us a happy conjunction of events that the opening of this Parliament should coincide with the visit to this country of the President of the French Republic and Madame Auriol. The President and his wife will indeed be welcome to Britain—welcome for themselves, for the gallant and friendly nation they represent, and as an expression of that close understanding between our peoples which is the foundation of our foreign policy.
52 Shortly before the General Election the Foreign Secretary returned from the Colombo Conference. We hope that in the course of this Debate we shall be given some further account of what happened there and of the Government's intentions and purposes in respect of Asia. The Colombo communiqué referred to that Continent as "the main focus of interest and an area of special urgency." I do not think there can be much doubt about that in anybody's mind. As I warned the House about a year ago when I returned from South-East Asia, there is a dire need for co-ordination of our policies in that area, not only with those of the countries of the Commonwealth—which has presumably been done now by the Colombo Conference—but also with those of the United States and France and other closely interested countries.
Progress so far has been painfully slow, and the Gracious Speech contains scarcely a hint of any further joint endeavour. In fact, its account of the international scene as a whole consist of a series of unrelated sentences with no indication of a common theme running through them—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, I could not find it; I hope we shall be told what it is—nor of a firm purpose which is to be vigorously pursued. If there is a theme which I have not discovered, I shall be only too glad to be told in due course in this Debate.
The point I want to emphasise is that if we are—as the Government presumably propose to do—to build an effective barrier against Communism in South-East Asia, we cannot do it on the basis of isolated treaties alone. It cannot he done that way. We have got to see whether we can produce an effective alternative way of life that will appeal to the men and women in those lands, just as Communism undoubtedly appeals to some of them because of its attempt to identify itself with independence from the foreigner. That is not an impossible task, but it is a very difficult one, and it needs constructive effort and a common plan; and the longer we delay in reaching agreement among the countries that share our view, the greater the danger to the whole Continent of Asia and the higher the price the freedom-loving countries will have to pay—if we are to make our contribution effective.
53 That is why I say that we welcome, for instance, the initiative of the new Australian Minister for External Affairs at Colombo in putting before the Conference what, I believe, is now called the Spender Plan for collective Commonwealth effort to improve living standards in South-East Asia. That, I am sure, is the right way—the way we should travel; this, I am sure, the means we should use; and we look forward to hearing more about that in detail.
In the meantime, I must say again to the House that that task is a very urgent one. World events have not stood still while we have been indulging in our General Election, and time is not on our side in South-East Asia. So I ask the Government on that; are we right in thinking that the United States are prepared to co-operate in what has been called the Spender Plan? Are they joining with the Commonwealth in working it out? If so, is any meeting contemplated for that purpose, and how soon will there be such a meeting? Is it to be in Canberra in the spring, or when? And how wide is the range it is to cover? Can we be assured that every effort is being made to follow through this Australian initiative at Colombo?
Few things in the world today, in my judgment, are more important than the position in South-East Asia—and pretty disturbing some of the recent developments have been. Look at the position in Indo-China. We recognise, and the United States recognise, I think rightly, the Government of Bao Dai. Meanwhile, the Soviets, on the other hand, have recognised the Communist regimé—action which must be pretty difficult to reconcile with friendly relations with the French Government. All these developments emphasise the need for urgency, and I hope that before this Debate on the Gracious Speech is finished some full statement will he given from the Government about that situation as a whole.
Now, to come nearer home, there is one foreign country I want to speak about briefly tonight, and that is Germany. I think that many of us have felt for some time past that the most realistic prospect of Germany's peaceful development lies in trying to bring her into friendly partnership with her neighbours in Western Europe. I agree with the United States High Commissioner. Mr. McCloy, who said, 54The idea of Western European consolidation presents to the average German, and particularly to the youth, the best hope in the future.There has been much talk recently in Germany about security. I think it is right to say—and to say from these benches—that our concern in this matter is no less than Germany's, but that we do approach it on a wider basis, that is the security of Europe. It is not surprising that Germans in the west should be sensitive to the organisation of such bodies as the Volkspolizei in the Soviet zone. It is clear enough, I think, that this force is para-military in character and that many of its members are forcibly enrolled. On the other hand, the creation of armed forces in Western Germany would provoke very serious problems of its own, and the new President of the Federal Republic has shown clearly that he understands that.
Certainly, any such action would immediately reinforce Soviet propaganda. All the satellites would be told that Germany is a potential aggressor and is being, encouraged in that role by the Western Powers. So I say that all these issues must be treated with discretion and fairness. But this, at least, is clear, that if Germany is definitely to have no armed defensive forces of her own, then a special responsibility falls on the Western Powers in respect of that territory, and that responsibility we have to be able to discharge.
Finally on foreign affairs, there is one other aspect of the international situation which I cannot ignore, and that is the treatment which is being meted out with increasing severity to British subjects, and even officials who are supposed to enjoy immunity, by satellite countries behind the Iron Curtain. There ought not to be any doubt in the Kremlin or anywhere else that these events create indignation here—intense indignation. What their purpose may be I cannot judge; but this, at least, is certain, that British opinion, and I believe, opinion in every other free Western nation, will never allow itself to be intimidated by tactics of that kind. In any fit and proper action the Government chose to take in these situations they will have our support.
Now let me turn to the domestic scene, in respect of which it seems to us that the Gracious Speech is more remarkable 55 for what it does not say than for what it does say. Nobody, I suppose, is going to dispute the seriousness of the economic problems which now confront the nation—mentioned in only a little tiny paragraph. Those problems, in their turn, depend upon the financial policy of the Government. We have been given singularly little indication of that for a long time past, so perhaps I may try to contribute our view of the situation, even though I may be held to be anticipating the Budget Statement, or even may seem to some to prove contentious—that would be quite dreadful—in discussing the terms of the Gracious Speech I hope I may be forgiven if I do
It seems to us that our first task is to do battle with the growing threat of inflation. That threat has grown no less in the weeks since the election began. It penetrates into every corner of our economic life—like the London sunshine today or the London fog more often. It is expressed in rising prices.
§ Mr. Eden
I am not defending high dividends. If the hon. Gentleman wants to know our attitude to dividend limitation, I am in favour of it being continued. We do not escape from these real issues by hurling party gibes.
I say that inflation expresses itself in terms of high prices. No one in the world can deny that. That, of course, creates for everyone a consequent wages problem. There also enters into it a lamentable falling off in private savings. Seen from abroad, how does it look? It looks as if the standing of the pound sterling, our dependence on foreign aid, and our balance of payments—all these difficulties in the dollar area—are aggravated by inflation. I do not think there can be any dispute about these things. They will all be influenced, and some will be determined, by the financial policy which the Government decide to pursue. I say to the House on this first day, that in our judgment our first duty is to do all that we can to prevent a further rise in prices at home. But things being as they are today, who can doubt, unfortunately, that the cost of living will go up further?
There are a number of problems, about which we hope for enlightenment in this 56 Debate, which are only too likely to affect the cost of living. There are new discussions on agricultural prices which have only just begun—[Interruption.] I am not criticising that. We do not know what the results will be. I do not know, and I do not suppose the Minister does yet. We can at least be sure that they are not going to reduce prices to the consumer.
Then there is the position of the railways, which have applied to the Transport Tribunal to be allowed to raise their freight charges. No one can blame the railways on that account. It is not in the least surprising in view of the losses which they have to carry now, running into something like £500,000 a week. Of course, they will have to ask for increased freight charges. If they get them, we have been warned that the result will be an increase in the cost of coal and other materials, and, of course, increased costs for all who use the railways. Those are all conditions which are quite futile to ignore, and they have their effect on this inflationary spiral. I do not know what the Tribunal's findings will be, but one result will be that we shall not see cheaper freights.
On top of all this, we have still to feel the full effect of devaluation. Import prices have risen by more than 10 per cent. since last December. Wholesale prices are also higher than they were, and they are still rising. Retail prices have only gone up one point. I do not suppose that there is anyone who takes any permanent comfort from that. The general tendency is that a rise in wholesale prices and import prices is followed, unhappily, by a similar trend in retail prices. These rising prices seem to emphasise the two main problems with which this Parliament will have to deal. With rising prices, the wages dilemma, the cost-of-living dilemma, becomes every month more serious. There are claims by many of the unions—the N.U.R., the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions and others—who have put in demands for increased wages. If the cost of living continues to rise, some at least of these claims are going to be very hard to resist.
If we look beyond these shores—and this I want to emphasise to the House—is it not beginning to be true that while prices are still rising here, in other coun- 57 tries they are beginning to fall? [Interruption.] No, not in France. [Interruption.] No, not Germany; the hon. Gentleman is wrong. The most important is the United States. If the House would like to have these figures which I looked up this morning very carefully—[Interruption.] This is a serious argument—the position is this: In 1947—these are the figures of the Monthly Bulletin of Statistics of the United Nations, so they are about as respectable as we can get—the basic figure in the United States was 176. So was ours; exactly the same. Since 1947, the American figure continued to rise a little, and then dropped. The American figure for the last available month, November, was still 176. Ours is 221. [Interruption.] I am only drawing attention to a tendency in the situation which this House must consider. I am not blaming or criticising anyone. For heaven's sake, cannot we consider these matters, realising that they are of some importance?
I am drawing the attention of the House to the fact that, be it for good or ill, there is in the United States now, compared with 1947, a level of prices about the same as in 1947, whereas ours has continued sharply to rise. Those are the figures. If they can be challenged, let them be challenged. Canada, Sweden, Switzerland—all these countries are beginning to show—I do not put it higher than that—a similar tendency for prices to fall. I have been careful not to mention countries such as France, Italy and Germany, which for our purpose are not comparable. If what I am saying is broadly correct—as it is—it has the most serious consequences for the future of our export trade.
I apologise for dealing with this matter at further length than I intended, but I think that the position should be explained to the House. I must mention Mr. Kenney's warning, given in the course of a most generous tribute to this country and to its industries and everyone engaged in them. He could not have paid a more glowing and deserved tribute to this country. Let me read what Mr. Kenney said:An inflationary increase in costs would very quickly recreate the situation which required devaluation. Therefore, adequate steps were and are required to prevent a recurrence of those conditions. The necessary corrective measures complementary to devaluation must 58 be accomplished, or else the British economy may proceed periodically from crisis to expedient and back to crisis.The House may perhaps observe the close family likeness between those words of Mr. Kenney and the words in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, at an earlier date, described the life we had been leading previous to devaluation. In the light of the facts which I have stated. it is essential that we should know at the earliest moment what action the Government propose.
No doubt some hon. Members will say, "What would you do about it?" I will tell the House briefly one or two of the things we would wish to do about it. We have many times urged the Government to keep a tighter rein on the release of sterling balances. These balances present, in a Parliamentary sense, a most anomalous position. Is it not true that if the Government wish to raise an extra penny a week for the Navy or for any formal business of Government, they have to come to the House for Parliamentary sanction, but the payment of these hundreds of millions of pounds is sanctioned by the Bank of England and the Treasury and, although the Chancellor of the Exchequer is responsible, Parliament appears to have no control over the situation? I ask the Prime Minister, or whoever is to reply, if the American Loan Agreement did not foreshadow a release of the sterling balances at a rate not exceeding about £43,750,000 a year? In fact, I think that is the figure mentioned as one of the conditions in what is called the "waiver of interest clause" in the Agreement—Clause 5. Yet over the last two years these balances have been released at a steadily rising rate. In 1947, £156 million were released; in 1948, £265 million were released; and in the first nine months of this year they were released at a rate of £276 million—so those figures go on mounting. Now, even these giant figures do not include the interest which is being paid by the Government on the remaining balances.
Let us look at that picture from another angle. It means that each worker—I think I am right in this calculation—engaged on production for export today is working one day in six on the production of goods for which no corresponding imports at all are received. Can we really continue indefinitely to carry that burden? It cannot be denied that these releases are 59 weakening the position of the £ abroad. Mr. Kenney makes that point, and I think it is unquestionably true. How otherwise can the Prime Minister, or any other Minister, explain this fact. Nearly everywhere outside the dollar area we have a favourable balance of trade. That is agreed. Well, then, how does it come about that, in spite of that, sterling has not become a scarce currency at all but a currency which countries show no eagerness to hold? I suggest it is because of the vast dispersal of those sterling balances, and the difficulty is that the payment of those balances is placing the severest strain on our economy. I do not think any Member of the Government would deny that.
§ Mr. Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House how he reconciles this point about the release of sterling balances with his anxiety to help South-East Asia, which necessitates such a release?
§ Mr. Eden
That is a perfectly reasonable point. It is perfectly true that a portion of these balances have helped the economy of South-East Asia, and to that extent it is an advantage. But one has to look at these things sometimes from the point of view of our own country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] I am not making a cheap point here. The point is whether we can indefinitely continue to carry this burden on this scale unaided, which brings me to the very point I was about to make, which answers the hon. Gentleman. Last September these matters were discussed at Washington at the time of devaluation; a committee was set up, and some arrangement was supposed to be arrived at as to what was to be done about the sterling balances. We have never heard another word. Has that committee finished its work? Has it agreed what has to be done? Is a report now, or soon, to be expected? Can we be told anything about it?—because I saw in some paper that the matter was to be discussed again by Mr. Acheson with the Foreign Secretary in April.
I should have thought that this topic was long since far removed from the realm of discussion and should move into that of action. I would say, in reply to the hon. Member, that this is exactly the kind of topic which, as a result of the Colombo Conference, ought to be agreed 60 with the other three Powers of the West, including the United States, so that we may proceed to a common policy towards South-East Asia and towards these balances, the release of which is bleeding us much too much at the present time. I hope at least that argument is reasonably clear.
