HC Deb 12 February 1924 vol 169 cc772-814

The final aim of the Foreign Secretary must be to come to an agreement upon armaments. That is the test of a successful Foreign Secretary. I have that at the back of my mind. I feel quite sure that if things are properly handled, France and the other nations of Europe will see that the great security of a nation is not in armaments, but in the justice of the position it holds in the world. I am going to use all the energy I possess to increase the representative character and authority of the League of Nations. I am hoping the League of Nations will be used more and more, as the international body for the settlement of questions that. two nations themselves find it impossible to settle direct. Many opportunities will arise for giving that belief of mine an opportunity of being tested, and I shall take them.

Germany must come in. I hope Russia will come in too. We ought all to be in. As far as America is concerned, it would ill become me or this House to give any advice. We are working away primarily at a European problem, and I feel sure that as soon as America knows that that problem is being worked at from a new point of view with enthusiasm and idealism—from a point of view which does not mean more, expenditure on armaments, and as soon as America feels there is something large, something moral in the spirit in which these problems are being approached, we shall not then have to go cap in hand to America to beg her to come in. America will be perfectly willing to take its share in doing this great work for humanity.

I really must apologise to the House for this terrible draft upon its time. I was hoping to have been very much quicker, but I felt we could not coerce Members on the opposite side. I cannot ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury to put 300 odd men into one Lobby. I could not say to my hon. Friends opposite, "You can put as many men in the other Lobby as you like, but I am all right." Therefore, I wanted to try and make a first contribution to the new political tactics that must be adopted in this House, and to attempt to explain what our ideas are, so that, at any rate, the House may understand what is in our minds, and what we shall try to carry out in definite proposals. My final appeal and statement is this.

The Government will concern itself with what it considers to be great national and international interests, which it will present to this House from its own standpoint. Coalitions are detestable, are dishonest. It is far better, I am perfectly certain, for the political life of our country, and for the respect, in which we desire to be held by colleagues who 'disagree with us, that we should express our views as an independent political party, bring those views before the House of Commons, and ask it to take the responsibility of amending, accepting, or rejecting them. Therefore from our own point of view, we shall bring before this House proposals to deal with great national and international problems, and we are not afraid of what fate we may meet in the process. If we wind up this week, if misfortune befall us before the week come to an end, we shall have made our mark on the history of these islands, and we shall have done something, in the recognition of Russia, towards the beginning of a new European policy.

In the new attitude towards France we shall have started a fresh and successful exploration of problems that, had they not been taken in hand now, probably would have proved themselves insoluble and, in consequence, the nations of Europe would have been doomed to go through once more the horrible operations of armaments and war. This country requires stimulation in its hopes; it requires to settle down to trade and development. It requires to be given courage and confidence, so that it may use its latent power, and, above all, the common man and the common woman must be brought into partnership of national prosperity. The unemployed, the partially unemployed, all must be taught that when we are talking here of national greatness and prosperity, we mean them to share that greatness. We mean them to be partners in that prosperity, and unless we can assure them of that, we shall never be content that we are doing our duty., I have ventured to appeal to everybody, whatever their class or function may be, that at this time of irrational timorousness, when pessimism and optimism are striving for mastery—I appeal to everybody, I appeal to the House, to go out with hope, to go out with determination, to go out not for tranquillity, but for security and confidence based on good will, and to be just and worthy of respect. In that spirit the Labour party propose to act.


I agree to the Motion for the Adjournment. After the statement we have heard, surpassing in its interest and the variety of subjects it has dealt with, a variety much greater than we could have anticipated, I am sure it will be for the general convenience of the House that the Debate should be resumed to-morrow so that we may have an opportunity of considering the right hon. Gentleman's speech.


I agree entirely with what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin). After a speech covering such a vast variety of topics—and necessarily so; I am not complaining of it—it is desirable that we should have time to study it at leisure before we resume the Debate upon it. As a matter of Order, should not the Motion be, "That the Debate be now adjourned"? If the present Motion be carried, the House will adjourn at once, and I presume the same Motion would be moved to-morrow.

6.0 P.M.


The Motion would be repeated to-morrow.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that there is a. private Member's Bill on the Paper for 8.15. We have been warned by the Prime Minister, in his extremely interesting speech, that he will be forced to take a good deal of the time of private Members. Is there any way of saving the opportunity for my hon. Friend, who has this Bill on the Paper, to bring it forward again at 8.15? If there is no way of doing that, I propose to resist the Motion for Adjournment, and I beg to ask your ruling on that question.


I do not quite see what is the hon. and gallant Member's point. If the House adjourn, it adjourns.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

that case one of the few remaining opportunities of private Members is lost. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. F. Gray) desires to bring in a Bill of some importance, or, at any rate, one which he considers to be of importance, and I think it is extremely unfair to the hon. Member and those who support the Bill. Furthermore, I rather agree with what was said by an hon. Member at Question Time to-day, namely, that we have had quite enough adjournments in this House. I do not propose to make anything in the nature of a speech now, but 1 should like to ask one question of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and, in reference to thin, I would point out to other private Members that we now have three Front Benches instead of two, and that it will be very necessary for the back bench to assert its rights. I say that, of course, with great respect to the orators who hold forth from those three Front Benches; but this is a Parliamentary day in a Parliament which will be all too short if the right hon. Gentleman is going to carry out one-half of what he has foretold to-day. It is one of our few opportunities as private Members, and I propose, therefore, to take very brief advantage of it, and to ask my right hon. Friend two questions on the statement that he has made. I do not know if he proposes to exercise his right of winding-up the Debate to reply, but, if not, no doubt one of his many able colleagues will supply the omission.

The first question I wish to ask is with reference to his remarks about credits for Russia. I understand that it is not proposed to grant Government credits outside the Overseas Trade (Credits and Insurance) Act and the Trade Facilities Act. May I ask the Government if it is proposed at once to extend the Overseas Trade (Credits and Insurance) Act to Russia. I would remind the House that for the present it is extended to Austria, Germany, Rumania, Poland, Turkey, our own Colonies and India. It is extended to late enemies, to Allies, and to neutrals. Is there any reason at all why that Act should not be extended to Russia? It would not give credits to Russia at all; it would give credits to British merchants who want to trade with Russia. I have a reason for asking this question. A friend of mine, who is engaged in doing very useful business with that country, and bringing employment to our own workers, called at the Department of Overseas Trade and inquired about this matter for his own benefit and for the benefit of the people whom he employs; and he was informed that so far the Government had given no instructions in the matter, and nothing whatever was known about it. I do not want. to press my right hon. Friend in any way. This happened since he took office, and I quite agree that three weeks is all too short. a time. and that, he has a tremendous lot to do—he has a very bad mess to clear up. Speaking for myself, and, I know, for most of my Friends, we shall give him all the help we can. We are not going to pin-prick or obstruct him; we want to help him. This is simply a question of extending credits to British subjects who want to send goods to Russia, as we extend the same facilities to British merchants who want to send goods to Poland, or Austria, or Turkey, or certain British Dominions. I think that this is a constructive suggestion, and that the Government ought to consider it as a bargaining point in regard to Russia. They are giving away nothing whatever. It is no particular attraction to the Russian Government. The trade that they do not do with us they do with Germany. They- are doing a good deal more trade with Germany than with us, and I am quite certain that our friends across the Channel are going to be there as soon as the markets are opened up. 'They are to a certain extent already, and it is not giving any particular bribe or bargaining power to the Russians. I would urge the Government to extend the Act as soon as possible to Russia, for the benefit of our own merchants and our own workers.

With regard to my other question, I would particularly ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to lend me his ears. I had a question down to-day with reference to a scheme for improving the transport facilities of the East coast of England. It has been before Parliament now, in one form or another, for something like N or 60 years. I refer to the urgently felt need of a tunnel for railway work, and also now for road work as well—really two tunnels are needed--under the Humber estuary. Because I happen to represent one of the divisions of. Hull, this is not to be taken as being only a Hull question. It is not anything of the sort. It does affect the port of Hull, but it affects the whole of the East coast of England. It affects Lincolnshire and the rapidly growing iron ore field of Studhorses, and altogether it is really a matter of national importance. The Government which preceded that of my right hon. Friend took the same attitude that his Minister took to-clay in answer to my question, namely that some person or persons would have to put forward a concrete scheme to the Government. This sort of thing, however, cannot be put forward by the corporation of one city, and it is impossible for the corporation of one city to get together all the other local authorities and interests to work out a scheme. They have not the time, and they have not the facilities. What should be done in a case of this sort is that the Ministry of Transport should explore the ground thoroughly and see whether this tunnel would not be a great advantage to the East coast transit trade, to railway and road communication along the whole East coast of England, and whether it would not be one means of relieving unemployment. I maintain that they would find that it would be one of the very schemes to which my right hon. Friend referred as increasing the wealth of the nation, as well as giving employment. It is not relief work; it ought to have been done years ago. If this country were France or Germany, there would have been two or three tunnels. We have been behindhand in tackling schemes of national importance like this, and now my right hon. Friend has a supreme opportunity for meeting this great need.

