§ Mr. CLYNES
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the wordsBut it is our duty respectfully to submit to Your Majesty that Your Majesty's present advisers have not the confidence of this House.No Member of the House will question the importance or, indeed, the gravity of this Amendment, nor will anyone underrate the variety and the substance of the speeches which the House has already heard during the course of the Debate so far; but there will, I fear, remain the feeling, until the Division takes place, that there is, in relation to this Debate, an element of unreality, caused by the conditions which have led up to it. The Prime Minister and his colleagues, following the Election, thought it their duty, in accordance with constitutional usage, to hold office until they could meet the House arid present their case to it. On that I would ask, and I hope that we shall receive an answer, why, if that were thought essential, it was also thought fit to interpose a delay of five weeks between the close of the Election and the opening of the Session?
The Election was held under conditions of unexampled haste, at a time when no Opposition had demanded an Election, when the Government had not been defeated in the House, when nothing arose such as political history has previously revealed to call for an appeal to the country. That hurried Election took 302 place because unemployment had become a problem requiring urgent attention on new lines, in the judgment of the Prime Minister, and no further delay could be tolerated. In terms of real and burning eloquence the Prime Minister, in his Election address, enumerated what, in his judgment, were the causes of the continued unemployment, and stressed particularly the increasing urgency for dealing with this problem upon new lines. He told us that the causes were the poverty of Europe, the disorganisation of our international trade, broken exchanges and depreciated currencies which gave great advantages to foreign goods; and he reminded us that this was the fourth winter of unemployment, and that the masses of the suffering poor could no longer endure. I repeat, how is it, that, following all that declaration as to the necessity for urgent treatment, following a defeat of the Government and a rejection of the remedies which the Prime Minister and his colleagues had suggested, it was thought proper to sit down for five weeks before the House was given an opportunity of considering this urgent matter?
We may take different views of the Speech from the Throne; we may, with a measure of justice, viewing it from a certain angle, regard it as no better than an election manifesto, with the difference that it comes after the event instead of before. If we treat it on the assumption that the items it contains are now seriously offered, the Speech affords us a most amusing spectacle. Some of the proposals in it are like a belated repentance for repeated misdemeanours. They are a mixture of make-believe and of contrition: How is it, for instance, that, room having been found for so many items of serious and important social reform, a place has not been found in this list of proposals for passing into law a Measure to provide pensions for widowed mothers? Have we not yet reached that stage? If not, then I ask, for how long has Labour to fight for a claim for social redress before that item appears in a Tory programme? The Speech begins, as many such Speeches do:—My relations with Foreign Powers continue to be friendly.Is that accurate? I allege that it is not. And if we are not careful about anything else which appears in the Speech from 303 the Throne, we ought to be careful about the facts. What is the position with respect to Russia? Russia is a great foreign Power. Are our relations friendly with that foreign Power? If this statement be true, if we are on terms of friendship with Russia, how is it that we have not yet decided to carry our friendship to the point of receiving here Tier representatives, as we long ago properly received the representatives of Germany? Is it because Russia has not undertaken to pay her debts? If the fact of not undertaking, or not actually taking steps, to pay the debts of a nation, is to be a bar to recognition, how is it that we have the representatives of France here? Is it that we do not need the trade which full diplomatic relations with Russia might well afford? Certainly we do need it, for our difficulties in regard to economic and trading conditions are such that we cannot afford not to trade even with an avowed enemy, should anybody class Russia in that category.
Our position abroad, I allege, is weaker than ever it was. Our influence in foreign affairs has almost disappeared, and it has disappeared because we failed in the wise and vigorous use of our power and of our influence while that influence was greatest. Our War sacrifices entitle us to a deciding part in the adjustment of foreign relations. When France claimed and needed our military aid, it was given without stint against Germany. Our claim now to influence a peace policy is justified by the sacrifices which we made and by a, genuine desire for the future security of France herself. It is not merely I who allege that our influence has ceased to exist. One might turn to a quite consistent supporter of this Government and find in the columns of the "Times" this morning this declaration:Politically Britain hardly counts.4.0 P.M.
That was written specially in relation to the trouble between France and Germany. I repeat it, then, and ask, Why are we weak? If I may briefly enumerate the stages, I should say they are these. The causes of our decline as an influence in the affairs of the world, and especially of Europe, are due, first, to the fact that, after the War, our after-war policy was propelled by a war spirit. The next stage was one of apprehension as to the 304 economic and the moral results of the causes to which we surrendered. The third stage was that of a long period of pretences, when we were repeatedly assured that the aims of France and ourselves were one, that there was complete accord in those matters of international and world policy, that one object was being sought. As an inevitable result of these lines of policy, which from the beginning those of us on these benches have resisted, we have reached the last stage during 12 months, the stage of feebleness and inaction.
France is to us a dear and a near and a powerful neighbour and. friend. We fought with her and we fought for her. The great War was to be made the means to a great end. That end is enduring friendship in Europe, and that end is only possible if Germany and France are at peace. To treat Germany now worse than Germany treated France 50 years ago is to make a monstrous preparation for the next great war. Therefore, we can no longer merely watch and wait. By what, then, should our actions be governed? Our actions should be governed by the urgency of a real settlement of Europe, a settlement built upon a due regard for the economic rights and necessities of Britain. We are paying our debts, we have fought and sacrificed, and yet we are suffering more than the countries which we defended and rescued. A limit has been reached to the price which Britain can afford to pay for the foreign policy of her Ministers. We read now, with some glimmerings of hope, the paragraph in the Gracious Speech from the Throne giving us some little information, belated as it is, on new and untried efforts with respect to a Reparation Commission. These glimmerings of hope arise because of the participation of American representatives in this great undertaking. The figure which statesmen have considered as proper and appropriate for a settlement of the Reparations question is a figure approximating to the one suggested by us in 1919, and persistently advocated by Labour throughout these years. As to what might be the best means, I regard as the best medium for the settlement a medium which secures the certainty of American co-operation. American aid in settlement is not merely welcome, it is essential. Mutual service, we might well 305 say to America, would not only yield mutual benefit, but would result in a blessing to mankind. Again, we had in the Speech from the Throne the Government's declaration that everything will be done to strengthen and to expand the authority of the League of Nations; but what special steps have ever been taken by this Government to make good these repeated professions? It is true they can point to the special and valuable services of Viscount Cecil, but that is balanced by the ill-services of other associates of the present Government. How can the League of Nations be strengthened and raised to its place of influence and dignity in the affairs of the world by the aid of associates like Lord Birkenhead? [An HON. MEMBER: "He was not in the Government!"] Hon. Members may repudiate Lord Birkenhead as a colleague. We would not reject any enlightenment as to why he was not; none, I think, will go the length of denying that he was among the most potent of the protagonists whom we had to meet in the course of the recent election. His line of greater preparedness for war, for winning the glittering prizes of war, can scarcely help any Government to begin a new era in foreign politics. I cannot, much as the theme deserves it, longer dwell on that important part of the Speech from the Throne.
The Minister of Labour is counted as one of the most important casualties sustained by the Government in the recent Election, and therefore Sir Montague Barlow is not with us; but the speech from the Throne refers repeatedly to the problem of unemployment, so that it is not one which can avoid our notice, and I observe that the Minister of Labour in his election address—not in a casual remark or in answer to a question, but in his election address—I will not allege for the purpose of winning votes, but for the purpose of conveying information to the nation, declared that, as a result of the work being undertaken by local authorities and supported by the Government, and as a result of Government contracts being carried through, 250,000 men would be directly employed this winter, and 100,000 indirectly could be added to that number. We have had paraded, therefore, on many platforms an assurance, carrying consolation to many, that at least 350,000 men will this winter be put to work as a result of those plans which were ex- 306 plained in this House by the Minister of Labour in August and November last year. What I ask, therefore, of my hon. Friend, who represents the Minister for Labour, is, what are the facts that can be revealed to this House? Really, there has been little result that one can set beside these fantastic forecasts and alluring figures. Can we, then, in the course of this Debate, be told the facts? A small, but none the less important, point is that the Minister of Labour might make quite clear what is the position of workmen who suffered the loss of benefit through the condition known as the gap. Large numbers of men who are out of work wonder where they are, and, short as the life of the Government may be, this good deed might be done by them before our labours are completed.
The Speech from the Throne refers to the problem of agriculture. The mind of the Government in relation to those who labour and suffer most in the agricultural fields of Briton was well revealed when, as part of the new policy, the Prime Minister laid it down, as a condition of giving the farmer money gathered by means of duties on imports, that the farmer would have to hand part of it back again to the labourer and guarantee him a wage of 30s. a week. The agricultural labourer took that as the full measure of Conservative friendship for him, and ground was lost by the Government even in the rural parts of Britain. Governments more than once have surrendered to scare cries raised in the Press of the day. The interests of both farmers and workers were surrendered to an un principled campaign carried on by interested newspapers, and the party which traditionally is expected to defend the interests of the farming class is faced now with the loss of a great deal of the confidence which that class had in the Government prior to the last election.
Our attention is called to the problem of Dominion trade in the course of the Speech from the Throne, and my hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition submitted definitely to the House a day or two ago the assurance that opportunity to decide a number of important issues would be given. My own view is that the figures in relation to Imperial trade are substantial, and offer prospects for improvement in trade between the United Kingdom and remote parts of the Empire. 307 We must never undervalue our trade with any part of the world, and particularly with the Continent of Europe, for, given reasonable conditions of prosperity and peace, the truth is that trade depends upon population, and the huge population of Europe must not be neglected by a great trading and commercial community. But when we have done our best abroad, I agree that a sense of special duty remains in relation to the Dominions.
Opportunities, then, for the expansion of trade are real and attractive, and the figures show, as I say, that the prospects are substantial. The question for this House to answer is how far can we stimulate and prefer, as the term is, trading with our Dominions without imposing additional taxation on ourselves, and without destroying the foundations of our fiscal system. That is the question that has to be answered. Then we must inquire as to whether there are alternatives. I believe there are. We have been told by Mr. Bruce, if not by others, that improved trade relations with the Dominions do not necessarily involve a departure from our fiscal system. We may find in transport facilities and other improvements one line of policy which can very well be pursued as between the Dominions and ourselves, and we may find great and substantial encouragement to our Dominion fellow workers in revealing, by inquiry or by other means, the facts as to where goes the enormous difference between what the Dominion producer of food gets for his labour, and what the consumer pays for it when it gets into the shops and warehouses in our country. These are points which ought to receive purely non-party and disinterested attention. I rather fear that so far, especially in recent years, while the tendency has been to repeat and to extend Dominion conferences, we have not risen above a party spirit. Those who share that view and those who cheer that statement might, therefore, in the Debate, explain how it is that all these conferences were kept as the close preserve of the Government. Where did the great and growing interest of Labour come in? Where was it shown that these non-party sentiments were harboured by those who now cheer that which I simply utter? In short, if we are to lift these great Dominion considerations to a level higher 308 than party, there must be conferences on far broader non-party lines than so far have taken place between Governments, whether called Liberal or Tory, or Coalition, and the representatives who come here from the Dominions.
The next point to which I want to refer may appear to be a small one but it is not unimportant. The Speech from the Throne refers to the great British Empire Exhibition for which we are now preparing. I have from the first been a strong personal supporter of this great undertaking, for I believe it will have many features of value which we could not enjoy without an enterprise of this character. It will be very much more than a great holiday show. Indeed, it may be that least of all. It will be instructional and educative in its character, and stimulating in its results to the general trade of the Empire. To that I would merely add that those who speak so freely about Empire sentiment and share it, as many of us do, should endeavour to make it a thing of which any man can be as proud, say, as a Scotsman is proud of Scotland, a Welshman is proud of Wales, an Irishman of Ireland, and an Englishman of England. For unless we can free the term "Empire" from any savour of dominion over others by sheer force of strength, we shall not command for that term in the breasts of the people of the future the respect and veneration that all of us would like to see exist. I do not avoid, here, the turn of what may be an awkward corner, because part of this great question is, bluntly put, the question of emigration. It is a distasteful and very often misleading term which ought not to creep into use at all. We must seriously consider the problem of a voluntary transference of population on agreed terms for mutual benefit, and I am satisfied that those agreed terms can be reached, it will be the better for labour in this country and in the Dominions. May I try to outline what they are? Among these terms, at least, there should be suitable and sufficient training, not merely before leaving but on arrival, technical and general education adequate for the duties which will have to be performed, remuneration satisfactory to the workers for the work they do, and security in employment abroad for the man or for the family who have agreed to leave these 309 shores. These points will be the less controversial in the future the more they are debated.
I think a phrase used by the Leader of the Opposition on Tuesday was interpreted by some, wrongly, as a deliberate desire on our part to foment class strife for ends evil to the security of the State. We do not seek the downfall of this Government for the purpose of class dominion. Indeed, it may be said that there is a great deal of justification, and certainly of excuse, for the embittered class feeling which abounds in the more impoverished districts of our country. If many who resent this class feeling had themselves suffered from like causes, their class consciousness or hatred would be no less. In other words, it may be said, so far as class feeling is displayed by hon. Members on the other side—and it is not always concealed—that class feeling cannot look for an excuse or justification to the poverty and suffering endured by the poorer people. The differences recorded the extremes of impoverishment, on the one hand, and extravagance on the other, are not due, in our judgment, to natural laws, but to unnatural conditions, and to perpetuated injustice which Governments have failed to lessen or to handle. We hear hon. Members say sometimes, when those themes are being touched—indeed, it was said last night in one of the best speeches this House has heard for some time, that of the hon. Member for the combined English Universities (Sir M. Conway)— that our purpose is to take from the rich and give to the poor, even though the poor may not deserve it, and though the rich man may, by his thrift, his industry or his personal attributes, be entitled to the full enjoyment of all he possesses. We answer and say that, broadly speaking, the mass of the people of this country who are poor are not poor because they do not work, they are poor because they do work, and that, in the main, those who are in possession of great riches do not enjoy their property as the result of persistent personal endeavour. This I would describe, in my closing words, as a Government of very great opportunities with no capacity whatever for ever having used them. We are answered and told that should we succeed them we shall be in office without power. That would be bad enough, but what is worse is to 310 be in office with power and without the will and the skill to use it.
§ Mr. ASQUITH
I propose in observations which, largely for physical reasons, I am obliged to compress into a very short space, to address the House entirely upon the subject of the Amendment which my right hon. Friend has just moved. I say at once that I propose to vote and to advise my friends to vote in favour of that Amendment. The Amendment is a clear, distinct, unencumbered vote of want of confidence in the present Government. On its merits, leaving aside for the moment the ulterior consequences of the Amendment, it seems to me impossible for any Liberal or Labour Member, fresh as we are from the recent polls, to withhold his support from it. There may be many theories, I have no doubt there are, why we have been sent here by the electorate in such strange proportions. But there is one theory which will not hold water for a moment: and that is, that we were sent here to maintain the present Government in office. It was their election, not ours. It was they, not we, who threw down the challenge. It was they again, not we, who invited the judgment of the electorate. They have got it.
Less than six months ago they were in possession of a safe, comfortable, docile, manageable majority of some 70 or 80 Members. They are here to-day with followers who number considerably less than half the House. I am not going to discuss the grounds upon which the electorate came to that decision. They have already been clearly and cogently put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) the Leader of the Opposition, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) and my right hon. Friend who has just sat down. It is sufficient to say, to sum it up in a sentence, that the present Government will be remembered for confusion, vaccillation and impotence, both at home and abroad. After a somewhat prolonged experience of public life, though I have known Administrations that I disliked more, and administrations which have done more actual mischief, I have never known any Administration that, when it had to surrender its stewardship to the Crown, had a smaller balance to its credit, either of achievement or of 311 authority. It would be a waste of time to indulge in the thankless task of re-slaying the suicide. On the issue raised by this Amendment judgment goes by default.
I would rather, if I may in a few moments, deal with what is a more practical and urgent question—the immediate future. I think, and I am sure I shall have with me the great majority of the House, that it is plain that when an administration so situated resigns, the party which naturally and properly succeeds to the task of Government, if it is minded to undertake it, is the party that is numerically preponderant in the Opposition. The problem, of course, was relatively a simple one in the old days, though it is a mistake to suppose, historically, that the so-called two-party system was ever really watertight. In the early days of the 19th century there was a rift of opinion in the Tory party on the subject of Catholic emancipation, which had a constant and very disturbing effect on the composition of Governments. After the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, the Peelites, as they were called, a small but exceptionally able, and, I may add, highly elusive body of gentlemen, gave the orthodox Whig leaders, Lord John Russell and Lord Palmerston, who did not like to live with them, but could not live without them, cause for perpetual anxiety. In later days, within the memory of many of us sitting in this House, there was the case of the Liberal Unionists—some of us watched the spectacle—who took a great deal of absorbing by the Tory party. The House will forgive this historical retrospect.