This brings me, briefly, to the programme of domestic legislation which is set out in the Gracious Speech. This seems to us a rather vague and skinny affair. A number of important topics are not included at all. I am not going into them this afternoon.
§ Mr. Eden
We all played what part we could in the election. I agree that it was a serious and well-conducted election. As a matter of fact, the only noisy meeting I had was in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and that was caused not by his supporters but by Communists. I am afraid I was rather led aside from what I was saying.
Tomorrow my right hon. Friend will examine a number of features, one of the principal of which does not figure in this Speech, namely, that of housing, in regard to the future programme of which there is certainly very widespread anxiety. The Government tell us their excuse is the restricted time available. Well, I do not myself suppose that Ministers really believe that, and still less expect us to believe it. It has nothing to do with restricted time: it has to do with the restriction on the number of votes that can be put into the Lobby. If their majority were 100, I have a suspicion that there would be perhaps some nationalisation Measures figuring in this particular bill of fare. I am not complaining about this at all; I have no complaint about this omission. On the contrary; we welcome this evidence of electoral lessons truly learned.
After all, whatever else we may dispute in the course of the next few months—or maybe years, one never knows—one thing there cannot be any argument about is that nobody can deny that there has been a pretty emphatic vote in this election against nationalisation. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I can give my interpretation of the result, and I say that the country wants no more nationalisation, no more socialisation, and no more 61 mutualisation either—a singularly ugly word which ill-conceals its ugly purpose. If hon. Members opposite think there is not a majority against nationalisation, it is not for me to produce the conclusive evidence; nor would I make any approach below the Gangway to an authority which I read in a Sunday newspaper must be known in future as the Grande Dame.
Our contention is plain enough: the country has pronounced against nationalisation; and in our judgment that goes for iron and steel also. Members of the last House of Commons will kindly recall—I am sure they will—that the motive for the compromise decision reached with another place in the closing stages of the last Parliament was to enable the electorate to pronounce clearly upon this Bill before it became operative. [HON. MEMBERS: "No"] Oh, yes. Some said so. I must remind hon. Members that some of them very loudly applauded that compromise. The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. S. N. Evans), for instance, who now adorns the Government Front Bench—and I am very glad that he does adorn it, because he is a Member for whom we all have very great respect—said this about the compromise:The compromise between the two Houses will be, if accepted, in the best traditions of English Parliamentary democracy.Well, that is all right.I welcome the step that the Government have taken. It was always clear to me that until we had a General Election on this issue we should not get the type of person to stand for these boards that we would like to get. A man would not be likely to jeopardise his future economic prospects by offering to drive a car which might never start. The electors are the final arbiters in this matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1949; Vol. 469, c. 2054.]That seems to me very good sense. I thought it was then, and I still think it is now. The Minister of Supply spoke in a very similar sense. Where do we stand today? Hon. Members opposite may contend that the nationalisation of iron and steel did not figure in the General Election. We certainly did everything we could to ensure that it did. It was in the speech I made at the opening of the election; it was in the manifesto; it was in almost every single one of our wireless speeches—[Interruption.] Hon. Members need not be so indignant. I am merely saying that in our 62 view the nation has pronounced against any further nationalisation, including the nationalisation of iron and steel. Now, I trust—and I cannot do more than trust—that the Government have accepted that verdict in the same way as they have accepted the verdict to shelve all other nationalisation Measures. If they have not, they would be very wrong; but whether that is their policy or not, it is my plain duty this afternoon to ask the Government to tell us what their intentions are, and then we shall be able to continue this controversy if need be.
It seems to me that the great divide in this Parliament today, and indeed in the nation, is on this issue of nationalisation. It dominates our electoral life, and it will determine our economic future. Of course, there are many Members opposite who sincerely believe that we must move along step by step, some faster, some slower—the Lord President of the Council one way, and the Minister of Health the other—until we have nationalised all means of production, distribution and exchange. In other words, until the whole economic and industrial life of the country is owned and controlled by the State—I believe that is the Prime Minister's phrase.
For our part, we believe that such an evolution would be disastrous for the future of our country. We believe that we can only live by the variety of the goods we sell and the services we render to other lands at competitive prices. Socialism, we think, can only hamper such diversity of endeavour. If this Parliament serves seriously to range and to balance the arguments for and against the future of Britain as a Socialist State, then, however short its life, it will not have lived in vain.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)
I should like to join with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) in congratulating the mover and seconder of the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech. Both dealt with matters on which they are authorities. They spoke of things they knew, which always commends speeches to the House. It was interesting that we had from them emphasis, on the one side, on the great need for agricultural production and, on the other, the great importance of our industrial production. I 63 regard those as two of the pillars on which the prosperity of this country stands. I think the House was very interested in those speeches.
Before I deal with the Gracious Speech and with the remarks of the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington, I desire to say a few words about the course of the Debate and the business of the House. We propose that the Debate on the Address should occupy the whole of the rest of this week and should be concluded on Monday next. The allocation of time between the various topics in the general Debate and on any particular Amendments is, of course, a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, and no doubt there will be the customary consultations through the usual channels. The time of the opening of this Session necessarily imposes somewhat strict limitations on the business that can be brought forward. I was rather surprised that the right hon. Gentleman did not seem to realise that, in any case, when a Session is started in March, as compared with October or November, it necessarily means a curtailed programme.
§ The Prime Minister
Certainly not. The right hon. Gentleman seems to give insufficient weight to that reason, but had he by some accident been sitting on these benches, he would have given it full weight. In particular, the time before Easter will necessarily have to be devoted very largely to the financial business which must be got through before the closing of the financial year. There are Supplementary Estimates for the present financial year. There is the Vote on Account on Civil Estimates, and Estimates for the Revenue Departments and the Ministry of Defence for the year 1950–51. We must obtain Vote A for men, and a number of Votes for the Navy, Army and Air Services to carry on these services until all the supply grants have been passed. There is also the Consolidated Fund Bill to pass through all its stages. The House will also wish to debate the White Paper on Defence which is being laid today.
Ten days will be required up to and including 29th March for the business of 64 Supply and for the Consolidated Fund Bill. I think it will be agreed that this leaves a very narrow margin of time for other business. Further, Easter falls early this year—9th April—and adjournment for the Recess would ordinarily take place on Thursday, 6th April. I think the House will agree that, in those circumstances, it is necessary and reasonable to take all time up to Easter for Government Business. A Motion will be placed on the Order Paper, for consideration at the beginning of business tomorrow, to give precedence to Government business and to provide for presentation of Government Bills only, until Easter.
I think that the programme outlined makes that necessary, but there is then the consideration of how best to use the time after Easter. We may well be asked to 'provide time after Easter for Debates on the boards of socialised industries and other subjects. I think that perhaps it would be better in existing circumstances if, before coming to any decison in regard to proposals as to Private Members' time, there were some talks through the usual channels to see how best that can be arranged in the interests of all, rather than to put down a Motion on Private Members' time without consideration of what shall be done. I think that consideration through the usual channels would be best. For the benefit of new Members, I might refer to the Ballot for Motions on going into Committee of Supply on the Estimates which will be held the day after the conclusion of the Debate on the Address.
I should like at this point to echo what was said by the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the very welcome visit of the President of the French Republic and Madame Auriol. Many of us have known him for a good many- years, and he will get a very very warm welcome here, as well as Madame Auriol, because of their personal qualities and also for the warm affection we feel for the French people. As the House knows, there is to be a Parliamentary reception by both Houses for the French President at 11.30 a.m. in the Royal Gallery on Thursday next. I am quite sure that Members of all sides will be anxious to do M. Auriol honour by being present on this occasion.
I now turn to the Gracious Speech. I have pointed out that the time available this Session, owing to the time of the 65 meeting of the House, restricts the amount of business to be done. The Leader of the Opposition anticipated me in what I was going to say. I was also going to say that there is the Parliamentary situation. At any time, the King's Speech necessarily reflects that situation, and its contents in the legislative field are conditioned by it. The Government, although they have secured a greater number of electoral votes than have ever been obtained before by any party, have obtained only a very small majority. It is not my intention to deal with those interesting mathematical calculations with which the newspapers are filled, but merely with the facts.
Our electoral system has never been designed to give an exact mathematical representation to the various trends of opinion. On the contrary, it has usually given an exaggerated majority to one party or the other, and it is quite obvious that a certain alteration of votes might have done that on this occasion. Although offensive to the theoretician, this has, I think, worked in practice in favour of stability of administration, which, after all, is the essential thing in the Government of the country.
On this occasion it has resulted in a position which makes the carrying on of government not free from difficulties, but I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman in what he said about frustration. Just as he says there is no frustration on his side of the House, so there is no frustration on this. The duty of the Government is clear. The government must be carried on, and, however difficult it may be, it is in the interest of all of us that government should be carried on effectively. There is here, I think, a test of common sense, and, after all, common sense and a realisation of the practical are two of the supreme qualities of the British people. I am quite confident they will not be wanting on this occasion.
This House has had to face very many situations. I understand it is 100 years since the parties were so evenly divided, but, looking up precedents, I find that things were a good deal more fluid in those days. So many gentlemen at that time seemed to have that curious contradictory variety of nomenclature that adorns the third bench below the Gangway. We shall, therefore, continue to 66 administer the affairs of the country in the same spirit and on the same principles as we have done during the last four and a half years. We shall, of course, welcome the contributions that right hon. Gentlemen opposite will make to our Debates, in particular on the matters to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. We shall be glad of specific points on which they intend to bring in economies rather than general statements alleging extravagance without any facts to back them up.
The legislative programme which we submit to the House is, of course, limited, and not violently controversial. I do not think there are any special items that could claim our attention at this moment. The Measures are useful, but there is one subject, I know, which is of great interest, particularly to householders and business men, and that is the reform of the law relating to lease-holders. I do not know whether it is controversial or not. When we get the Report we shall see, but I hope that Report will be with us before very long. We then can consider legislation. It has been stated quite clearly in the Gracious Speech that where it is necessary for the maintenance of full employment and the national well-being to introduce Measures, even though they are contentious, the Government will not hesitate to do so.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me a question with regard to the position of the Iron and Steel Act. That Act is on the Statute Book. The Corporation cannot be appointed until 1st October, 1950. The earliest date for vesting is 1st January, 1951. There is nothing to be done in the matter immediately, but that statute is on the Statute Book and our purpose is to give effect to Acts passed by Parliament. I shall not pretend to argue the precise nature of the causes which have returned right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, any more than I should like to evaluate the exact opinions which returned hon. Members below the Gangway. We can all form our opinions as to what the decision was, how it was arrived at, and the weight to be given to it. That is a matter which we can debate subsequently.
I have observed statements made in other countries to the effect that our present Parliamentary position entails a period of weakness and indecision in 67 Government. I believe they are entirely mistaken. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The fact that Parliament is almost equally divided does not mean in the least that the hand of this country in foreign affairs should be weakened in the slightest degree. The Parliamentary situation must not divert the attention of this House and the attention of the people from the hard work and the continued effort needed from all sections of the community to further our full economic recovery. We must not allow electoral considerations to damage the interests of this country. No doubt, this topic will be fully debated this week.
I should like to make one or two observations. We have only two years left of the breathing space accorded to us by Marshall Aid before we have to stand completely on our own feet. That is always before us. In the last six months we have made good progress in our production, in our exports and in improving the balance of payments. Our general line of balance of payments policy will continue. It is quite clear that we must at home continue with the careful planning of our resources. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington spoke quite truly of the dangers of inflation. That danger has always been with us, and is one of the reasons why we want increased production. It is also the reason why there must be careful husbanding of our resources, and why we must continue to have a very carefully planned economy.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned a word or two about prices. He talked of falling prices. He must remember especially, in relation to the United States of America, that that is not an entirely free economy. In fact, prices of things we need, particularly farm prices, are pegged. That is one of the points to observe when he compares price levels in different parts of the world. The right hon. Gentleman also raised the point of sterling balances. That will, no doubt, form a subject of discussion at greater length, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will refer to it, but one should get a clear idea of what these sterling balances were. They were money voted by us to pay for services for the most part given in the 68 war. Any idea that they can be repudiated straight away is quite wrong.
§ The Prime Minister
I quite agree, but there is a great deal of loose talk, and though I am not suggesting the right hon. Gentleman said it, there is a tendency to talk as if they were a monstrous thing which had arisen. They arose out of the war, and had to be dealt with.
§ Mr. Churchill
Are not the bulk of the sterling balances or British debts due to countries like India and Egypt which we defended from invasion by Japan and by Germany, and are we not entitled to have our counter-claims for the immense expense to which we were put?
§ The Prime Minister
Well, that is a matter that can be argued, of course, but I do not think that that would be the best way to approach the problem of the sterling balances. It is beyond question that the release of sterling balances has meant an immense increase of stability in those areas of South-East Asia. Any suggestion that one could have looked entirely apart from that consideration, and that we could have thought only of our own interests, would have been quite fatal. At the same time, it is obvious that there has had to be throughout a very careful balancing between our own position and the position of other countries. As a matter of fact, the amount of releases has been reduced, is being reduced and will be reduced. [An HON. MEMBER: "How much?"] The whole subject was discussed at great length in the tripartite discussions in Washington and will have to be discussed still further. Obviously, if anything has to be done it has to be discussed not only with the United States but with the countries concerned, and that will be done.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of certain aspects of foreign affairs. He seemed to think that on foreign affairs there was no clear theme running through the Gracious Speech. I should have thought it was quite obvious. We point out that we continue our support of the United Nations. We point out the work we are doing with the Commonwealth, 69 and we can point out that in South-East Asia we have had the recognition of the States in French Indo-China. That is in line with the policy that we have pursued in regard to the nations of Asia, both in India, Pakistan and Ceylon. It is perfectly plain—there was no difference of opinion on the matter, I should have thought—that the supreme need is to build up the security of the world and the prosperity of the world. I think that that theme runs clearly through the Gracious Speech.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me about the present position with regard to the Colombo Conference. The Conference has not yet been fully considered. At the present moment work is proceeding on the official level with the Spender plan. The Australians have suggested that there should be a meeting in Canberra in May to discuss that plan. The Spender plan envisages consultation with the Commonwealth countries first, and doubtless after that we shall be consulting with the United States of America. Meanwhile, there is the closest exchange of information and co-operation on all these matters with South-East Asia.
