§ Second Resolution.
§ Question again proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Mr. A. HOPKINSON
I was explaining that all the money which is spent on relief works under this Vote must necessarily be paid out of the pockets of those engaged in industries, which still are able to afford employment to workers; that in those industries short time is very prevalent, and wages are going lower and lower; and that the unfortunate men who are engaged in those industries which are still carrying on on short time are having a portion of their wages taken, week by week, to be paid to able-bodied workers employed on pauper relief works at a higher rate of wages than those of the men who have to pay them. I say that conditions of that sort are really a very grave injustice to the colliers and others—
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Does the hon. Member call ex-service men employed on these relief works paupers?
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Any man, whether ex-service man or anyone else, who is obtaining his living at the expense of his neighbours, is a pauper. I should like to point out that one of the main objects of the Government's policy is to endeavour to persuade the people of this country that this relief which is given them is not outdoor relief. The whole policy pursued by the Government, in this and other Measures before the House at the present time, is to give outdoor relief, and to call it by some other name, so that nobody need be ashamed. It is very 275 unfortunate that there has grown up in the minds of the workers of this country the extraordinary shame of taking outdoor relief such as this Vote proposes, because if a man's position is such that he has to apply to the guardians for relief, no man need be in the least ashamed of doing it if he is unable to obtain his living otherwise. Therefore, it is totally unnecessary that Votes of this sort should be granted by this House in order that the Government may be able to pretend that this is not outdoor relief, since the shame of outdoor relief entirely depends on circumstances. Again, we hear hon. Members opposite—I have heard them this evening—speaking about generous provision by the State in this matter. I cannot too often repeat that I do hope hon. Members will try to think the matter out. I cannot too often repeat that the State has no money of any sort whatsoever, and, in the nature of things, never can have any money, and that when you talk of the State providing these funds, what you mean is, that the workers—and the brain-workers also—are providing these funds. One of the biggest fallacies of the present day—I am afraid I have heard it supported by the Treasury Bench itself—is that the State can be generous in these matters; that is, be generous with other people's money. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson), whose speech I am criticising, is, I am afraid, representative of numerous Members of this House and of local authorities—I know them on the local authority of which I have the honour to be a member—who think it is possible to be generous and charitable with other people's money.
§ Sir W. ALLEN
At the risk of being considered importunate by the House, I must again refer to the question of my own country with regard to the Vote that is about to be passed by this House. I do not see why I, as an Irishman, should have to stand up in this House and beg and beseech the Government for fair play and fair dealing for my countrymen. Yet that is the position in which I find myself to-night on the question of the expenditure of this sum of £5,500,000. Surely it is not necessary at this hour of the day to tell the House that we are suffering from unemployment in Ireland like any other part of the United Kingdom. During the Recess, the Government 276 thought it right to appoint an Unemployment Committee to deal with this very serious question, and while my right hon. Friend who has charge of this Measure, was absent from this House a few moments, the hon. Member in charge took the opportunity to assure the Scottish Members of the House that the interests of Scotland would be very carefully safeguarded by the individual who represented Scotland on that Committee. I immediately put the question, "Is Ireland represented on that Committee?" The answer was, "I do not know." It is a most extraordinary state of affairs. Here we have a Government Department introducing measures which are for the purpose of relieving distress, and, in some cases, starvation, and they have only knowledge of three parts of the United Kingdom. I do not think this is a position in which we ought to be placed.
I understood from the Minister of Agriculture for England yesterday that he was carefully looking after the question of drainage for England and Wales, and I presume the Board of Health will look after that question for Scotland. I asked whether there was any of this money for my country, and the answer I got, in the first instance, was, that I must go to the Irish Board of Agriculture or the Irish Office to see if they had any money. After the right hon. Gentleman sat down, I again interrupted, and asked a similar question, and he again assured me that money for such purpose would have to be obtained from the Irish Board of Agriculture or the Irish Office. That is a most extraordinary explanation of the state of affairs from a Minister of the Government. I was almost going to call it loose thinking and loose replies on the part of the Minister. Where is the Irish Office or the Irish Board of Agriculture to get money for that purpose? Here is a special State grant, money that has been collected from all parts of the United Kingdom, to which Ireland contributes its share, and it think I might ask the right hon. Gentleman since when was the Irish Office or the Irish Board of Agriculture made a money-collecting Department? The right hon. Gentleman must have known perfectly well that they have no money there except money that is granted out of the public purse. They are not supposed to collect rates or taxes or inland revenue of any kind.
277 An hon. Member representing a Division of Scotland referred to the old Goschen ratio by which formerly sums were allocated to the several parts of the United Kingdom in fair proportion, and I think, as an Irishman, I am entitled to ask that the ordinary Goschen ratio of this £5,500,000 shall be applied to my country and to assist my countrymen in their distress through unemployment. I fear that, during the whole consideration of this question of unemployment, Ireland has been entirely left out of consideration. Why have we not a representative of the Irish nation on that Committee? I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman simply for fair play in this matter. I do not ask for any advantage over any other part of the United Kingdom. I simply ask for fair play. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman could tell me whether, under any of the other heads in connection with the expenditure of this money, any of it is allocated to Ireland. He will tell me, perhaps, that it is not his business, and will refer me to some other Department. The Chief Secretary for Ireland was in the House a short time ago, and I thought perhaps he was going to help me to tackle the Government on the question, but he has disappeared. As my Scottish Friends have done very well out of this particular Vote, perhaps they will give me their assistance; but I do appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to see that at all events, in this matter of the £5,500,000, we get some slight consideration.
It is only common justice that I am asking for my country. I dare say, at the backs of the minds of those who were responsible for appointing this Committee, there might have been the thought, "Ireland has got her own Parliament now; let her look after this herself. "I might retort," Give us the power, and we will look after it. "However, that is not a point I have any right to develop. In the meantime, so long as we are contributing our share of all the taxes of the country to the State purse, I hold that we are entitled to our Goschen ratio of expenditure on our country. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, if he cannot now, at all events, in the near future, to see, first of all, that we have a representative on that Committee so that we may get our fair share, and that, during the course of the coming year, at all 278 events, he and his friends, and those who are responsible for the relief of unemployment, will see that Ireland is fairly and justly dealt with.
Mr. J. JONES
We have had to-night, once again, a repetition of the old argument as between those of us who are out for a solution of the unemployed difficulty on general principles, and those who look upon unemployment as a mere temporary social phenomenon. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson), whom I might describe as the hon. Member for misery, gave us a lecture upon our relative social positions, and he described the unemployed as able-bodied paupers, and he ought to know something about able-bodied paupers. Ho told us that a man who did not work for his own living was a pauper living upon the people who did. If we accept that definition, all the paupers will not be on one side. But we want to point out that the Bill does not pretend to solve, and the proposals before the House do not pretend to solve, the unemployment problem. They only pretend to ameliorate the present position caused by extraordinary circumstances, and we are voting money to local authorities for the purpose of carrying on relief work. Some of us have had experience of carrying out relief work. We know quite well that we are not in a position to-day to do what we should like to do. The right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of this proposition knows as well as I do that it is physically impossible for local authorities to carry out any scheme of relief work that will find work for all the people in the various localities who are out of work. There will be always a certain number of people who will be compelled to apply to another department of local administration for assistance. They will have to go to the board of guardians. There is not a proposal that the Government have brought forward in connection with their unemployment Measures which is going to find work for all the men who are out of employment—to say nothing of the women. We are asking that, at least, so far as we can find work for the unemployed, it shall be under decent conditions and provide a decent standard of living. Wages are coming down every day. Every day of our lives those of us who happen to be trade union officials are meeting employers around a table and discussing the question of the reduction of wages. We are con- 279 senting to reductions in wages, bringing the standard rate down to the lowest possible minimum; and now we are told that not only must we accept reductions in the standard of living, but we must agree that our members must be prepared to work—those who happen to be out of employment must be prepared to work—even for a lower standard than their unions have agreed to accept. What does that mean?
A large number of members of our unions are contributors under the National Insurance Act for unemployment purposes. What is going to happen to these men if under the scheme proposed by the Government they refuse to work? I am asking the right hon. Gentleman if he will meet me in this case. Take a member, say, of our own union, a Labourers' Union, composed of men who are engaged in what might be called casual labour. These are navvies, bricklayers' labourers, dockers, and people of that character. Suppose these men say, "We are not prepared to work at 25 ger cent. less than the standard rate in our district. Suppose these men say they are not prepared to accept these conditions, will they be debarred from receiving their unemployment pay from the Labour Exchange for which they have already been taxed? I would like to know where we stand. I should like to ask some of the trade unionists who walked into the Lobby the other night against us where we stand, and where they stand? Have we no standard rate of wages? Have we, simply because we are employed on public work, and that in a time of great necessity, are we, I ask, to surrender all our liberties as trade unionists, and work for less than the standard rate merely because there may be men who at the moment happen to be "down and out"? We have never accepted that position. That is why our trade union funds and our unemployment benefit have been established, on principle, to keep our men from accepting lower wages in time of depression. There was no other reason for the establishment of unemployment benefit. Now we are told that our men must be prepared to accept lower wages simply because they happen to be at the moment out of employment. If they refuse they can be debarred from the benefit of unemployment insurance that they have been taxed to pay for!
280 I suggest, therefore, to the right hon. Gentleman that he should meet our case. When it is argued, as it has been argued to-night, that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Labour party must accept the situation, we say that we are not prepared to accept the position laid down. Then we have the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) telling us that the man who is unemployed and who manages to get work is benefiting at the expense of the honest worker who is in work—that the engineer, the boilermaker, and other classes of workmen will be receiving less wages than the man working on relief work. Who is responsible for that? Who has forced down the wages of the engineers? Who is responsible or has been responsible for compelling the workmen to accept lower wages? It was to use the unemployed workman against the employed workman! We have been told that if we do not accept these various reductions that we are going to stop the wheels of industry, and that they are going to compel us to accept any wages they like to inflict. Now they come along and make a virtue of necessity and say: "We are not going to accept the workman who is insisting upon the standard rate of wages." In the East End of London the local authorities will be administering this particular Act. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would like to go down there and administer it?
We will give you a hearty invitation then, but I am inclined to think that you would not go down to Swansea and administer it, let alone coming down to West Ham. I challenge you to go down to your own constituency and defend the proposals you are putting to the House to-night, and I will go down with you. I will resign my seat if you will resign yours, and fight you upon the issue of this proposition of 75 per cent. for the workman who is "down and out" for the time being, and because he is "down and out" has to work or less wages and has, we are told, got to accept a lower standard, indeed, the lowest standard of existence possible. There is not a man in this House who would be prepared to suggest that 25 per cent. below the standard of wages in a district is sufficient for a man to live upon. Nobody here will say so. Therefore we 281 are entitled to ask hon. Members who make these propositions and argue about the inefficiency of labour under the local authorities, these questions. What about the contractor? You are asking it's now to give a premium to the contractor as against the local authority. The contractor can employ any labour he likes and pay them the full rate; can he not?
I agree. The contractor has then, of course, always the advantage over the local authorities. Does not the right hon. Gentleman requite of the local authorities that our work should be properly done? Ought we not to have the right to compete against the contractor? Should we not get the best possible labour to carry out our work? "Oh, but," you say, "the local authority must not employ the most efficient labour." We have got to take all the "down and outs," people who are not so efficient, and, therefore, our work is going to be handicapped because the contractors have an advantage over us. That is going to be the economic effect of the circular issued by the Ministry of Health. I might go further and say this. Everyone knows to-day that the local authorities are subject to pressure. Contractors are not—to the same extent—and only in so far as they happen to be well-in with the people who are in authority. We employ men and we pay them the rates, so far as we know, that we are allowed to pay. What is going to be the position of a local authority if we say that we are going to pay the full trade-union rate of wages for public work? Are we likely to be subjected to a surcharge in our own locality? We find it impossible to carry on public work without we give the local rate. What if we did not do that?
Oh, I see that is the move, is it? Get men to work cheaply so that wages will be automatically reduced, and then those who refuse to work at 25 per cent. less are going to be thrown upon the streets and told that they are work-shy. Is that the game? I venture to suggest if that is understood by the workers outside that there is going to be more fun this winter than some of you dream about. There are some here who represent the rich unemployed. I am speaking for the 282 poor unemployed. Evidently the only thing that is going to be given to him in consideration of the fact that the workman has been good enough to defend your property and keep the Germans from invading you—is that he has to come back now and accept work tinder conditions that you would not have offered him in the days of prosperity. Then he could demand his price. Now he has to accept 25 per cent. less than the standard rate fixed by the trade unions of which he may happen to be a member. The right hon. Gentleman says that the men employed on relief work are 50 per cent. less efficient than the ordinary labour employed on similar kinds of work. I say that that is not true.
§ Sir A. MOND indicated dissent.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Perhaps the hon. Member for Silvertown will be good enough to remember that Speeches are addressed to me in the Chair, and not to individual Members.
I am sorry, Sir, I cannot see you so well as I can the right hon. Gentleman. I have had more experience in dealing with unemployment from the local point of view if not from the national standpoint, and I have had more experience of the administration of schemes of relief. I have found this, that, on the average, unemployed labour is about 25 per cent. less efficient than ordinary labour. What. I want to point out to the right hon. Gentleman is that you never begin to give the unemployed man work until he is nearly physically and mentally reduced. He has been out of work for weeks. He is sold up. He has pawned all that he is capable of pawning and selling. He is physically emaciated, and then somebody thinks of doing something, and gives the man work at a time when he has to recoup the previous losses, and he goes to work very often when he is absolutely unable to do the work he is called upon to do. Most of this work is hard, physical work which the man is not altogether capable of doing. Therefore, I venture to suggest you ought not to penalise a man because society has neglected him.