These question are important questions. I hope they are constructive, and I hope they will be received in the spirit in which I have put them to the Government. I hope also, for the sake of the prestige of Parliament, that this Debate will be continued. I do not think it should be necessary for the Leader' of the Opposition to have 24 hours' notice before he makes a speech in reply to the Prime Minister. I am sure that, if he is not prepared to reply at once, he has many very able colleagues who can do so. At any rate, I hope I am speaking for some of the back benchers, male and female, who resent these continual adjournments of Parliament., involving, as they do, the cutting down of the time available to back bench Members for representing the interests of their constituencies and making constructive suggestions.

Lieut.-Colonel WARD

Having pro tested in the early stages of this Parliament against the obliteration of private Members, I am not likely to miss an opportunity, which is most probably about the only one the private Member will have, of' taking part in a Debate of the character of that which has been introduced to-day. Therefore, I am going to presume that this is really a conspiracy between the three Front Benches to give the private Member a chance, and see what he makes of it. So far as I am concerned, I should certainly wish to congratulate the Prime Minister upon the moderation of the speech that he has delivered to-day. I should imagine that it could have been made by the Leader of any one of the three parties in the House. It seems to me that very little change has been made except a change in name. Of course, there may be different methods of applying different remedies, but I do not think there is anything in the Premier's speech this afternoon with which I could not thoroughly agree, with the exception of one thing to which I am going to refer, especially as it has something to do—although I take a completely opposite view of the situation--with the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy), a moment or two ago, with reference to Russia.

The Government have rapidly and without much consideration—largely, I suppose, because they gave their pledges at the Election—recognised the Soviet Government; but, in spite of what the Premier may say, there is not the slightest doubt that the Soviet Government took time to consider whether this recognition was of the slightest value to them, or Whether it was merely an attempt to throw away some of the wreckage of the General Election, and not intended to benefit them in the slightest degree. Anyone who knows Russia, and who knows the situation of the present Soviet Government, knows perfectly well that mere recognition is of no consequence to them at all; and mere recognition is of no consequence to us either. There must be something more than that. The allegation is made that this proposal is put forward for the purpose of creating fresh trade and fresh employment for our people, to save the squandering of the dole upon thousands, and maybe millions, of our people at home. If there were any truth in that, that would be some justification; but everyone knows that,' as between country and country, trade has been perfectly free between Russia and England during the last three or four years. There has not been a single regulation or other like difficulty in the way of carrying on international trade between Russia and England. The only difficulty has been that the English trader has no confidence whatever in the country with which it is proposed that he should trade. Russia knows that perfectly well. Recognition will not add a single ton or a single sailor to the mercantile fleet required; not a single sovereign will pass more or less than if recognition had never been granted. Therefore, the crux of the whole subject is really contained in the word "credits." There is no doubt what the connection ought to be between us and them, but it is not the mere recognition of one Government by another that they want. It is our money they want. Everyone knows that. And they would throw your recognition into the wastepaper basket to-morrow if it were not that in the negotiations which are now about to take place they hope to get hold either of your money or your credit, which will be equal to the money. That is exactly the situation and it is an attempt really to hoodwink the public. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) said it is only to give the British trader credit. Quite The Government gives him credit until such time as he can get his payment from the other side. If he never gets it it is the British taxpayer who will be paying for this trade. [Interruption.]

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has not understood my meaning. I was referring to the overseas trade scheme, which only insures the British merchant for his loss.

Lieut.-Colonel WARD

There was au interruption by an hon. Member above the gangway that the British taxpayer supported Koltchak.


And you as well.

Lieut.-Colonel WARD

The only thing is that I know what I am talking about and you do not. I was there and know exactly what the British money was spent on, and it was nothing compared with what you suggest.


I am talking about, tho money that was spent. You had some of it.

Lieut.-Colonel WARD

It would have been much better for Russia had Koltchak succeeded. But that is the situation. It is entirely one of getting hold of our money or our credit. If we are to help the trade of this country, why should we particularly direct our attention and give facilities to our traders and merchants and employers of labour to trade with a country which has no position financially, which can give no security in return and whose word is, not to be trusted, whether it is verbal or in writing? Would it not be infinitely better, if the taxpayers' money must be spent in supporting the development of industries, that we should try to direct our energies into supporting trade with those countries which we know will act honestly towards those with whom they are trading? The mere fact that it happens to call itself a Socialist Government ought not to weigh with us in deciding in what direction we shall try to steer the trade of the country. I am not going to oppose recognition, because it is not worth talking about. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why are you talking about it?"] The reason I am talking about it is the mere incident that you are trying to make out to the public that it is the recognition of one Government by another, whereas I am convinced that they do not care two pence about your recognition, but that it is your people's money they want and that you seem to be prepared to give it.

The next subject on which I should like to say a word or two is that part of the Prime Minister's speech dealing with the relations of this country and France. I wish him well in his efforts to make arrangements with the Prime Minister of France, but I am sure he will find it much more difficult than he anticipates at the moment. I can never believe that the four or five statesmen who have attempted to deal with this situation as between ourselves and France have failed so lamentably because they were so deficient in tact as compared with the right hon. Gentleman. I feel certain there is something much more difficult than that, and while I wish him well I hope at least he will keep a stiff upper lip, and that he will not start by imagining that it is so easy as it appears to be and that at any rate, having the interests of our country in his keeping, in his dealings with France --because as a rule pacifists are the most belligerent people we have—that is when dealing with their own countrymen; they are generally only pacifists to the foreigner over the border—he will make plain the position which has been taken up by previous Governments, because I believe the statement issued by Lord Curzon in August restated the position as I understand it. Generally speaking, there is not a sentiment outside those two subjects with which I would seriously disagree with the Prime Minister. He has taken up the Liberal programme and he has taken up the King's Speech which was adumbrated by the leaders of the Opposition, and it seems to me that he ought to have a pleasant passage at least during the first year. I should have more confidence, though my hon. Friends opposite may not think so, when once it was agreed in principle, in those hon. Gentlemen opposite applying those principles effectively and efficiently than even in those who adumbrated them. I believe at least that you are determined to do something, that it is not mere window dressing that you are giving us to-day. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yours is!"] You may think so. I do not. I do not think yours is, at any rate, I will give you that much credit, and if you honestly apply the policy which has been put forward by the Prime Minister to-day, and there is no snag in it, and it is really your good intention and deter- mination that we have been listening to, you may rely, for whatever it is worth, on my support in carrying it out. The Prime Minister has put us upon our honour. He has put the position that there are three parties in the House. There is no one party capable of browbeating or ignoring the opinion of the other, and if he really places the House of Commons and the ordinary private Member upon his honour in assisting him in carrying out the programme which has been laid before us, I believe he will find the House will respond generally to his appeal.


I wish to join in the protest which other private Members have made against the apparent conspiracy between the three Front Benches to deprive the rank and file of an opportunity of giving expression to the responsibilities committed to them by their constituents. It is true that possibly a full dress Debate on the 'comprehensive speech of the Prime Minister might more fittingly take place to-morrow, but there are other questions which are quite in order on the Adjournment which have come before us during the Recess and which we may not have an opportunity of ventilating if we allow this opportunity to go past. Therefore, I would like to lay before the House and the Lord Privy Seal one or two questions which were referred to by the Prime Minister, but which have also been before the constituencies for some considerable time. The Prime Minister referred to the necessity of putting in hand a larger scheme of road transport, and yet in answer to a question from me earlier in the day the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport said the limit of 50 per cent. must be adhered to because of insufficiency of funds at the disposal of the Government. How often have we heard from our friends when they sat on that side as to the futility of paying away millions of money in unemployed benefit and poor relief instead of using larger sums to put in hand work of a productive character. I hope the Prime Minister and the Minister of Transport will reconsider this question whether it would not be wise to carry out those larger schemes which the Prime Minister adumbrated and to increase the percentage of 50 which is at present allowed in the carrying out of important road schemes. Surely where you have local authorities whose rates are 20s. or more in the you can hardly expect them to add to the burden of their ratepayers in order to put in hand schemes which are of no immediate benefit to them, but which in the future may be valuable assets to the community as a whole. These various arterial roads which are foreshadowed by combinations of local authorities will undoubtedly be of national value in years to come, but the immediate return to the district that undertakes them is a negligible quantity, and you can hardly expect local authorities to add to their rates in order to undertake works which will be of no benefit to them for years to come. Therefore I appeal to the Government to look with a more kindly eye on the request that comes from local authorities to increase the percentage grant for carrying out schemes of a national character rather than of a particular local service.

