§ Mr. GERALD HURST (in King's Counsel's levée dress)
I beg to move:That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which your Majesty lies addressed to both Houses of Parliament.I feel deeply conscious of the privilege that has been accorded to me this afternoon. I appreciate it all the more because I know how warmly welcome the honour will be in Manchester, and more especially in my own constituency of Moss Side, whose population of working people in the course of their daily life feel pressingly and poignantly the burdens of those grave industrial problems which dominate and overshadow the Gracious Speech from the Throne. It is a tradition of the House that the Mover of the Address should hold in curb his combative and controversial instincts. It is easier for me to-day to conform with that kindly tradition because the large majority of the Measures to which reference is made in the Gracious Speech lie entirely outside the normal ambit of party politics.
The first distinguishing feature of the Speech to which I would like to draw the attention of the House is the reference to a proposed loan for the development 11 of East Africa. As I understand it, that project means the opening up of traffic communications between the coast and the interior. It must inevitably mean an increased and welcome demand for British goods required for railways, roads and rolling stock. It means at the same time the opening up of other markets for British goods. Its main object, and one which can be regarded as a signal blessing, not only for Lancashire but the whole of England, is that is opens up and makes accessible some of the best areas for cotton growing in the world. That, surely, will be welcome in all parts of the House, because it will relieve the undue and dangerous dependence on America which we undergo at the present time in finding raw material for our greatest textile industry. Year by year the amount of American cotton crop available for Lancashire becomes more and more contracted, and year by year the prices tend to become higher and more subject to fluctuation.
There are two causes, two pests, which partly account for that, one an insect pest, the boll weevil, and the other a human pest, the financial speculator. But the main cause is that more and more of the American cotton crop is required for consumption in the American mills. The only way by which we can reduce the cost of production in this great industry is to have an ampler and cheaper source of raw material. For that reason, I feel sure that the House will welcome this proposal referred to in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, and will regard it as a Measure designed to bring us nearer to the cherished ideal of an Empire self-sufficient in its supply of raw materials.
In domestic legislation, the House will welcome the proposed Electricity Bill, the object of which is to make the supply of electricity cheaper, more abundant and more universally available in this country. It is well to remember that all the great discoveries which ushered in the industrial revolution 150 years ago were made by Englishmen in England. It is to be hoped that the interest taken by the Government in this project will stimulate in our country again research in scientific and technical subjects.
It will be noticed that there is no proposal in the King's Speech for fresh 12 legislation with regard to housing. At the same time, it is recognised that housing as yet is imperfect in this country. It is imperative to realise from the figures which have lately been given by the Minister of Health that the supply of houses in the country has risen very greatly. There are two encouraging features in this rise in the supply of houses. The first is that a very large proportion have been provided by private enterprise, and in many cases without any subsidy. The second encouraging feature is that a considerable number have been built by materials and methods which are unconventional. When there is an acute shortage of houses, you can be too fastidious in picking and choosing the sort of house you will have, and it is idle to worship existing customs in regard to houses. It is no good making a fetish of existing materials for house building. If I may parody some well-known lines, I would say:The heathen, in his blindness,Bows down to brick and stone.We must have an open mind with regard to building materials.
With regard to the slum problem, it is well that the Government should take in hand this blot on our civilisation. There are, however, three conditions which ought to be complied with before any houses are demolished. The first and most obvious condition is that it is no good destroying houses until alternative accommodation is available. The second condition is that an enormous amount of slum area would never arise at all if more occupiers owned their own houses. It is a good thing to encourage the occupier-owner. It is just as true to say of houses as Arthur Young said of land,The magic of property turns sand into gold.A third point to which I would draw attention with regard to the slums, is that the degeneration of streets into slums is not always what is called in law an adt of God. It is very often an act of very careless individuals. It is true that bad homes make bad tenants, but it is also true that bad tenants make bad homes. It is a great thing to encourage People to take more interest in the care and management of their houses. A very admirable social service has lately been performed by teaching people the better 13 care of children. It would be very useful if that teaching were extended in appropriate cases if possible to the better care of houses.