The State was talked about by the hon. Gentleman opposite. We do not look upon the State as something containing
283 separate masses of people. We look upon the State as the whole community—that we are each other's keeper, and those men who have been neglected in the past are as much a part of the State as the richest man in this House or outside of it. Consequently, we claim these men are a charge upon the State, and we are asking that consideration of past services should be given, and that the State ought to recognise the men. In a previous discussion I said that this was not only a matter of trade union rates. I said that some people seem to imagine that the trade union rates of wages was the highest conception we have of a man's value. Nothing of the kind. The trade union rate is the minimum rate. It is only a recognition of the minimum standard of comfort, and if you want to pay any more, do it if the man is worth it. We claim that the trade union rate is the standard minimum for the workman and his wife and family, and consequently we protest against the limitation. We ask the right hon. Gentleman to remember that we are members of the Association of Municipal Corporations. We ask him to admit the claim they made to him, representing, as they did, the great municipal corporations of the country. These are not labour bodies: most of them are non-labour bodies. They, and we, ask him to give us consent to administer this matter from our own point of view in our own locality. Let us decide the conditions in our own districts. If a locality says that a certain rate should be the rate, let that be the rate. If another locality says let so-and-so be the rate, let that be the rate there. Let us in this matter have self-determination in local affairs. Give us whatever grant you think you ought to give us. You have a right to fix the amount we shall receive to carry these schemes into effect, but let us have the determining voice in fixing the standard rate of wages and conditions of employment.
Take the case of West Ham. We are running a scheme to-day and finding work for the unemployed there, and we are paying the full rate of wages. We are not working the full number of hours laid down by the trade unions. Could not the right hon. Gentleman give us this concession that so long as we did not 284 exceed a certain maximum per man we should have the right to fix the number of hours?
You are asking us to cut down the standard rate, and we cannot do it. We ask for liberty to fix the rate within our own constituency. If we have to pay 25 per cent. less, we are going to have an enormous amount of trouble which instead of alleviating existing distress will create more trouble than ever existed before. I am fearful of what is going to happen this winter. Let the Government in this matter give us a free hand, and allow local authorities the right to say what the conditions shall be for their own schemes. If the Government will do that they will help us very considerably out of the difficult position in which we are now placed.
§ Dr. ADDISON
When this matter first came forward I suggested to my right hon. Friend that these conditions would prove to be unworkable. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he cannot give some form of local autonomy, and not place local authorities in the position that they may be subject to various pains and penalties if they find they cannot work under these conditions, which I am quite sure will be found to be unworkable. The Association of Municipal Corporations would not have expressed the opinion that these conditions should not be applied to all grants if they did not know that in their own localities they would not be able to work them, and the reason is fairly obvious. I well remember some time ago that inquiries were made from local authorities on this point, and the answer which came back, I believe without exception, was that conditions of this sort would prove to be unworkable. And why?
In the first place, the conditions do not apply to the men employed by a contractor who may be making a road under an arrangement with the Minister of Transport. Those men will be paid the ordinary rate of wages for skilled and unskilled men on that job. The local authority, in respect of a scheme which is not receiving this grant, will be carrying on the work in various ways. On certain work they would be paid the ordinary unskilled labourer's rate to the 285 men employed, but now it is suggested that a particular section of the work of the authorities should be picked out and the men will be told that on that particular work they will only be paid 75 per cent. of the district rate for skilled or unskilled workers, while you are at the same time actually employing men in the next street at the ordinary rates. The thing will not work, and no local authority will be able to work the scheme.
This arrangement is founded upon a wrong principle. We have been told that the money for this work comes out of the producers' pocket, and that is perfectly true. The same would apply to the money we pay through the boards of guardians or the local authorities, which in the end comes out of the pockets of the producers and the community. The only question is how is the money to be spent? One particular man will be receiving help through the guardians, and according to the scale he may be getting as much or more from the guardians if he has a wife and family as the man who is being paid the full district rate. This is placing a further premium upon the expenditure of money on the scale of relief in return for no work at all.
Another result will be that you will force into these schemes the less competent section of labour. It is perfectly clear that the labour employed by local authorities upon ordinary undertakings and by the ordinary contractor, whether unskilled labour or not, or whatever the conditions, will receive the district rate and the best labourers will go there first. Consequently, the local authorities, in respect of those conditions, will only have the leavings of labour because you are forcing upon them the less competent men. Then you turn round and say, "These relief works are shown to be uneconomical, because you do not get a good output." At the same time you are forcing upon the local authorities the less competent men, and the scheme will work in a vicious circle. If this condition is attached the right hon. Gentleman will be able to show that they are less competent, because the very condition itself does not give them a chance.
There is one other matter which relates to the principle. The principle ought to be, if a man is employed to do this work, and does it as well as he can, he should receive the district rate, but if he is a slacker and not trying to work, then he 286 ought to be dismissed. If he is trying to do the work as well as he can under good management, he should be paid what is agreed upon in the district for that job, and that principle should apply all round. The right hon. Gentleman will persist in calling these relief works, but what does that mean? Does it mean the local authorities are to do something which does not require doing? I do not think we ought to ask a local authority to do any work under such conditions, because they have in their possession so many schemes of works that are really required, and they have plenty to pick from in regard to work of local improvements. Relief work ought not to be any kind of work except that which is really required to be done. Under these circumstances, the work would be done now instead of being postponed. I hope the expression "relief works" will not he held to mean to encourage local authorities to undertake work which does not need to be done.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I think it is unfortunate that the words "relief work" should be used if they are allowed to have that interpretation. We now find ourselves in the position that the local authorities will be doing something in anticipation that requires to be done, and which if it were done in the ordinary way they would have to pay the ordinary rates of wages. Simply because these men happen to be unemployed you are going to pay them for doing the same work less than they would otherwise be paid by the local authorities. That is unjust. I know the right hon. Gentleman is somewhat tied up by what he has said before, but at all events I hope he will agree that there should be more local autonomy in this matter. I remember the Corporation of Liverpool expressing, through some of their most important members, the strongest possible objection to this proposal. Nobody will accuse the members of the Liverpool Corporation of being influenced by the Labour party because they are mostly Conservatives in politics, but they were vehemently opposed to the principle which the right hon. Gentleman is adopting being applied in their district.
Another point I wish to raise is where the local authority is not able to raise 287 the loan on their own credit. In that case, does the right hon. Gentleman propose to take any steps to combine together, or give assistance, to local authorities in respect to raising those loans. It is a fact that the poorer the authority the weaker is its credit, in fact, it has no credit at all. During the past two years, in respect to many of these authorities, they found themselves quite unable to raise money in any way to any great extent, and the result has been that devices have had to be instituted for helping these people to raise the money. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to assure us that that system will still be applied to the raising of loans for such authorities. If these grants are only to be made to those local authorities which can raise loans themselves, by that very condition you will write off the slate a large number of the most needy authorities who could not raise even 50 per cent. of the loans. I hope the same means will be continued to assist those needy authorities in regard to which we have found it necessary, in respect of other matters, to assist during the past few years. If this condition is not, applied in a hard and fast manner, we may have some hope. I gather that the right hon. Gentleman is thinking over some modification in respect of wages, and I hope also that he will be able to give us some assurance in respect of the conditions applying to loans.
§ Mr. G. EDWARDS
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman if the 25 per cent. less than the wages being paid in the district applies to roadmen?
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
I wish to point out that this proposal is going to hit very hardly one of the most hard-working bodies of workers in the country. Since yesterday I have ascertained that we have no less than 20,000 agricultural labourers who are out of work through no fault of their own. What kind of wage are you going to inflict on these men? They are out of work through no fault of their own, and they are a decent class of workers. Owing to the treacherous conduct of the Government to this particular class of workman through the abolition 288 of the Wages Board, their wages are clown by 10s. a week below 36s. These men are thrown out of work, and the work now offered to them is the hardest that you can set a man to do. I know what it is to put stones on a road, to break the stones, and to put in 8 or 9 hours' work a day. Here you will employ a class of workers capable of doing the best work. They have strong brawny arms, and in spite of what has been said about them they have as good brains with which to carry out their work as any other class. Yet you want to se[...] them to work on the roads at 25 per cent. lower wage than the service rate.
§ Sir A. MOND
Not 25 per cent. below the service rate, but 25 per cent. below the wages paid for road making, which are a great deal more.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
Which approximates to the labourer's wage. I understand it is 25 per cent. lower than the labourer's wage.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
The roadman are getting the same wage as the agricultural labourers. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that the farmers who compose the local authorities, and who sit on the district councils and the county councils, are going to pay a roadman more than they pay an agricultural labourer? If he does, he does not understand a farm quite as well as I do. I wish to point out the gross injustice which is being done to these men.
§ Sir A. MOND
The hon. Gentleman is wrong in his facts. I am not appalled by the gross injustice, for I have pointed out twice that he is wrong.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
I wish to point out that the sum you are going to allocate for the various work to be done is absolutely inadequate, but unfortunately the Minister of Agriculture is not here to-night. I would like to support what the right hon. Member for Shoreditch (Dr. Addison) said. What will happen to the agricultural labourers? They will say, we cannon work, and I defy the right hon. Gentleman to find any man who can keep a wife and five children on 25 per cent. below 36s. a week and do an efficient day's work. The men will say, "We cannot do the work," and 289 they will have to go to the board of guardians. There is any quantity of work in our rural districts which needs to be done, and which ought never to be termed relief work. The roads in the rural districts are in a terrible bad state. Their repair is needful work, and if it is needful you ought to pay the men a living wage to do it.
I see that a sum of money is going to be allocated for work on the land, for afforestation and for drainage. Is afforestation relief work? It is work that will prove an asset to this country, and which will make the land more valuable. £250,000 is allocated to this useful work, which needs to be done for the benefit of the nation. There is sufficient land in this country for the production of wood and timber, and there is no need for a solitary agricultural labourer or any other worker to be out of work if you would but allocate sufficient money for that purpose. I enter the strongest protest, on behalf of this class of worker, who has been the longest neglected. I can recall the days when the right hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Mond) spoke of the agricultural labourer as being the salt of the earth. Now he is going to treat him as if he were one of the very worst. Men are standing about idle while their children are starving, yet you are going to offer them 25 per cent. less than 36s. a week. If the farmers have their way, with the help the Government are giving them, we shall have the wage. very much lower than it is now. Here we have a most honest, hardworking class of men, who will get the work done, and they are being offered a mean, contemptible wage.
I should like to back with my sympathy the remark made by the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Edwards). A great deal of the work, such as afforestation and road-making, will be done by men who cannot live in their own homes. They will have to maintain themselves away from home and endeavour at the same time to support their families at home. At present men engaged on work of that kind are living on what the drapers call "rock-bottom" wages. If you are going to reduce wages, such as are paid in the Highlands, by 25 per cent. then—
§ Sir A. MOND
I think it would facilitate discussion if hon. Members would follow the statements which have been made. The Minister of Agriculture stated yesterday that there would be no 290 reduction in the agricultural district rate for land drainage or afforestation.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. He admitted, when I asked the question, that it would be for road-making.
§ Sir A. MOND
Not 25 per cent. below 36s., but 25 per cent. below the average road-maker's wage. I am informed that the average wage is 70s. a week. If the hon. Gentleman will deduct 25 per cent. from 70s., he will see the difference. No road-making authority pays its men 36s. a week.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly tell us in what district the men are getting 70s. a week? In my own county they are only getting 36s.
I think the right hon. Gentleman is out in his facts. At any rate, he is very far out with regard to Scotland. The rate of wages for road-making and road maintenance in the Highlands at present is just as low as any man can possibly live on away from home and keep his family going at home at the same time. My hon. Friend for North Armagh (Sir W. Allen) appealed to the Scottish Members in the House to help him to get special consideration for his particular island. I think the best way to help the hon. and gallant Member is to emphasise the need for special consideration for other parts of the country further removed than Westminster. The Highlands comprise a part of the country which, like Ireland is apt to be overlooked in this connection and I am quite in sympathy with my hon. Friend. In passing, I would say that when we get Home Rule for Scotland we shall not come to this Parliament to obtain aid for schemes of this sort.
I wish to point out that unemployment is just as great an evil, relatively, in the Highlands as it is in the big centres, but the lines on which provision for unemployment is going to be laid clown here are not the proper ones for Scotland.
291 During the last decade, and, indeed, the last half-century, Scotland has been depopulated by emigration and migration. The amount of unemployment which exists at the present time will accelerate the depopulation of the Highlands to a much greater degree. Indeed, if things go on as they are now, in a few years the only persons you will meet in the Highlands of Scotland will be, perhaps, an odd, benighted Cabinet Minister who may have lost his way on the road to Gairloch. The amount of unemployment in Scotland at the present time is bound to increase the rate of depopulation. I am sorry that representatives of the Scottish Office are not here to impress on the Government the necessity for not forgetting this portion of the country when the allocation of the grants is made.
There is the question of roads. Nothing is more needed in the Highlands than roads for people to get to and from market. I do not regard this as relief work at all, and I am glad that my hon. Friend (Mr. Edwards) and other hon. Members protested against styling these works relief works. They are works of public, utility. So far as the Highlands are concerned, road-making has been a crying need for generations past, and people have been appealing to the Board of Agriculture and the Scottish Office to help them; not to pauperise them, but to give them the ordinary facilities of civilisation, so that their economic life may develop and may not be allowed to decay as it is doing at the present time. I hope in this connection—to use an Irishism that piers may be regarded as roads. In many of those parts piers are a most claimant need. When the right hon. Gentleman pays his next visit to Gairloch it may be by sea, and I should like to see him provided with comfortable piers along the coast at which he could land, instead of his being stranded in motor cars on the roads, as he was before. I am glad he has learned the lesson of the need of roads in the Highlands, and I hope he will see to it that a good deal of this grant is allocated to them, and so secure that his next journey there may be much more comfortable than it was on the last occasion.
There is another body that meets at Inverness as well as the Cabinet. It is called the Highland Reconstruction Committee, and it passes most pathetic 292 resolutions from time to time and sends them to Members of Parliament and to the Government advocating schemes of public utility. I would commend these schemes to the Government as useful works on which the unemployed might be engaged. There is another thing which adds to the evil of unemployment in the Western Highlands and islands at the present time and that is the failure of the potato crop in the Highlands, and especially in the western districts. These potatoes are almost as basic an article as food as they are in Ireland. Unfortunately the potato crop has been a total failure on the western coast this year, and, consequently, the people are in much greater need of help of this sort than they have been for generations past. That, coupled with the complete failure of the herring fishery, due to the closing of the Russian market, has produced conditions which are worse than they have ever been within the memory of living man. Therefore, I do hope that the Government will proceed with the light railway which is required and that they will also provide the piers and quays which are necessary in order that trade can be carried on in some degree of comfort. I want the Government to take note in their unemployment policy of these opportunities for doing work in the land of the 51st Division.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of TRANSPORT (Mr. A. Neal)
I only interpose in the Debate for the purpose of clearing up a manifest misconception in the mind of the hon. Member opposite with regard to the grants we are ma-king in connection with roads. My hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Edwards), I think must have had in mind the men normally engaged in preparing the surface of the roads. He was no doubt thinking particularly of road work done in the ordinary way by the road makers employed by the various highway authorities. I would like at once to say that that class of work is not within the Vote which the House is discussing at this moment. That work is dealt with through classification grants made to the highway authorities. The men employed on them will therefore receive the usual road wages. This Vote deals- with the expenditure in aid of the acceleration of work on what we have come to call arterial roads.