It is perfectly true, as my hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said the other night, that the situation which confronts us to-day, the situation of three independent and organised parties, none insignificant in number, none commanding a majority of votes, is unexampled. I put aside as irrelevant the case of the Parnellite party. I see that my hon. Friend the Father of the House, the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) is present. He will remember well that it was a fundamental rule of the constitution of the Parnellite party that in no circumstances would any of them take office in the service of the State. Under the present conditions, unexampled as they 312 are—though they are not unlikely to recur, as far as I can forecast the future, and in providing for them we must consider very carefully the methods we adopt —I think there is no ground for departing from the normal usage, and if the Labour party is willing, as I understand it is, to assume the burden of office in such conditions, it has the absolute undoubted right to claim it.
My hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has more than once said in public that it is not an enviable task. I will go further; I will say that it is not a task that any far-seeing man would consent to undertake except under a strong, compelling sense of public duty. Of that I am perfectly certain. There is an idea which seems to be widely prevalent outside that we are all here hungering and thirsting for office, that we are prepared to pay any price in order to retain, to regain, or for the first time to gain office, that we are prepared to pay any price, even at the sacrifice of decency and honour, for that purpose. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who said that?"] Many people have said so. That is a notion which I repudiate, not only in the name of my own party, but in the name of every party in the State. There are people—may I here for one moment indulge in an egotistic note—who appear to think of me that at my time of life, having served, or tried to serve, the State under three Sovereigns, for more than 30 years; in days, remember, when the Government of the day imposed its impress with authority and with effect upon the legislation and administration of the country—that I am now prepared to lead my party, if it would follow me—I do not believe it would—through devious and miry paths in the chase for office without power. So far, it seems to me the case is very clear.
It is said, however, that this is not an ordinary case of the transfer of power from one party to another. It means, for the first time, the installation of a Socialist Government in the seats of the mighty. Few people who have not had the melancholy privilege of reading my postbag for the last month will realise what this prospect means to a large and by no means negligible mass of our fellow subjects. I have had a very large experience of the vagaries of postal correspondence. I have never come across more virulent manifestations of an 313 epidemic of political hysteria. Notwithstanding my own compromising past—I am supposed to have been the associate of rebels, and worse than rebels, in days gone by—I have been in turn, during these weeks, cajoled, wheedled, almost caressed, taunted, threatened, brow-beaten, and all but blackmailed to step in as the "saviour of society."
I remember years ago reading a saying of Adam Smith, who was approached, after the great surrender at Saratoga, which put an end to all British hopes in the American War of Independence, by a gentleman who said to him, "Doctor Smith, this is the ruin of Great Britain." Adam Smith replied, "Sir, there is a great deal of ruin in a Nation." So there is. Just think how often, in the hundred years or more that have passed since then, this country, in the imagination of the men of weak knees and little faith, has been on the verge of ruin. It was so in 1832, when the rotten boroughs were abolished, and the first, mild, faint instalment of Parliamentary reform was carried. It was so again in 1846, when the repeal of the Corn Laws was supposed and believed to have laid the landed interest, that persistent, vital thing, once for all in its grave. It was so again—these episodes of ruin follow in. cycles like astronomical phenomena—when first Mr. Gladstone and Sir William Harcourt established a really effective system of death duties.
I can remember that in the Parliament of 1892 we were told in the gloomiest tones, but with the utmost assurance, not only that our country houses would be closed, but, what is of more importance, that British capital—see how things repeat themselves—was going to take the wings of the morning and fly away from this tax-ridden country to the more favoured fields of investment under foreign skies. All these things repeat themselves. I, having seen the country survive some, at any rate, of these successive shocks of ruin, real or imaginary, decline altogether to believe that the sun is going to set on the power and prosperity of Great Britain on the evening of the day when my hon. Friend the Leader of the Labour party takes his seat on the Treasury Bench.
Let me come back to the "saving of society." To "save society" is a grandiose formula, but it means, accord- 314 ing to the people Who use it, when it is translated into plain prose, to put up some kind of combination between Liberals and Conservatives to keep Labour out. That is the way in which society is going to be saved. I have no reason to think that any substantial body of the Conservative party is in favour of any such combination. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad to hear that cheer, because I have been following more or less attentively the peculiar proceedings of that remarkable body, the City of London Conservative Association, which, I think only three weeks ago, was mobilising itself in that sense, which has now adopted a Conservative candidate in opposition to a Liberal, and has given us some foretaste of what would have happened in the way of stabilising the situation if the suggestion had been treated seriously.
I have spoken, of course, at a respectful distance about the Conservative party. I can speak with more intimacy and knowledge of my own party, and I am perfectly certain that the vast majority, if not the whole of the Liberal party, would have repudiated any such combination. Indeed, the only people who would really have benefited by it, and, therefore, ought to have welcomed it, are the Labour party. If I could dive into the inmost recesses of their bosoms I am perfectly certain I should find that they were chuckling at the thought of this combination. And for two very good reasons. In the first place, it would relieve them of certain very obvious embarrassments, which may even at this moment be causing a certain amount of anxiety. Not only so, but, what is more important, it would have secured them tens and hundreds of thousands of votes in the country. As far as I am concerned, as I have already publicly declared, I will have no part or lot in any such manœuvre.
What is the real situation? Nothing can be more absurd than the contention that, because by voting for this Amendment you turn out the present Government, the House of Commons is giving a blank cheque, a free letter of licence, to the successors of the Government to do what thy please with the interests and the institutions of the country. Nobody knows better than the Leader of the Labour party that that is an absurd contention. They, like the rest of us—we 315 are not in this matter our own masters—are and shall be limited by the Parliamentary conditions which the election has created. We of the Liberal party are deeply and sincerely pledged to give no more countenance to Socialistic experiments than to a Protectionist experiment We are not going to be false to those pledges, as will be seen if and when we are put to the test. I am speaking what everyone knows to be true when I say that with a House of Commons constituted as this House is, it is idle to talk of the imminent dangers of a Socialistic regime. In legislation, as in all important matters of administration, the House of Commons is and must remain supreme.
In the meantime, difficult as the conditions are, the King's Government must be carried on. The present Administration are disqualified by the judgment of the country—a judgment which they themselves invited. As I have already said, their natural and appropriate successors in existing conditions are the Labour party. It is the duty of every patriotic man and woman, I say without doubt or hesitation, to do what they can, without sacrifice of principle or honour, to facilitate their task. There is not, and cannot be, any question of coalition or of fusion. The differences which divide us on fundamental issues of national policy cannot by bridged or veiled by insincere accommodation. But, and this is my final word, in the important sphere of social legislation, where progressive thought has grasped the same ideals, and is ready to proceed for their attainment to great lengths on common lines, there is no reason why there should not be co-operation, not merely between the Liberal party and the Labour party, but, I would hope, real co-operation between large numbers of all parties. In fields of activity, no less than in the re-assertion of the moral authority of Great Britain in the councils of the world, there are causes to which the time and energies of this Parliament may be fruitfully given. The Liberal party, for which I am entitled to speak, without forfeiting their complete and unfettered independence, and without playing false to any of their principles or promises, are prepared to make their contribution to that task.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir William Joynson-Hicks)
I have been a Member of this House now for several years, and during all that time I have striven to learn some of the arts of Parliamentary oratory from the right hon. Gentleman who is so supreme in that direction, and I would be glad if he will allow me, quite humbly and sincerely, to congratulate him on his return from his recent indisposition, and I would go further and say that I thank him for having made my task so difficult in replying to the-speech, couched in the terms in which he has couched it, which it would be impossible for us younger Members of this House to strive to emulate. Before I deal with that speech, perhaps the House will allow me to refer to one or two remarks by the hon. Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes). It would be impossible for me in the compass of an ordinary speech to deal with all his remarks. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade (Sir P. Lloyd Greame) will deal to-night with the Labour question, the unemployment question, and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. N. Chamberlain) will deal to-morrow with the question of Dominion trade. My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. R. McNeill) dealt yesterday with foreign affairs. But I would like to say one word in regard to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman opposite that we had not dealt as ably as we might have done with the position of France.
The right hon. Gentleman knows, and the Whole House knows, the very grave difficulties which there have been in dealing with France. We have had Debates in this House from time to time, but I have never yet heard any real suggestion made to us which would enable us to deal with this question in the way in which the right hon. Gentleman, and, if I may say so, the way in which I would wish to deal with it. As he said, we fought side by side with France. It has been impossible, certainly from our point of view, to quarrel with France, and, if it be that the right hon. Gentleman is coming into power in the course of some days, I trust that he will in all his negotiations with France remember the great sacrifices that have been made, and remember that the peace of Europe—and we are just as keen 317 for peace as the right hon. Gentleman—will be endangered, if not destroyed, by quarrels among the Allies. Often and often on public platforms and in the House the question has been asked, "What do you want us to do with regard to France?" Do you want us to take such steps as will break the Entente with France, and lead to disagreements with France which might produce incidents that I do riot even mention in a speech in this House?
We have had enough of anger and war during the last 10 years. All parties and sections of the community have had enough of it. We are anxious to maintain the peace of Europe, and if the right hon. Gentleman, in carrying on negotiations with France, does anything to make that peace more certain, he will have the support of my friends on this side of the House. We have been asked why we do not co-operate more with America. We have throughout done our best to secure the co-operation of that great country. She came to our aid and to the, aid of Europe during the War. Would she had come back after the War to help us with her great powers, her great ability, and her vast resources in the more difficult task of winning the peace, even as we bad won the War. It is not for us to compel America to take any steps that the Government of that country does not deem necessary in her own interests. But there has been nothing whatever in the course of the history of this administration which has not tended towards the utmost co-operation with America, and we welcome, and I am sure all the Allies welcome too,. the negotiations which have led up recently to the appointment of committees on the Continent on which the American people and Government are being represented.
I would like to refer now to matters which relate to my own Department, which, though not mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, were mentioned by a great many other people during the past few weeks. I refer to the housing conditions of the people of this country. A great deal has been made, on public platforms and in this House, when the Bill of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was going through the House last summer, with regard to the utter inadequacy of the Government policy of housing. I am going to prove to the House that the effect of that Act 318 has been better than the effect of any Act passed in recent years. I am going to challenge the Labour party whether our housing policy has not produced more improvement in the country than any other policy that could have been devised. I need not read the speeches which were made in the House of Commons when the Bill was going through, but I will refer to only one made by a Gentleman, whose name I see mentioned as a likely successor eventually to the office which I now occupy, the hon. Member Seaham (Mr. Sidney Webb). He asks:Does the right hon. Gentleman think it likely that 100,000 houses will be provided each year under this Housing Bill? I will not mind betting that he does not provide 200,000 houses in the course of the next two years.Now let us get down to figures in regard to housing.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
These Acts have been in operation for five months since the end of July last. I have, as Minister of Health, during that period approved plans, arrangements and subsidies for the building of 85,036 houses. Of that number, 31,400 will be built by the local authorities, and 53,600 will be built by private enterprise. In a word, we have done what Members on the other side said was impossible. We have got private enterprise going. You may say that those are applications. May I first suggest that a man does not prepare his plans, and get out estimates of cost, and apply to the local authority for subsidies merely in order to make a fool of the House of Commons. He does it because it is his intention to build, and though we have had up to the present the three bad months of the year, already in the case of 44,000 houses, contracts have been let and arrangements are being made to build. There are 17,600 already in course of erection being built to-day under the provisions of this Act, and 3,500 have been completed already. But in addition—
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I have not got those figures, but the houses could not be built. There was no power until the 319 Act came into operation, and the Act could not come into operation until it had been passed by this House. But there will be, in the first year after the passing of my right hon. Friend's Act, 100,000 houses built, and that number will be greater than any number built in a single year during the last 20 years, except in one particular year when there were 105,000 houses built. The average pre-War figure was only 63,000 houses. We were asked whether we were going to bring back the pre-War figure. We have more than done so. In addition to the 85,000 I have mentioned, I am every week approving over 3,500 further houses.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The best year under the Addison scheme only produced 88,900 houses. I wish to say a word to the Labour party in regard to another matter. I could get more houses built if I had more labour—if there were more building labour throughout the country.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
The Minister of Health stated just now that he could get more houses built—[HON. MEMBERS: "That is not a point of Order."] Mr. Speaker will tell me if it be not a point of Order. You, gentlemen, need not try to dictate to me as to what I am to do. Mr. Speaker is the only man I will have any dictation from in this House. The Minister stated that if it were not for the shortage of labour he could get more houses built. I say, Sir, that statement is untrue. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I wish the hon. Member would find out for himself what a point of Order is. He has opportunities of joining in the Debate, and he should know that arguments are not points of Order. The hon. Member should be able to listen to others, unless he would have himself speaking all the time and allow nobody else to speak.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Perhaps the House will be interested to learn that it is 320 not very long ago since, at a meeting in Scotland, the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Kirkwood) himself said that there would require to be dilution in the building trade.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There are things about which hon. Members hold different opinions, but a Debate cannot be carried on by means of interruptions. Hon. Members have the opportunity of expressing their own point of view in a regular manner, and the hon. Member must restrain himself when other points of view are being expressed.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Let me trouble the House with a few figures in order to make my point quite clear. About 20 years ago—in 1901 to be precise —there were 101,000 bricklayers, and today there are only 53,000. There can be no doubt about these figures. There were 27,000 plasterers, and to-day there are only 13,000. There were 8,400 slaters, and to-day there are only 2,880. There is practically no unemployment in the skilled sections of the building trade to-day. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is not true!"] Here are the figures. Of bricklayers there are 1.6 per cent. unemployed, plasterers, 3.5, and slaters, 4.9, and I have been asked at the Ministry of Health by nearly every town in this country for more slaters, more plasterers and more bricklayers. I have demands here from local authorities who desire to build more houses but who cannot build more houses. On the 8th of October the Hull Town Council made application to the Ministry for permission to build 600 houses. What was the position in Hull? There were two bricklayers unemployed and no slaters and no plasterers, and I said—and I think the House will agree with it—"I cannot give you consent to build 600 houses because you would only drive up the cost of building and seduce slaters and plasterers and bricklayers from other towns." The Norwich Corporation only a couple of months ago asked permission to build 1,000 houses. From this point of view Norwich was rather more lucky than Hull, because there were 27 bricklayers and 7 plasterers out of work, but no slaters. I arranged that Norwich should begin with an instalment of 200 321 houses instead of the 1,000 which was wanted, and that when these 200 houses were built permission would be given to build another 200, and if Norwich secured more labour, another 500. I ask the House to note how easily I might have inflated my figures and how, instead of giving approval for 3,600 a week, I might easily have run my figures up to 5,000 a week, and no one would have known they were not effective figures. But what we have tried to do at the Ministry of Health is to approve only of the exact number of houses which is likely to be built.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
I do not wish to prolong the speech of the right hon. Gentleman but is it not a fact that the building trade operatives have asked for guarantees with regard to their occupations, and, if so, have those guarantees been given?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
That is a reasonable question, and this is the answer I am going to give. Speaking with as full a knowledge as anybody in the House of the conditions of the building trade and the number of houses that have to be built and the slum clearances which are waiting to be tackled—and until we have some houses built, remember, we cannot tackle the slum clearances, because we must build houses to put the people into—I say, quite definitely, as the responsible Minister here, that there is ample work for the present building trade. I am speaking now of the skilled operatives. There is ample work in sight for them and for at least a 25 per cent. dilution for the next ten years. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The statement of the Minister should be listened to by hon. Members, who will have an opportunity of replying later on to any points with which they disagree.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member should be a little more careful. He seems to think that nothing is true except what he himself thinks.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The figures are available, and if the hon. Member or any of his colleagues come to the Ministry they can see the whole of the figures and go into the matter from top to bottom. I have been in this House a good many years, and have lived my life in the sight 322 of Members of this House, and I will stake my honour I have not made one statement which will not be borne out by the figures. Let the hon. Member come to the Ministry of Health and go into the matter with my officials, without my being present, and if he can then come to the House and say that I have made a single statement which is not correct, I will make the humblest apology.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Before making any reference to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who preceded me, I felt it my duty, because this is the only opportunity I shall have of speaking in this Debate, and because I have been responsible for the administration of my right hon. Friend's Housing Act, to give some figures which could be relied upon as to the position in regard to housing. I only wish to warn whoever may be responsible in any new Government for dealing with housing not to destroy the arrangements which have been made, not to destroy the foundations which have-been laid in regard to a scheme which I honestly believe will give more houses than any other scheme that can possibly be devised.