The Prime Minister referred to the kindred subject of rating, particularly as a suggested contribution, to the solution of the agricultural problem, but surely he and those associated with him know that the question of rating in industrial areas is one which has been heard of several times in this House and which has been brought to the notice of various Departments. Only last week a deputation waited on the Lord Privy Seal representing large necessitous areas. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman was unable to give them any very definite reply. I was hoping the Prime Minister to-day would have amplified what was said to the deputation. You have in large industrial areas the ratepayers overburdened with rates-15s., 20s. and 25s. in the £— not due to any extravagance or lavish expenditure in regard to poor relief, but due entirely to that inefficient, bad system which the Prime Ministem himself condemned, due to an amount of unemployment in the engineering, shipbuilding and iron and steel trades, running up in some cases to 40 and over 40 per cent., whereas the average of unemployment throughout the country on the average of recent months is something between 11 per cent. and 12 per cent. Districts, with their unemployment figures increased double and treble compared with the rest of the country, have to bear the whole burden themselves with regard to the administration of relief to those who are unemployed and with regard to the burden of the cost upon them of the unemployment relief schemes. It is true that the Ministry of Health and the Unemployment Grants Committee do. make grants to local authorities in order to assist them in carrying on works of relief, but the total of that grant is not more than 33 per cent. at the outside and it may be one-fourth or even less. The same point that 1 made in regard to the Ministry of Transport I make in regard to the unemployment grants which are given for unemployment relief works, namely, that the percentage grant is far too small and that you cannot. expect these harassed, overburdened areas to add further to their rates and their debts in order to put in hand works-of useful public utility unless they can get a greater percentage from the State.

This question, as we have been told so often, is not a local question. It is not the fault of the employers in the district or of the workers in the district or of the local authorities. It- is the natural outcome of the War, and certain districts are hit much harder than others and have to bear a much heavier load. The worse off the district the harder its burden. I appeal to this Government, as I have appealed to other Governments, to lend a more sympathetic ear to the harassed. overburdened ratepayers and to spend more money, not in unemployment relief, not in assistance by the Guardians, by putting in hand works of public utility-, carried -out in many cases by local authorities, thereby providing work, and not relief, which will be of advantage to the district as well as a help to the ratepayers.

There is a further point with which I should like to deal, and that is the cement contract of the Middlesbrough Corporation. The Middlesbrough Corporation made an application to purchase 400 tons of cement required for road making. The cement had to pass the ordinary tests of the corporation's engineer, and; the lowest-priced tender which was received was 43s. per ton as against a. corresponding price of 54s. per ton delivered from the British combine. To the astonishment of the Middlesbrough Corporation, they were told, as the first administrative act of a Labour Government, that they were going to prevent them from buying cement in the cheapest market and were going to compel them to bolster up the British Trust and Corn- bine and to make the stranglehold of this ring upon them even greater than it was before. I thought- that it must have been an administrative error in the Department concerned and that the Minister could have known nothing of it, but in reply to a question to-day the Minister of Health confirmed the decision of his Department. The Middlesbrough ratepayers are to be compelled to pay 11s. per ton more for 400 tons of cement required in one month alone because the Government. want to keep out foreign cement. Why has the Ministry of Health arrived at that decision? In the answer which the Minister gave to-day he says: I understand that in view of the reduction in the price of British cement the Unemployment Grants Committee did not feel on this occasion that they could properly give a grant to the Corporation unless they used British cement. Why has there been this fall in price? It is simply because we have been buying Belgian and French cement that the British combine has been broken. It is because of the free importation of cement required for our purposes in road. making and house building that the British cement combine has brought down the price from the fabulous and extravagant sums asked months ago. Immediately you allow the. combine to be free from the competition of foreign cement the British price will go up again, and the result will be that instead of having more work for the unemployed you will have infinitely less work. What does this mean so far as Middlesbrough is concerned or any other town requiring cement for road making or houses is concerned? The cost of the houses and the roads will be more, and there will he much less work for the unemployed in road making and house building because of the extravagant price forced upon us by British trusts and combines. We understood that this Government was out to break combines and that they were going to smash the stranglehold which combines had upon industry; yet their very first act is to compel the Middlesbrough Corporation, in connection with its unemployment relief schemes, to buy cement from the British combine, which will mean that there will be less work for the unemployed in Middlesbrough, there will be a much higher cost- involved in the work that is done, and there- will be a setback to the improvement which was coming about.

I appeal to the Minister of Health and to the Government to reconsider the matter, and to realise that even if, by this Tariff Reform policy, they find work for a handful more cement makers, they will throw out of employment many more men engaged in the making of roads and the building of houses. The point I am making is surely sound Free Trade policy, which the country supported by such a large majority at the last election with -the result that Members arid supporters of the late Government are now occupying the benches opposite. Notwithstanding, one of the first acts of their successors is to go even one better than a Protectionist Government and to perpetrate this astounding piece of want of statesman-ship. I appeal to them in the interests of the unemployed to reconsider their decision. I appeal particularly to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Colonel Wedgwood), who knows this question as well as anyone in this House, to use his great influence, his sound economics, and his persuasive powers with his colleagues in order to get them to reverse their decision. I hope that when the deputation from the necessitous areas meets the Minister of Health during the next few days—he was good enough to-day to promise to receive them—that he will be able to tell them that he has been able to persuade the Cabinet to go back and to follow a Free Trade policy in order to allow material to come in without let or hindrance, and that they have decided to wage war upon trusts and combines and to make greater production possible for those engaged in unemployment work.


I find myself for once in agreement with the hon. Member who has just sat down, and also in agreement with the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy), in protesting against the interference with the rights of private Members which is proposed by arrangement between the three Front Benches. We, who. are private Members, must safeguard our interests by every means possible, and protect the small rights which we still possess and which we have regained by the fortune of the ballot. I am, however, in complete disagreement with the hon. Member who has just spoken in regard to the Middlesbrough Corporation and its cement contract. The Middlesbrough Corporation obtained an advance from the Government in order to carry out certain work for the purpose of relieving unemployment, and their idea of relieving the unemployment problem, for which purpose they obtained an advance, is to spend the money in Belgium. A nice kind of free trade! I think the whole country should know the sort of Free Trade policy advocated by the Radical party, of which the hon. Member is such a distinguished Member. The very idea, to secure money from the British Government for the purpose of relieving unemployment, and then to spend money for the benefit of Belgian workpeople! A former colleague of mine who represented Middlesbrough told me the facts during the last. Parliament, and it was owing to his representation that the unemployed people of Middlesbrough protested very strongly against British money being spent in finding work for Belgians.


The hon. Member raises the question of money which is spent in another country. Surely he realises that British money expended in Belgium has to be sent back in cash to pay for goods sent from here.


I am not going to be drawn into an argument on Tariff Reform and Free Trade, although it is a subject of which I am very fond, and I am prepared to take it up on another occasion. This afternoon we listened to a most interesting speech from the Prime Minister. That speech might have been made by the Leader of the Opposition, the late Prime Minister, or by the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), who leads the Liberal party. After only three weeks of office the Prime Minister has found that capital is of some value to industry in this country. That is a very interesting thing, because if we compare his speech with speeches made by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in his constituency there will be found a great deal of difference. I do not believe that the schemes which the Prime Minister put forward this afternoon will materially increase employment in this country. We shall find after six months' trial of the proposals made in the. Prime Minister's speech that the position will be very much the same as before, or possibly worse, and eventually the plan of the Conservative party will have to be brought in to deal with the question of unemployment.