293 The greater part of this money will be spent in and about the metropolis. Schemes have been published which include a big road, 21 miles in length, running out to Southend, and a substantial number of improvements of other roads in the districts around the metropolis. It is intended that this work shall be undertaken by the Government themselves through contractors, and therefore the question which my hon. Friend has in mind will not really arise in reference to the great hulk of the expenditure. As to the roads which are to be done in the provinces, they will be done at the option of the authorities concerned either by direct labour or by contract. So far as they are done by direct labour they will be subject to the condition of a 25 per cent. reduction from the wages paid for a probationary period to unskilled persons who come new to the work. I cannot help thinking that the. great mass of the work will be done by the local authorities under the contract system.
I have only one other thing to say. The House will remember that associated with the Government grant is money which is being found from the Road Fund. That Road Fund is provided by a special class of persons, namely, the users of mechanical traffic. The fund is a statutory fund which has to be administered in accordance with the terms of the Statute, and which ought to be administered in all fairness to secure economic results. It is unfair to tax a particular part of the community for a special purpose and then to use the fund which is so provided simply as a general fund in relief of unemployment. There is therefore a special duty on the Ministry of Transport to see that a fair economic use is made of this fund. Within these limits we are doing all we can to provide for a maximum amount of labour, and we have done so up till now with very considerable success. I trust what I have said will, if it does not remove the fears of my hon. Friend, at any rate, alleviate them, so substantially as to make him trouble no more about the question of the wages to be paid in connection with road making.
§ Mr. W. R. SMITH
I rise for the purpose of securing clearness as to the position in so far as rural workers are concerned. If I understand the position correctly, this Vote under which the 294 money is being granted comes under the Department of the Minister of Health, and all regulations governing the expenditure of the money will be issued by the Department.
§ Sir A. MOND
No, the President of the Board of Agriculture will cover works with which that Board are concerned.
§ Mr. SMITH
Yes, but the right hon. Gentleman will perhaps admit that things do not always work out in practice exactly as they are stated in this House, and, frequently, we have decisions come to which Members who were concerned in the passing of the Act feel are not in entire accord with what they had in their minds. I was not certain in this case that, it would be exactly as has been stated. Apart from that one can appreciate the fact that in rural districts wages are not going to be reduced to that extent. I should like to ask one further point following what has been said by the representative of the Ministry of Transport. If district councils develop work in the way of road making and they have minor roads under their charge, will they be able to pay less than the agricultural rate of wages?
§ Mr. NEAL
I have endeavoured to make that quite clear. My hon. Friend speaks of district councils having minor roads under their care. If a. road comes within the classification of the first or second class, then it will benefit under the ordinary scheme by the 50 per cent. or 25 per cent. assistance towards the cost of upkeep. But I was dealing with the new arterial roads which cannot come under rural district councils, and must be dealt with by highway authorities such as the county and borough councils or urban district councils.
§ Mr. SMITH
Then I take it that this grant has no application to the district councils and the question so far as it affects rural districts will not arise. I would like to emphasise, if I may, one 295 or two of the points advanced by the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. Jones). Is it not possible for his suggestion to be adopted for giving the local authorities some discretionary power with regard to the payment of wages for this class of work? The hon. Member rather emphasised the unfairness of the position of local authorities if this condition is rigidly enforced. He asked whether or not it was felt that the work done by local authorities or by public authorities was 25 per cent. less in value than that done by contractors. I rather thought the right hon. Gentleman endorsed the view that that was so, when the comment was made, and I thought it was a strange contrast to his own statement, made some months ago in this House, when he demonstrated by facts and figures that the Office of Works, of which he was then the head, had been able to carry out work considerably cheaper and more efficiently than contractors had done, and that he had accomplished it at an advantage to the community.
If that is the case, surely it must strike the right hon. Gentleman that local authorities in carrying out these schemes of work with a Works Department which probably is just as efficient and as effective for the purpose as was the Department of which the right hon. Gentleman was in charge, in employing this labour on extended schemes, will get just as good value from the labour employed as if the men were employed directly by a contractor. It would be most unfair, merely because a man is unemployed now and takes work under the local authority, that he should be compelled to accept a wage 25 per cent. less than he would have received had he been employed by a contractor. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider this question from the standpoint of giving the local authorities some discretion in this matter, and not to the them down so rigidly that they must, without any relation whatever to the quality of the labour in which they are engaged, and without any regard to the circumstances, pay these men a rate of wages 25 per cent. less than they would receive if working for a contractor, although the value of the service given under the local authority may be just as effective and just as good as that given when working for a private contractor.
§ Major GLYN
Before we pass the discussion of this Vote I should like to put in one plea as regards Scotland. I think the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Dr. Murray) is under some misconception with regard to the average payment to roadmen in Scotland. I think he will find that in the whole of the Highland counties the pay averages 60s. per week. It would be more efficacious if the authorities concerned in carrying out the relief works would go to those districts where large populations have been assembled during the boom in trade—districts which, as a result, went fast ahead, but which, now slack times have come, are going back just as quickly. Although I am personally most grateful to the Secretary for Scotland and all the officials of his Department when one makes application to them, I am sure the Minister of Health will agree that it is very necessary to set up some sort of machinery in Scotland which will fuse into one all the different points which are dealt with by local authorities. I myself brought one case to the notice of the Scottish Office some seven weeks ago, but can get no decision upon it. That is not the fault of the Scottish Office, but because the matter is perpetually referred to one authority or another, or one Committee or another. That does not help the local authority or the unemployed people in question, and I would urge the right. hon. Gentleman to consider the method of organisation for Scotland and for other outlying parts of the United Kingdom, and to endeavour to expedite these matters so that we can get a quicker decision.
Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD
I desire to refer to a point which it is necessary to put forward, but which I have not heard stated during this discussion. Practically all that is contemplated by the proposals contained in this Estimate is the ordinary humdrum work of the different local authorities. I should have thought that, in dealing with a matter of such great importance as the unemployment which exists in this country to-day, it would have been considered essential in some cases to carry out even more important public works than it is possible for the existing local authorities to carry out, and that some provision would be made for setting up machinery for dealing with schemes of a. really national character. For some considerable time I served upon two Com- 297 missions, one dealing with forestry and the other with coast erosion, and we also dove-tailed our work with that of another commission, namely, the Canal Commission, which was sitting at the same time. The Reports of those three Commissions, if they were taken into consideration to-day, would provide a beginning for the establishment of works which, partially at any rate, would be immediately remunerative. Schemes were worked out on the basis of the engineering and other expert advice that was given, but they are, I suppose, stored away in the pigeon-holes of the different offices, with no mortal intention of bringing the experience and the evidence that was then gained into contact with the. problems with which we are now dealing—just as, in dealing even with great national emergencies like war, nine-tenths of the information secured by our officials is absolutely useless, for no one thinks of it when the emergency arises. I am afraid that that is the case now. I well remember that in the Canal Commission a suggestion was made that, if ever such an emergency arose as that which exists to-day, with thousands of men out of work, a huge canal scheme might be carried out. The whole thing, even to the depths and the levels, was sketched out with precision, and the amount of excavation and machinery was gone into that would be necessary for making, for instance, something like a deep-water canal from the Mersey to Edinburgh. That was put forward by the Canal Commission as a feasible, workable and economical scheme some eight or nine years ago.
It is on that sort of work that this money really ought to have been spent. I do not say that you could always get exactly the type of man for that kind of work, but you could get sufficient to lead and show the others. That work would be extremely useful when one considers the want of railway facilities and the way in which the enormous expense of railway transport cripples the industries of Birmingham, the Potteries, and the other districts through which such a canal would pass. I am only dealing with one suggestion which I myself went into. There may be other schemes of equal importance; and it is something approaching nonsense to suggest that, in an emergency of this description, work cannot be found which will be of value to the community 298 in the future, instead of spending millions on doles without any result or return whatever. I should have imagined, therefore, that the Minister would at least have put forward some suggestion for adding machinery to that of the local bodies existing to-day. For instance, no county council could undertake a scheme of the description I have mentioned. It would take half-a-dozen county councils, who would, first of all, have to meet and hold conferences, and years of time and energy would be wasted before the scheme could be put into working order. On the other hand, as we are voting millions of money for public works, seine of them more or less important, some probably useless, it is surprising that no suggestion has been made that machinery should be set up by which the great proposals put forward by different commissions during the last 16 or 17 years might have been put into operation.
I rise particularly to make good a point that was made by another hon. Member with regard to the wages that it is proposed to pay. I should certainly like the Minister of Agriculture to press upon his friend the Minister of Health the adoption of a similar policy with reference to wages on public works of an ordinary character connected with the administration of our urban and rural areas, to the policy suggested in the case of agriculture. I am now speaking as the secretary of the Public Works and Constructional Operatives' Union, and I can see quite clearly that what is going to happen is that the standard rate of wages, which was set up after much labour and much criticism by this industry for public works generally throughout the country, is going to be whittled away unconsciously to the extent of 25 per cent. by the operation of the proposals of the Minister of Health. I said "unconsciously," but I have here a document which shows that it will not be unconscious. The Bradford Corporation have obtained powers to build the Spa reservoir at Pateley Bridge, and they are getting on with the work and developing it as rapidly as they can; but the moment the principle of a 25 per cent. reduction is adopted by this House, they are going to come to our board and demand that, if the Government gives them a grant, the men must agree to work for 25 per cent. less wages than they are receiving to-day. What is 299 the use of conciliation boards and industrial courts setting up rates of pay if we are going to scrap the whole lot by making ordinary public works into relief works, and securing a 25 per cent. reduction in the pay for that class of work?
At the present moment there are not in this country more than about 60,000 men employed on public works, whereas before the War, for many years, there were from 160,000 to 180,000 men regularly employed on works of public utility in this country. Therefore there must be a floating population of anything from 80,000 to 100,000 of actual public works men, capable of earning the highest trade union rate of wages, who are out of work at the present time. Those men are going to be given a chance to work at their ordinary trade, at which they could earn decent and proper wages such as the trade ought to pay; and they are going to be asked, since these are relief works, or will be called relief works, because the Government is assisting in their construction, to accept a 25 per cent. reduction on their pay. It may suit all the tinkers and tailors and candlestick makers that you are going to introduce into this business, and probably even a reduction of 25 per cent. will not give you an economic value for your money in their case; but in the case of the regular public works men, who earn their living, when trade is going regularly, at this hard and laborious and technical work, to suggest that they should go back to their own ordinary employment at 25 per cent. under what they really ought to receive, just because the Government is giving relief financially to that kind of work, is absurd. Some arrangement at least ought to have been made for a probationary period of, say, 3 or 4 months, during which a man who does not know how to dig, who does not know how to concrete, who does not know how to level a road or prepare for a kerb or prepare the camber of the road or do the metalling in a proper and scientific manner, might be learning these things, and during which, if he were employed upon works of the nature of relief works, his wage might be 25 per cent. less than the standard rate; but that
§ you should ask the expert, the man who usually follows that occupation and whose business it is, merely because the Government are rendering some financial assistance, to accept 25 per cent. less than his ordinary wages—which are quite low enough now—is utterly absurd.
§ On the other hand, I would cross swords with the hon. Member who says that each locality should decide for itself. I object to that. The Constructional Conciliation Board have settled the rates of pay for public works for every town and village in the country. We have a national agreement fixing those wages, and we object to little localities deciding against our stabilised regular wage throughout the country. It is surprising, however, that we should be the only people who are hit. It is our regular occupation. Nearly 200,000 men are generally occupied in this class of work, and now you are going to flood everyone into it and do all the work, so that we are to be permanently unemployed afterwards. You might avoid that altogether. If, instead of prompting local authorities to do their ordinary work, upon which their ordinary staffs would be regularly employed, you had suggested additional machinery and undertaking great national work of public utility which Royal Commissions in the past recommended should be carried out under such exceptional circumstances as the present, you would have shown some foresight, but you are going to hurry up the ordinary work of municipalities and you are going to get it done at 25 per cent. under the proper rate, and by and by the men whose business it is to carry on that regular occupation will practically find no work to do. It would be better to take my advice and, parallel with your present proposals, put forward some tangible scheme so that there might be. machinery brought into existence and these good works long since recommended and long since overdue for the development of trade and industry may be put into execution.