We have given our fullest support to the O.E.C.C. There is, there, a major problem of European payments. The House knows of the appointment of Dr. Stikker, which we welcomed. We hope that these events will lead us on to settling this extremely difficult question. There has also been steady progress both in Western Union and the Atlantic Pact. The flow of essential military equipment will soon begin to arrive on the Continent. That will have a good physical effect, and a good psychological effect, on the European defence forces. Under the Brussels Treaty we are trying to extend social and cultural co-operation in the widest possible way. The right hon. Gentleman very rightly said that the central problem is the position of Germany. The economic situation of Germany has been giving us grave concern. The number of unemployed, rising up to two million, the stagnation in industrial production, the heavy increase of semi-luxury imports, and the decline of foreign exchange holdings, all indicate that too great a release from planning has not been a success in that country and has indeed endangered its economy.
70 I should like to say a word on a matter which has figured a great deal in the public Press and which gives us all great concern. It is the question of the hydrogen bomb. The public are naturally concerned over the danger to civilisation from this weapon of mass destruction. The hydrogen bomb is something which is in the future, of course. It differs in degree, more than in anything else, from the atom bomb. In the early days after the war, when I saw President Truman and Mr. Mackenzie King, I made the point that what is required is the will to peace and co-operation. Once we get that, the rest can be secured; but without mutual understanding I do not believe we can go very far in applying special rules to particular weapons. We have sought very earnestly to arrive at agreement with the Soviet Union. It is very difficult. So long as they maintain an attitude which regards all the rest of the world as hostile, and as long as they indulge in world-wide subversive activities, we shall make little advance.
We have tried to make the United Nations effective, but on matters of this kind there is really no good in signing illusory undertakings which merely lull people into a false tranquillity. We must have the good will and we must have the effective machinery. The Soviet proposals fall short of what is required. The kind of inspection they would provide is quite inadequate. There would be no real international control. It is that which is essential. I do not think that it is the method which counts, but the will. The overwhelming majority of the United Nations have endorsed the plan of control, but the Soviet Union stand out. If the Soviet Union come in we can make the enormous advance which I believe the vast majority of the human race are longing for in this matter. Meanwhile, we have continued to develop our plant here at home. It is not true to say that we are lagging far behind. We started far behind, because, as the right hon. Gentleman knows very well, our agreement was made for this development to take place in the United States and Canada. It is natural, therefore, that we should be behind, but developments have taken place.
In addition to what we are doing in the international field and in the general building up of defence forces, there is the 71 matter of Civil Defence which is mentioned in the Gracious Speech. There has been continuous study by the Home Office and other departments. Regulations were made in 1949 and guidance was given to local authorities. Recruitment for Civil Defence services began in November, and 30,000 have been enrolled. I hope that we shall get a great enrolment in this body, which is, after all, a necessary precaution.
I want to say one word about a matter which has caused a good deal of writing in the Press, and that is the Fuchs case. It is a most deplorable and unfortunate incident. Here we had a refugee from Nazi tyranny, hospitably entertained, who was secretly working against the safety of this country. I say "secretly" because there is a great deal of loose talk in the Press suggesting inefficiency on the part of the security services. I entirely deny that. Not long after this man came into this country—that was in 1933—it was said that he was a Communist. The source of that information was the Gestapo. At that time the Gestapo accused everybody of being a Communist. When the matter was looked into there was no support for it whatever. And from that time onwards there was no support. A proper watch was kept at intervals. He was a brilliant scientist. He was taken on in 1941 for special work by the Ministry of Aircraft Production. He was transferred to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. He went to America. He came back to Harwell. On all those occasions all the proper inquiries were made and there was nothing to be brought against him. His intimate friends never had any suspicion. The universities for which he worked had the highest opinion of his work and of his character.
In the autumn of last year information came from the United States suggesting there had been some leakage while the British Mission, of which Fuchs was a member, was in the United States. This information did not point to any individual. The Security Services got to work with great energy and were, as the House knows, successful. I take full responsibility for the efficiency of the Security Services and I am satisfied that, unless we had here the kind of secret police they have in totalitarian countries, and employed their methods, which are repro- 72 bated rightly by everyone in this country, there was no means by which we could have found out about this man.
I do not think there is anything that can cast the slightest slur on the Security Services; indeed, I think they acted promptly and effectively as soon as there was any line which they could follow. I say that because it is very easy when a thing like this occurs—it was an appalling thing to have happened—to make assertions. I do not think that any blame for what occurred attaches either to the Government of the right hon. Gentleman opposite or to this Government or to any of the officials. I think we had here quite an extraordinary and exceptional case. I mention that because of the attacks that have been made.
There will be a full Debate in this House on all these topics and I am sure that we shall get the support of everybody in the efforts which the Government will make and the country will make to get through these economic difficulties. I am quite sure that this House of Commons that has faced so many difficult situations will face the position of the even balance of parties with its usual success.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before we continue the Debate, as the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) have mentioned the visit of the French President, I thought hon. Members would like to know that the President of the French Republic is arriving at Victoria Station tomorrow afternoon.
The procession is passing through Parliament Square on its way to Buckingham Palace. This necessitates the closing of roads in this vicinity during the early part of the afternoon, but the police are making every effort to ensure that hon. Members have access to the Houses of Parliament, and I trust that no serious inconvenience will be caused.
I have arranged for the details of the routes being closed to be circulated to all hon. Members, and for the map showing these routes to be displayed in the Library. I think it will only affect motor cars, as a matter of fact.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Professor Savory (Antrim, South)
There are a few points arising out of the recent election which it would be appro- 73 priate to discuss this evening. Everywhere I went in my enormous constituency of South Antrim the one question put to me was this: what will be the result of this election? My reply was always the same: "This election is a pure gamble. No one can possibly prophesy what the result will be." And the cause of this election being a pure gamble is the three-cornered fight. I have discussed this matter with many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and they have said to me exactly the same thing, "We could not possibly say whether the intervention of a third candidate was helpful or disadvantageous to us."
When one thinks that in the last House 177 Members were elected on a minority vote, one can realise how undemocratic is the constitution of this House. I have not had time to make the calculation for this Parliament, but in the last one 177 Members came to this House saying that they represented a constituency where the overwhelming majority of the electors had voted against them. If we had such a system as they have in France, where in a constituency in which no Member has obtained the absolute majority there must be a second ballot a fortnight later, we could be sure that after the second ballot the Member really represented his constituency.
The present system is absolutely hopeless. It came into existence at a time when, because there were only two parties, a man was either a Tory or a Whig. The intervention of a third party, and the failure to have any scientific or mathematical system of representation, makes the position almost hopeless when the question of what Government is to be in office depends upon it—contrary to the system prevailing in the United States. There, no matter what the majority of the House of Representatives may be, whether Democratic or Republican, the Executive does not change in accordance with that majority, for it is independent. Here, when the Executive is so entirely dependent upon the majority of the House of Commons, however small that may be, it is essential that we should try to bring about a more scientific and less inaccurate system of representation.
May I take this first opportunity of expressing my deep regret at the loss of Members who were an honour to this House? Of the 12 University Members 74 whose seats have been abolished only four have returned to this House. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] An hon. Gentleman says "Hear, hear" but can one help deploring the loss of such men—[An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Listen—men as Sir John Anderson, a supreme authority on finance, a man who guided our finances throughout the war with immense skill. How can one possibly fail to deplore the absence of such a man from these benches? Or again, take that eminent economist, Sir Arthur Salter. Whenever he got up in the House hon. Members listened to him with great attention, because everybody knew that he was the greatest authority we had here on economic questions—
§ Professor Savory
The hon. Member says "bunkum," but this was the man who was our representative in America during the whole of the war, who arranged for all our merchant shipping, a man of supreme ability, a man whom the House respected. Those are types of men that we need in this House today.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me to interrupt? If those hon. Gentlemen were so important to the national welfare why were they not given safe Conservative seats?
§ Professor Savory
Because they were both of them Independents. They were neither Conservatives nor were they Labour representatives. The universities gave the opportunity to these Independents to fight for their seats. They are men of extraordinary intellectual vitality, men of pre-eminence in their own particular spheres.
I appreciate and am deeply grateful to the electors of South Antrim for having me returned by the overwhelming majority of nearly 33,000, and I must pay a tribute to their intelligence. In my campaign I had the pleasure of addressing no less than 48 meetings in this immense constituency, covering hundreds of miles, and everywhere I found, even although a professor was addressing them, an intelligent appreciation of the arguments he was using; and further, I must pay tribute to the order which prevailed.
75 If hon. Gentlemen had been listening in to the Moscow radio describing the election, they would have gained an extraordinary impression. Do hon. Members realise that Moscow radio described the violent methods by which Communists were prevented from voting for their candidates? Moscow radio, in fact, attributed to this country the exact methods which were used in Poland, Bulgaria and Roumania to suppress the freedom of elections. I only hope that hon. Members who do not understand the Russian language will at least apply to the B.B.C. and get the monitors' report of what was being broadcast every hour or so from Moscow on this most orderly election.
I should like to draw attention to what, I think, is a very unfortunate rule that was introduced into the Representation of the People Act, 1948, with regard to the election. I am not speaking now from a party standpoint; I assure hon. Members that both sides suffered from this drawback. Take my own constituency, with 77,000 electors. Do hon. Members realise that under the Act, being allowed the use of only one motor car for every 1,500 electors, I was reduced to 51 motor cars?
§ Professor Savory
I am deploring it for my opponent as well as for myself. I had over 70 polling stations. That meant, with only 51 motor cars, that some polling stations had no cars which could be assigned to them. I appeal to the Labour Party, who have always taken up the cause of democracy, that it is not democratic to prevent electors from being taken to the poll. In many cases I found elderly people, unable to get transport, unable to record their vote. Why should you, you democrats, prevent a man who is on the register, who is unable to walk the immense distance—
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member should remember that he is addressing me, and not the other side of the House.
§ Professor Savory
I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I feel sure that even you, in your own constituency, must have realised this very serious drawback, and I hope that it is not too late to appeal to the other side, in the interests of democracy, either to abolish this regulation, which is 76 absolutely contrary to democracy, or at least to extend the number of motor cars.
I want to be perfectly fair. I appreciate the regulation by which aged and infirm people could vote by post, but in such an immense constituency as mine it was very difficult to get the papers distributed, to bring home to the elderly people that they had this facility: it was so new. It was very difficult to get the papers put into their hands, and it must be remembered that it was an immense complication for a person to go to a doctor and obtain a medical certificate that he or she was unable to go to the poll. Therefore, many people, either through inadvertence—I admit inadvertence—or through the difficulty of getting these papers out in time, were unable to vote; and therefore, it was all the more necessary that transport should be provided. I must mention that noble elector in County Tyrone, 90 years of age, who walked 12 miles to the poll and 12 miles home. There was a man who was determined at all costs to record his vote. There were, however, others who would have voted had it been possible for them to do so.
In Northern Ireland we scrupulously observe all regulations. [Laughter.] Certainly. We had that limit of 51 motor cars and we did not exceed it. Even if a motor car broke down we were not allowed to replace it, and we did not do so. I insist—I am sure that if hon. Members opposite reflect for a moment they will agree with me; I am not speaking from a party point of view—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"]—that this restriction of transport is a very serious matter. Surely, with a majority of nearly 33,000, I can speak freely. I am speaking only in the interests of the electors themselves—my majority did not depend upon questions of transport—and in the interests of my opponent who, I know, would like to have brought more people to the poll. I protest against this arrangement and I make an earnest appeal to the Government either to abolish or, at any rate, to modify this regulation before the next election.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Dr. H. M. King (Southampton, Test)
I trust that the House will forgive me if, on the occasion of my maiden speech, I do not follow the hon. Member for South Antrim (Professor Savory) and reply to his passionate defence of "one man, two votes." I have often wondered 77 why Members addressing the House for the first time should crave the indulgence of the House, but in my early days in Parliament I have realised just how vital that necessity is. I feel conscious not only of the fact that the fabric of this Parliament is history, but that many of the men and women who share my presence in the House are themselves the embodiment of living history. If I speak with lack of confidence and with some fear, it is because I have now the honour to belong to the House where still sits the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), under whose leadership Parliament and many people here guided this country in its struggle to preserve democracy, and also because I have the honour of being in the same House, and on the same side, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, under whose guidance Parliament is using this democracy to bring, at long last, social justice to our people. For those reasons, I crave the indulgence of the House this afternoon.
I do not intend to deal with the weightier issues of this Debate, but to leave them to mightier men and confine my remarks to a narrow field and speak of what I know. Perhaps, as I develop in Parliamentary experience, I may follow the temptation of older Members to widen the range of my observations, but this evening I wish to speak on but one aspect of this Parliament. I believe it will be largely administrative rather than legislative, and I wish to call the attention of the House to two serious aspects in which we might improve and benefit the country.