One notable thing with regard to the domestic Measures referred to in the Gracious Speech is that they are all of them built up on the ideal of self-help and independence. If hon. Members read the Speech from one end to the other they will see that there is nothing in it that can demoralise the people and nothing that can pauperise the people. I think the country will regard that as absolutely right. There are patches here and there in the community where people do not believe in self-help, but the great majority of people, however hard the times, believe that the true way to salvation is to carve out your own. I often marvel at what I see in my own constituency. I come across hundreds and hundreds of families who feel to the full the terrible trade depression, and yet they never dream of looking to the State or to other people for assistance. Such fortitude and patience rank among the most wonderful things in the world.
I would make two submissions in regard to the Gracious Speech from the Throne. First, in regard to the actual proposals, I submit that they are sober, moderate, well-calculated and likely to raise the general level of prosperity. The second and most vital point in the King's Speech is its insistence upon the spirit of conciliation and fellowship. The success of all the other Measures referred to in the King's Speech is contingent upon goodwill among those engaged in industry. Without that goodwill all our labours must be in vain. It is the only key to our troubles and the only way to bridge the chasm between labour and capital. It is the only solution, and it has always been the only solution.
I would like to read an extract from a speech made by Disraeli in 1844. If I may respectfully say so, I think that if this quotation were interpolated in a speech made by the present Prime Minister, one would not know the difference between Disraeli and the Prime Minister. Disraeli, in defining the ideals of young England said:We want in the first place to impress upon society that there is such a thing as 14 duty. … We do not pretend that we are better than others, but we are anxious to do our duty, and, if so, we think that we have a right to call on others, whether rich or poor, to do theirs. If the principle of duty had not been lost sight of for the last 50 years you would never have heard of the classes into which England is divided.That was true in the iron age of laisser faire and it is truer to-day. In those days there really were "two nations," the rich and the poor. Then it might truly be said that the rich ground the faces of the poor and the poor envied the splendour of the rich. Those were bad times, when there was an irreconcilable gap between employer and employed. The speech of Disraeli from which I have quoted was made near Bradford, where the worst excesses of the factory system were practised.
To-day, a new spirit of conciliation has been breathed into industry. There is far closer and friendlier contact between employer and employed than was the case in the 'forties. The more that true basis of industry is appreciated, the more labour will recognise how much growth there has been in sympathy and understanding and the sense of responsibility among the employers The closer that bond is, the more employers will recognise the greater understanding there is among the workers of the conditions which really govern work and wages. If anyone doubts that, he has only to look round the country to-day and see the wonderful response there has been in all sections of the community to the appeals which have been made for a better spirit in industry during the last few months. If I may say so without impertinence, I think it is the strength of this appeal that has won for our Prime Minister, not only the loyalty of his own party, but the confidence and good wishes of the whole country.
We have to realise that this alleged gap between employer and employed is very often merely a myth and a legend. There is no difference in temperament between the two classes. They are all of the same stock. When I hear people refer to labourers and miners as being frenzied revolutionists, I smile, because I regard that merely as a phase of panic. It is a delusion to refer to miners as excitable people. I remember a story which was told to me in November, 1918, by the colonel of a regiment, which con- 15 sisted entirely of Lancashire miners. He said that on the Armistice day he asked the regimental sergeant-major whether the men had been very excited over the news. The sergeant-major's reply was: "Excited? Not a bit of it. I have often seen them more excited over the issue of a rum ration." There you have the vital sense of humour.