I now come to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) and the position of the Liberal Party. Had one listened to the right hon. Gentleman without having read his election address or the election; addresses and speeches of his comrades and supporters one would have imagined they were putting into power a party with whose policy they were in agreement. After all, in turning out this Government, they are quite definitely putting into power another and a rival element, a Government which has a certain policy and certain tenets and certain principles which I respect, but with which I do not agree. Those who hold them are not ashamed of those principles and do not attempt to hide their policies or their principles under a bushel. They say perfectly frankly they are out for a. Socialist programme. I need not weary-the, House with quotations from speeches; by hon. Gentlemen opposite. These speeches have been made since the Election, and they will go on being made, as to the policy of the Socialist party assuming they get into office. The right 323 hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate this afternoon, cooed as mildly as any sucking dove. There were no extreme measures in his speech, but he has the hon. Member behind him and other hon. Members to consider.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The Leader of the Opposition knows quite well that he cannot carry on the Government without the support of the Members behind him. He cannot keep in office unless he brings in Measures agreeable to the views, I do not want to say the extremist views, but some of the views, of the hon. Members behind him. I wish for one moment to consider the question as to why it should be assumed that the party which has less than one-third of the Members of this House should necessarily take office. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley says we are a discredited party. I am rather tired of hearing those remarks. We came back stronger than anybody else, and more electors in this country supported the policy we put forward than supported any other policy.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The Labour party went in with 420 candidates, and came back 190 odd strong. Are they not discredited? Is not their policy discredited? I almost feel inclined to draw a veil over the fate of the party of my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley. They have come back with less than a quarter of the membership of the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley, in his speech after the Election, stated that they were the only party which had not been decisively and derisively rejected. Well, I would sooner be rejected with 250 followers than not rejected with 150. We are not ashamed. We put our policy before the country. It was a policy which we thought would deal with unemployment. The country, by a considerable majority, I admit, said they did not wish us to carry out that policy, but they said by a still greater majority that they did not wish to have the Socialist policy. From the right hon. Gentleman's speech one would think he never made an election address and 324 never issued a Liberal manifesto. There was such a manifesto issued, however, signed by the right hon. Gentleman and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), the David and Jonathan of the new Liberal party. This is not a heated election speech, but a manifesto, drawn up with great care, in order to let the people know what they were voting upon. It says:The Liberal party is equally convinced that the remedies recommended for unemployment by the Labour party—Socialism and the Capital Levy—would prove disastrous.You are going to put these hon. Members into power in order that they may carry out the policy of Socialism—
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
You are going to put them in office, with power to do a great many things that do not need legislation. The right hon. Gentleman was not the only member of his party who subscribed to that. The whole of them, I suppose, did so, but there were a good many members of the Liberal party who went further, who went one better on their own account, and I am going to ask a few of them whether they are going to vote on Monday night to follow their leader, or to follow their conscience, to follow the points they put before the electors in order to secure themselves votes. There is one of them, the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Gwilym Lloyd George)—I am sure a worthy son of a very worthy father—who said:The Socialist programme will be disastrous to this country.He got the votes of a good many people of Pembroke. There is another hon. Member, the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. J. H. Edwards), who went a good deal further, and said:I am, however, strongly opposed to Socialism, with its wild-cat schemes.That is one of the gentlemen who are going to put the Labour Party in office, one of the hon. Members upon whom you depend for support, and if you do not 325 get it you will be turned out. He went further, and he said:Every vote for Edwards will be a vote against Socialism.I wonder what his placards at the next election will be! Every vote for Edwards may be a vote against Socialism, but the first vote he gave in this House was one whose object was to get Socialism into power. The hon. Member for Central Hackney (Mr. Franklin) is another Daniel come to judgment. The hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. H. H. Spencer) told the electors, not merely that he was a believer in individual enterprise, but he asked for their votes because he said, modestly:I have taken a leading part for over twenty years in Bradford in fighting the fallacies of Socialism.These are not speeches delivered in heat, but election addresses. Then the hon. Member for South Bristol (Sir Beddoe Rees) is indeed another Daniel come to judgment. He said:The programme of the Socialist party is definitely revolutionary, and if by any mischance that party should succeed to power, we should find the industries of this country ruined, our position in the financial world completely altered, and the ranks of the unemployed increased.I thank my hon. Friend for those words, for they are a true description of what might happen under a Socialist Government. The hon. and gallant Member for Gateshead (Captain Dickie) is another Daniel. There seem to be more Daniels than lions in the party. This is his election address:A Socialist vote means Government under the red flag.Is he going to give a Socialist vote on Monday night? Then there are the hon. Member for East Newcastle-on-Tyne (Sir R. Aske) and the hon. Member for Central Portsmouth (Sir T. Bramsdon).
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I think the hon. Member for Penistone is too learned and clever to put anything in his election address that might be brought up against him.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Loughborough (Brigadier-General Spears) said:I stand as an Anti-Socialist.I wonder if he sits as an anti-Socialist! We want to know where we are; we want to know how these Gentlemen are going t vote, and what they are going to do. There is another gentleman, the hon. Member for Cleveland (Sir C. Starmer), who has come into the House, who said:Socialism means no freedom, loss of export trade, more unemployment, greater poverty, industrial conscription. In Socialism there is grave danger.How is he going to vote? I will not bother the House with any more quotations. [HON. MEMBERS: "GO on!"]
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Wales also tried to make the best of both worlds in this Election. The hon. and gallant Member for Carnarvon (Major Owen) said:I am utterly opposed to Socialism and all its false remedies.I have also quotations here from the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Haydn Jones) and the right hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Sir Ellis Griffith); and a lady Member, tha Noble Lady who sits for Wycombe (Lady Terrington) did not merely put in her election address what she thought. She spoke for the Liberal party, and said:The Liberal party is convinced that the Labour party's programme of Socialism and Capital Levy would prove disastrous.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The right hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Major-General Seely) said in his address:Many prominent Unionist Free Traders have also assured me of their support on the platform and at the poll.Did they support him to put in a Socialist Government?
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
I want to conclude by referring to the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Liberal 327 Party, who, speaking in his own constituency on 27th November, said:The Labour party are advocating things which are as bad as those advocated by the Tariff Reformers.If hon. Members will look in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, they will see it stated that if we remain in office, we do not intend to proceed with the policy of which the country has expressed disapproval. Tariff reform has gone, but the bad Labour policy is still there. Now I want to say a word about the other leader of the Liberal Party, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who said:Socialism has no appreciation of freedom. It is the negation of freedom. Freedom of enterprise goes, freedom of labour goes, under Socialism.You see what you are to be kept in office by. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is what you are being turned out by!"] I know. I really am a little ashamed of a combination of the Socialist party, with their admitted principles, turning us out, and coming in by the help, and only by the help, of a party who hold these views. Listen to this final extract from the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs:If the only choice is between the reaction of Toryism and the violence which has become identified with Socialists.…I think the people might find refuge for some time, even in reaction.I wonder how the Labour party thinks it a dignified position to depend on that kind of support, to come into office with the help of men who are opposed to all their principles, who, speaking in this way in order to get votes, come back to the House of Commons in this way, by denouncing Labour and Socialism, and then you find you are going to be put in office, and kept in office, by them. The right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) himself, who has made some excellent speeches in this House on the evils of Socialism, told a constituency in Yorkshire, just before the election, that Socialism was only a form of intellectual measles.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
But it is catching. Apparently, it is very catching —after the Election, if not before. The infection was not dangerous before the Election. Nearly all the hon. Members below the gangway resisted the infection, 328 before the poll, but after the poll they seem to have been caught by it. I make a present of them to the hon. Members who are going to try and form a Government. It is not they who are turning us out. They cannot do it. I should like to say that we happen to be the only party in the House which can turn out either of the others alone.
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
The Labour party cannot move without the Liberal party, who hate their policy. The Liberal party are impotent to do anything. The right hon. Gentleman opposite knows the difficulties and worries of office. Speaking for myself, I have not been long in office, but I have been in long enough to know that the anxieties and worries of office are great. It has been well said that the happiest day is when a young man takes office, but. that a happier day still is when he leaves office. We make no offer to the Liberal party. We ask no help from the Liberal party, but I say to them, theirs is the responsibility, not merely for turning us out, but for putting into office the party with whose policy they do not agree. You may turn us out if you like. I do, not believe it will be for very long. You can do no harm to us; you can do no-good to the Labour party, but it is quite certain you will prevent your party being in office for a hundred years.
§ Sitting suspended at Fourteen minutes before Six o'Clock until Six o'Clock.
§ On resuming,
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Dr. HADEN GUEST
The observations made by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health as to the turn of opinion in the ranks of the Liberal party require to be supplemented by the understanding that there has been a somewhat similar turn even in the ranks of the Conservative party, and certainly in the opinion of the country as a whole. One sees it reflected in the Press. One hears it in conversation. One feels it; in fact, there has been what one may call a move to the left since the events of the last December Election. The right hon. Gentleman in his speech suggested that he was tired of hearing that the Government of which he formed a part was discredited, and he suggested that the result of the 329 Election showed that that party was not discredited because they came back the largest party in the House. But it was not only the result of the Election which, I think everyone except, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman, would agree had discredited the Government, but the very feeble, I might say almost lackadaisical, policy which they have pursued, or failed to pursue during the time they have been in office.
As a new Member I must say I have been amazed to hear the sentiments that have come from the Benches opposite when one realises what, in fact, is the record of the Government. It is not so much what they have done as that they have generally failed to do everything which they had the opportunity of doing. We have heard a good deal from the other side of the fact that their feelings for the poor and suffering are the same as those of anyone else, and I am inclined to think that that is true. But there is another aspect of human personality which I think I may draw their attention to, and that is the power, possessed by a very large number of people, of forgetting painful things. In the power of forgetting painful things I venture to say the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite surpass anything that I know in the political history of this country.
Some remarks fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health on the subject of housing. One might have thought he was speaking of a problem which only arose for solution in some remote place and in some far distant town or village and under circumstances which did not impose any particular hardship on any large number of people. Members of this House have only to walk over Westminster Bridge, five or ten minutes' walk from this House, to find some of the very worst slums, not only in London, but in the whole of England. There is a place known as Quinn's Square in the Waterloo Road, about ten minutes' walk from this House, where practically no repairs, no renovations, no beautifying, or anything which makes a home decent and comfortable, has been done for a prolonged period. It has been my experience to work in that particular district, which I represent now in Parliament, North Southwark, for nearly twenty years, and as far as I am able to judge by intimate and personal contact with the houses and the people of the district, there are cer- 330 tain places there, blocks of buildings, rows of small, mean cottages, which remain now, not as they were eighteen years ago, but worse by the deterioration of the years.
It may have been very difficult for the Ministry of Health to raise the necessary funds to undertake great slum clearances, but even in that way full use has not been made of their powers. It was quite possible for the Ministry of Health to have made fuller use of their administrative powers in gingering up, if I may say so, the local authorities and of bringing pressure to bear upon the private landlords who are taking what can only be described as exorbitant rents, and sometimes, and not infrequently, rents not in accordance with the law of the land, for these rents have in a number of cases been recovered by legal process. It is in the power of the Ministry of Health to have gingered those people up. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it will be necessary in the work which is before whatever Government is in office, not only to rely upon Parliamentary power, to rely on legislation, to rely upon administration, but to use every means, including that of voluntary co-operation, in order to get the housing question of this country properly settled.
The slums in North Southwark and the housing conditions are so deplorable that they actually inflict a very grievous kind of injury on the people who live in them. Many years ago when I was an inspector of schools under the London County Council I used to inspect the children who came from a particular section of buildings very near to London Bridge. I observed, and recorded statistically, that the vision of these children was 10 per cent. worse than the vision of the children of the same class of parent, with the same occupations, coming from buildings some little distance away. The difference between them was that the one set of buildings by London Bridge were so badly lighted, so small, and so badly ventilated that it had this deplorable effect upon the vision of the children. Actually they were on the aggregate 10 per cent. worse than the children of exactly the same class, same conditions, and so on, from an adjoining district. That kind of thing did not arise during the War or since the War. It has been doing on for very very many years. It is, of course, the result not only of 331 one Government, of that represented by the right hon. Gentleman who last spoke, but of other Governments that have gone before, Governments against which the party which I represent has protested and will continue to protest until it has the power in its own hands to put these things right. There is, I suggest, no one in this House who does not realise the difference between office with and without power, but it is at least possible to change a great many of these things which depend upon what I might call an attitude of mind. In regard to housing, in regard to the work put in by local authorities, in regard to what action shall be taken against defaulting landlords—that very largely depends upon the attitude of mind. May I instance an example of this attitude? I have in my hand a curious piece of pink paper, which is a certificate from the National Health Insurance Authority. On the side at which I am looking there is a certificate that states to So-and-so to whom it is addressed:I certify that I have examined you and that you are unfit for work.Below that there is a certificate stating that So-and-so isin a state of convalescence.On the reverse side of the very same paper there is a certificate which runs in this way:Certificate of death of insured person.The information is given that So-and-so, the person mentioned on the other side, died on such and such a date. This is not a question of legislation. It is a question of what I may venture to call a failure to appreciate the point of view of the unfortunate patient who will have the certificate put in front of him; a failure of contact with those conditions of narrow living and of poverty which are the lot of the people to whom these certificates are given. I frankly confess that I can see no excuse whatever in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman opposite will be not unacquainted with the name of M. Coné. All Members of this House, I think, probably at one time or another have heard of the Cone formula:Every day and in every way I am getting better and better.In this case of the certificate you have the definite suggestion conveyed to any 332 patient to whom the certificate is given that the end of this particular period of medical treatment is the certificate of death for the insured person. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman—
§ Sir W. JOYNSON-HICKS
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me. There were two questions on the Order Paper addressed to me this afternoon on this subject. They were not reached. It appears the proposal was made by London medical men, and had the approval of the societies. As soon as I heard of it, I suspended the issue of the certificate, and I have referred the matter to the Consultative Council of these societies.
I am very glad to hear that this extremely unfortunate document has been recalled. I was using it merely as an illustration of what I described as the official attitude of mind. If it were possible to recall the official attitude of mind in like manner as the circular or certificate, I should have no more to say. Unfortunately it is not so. Unfortunately people issue things of that character without realising or without reference to the actual facts and without any contact, as it were, with the feelings of the people concerned. One is not quite sure that other things are not being done which are equally injurious. I will not refer further to that than to say that we are all acquainted with numerous and painful instances of the same official attitude of mind in regard to the Ministry of Pensions. In some respects I fear that some of the Regulations of the Ministry of Pensions are only to be understood by trained legal minds. I myself in another capacity have discussed with a right hon. Member below the gangway certain legal documents dealing with patients, and as to the right or otherwise of a man to a pension. Only after an hour's discussion, were we able to determine the meaning of the document of the Ministry of Pensions. These documents put before a man poor, very often deprived temporarily of his pension, and miserable, suffering from illness, are not understood by these men, and I say that it is really unfair in the real sense and without exaggeration to put documents of that character which they cannot understand before these men. I have asked whether it was not possible for the Ministry of Health to 333 have done something more by administrative methods. There are many housing conditions on the other side of the river not ten minutes from this House.
I now want to pass to another subject altogether, and that is Russia. Why was it not possible for the Government to have come to an arrangement with Russia as soon as there was placed at their disposal the real facts of the situation in regard to that country? No doubt certain hon. Members opposite are strongly opposed to the politics and policy of that country. Possibly they may still be suffering from some of these delusions which are fomented in the daily Press and the weekly Press with regard to what goes on in that country, but it happens that I was visiting Moscow last August in connection with some Red Cross relief work, and I met a deputation of traders there one of whom by a peculiar coincidence was called Baldwin, and another Sir Frank Wright, and they had something to do with Baldwins Limited. That particular deputation sent two reports, and they were very favourable reports, on the economic conditions of Russia upon the strength of which I should have thought it would have been not only possible but highly desirable to conclude an immediate arrangement with Russia.
In August last year, whatever may have happened in Moscow and Russia generally in the past, you had there a city full of people whose streets were as crowded as the Strand in London, in which there was much traffic, in which hotels, restaurants and shops were open, in which there was an extremely good tram service, in which there were horse carriages and motor cabs to be obtained easily at numerous points, and in which the traffic was well regulated and the local laws and customs were observed perhaps with an almost undue degree of severity. You had a town there which was quite civilised and certainly one in which a very stable Government had its headquarters. The Labour delegation which went to Russia in 1920 reported at that time, in a report which was supported by numerous documents giving all points of view, upon the conditions prevailing in Russia, and they unanimously reported that the Government was stable and ought to have been recognised before.
334 I think we are entitled to ask why the Government did not recognise Russia shortly after that when their own investigations would have enabled them to say that the report which we brought back from Russia was a true one. But supposing they did not do that, I think we are entitled to ask why they did not recognise Russia and conclude an arrangement which would have facilitated trade in September of this year, when they had no doubt a report from a private source at their disposal and from sources which they would hardly care to contradict. Those reports were of a very important character, and if they had been acted upon we should have been in a much more favourable position with regard to Russia.