The first is the question of help to our blitzed towns. Although I speak of Southampton I am certain that what I say is also true of other blitzed towns. The town I have the honour to represent is perhaps the greatest passenger port of this country. It has great natural resources and its people are anxious that those should he developed to the full. It is the gateway to England and we are anxious that the people of this country shall help us to make that gateway worthy of the land which lies behind it.
Southampton has a history which becomes more glorious the nearer one approaches the present day. In the First World War it was the key port to the Western Front. In the Second World War more than a million Americans found 78 their way through our town to battlefields in every corner of the old continents. Just before D-day its streets and its highways, its docks and waterways, were thronged with men and materials on their way to the invasion of Normandy. Greatest honour of all, and greatest sadness of all, Southampton was singled out by the Germans for exceedingly heavy air attacks. In that blitz Southampton lost many thousand homes, a quarter of its schools were damaged, and many of its churches, factories and shops suffered either complete or partial destruction. I sometimes feel that the rest of England is inclined to be not only a little forgetful of the heroism shown by the people of the blitzed towns during the days of the air raids, but a little unforgetful of the moral courage and grit of our people who try to build up those blitzed towns again under conditions of great difficulty in these post-war years.
Whatever post-war problem this House discusses from time to time, usually that problem weighs most heavily on the blitzed towns. I am here today to plead for what I may call, as an analogy, Marshall Aid, in the lifetime of this Parliament, for the blitzed towns. To use Southampton as an illustration, during the war we lost £200,000 rateable value, but, with our depleted resources, we still have to maintain the same social services, the same administration; indeed, our civic expenses, because of the blitz, are higher, although our resources are less. During the war we had a kind of lend-lease from the British Government, who stabilised our rates. But after the war Southampton, like, probably, every other blitzed town, received a grant. It received in 1946–7, a grant of £200,000 towards its rates, and in 1947–8 a grant of £100,000, after which financial aid dwindled away until Southampton now bears the burden of its blitz alone. So grave are the economic problems which weigh on the blitzed towns that I feel that many of them, in trying to balance their local budgets, are gravely economising in vital matters and will find it impossible even to get back to the state in which they were before the first night of the major blitz.
I also ask the Government and this Parliament to give special help to the blitzed town in its housing problem. We were fortunate in receiving a generous allocation of prefabricated houses, but now I ask for a more generous allocation 79 of building materials and building labour. We also ask that if we receive imported building labour the extra charges involved in subsistence for that extra labour should be borne by the country as a whole and not placed on the shoulders of the blitzed towns. In this Parliament, which will be largely administrative, I ask that the people of England should remember what they owe to the men and women of the blitzed towns. It is our proud boast that after this war we have not forgotten the ex-Service man; I hope that no Government will forget what it owes to the men who gave life or limb, health or sight, to preserve our freedom. In this same spirit. I ask the rest of the country to remember what it owes to the people of the blitzed towns and to help them with the heavy burdens they shoulder. I ask for a square deal from unblitzed Britain for blitzed Southampton.
The other point I wish to make concerns our children. I also ask that in this Parliament we should make greater speed towards the implementation of the Education Act, 1944. I press the vital claims of the children in our infant and primary schools. I realise that in a couple of Parliaments we cannot make good the neglect and false economy which took place in the inter-war years in the replacement of primary schools, but reference has been made in the Gracious Speech to the importance of agriculture. If we are to have a healthy agriculture—a permanently healthy agriculture—we must provide for the children of farmworkers something a little nearer equality of opportunity in education than they have at present. I believe that a thousand pre-fabricated schools replacing the worst thousand village schools in Great Britain would be a real godsend and boon to the countryside, that they would show the farmworkers of England that we meant business and regarded them as key people in this vital economic struggle and want their children to have the same chances as the children of the towns.
I suggest that in this Parliament we might consider the very heavy burdens which educational advance is placing on local authorities and that some easement might be given to local authorities and borne by the State. Many of us speak of equality of opportunity for our 80 children, but by no means have we yet secured equality of opportunity as between child and child. We are slowly, pitifully slowly in my view, advancing to that equality of opportunity. I see no reason why a Parliament which may be divided on major issues should not unite in speeding forward the work of bringing that equality to our children. As I have said on many occasions, I realise that this House is by no means entirely composed of Socialists but I would suggest that long years ago we in this country might well have been Socialists about our children, and that whatever differences may exist between man and man we should give to all children in this land the same opportunity to build up a healthy mind in a healthy body.
I would urge this Parliament to push on rapidly with first-aid work in the improvement of our worst primary schools, starting perhaps with schools on the black list, turning to the blitzed towns and then to the industrial areas, where there are still schools which are plain, substantial buildings with enough ornamentation to distinguish them from prisons—that we give to our English children a feeling that in this Parliament their interests are paramount. I believe that if we do that we may still regard this Parliament, despite its unusual composition, as a worth-while Parliament for the children of our country. It has been said that what a good parent desires for his child so a good nation desires for all its children. It is with that thought in mind that I shall from time to time endeavour to address this House on the subject of our children and on the advance towards the ending of unequal privilege as between child and child.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Martin Lindsay (Solihull)
It is my very pleasant task to offer the hon. Member for the Test Division of Southampton (Dr. King) the congratulations of this House on the admirable way in which he has delivered his maiden speech. The House will have observed that his words flowed melodiously like that charming river which is part of the name of his constituency. He addressed us with great sincerity, which always appeals to the House, and he spoke very largely on behalf of his constituents. We all hope 81 that his constituents in that blitzed city will receive the help which they need. I am quite sure that if they do not do so it will not be the fault of their Parliamentary representative. I understand that there are 153 Members who are new to this House. One of them will go home happy tonight while 152 will go home conscious of the fact that they still have this ordeal before them. The hon. Member is to be congratulated on having seized this opportunity and on having acquitted himself so well. I am sure that the House hopes that we shall often hear from him again.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) has drawn the attention of the House to the omission from the Gracious Speech of all reference to housing, an omission which is so astounding that I must refer to it. I do so because it is well known to all hon. Members, and indeed to the nation as a whole, that the question of housing is causing greater unhappiness, and indeed misery, than any other subject in Britain today. What conclusions can we draw from the fact that all reference to this subject is omitted from the Gracious Speech? I can think of only one conclusion, namely that in the view of the Government, this burning problem is merely a rather minor administrative matter and that no question of major policy arises.
I should have thought that the present appalling prospects of the homeless would have convinced this or any other Government that the whole question of the slow building of houses since the war, together with the policy responsible for it, must be reconsidered as a subject of great urgency. I wish to give the House the figures concerning two localities which I know well. I do so conscious of the fact that they are typical of the country as a whole and are in no way exceptional. In Birmingham there are no fewer than 55,000 families on the waiting list and only 1,700 new houses were built in Birmingham last year. That means that, at the present rate of building, it will be 33 years before the last families on the waiting list are housed.
My constituents are much more fortunate than that. They may have to wait for only 27 years. We have 2,700 families on the waiting list in the Solihull 82 urban district, and the Ministry of Health's present allocation of new houses to us for 1950 is only 100. But the real position is much more serious even than these figures suggest because, as is well known, the housing lists include only those families for which the local authority is prepared to accept responsibility, usually those families who lived in the locality at a qualifying date, which is often as far back as 1945. Therefore, these housing lists do not include scores of thousands of families which are just as homeless as the families whose names appear on the housing lists, to say nothing of all those young people who wish to get married but are unable to do so because they have nowhere to live.
So far as we in this House know, the last time the Government reconsidered their housing policy was last autumn, when the already inadequate programme of approximately 200,000 new houses a year was reduced by 25,000, as one of the economies which was considered necessary resulting from the Government's policy of devaluing the pound. We have no more recent information than that, and we can of course draw only the most depressing conclusion from the fact that the same right hon. Gentleman who was Minister of Health in the last Government has been reappointed to that office. This, together with the absence of any mention of the subject in the Gracious Speech, suggests that the same doctrinaire approach, the same personal prejudices, will once again prevent the speedy building of new houses.
Had the General Election resulted in a change of Government there would have been hope for the homeless. A Conservative Administration would have made available all the foreign exchange required for the necessary building materials, and would have enormously speeded up the tempo of building operations. The return of the same Government, including in charge of the housing programme the Minister who failed so dismally in the last Parliament, has destroyed all hope for our people who are homeless. I much regret to say it, and I do so with the deepest seriousness, that I have come to the conclusion that there is only one piece of advice which a conscientious Member today can give to those of his constituents whose names are far down on the housing lists 83 and whose living conditions are intolerable, and that piece of advice, in my opinion, is to emigrate.
§ Mr. Shurmer
The hon. Member wants to tell the truth about Birmingham. He knows what is wrong with Birmingham.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Paton (Norwich, North)
The hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his argument about housing. There is one thing I want to say about it, however, and I will come back to it in a moment.
I should, first, like to join in the congratulations to the hon. Member for the Test Division of Southampton (Dr. King) on his extremely clear maiden speech which he delivered a few moments ago. It was well argued and persuasively expressed, and it was imbued, as we all realise, with very deep sincerity. Every hon. Member would wish to join in the congratulations that have already been offered to him by the hon. Member for Solihull.
The one thing I want to say to the hon. Member for Solihull about the housing problem which he raised is that nobody on this side of the House, including my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health himself, is at all complacent about what the Government have been able to accomplish in housing. We on this side of the House have at least as deep an understanding, which many of us have gained from experience, and at least as wide a knowledge as any hon. Member on the other side of what this housing problem means to the masses of our people. Therefore, we join with the hon. Gentleman in his plea that this matter should be given urgency in consideration by the Government, but what I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that Socialists accept the urgency of this problem, which is known to be one of the first magnitude.
Nevertheless, we ought surely to try to form a fair judgment of what the Government have been able to do from their accomplishments in the shape of building in this country during the last four and a half years, by putting it into its proper 84 setting and perspective against the extraordinary difficulty of the shortages of men and materials and in the general economic circumstances in which we find ourselves in this country. Unless hon. Gentlemen opposite who express deep concern over this problem are going to approach it in a realistic spirit, I feel that their contributions to our discussions on housing will not be of any great value.
What I really rose to talk about tonight was not the housing problem, which I would have liked to have pursued at greater length. It is a problem which we know well, and it is also one to which we have made contributions of which we are not in the least ashamed, and on which we are quite prepared to be judged on any platform in the country. When I looked at the Gracious Speech, I noticed one passage which caught my eye and stirred my interest particularly, in which there was mentioned the possibility of contentious Measures being brought before the House. I listened to the discussion that took place between the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister upon that old saying that the King's Government must be carried on. All of us agree, but of course it is possible to attach more than one meaning to that phrase.
We are all agreed that the King's Government should be carried on, but I am not prepared to look with complacency upon the King's Government being carried on from this side of the House by a Government which is in office but not governing. I want to see the King's Government carried on with the full initiative and with the full authority appropriate to a sovereign government, and I certainly do not want to see any attempt being made to carry on the King's Government if those conditions are not present. Therefore, I was extremely glad, as I think every hon. Member was, when the Prime Minister made his forthright declaration about the Iron and Steel Act, which showed quite clearly that the Government, despite the precarious balance of power in this House, propose to govern with full authority. In governing with full authority, they can rely on the hundred per cent. support of Members on these benches.
I intervened in the Debate tonight really because I am greatly concerned 85 about another of these narrow interests which has not been mentioned in the Gracious Speech, but which might well have been. I am very greatly concerned about the plight of a relatively small section of our people—a not very articulate section of our people, a not well-organised section, but a section, nevertheless, of very great importance and worthy of our consideration. I refer to the people who are in receipt of allowances from the National Assistance Board. Hon. Members who were in the last Parliament will recollect that on several occasions this subject was raised from this side of the House and grave anxiety was expressed on a number of occasions about the conditions in which these people were living. It is within the knowledge of the House that some of us have been on several deputations during the last year—the last during the last Session of the last Parliament—to the National Assistance Board pleading the case of this section of the people.
I am sorry that there is no mention anywhere in the Gracious Speech of any intention whatever to deal with the anomalies arising in connection with this matter. We have been claiming, and justly, that the system of social security which we have erected in this country during the last four and a half years has abolished want in this country. It was a very great social achievement, but I will say again, looking at the matter realistically, that if we have to face up to the conditions in which the recipients of national assistance are now asked to live, we are compelled to confess that, in regard to this section of our people, we have not fully achieved our object of abolishing want.
In July, 1948, this House passed the Act which empowered the Minister to make regulations under which the scales of assistance have been granted. It was understood at that time that these scales were in themselves the basic minimum—a minimum designed to preserve physical efficiency and to prevent the dangers of positive malnutrition. That was the intention and the purpose of this House in setting out the scales in 1948. As all hon. Members who then took part know, they were not scales that permitted of any kind of luxury whatever, but were scales definitely designed merely to secure a basic minimum of the actual necessities 86 of life. That was done in 1948, and we have to remember on this point that the great mass of the recipients of national assistance are people totally without any other resources. Except by the old age pension, the widow's pension and the extra supplements granted by the Assistance Board, they have no power whatever of absorbing even the smallest increase in the costs of the necessities of life which those scales were originally intended to provide. Yet all of us know quite well that, while the scales themselves have remained unchanged, the cost of living has not. It would be generally agreed that the general index shows that since these scales were drawn, there has been an increase of four points.