One of the most serious things that is happening in this country is unemployment in the textile trades. In India, Mr. Gandhi has been released from prison. Before he was put into prison one of the main planks of his platform was non-co-operation or the boycott of British goods. When they released Mr. Gandhi, did the British Government make any condition whatever that he was to stop the boycott of British goods and to cease advocating the principles for which he was sent to prison? It is a very important matter, especially for the electors of Burnley. There, Mr. Arthur Henderson will have great difficulty in explaining to the cotton workers that Mr. Gandhi is not really in favour of the boycott of Lancashire goods. I know factories in my own constituency, Macclesfield, which used to export to India, and which have closed down during the last two years almost entirely owing to the machinations of this agitator creating a prejudice against Lancashire and Cheshire goods.

What is going to be done for these unemployed textile workers? Very large numbers of them are out. of work or are working short time, and apparently no help is to be given to them and they are at present in the depths of despair. There is nothing in the speech of the Prime Minister to suggest how even one of these men can be found any employment whatever. Yet when they went to the country nit:, Labour party promised that they would find work for everybody, but they have not found work of any kind for a textile worker. The Labour candidate who opposed me promised that he would put all the silk and cotton workers in employment within three months after the Labour party had their chance and yet we have not had any scheme put forward which even mentions the textile workers or the difficulties in which they are placed and the trials through which they arc passing. Iwould also like some information about the Russian Trade Delegation. What kind of trade facilities are going to be given by means of the Trade Facilities Act?


The usual ones.


It is well known that in the past administration of that Act facilities were given only in the case of substantial people, substantial trade organisations, so that in case of default the Government could be certain that at least a certain portion of the risk would be recoverable. Will the Government give a pledge that, under the Trade Facilities Act they will not give facilities to people who are men of straw, and who are not likely to carry out their obligations, so that there would be proper security in case of default? I believe that this recognition of Soviet Russia is a gross mistake.

There is another matter which is causing a great deal of disquietude in Esthonia, Latvia and Lithuania, three countries which I visited on a Government delegation last year. That is in reference to the attitude to be adopted by this Government with regard to the independence of those countries. I hope sincerely that Russia will not be allowed to invade or make war upon them, and that they will be promised some kind of British support.


It is a good job Kolchak did not win.


The independence which has been granted to these countries should be maintained when the recognition of Soviet Russia is brought into force. I would also like to know what the Government intend to do with reference to the Imperial Conference? Do they intend to put forward as Government proposals the Resolutions which have been come to? Do they intend to put their Whips on when the matter comes before the House or to leave it to the free vote of the. House? Unemployment Insurance is another matter to which I wish to refer. The Prime Minister said that the money required would not come from the State but would come from the Unemployment Insurance Fund. I am under the impression that that fund is bankrupt now, and is living only by receiving advances from the British Government, and therefore it is a mere figure of speech to say that the money is not coming from the, taxpayer, or it cannot come unless the Government give advances which have to be met by the State.

We have not. one single sound proposal from the Government which is going to find work for a single person in this country. I believe that the programme outlined is simply window dressing for the purpose of trying to secure the support of the Liberal party. They are 'trying to secure the votes of that party to drag them down into the mire still further than they are at present, but the Liberal party will have to choose whether they shall come over td this side or join the other side. That is the only future which is left to them. I believe that the efforts now being made will succeed, and that the Labour party will become one party and we shall become the other, and that the Liberal party will end their miserable existence having failed in their ambition as a party.


I am sure that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer) will forgive me if I do not follow him in his gloomy anticipations regarding the future of the party to which I belong. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) will agree with me when I quote a. very wise Devonshire proverb, "Nobody goes to the funeral of the man who dies often." It has often been prophesied, not merely during the past five years but before the War, that the Liberal party were going to be buried. I think that history will hear out me, and not the hon. Member, when I say that the Liberal party has always been home before the mourners, eating, drinking and being merry, and that that is likely to be 'the case also in the future.

I rise because one statement made by the Prime Minister fills me with alarm. I have not the profound knowledge of the Steppes of Russia which is possessed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stoke (Lieut.-Colonel Ward), and I do not know that I am greatly concerned with them at present. I am not concerned with new Jerusalems in Palestine. Neither am I concerned with making new Gardens of Eden in Mesopotamia; but I am concerned with the statement about housing made from the Front Bench this afternoon. When I heard the Prime Minister say that the Government scheme --this was the only practical part mentioned by him, the only thing that was not made general—was to build houses at approximate cost of £500 and let them at a rent of about 9s. to 10s. a week, I wondered when the new Jerusalem was going to be built in England's green and pleasant land. [Hex. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members opposite cheer that. I would remind him that at least one of those prophecies, which were made by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer when Minister of Health, has been fulfilled, namely, that the last Conservative Housing Act would do nothing for rural England, as he prophesied when the Bill was going through the House. I am aware that, in the recent. Debate, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer said that one out of every five houses built under the Conservative Act had been built in rural England; but I think that if the right hon. Gentleman had pursued his inquiries in rural England instead of in the offices of the Ministry of Health, he would have found that there are two kinds of rural England.

There is rural England, adjacent to the large urban centres, largely occupied by highly-paid mechanics who are able to cycle to and from their work and able to pay more than 9s. or 10s. a week rent. In those places it may be that a great number of cottages have been built under last year's Act in rural England, but the last Housing Act has been a disastrous failure as regards cottage building in rural England. Rural England will not be content if the new Act which is to be passed shuts out the agricultural worker from any chance. No agricultural worker getting 25s. a week can afford to pay 9s. or 10s. a week rent, not even for the blessing of a Labour party Housing Act. The Prime Minister seemed to be under the impression that there was a general minimum rate of 25S. a week wages. That is not so. There is no general minimum rate of wages. The rate of wages depends on the decisions of what are called Conciliation Committees. Many agricultural workers in this country to-day do not even get 25S. a week. More than that, even if we get the Wages Board—and I am sure that that statement will be welcomed in rural England—if the wage is to be fixed at a minimum of 25s. obviously nothing will be done to alter the conditions in the villages of our land. These conditions are well known to all who love village England. I wish to assure the hon. and gallant Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon) that whatever may be true of Battersea, the heart of England is sound, Rugby is quite sound. There is no question about Communism, but England is worried about the state of housing.

There are too many had houses in England. There are not enough houses. There is not enough land attached to them. That is clue to the fact that before the War two great industries, mining and agriculture, largely housed their own workers. We cannot look to the agricultural industry to house its workers in future. I would call attention to the dire need of improvement in housing in thousands of rural parishes. If the suggestion of the Government is to build cottages which will let at a rent of from 9s. to 10s. a week, then their Act will be of no use whatever to rural England. I remember, with great interest, seeing in the constituency of an hon. Member of this House an instance of the wonderful way in which people living in very bad houses take it. One old man, who had been living in a very rotten cottage for a very long time, invited the Member and me to go to see his house because ho said it had a teetotal chimney. We went to see this wonderful place. It was an old-fashioned cottage, built about 100 years ago, with a thatched roof. There was a public-house on one side and the chimney of the cottage leant away to the other, and his joke was that it was a teetotal chimney because it leant away from the public-house. Since then the house has fallen down, but the humour of the village labouer ought not to be taken as a sign that he does not feel that his house is very bad, especially when you are dealing with wages that are not economic. It is not the man who suffers most, but that most wonderful of all Britishers, the agricultural labourer's wife.

7.0 P.M.

I implore the House to face all the facts of the housing situation, not merely in the great urban centres, but in the thousands of little villages which are the real England where the heart of the country lies. I hope that the statement of the Prime Minister is not to be taken as the last word of this Government with regard to housing. Indeed, if that be the predominating thought of the Ministry, I sincerely hope that before the Bill is introduced by the Minister of Health we shall have as much as three or four days' debate on this question, so that all the facts may be faced. I know there is a great disposition in Ministries to talk about millions and statistics. You can prove by figures that you have so many houses being built and so many building, but that does not give us the kind of rooms or dwellings that can be obtained at a rent which each family is able to pay. I hope we shall have a discussion as to what can be done to give the agricultural worker of this country and his wife and children a decent house in which he can bring up his children in decency, comfort and happiness.


I do not propose following the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. E. Brown) in discussing the housing problem, although he may be absolutely right in his statements. But I should like to take up a matter mentioned by the Prime Minister, namely, the National Debt of this country. It comes down to this, that what. we have to consider is what national debt a country can stand. The national debt of a country depends on the production of that country. I cannot help remembering what the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Wall-head) shouted across the House during the last Budget day. He said we had not yet paid for Waterloo; a very true statement. We have not paid for Waterloo, and I do not see that we are ever to pay for Waterloo.