What is the position now? Recognition is coming. Italy is asking for recognition and no doubt France is asking for it as well. A distinguished statesman from Central Europe arrived here yesterday morning, and I should not be surprised to hear that his visit has something to do with the request of France for recognition by Russia. There is the question of the loss of valuable time, the loss of a large amount of money, and the loss of much trade which would have provided work for a great many people in this country. We do not claim on this sign of the House that we are any better in heart than anybody else, but I think we can claim that we do approach this question, both internationally and nationally, with a simplicity and directness which will enable us to get something done.
We have been reproached, and this happened in the previous Debate, that we are not in immediate contact with the people whom we represent, and that hon. Members on the Government Benches it is claimed are in just as close contact with the people as ourselves, but that is not true. The Members of the Labour party are in the closest possible and most intimate contact with the industrial classes of this country. We represent them, we know them, and we are not in a position to forget the unpleasant aspect of life like some other hon. Members. That is perfectly true. I have no doubt hon. Members opposite who are interested in that fascinating psycho-analysis know that the peculiarity of the human mind is its power of for- 335 getting. If we could not forget unpleasant things, probably this world would be unsupportable.
Hon. Members on the Government benches are in a better position to forget, and I think they do forget. It would not have been possible for the appalling slum conditions of Lambeth and Southwark to exist only 10 minutes' walk from Westminster unless hon. Members do forget. It would not have been possible for the wages conditions such as exist in those parts to exist unless hon. Members opposite had forgotten. They accuse us of being idealists. In one way they are really much greater idealists to expect a perpetual endurance of wrong and suffering which is removable. Across the river a man getting —2 10s. per week in wages thinks himself quite well off. He feeds, or tries to feed, a wife and children and keep the home going. The normal conditions over there before and since the War are such that the man who is in receipt of wages does not get enough to properly support, his family. I have only to go to the records of the Ministry of Health to discover that in London, Manchester and all the great towns 10 per cent. of the children are chronically underfed, because the normal and ordinary conditions of the worker's life are bad. Those conditions could not have been allowed to go on if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite had not forgotten. I know how easy it is to forget. I also know how painful it is to remember. I have the fullest possible sympathy with those who, by a natural and involuntary shrinking, withdraw themselves from the contemplation of the sufferings of the majority of their fellow countrymen, but I suggest that all hon. Members of this House ought now to make a point of realising what the actual conditions are of the life of the workers and what are the actual conditions of housing.
As Southwark and Lambeth are so near this House, I should be very glad indeed to take hon. Members a tour of inspection of some of the slums on the other side of the river. We are accused of being idealists, and that means in simple language that we believe, on the whole, mankind is good and that you can build on the good instead of the bad. It means that we think men and women on the whole, given the opportunity, are noble 336 and will respond nobly. I ask hon. Members opposite who served in the War, as many of them did, to recall the number of occasions when any man who was asked to perform a service of difficulty and danger flinched from that order. Was it not the common experience of all of us that the men in France, whatever they were asked to do, showed a heroism and a contempt for death which shows the very highest qualities of the human mind. I believe we are right in basing our programme and our appeal to the country on an appeal to that part of man which the highest and the best, and in asking all sections of the House and of the country to unite with us in co-operative service for the nation.
§ Lieut.-Colonel PAGE CROFT
I hope the hon. Member who has just spoken will allow me to congratulate him on his maiden speech. I am sure everyone will agree that he spoke with sincerity, and in dealing with housing conditions no doubt he will be ready to give us the benefit of his advice and assistance. I may be excused for not making much reference to his speech, for whilst he mentioned very important matters perhaps, after all, they are not in direct touch with this vote of non-confidence, and the broad policy with which we are dealing at this moment. No doubt the hon. Member for North Southwark probably knows that Members of all sections of this House, with the possible exception of the Members for the Universities and the City of London, are nearly all dependent for their votes upon the workers of this country. Therefore he will realise, even if our hearts are not quite as big as his, that it is at any rate our interest and desire to understand their position, and if we want to increase our majority it is because we really have the interests of our fellow men at heart just as much as any other party in this House. This is a vote of non-confidence in His Majesty's Government, and naturally we take no exception to that vote being moved by the Socialist party. We should be very sorry if they had any confidence in us, because we realise that we have fundamental differences, and we have no confidence in them.
At the same time, what makes this vote interesting is that a third party in the State is engaged in active intervention on this question. I want to remind the 337 House that in 1922 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) made two or three most impassioned appeals to the people of this country. He appealed to the constitutional elements in this country, and he appealed to the Liberal and Conservative parties, to combine together and to co-operate in face of the common enemy, and the common enemy he was referring to was the Socialist party. I find it rather difficult to understand how it is that in 1922 the right hon. Gentleman thought this danger was so great that we must sink all minor differences, and even the individuality of the Liberal party itself, and now this eloquent statesman is the prime mover in putting the Labour party into office on these benches. That opinion is not an isolated one. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) also made a statement last year, which is very interesting reading after the speech which the same right hon. Gentleman has made this afternoon. To-day the right hon. Gentleman told us, "They are always crying wolf, but they are very harmless lambs. Do not be afraid of them, because they can do no harm either in legislation or in administration." Not long ago the right hon. Gentleman said:The public is beginning to realise the immense mischief which the Socialists can do by mere administrative action and without passing a single Act.] [HON, MEMBERS: "Read on!"] I have not got the rest of the speech. If it can he shown that the right hon. Member for Paisley, in any subsequent part of the speech, withdrew any of those sentiments I should be willing to oblige hon. Members who are asking me to read more of that speech. But as a matter of fact it was not until a week or 10 days ago that the right hon. Gentleman showed that he had any great desire to put the Socialist party into office. As late as October last the right hon. Gentleman said:The Socialist party is an artificial aggregation of warring ideals, of which the only cement is a common rebellion against things as they are.I quite agree with that, but nevertheless on Monday next the right hon. Gentleman is going to put the rebels on those benches on to these benches in order to administer the government of this country. I admit the dilemma in which 338 the right hon. Gentleman finds himself, because, as the right hon. Member for Spen Valley told us not so very long ago, there never could be a united party unless the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was the chief performer, and even if the city must burn the right hon. Gentleman must be the chief of the fire brigade. A Liberal party meeting was called but three days before it was held. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs wrote an article to a certain newspaper in which he laid down the course the Liberal party ought to take. The right hon. Member for Paisley and his late antagonist, his present lieutenant, had only recently embraced, and to have dissolved the marriage straight away would have been to display unseemly haste. On the other hand if he agreed to follow the lead of his lieutenant, it must be obvious that from the start when he led his blushing bride from the church under the arch of Liberal swords he must take his orders from her. He came to the Liberal meeting with the phrase still ringing in his mind, "Too late, too late, always too late," and he decided that if he could not live with the lady he would join her in a mutual pact of suicide. That is the history of the famous meeting of the Liberal party. An hon. Member opposite reminds me, and I am grateful to him for doing so, that according to the principle announced by the right hon. Gentleman in his speech at that meeting, a minority in the House, is to be called upon to form a Government. I could never understand why the National party was not asked to do that.
Do I exaggerate when I say that the Socialist party's great desire from a long point of view is to eat up the Liberal party? It seems to me that the Liberal party is hastening to satisfy that cannabalistic desire. I am very sad, for I hate to see these early Victorian relics disappear. Henceforth, whenever a Liberal candidate stands on any platform in any constituency in this country, if he dare do so, he can no longer claim to be an enemy of the Socialist party. Liberal candidates will be asked on every single platform why they handed over the Government of the Empire to that party in face of the fact that on every single occasion when they had been opposed 339 by that party they had urged the electors to support them in order to keep the Labour party out. It is true, as has been suggested by one of the hon. Members for Newcastle, that it is a choice of two evils; that is a perfectly honest view, but if they thus choose as between a constitutional party such as the Conservative party and the Socialist party, then we know precisely where we are. I think hon. Gentlemen who were elected under that banner will agree with me when I say—and I made careful inquiries as to this—that in 270 constituencies at least in this country the electors were appealed to to support the Liberal candidate as the best chance of avoiding a Socialist Government.
I am afraid it is true that the Liberals are not the happy family which they wish to appear to be. All parties in this House agree that the King's Government must be carried on, but I cannot help thinking that if he had followed the older traditions of this country the Leader of the Liberal party would have waited until the Gracious Speech from the Throne had been delivered, and then, having observed in that Speech that the Government proposed no fundamental change in the economic policy of this country, it would have been possible for him to say, "If your Budget is going to be founded on the lines of last year's Budget," which the right hon. Member for Paisley himself described as just and statesmanlike, then since we must have funds to carry on the Government, we will not obstruct until that financial Measure is passed. If he had come to the conclusion then, after that had been done, if he had felt that a greater peril came from a, Conservative Government than from a Socialist Government, he could then have turned the Government out. Such a course of action would have been much more in consonance with the earlier traditions of the government of this country.
No doubt the Conservative party did sin against the orthodox Liberal faith when we desired to support and extend principles laid down by two late Prime Ministers. Had we proved successful at the polls I could have understood the great desire of the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues opposite to support the vote of no confidence moved by the Socialist party, because then they would 340 have had great cause for complaining that we had stolen and improved the cut of their clothes. But the moment the Election results were known every single man in this country knew it was impossible for the Government to come to this House and announce that they were going on with their proposals for a change in our tariff system.
§ Lieut.-Colonel CROFT
The answer to that is perfectly cl[...]ar. It would have been dishonest fur us to insert in the Speech from the Throne any proposal which obviously could not have been carried through in this Parliament. But with regard to the coming change of policy—the extension of the Safeguarding of Industries Act—I can assure the right hon. Gentleman opposite that he has only to wait till the next election to see that that will be brought about. Therefore the Liberals must agree that the great danger, which I know my hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Benn) feels to be more serious than any other is out of the way, and as far as that subject is concerned it could not be raised in this Parliament.
Coming to the question of what the present Government have done, I ask for fair consideration for one moment. They have been in office only one year, and I believe I am right in saying that during that period they wiped off a greater proportion of our Debt than any other Government in this country. We economised to the extent of £89,000,000 per annum; we built more houses in that year than were built in any year since the Budget of 1909-10, we extended our trade facilities and other assistances to industry, with the result that in that one year the number of people unemployed was reduced by 236,000. I ask, can any man fairly say that nothing was done? I challenge anybody to deny that those results in one year are greater than any Government has brought about before in the recent history of this country. But because, although 236,000 unemployed were absorbed during one year, there remained still a million and a quarter with their wives and families, we had the courage to stake everything on trying to improve their lot. Hon. Members may not agree with the policy, but I think they will agree that the decision was right.
341 I come to the next point upon which great emphasis is laid, and, after all, I think that this is really the only common point that the two parties opposite have—our foreign policy. The principal charge is that the French entered the Ruhr. It was only necessary to hear the indictment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) to know that that is the principal indictment. We did not arrange for the French to enter the Ruhr. They and the Belgians went into the Ruhr without us, and almost, I am afraid, without consulting us; but perhaps they had reason to think we might have followed their example, because in 1920 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs stated in this House that, if Germany defaulted, we would enter the Ruhr. It was not until after the French had entered the Ruhr that he came down to this House and said, "The speech that I made in 1920 was all bluff." On Tuesday last the right hon. Gentleman paid a great tribute to M. Clemenceau, and he said, "That statesman has never deceived his Allies." Is he quite sure that he did not, perhaps unconsciously, deceive the French nation in his speech in this House? The French had always been a little puzzled at the right hon. Gentleman's utterances, but, although they might possibly have thought that he would try to bluff them, I do not think they really thought he would come down to this House and try to bluff his own countrymen.
We see this combination in a vote of no confidence because our Government did not stop the French doing what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs had in this House declared we would do if Germany defaulted. Does the right hon. Gentleman, or do his supporters, really suggest that this Government could have turned the French out of the Ruhr, or could have enforced a settlement, as has been suggested by the Leader of the Liberal party? An hon. Member says, "You could have spoken out." Yes; that has been tried many times. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was always making speeches, and I leave it to the House to decide whether he smoothed over the difficulties, and whether the situation was any better afterwards. Everyone knows that he 342 could not enforce a settlement on the French nation without going to extremes, and the people of this country would not have followed the right hon. Gentleman, or anyone else, in any suggestion of waving a sword in the face of our late Allies in the Great War. I am not going to argue whether it was right or wrong, whether it was wise or foolish, for the French to enter the Ruhr; but I can argue that, if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs had remained Prime Minister of this country, he would hardly have been more successful in his approaches to our Allies than the present Prime Minister. It is quite true, as has been said, that he could have threatened the French; he could have ended the Entente; he could have declared his hostility towards the French action. But would that in the long run have helped us forward on the road to peace? I cannot help thinking that, as far as the Ruhr is concerned, considering the question soberly and honestly, there is really very little with which to charge His Majesty's Government.
I now come to what I think was really the only other point in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member foe Carnarvon Boroughs on Tuesday last,— the Separatist movement. He thumped the Box and told us what a terrible thing this Separatist movement was; and yet, in his very speech, in order to get in a gibe at the French, he said, "And it proves that the French alone are guilty of this, because nothing has happened in the British zone." He expressly exonerated His Majesty's Government, in the second part of his speech, from having taken any part in that movement. Once again, therefore, I ask, is it really a reason for a Vote of No Confidence in this Government that certain vague charges should be brought against certain French Generals, while at the same time our Government are expressly exonerated from having any part or lot in that movement? It is perfectly true that we have not been wandering through the Near East sword in hand—to use the expressive phrase of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon)—urging Greece to fight the Turks, or the Turks to fight someone else; that we have not been stirring up strife by espousing the causes of nations with which the 343 people of this country were not very much concerned. We have, it is true, made peace with Turkey. It is true that we have done everything in our power to bring about, by consultation and conference, a better understanding in Europe. It is true that we have helped to bring America in, with her advice, on the Reparation question, which the right hon. Gentleman himself had failed to do. But these are no reasons for indicting our foreign policy and joining in putting a Socialist Government into power because of our efforts for peace.
I desire to say just one word with regard to the Socialist party. They are the real democrats in this country. They profoundly believe in the counting of noses, and they, therefore, come here and demand, as a kind of divine right, that they shall be returned to power in this country because, forsooth, they represent one-third of the electorate. And they say to us, "No nonsense about it—and no wangling!" Yet they want to climb into power with the help of 150 wicked capitalist voters. Far be it from me to suggest that there is any wangling about that. They had a remedy. Unemployment was the thing they discovered, like Columbus, and they made themselves the champions of those who were unemployed, and said, "We will have a Capital Levy, which is the panacea for all ills. Return us to power, and in a moment we will show you what the Capital Levy will do." But did the Socialist leader, in his fine Liberal speech on Tuesday last—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"]—yes; while you are going bathing he is going to steal all your clothes—did he mention the Capital Levy? No. He was very discreet; and, even in his great oration at the Albert Hall quite recently, not a sentence was heard about the great measure which was going to solve immediately the greatest difficulties of this country.
I should like, in conclusion, to address one word to the Government, as a humble supporter of theirs. It is true that we went to the country for a cause somewhat greater than party. We had a safe existence for three years, but we went to the country, not for a party, but for the workless in this country. The policy may have been considered to be wrong, but it was a fine gesture of goodwill to the workers of this country, and these 344 men, whose whole livelihood is imperilled, not by any differences between Free Trade and Protection, but simply by the state of the foreign exchanges—these men, who know that they cannot live without some Government aid, some defence against those unfair conditions, will not forget the sacrifice we have made. Because the Socialist party are unable to mention the Capital Levy or Nationalisation, and because the Liberal party have promised their followers that they were going to oppose Socialism with all their might and keep it from power—because of these things I can only urge His Majesty's Government not to abandon their principles, but to go forward, and, as surely as the two parties opposite combine together in this great wangle and we stand true to our faith, our time will come, and then, with no uncertain voice, we will resume our position on those benches.
§ 7.0 P.M.