I know, of course, that many people argue that because it is a rise of only four points, the case for doing something at once for this section of our people is not, after all, so very urgent. That is completely misconceiving the problem. The pattern of expenditure of those who are receiving national assistance, and indeed of every person living on limited means, is quite different from the pattern of expenditure of those who, like ourselves, are living on more or less comfortable incomes. The truth of the matter is that in the case of these recipients of national assistance, because of the much higher rise in the cost of the items which they use their incomes to buy and particularly food, which has gone up by 12 points, there is, I am perfectly certain, a certain inevitable malnutrition. After all, if the scales in 1948 were based on a narrowly limited assessment of what it was necessary to spend merely in order to keep alive, it is surely bound to follow that, when 18 months later we are faced with a considerable rise in the cost of living, these people must be deprived of some of the basic necessities that were originally intended to be covered.
In order to make the House thoroughly aware of what is involved, I propose to quote three actual budgets. They are the budgets of three of my own constituents which were compiled in December last, and for which I can vouch as being absolutely reliable. It is very necessary that the House should he made aware of what we are permitting to be done in our name. The first budget is that of an old couple who are old age pensioners. They have, of course, the old age pension of £2 2s. 87 per week. In addition they get nine shillings from the National Assistance Board, so that they have a total income of £2 11s. a week. I want the House to pay attention to the expenditure. For rent they pay 10s. 0½d. per week. For heating and lighting 9s. 2d. and we have to remember that for old people heating is often just as essential as food itself. For food they pay £1 0s. 4½d.—1s. 5d. a day each for food; 1s. 5d. a day! Would hon. Members like to try to live on 1s. 5d. a day in these times? Then for household necessities, such things as soap, matches, insurance, etc., they spend 9s. This old couple have an additional charge which is not nowadays common among them. The old man smokes, and they permit themselves 1s. 2d. of expenditure each week on tobacco. All these items together—basic items, remember, except for tobacco, all of them absolute essentials and necessities of life—leave them with a balance of 1s. 3d. a week. I will come back to that in a minute or two.
The second budget is that of an old widow 68 years of age living alone. Her income is, of course, her 26s. pension, and she gets a supplement from the National Assistance Board of 5s. 6d.; which gives her a total of 31s. 6d. a week. Here is her expenditure. Rent, 7s. 8d.; heating and lighting, 7s.; food for seven days, 12s. 10d.; household necessities, 3s. 3d. That is a total of 30s. 9d., leaving a balance of 9d. per week.
The third budget is again that of an old widow, 73 years of age and living alone. Her income is again 26s., with a National Assistance Board allowance of 6s. 6d.; which gives a total income of 32s. 6d. Her expenditure is rent 8s. 3d.—hence the rather bigger allowance from the Board—heat and light 8s. 6d.; food 12s. 9d.; household necessities 2s. 4d. In her case the balance is 8d. These balances of 8d., 9d., and 1s. 3d. a week are supposed to cover every human need, apart from rent, food, light and heating and the household necessities. They are supposed to cover clothing, shoes, notepaper and stamps if they want to write a letter and to make an occasional visit to the pictures. Indeed, these totally inadequate balances are supposed to cover everything that makes for living rather than merely existing. I suggest that these are facts which this House cannot possibly ignore.
88 It is true that it was established in the course of our Debates in the last Session that the initiative in this matter lay with the National Assistance Board. We tried by independent action to get the National Assistance Board to exercise that initiative. It has so far declined to act, although all these facts have been put before it. I say quite definitely that neither the Government of this country nor we in this House can stand aside and watch continual inaction by the National Assistance Board in the carrying out of duties laid upon it (by statute. There is here a clear case for the right hon. Lady the Minister of National Insurance to exercise a bit of independent judgment in her new office and to make appropriate representations to the National Assistance Board that they ought in this matter to do their plain duty.
It will not do to argue, as has been argued in connection with this matter, that the Board has discretionary powers which it operates to give discretionary grants. If I may be allowed to say so, that argument is completely "phoney." What the Board is allowed to do is to make discretionary increases on the ordinary scale in cases where there is a special need. That is intended to cover, and does cover, such cases as the cost of extra food for a diabetic, for washing in the case of persons unable to do their own laundry, and special needs of that kind. Obviously it has no effect at all upon these general cases which I have been arguing. I hope, therefore, that that particularly "phoney" argument will not be trotted out at any stage in the subsequent proceedings. I am asking that in the new and highly onerous office which she now assumes and on which we congratulate her, the right hon. Lady will make it one of her first duties to approach this matter with a proper sense of urgency, and to make the appropriate representations to the National Assistance Board that will induce it—much too late but even yet in time—to do the job it was established to do.
§ 7.0 p.m.
Mr. McKie (Galloway)
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Norwich. North (Mr. Paton) very far in his speech which was somewhat embarrassing to his own Government. I was, however, particularly struck with the phrases in the early part of his speech to the effect 89 that the Government, which he so keenly supported throughout the lifetime of the last Parliament, would not often in this new Parliament be approaching the essential job of governing in the way in which the hon. Member thinks that the Executive should approach such a task. It is true that after saying that, the hon. Gentleman sought to stave off too severe displeasure from the Treasury Bench by saying that he was delighted by what the Prime Minister had to say about the Iron and Steel Act.
I listened with great care to what the Prime Minister said about that Act, and I think I am right in assuming that all he said was that it was not a matter which came up for immediate discussion or decision. The best he gave us was "not before 10 months and perhaps not 'before January, 1952." In other words, the Prime Minister left the House to suppose that a General Election would take place before a decision was necessary and, therefore, the electorate would have another chance of saying something about it.
§ Mr. Paton indicated dissent—
I am entitled to put my own construction upon the Prime Minister's words, just as is the hon. Member. I see the Home Secretary looking not too displeased with me, so perhaps he agrees with my interpretation rather than with that of the hon. Gentleman.
I suppose I must apologise for prolonging the Debate on this occasion, but, after all, this is a golden opportunity for back benchers to take advantage of the hours that elapse on the opening day of a Parliamentary Session. I wish to say something on a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Professor Savory) about the way in which our electoral system operated at the recent General Election. I am glad that the Home Secretary is here; I hope he will listen to what I have to say: I am sure he will. I cannot agree with my hon. Friend about proportional representation. He did not use that phrase but, of course, he was hinting at it. As a former University Member it is natural that he should be enamoured of that system. My hon. Friend gave illustrations of how unfairly our present electoral system worked. If I heard him correctly he said that our system was invented long before we had 90 the three-party or group system in this country. Of course, our system was not invented at all. To quote the words of Topsy, it "just growed." There is little fear that either of the two great parties in the State would favour altering our present method of electing Members to this honourable House.
I do not know about the nine hon. Members who sit immediately behind me on the Liberal Bench, but I was in wholehearted agreement with the hon. Member for South Antrim when he spoke about the restriction placed for the first time by this Government under the Representation of the People Act upon free use of motor cars for the purpose of taking voters to the voting booths. There is no question that in the rural areas this restriction very seriously hampered large numbers of people irrespective of party who wished to visit the polling booths. Perhaps you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will be able to corroborate what I am saying, because for a long time you represented, with great distinction, a constituency somewhat similar to my own.
The hon. Member for South Antrim called attention to the scattered nature of his constituency. He said that he addressed 46 meetings. I addressed 78 meetings. The hon. Member had a majority of 33,000, and I had a majority of only 9,000. However, I can tell the Home Secretary that from my experience—and I daresay my hon. Friend would say the same—my majority would have been far bigger had the use of motor cars been unrestricted, as it was in the old days. When I inform the Home Secretary that the percentage of those voting in my division was one of the smallest in the whole country—63 per cent.—I hope that he will think again. A wonderful opportunity is provided in this Parliament, when we cannot have much contentious legislation. Why should not the Government introduce a Bill to, amend the Representation of the People Act in many respects and particularly to lift this ridiculous embargo on the free use of motor cars?
I am delighted that the hon. Member agrees with me. I do not often get agreement from that quarter, and I am delighted to have it tonight.
Another point about the Election was the very defective electoral register which was used. I do not wish to cast any aspersions upon those who are charged with the duty of making up the roll. I know that they had a difficult and arduous task, but the Home Secretary is well aware that possibly there never has been a more defective register. It is all very well for him to shake his head, but what I say is true. I am told by those who know what they are talking about that the register which comes into operation on 15th March on which the next Election will almost certainly be fought and won, and lost by hon. Gentlemen opposite, is just about as bad as the one with which we have been dealing. I suggest that it would be most desirable in the interests of all of us if something could be done between now and the poll to overhaul the new register. Not only should it be made more up to date, because there are a lot of dead people on it and also children and people under the age of 21, but the duplications on the register should be cut out. The Home Secretary knows that it is true that there are a great number of duplications in the register.
There are a few points I wish to make in connection with the Gracious Speech. The Speech, of course, was what we on this side of the House expected. It is most difficult—I want to make all allowances for the difficulties—for a Government situated like this one to introduce a Speech with anything very much in it. Indeed, I was amazed at the length of the Speech on this occasion. More than half of it was taken up with foreign affairs. In that connection, it was largely a narrative of past events and pious aspirations for the future. I know that everyone will agree with me when I say that we are delighted at the coming visit of the President of the French Republic and Madame Auriol. We on this side of the House hope that it will be the starting point of new relations with our near neighbours on the other side of the Channel in the French Republic.
On the domestic side, I wish to mention one or two matters connected with rural affairs. The Government have featured matters pertaining to the countryside in this non-committal Gracious Speech. They have emphasised their desire to expand 92 food production. In the recent election there was a good deal of boasting—I dare-say that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) doubts me—by Socialist candidates in the rural constituencies about what this great Government had done since 1945 to foster the agricultural industry. However, they were not successful in getting many votes or winning many seats in those areas. That is why they put up—and I say this quite respectfully—the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Dye) to move the humble Address. He is one of the exceptions to the general rule with regard to agriculture. Government candidates were incapable of persuading the agricultural population to believe that they alone had been responsible for the better state of agriculture as compared with the period between the two world wars.
The Government had an impossible brief because everyone knows that the agricultural economy of this country was balanced during the war years under the National Government, to which all political parties were subscribers; and world and domestic conditions alone, quite apart from whatever Government had been in power, would have made for a greater state of prosperity in the agricultural industry than we have had for perhaps 100 years, since the repeal of the Corn Laws. I am glad to think that the Government are not daunted by the fact that they did not win many agricultural seats and that they have indicated that they are prepared to increase production and to continue schemes for expansion. In our manifesto we made it plain, on the question of agricultural expansion and production, that we would only have been satisfied with a 50 per cent. increase on the output for 1939. I hope that His Majesty's Ministers will set themselves the same target.
I should also like to mention the question of prices, because they are intimately concerned with output, The feedingstuffs subsidies are now expiring, and we are all anxiously awaiting the publication of prices. The annual review is now in progress, and the Minister of Agriculture was reminded of it today by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). We are as I say awaiting the outcome of the discussions, and we certainly hope that as a result of the withdrawal of the feeding-stuffs subsidies we shall not be hampered 93 in consequence by increased costs of production. They would hit us—and I disclose my interest as an agriculturist, as I am bound to do in accordance with the custom of this House—very heavily at the present time.
The other point I wish to make in connection with the agricultural industry is one which I should think would arouse the interest of hon. Members opposite. It is the question of housing, which has been referred to generally in one or two of the speeches this afternoon, We all know that, speaking generally, this Government cannot take any great credit for, or have any great satisfaction concerning, what they have been able to do in connection with housing. In trying to justify what his Government had done—or rather failed to do—the hon. Member for North Norwich (Mr. Paton) said that we must not expect the impossible, or words to that effect. But what we criticise hon. Members opposite for—including the hon. Lady the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mrs. Braddock)—is that, on coming to this House in 1945, they made strong speeches in the Debate on the Address of that time and in subsequent Debates, speaking of the appalling conditions which then existed in town and country alike, and, after making rash promises about what would and could be done before the end of the last Parliament—
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is it not a fact that the Tory county council for the division which the hon. Member represents built practically no houses at all between the wars, and has the worst record of any county in Scotland?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I represent two counties, and I am quite prepared to say that the conditions in Wigtown are certainly pretty bad as far as housing is concerned. I make the hon. Gentleman a present of that right away. Conditions there are very bad indeed, and, irrespective of party, we all wish to see them improved. But my point was that rash promises and speeches were made in this House in 1945 about what could and would be done to put the housing position right before the last Parliament came to an end.
Speaking purely from the point of view of rural housing, I hope that the Government, whether its life be long or short— 94 it is almost certain to be short—will seriously reflect on the question of whether or not the reconditioning grants which were made available under various rural housing Acts during the two world wars and were withdrawn early in the last Parliament, should be restored. In withdrawing those grants purely for political prejudice the Labour Government dealt a direct blow to the better housing of the rural population. I certainly hope that during the present Parliament they will consider again whether or not they are prepared to restore those grants.
The Gracious Speech also draws attention to rural water supplies, and on this subject I know that I shall have the hon. Member for South Ayrshire with me. I hope that the Government will really try to carry their words into effect so far as rural water supplies are concerned. I am sure that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, who was good enough to point out the bad housing conditions which exist in one part of my constituency, will agree that there is a great deal to be done there about water supplies. During the election campaign I pointed out that it was not a Government of my party which had been responsible for governing the country during the past five years, but here we are, after the election, with the Government of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire still in power, although with a very narrow majority. However, I hope that something will be done about this business of water supplies because it is a very serious matter indeed in many of the rural areas of Scotland, and particularly in the one which I have had the honour to represent for so long in this House.