Have we paid for the Battle of Hastings?


The Battle of Hastings is a different. matter. The hon. Member does not seem to know that the National Debt started in 1693, in the reign of William III It was then £1,000,000. It started owing to the financiers of the City of London lending William III money to fight France. Since then we have practically borrowed with both hands when ever there has been an emergency. Let me come to the difference between 100 years ago and the present period. I quite agree that the National Debt—which reached its limit, so far as I remember, on the 31st December, 1919, of £7,988,000,000 —is gigantic, but how is it that, although we had a debt in 1914 of about £800,000,000, that debt was the same as after Waterloo? Since Waterloo up to 1914 we increased the wealth of the country. What is wealth? I remember my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) asking in this House what was wealth, and nobody replied to him. I contend there are three sorts of wealth. There is physical wealth, which is the wealth of the harvest; there is the wealth of labour, which is the work that every man or woman puts into manufacturing or commercial enterprise in this country, and there is the wealth of credit. It is the wealth of credit that has increased in such bounds since 1815 to 1914, and it is in that sphere, and in that sphere alone, that we did not feel in 1914 the big debt which we felt in 1815.

Our grandfathers and great grandfathers all had the same apprehension. They all felt that we were going under, so to speak, because of the weight of our debt. If we increase the wealth of this country, there is no reason why we should feel in 20 or 30 years even this big debt, as long as we redeem it and redeem it out of revenue. There is one difference between 100 years ago and the present time, and that is that at the present time we have an external debt. As you know, there is an internal debt and an external debt. We had not an external. debt 100 years ago, and that is our danger to-day. That is the debt of which we have not got the control. That is the debt which we have to see is faced and faced in the right way think one of the finest pieces of statesmanship the ex-Prime Minister ever displayed was to settle that debt with the United States of America. Unless a person is in touch with the United States of America or in touch with international finance, he will not appreciate how that sentiment has put up our credit, not only in this country but in every part of the world. The Prime Minister suggests the appointment of a Committee to discuss this National Debt. I wish that Committee luck; I do not see any harm in it, but at the same time. I do not see much good in it. If he prefers to set up a, Committee, by all means let it be set up. I think it will have the sympathy of the House. We shall be willing to listen to what they say in their report. If it is going to satisfy him in any way, so that he will in future consider that the only way of reducing the National Debt is by revenue and in no other way, I feel that that Committee, if it reports in that way, will have done real good to the country.


I feel we are all greatly indebted to the hon. Member for Alford (Sir F. Wise), on whose recent honour I should like to congratulate him, for one of his usual statements on finance, to which we all listen with deep interest, because we know he is an acknowledged master of the subject. I was not quite sure that I followed him in his subdivision of wealth into three classes. It rather seemed to me that the third class, wealth of credit, was no more than potential wealth of raw material, plus potential worth of labour. Bat that is perhaps not an important distinction to make except in so far as he held out to the House that the ex-Prime Minister's achievement in funding the American debt was of such surpassing importance by reason of its effect upon our national credit. There are other considerations that are equally important. I have no wish to belittle the settlement which the late Prime Minister effected. On the other hand, I think that, in considering a financial problem of that kind, we ought to bear in mind that there are very important arguments on the other side, in particular, the necessity for not detaching isolated problems of the War and dealing with them piecemeal, but rather of grouping them together and dealing with them in one constructive settlement. I have always thought that what is known as the Balfour Note was rather a misunderstood document. It was supposed to put forward a plan, but I do not think it put forward a plan. I thought that all it did was to state a principle, which was that you should take the problem of reparations and of Allied debts, and since they were entered into as a whole, treat them in the settlement as a whole.

I do not wish to detract from my sincere appreciation of what the hon. Member for Ilford (Sir F. Wise) said in his speech. In particular, I should like to associate myself with something that I believe to have been in his mind in connection with the proposed Committee which the Prime Minister, in the course of his statement, indicated was to be formed for the purpose, as the hon. Member understood it, of considering the National Debt, but, as I understood it, for the purpose of considering taxation generally. The hon. Member will see that there is a certain distinction there. The Committee which was to meet for the purpose of considering how best to deal with the National Debt would, I assume, be a committee designed primarily for the purpose of investigating what is loosely termed the capital levy as a means of bringing about the reduction of that debt. What I myself understood the Prime Minister to have in his mind was a committee to review the whole sphere of existing taxation with a view to readjusting it for the purpose of providing the necessary revenue for carrying on the day-to-day expenditure of the country as well as meeting our War obligations. What seems to be the important thing to bear in mind in that connection is that a committee of that kind is bound to find itself in a very short time up against the necessity of considering other problems of wealth. 1 do not believe you can isolate the problem of taxation from the problem of the National Debt and expect to get any fruitful result from a small committee meeting and considering them as isolated problems. It seems to me that what this country is most in need of, that what Members of this House felt in need of in facing the grave issue in the last Election, and that what the electorate was in need of in coming to its decision on the big issue put before it when the late Prime Minister went to the country, is some kind of general review of the whole trade and economic position of the country. That is something much bigger than a mere review of this tax or that tax or whether you want, to take examples, to impose a capital levy or go in for the rating of land values, or reduce the Income Tax by Is. or increase Super-tax by 6d., or abolish the Corporation Profits Tax.


Or adopt. Protection.


Certainly, or adopt Protection. You must consider the whole trade and economic position of the country in the light of the post-War world. and you must consider it objectively. You must not approach it with certain pre-conceived notions. I suggest to the Prime Minister that, if he is to set up a Committee, which, in any case, even with the restricted terms of reference he proposes, must take some months to arrive at any conclusion of value, he had better set up an authoritative Committee representative of what, if t may so term them, are the facets of our national life, representative of commerce, industry, shipping, shipbuilding, and banking, and a Committee also containing representatives of the consuming public, and throw the whole trade and economic condition of the country, and, of course, the question of what taxes the country can bear, open to that Committee or Royal Commission, then call for a Report to this House and let us discuss what is the proper trade and economic policy of this country. I am sure that everyone who wishes to approach these problems in an objective spirit—it is a very difficult thing after the period of acute controversy through which we have passed in the Election—would be able to do so with such a Report as a basis for discussion.

There is another point of rather a different nature with which I am constantly wearying the House, but with which the House is in general sympathy. I regret that, in his very admirable general summary, the Prime Minister said nothing explicit as to the policy of the Government regarding war pensions. He took credit, and credit well deserved, for having done away with the abominable system by which ex-service men who are mentally deficient had been interned, as he termed it, in pauper asylums. That reform is an important reform and does the Government every honour. But there are other problems which are vexing the ex-service war pensioner very severely. On the day of our last Adjournment, I ventured to call the attention of the Prime Minister-elect to one or two of the more serious problems in connection with pensions administration, and I urged that before he met the House again these problems should be dealt with. It is quite true that the Minister of Pensions to-day, in answer to a question, referred to the investigations which his Department is conducting into certain grievances of the ex-service men, particularly with regard to dependants' pensions. That is something, but it is not enough.

I am sure that the intention of the country towards the men who were disabled in the War is not merely to render them justice, but to be generous to them, and that policy will not be carried out until the whole of the pensions administration has been overhauled and the Royal Warrant scrapped in favour of a new Royal Warrant, and until the multitudinous departmental instructions sent out from time to time by the Ministry have been put on the shelf. I do not say this in any sense as an attack on the Ministry of Pensions. Heaven knows any great public Department has a hard row to hoe. But the plain fact remains that, as a result of the campaign for economy, which was so rigorously prosecuted last year, pensions are being reduced right and left, and people are being brought up before boards, with the result that their disabilities, which were formerly marked "Attributable to war service." are now being marked as "Aggravated by war service." One has only to make a speech of the smallest moment in this House to be inundated with letters of the pitiable description, not only from one's own constituency, but from all over the country, from men who are finding themselves reduced in their means and in some cases actually beggared by the policy of the Ministry. That has to stop. I credit the Government with the intention of stopping it. It is incumbent on the Government before this Debate closes to give a pledge that the whole pensions administration will be overhauled and cleaned up, and that its injustices and disabilities will be removed.