There is only one question that I should like to ask my hon. and gallant Friend who has just addressed the House. I will not follow him all through his speech, but when he says they stand firm to their faith and to this gesture of good will to the people that he and his friends put before the country, how many of them stand firm? [HON. MEMBERS: "All!"] Then we are to understand, including the Prime Minister, that the whole of the party opposite is still committed to Protection as the cure for unemployment and as the proper course for this country to follow, and, therefore, we on these benches need have no further doubt as to which way we ought to vote, not on the question of Socialism, but on the simple question—[Interruption.] If hon. Members will be patient I will come to the other question presently, but the question in this Amendment is, have we confidence in His Majesty's present advisers? I ask how many of them are still in favour of Protection, and they say, "All." Then, clearly, all of us who are Free Traders must vote for this Amendment to the Address. I have not now, and never have had, the smallest doubt as to what my course should be if a Vote of Censure were proposed in these terms. We are now asked to consider what the results of that Vote will be. I think it is a fair question to ask what the results will be, but let us 345 just make it quite plain what is the duty o all Free Traders in the first instance. They have to do what their conscience tells them—[Interruption]—really hon. Members must permit me to develop this very short argument—and what their constituents sent them here to do. Our constituents sent us to this House to say that they had not confidence in the present Government, and we should all be false to our principles, and should be false to our constituents, if we voted the other way. No amount of laughter or talk about the future will alter the fact that we should be false to every promise we have given to our constituents if we recorded the opinion that we were in favour of His Majesty's present advisers and their Protectionist plans. I will come now to the argument that the result will be that a Socialist Government will come into power. That is a much more difficult thing to tackle, because the first question is, "Will a Socialist Goverment come into power? "That is a matter of surmise. Who knows whether a Socialist Government will come into power? Will they even come into office? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] Are you sure? Well, I am not. I have been for twenty-three years a Member of this House, and I do not agree with the statement that our present position is unprecedented. I have been a Member of a Government which, for a long time, was not in a. majority in this House. It is true it was not a Coalition Government, because all the offices were held by the Liberal party, but none the less we were in a minority. So there is nothing unprecedented in the three party system, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal party pointed out. But the position is unprecedented in this, that hitherto there has never been any doubt as to who should succeed the Government, and now there is a very real doubt.
If you take the precedent of all our Dominions, and of all foreign countries which are accustomed to three or more parties, it would not be the Labour party that would come into power. That would be regarded as a most extraordinary doctrine. It was 346 speaking to a distinguished Fret man recently, and he said to me:You are a most extraordinary people. When one extreme is beaten, you send for the other extreme—like stray sheep, as it were.We are a sporting people, so we regard the thing like a horse race. We say: "There are three horses running. The first horse is disqualified; admittedly, the second is not disqualified, and therefore the prize goes to it." Of course, it is a very odd doctrine, which nobody abroad can understand, but I am told it is the constitutional doctrine here, though I confess I do not believe it. I take the view that, as the Free Trade party won the battle, the man commanding the largest section of it should form the Government. That seems to be accepted by such newspapers as the "Times," the "Morning Post," and by a great many people, including Viscount Ullswater, your predecessor, Sir, in the Chair. He said that he presumed it would happen, but he did not say it was the right thing. I do not take that view. Supposing that view prevailed, I do not quite understand why my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Labour party should wish to take office. Why should he wish to have place without power? After the speech of my right hon. Friend the Levier of the Liberal party, I cannot understand why the Labour party should dream of taking office under those terms.
Here I will answer the point made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman below the Gangway (Lieut.-Colonel Croft). He quoted a statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) to the effect that a Labour party might do immense harm, not only by legislation, but by administration. Those who believe that Socialism would be bad for the country, indeed fatal, as my right hon. Friend does, and as I do, are bound to say so. But that only applies if the Socialist party are in power. The Member for Paisley was at pains to point out that neither in legislation nor in administration would the Labour party have power to pass any Socialist Measure. For the life of me, I cannot see why we should be put in this position as a House of Commons. It is an entirely new doctrine. It will mean that Governments will come and go every few weeks.
All the time I have been here, I have never been called a false friend. If the 347 Labour party take office, I do not want it to be said, if I should vote against them, that I am not, playing fair, so I want to make my position perfectly clear now. I think it would be a very good plan if all those who take this view were to state it clearly now. There is no reason a Labour Government should not take office, with men of great knowledge of affairs, men whose knowledge of the working classes would be of immense value to the State, men whose fresh minds on all subjects would be of real help. But when they form their Government as a result of all this talk that they are to be put in office by the vote of our party, I do not want them to turn round and say: "You false and faithless man, you put us here, and now you turn us out." So let us just know where we stand, and proceed with our eyes open to the course that lies before us. The only way in which a Government of more than one party has ever been formed is by openly agreeing upon a policy, and, further, by openly carrying that agreement into the constituencies of those who intend to support the Administration. By no other means has any such Government ever been formed in this country that has had any stability whatever. Let us face the facts. Unless we make some combination with one or both of the other two parties, we are in for a period of confusion, which will do infinite harm to the country. That being so, I am only pleading that we shall face the facts, realising that until we make some open agreement on policy with another party, we cannot form a stable government.
My last point is this, and it is a suggestion I most earnestly beg to commend to the House. We are in for a difficult period in any case, but the most difficult time will arise with regard to the right to claim a Dissolution. There is no certainty about this matter, and unless some advice can be given to the House as a whole, we may find ourselves in a position of great embarrassment which may do much harm. Would it not be wise now to call a Conference of the Leaders of the three great parties here and of the highest judicial authorities, and I hope of you, Mr. Speaker, and of the Lord Chancellor, to examine this question, and to report to both Houses as to what is the true situation with regard to the rights of Dissolution, and how it can be best 348 exercised in the interests of the State? I had proposed to make this suggestion, and I noticed in the "Times" to-day a suggestion that a Select Committee should be appointed. A Select Committee would never do, but a Conference might do. The reason I make this suggestion, and I trust such a suggestion will ultimately be adopted, is that I do not want the Constitution to be brought into trouble and difficulty by this ever-dominating trouble. I have nothing more to say, except, as I have already said, that I only wish to avoid saying anything which will be taken as an acceptance of the position and which may be said afterwards to be unfair. I hope all through to play fair, as we all want to do. If we only state our opinions beforehand, there will be less recrimination, and the sooner we shall arrive at the position, so eloquently stated by the Member for the United English Universities in his speech last night, of some kind of party peace arid good will.
§ Mr. FRANK HODGES
I have listened with considerable attention to the last two speeches. The speech delivered by the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Lieut.-Colonel Croft) was remarkable for a characterisation of the horror which was to come upon the country because of the possibility of Labour assuming Government. What is more extraordinary is that there is a possibility of Labour coming to Government in the easy, quiet, non-revolutionary manner that it is coming into power. There might have been some occasion for horror if the democratic movement of Great Britain were coming to power as have the democratic movements in other countries in other days. Then it came to power, perhaps temporarily, through riot, revolution and bloodshed. Here it is coming to power by the constitutional genius of our people. There have been no rivers of blood on this occasion; there have been rivers of ink, but we have in the natural order of political development in this country come to a situation through a combination of political circumstances which have not as yet disturbed the ordinary, even course of our national life, and it remains to be seen whether, when we actually assume office, there will be any fundamental disturbance which will be contrary to the genius of our people. I have had the pleasure of meeting many right hon. Gentlemen opposite in another 349 sphere. I have had occasion to meet them in matters connected with our industrial life. I have had occasion to meet members of the new united Liberal party, and whereas I did not in the old days feel any pang of nervousness in meeting them in their respective offices, at this moment I do feel some degree of nervousness in addressing them from these benches. We had from the last speaker a kind of apology for this fortuitous connection with the Labour party. We do not, speaking for myself, require apologists for us from the Members on benches below the Gangway. We can put up with hostility and abuse from Members of the Opposition. That is but natural. But when it comes to making declarations about their relationship to us from the Liberal benches, we cannot help but remember our more recent association with those of their members who are now their leaders —those of us who have had intimate connection with industrial life and industrial dealings with them.
If there be one reason more than another why the present Government should go out of office it is because of its utter disregard of the fundamental requirements of our national industrial life. Politics hitherto, it seems to me, as expressed during the last year, has been very largely a matter of precedent and position. We who have come into this House with the industrial atmosphere still strong upon us regard politics as something which has to do with those vital things concerning human beings. I had occasion to go to America and Canada last year, and I made some observations when I returned upon the quality of life enjoyed by the human beings in those countries as compared with the quality of life enjoyed by our countrymen, and I wondered what was the real cause of the difference. When I wrote the articles upon my investigations in America and stated what I discovered to be the effect of the improved and ever improving conditions of the lives of the citizens of Canada and the United States of America, the "Morning Post" at once declared, in a leading article, that Mr. Frank Hodges had given testimony to the fact that Protection in America was entirely responsible for the higher qualities of American life, little realising that the same Protectionist America two years before had entered into an arrangement for the reduction of the 350 workers' wages to such a low ebb that a large volume of unemployment immediately followed, and it was only due to the industrial reaction in America against unemployment and against low wages that wages again began to rise, and with it the disappearance of unemployment. I stood on the Canadian border amazed, astonished, overawed by the magnificence of the Niagara Falls, but I discovered that the Canadian mind was a practical mind and had decided to utilise that great source of power for the benefit of her citizens, not waiting for the power to be distributed, as is the case in this country, through a higgledy piggledy uncoordinated, unscientific system which later would have to be uprooted in order to get the true value out of nature's resources, but they began to see that the natural resources of that country ought to be used and only measured in their use by the scientific knowledge of her countrymen. They began to do as the Americans themselves are doing to an ever-increasing degree. They began to reduce the cost of production of essential commodities, not as was done by the representatives of the Government opposite, not as was done and promoted by the leaders of the Liberal party, through low wages. They began to reduce the cost of production through the application of the scientific mind to natural resources.
I had a letter—it will be of interest to the House to hear about it—last week from the Leader of the American Labour movement, Mr. Samuel Gompers, who in his industrial capacity has been studying the question of the further development and use of nature's resources in order that the cost of production may still further be brought down and that the production of goods might be on a grander and larger scale than ever before. Mr. Gompers informs me that there is to be a world conference this year in London. It is to be called the first World Power Conference, and so much has the industrial mind of America got hold of this question of the utilisation of electrical energy to bring down the cost of production rather than through low wages, that he has made representations to the American Government that six leaders of the American trade union movement shall come to London to represent the American Labour movement in that World Power Conference in order 351 to study the implication of large power stations with the unlimited use of electricity in the social and industrial life of the workers who later will have to live under it. What is the position in regard to this country? We- are limited geographically, but we are densely populated. It is true the political order of the world has been upset. It is true that our old trade connections have been broken up, and it is equally true that it is the business of statesmanship to repair that damage as speedily as possible. Nevertheless, within our own country there have been opportunities for reducing the misery of our countrymen which have not been seized by the Government. We have not the unlimited water supplies of America, but we have practically unlimited coal supplies, and the modern scientific mind says, why not utilise scientifically the coal that is produced in this country in order that electrical energy might be generated and power supplied in bulk at cheap prices, in order that the cost of production might come down and in order that, with their limited purchasing power, the workers can have a larger measure of our national productivity? I go further, and say that not only are the present electrical arrangements of our country a disgrace to any Government, but they are so far removed from the declarations and opinions of scientific men as to make us wonder why the Government did not take into consultation the scientists of the country and ask them how our natural resources could be used to the best advantage without having to press the common people down into greater depths of misery.
I cannot pass from that point without referring to a situation which has developed and which is ominous to a degree. Just before I came to the House to-night I had occasion, with my committee, to meet the coalowners of the country, and the same old eternal problem is again developing. At present it is just a cloud as big as a man's hand on the horizon, but in the course of the next three months it will grow and grow, and it is growing not at all because of anything that is happening immediately, but because of what has happened in the recent past consequent upon the lack of interest in this great industry or upon the direct opposition of right hon. Gen- 352 tlemen who sit upon those benches and upon these. Make no mistake. There is little opportunity afforded now for hon. Members opposite to rectify their wrongs. There is hope for my friends on my left. How does it come about that, with the scientific mind prepared to utilise our coal resources for the production of power, we are still left with an industry which is declared to have its rich districts and its poor districts? I make bold to say that from the scientific point of view there are no rich districts and no poor districts. Why is the miner in the Forest of Dean or Bristol, or in Lancashire or Cumberland, or the whole of the eight districts, who, is receiving a wage of 20 per cent. upon the 1914 wage, with the cost of living at 76, apparently doomed to work in so-called poor districts when science says, "If we only had a chance of scientifically using your produce your mines would be as remunerative and profitable as those other mines?" Instead of that we are wasting our national resources, with men in the deepest misery, and, what is more, under the present arrangement, with very little hope of improving their lot.
I think this House has always appreciated the character, danger and hazard of the calling of the miner—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—although it is true that when it has come to practical legislation for them that sympathy has evaporated. Nevertheless, it is the proper sphere and function of government, it seems to us, to interest itself in the question of that form of industrial reorganisation which will yield the maximum advantage to our people, and not stand aloof from industry because of special interests in industry. We are importing into this country over 300,000,000 gallons of oil from the four quarters of the earth. Why should we import 400,000,000 or 350,000,000 gallons of oil into this country and involve ourselves constantly in dangers of war by having always to have at our disposal larger and larger armies in order to protect our interests in the various oil-wells of the world, when from our own coal in this country we could, it has been scientifically demonstrated, produce practically all the oil we want from the particular coalfields which are now regarded as inferior and uneconomical?
I hope that the Government that comes into power to take the place of the 353 Government that is about to make its departure will regard the scientific organisation of industry as a prime political effort. Politics must be concerned naturally with the general happiness of the whole community, but there is no means of creating happiness except through scientifically ordered industry. I know that my friends on my left have in days gone by made some attempt to develop what they call their industrial programme. But I would warn them in advance, as one who only looks at it from its effect upon industry as a whole, that their plan for industrial reorganisation will not affect the general productivity of our country. They must come further, they must come nearer. We shall submit, we are bound to submit, plans for this industrial reorganisation, and we shall use that term—[HON. METTBERS: "Nationalisation!"] Why not, if nationalisation can be demonstrated to be the only means of scientifically organising industry. [HON. MEMBERS "What about America and Canada?"] With regard to the interruption about Canada, may I say that in the great province of Ontario, the electricity is owned by the Ontario inhabitants, and it is regarded by impartial scientists as the greatest effort of State management, and compares very favourably with any efforts of a similar kind in Canada or in the United States of America. That is what the electricians say, and so far as I know they had no political axe to grind.
There is one further point which must give cause for reflection to hon. Members when they consider how foolish, how uneconomic and how unproductive was their particular plan for the reorganisation of industry in this country. It is to be admitted that they have a plan. That plan was to stimulate production through low cost, and the low cost was to be effected by low wages. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!" "Yes!"] It is so. I remember so well going to Downing Street in the year 1921 and inviting the Coalition Ministers to discuss with me the absurdity of trying to cause a revival of trade through low wages in our industry. I remember the present Prime Minister, sitting in the Cabinet room with the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and other Members of the Cabinet, declaring outright that the only way by which trade could be revived 354 in this country was for men to begin to accept cuts in wages. I protested then and endeavoured in a humble way to indicate the calamities that would follow. Everyone of those calamities has befallen our country. Now the task of restoring prosperity in our country must be more difficult and more remote than ever, because of this particular attitude that was adopted.
The tradition of low wages has grown since 1921. Employers who knew better have begun to accept that tradition as a fact. Let us show how foolish it all was. You took, or, at least, some of you took, out of our industry £150,000,060 in wages per annum. That meant £3 a week for every one of our men. The result was that we had colossal poverty and we have it still in the mining industry. Our people cannot buy now what they used to buy. They used to buy ample supplies of bread. They used to buy good clothing for themselves. Their children could be well shod. Some of our men, who have always had a passionate love for education, made sacrifices and were able to send their children to secondary schools. Now, all that has gone. They can no longer buy these things; they cannot buy the things that are produced in our own country. When you come to think of the effect on the purchasing power of the £150,000,000 represented in one industry, it becomes increasingly clear to our minds what we could have saved our countrymen if we had not pursued the uneconomic policy of low wages.
It is the same in agriculture. I will conclude with a reference to agriculture, because I have agriculturists in my constituency to whom I have made the declaration that hon. Members opposite have assessed their value at 30s. a week. I have told the agricultural labourers in my division that that is the monetary assessment of their national value, declared by the Prime Minister of Great Britain. I blushed with shame to think that that was the political assessment given to the man who, when all is said and done, is at the bedrock of our national life; that he should be marked out as being of the labour value of 30s., which, expressed in the currency of our day, represents 15s., 14s. or 13s. a week. I would ask whether or not Gentlemen opposite are not entitled to the condemnation of their countrymen as a whole for neglecting the 355 opportunities that were put into their hands. They have been in office long, and some of us have been urging them to take up these questions, but they have been set aside one after the other and the result is that when the Labour party comes to power, as it is coming—it will one day come with an outright majority over all parties—it will have to tackle these questions.