§ Question put, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 150; Noes, 49.301
|Division NO. 370,]||AYES||[7.48 p.m.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Bird, Sir A. (Wolverhampton, West)|
|Ainsworth, Captain Charles||Banner, Sir John S. Harmood-||Boscawen, Rt. Hon. Sir A. Griffith|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Colonel Martin||Barnett, Major Richard W.||Bowyer, Captain G. W. E.|
|Armstrong, Henry Bruce||Barnston, Major Harry||Breese, Major Charles E.|
|Baird, Sir John Lawrence||Bellairs, Commander Carlyon w.||Broad, Thomas Tucker|
|Brown, T. W. (Down, North)||Hailwood, Augustine||Peel, Col. Hn. S. (Uxbridge, Mddx.)|
|Buchanan, Lieut.-Colonel A. L. H.||Hall, Rr-Admi Sir W. (Liv'p'l. W.D'by)||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Harmsworth, C. B, (Bedford, Luton)||Perkins, Walter Frank|
|Burn, Col. C. R (Devon, Torquay)||Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)||Pratt, John William|
|Butcher, Sir John George||Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Purchase, H. G.|
|Campion, Lieut.-Colonel W. R.||Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank||Raeburn, Sir William H.|
|Carr, W. Theodore||Hood, Joseph||Ratcliffe, Henry Butler|
|Casey, T. w.||Hope, Sir H. (Stirling & Cl'ckm'nn, W.)||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, East)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Birm., Aston)||Hopkins, John W. W.||Rees, Capt. J. Tudor (Barnstaple)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A.(Birm., W.)||Horne, Edgar (Surrey, Guildford)||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Chichester, Col. Robert||Hudson, R. M.||Rodger, A. K.|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur||Hume-Williams, Sir W. Ellis||Roundell, Colonel R. F.|
|Clough, Sir Robert||Hunter, General Sir A. (Lancaster)||Royds, Lieut.-Colonel Edmund|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Hurd, Percy A.||Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert Arthur|
|Cope, Major William||Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.||Scott, A. M. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)|
|Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Seddon, J. A.|
|Croft, Lieut.-Colonel Henry Page||Jephcott, A. R.||Shaw, William T. (Forfar)|
|Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Jesson, C.||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Johnson, Sir Stanley||Smithers, Sir Alfred W.|
|Denniss, Edmund R. B. (Oldham)||Johnstone, Joseph||Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander|
|Doyle, N. Grattan||Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Stanler, Captain Sir Beville|
|Edgar, Clifford B.||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)|
|Edge, Captain William||Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Llanelly)||Stanton, Charles Butt|
|Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||Kellaway, Rt. Hon. Fredk. George||Stewart, Gershom|
|Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith||King, Captain Henry Douglas||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Evans, Ernest||Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ., Wales)||Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell (Maryhill)|
|Eyres-Monsell, Com. Bolton M.||Locker-Lampson, Com, O. (H'tingd'n)||Thorpe, Captain John Henry|
|Fell, Sir Arthur||Lorden, John William||Townshend, Sir Charles Vere Ferrers|
|Fildes, Henry||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Turton, Edmund Russborough|
|Flannery, Sir James Fortescue||Marriott, John Arthur Ransome||Waddington. R.|
|Ford, Patrick Johnston||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Moritz||Walton, J. (York, W. R., Don Valley)|
|Forrest, Walter||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.||Ward, William Dudley (Southampton)|
|Foxcroft, Captain Charles Talbot||Morris, Richard||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Fraser, Major Sir Keith||Morrison, Hugh||Williams, C. (Tavistock)|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Murchison, C. K.||Williams, Lt.-Col. Sir R. (Banbury)|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Murray, C. D. (Edinburgh)||Willoughby, Lieut.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Murray, Hon. Gideon (St. Rollox)||Wise, Frederick|
|Gilbert, James Daniel||Neal, Arthur||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel Sir John||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Wood, Hon. Edward F. L. (Ripon)|
|Glyn, Major Ralph||Nicholson, Brig-Gen. J, (Westminster)||Worsfold, T. Cato|
|Goff, Sir R. Park||Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)||Young, E. H. (Norwich)|
|Gray, Major Ernest (Accrington)||Nield, Sir Herbert||Young, sir Frederick W. (Swindon)|
|Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)||Norris, Colonel Sir Henry G.||Younger, Sir George|
|Greenwood, William (Stockport)||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Hush|
|Gregory, Holman||Parker, James||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Gwynne, Rupert S.||Parry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry||Mr. McCurdy and Colonel Leslie Wilson.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Hartshorn, Vernon||Spoor, B. G.|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hayward, Evan||Swan, J. E.|
|Barnes, Major H (Newcastle, E)||Hirst, G. H.||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, West)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Cairns, John||Hogge, James Myles||Walsh, Stephen (Lancaster, Ince)|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Irving, Dan||Watts-Morgan, Lieut.-Col. D.|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Wedgwood, Colonel Joslah C.|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwelity)||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||White, Charles F. (Derby, Western)|
|Edwards, G. (Norfolk, South)||Lawson, John James||Wignall, James|
|Entwistle, Major C. F.||Lunn, William||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)|
|Finney, Samuel||Murray, Dr. D. (Inverness & Ross)||Wilson, James (Dudley)|
|Galbraith, Samuel||O'Grady, Captain James||Wintringham, Margaret|
|Gillis, William||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)|
|Glanville, Harold James||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Grundy, T. W.||Rendall, Athelstan||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Guest, J. (York, W. R., Hemsworth)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Mr. T. Shaw and Mr. Walter Smith.|
|Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)|
|Halls, Walter||Robertson, John|
Question put and agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Mr. MOSLEY
Before we leave this Vote and subscribe yet another £15,000 to the Government's latest speculation in oil, we might at least inquire whether or not the gamble prospers. After all, the other little enterprises of the Govern- 302 ment of a similar nature have not been altogether successful. The celebrated case of Nauru Island, which was held out as a very good bargain, did not mature. The good bargain of which we hoped great things in the cellulose line also did not mature. This evening, before we subscribe another £15,000 of the taxpayers' money to this gamble in oil, we are entitled to inquire whether or not this latest and most promising venture has proved successful. I may remind the House that an agree- 303 ment was entered into in 1919 between the Australian and the British Governments and the Persian Oil Company under which the English Government entered into a search for oil in Papua together with the Australian Government, employing the Anglo-Persian Oil Company as their agent. Our total liability was limited to £50,000. Fifteen thousand pounds was subscribed in 1920, £20,000 in the Estimates this year, and now, before the end of the year we are asked to subscribe the balance which, I understood, would not, at any rate, be required prior to next year.
The terms of the agreement, as I understand, have never yet been published. I understand there was an agreement, which had not yet seen the light of day, between the two Governments to employ a private company to prospect for oil, many of whose directors were derived from the higher branches of the public service. An agreement of that sort should certainly at this stage of affairs, if not before, be exposed to the survey of the House. The policy of investing Government money in speculative concerns was condemned in the former Debate, and I should not be in order in covering that field again, but. we are entitled to ask whether the gamble has come off, whether this agreement, entered into in the spacious days of 1919, the days of secrecy in council and profligacy in expenditure, has proved so profitable as was then anticipated, or if it has gone the way of all the other Government speculations and the way of their social reforms, if it has added to the long list of their failures in financial enterprises and in other undertakings. May we, at this stage, when we are confronted with yet another phase, have, at least, the details of this transaction? May we see the agreement, and learn on what class of speculation the British public were invited by the Government to subscribe £50,000? At least, in the event of failure, we might press for the full details of this transaction. I, therefore, venture to draw the attention of the House to the matter, and I ask my hon. Friend in the first place whether the gamble has succeeded, and, if it has not succeeded, what was the arrangement, how has it been conducted, and what is our position to-day? Is this money entirely lost, or are we to recover anything?
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. Edward Wood)
I thank my hon. Friend for having been so courteous as to tell me that he was going to bring this matter before the House. I am afraid he has the advantage of me in having a more picturesque mind and greater power of expression than I can, unfortunately, claim, and these qualities have enabled him to inves1 what I should have thought was a perfectly matter-of-fact business proceeding with a kind of halo of romance which is always welcome in the House at this hour. He asked me two questions, and also made another observation to which I should like to offer a word of reply. His first question was whether this gamble has been successful. He will not expect me to follow or to adopt his language, but I am in a position to tell him and the House what. is the exact financial position as it exists at the present moment, without going into a question which it would be out of order for me to discuss, namely, what are the benefits of the proposal as it was originally made.
My hon. Friend reminded the House that the original agreement was to contribute a maximum sum of £50,000 in a. joint arrangement with the Australian Government for the purpose of exploration for oil in Papua. Of that sum, £35,000 has been paid, spread over the last two years, and this Supplementary Estimate of £15,000 brings up the whole contribution of His Majesty's Government to the sum mentioned in the original agreement. I am not competent to say, and I do not think anybody is yet competent to say, whether or not, as a result of the exploration in Papua, the money is likely to turn out to be well expended. I do not think that the geologists are yet in a position to make a final statement about that. The position of His Majesty's Government in the matter has been that up to date the £50,000 that has been contributed, and the £50,000 contributed by the Australian Government, have not yet made the thing a paying proposition. If it had to be made a paying proposition more money would have to be spent upon it.
In view of the circumstances of the moment, His Majesty's Government came to the conclusion that the wisest course was to redeem their share of the obligation, and leave it at that. They have, accordingly, agreed that the Aus- 305 tralian Government should take over their interest in the business, and Mr. Hughes has agreed on behalf of the Commonwealth Government to take over our interest for £25,000. That £25,000 can, therefore, be set against the £15,000, fur which I am asking in this Vote. On that basis, as my hon. Friend will see, it represents a net gain to His.Majesty's Government of £10,000. As compared with the whole £50,000, it represents a set-off of 50 per cent. I do not think I have anything more to say, except to make one observation, in which I quite frankly admit that I was unable to follow my hon. Friend. He complained with great force that in a period when there was "secrecy in council and profligacy in expenditure," the secrecy in council led to no agreement ever having been published, and he asked, in forcible terms, that at this late hour the agreement might be laid before the world. I do not know to what he refers, because I hold in my hand, and anybody can hold it in their hand if they ask for it at the Vote Office, a copy of an agreement made between His Majesty's Government, the Australian Government, and the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. The whole thing is signed. It is Command Paper 1286, which was issued this year.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House cloth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
The sum which we are asked to vote is £100,000, which I understand is really a bookkeeping account representing the amount or part of the amount of medical stores that are being sent to Russia. I should like to know a little more about the policy of His Majesty's Government in this matter, as this is the first time we have had this Vote in connection with the Russian famine. I should like to know whether the Government adhere to the views on the Russian famine expressed by the Prime Minister on the 16th August. That speech is, no doubt, vividly in the recollection of hon. Members. I was, unfor- 306 tunately, unable to hear it, but I have read it since, and it is in the most picturesque and striking style of the Prime Minister. He describes in language which must have been very effective, what he calls "the most appalling catastrophe that is taking place in Russia." He pointed out that 35,000,000 people are starving. He read a very striking passage from our representatives out there, giving a picture of what is happening. He went on to say that the matter came before the Paris Conference, and that the immensity of the evil ought to sweep away entirely from one's mind all prejudice as to whether or not the Russian Government was a Bolshevik Government. He said that it ought to appeal only to one emotion, that of pity and human sympathy, and I would add, that of sound economic principle also. He stated that the Supreme Council had decided to set up immediately an international organisation in order to provide relief for Russia. I would draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs to the principle which the Prime Minister laid down. He said in the most specific way that here was a terrible catastrophe which was almost unequalled in the history of the world, that it was no use relying on mere private charity, and no use dealing with it in a small way, but that it required international effort. He went on to say:There have been suggestions of relief from organisations in America, from the Red Cross, and from private benefactors, all valuable, especially those from bodies who propose to send doctors and medical supplies, and any bodies who can help to prevent the children from dying; but I am sorry to say this is such a gigantic catastrophe that it has to be dealt with upon a much bigger scale, and it was the feeling in Paris that there must be a great international effort." —[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 16th August, 1921; col. 1238, Vol. 146.]I want to ask very specifically whether that is still the view of the Government, and, if so, what is the great international effort which has been made since the 16th August. That is three months ago, three months of the most critical period in the year. They have been months which make the difference between summer and winter, months in which something effective should have been done. What has been done in order to deal with this terrible catastrophe? All we know is that a Commission was appointed, and that they thereupon held 307 a conference at Paris. They proposed to send a perfectly unworkable commission of inquiry into Russia, and the Russian Government, for once, I think, acted wisely and refused to have anything to do with it. They said it was not a genuine thing, and that it was going to do no real good. Then another conference was held, and that conference decided to have still another conference at Brussels, and at the conference at Brussels a great deal of talk took place, but, so far as I know, nothing effective was done. Unless my information is at fault, the main object of the English delegates appeared to be to throw doubt and suspicion upon Dr. Nanson's organisation. That is not an exaggerated statement of the record of the Government since the 16th August, when the Prime Minister came down to the House and stated in the most solemn way that here was a great catastrophe, in regard to which we were bound to make a great international effort.
All that has been done has been to hold these conferences, and now, at long last, after three months have been wasted, the Government come before the House and propose to send out, not food, but medical supplies. I do not wish to under-estimate the value of medical supplies, but this is a case of starvation, and there are also serious epidemics which have taken place. Medical supplies are very necessary, but it is plain that the root of the matter is starvation. If you are going to deal with it effectively you have got to feed the people or assist them to obtain food. That, I understand, was the policy of the Government on the 16th August. What occurred to prevent that policy being carried out? The Government, it is said, attached great importance to the acknowledgment by the Bolshevik Government of the pre-revolution debts. That raises another question which I should like to put. There have been reports in the paper-I do not pretend to know what are the exact facts—which seem to show that the Bolshevik Government have made, at any rate, some step towards acknowledging the pre-revolution debts. I would like to know, have they really complied with that condition? If so, what new conditions have been invented in order to justify the Government in refusing the assistance which the Prime Minister regarded as effective?
308 I have two other questions. What is going to be done with these stores? Are they going to be distributed under some special organisation which the Government are going to set up ed hoc? If so, how far have they got with that organisation? Have they got the consent of the Russian Government, or are the stores going to be distributed through Dr. Nansen's organisation, which is functioning at present? In his speech the Prime Minister pointed out that it is difficult to induce the peasants in the part of Russia where there has been an adequate harvest—I understand there has been a considerable surplus in the western parts of Russia, and probably also in S[...]beriaowing to the complete breakdown in the monetary system of Russia, to sell their corn for Russian money, and the Russian Government have no goods which they can exchange for the corn. The Prime Minister pointed that out with great force much more eloquently than I could do, but I want to know whether the Government have considered the possibility, subject to what the Prime Minister said at Question time the other day—I think that they must have done so—of advancing a credit to enable the Russian Government, or Dr. Nansen's organisation, to buy boots, machinery, and an immense number of other things of which the peasants are urgently in need in order to exchange them against corn, and to get corn down to the starving population of the Volga?