I want to refer also to the question of Russia and to reinforce what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) so ably urged on the Prime Minister as to trying the Export Credits scheme with Russia. I am aware that hon. Members opposite who have great experience of business, and some of them great experience of Russia, think that that would be taking an unjustifiable risk. We have to take risks sometimes. The plain fact remains that until we can revive the trade of the world to its pre-War bulk, we shall not deal with our unemployment problem fundamentally; we shall be dealing only with palliatives. I have nothing to say against palliatives. If you cannot cure a thing it is at least better to palliate it. We are a trading country which must live, to the extent of about 45 per cent., on exported manufactures. In the 1907 Census of Production it was shown that 55 per cent. of our manufactured goods were consumed in this country, and that 45 per cent. went out of the country to all destinations. A most important part of our national life depends on our continuing to export manufactures in large quantities.

I am all for the Empire development on which hon. Friends opposite are so-properly keen, but Empire development alone is not a cure. On the Continent of Europe Russia is a. very great potential customer. In thinking of Russia we must not exclude Export Credits possibilities. What is needed is to get the machine started. I am just as well aware as hon. Members opposite of the difficulties. I know that the Russian Trade Delegation has taken up a most intransigeant attitude on these matters. The question has been greatly complicated by the attitude of the Russian Trade Delegation on the question of debts. I know that only too well from a case in my own constituency, where I was instrumental in bringing a very large manufacturer into touch with the Russian Trade Delegation. His plea was to be allowed to resume trade in the factory which he had built in Russia before the War. They replied, "Oh, no, you cannot do that." He said, "But you requisitioned a large amount of my stock. You signed the notes; you actually wrote it down in value. It was valued in my books at, say, 20,000 roubles, and you wrote it down to 10,000 roubles. You actually signed notes and gave me receipts for the stock on valuation. What are you going to do about it? "He was told that they were not going to do anything about it. It is a very serious position. But that does not affect the question of utilising the Export Credits scheme for the development of new trade.

I believe that we can very well leave these problems to be settled by some form of international arbitration. It is quite conceivable that it is not beyond the wit of this Government and the Government of Moscow to come to an agreement to set up an arbitral tribunal which will deal with the claims of one set of nationals against the other. That has been done in the case of other countries. That is the best way of handling the old private debts, as distinguished from Government debts. But, as far as the utilisation of the Export Credits scheme for the future is concerned, it seems to me that if the Russian Government will give us some kind of general undertaking that the goods which are sent from this country to firms trading in Russia will not be confiscated—[Laughter]—flon. Members may laugh, but they are perfectly accustomed to doing business on those terms with people whom they believe they can trust, and the Prime Minister has made it plain that he believes he can trust the present Government of Russia, and I do not think that he is very far wrong. In these circumstances, if the Russian Government are prepared to give a general undertaking that they will allow trade relations between the two countries to be resumed on normal lines, I cannot see what objection there can be to extending the Export Credits facilities to traders who wish to do business with Russia. I am sure that to do so would mean a large boom in our exports, particularly in engineering materials, in things like locomotives and agricultural implements, and it might do something for our distressed textile trade. There is a great market for textiles in Russia. That is not the only thing which the Government ought to do with regard to foreign trade revival. Quite apart from the question of Export Credits there is the question of reviving trade with Central Europe. Our trade relations with Central Europe have been improving, but they are not what they ought to be and one of the primary reasons is because the Succession States have ringed themselves round with tariff barriers. As my Friend the President of the Vienna Chamber of Commerce told me, not only have they ringed themselves around with tariffs, but also with all kinds of absurd restrictions and prohibitions on trade. My hon. Friends opposite must know how that is affecting trade.


It is loss of confidence.


The hon. Member must know that what I am now stating is true. I am making an assertion, and if the hon. Member is familiar with trade conditions in this particular connection, as I think he is, he must know that what I say is correct. The Succession States have not been content with erecting tariff barriers, but have instituted prohibitions of various kinds affecting manufacturers and merchants, and it is difficult to know from day to day what these restrictions and prohibitions are. Those concerned in trade scarcely know from day to day what article is going to be placed upon the Index Expurgatorius of exports or imports. The trader never knows from week to week what articles he may import or what articles he may export. To make matters worse, he very often does not know whether at the last moment there may not be a prohibition upon his making a payment. That is the reason why there is want of confidence. I believe the Government have a great opportunity. The Prime Minister has come to his inheritance absolutely untainted—I hope it is not unparliamentary to use that word in the sense in which I use it, but perhaps 1 had better say the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely unaffected by the actions and words of his predecessors. He has come into office with a clean slate. I hope he will utilise the great prestige of this country in diplomatic negotiations with the Succession States of Central Europe who have an enormous population and who used to be very important customers of ours in the old days when they constituted Austria-Hungary. To-day I know they are anxious to trade with us, and I hope the Government will use their influence to persuade these Succession States to be a little more tolerant in their trade relations, not with us, but with each other. If the Prime Minister does so, I believe he will be instrumental in bringing about, if not a great boom—perhaps that would be an exaggeration—a substantial boom in trade in this country. I thank the House warmly for having given me so courteous a hearing and I express my regret for having detained hon. Members so long.


I promise not to speak for more than a few minutes, and I do not think I should have spoken at all had it not been for the words which have fallen from the lips of the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken. I myself wish to take him seriously, and I do not suppose that the House has to-night taken him seriously. He has spoken about Russian trade and also about the revival of trade through the Export Credits Scheme. I do not know what knowledge he possesses in these matters, but he has laid down the law. I do not know that the hon. and gallant Member has ever done any trade with Russia, or has ever had any personal association with Russian trade, nor do I suppose that he has had anything to do with the working of the Export Credits Act Scheme. I do not think, therefore, that he need he taken seriously in his remarks on such subjects, but, at the same time, it is not right that some of the statements which he has made should be allowed to go uncontradieted, for they may mislead the public. I happen to have the privilege of sitting on the Committee which has charge of the Export Credits Scheme and of seeing how it works. The hon. and gallant. Member in words which I have taken down says that this scheme should be utilised for the expansion and development of trade. What does he mean? The members of that Committee have been sitting for months, week after week administering it by help of the heads of great banks, able and prudent men. The Chairman is a man whose name is well known, for he was formerly a Member of tins House, Colonel Sydney Peel. We sit week after week and try to lend credit for the expansion of export trade, and from our experience we know that when the hon. and gallant Member tells us that we can, by adopting the policy he is advocating, use the Export Credit Scheme to expand our trade he is speaking in absolute ignorance of facts and is misleading the public into the belief that the scheme has not been put into full operation and that everything prudent has not been done to make it useful for the expansion of trade. The fact of the matter is we cannot lend fully the nation's credit under the scheme at the present moment. I am not betraying any secrets when I state that I received a notice in my mail this morning from the Secretary to say that there was not less than £15,000,000 of credit ready to be lent which has not been lent—although the Committee is anxious and ready to apply it to suitable commercial proposals to expand the export trade.


I had no intention, as I am sure the House will understand, of casting any reflection upon the administration of the scheme by the hon. Member and his colleagues, and the hon. Member has no right to represent to the House that I did so.


I did not make any such representation at all.


What I did say was, that the scheme should be extended so as to deal with Russian trade. The hon. Member will correct me if I am wrong in stating that at the present moment a trader wishing to do business with Russia is not able to avail himself of the Export Credits Scheme for that purpose. I support the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) that it should be made so available.


I took down the words of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He said that steps should be taken to utilise the scheme to develop trade, and he did not qualify that suggestion, in some of his remarks at any rate, by any reference to Russia.


I am within the recollection of the House.


The hon. and gallant Member is within the recollection of the House, and I think I have correctly represented what he said. And he shall be answered fully. As a matter of fact, there is a very simple reason why we have not been able to use the money at our disposal, or rather credit, because we do not lend money, but we lend credit to British export manufacturers. I cannot pledge or commit my colleagues to this opinion, but the opinion which I hold myself, and which I think they would support, is that the reason is because there is no trade seeking credit which the banks cannot provide. There is no trade coming forward needing our assistance under the Act. Although this credit is available and in the hands of this Committee, the export business is not coming forward, and therefore the argument of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, that the Export Credits scheme can be further utilised to develop trade, is absolutely baseless. The uses to which it can be put are almost exhausted, because there is no expanding trade seeking help. There is no use in a manufacturer making goods if he cannot sell them or sell them in confidence of getting paid for them, and there is no use giving credit to a manufacturer if the goods he makes for export cannot be sold. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said, the basis of our trade is the export trade. What is the good of the Committee granting credits if manufacturers cannot do an increased export trade with the credits? Let the hon. and gallant Gentleman go to Nottingham and ask them there if they will make lace goods knowing that they will not be able to sell those goods and get paid for them. I say more power to their elbows if they will make and can sell more goods —the credits are awaiting use for legitimate borrowers.