In the short time available to me I have endeavoured to put a few points to the Government about whose tenure of office we are very uncertain now that they have been deprived of their huge majority and reduced to the status of a caretaker Government. They have an overall majority of only seven and the doubtful support of the Liberals, and I hope that on this occasion they will do what they ought to have done in 1945 had they been a little wiser, and will take first things first. Even in the meagre bill of fare which they have presented to us in the Gracious Speech there is quite a 95 lot which they can do, and if they proceed on wise and sane lines they will receive a large measure of support from those of us who sit on this side of the House.
§ 7.17 p.m.
Mr. Clunk (Dunfermline Burghs)
As a new Member it is a great privilege for me to address this House. I represent the constituency so well represented for a great number of years by Mr. Watson. It is my particular desire to give the same service to this House and to my constituency as that given for so long by that gentleman. I have been told that one should not deliver one's maiden speech too soon, and that it should not be too long. However, I have an urge to address the House on this occasion—possibly too soon—due, very largely, to my experience during the last day or two, and, particularly, today.
I have been struck by the atmosphere of the place, and I have certainly been influenced by listening to certain speakers and watching certain personalities whom I had only known through the medium of the newspapers. I have also been impressed by the arguments used by hon. Members opposite with regard, for instance, to housing. I have long been connected with the housing problem; I have had almost 44 years' service in the Labour movement, and I can assure hon. Members opposite that I am not in the least dismayed. I am convinced that the policy pursued by the Labour Government since 1945. and outlined in the Gracious Speech, is the only commendable policy that can ultimately deal with the social problems affecting the people to whom I belong.
I was particularly struck with that part of the Gracious Speech that gave a guarantee of full employment and even though the matter might be contentious, I refer to it because in my constituency I have mining in the east and the Rosyth dockyard in the south. Both sections of my constituency suffered greatly between the wars as a result of unemployment. The consequences of that period of unemployment, not merely the absence of any guarantee of security and the absence of any guarantee of employment but the punishment inflicted on parents and children, were naturally remedied when the policy of full employment was imple- 96 mented by the Labour Government after the election of 1945. That policy strikes at the very root of the economic system which, after all, the bulk of those on the Opposition benches uphold in principle. That is, I think, vital.
The same applies when we deal with housing. As we know, Labour deals with housing as a social problem. Labour had to tackle the housing question because those very conditions arose again from the industrial system which Members on the Opposition benches also support in principle. I have had a long connection with housing in public administration. I can solemnly say that the policy pursued by the Labour Government on housing dealt primarily with the question from the point of view of giving equality and raising the status of the human family. I was particularly anxious to emphasise those facts. I am very pleased that I have had the privilege, one might say the temerity, to address this historic assembly only a day or two after my arrival here. I have done so because I felt the atmosphere was so familiar that I had to take the opportunity of saying the things I have said. I have to thank the House for the privilege of saying them.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Captain Duncan (South Angus)
The hon. Member for Dunfermline has just got his maiden speech off his chest, and, in accordance with the ordinary procedure, I should like to congratulate him on his courage in facing this historic assembly so early in his political career. He has mentioned things which have interested his constituency and I shall not attempt at this late hour to argue about the things of which he spoke. But, I should like to introduce myself to this House as one on a second honeymoon. I feel at this moment rather like the gentleman who lost his first wife through desertion and has now gone on a second honeymoon. I return to the fold of marital life once more with joy and expectations.
There are two matters on which I wish to speak with regard to the Gracious Speech. The first is this. The Speech refers to making better use of marginal land. Now, we shall look forward with a great deal of interest to what the Government are proposing in their detailed application of these words. There 97 is a tremendous difference of opinion as to what in fact is marginal land. The President of the National Farmers Union of England has not been able to define it, although in Scotland we have some sort of definition of a marginal farm. But I have no doubt in my own mind that quite a lot can be done in Scotland in the development of marginal land, firstly if we can define it, and secondly if we can give adequate inducement to the people concerned to develop it. But let there be no doubt about it, it is expensive. I have some, and I have been trying to develop it, but the expense is so much that it is uneconomic to develop the particular type of marginal land that I have in my own area.
I believe the best scope for adding arable acres to Britains' arable land is in dealing with it in small parcels. In so many farms you find an odd 10 acres which the farmer up to now has found it uneconomic to develop because it is far too expensive and he has not the heavy machinery to do it. I believe that an enormous number of small blocks of marginal land can be developed, but that will not be done by nationalising it as His Majesty's Government suggested in their election programme. If it is a question of carving marginal farms out of hillside blocks, that is a very different type of work altogether, and we are waiting with great anticipation to see what is proposed by the Government in that connection. I would advise them that an enormous amount of marginal land can be taken back to arable cultivation in small amounts in all parts of the country if additional help is offered by the Government. But in no case should there be a threat of nationalisation behind this inducement.
§ Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)
Could the hon. Member give any reference to any proposals by the Labour Party to nationalise land?
§ Captain Duncan
If the hon. Member will look at his own manifesto—I am sorry I have not a copy with me—he will find that under certain circumstances the State will take over and develop marginal land.
§ Captain Duncan
I think there is no doubt about it. I have not the reference on me. I will bring it on another occasion. We will leave it at that for the moment.
The Gracious Speech says:You will be asked to approve legislation giving further encouragement to the transfer of industrial undertakings to the development areas.I represent a constituency which borders on Dundee, and Dundee is in a development area. Through the operation of the development area procedure Dundee has obtained a large number of factories which are all doing well. There is a danger in encouraging too much industry into a development area because it tends to drain labour and industry away from the smaller towns outside the development area. In my constituency are the towns of Arbroath, Carnoustie, Monifieth, Forfar, and Kirriemuir, and there are other towns in other constituencies around Dundee none of which is in the development area. They are trying to keep their workers employed and their industries going without any of these advantages which Dundee has.
Another effect of the development area procedure operating in Dundee is that in order to accommodate the industries and the workers it is necessary to take first-class arable land which is all round Dundee. Dundee itself is tending to sprawl out not only in new housing estates but in new factories which are being erected all along the by-pass round Dundee. That may be all right up to a limit, but I suggest that there are certain limits beyond which one should not go, and that if those limits are exceeded the outside towns will be deprived of their industries and therefore of employment for their workers. Some of the industries in my town are very lightly held. There is much encouragement for people to go into Dundee, and it is only for some sentimental or accidental reason that they have established themselves outside the 99 area, but they may easily flit into Dundee in order to obtain the advantages in the development area.
I warn the Government that if they go beyond a certain limit they will hit these factories very badly and will thereby create not one big pocket of unemployment as there was in Dundee, but a whole series of little pockets of unemployment spread all round the other towns in the other localities. I shall watch with very great care this legislation which the Government evidently intend to introduce, because I want to protect the interests of my constituents in the towns outside the development areas.
I should like to reinforce what was said this afternoon by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) about the continual inflationary tendency. One thing that we have to do in this country—and this applies to all parties—is to stem and reduce inflation. Up to now we have had Marshall Aid and a sellers' market. Both are coming to an end. The sellers' market is becoming less strong and Marshall Aid is being halved next year. In 1952, if this Government lasts as long as that, there will be no Marshall Aid at all, and there may be a buyers' market in full swing. At that time we shall have to stand on our own feet without any artificial aids from outside. The real problem is; how can we, without any artificial aids in the future, stand on our own feet and sell the goods which we must sell abroad?
I say in all earnestness that nobody on this side of the House wishes to reduce wages, but there are costs of industry that must be reduced. Surely one of the costs is the burden of taxation, not only on industry itself but on the managers and the workers, particularly with regard to overtime. We shall watch with the very greatest care the method by which this Government tries to tackle that problem. There is nothing at all in the Gracious Speech that deals with that question, but it has to be faced by this House. If we fail, by 1952 we shall be in a bigger crisis than that of 1931.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
I never imagined that when I came into this House a day or two ago I would be called and would be speaking in the first 100 Debate on the Gracious Speech. If I may make a personal remark, I never imagined that you, Mr. Speaker—and I am one of your constituents—would be the person who would call me. However, I congratulate you, Sir, on that aspect of freedom of speech; we both believe in it, and I am very happy that I am participating in this Debate.
I am rather dismayed that there is no specific reference in the Gracious Speech to our main human problem in Scotland, and that is the specific problem of the lack of housing. We who have had long local authority experience know full well that our greatest worry is that most of our time both in the streets and at the fireside is taken up listening to heartbreaking stories about lack of housing. Conditions are such that I feel that this Parliament, no matter what its composition may be, has got to do something of a first-line order to lessen the moral and social injustices which arise from this problem. While It is a great Scottish problem, I am aware that the problem is felt in Britain as well, in the rural areas as well as the industrial areas. Consequently, we should have unanimity on both sides of the House in examining the ways and means of how best to tackle the problem.
The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) said that the Leader of the Opposition would touch on this problem. I am aware that the Leader of the Opposition in the course of his election campaign referred to the fact that today we are producing 500 houses as against 1,000 just before the war. I do not think the periods are comparable; we must recognise that we started with a denuded labour force and a shortage of materials. The only true comparable periods are possibly after the First World War and after the Second World War.
I gather from Opposition Members' speeches that their main solution is to set the private builders free. Speaking as one who was driven into public life because of the problem in my own area, I say that if we took that course today we should have a lower production of municipal houses. One would imagine, from reading Opposition speeches, that building trade operatives were queueing up at the labour exchanges. No such thing is happening, of course; in every area we are trying to get more building 101 trade operatives. The problem boils down to this: if we were to set the builders free, we would have no guarantee that houses would be built at all. We would have a lower production of houses instead of an augmentation of the number of municipal houses.
It appears to me that this question is in the wrong perspective altogether. As I see it, what we need is a greater concentration of controls in order to get a greater production of houses. I feel that there is a lack of flow of the various components to the various local authority areas and that not enough attention is paid to the need for houses when the allocation of houses to various local authority areas is considered. No one has ever been able to tell me, either at St. Andrew's House or anywhere else, what formula decides the number of houses local authorities are to have allocated to their particular areas. I feel that the only real factor we can use is the need for homes, and the size of that need should decide the number of houses to be built in any particular local authority area. I hope the Government will pay special attention to this question of need.
I believe that bringing in private enterprise building as a completely free aspect to the provision of houses would simply mean fewer municipal houses and more privately-owned houses for people who could buy the land and the house, and a consequent conflict with allocation by need, because we would not be building by need but would be building because of the amount of money a man had in his pocket. If we can continue with the present system, if we can introduce this aspect of need in a clearer way, if we can at the source have a little more control in order to get more components going where they are needed, we shall make progress. I recognise full well that we cannot build municipal houses in vast estates without the provision of schools and the other corollaries which form a natural part of housing development, but I feel nevertheless that we should recognise this question of houses as priority number one in Scotland. I am convinced of that through the interest shown in it in my constituency and in other constituencies in which I addressed meetings.
But while that is the first priority, there is one other aspect of the Gracious Speech 102 upon which I want to touch. We have indicated the importance of a good clean water supply being taken into every rural area. We do not mean just to the farm or the house; we mean even to the fields where water is needed. That will obviate the need of a great deal of labour in connection with changing cattle from one place to another at periods during the day.
But allied to this there is another problem. In my constituency I know of one instance, in particular, where we have too much water. There it is a drainage problem. There is a small river which needs to be deepened in some way or another and certain bridges which need to be widened in order to clear a large number of acres which could be put to good agricultural use. I feel that the Minister of Labour and his Department should look very favourably on applications from areas such as that for help and grants and scientific assistance where necessary, in order that the land may be rapidly brought into cultivation.
Those are the two matters on which I wanted to speak. I did not think I should jump into Debate quite so early. I appreciate your indulgence, Sir, and am glad to have had this opportunity and to have got over this first jump.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Snow (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I much appreciate the privilege of speaking after the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) whose speech, I think, was certainly of great sincerity, and made an appeal in all quarters of the House. I feel sure that as time goes on he will lend more colour and give even more information to the House, and we shall be very pleased to have it.
I am tempted by the presence of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power to touch on one aspect of the development of our coalmining industry which I think deserves attention. It seems to me that we should take active steps to rebut the criticism that is too often made that the nationalisation of this industry has not improved the relationship between the management of the industry and those who work in the pits. I have in mind one problem which affects the Cannock field, part of which lies in the constituency I now have the honour to represent.
103 I believe it is a fact that there is a distinct, well-defined time limit on the use of the Cannock field. Certainly that applies to a particular pit I have in mind which is located at Brereton near Rugeley. There we have a situation which, I think, probably occurs elsewhere in the Cannock field and in the country generally. The knowledge that there is a time limit on the use of a particular pit creates a feeling of uncertainty among miners and people who reside in the area. I think the National Coal Board should take more into consideration the feelings of such people, who must consider not only for themselves but for their children whether they should continue to reside in such a place and whether there is a future for them and their families in such a place. In this field rumours get around. Borings are being sunk but nobody knows whether new fields will be developed, whether the Government have in their mind that they will grasp the nettle and sink more capital to develop in that locality. I think steps should be taken to make public the plans that the Coal Board have in mind so as to restore local confidence.
I want to make another point on an entirely different matter. References have been made this afternoon to rural houses. It would be a pity to try to make party political capital at this moment, much as I should be pleased to do so later on. I have the impression that a very excellent Act that was passed in the last Parliament—the Housing Act, 1949—is not sufficiently understood by the housing authorities concerned and that its provisions would make a very useful contribution to the improvement of housing in our rural areas. I think hon. Members will agree with me when I say that there are literally thousands of houses in the countryside which could be improved very greatly if the provisions of that Act were used. In point of fact, however, far too many housing authorities have not the slightest idea what the Act does provide.