I should have thought that there was a great deal to be said for that policy from the purely national point of view. it would enable something to be done—I do not know how much—to create a demand for our own manufactures, and it would tend, to some extent, to set the wheels of commerce, trade and industry going in this country, as well as in Russia. It appears to me to be at least as good a policy as relief works or doles or any thing else. Has anything been done to investigate that and set some fresh policy going? The way in which this question has been dealt with is really one of the worst instances of the vices of the present Government. If in August the Prime Minister had come to the House and said, "Here is a terrible catastrophe. I have had it examined by my skilled advisers and my financial advisers, and we are unable to do anything. We may be able to 309 send some medical stores later on, but we can do nothing. We are too poor to be able to help,"that would have been intelligible. It would not have raised false hopes. It would have put the thing, I think, on a wholly wrong basis, but still on a sound basis, but the right hon. Gentleman comes down and makes a tremendous speech. He emphasises the fearful nature of the catastrophe and draws the most vivid picture, partly in his own language and partly in the language of those who have examined the situation in Russia, and he says: "Such a thing cannot be dealt with on any tinkering lines. It cannot be dealt with privately. Such a thing requires a great international effort, and we and the French are prepared to consider and set such an effort going," and then nothing effective is done. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Some other section of opinion got hold of the machinery of the Government, and stopped it. That is an intolerable way of carrying on the affairs of the country. This is only one instance of the vice which affects the whole of the Government administration, which is bringing the country every day nearer to the verge of ruin.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I can recall the speech which was made by the Prime Minister on the occasion referred to, and I remember that the House of Commons was moved at the time not merely by the eloquence of the Prime Minister, but by the feeling which that eloquence produced as to the terrible calamity which had fallen upon a very large part of Russia. There is no man in this kingdom more fitted for the work of delivering moving human perorations than the Prime Minister, but in his absence we are entitled to say that this is distinctly an instance for the delivery of something more than perorations. It is an instance for the delivery of adequate national relief, of assistance which should stand above any consideration of the money debts incurred by former Russian Governments and carried still as a responsibility by the present Russian Government. I, of course, welcome the comparatively small contribution of the medical and other supplies which are represented in this Vote. But we must do much more or formally withdraw the language of the Prime Minister in order that no further hope should rest upon anything being 310 done as a result of what virtually was regarded as a pledge by the head of the present Government, as it must be the case, as the Noble Lord has concluded, that following the Prime Minister's pronouncement, which was interpreted as pledging immediate action, influences began to operate to make his language ineffective. If that be so, there must have been one or two causes for influences of that kind being set to work. First, there would be the fact that Russia is being governed by a Soviet Government altogether out of keeping with our own view of what a form of government should be. It may be that some dissemble the expression of this view, but we have heard it and it can be found in certain of the newspapers of the country. If it has not influenced many it has been clearly expressed as part of that political view-point because of which we ought not to extend support to the starving people of Russia. The other reason for lack of effective action, clearly has been the non-recognition of debts contracted during the Tsarist régime and not recognised now by the Soviet Government. I would like to join with the Noble Lord in pressing for some definite statement from the Government as to what exactly is the position on that question. I observe that in a communication dated 28th October to the British Government by the Russian representative Tchitcherin, there is this statement:Consequently the Russian Government, recognising that many small holders of Russian loan, particularly in France, have a direct interest in the recognition of Tsarist debts, declares itself ready to recognise the obligations on the part of other States and their citizens, with respect to State loans concluded by the Tsarist Government before 1914 under the express reserve that there be made special conditions and facilities which would make the realisation of the promise possible.That is a statement made with some qualification, and we should be left in no doubt as to the interpretation the Government have given to it, as to the value they attach to it, and as to what effect this Russian assurance may have on our policy in relation to the famine. The International Commission in Brussels on this question of Russian relief made, on 10th October, a pronouncement confirming the conclusion I have put to the House as to the reasons for not assisting in any large degree in the relief of the Russian 311 people. The pronouncement contains the following:The Conference therefore necessarily arrives at the conclusion that credits and exportations to Russia are only obtainable on the following conditions:I can add little to what the Noble Lord has said on the purely human side of this great question. I believe it is a fact that, although we have had various figures purporting to represent the number of persons afflicted by the ravages of famine, there are between 15,000,000 and 20,000,000 of the. Russian people so afflicted in an area about twice the size of the United Kingdom. I am reminded that the Prime Minister put the figure even higher than that, but taking the lowest estimate that has come from any quarter, the figure is such that we cannot allow any question of debts and financial arrangements to stand in the way of our doing something in the way of relief. If always we had to consider these great human matters from the standpoint of money the world would be the poorer and human nature would nor be as rich in its wish to relieve as usually it is.
- (1) The Soviet Government must recognise the existing debt and other obligations resulting from engagements taken regularly.
- (2) Adequate guarantees must be forthcoming for every credit granted in the future."
We can well feel that some of our own poorer people may be saying, "Charity begins at home." As a matter of fact, this is a greater thing than charity; it is higher, because it is so much more vast than any condition of impoverishment which may exist in this country to-day. My own belief is that our own poor would remain the poorer by an absence of the relief which is urgently and immediately needed in Russia. If that part of Russia remains devastated and becomes totally depopulated, it will mean the delay of that condition of economic and industrial restoration which in turn is bound to have an important effect for the better on the industrial problem in this country. Russia in the main was little prepared, indeed was not prepared at all, to meet such an awful calamity as this. Those who think that the calamity is due to ordinary political incompetence or to an undue degree of experimentation in new forms of State government, are entirely -wrong. My belief is that this devastation 312 might well have occurred during the old condition of government in Russia. I go further and say that if any such famine as this had afflicted Russia from natured causes during the Tsarist régime, this Government and the other Governments of Europe would have come more fully and readily to Russia's help.
We ought, therefore, to rid ourselves of this suspicion of allowing political considerations to govern our human rules of action in a matter of such appalling trouble as this must be. The Prime Minister drew attention, not only to the inadequacy, but, one might almost say, to the futility of attempting the necessary degree of relief by the organised effort of private charity. We cannot take up a newspaper to-day without seeing the most harrowing advertisements of the conditions of starvation in Russia, and moving appeals to whatever private resources we may have. As the Prime Minister said, this is a matter not merely for action of that kind, valuable as it is. It would be futile and ineffective for its purpose unless it were supplemented by help on the greater scale which alone a Government can afford. I hope we shall not be led to think of the Russian people merely in the terms of the private appeals so frequently made.
Finally, may I quote a statement recently made by Doctor Nansen, which shows the bearing of the relief on our future prosperity? He said on 6th October:If Russia is saved from starvation the unemployment problem throughout the world will be solved. Food is wasting in the granaries of the earth while millions of men, women, and children in Russia are dying for want of food.I do not go so far as to say that if this part of Russia were re-established in conditions of comparative comfort, that, would solve the unemployment problem throughout the world. Dr. Nansen's statement is perhaps an excessive statement, but coming from such a source it shows how pewerful is the pressure behind any man who has given up his life to the relief of the sufferers and how anxious he is to make the most moving appeals he possibly can make for universal, and particularly for Government, assistance. Though it may not completely cure our unemployment problem, I am certain that that problem can be made worse by withholding the relief. I trust, 313 therefore, that those who, in the absence of the Prime Minister, speak to-night for the Government will be able to give us an assurance that what the Prime Minister led us to hope and believe would be done is about to be done, and that it will soon be undertaken.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down failed to notice one very great distinction between the Russia of the present day and all other nations of the world, including the Russia of the Tsarist régime. He said if such a calamity had happened to Russia under the old Tsarist régime then the Government of this country would have gone to the assistance of the Tsarist Government. That is very possibly true, but what the right hon. Gentleman has failed to observe is this, that so long as there is a Communistic régime in Russia it is utterly useless giving assistance to those who are starving. Starvation of the population under that régime is inevitable, and it is not the least use saving these unfortunate people for a few months now, in order that they may starve again next year. No matter what relief you give, you cannot save a Communistic country from starvation, because the whole basis of Communism is that you should eat up capital until there is no capital left. Consider what has actually happened to the harvests of the last few years in Russia. The first harvest under the present régime—according to accounts from the neighbourhood of Moscow—showed that the amount sown was not seriously less than had been sown in previous years before Communism had been introduced. It was less, but not very seriously less. What happened to that harvest? The Prime Minister spoke about bursting corn bins, but it apparently never even reached the corn bins. What happened was this. The surplus which was not depleted by their own consumption and by the seeding, was taken from the peasants for the use of the towns and they were paid in paper roubles. Paper roubles have this remarkable quality, that they are worth very decidedly less than the paper on which they are printed, because if the paper were plain and not printed upon, it could be used for writing letters and other purposes, but having had roubles printed upon it, it is no longer of any use whatever, except for papering the walls of the cottages. The 314 peasants having had this experience of seeing their hard work exchanged for valueless paper, naturally the next hravest was shorter even than the first one had been. In order that they should not have their corn taken away from them for nothing but worthless paper, they began to conceal corn in the villages throughout Russia. Then the Soviet Government proceeded to unearth these caches of corn throughout Russia, and unearthed them with a considerable degree of violence and a considerable amount of suffering to the unfortunate peasants who had been guilty of concealing their corn, with the result that they sowed shorter next year. Then on top of the short sowing there came a long drought, with the natural result that, as the right hon. Gentleman says, from 20,000,000 to 30,000,000 people are now starving. That process is inevitable in any country where there is no currency and no capital. There is no getting round that. The Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil) told us that Dr. Nansen had estimated the number of people starving to be somewhere in the neighbourhood of 20,000,000, or more, and that he also estimated that a sum of between £5,000,000 and £10,000,000 subscribed by this Government and the other Governments of the world would save the situation.
§ Lord R. CECIL
No; I said that was all he was asking for, and that if he got it he could do a great deal with it. May I also point out to the hon. Member, as regards seed corn, that in parts of Russia the harvest was quite good, and about half the total quantity was available in Western Russia? Dr. Nansen thought that with the amount mentioned he could do a great deal to tide over the immediate danger.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I am within the recollection of the House, and surely that is what I suggested. The Noble Lord said that with £5,000,000 to 10,000,000 Dr. Nansen said he could tide over the immediate danger. Was not the immediate danger that 20,000,000 or more people would starve? Did not Dr. Nansen say that by means of this sum he would be able to save the lives of from 20,000,000 to 25,000,000 people, which is a very cheap rate at which to save life, being anywhere from 5s. to 10s. a head? Supposing that £5,000,000 to £10,000,000 subscribed by the nations of 315 the world were capable of saving these people from starvation, what is to prevent the Soviet Government finding that sum? I understand they are keeping mobilised and in the field an army of between 500,000 and 1,000,000 men. It seems to me if they turned down one or two divisions of that great army they would have the funds available to save the lives of these millions of people, if the contention we have heard is true. Why should they come to us, as Dr. Nansen is doing, and say, "You hard-hearted, callous, indifferent nations of the world, here are 25,000,000 of our subjects starving, and because you will not subscribe £5,000,000 they have to starve"? It is perfectly ludicrous for the Soviet Government to take up that position when they are maintaining this force in the field, and when such industries as they possess are very largely engaged upon furnishing munitions for this army. It is an outrageous piece of humbug to make such a request to the world at large. The Noble Lord cannot have been thinking when he suggested that we should adopt that idea. Dr. Nansen obviously, if he is reported aright, is talking rank nonsense when he says that 5s. to 10s. a head is going to save these people during the winter and give them seed corn for the next harvest. The Noble Lord says that the harvest in other parts is good. While perhaps the harvest per acre may be good, what knowledge has he as to what amount of acreage has been sown? The harvest might be double the average per acre, and yet the amount sown might have been, as it was in parts of Russia nearly three years ago, only 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. of the normal. Again even presupposing that there is a large harvest in parts of Russia, what is the use of it? How is it to be got to Samara and the Volga? There is a complete breakdown in the railway system which was absolutely inevitable, just as the economic breakdown was inevitable. Does the Noble Lord suggest that the transport conditions in Russia are such that enormous quantities of corn can be hurried to the starving population?