As the hon. Member challenges me on that point, may I tell him that the lace manufacturers are only too anxious to sell their lace in Russia provided that they can be assured that their dealings with Russia will not be interfered with by the Russian Government—I made this reservation in my speech—and provided they can get means to finance their operations.


Provided they can be assured that they will not lose their money ! Who is to assure them of that? Can this House? Has the hon. and gallant Member ever done business with Russia? I do not suppose he has, yet he talks, and so does the Prime Minister, as though we were going to set our unemployment curse to rights by means of the Russian trade. What was the Russian trade before the War? It was never a big trade compared with the size of Russia. In 1913, one of the finest Russian trade years we ever had, the total amount of British exports to Russia was under £19,000,000, and only half of that was for manufactured and partly manufactured British goods. Of the goods which we sent which were wholly manufactured, most of them were trade from raw materials brought in from abroad. What was the other type of goods they bought from us? The main bulk of the unmanufactured goods of British origin was coal and herrings. People talk about the immense amount of Russian trade in British manufactures and in agricultural implements and so forth, but I do not believe I am in wrong in stating that the whole of these British manufactured goods represented less than half the total amount of our 1913 export trade to Russia. People who talk about the immense export trade we are going to do with Russia are, if I may use the expression without disrespect, talking through their hats. The total amount in the finest year, as can be seen in the returns, was only about £19,000,000, and out of that not more than £10,000,000 represent manufactured goods of British origin. Apart from that no Englishman ever cares greatly to do Russian trade. As an old manufacturer I hated the Russian trade. It is degrading to do business with people—apart from the fact that you may never get your money—if there is also an immense amount of corruption and bribery necessary in order to get orders and then to get one's goods into the country and then accepted. In regard to pre-War goads manufactured for Russia it was often necessary to follow them over the frontier to bribe the railway officials, the station masters and others on the other side of the frontier, otherwise you might be perfectly certain that the goods would not arrive except after weeks of delay, but would be left perhaps in a railway siding somewhere, perhaps with a torn tarpaulin thrown over them, and exposed to and damaged by the rain. [HON. MEMBERS: "Under the old Government!"] Under any of them. Corruption does not leave Russia because the Tsar has been murdered, and the Soviets rule. It is the habit in Russia. It is as rampant now as ever, and probably worse. When, by means of bribery, you sold your goods to a Russian importing house, you would find that they were all liable to be refused or condemned unless you greased the palm of the man who took them in. The result of that is that decent men in this country refused much of such export trade because it was a degrading trade, and hon. Members who have had anything to do with Russian trade will bear me out. As an effect of this corruption, we had to deplore the loss during the war of one of the greatest Englishmen, Lord Kitchener. Munitions which had been sent over from America and elsewhere, paid for with British money, were continually being turned down and rejected on arrival in Russia because bribery had not been put into operation, and it was these rejections which in no small degree led to Lord Kitchener's visit to put matters right. That is the type of export trade which the Prime Minister tells us is going to put our unemployment right in whole or in part. Hut it is useless for the hon. and gallant Member, or other hon. Members, to talk to us about recognition of Russia and trade revival following it and to lay down the law as to Russian trade. The whole of it only meant ten millions sterling of manufactured exports to Russia in 1913. We know what it is, and it is time that those who have watched Russian trade should get up and in plain English sit upon the hon. and gallant Member, for example, for talking nonsense.


I crave from the House indulgence for a Member who has not spoken here before. I was greatly interested in the speech of the Prime Minister to-day, acid with much of it I agree. A great many hon. Members on both sides of the House agree, I think, with much of what the Prime Minister sail, although there was a certain amount al natural dissent on the Opposition side of the House in regard to certain points. One statement in that speech which impressed me was that from this time onwards it would be the duty of hon. Members not to vote so much in parties, as individually. I recognised from the commencement of this Parliament that such would be the position in the future, and that we should be voting sometimes as parties, but usually individually. I stand here as a new Member who has perhaps given fewer pledges to his constituents than any other Member in the House, and I shall, without consideration of the consequences, so far as my party is concerned, give every assistance to the Prime Minister, provided he is passing Measures which I consider to be for the benefit of the workers and the people of this country.

Having said that, I want to say something about the agricultural position, because it has occurred to me that the "Prime Minister, in his long and, if I may say so, very able speech, did not seem to give sufficient weight to the position of the farmers or of the farm labourers. I think he spoke rather too strongly against the farmers. The farmers, it is true, have their good years. Many of them had several good years in the War, and many of them, very wisely, cleared out of their farms at the right moment, about 1919, but others went in, and when it is said that the farm labourers are underpaid—and they are grossly underpaid throughout the country—it must be remembered that many of the farmers themselves are at the present time, and have been during the last year or two, suffering heavy financial losses, and are finding great difficulty in paying the rents which are exacted from them by the landlords. Therefore, when one talks about wages boards for agricultural workers, I agree that nothing is more essential than to place the farm labourer in a fair position with regard to his employer, and he is not in a fair position if there is not a wages board or a minimum wage to protect him.

Of the two, in my opinion, the wages board is the better, but I cannot lose sight of the fact that, at any rate, in my own constituency, and since I went to it, there are a number of gentlemen who have thought it essential to say "Because So-and-so got in, we are unable to pay the wages we did, and for that reason we are reducing your wages from this time onwards." [An HON. MEMBER: "Name!"] It happened. I did hope the Prime Minister would say something about protecting the agricultural wages, at any rate until the wages boards have been sitting, because the wages boards will necessarily take some time in getting to work, and in the meantime there are agricultural labourers in this Kingdom who, with their families, are not starving but finding it extremely difficult to get enough food. There arc many places in which meat is an unknown thing from one week's end to another, and where bread and margarine are about all that the agricultural labourers can afford. I did hope the Premier would have something to say about preserving the position of the agricultural labourers and ensuring that, at any rate until the agricultural wages boards commenced sitting, something would be done to protect these men.

There is another thing I would like to say, and that is that land courts to deal with the rents of the farmers are essential in many districts if the agricultural wages boards are to work properly. It is no good the Prime Minister saying that wages boards should sit in this district and that district and the other district in order to fix the wages to be paid, and then for the farmer to say, "I need not keep my land under corn, and therefore I will lay it up to grass." That is the kind of thing which farmers are saying in many districts at the present time. They say, and they say honestly, "It pays me to put my land under grass, and, although I am sorry for the agricultural labourer, I cannot or will not go on paying wages which I need not pay." The Premier has no mean of dealing with this situation, apparently, and I think it is a matter which certainly deserves the attention of the Minister of Agriculture immediately.

There is something else in connection with the working classes which I hoped to hear from the Premier. I think on many occasions it has been said by the Labour party that it is desirable to reduce or remove—and I think they usually say remove—the taxes upon sugar, tea, cocoa, coffee, the food taxes, the taxes on the essentials of life. These things weigh not at all, no doubt, in the households of Members of this House, but they weigh very heavily on the poorest households, and the tax is the same for the richest man as it is for the poorest. It weighs most heavily upon the agricultural labourer with a big family, because when he has, as he sometimes has, eight or nine children under earning age to support, these taxes are a very serious matter. These taxes also bear heavily throughout the whole of the industries in which working men have a struggle to get the essentials of life, and one must recollect that the increase in price in consequence of the tax is not the amount of the tax itself, but something a great deal more. If you put a tax of 3d. a lb. on sugar, the importer of the sugar or the man who pays the tax on the sugar ha-s to put on more than 3d. a lb. above the pre-War price of the sugar he sells. It is obvious that he must do so.