If I may digress for a moment, it also provides for the improvement of vicarages and manses. An ecclesiastic whom I met the other day had never heard of the Act and yet he said to me that he had a conference of his clergy that week to discuss the very vexed question of making 104 habitable some of the less habitable vicarages which exist in South Staffordshire. Indeed, this Act, I think, provides grants on a fifty-fifty basis up to a maximum of £600, for the improvement of rural housing and that particular provision should be used far more than it is used. But the trouble is that the owners of those derelict properties feel reluctant to use this particular provision—if, indeed, they know of it at all—because of the existing rent control. Now, I should be the last to say that the rent control of rural houses should be lifted. However, I believe it should be modified. Indeed, something must be done to eradicate those rural slums which, to my mind, exist unnecessarily.
In the Gracious Speech reference is made to the fact that the Government will not hesitate to introduce contentious legislation should they see fit. I hope that does not mean that they are not going to do something about the question of the tied cottage. That is a contentious question, though I deplore that it should be; but I believe it is a question that should be dealt with very quickly. There is a feeling of unrest, of unsettlement, of resentment amongst the agricultural workers over the question of the tied cottage. It is not a bit of use for people to say that in these days of enlightenment farm workers are not being evicted in inhuman circumstances. It is just not true. They are evicted, and frequently in circumstances one can describe only as deplorable.
I do hope, therefore, that the Government will grasp this nettle also, and deal with the tied cottage question. I am not an extremist in this matter. I know that there are certain jobs on farms that necessitate men being on the spot; but that does not go for the vast bulk of the houses which come into the category of the tied cottage. I hope the Government will get the report which, I believe, they are awaiting on the subject of the law relating to rent restriction and will deal with the question as a matter of first importance.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)
It was not my intention to intervene in this Debate, and I would not have done so but for the speech of the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay), a 105 dormitory adjoining Birmingham, and his reference to the housing problem in Birmingham. Of course, he continued by talking about the housing problem in general. On numerous occasions in the last Parliament I made speeches on the question of housing. Let me repeat that I live in the slums of a division part of which I have had the honour to represent on the city council close on 28 years, and I know something of housing in that city. I think it is humbug for our opponents to continue playing upon the misery of the people who are living in rooms, by their talk on the question of house building. They know full well—as well as we know—that it is just hypocrisy to say. "Let the builders build you a house," because there are very, very few local authorities that are building by direct labour.
Who builds the houses? In the great City of Birmingham, with a population of 1,250,000, with a housing list of close on 53,000, nobody builds the houses but the builders. Why are not the builders building houses? Let me tell you, Sir, and the House a story. I hope it will be challenged by building firms as to its truth. I admit that I know very little about building itself, but during the election campaign I was going to speak in another constituency, and the gentleman who picked me up in a car at my house told me he was a builder in a small town outside Birmingham. We discussed the building question and the housing problem, because any man, whatever political party he belongs to, who represents a constituency where the housing is bad and the people are suffering in consequence cannot but have some feeling about those conditions. If there is anything that gives me a nightmare it is the conditions in which some people are living.
So we discussed housing while we went the few miles we had to go. I asked: "Why cannot the builders build?" I wish the hon. Member for Solihull were here now. In Birmingham, if contractors want to take on contracts for houses they can take them on. They can get together and build houses. In fact, in Birmingham, with a housing list of 53,000, they have not yet built the number of houses allotted over and above their quota in November. 1948.
106 The builders could build. I asked: "Why will they not?" He said: "I will tell you a story. If a builder puts in a contract for building houses for a municipality—maybe 1,000, maybe 500—the clerk of the works from the council is on the job. Let us assume, for the sake of the argument, that the houses cost £1,500. The clerk sees every scrap of material that goes into the houses. Of course, as the builders are not building houses for the corporation by way of charity they get a profit. Nevertheless, if the builder builds a house for Mr. Jones. or Mrs. Thomas, or for Bill Harris's son or daughter, his own clerk of the works—or no clerk of the works—goes to see the building, and there is no doubt about it that there is a greater profit even out of £1,500 for the house."
Why do not the builders build houses in this country? Why do Members opposite urge the builders to build houses? Because, as the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) and other speakers have said, it is a question of the purse. Let us analyse for a moment the demand to let private enterprise build houses freely for sale. It is all very well to say that to build a house for someone to buy who has a house already, means freeing a house for someone who has not one. What about the people whose sons and daughters are getting married? How many can afford to buy houses? How many houses are wanted by them? Let us be honest. The greatest need for the greatest number is houses to rent.
Suppose we did allow houses for sale to be built freely. We know full well—we have worked it out—that if only £50 or £100 has to be paid a year it means an outgoing of £2 or £2 5s. a week out of a working man's income. Even though he may be in full employment now, he may go sick, or be crippled with rheumatism or arthritis, so that for a period of years he would be left with an outgoing that would be a millstone round his neck. All this talk about the great need being houses for sale is humbug throughout. What hon. Members opposite really mean is that they want houses to be built to supply the needs of people better off, as compared with the people with the greater need—and that is the greater number of people—who require houses to rent. 107 Hon. Members opposite cannot boast about housing. Today in the City of Birmingham there are close on 1,000 men using up material and using up their time in repairing property left practically derelict that has to be kept up as long as possible because of housing difficulties. That is because of neglect in the past. Hon. Members opposite have nothing to boast of. The back-to-back houses in the City of Birmingham are a disgrace. They are relics of the past. The only great slum clearers we have had in this country were the Jerry bombers. It was a pity we could not have got our people out of the way and let the Jerries blow the whole lot of our slums down.
We on this side of the House, here or on public platforms, have never been complacent about housing. I am disappointed that the subject is not included in the Gracious Speech. However, I believe that before the end of this Session a Debate can take place on housing. Thousands of couples who have married since 1939 would not have houses if they had been unemployed. Full employment has helped to aggravate the housing problem. We have been able to house over 1¼ million families in permanent houses and prefabs and by the reconstruction and repair of bomb-damaged houses. This has been a magnificent achievement. I know that hon. Members opposite do not like to hear about the past, when there was no problem of labour and materials or of money, and yet it took four years to house 320,000 families after the 1914–18 war as against one million families since the last war.
It is sometimes a harder problem to convert a house or to do bomb damage repairs than to put up a permanent house. I am fed up with the idea of telling people that if we free the builders more houses will be built. I hope that we shall stop all building except urgent building and concentrate on house building. Where are the building operatives today? Many of them are in factories because of the rotten conditions that existed between the two wars when they walked the streets, although plenty of building could have been done. In Birmingham 2,000 municipal houses a year were built for 25 years. I was on the council for 25 years and I know what I am talking about. During that time nearly all the 108 slums in Birmingham could have been cleared. There were 30,000 people on the housing registers when war broke out, and at the present time 25 houses a week are being built with a full Tory council.
What is holding up houses? Not the Minister of Health but the local authorities, and I make the bold statement that there has been deliberate sabotage of housing in this country to try to blacken the Government in readiness for the General Election. I hope that something is going to be done to give greater incentive to building operatives to get them on the job so that we can carry on house building with greater speed, and I believe that this Government has every intention of doing its utmost to achieve that object.
I want to back up what was said by the hon. Member for North Norwich (Mr. Paton). It has been my privilege to go into the homes of old people and to inquire into their needs, I fully realise that no old couple can live on £2 a week plus 6s. or 8s. It is utterly impossible. I hope that our opponents will not laugh because the only thing which they could give them was the workhouse. We have removed them from the workhouse and have given them the chance to exist in their own little homes for the remainder of their lives.
I hope that the right hon. Lady who is now Minister of National Insurance will take notice of what was said by the hon. Member for Norwich, North, and look into this question of supplementary allowances, because I feel that there is an opportunity to give more of the necessities of life to these old people than they are able to get at the present time, and I hope that our opponents will drop this slogan of "Let the builders build."
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Gibson (Clapham)
I was particularly pleased to find in the Gracious Speech the reference to the determination of the Government to introduce measures, should they prove necessary, for the maintenance of full employment and the national well-being, even though they were likely to prove contentious. I think that is a very important statement. Having recently fought an election in a completely new constituency to me, I know that it has weighed with the people in Clapham that during the past four-and-a-half years there has been full employment and wages coming into the homes. 109 My opponent helped me in the election considerably, because he went around saying that the people of Britain were the worst fed people west of the Iron Curtain. It was easy for me to deal with that statement.
That expressed to me something of the philosophy of our opponents. They had no praise for the tremendous efforts which the people of Britain had made during the past four-and-a-half years in raising production to record levels, in raising exports to record levels, and in raising the general standard of living of the common people. All they did was to attempt to denigrate their own country and to talk down the efforts which the common people of this country have made in response to the appeal and lead given by the late Government. I feel, therefore, that it is important that in the Gracious Speech there should be a reference to the determination of this Government to introduce, if necessary, controversial legislation in order to ensure the maintenance of full employment and full wages in the pockets of the men and women who work in our industries and on the land.
I do not believe, and I do not think that the Government believe, that the way to tackle every economic problem is to create vast bodies of unemployed men and women. Surely we have seen what has happened in other countries, and that the economic problems of the world cannot be solved successfully by building up a method which provides for millions of men and women out of work. That only makes the situation worse and compels millions of families to live below the poverty line and many to live on standards which any decent-minded man would agree are wrong and which in a society which professes to be Christian, ought not to be allowed. We must find some other method, and I believe that the general economic policy of the Government—subject to one or two points of criticism here and there which one feels compelled to make from time to time—which has resulted in full employment with record output of production, is the one which this country can follow during the next few years.
The second matter to which I wish to refer also cropped up during the election campaign in which I was engaged. I found that people were worried about the 110 attempted scare in connection with the atom bomb and the hydrogen bomb. I do not think that people were very much impressed by the appeal of the Leader of the Opposition to Stalin or anyone else. The people in this country do not believe in dictatorship and will not have it, but neither will they have people who blow themselves up into imagining that by their words they can control and guide successfully great international problems such as this problem of the atomic bomb. I am therefore glad to see from the Gracious Speech that it is proposed to deal with this problem through the United Nations organisation, with a view to getting some international agreement which would provide adequate control and supervision of the production of atomic energy.
I should like to go a bit further and see international ownership of the sources of supply of the materials from which atomic energy is produced. That seems to me to be the only way, in the long run, in which this tremendous and terrifying power can be controlled in the interests of the whole world. I am quite sure that it cannot be done merely by what are called high level talks between the President of the United States, Stalin and somebody in this country. In any case, the President of the United States has settled that matter by saying that he is not coming out of America for any kind of talk, of this or any other description. We can therefore get this matter dealt with only through the United Nations organisation, and I hope the Government will press as hard as they possibly can to try to get some agreement.
We all realise the difficulties, but do not let us be afraid of them. I do not think the British people are afraid of the atomic bomb, but they do want to sec it properly controlled in the general interest. What they will insist on is that no Government should so allow the situation to develop that it results in our drifting into a war atmosphere over the production of atomic energy. I hope the Government will go to the extreme, if necessary, in trying to obtain effective understanding on this problem, not merely with America but with Russia. I know that the Russians appear to be over-suspicious of nearly everybody, but if atomic bombs are dropped on the world they stand to lose as much as the rest of us. I am sure 111 that if we can stimulate the public conscience of the world, even Russia cannot stand aside from the effects of such a stirring of the public conscience. I am therefore very glad that reference to this awful problem is made in the Gracious Speech, and I hope that the Government will do their utmost to press on with this matter as fast and as hard as they possibly can.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
I am very grateful for the opportunity of hearing today—I was prevented from hearing them before because I was otherwise engaged in Scotland—what I understand were the main election speeches of the hon. Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Shurmer) and the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson). I think it is very useful to have the opportunity of hearing those speeches, because we did not have that opportunity during the election as we were confined to our own constituencies. I have no doubt they had the expected effect, otherwise the hon. Gentlemen would not be here to afford us the opportunity of hearing them. Well-rehearsed speeches of that character have a somewhat fly-blown look, however, to the experienced speaker, and I would not intrude any of my own on the House, although they had as stimulating an effect upon the electorate as those delivered by the two hon. Gentlemen opposite. I know you will be delighted to hear, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that I had one of the largest Conservative majorities in Scotland. Consequently there is no need for me to repeat the cogent arguments which had such an effect upon the electors.
I should like to follow the hon. Member for Clapham in his reference to full employment. I, like him, take the view that it is a matter of the very greatest and most urgent importance, and I have never understood why it is suggested by any politician that his opponents want unemployment. I do not see what can be gained by anybody in having unemployment; I do not see that any party could conceive that any advantage is to be gained by having men and women out of employment. The suggestion that for some reason or another the Conservative Party desires unemployment is quite obvi- 112 ously fallacious. If there is one thing a politician does not want it is unemployment: empty bellies do not make willing voters, and although some hon. Members opposite put forward this argument, it is so baseless and empty that it has only to be heard to be dismissed. The attempt by hon. Members opposite to fasten upon their opponents the suggestion that for some obscure and nefarious purposes they wanted unemployment was obviously dismissed by the electorate as a fallacy.
If it were true that His Majesty's Government had secured full employment during recent years, I should be happier than they apparently are, but I am not complacent about their achievements in the realm of full employment. I am glad to see the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland present and I take this opportunity to congratulate him on his return to this House; his return was a little unexpected, but it is none the less gratifying, because I personally have always liked him, and I know he will bear me out in what I now have to say. The figure of 50,000 is not a large number of persons, but the unemployment figure has never been less than that in Scotland for a considerable time; that is a good many in a country the population of which, in men, women and children, is only five million. I am not one of those who claim that full employment is either possible or practicable, but His Majesty's Government and their supporters have claimed, not only that it is desirable and practicable, but that they have achieved it. The Joint Under-Secretary is faced with the difficulty that in Scotland he has not achieved it, in spite of his efforts, supported by the Minister of Labour.