§ Lord R. CECIL
I think it would have been far easier if it had been done a few months ago when you had the waterways.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
The Noble Lord says it would have been better if it had been 316 attempted months ago. [An HON. MEMBER: "Before the harvest."] Why, three months ago these conditions had not arisen, and what is the use of saying that now? Do let us look at this thing sensibly. Here we have up to 30,000,000 of people on the verge of starvation and scores of thousands of them actually starving day by day, and you have a broken down transport system. When that transport system was at its very best it was exceedingly inferior. The railways were in the main strategic railways, with secondary railways for taking the products of the country to the ports for export. The railway system of Russia is not designed for taking large amounts of corn at a very high speed from the Ukraine to these provinces.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Those are the conditions. Has the Noble Lord taken the trouble to calculate on a piece of paper exactly what the feeding of this population means in rolling stock, and, having calculated that, what it means in locomotives and what it means in the actual permanent way which is necessary to transport millions and millions of tons in a few days right across Russia? It is ludicrous to come down to this House and say that if, before this condition had arisen, the Government had taken steps, it would have been all right. The Noble Lord and his supporters would have been the first to say, "Let us not interfere with the internal affairs of the Russian Government. Let us not tell the Soviet Government they are making a gross economic mistake, and that if they go on like this their population will starve." I feel somewhat angry, because if the Noble Lord had taken the trouble to think three years ago he would have seen the present condition of Russia to have been absolutely inevitable. I have felt it my duty to point out, month by month, during these three years, what was going to be the next step in Russia, and I would suggest that His Majesty's Foreign Office and the other Foreign Offices concerned know perfectly well what is going to be the next step in Russia, and that they are therefore extremely cautious about taking these steps which the Noble Lord suggests. The next step in Russia is perfectly obvious. It is feudalism of the most tyrannous kind—the feudalism of foreign capitalists, foreign barons, to 317 whom the Russian Government will be handing over concessions involving, not only natural products and things of that sort, but the actual population of the district. Circumstances are constituting as fast as they can the feudal system in its worst form in Russia. That is not to be attributed to Lenin, but to the natural forces which must inevitably produce that feudalism, and which the Noble Lord himself might have anticipated three years ago.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
If he had anticipated it, he would not have made the speech which he has made to-day.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I know very well that there is nobody in this House, except the occupants of those benches opposite, who has got a heart at all, but I said the other night, and I repeat it now, that I am sick of these stale bleeding hearts. They begin to stink in our nostrils.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I should like to point out that this generosity with other people's money is not really a virtue. However, I shall be out of order in pursuing this subject—
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Yes, Sir. Our Government is treating this subject from the point of view of common sense, and so are the other Foreign Offices concerned, and not from the point of view of absurd sentiment. They know very well that it is simply throwing millions into a bottomless pit to send them into Russia at the present time, and their insistence upon recognition of debt was simply an insistence upon a civilised Government of some sort in Russia before they came to its assistance. There is not the least doubt in the world that if these millions were subscribed now, it would not save perhaps more than one or two from starvation. It is impossible to save these unfortunate people. The trouble has come upon them to a large extent through 318 their own folly, but let us, at any rate, treat this subject from the point of view of common sense and not get into these extraordinary sentimental rages which the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin has indulged in.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The hon. 'Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson) sometimes carries his love for paradox too far. it is all very well to treat the House as solely a sounding board for rather farfetched economic theories, but, if he will forgive me saying so, that is really better done in the pages of the "Fortnightly" or some other review, rather than in the House of Commons, where he can be replied to on the spot. The hon. Gentleman has treated us to a perfect philosophic treatise on how the world must get along without anybody helping anybody else. If anybody helps anybody else, it saps independence, upsets economic laws, and in the end is very bad for the person who is helped. Fortunately, that has not been the policy of England in the past, nor of decent peoples in other countries. When there was a shortage in the trade in which the hon. Member is concerned, the Lancashire cotton trade—
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
When there was a shortage in Lancashire during the Civil War in America, the Americans subscribed large sums to relieve the distress in Lancashire. They might, if they had followed the hon. Member's advice, have sent good advice to Lancashire to change from the cotton business into some other business. No doubt it would have been perfectly accurate, but it would not have been helpful, nor would it have helped to bring together the two branches of the Anglo-Saxon race.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
They were both in urgent need. The hon. Member for Mossley knows very well that there are occasionally famines in India, and we put our hands into our pockets then, but if we followed his advice we should turn up the pages of Malthus and prove that the population regulated itself. That is all very well, but, fortunately, 319 we do not follow that line, and as long as we remain with any semblance of Christianity in this country, we shall decline to follow that line. The hon. Member says it is entirely the fault of Marxian doctrines, carried on by Lenin, that this crisis has arrived in Russia. The point I would like to make is, that Lenin himself has dropped the Marxian doctrines.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
He has dropped them, so far as industry is concerned, now; but he dropped the Marxian doctrines, so far as the country districts were concerned, as soon as he got his Revolution in November, 1917. There has never been the slightest sign of Marxianism about the peasantry of Russia, and all that happened in the Russian Revolution, so far as the peasants were concerned, was that the peasants got the land instead of the landlords having the land. Marxianism was never applied to them, because the peasants would not look at it. The result in Russia, so far from being the result of Marxianism, might be said to be the result of four or five years of bitter war, when the country has been overrun from one end to the other, very largely by expeditions financed, supported, and cheered on by the hon. Member for Mossley. He says the transport system has broken down.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I will deal with whether it has broken down or not presently. The hon. Member says the transport system has broken down. Is it any wonder, when Russia has been boycotted and cut off from all civilised countries for the last six or seven years? He says the Russians are quite incapable of organising any relief to the famine areas. Is it wonderful, after they have been killed off as they have been during the last seven years?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must ask the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) and the hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. Gould) not to interrupt.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
No, it has become more than a joke, for the hon. Member has interrupted every alternate sentence not only during my speech, but during the preceding speeches. These things are not the result, as the hon. Member would have us believe, solely of Marxian Government in Russia, but even were they the result of Marxian Government in Russia, I would still say that people in this country are not entitled to allow 35,000,000 or even 20,000,000 or 10,000,000 people to starve, to die slowly of hunger, so long as there is a penny in the pockets of the English people or a pound of food in the country. Whether they are Russians, or whether they are English makes no profound difference to a Christian people, and if even by breaking economic laws we can do something to save these people from starving, I am quite confident, whether we are economically sound or not, we are morally and religiously right.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Cecil Harmsworth)
I little thought, when I found it my duty to introduce this very unobtrusive Vote, that it would have led to so heated a discussion. I may, perhaps, remind those Members of the House who are not familiar with the Vote that it is, as my Noble Friend the Member for Hitchin (Lord E. Cecil) has said, something in the nature of a book-keeping arrangement. There are, or were, in the possession of the Disposal Board, some large quantities of medical stores, clothing and some amount of tinned meat and other foodstuffs. Of this the Government have decided to allocate, for purposes of relief in Russia, an amount that at pre-War prices was worth £100,000, and at the present values, perhaps, £250,000, and in answer to the question of my Noble Friend, I may say that those stores are to be handed, or have already been handed, to the British Red Cross Society, to be allocated as they please, and under no conditions whatever. I understand that the Red Cross Society is establishing a base at Riga and another at Novorossisk for the purpose of the distribution of these stores. It may have been thought, perhaps, that there was no necessity to come to the House of Commons for a Supplementary Estimate, 321 having regard to the fact that the House of Commons has already granted the cost of these stores, and, indeed, of course the money had already been expended; but it was felt to be constitutional, and in accordance with financial propriety, that the sanction of the House should be obtained for any grant, for however good a purpose, made by His Majesty's Government.
My Noble Friend has enlarged on a much greater topic than this. I am only dealing for the moment with this amount of stores, very necessary, we are told, and perhaps the most useful that we could contribute, but obviously by no means an adequate provision for the relief of any proportion of the large number of people suffering from famine in Russia at the present time. I venture to think that, having regard to the present state of our own resources, this is by no means an insignificant contribution, and I trust that the example, modest as it is, set by our Government, may be followed by other Governments, many of them much better situated in regard to finances and resources than we are ourselves at this moment. My Noble Friend referred to the glowing speech which the Prime Minister made on the 16th August, and he asked whether the policy of His Majesty's Government has been changed. It is not for me to amplify and extend any utterance made from this Bench by the Prime Minister, but I at least fail to observe in what respect the policy of His Majesty's Government has changed. My Noble Friend referred only incidentally to the latter part of the Prime Minister's speech on that occasion. It is true that the Prime Minister drew, as perhaps he alone can draw, in appropriately sombre colours the state of Russia at this moment, and he expressed a feeling shared, I am sure, by every Member of this House, and not least by my hon. Friend sitting below the Gangway, of intense sympathy with those who are suffering from this awful calamity in Russia. But the Prime Minister went on to point cut—and here I do not profess to produce his exact Ian gunge—that whatever you might do by way of private charity, or even State charity, in Russia, you were by no means going to the root of the question, and he insisted, in a passage with which I will venture to trouble the House, that in 322 order that this terrible problem might adequately be met, it was necessary for the Russian Government to re-establish itself in the confidence of the world. He said:If the Soviet Government want to create confidence, if they want to get the trading community to come in to assist them at this juncture, they must say they will recognise all these obligations.Not merely this or that obligation, not merely the pre-War obligations of the Tsarist Government, but others as well.I hope it will be believed that I do not want to take advantage of this dire calamity, for the purpose of obtaining acceptance of this principle, but I know this is the best way of dealing with the matter. I have gone into it very carefully and I have found that this stood in the way. They themselves admit that you must get the peasants to part with their corn.This is not only an external question, but it is a domestic Russian question, and that is sometimes forgotten.They themselves admit that there is only one way of doing so, that is by giving goods. I say there is only one way of getting the goods there, and that is by restoring that confidence among the trading community, that will make the trading community feel, that they can send their goods there without any danger of their obligations being confiscated in the future."—OFFICIAL REPORT: 16th August, 1921; cols. 1241 and 1242; Vol. 146.]That, surely, does go to the root of the question. I am not myself going this evening, and would not do so even if it were in order, to traverse the principles of Communist Government in Russia. My hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson) is far more competent to do that than I am, but you must have in the relations between nations, at all events, something like the business conventions that you require between individuals. My experience of life is this, that where a man repudiates his debts, he soon fails to secure credit from other people. My Noble Friend asked me how far these discussions have proceeded in the matter of the acknowledgment of their debts by the Soviet Government. I have not the documents before me, but I think they have been published in the Press, and, if my memory serve me right, the Soviet Government have only undertaken to recognise their national debts up to the period of 1914. Further correspondence is ensuing on that subject, but I think we should all recognise, as a business assembly, that the Russian Govern- 323 ment must go very much beyond that before they can establish themselves in the confidence of the business community of the world. Until they do that, and up to the time that they did that, they might possibly receive State and private aid, but they could not hope to cope in any degree with so vast a calamity as that which confronts them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) said that this was an instance requiring adequate national relief. If I may say so very respectfully, I wish he would somewhat develop that point. What would he regard as adequate national relief? As my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley said, if you are going on anything like charitable lines—and I myself would be far from deprecating any means, seeing the need is instant—if you are going to proceed on those lines, how much money will it take to provide anything like adequate sustenance for so vast a population for the next few months?
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
I wish that every one of them could be saved, but how can that be done by private charity? How otherwise can it be done? How otherwise—to return to the old point—can it be done than by bringing the Soviet Government, whatever political principles they choose to profess, into such a state where they can trade and do business with the outer world? I am informed that it is not only a question of the failure of the harvest in this particular district, great as that has been. It is not only the breakdown and inadequacy of the railway and other transport in Russia; the difficulty is even greater. I am told that there is a complete breakdown in all the machinery of business in Russia itself, that all those little means by which produce is brought to market have been destroyed, because the people have been led to think that all these processes can be, and should be, adequately conducted by Government agency, and Government agency has been no more successful in matters of that kind in Russia than it has been with us in the immediate past. [HON. MEMBERS: "It won the War."] That is what I am told, and that that is perhaps even the largest factor—the breakdown of all kinds of means of com- 324 munication in this part of Russia—as it is in others where they are free from famine. This, I say, is a modest contribution, but it is a definite and concrete contribution to the relief in Russia. What the Government might under other conditions contemplate, I do not know.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why there has been a change in the policy of the Government?
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
I thought I had elaborately explained and tried to make it clear that there has been no change of policy.
§ Lord R. CECIL
Does the hon. Gentleman mean to say that the speech of the Prime Minister on 16th August meant that all the Government was going to do was to vote these surplus stores worth £100,000?
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
No, Sir. I was stating the position, and explaining the conditions under which, if the Government are so disposed, further and larger aid might be rendered. I have only now to submit this Vote, and I trust the House will give it to me without further delay.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
If I might turn this discussion round, I would commence by pointing out what the Prime Minister said on this subject. 30,000,000 or 35,000,000 of people on the verge of starvation, dragging across huge spaces of territory and possibly bringing disease into Europe, making it the birthground of pestilence and disease. In that paraphrase I think I am correctly representing the statement of the Prime Minister. I want to suggest that 9 Englishmen out of every 10 seeing starvation would relieve it and then discuss the politics of the starving person or persons afterwards. I do not believe that the discussion in this House represents the heart of this nation. I do not believe that the people outside this House would for a moment consider first of all the politics of Russia, but I believe the true heart of the people would say, "First help if possible, and then afterwards discuss, argue and fight." It is in my belief in that policy that I am going to say a few words on the inadequacy of the Vote before us.
325 I am sorry the Prime Minister's magnificent effort was spoiled—in my opinion, at any rate—by introducing into its high ethical tone the political side, and owing to the necessity and starvation of the people, making a political bargain. Let us look at what is taking place. Russia lost more millions of men during the War than any other country. It was the collapse following on its huge effort in the War, and being unable economically to carry on the war, and the various losses, that led to economic unsafety, and that gave the Bolsheviks their opportunity in Russia. How did the Allied Governments face the situation after the Bolsheviks had seized power? Instead of letting the people of Russia know that the Allied Governments were their friends, every effort was taken to make the Russians feel that the Allies intended to inflict upon them a Government from outside. Denikin, Koltchak, and others who were financed by—
§ Mr. SHAW
This discussion has ranged over a very wide field, and I thought I should be justified in pointing out what has led to this system of government which is being used as an excuse for not helping to alleviate the starvation now existing in Russia. We are told that Russia is now keeping up huge armies. Possibly there is reason for that, and that is justified by what I have just stated. It is a sound business proposition to go to the help of these people on the Volga. They are not the Communists of Russia at all, because the Communists reside mostly in Petrograd, Moscow, and other Russian cities and towns. These people are not looked upon by the Soviet authorities as Communists.
What is the position of affairs in Russia and in the East of Europe generally? There is no Soviet, but certainly there is disease and death, and some kindly help to the people on the Volga might make the whole of the East of Europe more secure, and might bring friendship between the people. It would not be simply a humane policy, but it would be a sound business policy to help these people in every possible way. Let us alleviate the sufferings of these people who, whatever may be the sins of the Soviet 326 Government, have nothing to do with those sins. If I may make another appeal, let me say that it is possible to help these people by Government assistance—I do not mean only the British Government but all the Governments represented by the League of Nations. It is only possible by assistance of that kind to give effective help to these poor people on the Volga.
Supposing help is not given to them, shall we escape by these people dying? The probability is that these people will overflow into Poland, and we shall have typhus ravaging the whole of the East of Europe, and probably spreading to this country, and there will be a condition of things which will almost decimate the population of the East of Europe. That was pointed out in a speech by the Prime Minister, and no arguing about the Soviet Government will take anything away from the danger and the blackness of the picture. No amount of argument about the Soviet Government will absolve us from blame if we deny help to these people. We cannot make these poor people responsible for the sins of Lenin and Trotsky. I appeal to hon. Members not to consider these Votes purely from the financial point of view. Kindness of heart and effective help are recognised by all people in the world, whether they are Russian or belong to other nations. The man or woman who sees to starving being and hurries to its assistance will find a kindly place in the heart of the being who is helped, however villainous that being might have been before.
What applies to an individual, applies to a nation. It is because I believe that the nations alone, through their Governments, can render assistance in this human catastrophe, because I feel that all arguments about the Soviet Government are wide of the mark when dealing with the population of the Volga, because I believe that only effective Government assistance can be given through a body like the League of Nations, which is the only body that can deal with this catastrophe in an adequate way, that I make this appeal. If something be not done disease will become rampant in Europe, and for these reasons I ask the Government to consider whether £100,000 worth of medical stores, which have been left, on their hands, is a sufficient contribution in the name of humanity from a nation which is proud of 327 its history as being amongst the most humane of the nations of the world. I appeal once more to the House to forget altogether the Soviet form of government, and to think only for the moment of the huge calamity that is overtaking between 25,000,000 and 35,000,000 people, who are guiltless in a political sense, but who are certainly starving. I hope the Government will use every influence with our allies to come to the assistance of these people, believing that he who helps quickly helps twice, and believing also that kindness of heart will be recognised. It is only by this treatment that we can ever hope to bring Europe back to the state to which it ought to be brought if our races are to be prosperous in the future.
Sir J. D. REES
The other day I was accused by the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. W. Thorne) of having received an university education. I had no opportunity of refuting this calumny at the moment, but the opportunity has now arrived. I may say that during the time of which he speaks, when I should have been at Oxford, I was already a wage slave in India. But though I never had an university education, I can well remember a magnificent chorus in a splendid play which begins with three words, [...] which says there is nothing in the world so wonderful as man. If man includes Members and Members include Labour Members, then I agree that there is nothing so wonderful as a man and a Member and a Labour Member of Parliament.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
No doubt the hon. Member's remarks are very interesting as reminiscences of his youth, but I do not see what they have got to do with this Vote.