In the interval—and I say this in the interests of our 47,500,000 people—though we do not in a day, and cannot in three months or six months adjust all the delicate balances of international affairs, there is a task to which this House can put its hand in the internal reconstruction of our country, so as to get out of the available market in this country the maximum for the people. You will have claims for advances in wages come along, which will have to be met. I hope that the Government that is to take the place of the present Government will not wait until the last day of a great industrial crisis before there is intervention in the interests of our countrymen. I hope that there will be an intelligent anticipation of what is likely to arise, and of the damage that is likely to be done. One day's railway stoppage would cost more than would be the value for a year of the concessions that one trade union is seeking. At this moment, when there are indications of revival in our trade and particularly in the coal trade, it will be a great calamity for our countrymen to have again to face the terrors and horrors of a prolonged coal stoppage. That can be avoided by the Government taking forethought and prevision of the industrial difficulties that are arising.
I am glad to have had the indulgence of the House to this extent. I have the greatest faith in the capacity, in the genius of the British people, in spite of our limited physical and natural resources, to make our resources even yet yield under scientific organisation a far greater measure of the good things of life than would to possible otherwise. We have not far-flung territories; we are so near our coasts, and our population is dense, yet we have this genius for doing the maximum with what we have, and I only hope that in any political view, in any political arrangement in the future, 356 our politics, our internal politics, will be directed towards the task of opening up avenues for the application of the scientific mind to the effective development of industry in order that through those channels there may flow to our own countrymen a larger and larger measure of what we are able to produce.
§ Sitting suspended at Fifteen Minutes before Eight o'Clock until Nine o'Clock.
§ On resuming—
§ 9.0 P.M.
I should like to take the opportunity of extending congratulations to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Hodges), who delivered a maiden speech in characteristic form, in very good taste, with a great deal of ability, undoubtedly proving to the House that he will be, as we have always expected he would be, if ever the opportunity were afforded hint of being with us, a great asset to the House and to the country in debate. As one who has been engaged in controversial argument with the hon. Member outside the House in very many spheres of activity, I put it that it is always well that we should have within the House those leaders of industries who express opinions, with which we on this side may not agree, and with which the Liberal party themselves may not agree—that we should have expressions of opinion from those who are responsible for the leadership and the expression of opinion of the Labour and Trade Union movements in this country made in this House—rather than that we should have them voiced outside, where there is no sense of responsibility, and where, on very many occasions, circumstances and the crowd to which they address themselves lead to irresponsibility of argument and expression. I think the House will agree with me that the advent of the hon. Member for Lichfield, at great personal sacrifice to himself, is something which will lend at least a little bit of hope and encouragement to a reasonable understanding in this House of the difficulties of one of the basic industries of the country, and I hope the speeches which he utters will be tempered with the same degree of responsibility and authority as marked the speech he uttered to-night. Although I may agree with him up to a point, there are points on which I cannot agree with him, but 357 before I deal with them I should like to say that there are other and more important matters, I think, even than the issues which he raised, which may well be considered in view of the speeches made by the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith), the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes), and the right hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Major-General Seely).
It seems to me that the Amendment before the House, a Vote of "No Confidence" in His Majesty's advisers, is one which needs to be carefully considered. I do not know what the opinion of the whole of the Conservative party is on the point, but I do feel—and I have no hesitation in saying—that if it comes to a matter of expression of opinion as to whether or not we have confidence in the advisers of His Majesty, there are a good many Conservatives who would express their confidence in the support of the Amendment to-night. I say it with a great sense of responsibility, and with a great depth of feeling and recognition of the difficulties with which I may be confronted in expressing the opinions which I hold, and which other members of my party may not have the courage to express, but I feel this, and I feel it with a great degree of intensity, due to an understanding of the industrial conditions of this country, and a knowledge of them wrapt up and bound up with my whole life from the day that I was born. I am not a capitalist. I am one of those who was born into the ranks of the Labour party opposite, born into the ranks of you people, and I must tell you that I know you. Through a change of circumstances, it has been my fortune, good or bad, to be placed in a responsible position for directing various industries of this country. I have a position of responsibility as representing Tour or five thousand people who have invested their money and their savings in undertakings; I have the responsibility of directing the employment of that capital in the industries of this country, and I am not at all surprised to find that political considerations, striving for office, party strife, have imperilled the whole position of industry in this country, and look like to a very great extent imperilling, not only the position of this country, but of the Empire.
I take a much broader view. Without being unduly pessimistic, I think a good deal of the responsibility rests with those 358 who forced this Election on us. I was not a consenting party to it. That is a matter to be thrashed out, at another time, in a different place, and I can assure the leader of my party, the Prime Minister of the day, that I will not be silent on that occasion; but that does not by any manner of means mean that I acquiesce in the betrayal of the confidence of the people of the country which is being displayed by the Liberal party to-day. I may have my own private grievance, I may have a grievance which I can express on behalf of a large number, many millions, of people who support the Conservative party, but at the same time I say that when people talk about re-slaying the suicide, as the right hon. Member for Paisley did talk, there will be no suicide to re-slay when the next Election comes along, after the prostitution of promises and policies which has been perpetrated by the Liberal party. You will be killed. You will be damned by your own performance. [An HON. MEMBER: "Wait and see!"] We shall not have to wait and see—the evidence is only too clear to-day. We know this, that it is a most unholy alliance. I am not often given, as is the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), to the use of Biblical illustrations, but I remember that on one occasion Annas and Caiaphas united together to destroy a righteous and just cause, and I have nothing further to say about it; but when I visualise the alliance between the right hon. Member for the Carnarvon Boroughs and the right hon. Member for Paisley with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald), I am rather inclined to think there is trouble in store for somebody and that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs will come out on top somewhere. I have no doubt whatever in my own mind.
I had the honour and the pleasure of entertaining at Cardiff the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. I think I was the only private Member of this House to whom he paid sufficient attention to give a three-quarters of an hour speech on the platform of the Cardiff Empire. He certainly was very illustrative, and left me very little of whatever reputation I had, but he got me in. I lost my colleagues, but I am not so certain that had the right hon. Gentleman not come to Cardiff I should not 359 have been out. I find that is the case everywhere. Wherever he went, he helped the Conservative cause, because while he may emasculate everything he has said, he could not swallow all he had said with regard to the policy which, I still believe, is the only policy that will save this country from all the evils and disabilities of unemployment, namely, protective tariffs. We may be defeated —we do not worry about that—but I still believe that with education and an intelligent group of people to put it before this country, with honesty of expression on the other side, which we did not have last time, and with an absence of mis-statements, deliberate Weis-statements in many cases, and when the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs is sitting on the Treasury Bench as one of the great leaders of the Labour party, we shall have Protion coming in. It is not a very long time to look forward to before the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who has been a member of his own party and a member of everybody else's party, and has tried to create parties to suit his own convenience and to satisfy himself—it will not be very long before he will be a very zealous and strong advocate and supporter of the hon. Member for Aberavon. The noble band of 15 staunch supporters whom he leads in this House to-day will be swept off to the right when he sweeps off to the left, and what has been done to unite the Liberal party through the mismanagement of the Conservative party will all be undone. He has the faculty, the genius of Abdul Hamid, who kept peace in Turkey simply because he kept all other people fighting.
There may be people who regard the whole position of the industries of the country and a possible Socialistic regime with a certain amount of complacency. Faced with circumstances over which one has no control, there is the possibility that one would accept circumstances and conditions. The attitude of the Liberal party is that of the optimist who, in falling from the seventh floor, said as he was passing the fourth, "Thank God, nothing has happened yet." Nothing has happened yet. The right hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight took up an attitude of complacency which rather reminded me of the old saying, that he who excuses always 360 accuses. I am sure that for the next two or three days we shall be listening to Liberal apologies and explanations, which, however, will not in any way justify their attitude at the present time in endeavouring to turn out the Conservative Government, whatever may be our cause of satisfaction or dissatisfaction, in order to put into operation a Socialistic Government representing 194 Members of this House, and less than one-fifth of the electorate of the country, giving them the power of administration, and the opportunity of putting into operation all their bad theories and idealisms.
I do not agree in the least with those who claim that Labour has not had a fair show. There are many difficulties, which I have often expressed in this House, under which the labourer earns his wage, as to which he has just and reasonable cause to complain, but that is a matter of negotiation. Has there ever been any evidence put before this country to support the contention or the theory that nationalisation, general control by the State, means a betterment of the conditions of labour? I submit that wherever the experiment has been tried, there has been no betterment of the conditions of human life, but there has been, on the other hand, a degradation of the standard of life of the people. The hon. Member for Lichfield, speaking with the ability of which he is possessed, skimmed over as skilfully as ever he has done, and as he always can do, all the difficult spots and the dangerous places. He never touched the real issue. He talked about production costs, and the essential necessity, with which I agree, of cutting down the basic costs, and increasing the wages of the men. There is not an employer in the country who does not agree with it. He never told the House what was the cost of the seven-hour day in the coal mines as against the eight-hour day. Did he explain what was the cost to the industries of this country on the introduction of a seven-hour day? He never did. He simply skimmed over it, delicately and skilfully, as only he can. The same arguments, the same skill, the same genius, the same generalisation which he has displayed at the Miners' Federation meetings, he has displayed here.
361 The hon. Gentleman will not find it, quite so easy to generalise here as he has found it on the Miners' Federation. There are Members of this House who are not going to be silent, who are not going to keep their tongues in their cheeks and accept bald statements without proof. What is the effect of the seven-hour day on the other industries of the country? What price has been paid by the worsted and woollen workers, the cotton workers, the steel workers and the hundreds of thousands of unemployed because of the seven-hour day? I am glad to see that the Labour party is a united party. I would consider myself lucky and fortunate if I could cover up my sins as the Labour party cover up theirs. It is a Joseph's coat of many colours. The hon. Member talked about the 20 per cent. above pre-War that the miners get. He knows he made a public declaration three months ago that it was 45 per cent. above pre-War.
§ Mr. HODGES
I want to state as a point of explanation that when speaking of 45 per cent. increase above the 1914 wages, in the mining industry, that is a figure which has always been used between the coalowners and ourselves as representing an average increase of wages all over the industry, and that there are at this moment, as the coalowners and ourselves agree, numbers of men, running into 80,000 or 90,000, who are not getting one penny more than 20 per cent. above 1914.
I quite agree. I admit the contention about the 45 per cent., but 1 do say this: the number of unskilled men and labourers who are getting the minimum wage to-day would not be so big as they are if they had not got the seven-hour clay. That is true. I desire to be perfectly fair, and to have no contention with my hon. Friend at the moment, and for this reason: Figures have been taken and advice has been taken, and we are hopeful that nothing contentious will be introduced, and that other things that may be introduced will be utilized towards the end of getting a satisfactory solution to the difficulties with which hon. Members opposite are confronted and with which we are confronted. I may assure the hon. Member through you, Mr. Speaker, that we will do all we can to meet them if their claims are just. Let me express my belief that those who are 362 interested will do all they possibly can to adjust the differences which exist between us, to the ultimate benefit not only of the industry but also of the country. We recognise, we admit without the slightest hesitation, that 36s., 38s., and 40s. per week is a very poor wage and is not one on which you can expect to bring up a family and send children to school in decent circumstances.
But if we are prepared to make it more we ask, "What are you prepared to do to us?" Work and let work. Earn and let people earn! I am afraid that we have been acting under a fallacy and misunderstanding, and that we have not realised that we are not living in the days of 1916, 1918, and 1919 when the State paid out of its bottomless purse untold amounts. [HON. MEMBERS: "To the mineowners!"] To me, no! That observation may be supposed to be funny, or to be smart, but there are a lot of people like myself who are honest with industry, and put back what we get out of it, and sacrifice it and lose it, as some of us have done. If I had come out of business in 1920 I would have come out with a good deal of money. I stuck to business. What is the result? I find myself struggling to-day and begging and praying my workpeople to stand side by side with me and to do the best we can to revivify and build up the industry of our country; to be my friends and partners rather than otherwise.
In all this talk of no confidence in the Government and no belief in the possibility of harm coming to the State as the result of a Socialist Government, I want to put this question clearly the House, and I do so without consideration of ray party—for I say quite frankly that I should put my country before my party any time, and I would sacrifice my party every time if need be—I say to the Members of the Liberal party, that they have got a great responsibility thrust upon them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Do not, lecture!"] I am, not lecturing. It is impossible to lecture those who will not listen. But to-day the responsibility that they bear is a burden, and they may find themselves carrying the Liberal party on a bier into the graveyard. Perhaps they think that being the minority party in this House they are still going to be the controlling factor in legislation and administration. What a hope! I am a 363 business man, and I ask: "How can you control the uncontrollable?" [An HON. MEMBER: "Never"] How can you control those who have neither experience and are in the position of the famous mule, without pride of ancestry or hope of posterity?
There are no bones about my opposition to the Socialist party. Honest labour I shall always support so long as it supports me; but labour that calls itself by any other name has just as bad an odour. The Socialist party is not the Labour party. It is the Socialist party pure and simple. It is an unholy alliance which is about to be perpetrated upon the country in order to turn out a weak and unsatisfactory Conservative Government —one of the most unholy and inexpressible alliances of political parties that has ever taken place in this country. Why do they not do the obvious? The Liberal party is united in name and name only. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about your own party?"] The time is very near and may come to-morrow; it may come to-day, when a certain section of the Liberal party, full of ideals, confident in the belief that all their ideals of Liberalism for the salivation of the country will go forward and will logically and naturally rest in the Socialist party. That is the proper place for them. A certain number of the others, it may be 15 of them, with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) as leader, thus strong, and as I believe whole-hearted and confident too, will feel that the Conservative party is the party for them, believing it is the only haven open to them. I wish to make an appeal to the House, and in doing so I believe I am not only expressing my own belief but that which is the considered opinion of those of us who are more or less responsible for the industry of the country. This opinion I believe will be endorsed in most responsible quarters—and I may say this, that had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs gone in his youth into the city he might now have been adorning that select band where Jabez Balfour now is! [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"] Then I withdraw. We have no guarantee that under abnormal conditions the value of our credit may not deteriorate. How can you undertake industrial contracts 364 and give your workpeople any security of employment when there is no guarantee of the stability of credit in the country. There is a great deal of wild talk because of the approaching change of Government and the imperilling of our position, and all this is retarding the placing of con tracts. I myself had hopes of getting further contracts, all hopes of which have now departed and closed up, and there has been a total stoppage of application for contracts. The appeal I am making is not on behalf of any party, but simply that the interests of the nation shall be placed before that of any party.
§ Mr. MOSLEY
The House has been regaled this evening with a phenomenon which is usually confined to the Press. We have heard from the benches opposite, including the Treasury Bench, the loud lamentations of panic stricken plutocracy. [AN HON. MEMBER: "What party do you belong to?"] I am an Independent. The Conservative party this evening has been speaking of catastrophies, a subject on which it is very well qualified to speak. We should certainly heed warnings of impending disaster adduced by the architects of all present disaster. What does all this amount to? In the argument brought forward by the Minister of Health to-night, he was just trying to dress up the red bogey. He said there were Labour Members who make statesmanlike and sane speeches whose views are such as commend themselves to this House. But they are weak and impotent, and behind them are great masses of subversive and blood-thirsty savages who want to deluge this land of ours in blood. It is time that hon. Gentlemen opposite realised that any Government formed in this country will be composed of British men and women, and not of any gang of savages longing to wallow in the blood of their fellow countrymen. The Government are posing as models of constitutional decorum, and they are holding themselves out as the one body which has never talked of violence or bloodshed in this country. The Minister of Health talked about the forces behind Labour, and he has delved into a few speeches of the past. It might be of interest to inquire into some of the forces which he once claimed were behind him. He said:Behind us is the Lord God of battle. In His name and our names"—365 a modest conjunction—I say to the Prime Minister, let your armies and batteries fire. Fire if you dare, fire and be damned.The House will be relieved to learn that they did not fire, and that heroic orator survived to occupy at present the position of Minister of Health. That is a quotation from a speech which the right hon. Gentleman delivered at Warrington on 6th December, 1913, as a responsible member of the Conservative party, and, mark you, when irresponsible people who are not even members of the Labour party make speeches of that kind, only not so bad, we are told that they are the policy of the Labour party, but when members of the Conservative party make foolish speeches of that kind, then they are not to be taken as the official utterances of the Conservative party.