Something has been said about the position of trade with Russia, and it is perfectly true, as has been stated from the benches opposite, that the mere fact that you have a recognition of the Russian Government is not going to bring about good trade. It is, however, a step in the direction of bringing about good trade, and that is, after all, the thing which most people in the country want to see. They want to see an improvement of the trade with Russia, and also of the trade with Germany. Until we settle the reparation question with Germany, we shall have no improvement in the trade with that country, and until we have some sort of peace with Russia, the recognition of a Government in Russia, whatever Government may be in existence, we are not likely to get trade conditions working well in Russia agree with what was said by the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel) that English traders have in the past had great difficulties in carrying on trade with Russia. Anybody who has had anything to do with Russian trade will know the difficulties of transport, of getting goods through to the interior districts of Russia, and of the very heavy claims which have to be borne by insurance companies in many cases in which there has been a heavy loss by the English merchant in giving credit to the Russian merchant, but all that obtained before the War as well as now, and before the War we did a substantial trade with Russia. The position now is this, that by abstaining from recognising the Russian Government other countries in Europe, such as Germany and countries round about, are themselves building up a trade with Russia, which will do a great deal to keep England out of the Russian trade for many years to come. In my view, therefore, it was a wise and sensible step on the part of the Labour Government of this country b recognise Russia, from the merchants' point of view. Ask any man who has had an interest in Russia in the past few years whether he does not think that the action taken by the Premier is a wise action with a view to improving trade or getting trade with Russia.

There is another matter I wish to mention, and that is in connection with the cottages in rural England. At the present moment many country people are quite unable to pay the rent exacted for their cottages. Let me just quote the point cited by the Prime Minister to-day. He said it was a serious matter when the 25s. a week of the agricultural labourer was being reduced. It is a serious thing when the 30s. a week of the agricultural labourer is being reduced, and I was hoping he would have put the figure higher than 25s. He then spoke about the £500 cottages, which were going to work out at 9s. a week, including rates, and there are a great many people on these benches, at any rate, who stood aghast, or, rather, sat aghast, when they heard of that economic effort of the new Government, but even then the position of the poor unfortunate person who has 25s. a week in wages and has to pay 9s. in rent is an impossible one. The result is that at the present time, in many rural districts of England, there is an appalling state of crowding, and I do not see how the suggestion of the Government that there shall be these new cottages built is going to benefit the agricultural worker. It is not going to benefit very much the artisans in the rural district either, because this is the state of affairs, at any rate so far as the district with which I have the greatest acquaintance is concerned, that you have there people living in the Addison houses, coming up to London every day, a distance of 40 or 50 miles, and going down again at night to their Addison houses, while the people on the spot are unable to pay the rents for those houses. It is not a very pleasant thing for the agricultural labourers to be living in little tiny cottages, but I assure hon. Members that at the present time they can go to districts not 50 miles from London and find crowding in those agricultural districts far worse than in the slums of London. I hope the Government, when it is considering the housing question, will consider the housing of the people in the agricultural districts.

8.0 P.M.

Pensions have been mentioned. The inadequate pensions bear heavily upon many, and I was sorry to hear that the Minister of Pensions to-day would do nothing apparently for the ranker officers, who, I think, are suffering rather badly as compared with many others. They themselves feel the position seriously. Many of them are in the ranks of the unemployed at the present time. I venture to think that some of the best men in England are men who are rankers or have retired as ranker officers. They have built up their position from the ranks, which has meant bringing out the intelligence and the energy of the men themselves. I hope the Government will reconsider the position of these men.


Sufficient, I think, has been said to warrant me, at this first opportunity of addressing the House, standing up and pointing out to the Opposition the challenge underlying the Prime Minister's general statement, which they do not seem to grasp. Several preceding speakers, I noticed, referred to the present deplorable conditions, and the Prime Minister's statement, as I have understood it, is surely the greatest challenge to the sincerity of the Opposition to come to the aid of the Government to remedy the things of which complaint is made. I think I am justified in saying that the speech from the despatch box to-day was the cleverest challenge that has ever been uttered in this House to the sincerity of those who have made promises of any description to their constituents to remedy the present unsatisfactory state of things in England and the world over. The statement of the Prime Minister is a challenge to the practice of distorting what the Labour party and the Government really stand for. We have been so accustomed to be painted in colours which we do not represent that when hon. Members see the true red of our party, they do not understand it, and do not correctly interpret it. The statement, in the very nature of things, was a general statement, and it is inevitable that the challenge will come when the Government work out details as regards unemployment, the conditions of agriculture, and of the wage standards in agricultural England. It is a challenge to that hideous doctrine, which seems to be the almost accepted philosophy of the Opposition, that the nearer you keep the man to starvation, the worse you house him, the more uncertain his conditions, the better and harder he will work, and the more prosperous the country will be. No greater fallacy than that could possibly be conceived, but it would appear to be the general consensus under which the Opposition and previous Governments have been labouring. If I appraise the speech from the despatch box correctly, it is surely a challenge to an entirely new order of things. In the words of the Prime. Minister himself, it is a challenge to confidence from beginning to end, and I welcome the opportunity that this House will have of considering any detailed proposals that will be put up by the Government to make this land fit for heroes to live in.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. ALLEN

I do not often have the opportunity of addressing this House, but I should like, in the first place, to congratulate the hon. Member opposite on his maiden speech. It is not often that we have in maiden speeches so much practical common-sense as that in the speech delivered by my hon. Friend. It is quite a pleasure to listen to a constructive policy such as he enunciated. He said he was one of those Members of the House who had made few pledges to the electors and on that, too, I think he is to be congratulated, because when he goes back to his constituency, he will not have so many sins to answer for. I think, however, -my own record is even better, because I never make any, which I think is very convenient. He dealt largely with agriculture in regard to the farming class and more particularly with regard to the housing of labour. I suppose he knows as well as any of us that the ordinary idea of the farmer is that he can grumble as well as any other tradesman, but I think if the farmers took a little more interest in their labourers' accommodation, they would succeed very much better than they are doing at the moment. I remember a farmer telling me —he seemed to be a very prosperous farmer--how he got along with his labourers, and how his prosperity came about. He said, "I give them a bit of land. I allow them to rear poultry on it. I do not object to their having a cow on the land, or to their rearing a few pigs, for, believe me, the ploughman may desert his wife, but he will never desert his pigs."

There are one or two points to which I should like to refer as coming from a different part of the country from any other hon. Member who has yet spoken. We have a Government of our own in Northern Ireland, but there are some reserved services, and there are international questions on which we are permitted to address this House. A good deal has been said to-night, for instance, about Russia. Hon. Members may be surprised to hear that exports from Russia play a very large part in the prosperity of our six-county area in Northern Ireland, which, by the way, I hope will always remain so. It is by the large exports of flax from Russia that we ever hope to get our staple industry in the six-county area going as prosperously as it was before the War. In what way the Prime Minister may bring that about, I do not know but I wish him God-speed in his trial. There has been a great deal of theory in Socialist doctrine with regard to trade. A Socialist Government has now got up against practical realities, and the cure of unemployment, the Prime Minister said to-day, was to get trade going again. The only way, in my opinion, to cure unemployment is to produce articles and commodities that are required by the people living in this world. If we produce them at a price which the people are not able to pay, they will not buy them, and the commodities will be left on our hands. Therefore, I again refer to the possibility of our getting large exports of flax from Russia and thus cheapening our commodities for the housewife all over the world.

I was glad to hear the reference to ex-service men, and more particularly to pensions. Had the Minister of Pensions been in his place, I would have liked heartily to congratulate him on the sympathetic attitude he has shown towards the dependants of ex-service men. I have had one or two cases myself since he has taken office, and I must compliment him on the energy he has displayed in bringing about a much more satisfactory state of affairs with regard to those few cases than previously existed. I only hope he will tontine in that sympathetic attitude in which he has begun. My hon. Friend blamed the Ministry of Pensions with regard to ranker officers. I think the blame really should have been attached to the War Office, as it was really the War Office that turned the matter down.

When the Prime Minister was reading from the King's Speech the subjects that the present Government were about to undertake, and the Bills which they were going to pass through this House, there was one I. hoped he would have mentioned. It interests my part of the country. It is the Bill that has been promised, not only in the King's Speech, but for the last two or three years—a Land Purchase Bill for Northern Ireland. That is one of the reserved services for this House. It would not cost this country anything. It is practically an agreed Bill between landlord and tenant. The Percy Committee sat in order to thresh out this question, and I do hope the Prime Minister, or whoever may reply, will say that, provided he is satisfied that this is an agreed Bill which will not take up any time of the House, he will undertake to see it is passed, because both landlords and tenants in Northern Ireland are quite ready to accept the proposal in the shape of this Bill. I hope, when the responsible Minister replies, we shall get some information on the subject, which is very vital to the interests of agriculture in that area.

It being a quarter-past Eight of the Clock, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 4.