Sir J. D. REES
Then I will come at once to the speech of the hon. Member opposite, which I confess amazes me, and it was that speech which led to the introductory remarks I made. The hon. Member made a speech, the substance of which was that the taxpayers of this country should feed 35,000,000 Russians on the Volga. If he did not mean that money should be given to them, I ask him what did he mean?
Sir J. D. REES
My hon. Friend, like many other people, takes shelter behind the very inadequate cover of the League of Nations. I never saw a poorer cover for so many refugees in all my life. He says that 35,000,000 people on the Volga are on the verge of starvation and asks who, seeing a poor woman with a hungry baby, would not succour that infant? The difficulty is that the baby is too big. It is quite impossible for the British taxpayer to succour this baby. The hon. Member made a speech which, if I may respectfully say so, did more credit to his heart than to his, head. Surely he must be aware that the pockets of the people of this country are empty? That is the one outstanding fact. If he is not prepared to tax the people further in order to feel these 35,000,000—a number which is getting on for the population of the United Kingdom—what is the use of all this empty sympathy with the people of Russia? It would be kinder if, like myself, he recognised facts rather than indulged in empty sympathy. If he is not prepared to tax the people of this country to feed a population approaching in numbers their own, his speech has no meaning whatsoever. Although it may be useful for consumption in certain quarters, it is not really worthy of consideration in the House of Commons.
The hon. Member said we were to pay no attention to the politics of Russia. I heartily agree with him. I remember, before the War, hon. Gentlemen on those benches considered anything connected with Russia, from the Emperor downwards, as unworthy of the consideration of any British person, from the Sovereign downwards. Can it be—I really am in great doubt—that this sympathy with the Russians is begotten of sympathy with the Soviet Government, because there was none of this sympathy when they were under the Emperors and autocrats. Never do I remember it, during the 16 years I have been in this House. Now behold how it has quickened since they have left a benevolent autocracy for the grinding and bloody tyranny of the Soviet. Now there is all this sympathy. It may be empty words; Heaven knows it is; but it is very loud, very expressive, very insistent and frequently repeated. My 329 hon. Friend spoke of the services of the Russians during the War. They were great, indeed, but what has that to do with this question? We did not feed the Russian Army at that time. He said that there were no communists on the Volga. There I totally differ from him. Many of the flourishing communities there were honeycombed with communism, and many of those which were not flourishing were ready to join in any destruction and plunder of the property of those which had flourished on that famous river. The hon. Member referred to typhus in Poland. He said, if we did not feed the 35,000,000 in Russia—I wonder if he realises what that means; I know something about feeding multitudes; I have been in a famine and I know something of the cost, even when they can be fed for 6d. a day on bananas; and beef is far more expensive than bananas. The £5,000,000 to which he has, with weary reiteration, referred, is an absolute trifle. £5,000,000 would disappear in five days. It would not disappear into the mouths of the suffering 35,000,000, but would go further to strengthen the supporters—who, as the hon. Gentleman said, really do reside in Petrograd and Moscow—of Lenin and Trotsky. That is where the £5,000,000 from the pockets of the already taxation-oppressed people of this country would go. None of those 35,000,000 of people would profit at all. Even if you could get this £5,000,000 worth of food up and down the Volga—which, by the way, would just now be frozen, and along which no ships could go, and which com- pares in length with the Nile and in breadth with the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi—which you cannot do, it would not make the slightest difference to the suffering millions of Russia, but you would have abstracted some more millions, which could ill be spared, from the already empty pockets of the people of these islands.
My hon. Friend says, "Just think of the result, if you do not feed the 35,000,000, you will have typhus in Poland." Why, we have had it. I have stood here and protested against the League of Nations paying out of our pockets for preventing typhus in Poland. As if anything we could do here would prevent typhus in Poland. We should be spending the money wrung from the industrious, who are not at present by any means the whole of the population, for adding strength 330 to the supporters of Lenin and Trotsky and not preventing typhus in Poland. These are the new Imperialists. I can remember that I was jeered at and could hardly speak in this House because I was regarded as a Liberal Imperialist. What is the difference? The hon. Member is an Imperialist without being a Liberal, but he is exceedingly liberal with the taxpayers' money and, in that sense, he is a Liberal Imperialist.
I did not hear the speech of the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil), but I know it as well as if I had heard it. I have heard that speech, and I have been interested in it every time have heard it. Unfortunately I arrived a minute or two late on this occasion, but I will venture to address myself for one minute to answering it, although I did not hear it, and I will undertake that from my answer no hon. Member will realise that I did not hear it. The Noble Lord, with whose alliances I am not concerned, but whose words perhaps I am competent to criticise, wants £5,000,000. It is only £5,000,000, and only five of those millions which have mounted up to 8,000 and which will be a burden upon the whole of this generation and upon succeeding generations for a long time to come. He wants £5,000,000 to be spent in feeding the people in Russia. Is there in any quarter of the House an hon. Member who believes, if it comes down to anything like hard facts, and if we leave the region of airy, sympathetic imagination, that the people of this country, the overburdened taxpayers, can find £5,000,000 a year, or that it will be of the slightest use? I have seen, long, long ago I admit—
Sir J. D. REES
What has that got to do with this? If we spent £100,000,000 in attacking Russia, surely we should be still more foolish if we spent more millions in feeding her. Why the hon. Gentleman suggests that there is any merit in throwing good money after bad, a proverbially foolish process, I cannot for the life of me understand. I will ask him to be serious for a moment. Has he any idea of what feeding people by the million means? I am quite sure he has absolutely none. Has he any idea of the area which you have to feed in Russia? Does he know that the 35,000,000 are 331 spread over something like the area of Europe, that there is only a river as a means of communication which is frozen now and will be frozen for months, that it has only one railway running down it, and that that will be out of gear, for no Bolshevik ever had a railway running. Does he or does he not realise these facts? If he does not, I for one strongly object, as a man who knows something about Russia and hopes to see the Russian people relieved from tyranny and starvation, I say I most strongly object to mere vain sympathy being laid before the House of Commons as if there were any substance in that creed and as if the hon. Gentleman had really considered anything connected with the cost of that to which he has referred. I am perfectly well aware that if it be a question of social reform or education, or anything coming under those comprehensive heads, it is already an axiom with him and his friends that money does not matter, but it is something new to learn that that doctrine can be extended to the feeding of the starving and suffering peoples of Europe. Is this little island going to take the world upon its back? Is not the taxpayer already sufficiently bled? I heard the hon. Member's speech with amazement. I am astonished too at the action of the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil). I know what he said. My last word is this. If we can help the Russians we should, but we have to help our own people first, and we have no money to waste upon this vain Imperialism.
Mr. J. JONES
We have listened to a speech from an hon. Member of this House that might well have been delivered from the stage of the Palladium. In so far as we are concerned, we have just been reminded of the fact that we are a little country by one of the greatest Imperialists in this House, by one whom I have heard say here that we are the greatest Empire that the world has ever seen. Yes, and at the present moment we are boasting of the fact that all the Empires that went before are practically small dip candles as against the electric light of modern civilisation as exemplified by the hon. Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees). The object of this Vote is to provide assistance for the people of Russia in the time of their great extremity. I am not going to argue 332 about the merits of the Government of Russia. Every people deserves the kind of Government it gets, and particularly so does our country. It is not the fault of the Government of this country that we are not suffering famine as the people of Russia are face to face with famine now. I have yet to learn from those who expect to be great statesmen, and particularly from those qualifying to be future occupants of the Front Government Bench, that we are going to look upon our responsibilities merely as matters of particular forms of government. We have had famines in India before to-day, and the hon. Member for East Nottingham has taken his part in trying to meet the situation arising out of those famines. He did not then argue whether the people who were going to receive relief were Moslems or Mohammedans.
Our subjects but not our objects. They are just as much opposed to us from an intellectual point of view as the Bolsheviks may be at the present moment. They have never accepted our particular conception of civilisation. Whatever may be said about the people of Russia as a whole we belong to that school of thought in Europe which does not recognise the Bolshevik Government in Russia as being Marxian, as is so often put forward by the other side. Marx never preached that you could strike 12 o'clock at 11, and we here do not accept the philosophy that it is possible to introduce a completely Communist system of Government in the midst of difficult economic circumstances not prepared for such an evolution. In so far as we are concerned the gibes thrown at us in this House to-night do not meet the situation at all. We are not arguing as to the rights and wrongs of Communism, or as to whether Lenin and Trotsky are in direct connection with the hon. Member for East Nottingham. What we do say is that we have some responsibility regarding the position of Russia. Russia saved us in the hour of our greatest danger. If it had not been for what was called the Russian steam roller in the early days of the War, we should not have had the time necessary to prepare for our great onslaught on the Western Front, and it was the sacrifice of millions of Russian lives that gave us time to prepare for that 333 action which later on we did take. We owe a debt to the Russian people because of that.
I am against the Lenin-Trotsky idea of government. I do not believe in dictatorship, either in tall hats or in corduroys. We on these benches believe in democracy, in the free right of the people to express the kind of government they want. Therefore we have opposed in this country the idea which some people are preparing to promulgate even in England of the right of a small minority by force to dictate the conditions, political and social, of the general body of the community. Because we believe that, and because we recognise the services that Russia rendered in the struggle through which we have gone, we say we ought not to quibble now about helping Bolshevism, or any other form of political or economic government, but that we should come to the rescue of our common humanity, and if we do so we are helping to revive the ancient customs of Europe. Why have these gentlemen in Russia been compelled to recognise economic circumstances? Because they know that the wheels of trade cannot be made to move again until they are prepared to recognise economic facts. Cannot we help them in that course? Should we not be prepared to assist them to bring about the time when normal relationships can be arrived at in Europe? If we are to adopt the policy advocated by the hon. Member for East Nottingham, of saying that we are not going to help at all, that instead of helping Russia we are going to help ourselves, then I say that we on these benches are of opinion that by helping Russia we are helping ourselves. Every penny spent in helping Russia to resume its normal relations and in helping to save the people from starvation will be helping to bring about the time when normal trade relations can again exist between the various countries of Europe. What are we faced with now? The hon. Member for East Nottingham says it does not matter if pestilence breaks out in Poland. I venture to suggest that it would matter if scarlet fever broke out in Nottingham, and yet Nottingham is not so far away from Warsaw in the matter of disease.
I am only referring to the exportation of goods containing the possibilities of disease. The hon. Gentleman knows more about these matters than I do, which accounts for the fact that he asks so many questions. We are not speaking on this matter from the standpoint of the economic or political conceptions of Lenin and Trotsky; we are speaking on the broad issue. Famine has broken out in Europe, and a necessary consequence of famine is pestilence and death. We are asking that the nations of Europe who are best able to help shall give assistance to a great country that has done its bit in the Great War. Whatever may be the faults of the Government in Russia, the people are not responsible. The great masses of the people of Russia have not been consulted as to the form of Government there. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad to have so much agreement, and, if you agree with me, I hope you will help us in the application we are now making. The great mass of the people of Russia have never had an opportunity of deciding their form of government, and, that being so, surely they are entitled to your sympathy in their hour of danger, when they are being practically decimated in large sections of the country. We ask for that assistance, and we ask that no question of politics shall enter into it. When a man asks us for assistance we do not ask him what his religion is or what are his politics; we simply try to the best of our ability to meet the immediate situation as it appears to us. Therefore, we hope that the House will be more generous than this Vote suggests, and that the Government will give great consideration to the claims of the people of Russia, because in saving Russia we are saving ourselves.
§ Mr. HAILWOOD
I hope that the Government will not follow on the lines indicated by the hon. Member for Silver-town (Mr. J. Jones). It is one thing to preach charity and practice charity, but it is one of the Christian virtues that we can only exercise and practice as individuals. It is quite impossible for a board of guardians or a town council to practice charity with other people's money. To practice charity when other people's money is being given away might amount to fraud, or, at any rate, might cause very great hardship. How does the Government know, how does a 335 board of guardians or a town council know, the dire straits in which the taxpayer or ratepayer is situated from whom they collect their taxes or rates? If there is any question of charity, let those people who are charitably disposed, and in a position to give money, give it individually. It is no part, and never was and never will be any part, of the duty of any public body to dole out other people's money, and at the same time wrap themselves up in a sort of mantle of assumed charity. It is more of the nature of fraud, and it is the greatest piece of hypocrisy that we have to face to-day when public men stand up and pretend to be charitable by dealing in this way with other people's money. It is quite possible that there are people who are paying large amounts in taxes and rates, and who, on account of the value of money, and of the high rates and taxes, may be in dire straits, and quite unable to pay anything more. At the other end of the scale there may be, and there are, millions of people to-day who have the greatest difficulty in paying even their small Income Tax, or their small poor rate. I look upon it as something in the nature of a scandal that we should have people to-day who are in the position of being able to filch money from these people without their consent and hand it over to others, while claiming to be charitable. I look upon it as fraud, and it needs to be stamped out root and branch from this country. If there is any charity to be given, let us give it individually.
§ Mr. GOULD
I have listened with much interest to the various speeches on this matter from both sides of the House, and I must confess, as one who has had considerable experience in dealing with international problems as far as industry is concerned, and especially as far as the Russian problem is concerned, that I am amazed at the amount of ignorance which has been displayed by certain Members of the House with regard to the economic conditions which prevail in connection with Russia. The whole question of this Vote has turned upon Russia. Let us look at Russia as Russia was in 1914—a country rich and prosperous, though much behind the times in its methods of locomotion and the transport of goods, depending very largely upon river traffic in order to trans- 336 fer to the seaports the merchandise and grain which is produced in the interior. It was a country which had been for generations, almost centuries, working under a scheme evolved through peculiar conditions; and yet it was producing a surplus of exports which brought prosperity to the whole of what we call European Russia. In the past 15 or 20 years Asiatic Russia has developed into a grain-growing area, has developed oil, coal, and iron and steel industries; and despite all the interference of State control, despite all the restrictions which were imposed upon industry by Government interference—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I am afraid I could not say that a survey of the economic conditions of Russia is in order on this Vote. I must ask the hon. Member to come a little nearer to the present time.