Another of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues suggested that anyone would be justified in shooting the then Prime Minister in the street But it was not suggested to the country that it was the considered policy of the Conservative party to shoot the then Prime Minister. But anything of that sort, said by Members of other parties, is seized by the political scavengers who are employed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and who dig into the dustbins of politics and is produced as the official policy of the Labour party. After the speeches we have heard from benches opposite we feel that the fields of Ulster never resounded to the thundering hoofs and the doughty deeds of Galloper Smith, a man of war right up to the very moment the War began. Now after a seasonable interlude, in which he has indulged in more peaceful avocations, he is a man at war again. How pitiable is the plight of hon. Gentlemen opposite, falling at the feet of their hereditary enemies. Even the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs indulged in a eulogy of Lord Grey. My mind wandered back to the period, only a year ago, when the Conservative party their electioneering zeal overcoming their much-advertised Patriotism, issued to the world that gentlemanly electioneering poster "Grey muddled us into the War." That was a striking, if unsolicited, testimonial to Germany at the expense of their fellow countrymen. Now they come forward to Lord Grey with hands outstretched, supplicating him "Muddle us into anything so long as you 366 muddle us out of Labour." How sad is the position in which that once great party finds itself! We need not greatly worry about these things. We have all of us at some time seen the lamentable spectacle of an old lady in a fright, flinging embarrassing arms around the neck of a policeman with whom on a more decorous and prosperous occasion she would never dream of being too familiar.
I have to mention a more serious matter. I do wish that the panic of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite would not lead them into making speeches in this House which are calculated to prejudice from the outset international relationships under a new Government. I refer to that grotesque misrepresentation of what was said by the Leader of the Opposition—a misrepresentation, patent to any man who had taken the trouble to read the speech, that was adduced by the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs yesterday in order to score a rather feeble debating point for a purely partisan purpose. The right hon. Gentleman set out to prejudice in advance the relationship between the present Government of France and the future Government of Britain by suggesting something which was directly contrary to the truth in regard to a statement of the hon. Gentleman, by suggesting that he had said at the Albert Hall that he intended to stamp on Monsieur Poincaré. That was a grotesque travesty, and the context of the hon. Gentleman's speech, which I have here, proves quite conclusively that, so far from saying anything of the kind, he deplored strongly the pinpricks and the strained relationship at present existing between these countries. For the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that any such statement was made shows a lamentable lack of responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman really should understand that while it still cumbers the Treasury Bench even a corpse should retain some sense of responsibility.
The whole course of this Debate, and of the Government defence, has been not a defence but a counter-attack on these benches. But the Amendment before the House does not suggest confidence in hon. Members on these benches. It is a Vote of No Confidence in the Government of the day. Does the record of this Government inspire confidence in the view of the majority of the House as represented by the mandate from the recent election? It 367 does not. Does the policy which the Government are likely to pursue accord with the view of the majority of the House or with the mandate of the electorate? What is their record? It can be very briefly summarised. They have lavished money on Mesopotamia, on Singapore, and on wild-cat schemes of adventure in all parts of the world. They have economised to pay for these adventures on health, on education, and on every measure of social reform. They have financed the luxuries of Arab princes by starving physically and mentally the people of this country. They have made remissions of taxation to the rich, and they have paid for them by squeezing the poor. They have stood baffled and bewildered in front of the great housing problem, because they dare not face their friends in the great housing trusts which are controlling the building industry. They have put one of the most monstrous pieces of class legislation on the Statute Book in the form of the Rent Restrictions Act.
In every sphere we have experienced at the hands of these people all that oppression of the poor and defenceless to which we are accustomed from reaction. We have not had at their hands any of that strength of administration which theorists tell us is the advantage of a Conservative Government. Take another example. They suddenly seized from their homes 100 unoffending British citizens and deported them to Ireland. Immediately came into operation a provision of the law which was originally designed to frustrate the deliberate exercise of tyranny, rather than the fumbling futility of a merely incompetent Administration. None the less it was effective. These men were released and compensated at the taxpayers' expense. They were restored to their distracted families and their weeping wives, and the Government once again was confronted with the painful reality that they were born to make men laugh, not women weep.
In the foreign sphere, of which such a laboured defence has been advanced, what is their record? They have done just enough to irritate everyone—not enough to achieve anything. That is the most fatal of all policies. In the case of the Ruhr a protest was made nine months too late. The illegality of the procedure was 368 disclosed, which was the one lever, or one of the main levers, that we had to prevent the French going in—because to them the Treaty of Versailles is sacrosanct—but all that came too late, and a belated protest is an ineffective one, than which there is nothing more damaging to national prestige. It reduces the authoritative accents of a great nation to the shrill railing of a bedridden old woman. We never expected peace from these people. They have demonstrated in the last five years that their Government and their majority cannot bring peace. When men, some honest and simple, others not so simple, have set out to discover peace, they have shown that Conservatism will never allow it, because the fanatical Die-hard section has always caught them by the coat-tails and dragged them back to reaction. They could never bring us peace, but we were told that Conservative administration brought us prestige and honour among the nations. Let us judge their record, by the criteria of those who set national prestige above human happiness, by which they wish to be judged. What has been the history of their procedure in the foreign sphere? Sometimes decisive action has appeared to be initiated. We have seen a seemingly imposing and triumphant advance, heralded in the most. classic language; but it has been swiftly and inevitably followed by precipitate and ignominous retreat. We have seen them always full of bluster until the bluff was called, and then weakness and incompetence, unable to extricate itself from difficulties of its own creation except by ignoble surrender amid the laughter of mankind.
Let me take the one occasion on which the case for Britain and the case for humanity has been stated by the present Government—the Note of August last. A Note was written setting out our claims, urging the paramount necessity of a European settlement, saying that every day Europe was coming nearer to the brink of catastrophe, and threatening that Britain would take separate action unless something were clone. Then what happened? The whole Cabinet broke up and went on their holidays for a month. The Prime Minister, in particular, went to Aix-les-Bains. After writing one pompous letter they all went to bed for a month, so arduous was the exertion of 369 maintaining so much dignity. The next act in that sad farce was the most lamentable and disgraceful of all—the drowsy return via Paris of the sleeping beauty of Aix-les-Bains. In Paris, our Somnambulist was hypnotised afresh, and an astonished world learned, through a disgraceful communiqué, that where, a little over a month before, a difference, as stated in this House and elsewhere, between right and wrong had existed, now, in view of the changed situation, no divergence of view existed; and from that moment we have drifted on, helpless, impotent, and derided of the nations, until that proud moment in this House on the last day of the last Parliament, when the Prime Minister said, "Some Government after the next Election will have to find a new foreign policy." Thus have we drifted, while the Prime Minister assuaged our fears and those of mankind with little sanctimonious sermons about his duty, his admirable intentions, the policy that was always about to be initiated, which, in fact, was a policy of drift buoyed up by drivel.
That is the record of this Government —a record which by insensate foreign policy and administrative blundering has added to our miseries of unemployment, a policy which leaves us a ghastly heritage of slums, starvation, and suffering in our midst. The handiwork of this Government is written all over the map of our country in the characters of human anguish. For my part, if I gave one vote to keep in power for one night such a Government, I should feel that I deserved to be drummed out with ignominy from the great army of progress. With such a record they now come before us claiming the confidence of this House, when a month ago they said there was only one solution for the troubles which beset this country—an application of Protection. Unable now to apply their one solution, they come before us and claim the confidence of this House, having no other plans except those which they said were futile to deal with the emergency. In view of the fact that constitutional precedents can be quoted on either side, it would have been better for them to take the choice of resigning before they met this House, and of letting people who had unemployment remedies get on with the job and apply those remedies. We were told that the Prime Minister had come to this wise and honourable 370 decision; and then we were told that sinister news came upsetting all those honest simple plans. Lord Derby was once again intriguing; the Government was to be assassinated in the manner of the old Coalition, the historic manner of the Carlton Club. The Prime Minister was to be deposed from power and Lord Derby was to mount upon the pedestal of fame. Then what a reversal there was of the honest, simple plan; what a rush back for the retention of office. How hastily were flung aside the well-advertised emblems of honesty and simplicity —the pipes, the walking sticks, the Christmas holly. What a litter of stage properties on the road back to Downing Street. And now they come before us again, saying, "Give the task of getting you out of the mess to the people who got you into it."
Apart from their record, apart from all these failures, legislative and administrative, and, more than all, the failure of a blind and placid immobility in front of the problems of our day—apart from all that, I venture to urge that on immediate and pressing problems there is a fundamental divergence of mind in this House which will not permit the majority of this assembly for one day to tolerate in this country a continuance of such a Government. There is a difference between the mind that wants to spend what money is available on social reform and the mind that will squander it on foreign adventure. There is a difference between the mind that seeks wise taxation by a graduated system of direct taxation, imposing a burden upon the rich and relieving the poor, and the mind which seeks to raise taxation lay Protection, which puts the burden on the poor and makes extra profits for the rich—between the mind that wishes to stand back on the status quo in industrial affairs and the mind that desires by steady evolution to work a mighty change. That is a great gap between two fundamentally opposed minds in this House. There may be on this side of the House, in the majority, some people who want to go faster, some who want to go slower than others. That is the case in all parties and in all communities. But the main difference is that on this side, in the majority of the House, they are on the move; the army of progress has struck its tents of inaction; and on that side of the 371 House the army of reaction is still lurking in sinister immobility amid established entrenchments. I have observed in hon. Members opposite, during my sittings in this House, mobility at only one moment, when other people are making speeches. All through the last five years we who have sat in this House opposing these people, have been met, not by reason and argument, not by the courtesy of debate, but by shouts and jeers, cat-calls, cock-crowing and other arguments which have always been considered entirely conclusive in farm-yard discussions. I see these people among the established entrenchments of wealth defending their position against the people, they have no policy for any progressively-minded men in this country, who have at heart those wide measures of reform which our people rightly demand. What hope have we, with people like them in power, of any measure of social reform, or the fulfilment of any dream of ever wiping away some of the tears from the eyes of the British people? In no sphere of life is there any hope of substantial reform or progress so long as the same party remains in power.
In the foreign sphere, on which more depends than on anything else—because unless you have a settlement of the position of the foreign markets, you cannot have prosperity in this country—there is almost a clearer clash of two divergent mentalities than in any other sphere. You have the difference between the mind which for the last five years has created antagonism between the nations, and the mind that seeks co-operation between peoples. Even in the last election you had an illustration of the mind on that side of the House which looks on every foreign country as a competitor, and the mind on this side which looks upon every country as a customer; between the mind on that side which seeks to erect fresh barriers between countries, and the mind on this side that seeks to break them down. That is a fundamental divergence. We have tried, but too long, this fatal method of sitting on one half of the world in order to benefit the other half of it. Some country has to break this death grapple of civilisation, because top-dog and under-dog, victor and vanquished, are both bleeding and starving to death. What hope have we of change and reform 372 from sympathisers with every reactionary and subversive force? Let us substitute another policy which does not wait in sycophantic adulation, punctuated by snarls upon any individual or upon any country, but which defines a policy of our own, pro-British, pro-European, and pro-humanity. Let us be the enemies of no country, but the friends of all peoples, the unflinching opponents of any policy that is the enemy of mankind. In this sphere of achievement which is immediate, for which we do not have to wait, and in which there are not those protracted delays which are often inevitable in the spheres of social reform, there is lying to the hands of this country one of the greatest opportunities it has ever had. In all lands there is a revival of the progressive spirit to-day. In every country the forces of progress are looking to our land to give a lead. We shall achieve this not by quarrelling with any country, but by rallying those forces of sanity and progress in all the lands to the banner of progress, and that banner must be raised by some country and some people. There is the opportunity lying in the hands of this Parliament, in the overwhelming majority of this Parliament, of coming forward on one of the greatest missions which historic destiny has ever imposed on the people of this country. There is an opportunity to this country of placing itself at the head of the peoples of Europe and leading them on the great march back from those dark lands of suffering, anguish, and sorrow in which we have sojourned so long under the reactionary influence of the Governments which have preceded the present House of Commons, under which to-day the world is starving and going down to certain ruin unless some country is great enough, strong enough, backed by a progressive majority in the House of Commons—to head this march back and lead the peoples of the world in reestablishing a system of justice, of reconciliation, of peace, upon Earth.
§ Captain Viscount CURZON
I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Harrow (Mr. Mosley), before making the speech by which we have all just been entertained, should take up a position between the Member for Merthyr (Mr. Wallhead) and two of the Members for Clydeside. I think the environment was quite suitable to the occasion. It seems 373 to me that there is a section of the people opposite who do not seem to realise the forces that are raised up against the constitutional elements in this country. [Laughter.] It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to laugh, but I have gone through the Election a few weeks ago. [HON. MEMBERS: "So have we all!"] I went with a Liberal colleague, who can contradict every word I say. [Laughter.]
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must ask hon. Members to give the same fair hearing to the Noble Lord who is addressing the House as was given to the speech that has just been delivered.
§ Viscount CURZON
When fighting the election I realised too well the forces which are behind and which have been joined to the Socialist forces on the benches opposite. It is all very well for the Labour Opposition to go to the Albert Hall and make speeches there. It is all very well for the Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes) to make such a speech as we have listened to this afternoon, a mild and moderate speech I agree, but behind the forces of Labour such as we see represented on the benches in this House there are far more sinister forces ranged. There are in my constituency on the register no fewer than 1,000 known members of the I.R.A. There are behind them again the forces of naked Communism. [Interruption.] I know the hon. Member is well known for his sympathy with the enemies of his country. He goes to Germany and Russia.
I can tell the hon. Member that my life and the life of my Liberal colleague were directly threatened during the last week of the last Election. I am telling the House absolute facts and nothing but facts. My Liberal colleague was forced to close down his meetings. He found it impossible to carry on. There were people who shook bags of money in his face and told him exactly where it came from, and he can say if what I say is not true. There were people in my constituency who were well known to be down and out who were going round with sums of £15and £20 on them. Where did they get it? All I can say is that these are the forces we have against us, and that is why we so heartily oppose the forces of Socialism which are not ashamed to take Communists as their allies to their bosom. If you wish us to think a 374 Socialist Government can be moderate, why do you not free yourselves from the taint of Communism? There are some ex-service men on this side of the House who cannot forget the personal record of the leaders of the Socialist party. I cannot get away from my mind remembrance of the fact that the Leader of the Opposition to-day founded the Union of Democratic Control and endeavoured during the worst time of the War, when the Army in France had its back against the wall, to set up Soviets of sailors' and soldiers' councils. Had his policy succeeded, how many lives would it have cost the Army and the Navy? Those are the people the Socialists elect to be their leaders. To my mind it is disgraceful that there should be any party in this country who, without these principles being recanted, can take them to their bosom as their leaders. If the hon. Member had had his way we should have lost the War and not Germany. I would appeal to members of the Liberal party. I know there are some who are still wondering whether the advice which was given them by their leader to-day was right or wrong. I have in my pocket a copy of a poster which was put up in Norwich by one of the heads of the Liberal party, Mr. Hilton Young. This is what he says:The only safe way to keep out the Socialist candidate is to vote Liberal.What will be said next time in Norwich of the Liberal party if it puts such men as founded the Union of Democratic Control and Soldiers' and Sailors' Councils into power? Are ex-service men up and down the country, and women too, who do not know where they are going to get a job or another crust of bread—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"]—to trust their livelihood to a party which has such a leader,a party which had no real sympathy with them when they were fighting, and precious little sympathy for them when they were wanting a job after the War? What have they done for our trainees? What have they done for the ex-service men? We heard to-day from the Minister of Health that in the building trade they can accept, without any danger to the trade unions involved, 25 per cent. more dilution. There are ex-service men who have been trained by the Ministry of Labour in bricklaying, plastering, and so on. Why do not the Labour party give these men a chance so that they can get 375 work? As an ex-service man, I am of opinion that the party opposite only care for the ex-service men when they can make capital out of them.
I appeal to my Liberal friends before they vote. I appeal to my colleague the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Hogbin), who owes his election, as he knows well, to Conservative votes. He is not the only Liberal who owes his election to Conservatives votes. I warn the Liberal party, I challenge them to say whether there is a single Liberal who can get up and declare: "I told the electors that if returned I would vote against the Tories, even if it meant putting a Socialist Government into power."
§ Viscount CURZON
There are not many Liberals who with a clear conscience can stand up in this House and say that they told the electors exactly what they intended to do. At the dictate of party they are prepared to ally themselves to people who started the Soldiers' and Sailors' Council in 1917-18, during the worst moments of the War, and who would have done us down if they could. Whatever their profession at the Albert Hall, whatever their professions in this House, the Labour party or, rather, the leopard does not change his spots quite so quickly as that. I am in pretty close touch with Labour in my constituency. I know the people that I am fighting there and I know that they stand by their principles They are honest men and I respect them for their sincerity, though I do not agree with them and I loath their politics. I ask hon. Members opposite to be honest men and to say what policy they are going to support and to give the outline of what the Socialist Government is going to do before this Debate ends. Then I would appeal to my Liberal friends not from the point of view of a Conservative or from the view of a Liberal but from the point of view of an ex-service man, to reconsider their positron before they vote. There are millions of ex-service men in this country and the labour Party have exploited them in their misery.