It is not the stuff out of which fanatics are made. All classes have to realise that common interests vastly outweigh points of difference. The more one realises the conditions of to-day, the more one realises that, however acute may be differences now and again locally, as to work and wages and conditions, there are far stronger bonds of union. On the really big things of national life, Empire development, the maintenance of peace at home and abroad, the security of employment, and the maintenance of our overseas markets, the interests of all classes within the community are one and indivisible, now and for ever. That is the lesson which we have to teach. I believe that, given goodwill, and following out the sober, patient and thoughtful line which is struck by the Gracious Speech from the Throne, we shall eventually reach what is the common objective of all political parties—the attainment by our people of a higher general level of civilisation and happiness. Of course, one realises that that objective is still very far away on the horizon. Our soldiers spoke prophetically, more prophetically than they thought, when as they tramped across the battlefields of Europe they sangThere is a long, long trail awinding into the land of my dreams.The goal of our dreams may be far off and the road undoubtedly is rough, but, given goodwill and hard work, there is no reason whatever why the task should be beyond the capacity and the courage of the British people. We must go about it in the right spirit. If I am asked what is the right spirit, I say it is the spirit of fellowship and conciliation referred to in the Gracious Speech, or, to put it in another way, I say it is the spirit that shines through the famous poem of Blake:I will not cease from mental strife,Nor shall the sword sleep in my hand,Till we have built JerusalemIn England's green and pleasant land.
§ Major PRICE (in the uniform, of the Queen's Royal Regiment)
I beg to second the Motion.
I would like, first of all, to congratulate my hon. and learned Friend on the exceedingly able and sincere way in which he has proposed the Address. The admirable manner in which he has done it has rendered my task more difficult; but I know that I have the indulgence of the House at this particular moment. I desire to acknowledge the great honour to my constituency in asking me to second the. Address, and may I also say that I think it is an honour to the Unionists of Wales that for the first time on, record, as far as I can gather, a Welshman and a Welsh Unionist has been asked to second the Address? My hon. and learned Friend has dealt mainly with home affairs. With the indugence of the House I will speak for a few moments on foreign affairs. Foreign affairs, of course, are as important to us as home affairs, and as the world lessens in size by reason of the increase of transport, foreign affairs become still more important to all the people. In reading the Debate on the Address two years ago, I found that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition made this criticism:Great Britain stands on the Continent of Europe for no definite, no decisive, and no effective policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th January, 1924; col. 90, Vol. 169.]I do not think that anyone can say that of the foreign policy of the Government to-day. It has been effective and it has been decisive, and it has had from the beginning the one object of peace and a peaceful settlement of all disputes, a new era of peace on the continent of Europe. The first fruits of that policy, which has been so admirably carried out by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, are to be found in the Treaty of Locarno. I admit at once and fully that some of the very necessary preparatory work was done by the present Leader of the Opposition when he was acting as Foreign Secretary. It was necessary that there should be a reorientation of ideas, and that has been brought about. We see that as a result of the Treaty of Locarno it has been possible to make another step forward, and, as is mentioned in the Gracious Speech, it is intended that a Minister 17 shall proceed to the preparatory disarmament conference. That, we hope, will lead to agreed disarmament, a lessening of the heavy burden of armaments throughout the world. What the outcome of the conference may be, no man can say, but we can all hope that the outcome will be what we all desire, to whatever party we belong, and we hope that it will come about because of a desire on the part of all nations of the world to live in peaceful friendship one with the other. Unless it does come about by such a desire it can have no lasting effect.
Another matter that is mentioned in the Gracious Speech is the question of Turkey. I am sure that we are all glad to see the phraseology that has been used with regard to the Turkey-Iraq dispute. May I quote it?My Government cordially reciprocate the desire of the Turkish Government for the promotion of the friendliest relations between Turkey and Great Britain.I think "cordially reciprocate" is something for which we should be devoutly thankful, because the result of the negotiations depends upon the feeling that is in the minds of the two countries when they enter upon their task. Unfortunately the task of the statesmen, both in Turkey and in this country, has not been rendered less difficult by the attitude taken up by certain leading newspapers. Undoubtedly the harm done here can be overcome, but when dealing with the Government of a country that has had national feeling aroused, the voice of these papers might be taken for the voice of the people and of the responsible Government of this country. That rendered the task of statesmen difficult. We are glad that these friendly overtures are proceeding, and we have the greatest hope that they will result in a peaceful settlement of the very difficult question of the Turkey-Iraq boundary. Undoubtedly there are clouds in different parts of the world of foreign affairs. We can only hope that the policy of His Majesty's Government which is a policy of peace will succeed in dispersing the clouds, if not at once, at least gradually. We can remain confident that the Government are watching the interests of the country and of the Empire wherever it is necessary that they should be watched faithfully and well.