On this question of full employment I speak only from the Scottish point of view; I speak only from what I know. In Scotland we have a great shortage of nurses. I understand there is a shortage of nurses in other parts of the country as well, but I certainly know that there is a shortage in Scotland. This shortage of nurses is not due to the disinclination of young women today to enter the profession; the attractions of nursing are as great as ever they were; but full employment makes it difficult for us to get nurses, because young women have alternative and more attractive employment. During the recent election a man in my constituency asked me how it was that they could not get nurses for a tuber- 113 culosis hospital. The reason is that full employment prevents their getting young women into the nursing profession; they go into shops and become mannequins, or they go into the ballet or the Civil Service. I am not denying their right to choose other employment, but His Majesty's Government, in their passion for full employment, have denuded certain industries of essential and valuable workers, and have not put up a wages policy to counteract such problems.
I agree that the nursing profession should have a prior claim in the community, but under a policy of full employment I cannot blame young women if they find other professions more attractive, more lucrative, and certainly more desirable from the disciplinary point of view, and if they therefore deny themselves the opportunity of performing this essential service. The problem was well stated by William Morris when he asked "who was going to do the dirty work under Socialism." His Majesty's Government have not solved the problem, and they are in just as much of a quandary as William Morris was when he posed the question.
There is no reference to Scotland in the Gracious Speech, except that we are to have, with England and Wales, improvements in our allotment system. I should have thought that the Gracious Speech would contain some reference to certain very urgent matters which have been in the minds of the Scots people for the last four years. I wonder, for example, whether it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to revive the very valuable consultation inaugurated by a former Socialist Secretary of State, the Right Hon. Thomas Johnston, who set up the Council of former Secretaries of State for Scotland, bringing all former Secretaries of State for Scotland together in consultation? It would be, if assembled, a very interesting body, and would include Lord Clydesmuir, the Right Hon. Ernest Brown, the Right Hon. Thomas Johnston, Sir Archibald Sinclair, the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), and also the right hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn), who now sits as a private Member in this House. Perhaps at some stage we shall learn whether it is proposed to revive again the Council of Secretaries of State. It could do no harm, because as far as 114 Scotsmen are concerned advice is the least expensive commodity. The Gracious Speech has the one great merit that it is short, indicating that speeches on the subject should also be short. Accordingly, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I follow its example.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Far and away the most important paragraph in the Gracious Speech is that which refers to atomic energy. I am not one who criticised the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) for drawing attention to the H-bomb in the course of his election speech. He was criticised by some of his Labour critics on the ground that this problem could not be solved by stunt methods. Whether or not this problem is to be solved by direct approach through the Big Four or through the United Nations, the right hon. Gentleman brought an air of reality into the election by bringing this issue to the forefront of political discussion. Although his method of approach may have been different from that of the Foreign Secretary, he rendered a service by bringing to the forefront of our discussions the problem upon which the whole of our domestic politics and international civilisation depends.
I welcome the paragraph in the Gracious Speech because it takes us a step further. Those of us who were in the last Parliament remember that for a long time it was considered almost indecent to mention the fact that the atomic bomb existed. For a long time there was evasive action on the part of the Minister of Defence, and even the Prime Minister refused to tell the House, when I put the question, whether this country has the secret of the atom bomb. It is now quite clear that this is the paramount question that is worrying the statesmen of the world. It is upon this problem that the Government must concentrate their attention. I welcome the speech by the present Minister of Defence who said that all our problems of nationalisation and domestic affairs are completely subordinate to this question of the atomic bomb.
What are the Government going to do about it? I believe that this paragraph is welcomed in so far as it expresses the desire of the Government for some new approach to be made, but I do not see in this paragraph the outline of a bold 115 and constructive international policy. I do not see why the Government should be content with expressing the view that they should assist in finding a durable solution of the tremendous problem of atomic energy. Why should this great democracy be content merely to say that it should assist? It should have a positive and constructive international policy as an alternative to the policy of Communism and to the policy of American dollar imperialism. The approach should consist of an attempt to outline a world plan to deal with the fundamental economic causes of war. We should go to the United Nations, as Lord Boyd Orr has consistently urged, with a world food policy as an alternative to the terrible prospect of an arms race in an atomic age, which can only invite disaster for every country.
I do not share the view, which is so easily accepted, that all the blame for the present international tension rests on the shoulders of one nation. The Government of the U.S.S.R. must share its responsibility, but it is too simple an explanation to picture Russia as the only villain in the piece. If we trace the causes of the present conflict in international affairs, we have to realise that responsibility does not rest on one nation or on the shoulders of one statesman.
What is going to dominate the discussions in this House during the next few weeks is whether we are to vote between £760 million and £800 million for defence purposes and preparation for war. This is a huge burden that bears upon the British nation and prevents its economic recovery. I believe I am right in saying—I have given the figures before—that £1 8s. per household is spent every week on defence purposes, as compared with 4s. for housing. So long as we have to bear this enormous expenditure, the standard of living of the British worker will be dragged down, as well as the standard of living of the competing nations.
If our standard of living is to be raised, the solution will be found primarily in working out an international policy that will result in common agreement between the nations to reduce this enormous expenditure for war purposes. It bears heavily upon the people in every country—upon the people of Russia, the people of the United States and the people of 116 our own country. In this age when we hear about the fearful possibilities of the hydrogen bomb, we are entitled to know exactly what we are getting for our £760 million to £800 million. What sort of defence is there for the people in these congested islands in the event of a hydrogen bomb being dropped here?
Even if the Government are not able to develop the great nationalisation policy, which those of us who are Socialists believe is essential to our national recovery, they could perform a great debt towards humanity by framing a constructive policy and working out a solution of this mighty problem, which is sitting so heavily upon the shoulders of mankind. In 1941 we reached an agreement with Russia, for then we realised that Hitlerism was the common enemy. Today there is a common enemy to the Russians, the Americans and to Western Europe civilisation, and that common enemy is the atom or hydrogen bomb.
I appeal to the Government to realise that if they go on with this arms race, they will impose a crippling burden upon this nation, and all their hopes of better social services will melt away. The vital issue which we should urge the Government to face with all the solemnity they can is the necessity of framing a positive and constructive programme of international reconciliation which will drive the nightmare of the atom bomb from the memory of mankind.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Poole (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I have been long enough in this House to be immune from provocation, but I confess that the last two speeches have provoked me into getting up on this, the first day of a new Session, much against my better judgment and wholly unprepared. I am with my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) when he says that the predominating, overriding necessity of the day is to find a solution which will bring peace in our time. It matters not who sits in this House or what Government are in power in this or any other country, for unless we can resolve this matter of peace nothing else matters very much.
I confess that to approach the problem in the naive way in which my hon. Friend has done is not only to shirk the real issue, but to approach it in a 117 thoroughly dishonest way. It is for that reason that I am impelled to speak on this issue. I do not think the Foreign Secretary or the Government are any less desirous of finding an international understanding for the reduction of armaments than is my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire, but it is no solution to say that the Government must work out a policy. They can work out the finest policy they like, but unless they can take the other nations with them in agreement on that policy then nothing is accomplished.
We know what is the dilemma and what is the stumbling block which is holding up the reduction of armaments and keeping the whole world in fear of the atom bomb. There is an excellent policy in the United Nations organisation, but we have not been able to carry all the nations of the world with us in support of that policy, and there is no short route or spectacular way of doing it. The whole thing boils down to being able to gain the confidence of those people who at present have no confidence in us.
I do not think—and I say this without disrespect for I have great admiration for some of the things done by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) in other days—it was facing the situation for the right hon. Gentleman to make the statement during the election that he thought he should make an approach on the highest level, and that he should get into an aeroplane, go to Moscow and talk to Premier Stalin face to face. I imagine that if he had done so Stalin's first reaction would have been to remind him of the part he played in 1919. The first thing that Stalin would have said would have been, "I do not think I can trust you in this matter, because, after all, you did send forces to fight against this Republic in 1919."
He would also have reminded the right hon. Gentleman that he led in the House of Commons a party which sold out Manchuria, Abyssinia and Czechoslovakia, and would have sold out Poland if it had not been for the Labour Opposition in this House in 1938. [Laughter.] I am amazed at that laughter from the Front Opposition Bench. I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member for Knutsford (Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport) was in the House when the right hon. Gentleman the then 118 Member for Sparkbrook, MT. Amery, exhorted the then Deputy-Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Arthur Greenwood) to sneak for England, because there was no one on the Government side of the House who was prepared to speak for England. I was here then, and I repeat that we would have sold Poland in 1939, if it had been left to the party which is now led by the right hon. Member for Woodford.
Therefore, I do not think that that approach to the problem of the atom and hydrogen bombs is a solution. The solution is to be found in continuing the steady work in the United Nations until those nations, which do not at the moment trust us, have been convinced of the honesty of our intentions. That is always the longest and most painful way to win the confidence of anyone, but to suggest that to frame a policy is the way to solve the problem, is akin to going into the street and deciding to marry the first person one meets without asking whether the woman is prepared to be a partner in any such glorious project.
I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) say that he was only going to speak of those things of which he had knowledge. His subsequent speech showed how little he knew about the things he was speaking of. He said that the Government claimed to have conquered unemployment, and provided full employment. Then he said that in Scotland the unemployed totalled 50,000, a fairly considerable figure. He went on to talk about the difficulty of obtaining nurses for Scotland, and said that that was because of full employment in Scotland. He was trying to ride two horses at the same time.
§ Mr. Poole
I would say that that would be an easy matter on which to call a count, for I do not think it would take 119 long to count those who understood the hon. Gentleman. Certainly there would not be many on the hon. Gentleman's side of the House.
Now I come to what I regard as the second most important feature of the Debate so far. I confess I find an echo in my heart of the speech of the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). I am much concerned over this problem of housing. I wish we could take housing out of the political arena altogether. [Laughter.] That laugh reveals the vacuum from which it comes.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport (Knutsford)
I would notice the strictures of the hon. Member if I had any respect for his opinions.
§ Mr. Poole
This House knows exactly how to treat interruptions such as that. I will not stoop into the gutter to reply to them. Who put housing into the political arena is not a very material point. The trouble is that hon. Gentlemen opposite are exhorting us all the time not to worry about the past but to forget it, yet the first time anyone seeks to make an honest contribution to the Debate so that we can forget the past, hon. Gentlemen opposite show that they want to take us back into the past. I am quite willing to take hon. Gentlemen back into the record of their party, but if I did so I should be wasting the time of the House and of the people of the country.
I make an appeal on behalf of the poor devils who are living 16 in a house in my constituency. It is no consolation to those people to tell them that their conditions are due to the shortage of soft timber, or to the scarcity of labour in the building industry. The fact is that there are cases such as that of a man, wife and two children living in a back boxroom, where they have to cook, sleep and eat and do everything else, although there is another child coming along. I would like an all-party approach on this question of housing. In 1942 I was one of those who urged this House to go in for a system of prefabrication upon American lines. I do not know what might now be done by the use of alternative materials, but I think that a definite attempt ought to be made on an all-party basis to remove the housing problem out of the political arena and to solve it within the next few years. Other- 120 wise we shall be laying up for ourselves very grave social troubles.
A number of marriages are broken up because of this problem. That is not because of incompatibility of temperament but by the sheer nauseating conditions under which people are living and which are too appalling to contemplate. I know what the factors are. I quite understand how people now desire to have a house of their own whereas before for economic considerations they were prepared to share one. We must take all such factors into account. I hope that the Government will consider very seriously removing the subject of housing out of the sphere of the Minister of Health and that they will give us a Minister responsible for housing. That ought to have been done long ago.
There is one other matter mentioned in the King's Speech to which I should like to refer. Its appearance there affords me considerable pleasure because legislation on the subject is long overdue. I refer to the reform of leaseholds. The leasehold system is one of the greatest social evils still remaining. Under that system, a person is sold a house but not the land upon which it stands, and is mulcted every year for 99 years in the ground rent. In the first place, agricultural land worth about £50 or £100 an acre is divided into plots, on the basis of 10 houses to an acre. Those who buy the houses may pay six pounds a year for each plot for 99 years. At the end of that period the occupiers of the houses will be called upon to hand them over to the ground landlord, although something like £4,000 has been paid in that period. The people who have paid, and their successors, own nothing at all at the end of the period.
It is appalling to realise the number of people who are living in leasehold property and paying ground rent every year, and who do not realise that at the end of their lease they will lose their properties. What is true in regard to the occupation of a dwelling is more abundantly true of business premises. If hon. Members care to examine the position not only in London but anywhere else in the country, and especially upon newly-developed estates, they will find that traders have taken over shops upon a seven-year lease and, after they have built up a fine trade, have been told that 121 it will cost them £250 to renew the lease and that their rent will be doubled. That is absolute, stark-naked, legalised robbery. There are hotels in Bloomsbury where the rent has been doubled at the last three renewals of lease and is now six times the figure it was when the lease was originally granted. The occupiers are told that it will cost £500 to renew the lease. This matter ought to have been dealt with a long time ago. I hope that it will be dealt with in this Parliament.
I am sorry to have detained the House for so long, but these are things which I regard as of fundamental importance. They are: The great and all-pervading issue of the maintenance of peace; the need to house our people; the need to give social justice in the matter of leasehold property. If we can resolve these three difficulties during the lifetime of this Parliament this will have been a Parliament very much to the benefit of the people of the country and of the world.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Pearson.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.