§ Mr. GOULD
I will try to keep within the bounds of order. But I could not help referring to that in discussing the present conditions. We are not in a position to-day, despite all the platitudes which are uttered, of being able to extract from Russia anything that is purchasable. Despite every effort made by British industry and British capital, we are not in a position to do business with Russia. In listening to the statements which have been made as to the amount of business being done by Russia we have to remember that during the first six months of this year the British Empire did 36.6 per cent. of the total export business done with Russia by all the nations of the world. That shows that it is the intense desire of this country to help Russia, and not in any way to stagnate the efforts and desires of Russia to do business. I am certain there is not a, single Member of the House who is not desirous of doing all he can to ameliorate the conditions which exist in parts of Russia where these very many thousands and millions of people perhaps are starving. But, after all said and done, that is due to the Government which they have selected, and they are impotent. Surely that is an example to the people of this country. But we are up against a proposition in this country. We have our own starving thousands and hundreds of thousands to feed, and how can we possibly question the amount of the Vote which the Government has put before us?
337 It is all very well to talk about these conditions which exist in other countries. We have the liability to regard those at home first. We must do that, and unless we do it we are false to the trust which is reposed in us. It is all very well being quixotic and talking about things which may be sentimental and talking about Christianity, but our duty is to ourselves and to our own people first, and if we do not look after our own people first, and do not do our duty by them when we know that the responsibility for all the evils and troubles which have fallen on these other countries is due to their failure to look after themselves, we should be false to the people who sent us to this House, and we should be without any justification in answering any attacks which may be made upon us when we come to answer for the consequences of our action in this House.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. SWAN
I and some of my friends on these Benches are delighted that something at least is going to be done. We have forecasted for a considerable time the inevitable results of our policy in Russia, and I think, in a very large measure, we have been responsible for bringing it about. Trying to get the people back into a state of health in Russia will be good business for ourselves, especially as our industries are staggering for want of markets. The hon. Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. Gould) says charity commences at home, and I agree that it ought to. if we had not been so much interested in other countries, and so persistent in crushing humble people in Russia by maintaining the blockade which has involved this country in hundreds of millions which were required at home, Russia would have been able to grapple with her economic problem and would have been able to provide for all the exigencies which might have come as time went on. But we did our best to prevent them grappling with social and economic problems, and made it impossible for her to be rehabilitated by assisting Koltchak and the other people, with the result that we are finding that Russia is in a state of collapse, destitution, poverty and famine. At the same time we have not any outlet for our trade, and unless we do something in order that Europe and Russia may be rehabilitated, we likewise shall be in a state of famine. The hon. Member said we ought to visualise Russia, not 338 so much in the state it is in to-day, but as it existed in 1914. What did exist in 1914? "We knew the kind of government that existed and we did not appreciate it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Thank goodness we had not yours."] I hope the day will come when someone else has charge of this Government. We cannot make a worse mess of things than you people have done. I am supporting this from a business standpoint. In 1914 we had an export trade of coal of 8,000,000 tons. Who has cut that off? [Interruption.] I think the hon. Member had a part in cutting it off by supporting this Government in maintaining the blockade. If we hope to regain our markets we have to do something to rehabilitate Russia. Great complaints have been made in regard to prices. Again we could have done something to reduce the cost of housing by opening up trade, but we were prevented. We could have reduced the cost of mining if it had not been for the blockade. We were dependent on foreign countries for timber. By supporting this we shall help ourselves economically, help to find work for our people, bring timber to build houses more cheaply and assist all the communities of the world, and it will redound to the benefit of ourselves and the whole of mankind.
Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD
You may say so. I can well understand the terror of hon. and gallant Gentleman.
I am not speaking at the moment of physical terror. Neither is there on the part of his opponents, let me tell him. It is rather remarkable that this discussion should have taken the turn it has. I understood my hon. Friends above the Gangway mostly belonged to what is called the "Hands off Russia Committee," who absolutely support the doctrine that under no possible circumstances are the British Government entitled to interfere in anything that happens in Russia. It is only a little while ago that the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) and the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under- 339 Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) put repeated questions to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, demanding to know when the British Government, as represented by the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office, were going to cease spending money on Russian refugees in different parts of Europe. One can see in this demand for an excess of expenditure beyond that now suggested by the Government that there is a political complexion and a political idea behind it. When the Government support the refugees, men who, with their families, helped us in the War, and were driven out of Russia as the result of the Soviet Government's rule and tyranny, it is all wrong. The Government then are criticised by right hon. and hon. Members above the Gangway, but when it is a question of an absolutely artificial Government-produced famine, that has beset the afflicted remnants of the Russian people that this terror has left, we are to squander our money, whether or not we require our resources for our own unemployed workers at home. It is the most peculiar form of criticism to hurl complaints against His Majesty's Government for spending money to assist our friends, while demands are made for more lavish expenditure to assist our enemies. There is not a man in the country, and I am certain there is not a Member of this House, who does not deplore the misery that exists in Russia to-day.
Hon. Members above the Gangway, especially the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull, are not the only men who have sympathy for Russia. I suggest to the hon. and gallant Member that within ten years from now the Russians who will then control Russia, when Russia is able to speak her mind, will not thank him for the assistance that he has given, but will, on the contrary, say that a great deal of this help might have been honest, but that it was useless, and worse. The whole claim that I have made ever since I returned from Russia was that there should be, at least, an opportunity given for the people of Russia to have a say in the management of Russia. The people who have been supported hitherto by my hon. Friends above the Gangway have absolutely and emphatically denied that right 340 to the Russian people. The Russian people have had no chance of deciding whether their crops shall be stolen up to a certain percentage by the commissars sent out. They have had no security of any description, no private property has existed. All the talk and chatter in this country about every man under a Socialist and Communist State being entitled to the produce of his labour was never illustrated to be such a sham as, in this particular case. Russia has been described as a sort of heaven. A little while ago, at a Trades Congress, I heard a gentleman declare that England would never rise to real greatness until she had a Soviet Government, like Russia. We have trouble enough now in this country without imitating a system which can produce no other results than we see in unfortunate Russia to-day.
My hon. Friend who spoke last said that we were responsible for the present condition of Russia, and that if we had not supported Koltchak things would have been different. He had some phantom blockade in his mind, though I have never heard anything of it. The blockade between Europe and Russia is an economic blockade. You cannot persuade British workmen, producers, and manufacturers to carry on trade with a country that will give them nothing in return. That is the whole sum and substance of it. That is a blockade, if you like to call it a blockade. It is exactly the sort of blockade for which you and I organise ourselves, and which we put into force so that when someone will not give us what we want for our labour we refuse to labour for them. That is all that it amounts to, and all the chatter about blockades is stupid nonsense. Give us some illustration of where a shipload of goods from this country, ordered and paid for by Russia, has been stopped by the British Government. It is all fudge. It is all very well for a propagandist meeting, but it ought not to be stated as a serious argument in this House. Then we are told that if it was not a blockade that was responsible, it was the amount of assistance that the British Government gave to such people as Koltchak. I take an absolutely different view. I know that right behind Koltchak's lines, under the Soviet rule, which my hon. Friends above the Gangway favour so much—
There were nothing but empty markets, but the moment that Koltchak's lines gave security of property, and gave security to the peasant for the result of his labours, the markets were crowded. We had no difficulty in getting food. Get a really honest. Government in Russia, a country with illimitable opportunities and potentialities for trade, and get some kind of guarantee from your friends, Lenin and Trotsky, that the man who tills the soil will be entitled to the harvest of his labour, and you will no longer have any famine. You know that as well as I do. That country could feed half the world. Between Vladivostok and the Urals, or certainly between there and the Caspians, it is a debatable point whether you could not house the whole of the people of Europe. To talk about sending from this poor, overburdened community a miserable £5,000,000 to one of the wealthiest countries in the world, which is only poor because of the utter incapacity, incompetence, and corruption of its Government is the most foolish thing that could be suggested, and I am pleased to think that the House has got ordinary common sense, and will not for one moment. support such a suggestion.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I have been engaged in trying to keep one of the supporters of my hon. and gallant Friend out of the House of Commons at a bye-election and, therefore, I was unfortunate enough not to have heard the whole Debate. I did not intend to take part in it, but certain remarks have been made in regard to myself and other hon. Members which require an answer. I have never protested against the spending of money upon Russian refugees. The hon. Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees) will agree with me that he has protested against the spending of money upon these unfortunate refugees. What I have done—and this will be borne out by the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, who has treated me very courteously in connection with my numerous worryings of him and his office —has been to suggest that we should enter into some negotiations with the Russian Government to get these people returned to their own country under an amnesty, and I understand that that could have been done long since, but that certain difficulties were put in the way not on the Russian side, and the latest 342 information which we have on this matter, which has been published in the Press, is that they are prepared to take all these refugees back into Russia under amnesty on getting guarantees that these people will not go back to indulge in hostile propaganda.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
I cannot go into that, but my hon. and gallant Friend is not presenting the case as I understand it.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I am presenting the ease as I understand it, but I can not go into that now. I think that the whole policy of bolstering up the ridiculous attempts of Koltchak and Denikin was utterly wrong, but having done it the unfortunate dupes, the victims of Churchillism, should be saved from starvation. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has the advantage over me of having penetrated into Siberia since the close of the War. I do not question what he says about Siberia, but the sum voted for drugs is for the starving poor of the Volga basin, and has nothing to do with Siberia at all. It affects the area which was ravaged by Denikin, the lieutenant of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's hero, Koltchak.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Denikin penetrated into the Volga area, and on his retreat he devastated the country and blew up bridges and burned towns, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman ought to know it.
I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that neither Denikin nor Koltchak ever got within hundreds of miles of the part of the country where the famine is.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
The hon. and gallant Gentleman apparently has better information than the Prime Minister who, speaking in this House before the Recess, advocated relief for these people on the ground that they had supported the rule of Denikin, so perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will give his information to the Prime Minister. The hon. and gallant Gentleman says that this famine is due entirely to the Bolshevik Government. Are the drought, and the present cold 343 weather due to the Bolshevik Government? The chief cause of the famine has been the terrible drought in a country where the ploughing is done with primitive instruments, and where drought is particularly deadly in its effects on the production of crops. I agree that the collapse of the economic system, owing to the desire of the farmers to get goods in exchange for their corn instead of selling it for useless paper money, has also helped to produce the famine, but I disagree with the remedy. If the famine is due entirely to the Russian Government, I would ask whether the famine in this country which affects 1,750,000 people, who are undergoing a different form of famine, is due entirely to this Government? It is due very largely to this Government I admit, just as in some ways the famine in Russia is due to the breakdown of. Communism, but it would be just as fair to say that the whole of the suffering in this country is due to this Government as to say that the whole of the suffering in Russia is clue to the Russian Government.
The French Government has never pretended that it wanted to trade and live at peace with Russia, but by a unanimous vote it has resource to give 6,000,000 francs for the relief of famine in Russia, though the French financial position is not as strong as ours. With regard to the question of the blockade, does the hon. Gentleman who represents the Foreign Office agree that we did not blockade Russia? When the hon. and gallant Member for Stoke (Lieut.-Colonel Ward) was not in this House, but was doing what he regarded as his duty elsewhere, we questioned the Government again and again about the blockade of Russia, and it was admitted that British ships in the Baltic Sea and Black Sea were preventing communications of any sort with Russia. If that is not a blockade, what is? With regard to the question of trade with Russia not being possible, again I appeal unto Cæsar. The Prime Minister said in debate this Session that we were doing trade with Russia, in spite of difficulties, at the rate of £5,000,000 a year. That is not much, but it is something in these days of diminishing exports and general distress; it is a beginning, and is better than nothing. And that £5,000,000 has justified those on the Opposition Benches 344 who have advocated trade with Russia. It has brought some honest work to people in this country. I wonder whether the hon. and gallant Member for Stoke has troubled to talk to anyone who has been in Russia recently. He has spoken of Mrs. Snowden, whose book has been so much quoted.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
On a point of Order. What have Mrs. Snowden and her book to do with the question whether we should spend £100,000 in the relief of distress in Russia?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The Debate has taken a wider course than I had anticipated, but I think it is only right that a reply should be made to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Stoke (Lieut.-Colonel J. Ward).
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
Mrs. Snowden has been so frequently quoted in that favourite organ of the hon. Baronet who represents the City of London, the "Morning Post," and in other papers, and I wish also to refer to the opinions of other visitors like Dr Nansen. Such people, who cannot be accused of being Bolshevists, maintain that the only possible Government to-day in Russia is the present Government. It may be some comfort to hon. Gentlemen who have not yet realised that, to know that the Soviet Government has dropped its communism. It is worth helping. Those hon. Members opposite who look under their beds every night to see if a Bolshevist is there might really look into the recent facts. The Soviet Government is allowing free trade, the free employment of labour, and is encouraging private enterprise. Under these circumstances it is worth helping. The members of the Soviet Government have acknowledged their mistakes. They have retreated from their position and kept order in their country. They are organising famine relief, and of the relief sent already only about one-half per cent. has been lost or pilfered. Yet when we propose to find £100,000 for medicines for Russia we get the hon. and gallant Member for Stoke protesting and thanking his stars that this House will not consent to any proposal for sending more relief.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I think I am correctly interpreting the 345 hon. and gallant Member. He will resist the demand from these Benches that England should join with other countries in spending £5,000,000. We are all implicated in this business. We are all ruined if the economic life of Europe is not restored. When we wish to send seed corn to Russia and to take other steps which will save next year's harvest, we get the powerful opposition of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. It is pitiable. The hon. and gallant Member talks about this poor distracted country being unable to help. Why are we poor and distracted? Because the whole economic machinery of Europe is out of joint. There are 30,000,000 people, potential customers of this country, starving or threatened with starvation. From the narrowest, lowest point of view of our own commercial interests, apart from any question of humanity or helping a broken down nation, we should help. Apart from any question of acting the good samaritan to a people in trouble, it would not pay us to allow 30,000,000 potential customers to starve. The hon. Baronet the Member for East Nottingham (Sir J. D. Rees) knows the reason why the Indian market is not buying textile goods, and why the rupee is deteriorating. It is largely because these 30,000,000 people cannot buy Indian tea. Russia was the greatest consumer of Indian tea, but now India cannot sell her tea to Russia, and she cannot buy textile goods from us. Our spindles are left idle, and our people walking about the streets, yet we have hon. Members taking a miserable shortsighted point of view—hon. Members who are unable to see beyond their noses—and protesting against any attempt to save our own potential customers. I understand the Government's difficulties when I hear speeches, such as we have heard to-night, and I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. I am glad I am not in his position. [An HON. MEMBER: "So is the country."] I do ask the hon. Gentleman, however, to do what he can to help in Russia, and I am quite convinced he will have the decent-thinking people of this country overwhelmingly on his side.
Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution [3rd November] reported,