§ Viscount CURZON
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Shinwell) has something to say about this. I remember very well during the War that Mr. Havelock Wilson's union refused to give the Leader of the Labour party a passage to Russia because of his disloyal views. I know the forces that are up against us in Battersea. They would have taken the life of my Liberal colleague at the last election if they could—they made no secret of it—and they would have had me, too. I appeal to hon. Members opposite, before they give a vote which will affect the country so gravely, to think twice, and more than that if they like, in order that they may come to a right decision.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I trust the House will excuse me, as a new Member, if I suggest that the hon. Member for South Battersea (Viscount Curzon) would do well to temper his enthusiasm with accuracy. The statement that he has made in reference to ex-service men and the building industry is entirely inaccurate. Building trade unions do not prevent, and never have prevented, trainees, disabled ex-service men, entering the building industry and being trained under Government auspices. The reference that was made to dilution raises an entirely different question from that of the training of ex-service men.
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Health on the question of housing requires at least some measure of correction. The right hon. Gentleman stated in that speech that during the last five months there had been 85,000 plans approved for houses in this country, and that of those 31,000 were approved for erection by the local authorities and 53,600 for erection by private enterprise. Both the right hon. Gentleman and the Prime Minister have expressed their satisfaction at the position of affairs with regard to housing in this country. I am sure that every Member of this House realises the urgency of the housing question. But I am not satisfied with the kind of thing which gives satisfaction to the right hon. Gentleman and other Members of the Conservative party. The normal requirements for housing before the war were accepted as 30 per cent. of the marriage rate in this country. The number of marriages that take place in this country per year is approximately 300,000, and 30 per cent. of that is 90,000. If you 377 take the pre-War standard, which I regard as far too little, as what is necessary for the increased housing for normal conditions in this country, you will find that 90,000 houses are required per year.
Beyond that you have to take into account the necessity for replacements. In 1823 there were 80,000 houses erected in this country, and if you take the life of the ordinary working class house at 100 years you will find at least 75,000 houses required already to maintain the housing that has been done during the previous periods. So that if you take the two together and add to it the necessity of overtaking the enormous shortage of housing, which was placed by the municipal authorities of this country in 1919 at 1,000,000, you will find that we are far behind, and it will be necessary for at least 30 years to build at least 200,000 houses per year in order to restore anything like normal conditions of housing in this country. That is what is required with regard to housing, and the satisfaction of the right hon. Gentleman does not agree with my idea of what should be regarded as the necessity for housing in this country.
I am perfectly well aware that there is some local shortage of certain keymen in the building industry, but when that shortage is put down to the responsibility of the building industry, I take exception to the charge. I would draw the attention of the hon. Member for Barrow (Mr. D. G. Somerville) to the fact that a few years ago a proposal was made for dilution to the extent of about 50,000 men. When that proposal was made there were, in the bricklaying industry alone, over 6,000 men walking the streets. When the Addison scheme was finished, and the whole business of housing by means of Government assistance dropped, the effect was that there were 100,000 members of the Building Trade Unions concerned thrown upon the streets, and amongst them practically all the trainees to whom the hon. Member has referred.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I was referring to members of unions such as the Amalgamated Union of Building Trade Workers, which comprises bricklayers and masons. Amongst the 100,000 378 men receiving union funds, practically the whole of the Government trainees were included and were thrown upon the streets, in spite of the fact that dilution had been agreed to by the building trade operatives. What is it that the building operatives are prepared to do? The hon. Member for Barrow ought to know that the officials of the building unions have granted the necessity for an intensified form of apprenticeship—not what was usually called dilution. They are prepared to meet the employers and the Government under conditions—conditions which are perfectly reasonable, in view of the position of a few years ago, to which I have referred. The conditions are that there shall be guarantees of work by means of a national housing scheme. The operatives are not prepared to trust to private enterprise, for they have had experience of it in the past. But, given the guarantees, the operatives will not stand in the way. It is not possible to build 200,000 houses next year, because of the difficulties with regard to materials. During the intervening period, if a reasonable apprenticeship scheme was adopted—the building trade operatives have put forward their schemes for the last three years without effect—it will be possible, in conjunction with the development of materials in this country and with regard to trade from abroad, to institute and guarantee an adequate housing scheme for the country.
Like another hon. Member who has spoken, I represent a London constituency. My constituency is one of the constituencies of the Borough of Islington, where official overcrowding—that is a totally inadequate standard, I can assure the House, and is a third of a century old—exists to the extent that the overcrowded population in the Borough is equal to the total population of Carlisle. I could take hon. Members to dilapidated houses, 110 and 120 years old, houses of 10 rooms where no fewer than 65 people live. Every room is a home, and every function of life, from birth to death, takes place in that single room. I have gone from door to door among properties so overcrowded, that the stench of poverty and congestion when a door was opened has made me, time and time again, physically ill, and the only reason why we can feel any security against the righteous anger of these 379 people, is that these conditions are not likely to result in righteousness of any kind whatever.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Sir Philip Lloyd-Greame)
Perhaps the hon. Member who has just sat down will allow me to congratulate him on his first speech. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the conclusions he put forward, the House is always glad to hear one who speaks with such obvious knowledge of the subject, and I hope, if he has confined his speech to-night within limits narrower than would otherwise be the case, he will before long have further opportunities of addressing the House, and I am sure the House will be very glad to hear him. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment to the Address challenged the Government upon their policy for dealing with unemployment. That is a challenge which I shall be perfectly prepared to take up and to meet on the efforts which have been made—efforts far greater than have ever been made by any other Government in this country. That statement I will justify by facts. It is pertinent to inquire, in view of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has challenged us, what is likely to be the effect upon unemployment of the policy which he and his colleagues will put before the House if they are returned to office. One thing is certain, and we have often been told it both by critics and supporters—and we shall all agree upon it—that whatever palliatives may be put forward for dealing with unemployment, the one effective way is to make trade better. We have also been told repeatedly, and rightly, in this House, both by critics and supporters, that the most essential thing of all for trade and, therefore, for unemployment, is certainty and security. Out of the Debate which has taken place hitherto but one fact emerges with certainty, and it is that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) is going to lead as many of his party as he can get to follow him into the Lobby in order to put a Socialist Government into power. [HON. MEMBERS: "To put you out!"] As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley said, the most important thing was what was going to follow after. That certainly is, in the opinion of the country and in the opinion of the industry of the country, far and 380 away the most important consideration. Perhaps one other fact emerges as a fairly certain deduction from this Debate and it is that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Harrow (Mr. Mosley), who, I am afraid, is not in his place at the moment, but to whose speech I listened, has, after a fairly devious political odyssey, come at last to an anchorage and that this synchronises with the advent of a Labour Government to office.
What is going to be the effect of putting a Socialist Government into power? Are we going to have a capital levy; are we going to have nationalisation? We know what the party stand for. We know that from certain speeches delivered to-night, particularly the very able speech by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Hodges), who left us in no doubt that his allies would have to come considerably further forward in their support. All the security which the right hon. Member for Paisley offers us is that if the pace is too rapid the Entente will be severely strained. Do not members of the Liberal party realise something which they have very often stated in the country and in debate in this House, that it is not merely the passing of a Measure of that kind which is bad for trade and industry, but that the mere threat, the mere risk of nationalisation and a capital levy is very nearly as dangerous to security as the introduction of those Measures themselves. What is the effect of that? The effect is alarming insecurity, as one sees in other countries, and certainly it does not lie, whatever they may think is the ultimate power in this matter, with the, Liberal party to give any guarantee as to what Measures are likely to be introduced by a Socialist Government.
Capital will leave the country. [Laughter.] That appears to be an intensely amusing suggestion to hon. Members opposite. Then may I ask, if they regard with such equanimity the prospect of capital leaving the country, what success they hope from a Capital Levy? Capital will certainly not be invested. They must surely realise—[An HON. MEMBER: "What is capital?"] Capital is what provides work. Capital will certainly not be invested with threats of this kind, but the right hon. Member for Paisley to-day pooh-poohed any such suggestion. He said: "After all, that kind of threat has 381 been made before." But I notice that a very different kind of thing was said by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who, in an article written in his principal paper, said that already the skies are beginning to be black with the exodus of capital. I suggest that the two right hon. Gentlemen had better co-ordinate their views on this matter. It is perfectly plain that members of the Liberal party who are going to put these gentlemen into office have not the faintest idea of what measures they will be called upon to support.
I should like to know what policy they think the Labour party—the Socialist party—is going to introduce. I understood right through the election, and from speeches which have been delivered, that they were far from sacrificing any of their principles in order to secure a temporary accommodation with the hon. Members beside them. I think they are much more likely to find that those hon. Members, or a section of them led by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, are prepared to accommodate what have hitherto been their principles to support them in office. Liberals criticised the Prime Minister not infrequently in the course of the election for not going sufficiently into detail, but they themselves do not even know the outline of the policy they are now going to support. venture to think that possibly even in this division there will be some—and increasingly will there be more in the future—who will be inclined to exclaim: "Non tali auxilio nee defensoribus istis." [HON. MEMBERS: "Translate!"] I will give a free translation: "We decline to go into action under the Red Flag or to sail under the Jolly Roger." [Interruption.] I am glad to observe in that interjection that hon. Members opposite appreciate that the adventure they are now going to engage in is in the nature of a privateering expedition.
There is no doubt whatever that the trade position to-day is still extremely serious. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who made it so?"] Very largely the economic conditions of the world, which the policy of hon. Gentlemen is not at all likely to alter for the better, at any rate, as regards the interests of this country. In 1992 our exports of manufactures were only doing 67 per cent. of our corresponding exports 382 in 1913, and in 1923 we were only doing 71 per cent. of that trade. This, surely, is not the time when one can afford to make very extreme experiments at the expense of capital in industry. [An HON. MEMBER "Hear, Hear!"] No doubt the hon. Gentleman will be able to explain to his constituents who are interested in employment why it is he supports a party whose whole policy is based on Socialism. [AN HON. MEMBER: "The Tory policy is based on fallacies."] Let me take up the challenge of the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) as regards the policy which the Government have hitherto pursued. He talked as though nothing had been done. That is not a charge that can be made by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs or any of his followers, because the policy which has been followed in providing palliatives and measures for dealing with unemployment goes a great deal further than any measures which were carried out by his Government, and were very largely in amplification of those very Measures themselves. Take the Trade Facilities Act. Under that Act, guarantees have already been given for £38,250,000 worth of work, and there is a further amount of almost £6,000,000 awaiting guarantee as soon as the Act is renewed. That has meant an enormous amount of work of the very best kind in this country. Certainly at the present time there is at least £16,000,000 worth of that work which is being carried on in the workshops of this country, and probably within a short time there will he a further £14,000,000 or £15,000,000 worth coming into the workshops and factories of this country.
Take Export Credits. There is nearly £4,000,000 in respect of which, work is actually in operation at the present time. There is a further £4,500,000 which has been sanctioned, and which is estimated will be taken up in the near future in direct work in this country. Take all the provisions of the Unemployment Grants Committee. Already in this year schemes have been sanctioned, whether for local authorities or public utility companies, amounting to over £16,000,000, and I expect in a comparatively short time the full amount of £20,000,000 which has been earmarked will be reached. That alone in respect of unemployment grants is a far larger amount than has been sanctioned for local authorities or public 383 utility companies in any previous year. In addition to that, the railway companies, at the direct instigation of the Government, have quickly accelerated the progress of their programmes. Apart from the guarantees which they have obtained under the Trade Facilities Act, they amount to upwards of £30,000,000. [An HON. MEMBER: "It has not all left the country, then?"] No, but I should like to observe this: that a great many of those guarantees were applied for before the companies were aware of the prospect of the party of the hon. Member coming into power.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
Not the people of this country! Then the Government themselves have accelerated the work in their Departments to give employment, to an amount of two and three-quarter million pounds. Further, they have offered to press forward the road schemes, both the construction of new roads and also improvements including improvements in the way of bridging and engineering improvements throughout the roads of the country, which are the very best kind of work that can be done, because it gives to the engineering trade what it needs most, and provides employment for the skilled men. I observe that hon. Members opposite are often inclined to say: "If you would only give us the opportunity we should put many more of these schemes into force." I think they will find, when they come to deal with the matter, that they could not have a keener body of people than the body of people—I do not mean Ministers but Administrative staff—in the Government Departments, who have been working and urging the local authorities to co-operate in these various schemes.
That chain of achievements is certainly fully sufficient to justify the figure of 350,000 men which was given by the Minister of Labour, and upon which doubt was cast by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes). There is one other thing. He inquired what we could do for unemployment insurance? Can you, he asked, give us a guarantee that you will exercise your powers under that Act to the full? He has forgotten that that under- 384 taking has already been given by the Minister of Labour, who has already gone to the fullest extent that he can under the Act in the giving of uncovenanted benefit. The right hon. Gentleman advanced one other criticism, one which I think I have heard him advance before, and that is that the greatest hope was to be found, as I understood him, in the way of relieving unemployment in giving de jure recognition to Russia. I do not at this hour want to argue whether we should or should not give de jure recognition to the Russian Government. There is a good deal to be said for the attitude which has been adopted by the United States of America, that recognition should follow a recognition on the part of Russia of conditions which every civilised State in the world accepts. It is simply throwing dust in the eyes of people to suggest that the recognition of Russia is going to lead to a great accretion of trade. Let me read to the right hon. Gentleman—he will read it tomorrow—a statement which was made in reply to a similar suggestion advanced by him on 26th July, 1922. It is this:My right hon. Friend the Member for Platting asked: 'Why do you not give recognition to Russia first and all the rest will follow? Send an Ambassador to Moscow to be followed by a train of bankers, financiers, manufacturers, traders, and so on.' If you sent out the best Ambassador we possess he would not be followed by a single banker or trader until the necessary conditions were established, and to say otherwise is really misleading the public. Russia should understand the only conditions under which it is possible for the West to come to her aid, and until she thoroughly comprehends that fact, no business will be done."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1922; col. 551, Vol. 157.]These are the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, and are very sound sense. Even to-day the right hon. Gentleman would not suggest that recognition would mean a great acquisition of trade. That speech was made in July, 1922, more than a year ago. Bankers do not change, traders do not change, and economic facts do not change. Whether the hon. Gentleman is going to deal with a Socialist system or with one under private control he will find that the conditions on which credit are given are the same all the world over. If he tries to do business with the taxpayer's money on any other basis, the taxpayer will very soon call him to account.
385 Let me turn from the rather barren prospect that would follow even the most cordial recognition extended to Russia to a field that affords a far brighter prospect, the field of the markets that lie within the Empire. I was indeed delighted to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes) speak as he did about Empire development and migration. [Cheers.] I only wish that the cheers for that statement came as heartily from hon. Gentlemen opposite as they do from this side. Let me remind him, when he asks for Empire development, that he is asking for something which we have already put in hand. We arranged at the Imperial Conference that. there shall be financial co-operation with public utility undertakings throughout the Dominions and Colonies. In the negotiations at the Imperial Conference one thing was perfectly clear, and that was, that however attractive might be schemes of financial co-operation, they could not be accepted or acted upon unless the Dominion Governments saw their way to a market in this country. It is idle for hon. Members of any party, when they propose schemes of financial co-operation with the Dominions to refuse to give them in return trade in our market. I put these two facts very strongly to hon. Members opposite. The first is that the. whole of these proposals were really no part of the issue which was fought out at the last General Election. Their own Press at the time stated that these things were within the realm of oar present fiscal system. [An HON. MEMBER: "What Press?"] The "Daily Chronicle" said that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Surely the union, then, of the Liberal party is not so complete as it was thought to be. I hope they will not begin to differ so soon. Do let hon. Members realise what might easily be the effect of not giving effect to these preferences. It would mean that you will not get the development and you will not have the settlement which will follow from the schemes. You will not get orders placed in this country. You will not get the trade that would 386 follow from them. What is likely to be the effect of rejecting these preferences or the preferences accorded to us? I will tell hon. Members what the latter represent. In 1922 the value of the direct rebates of duty given by the Dominions to this country amounted to more than £11,250,000. If there is any member of the party opposite who thinks that in these times of keen competition such a benefit is lightly to be thrown away, then I say he is not fit to represent his constituency. I am sure there is not a constituency in this country which returns a single Member to this House with the intention that he should jeopardise these preferences.
§ Sir P. LLOYD-GREAME
It will be your action in repudiating the preferences which will jeopardise them. Both General Smuts and Mr. Bruce have told us how they have been approached by other countries to make special arrangements by which they would reduce our preferences and give larger preferences to other countries, but hitherto they have refused all such suggestions. With the condition of industry in this country as it is, surely I am not placing these arguments too high. I am not basing them on binding treaties, but I am putting them on the double ground of good business, common sense and common sentiment. I most sincerely trust that no party will be so mad as to throw away the best element of opportunity for improving employment in this country.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. Spoor.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.