18 I will leave foreign affairs for a moment, and turn to the very thorny and difficult path of economy. I am sure that I shall meet with the sympathy of the House. Economy was admirably described this morning in a leading article in the "Times," which said:Economy we all agree with in principle, but reserve the freest right to differ about the application of it.I do not pretend to be above any other person with regard to that, but undoubtedly we must take a very broad view of economy. The object that we are aiming at is to reduce the overhead charges which bear so heavily upon the industries of the country. That is the object of reducing expenditure. That public expenditure should be under the control of this House has been an axiom for a very long time, but when that is carried into action what we find is that whole blocks of Votes are passed by the House without a word of discussion. I do not know whether it would be possible to extend the numbers of the Estimate Committee, in order that there may be a thorough examination of the Estimates before they come before the House. When Estimates are before us we spend a great deal of time in discussing questions of policy. I would like to see a little more time spent in discussing details of expenditure. Although we might find it exceedingly difficult to move a Government on a question of policy, we might be able to reduce expenditure if we had time to do it. I am certain that everyone in the House will agree that great economies might be made, provided the strictest attention is given to the administration of the public funds.
We all agree that one of the places in which the shoe pinches hardest and most directly, as a charge upon industry, is in local expenditure perhaps more than in Government expenditure. All these things we have to watch most carefully. To carry out a real system of economy great foresight is required. Very often economies are passed by because of the hardship that they entail on a particular place or section of the people. But by foresight and sympathetic action many of the effects of these economies can be avoided, if sufficient attention is given to these things first of all. I am sure that it is the desire of the Government, in carrying out economies, that 19 they shall not press unduly or too hardly on any particular section of the community.
I am exceedingly glad to see in the Gracious Speech a reference to the great industry of agriculture. Agriculture has been before the country recently in many quarters. All sorts of remedies are suggested. I agree that it is exceedingly difficult to get a consensus of opinion, even among agriculturists themselves, as to what is best to be done for them. I am equally certain that every agriculturist will agree, and every Member of this House who has a knowledge of agriculture will agree that the methods outlined in the King's Speech will be of actual and practical help to the farmer and the farm labourer who wishes to become a farmer. There is no strict line of demarkation between the farmer and the farm labourer. In my own county the labourer is the farmer. The labour of the farm is carried on by the farmer and his family. I could quote instance after instance where the ordinary tenant of a small farm, working with his family, has been able to place his sons on farms of their own, and those sons are the owners of their farms to-day. It is the man who is willing to work and to help himself that we want to help, because he is deserving of help.
By granting him credit facilities, such as are outlined in the Gracious Speech, we shall be doing him a really good turn. In the old days the private banks were able to assist him. What is the farmer's asset in his young days, apart from a little stock and a little credit? It is his character. That is something which you cannot put into the safe of a bank. However useful the great banking system of to-day may be with regard to industry generally, however sympathetic it may be to farmers, it is not the system which is devised to help this particular type of man. I feel if some system can be brought about by which this man will receive that help which he requires in order that he may hold his stock until it is matured; in order that he may buy manures without being tied to any particular merchant; in order that he may be able to market his product in the best market and by the best methods—that then some real aid will have been given him which will enable him to progress 20 and will enable the whole country to benefit by what he produces from his farm. By giving him a chance of becoming the tenant or owner of his cottage, holding or a small holding you will give him the greatest help, but you must not think that these things can be done without a certain amount of expenditure. The rent you can get for a small holding horn the tenant is only about equivalent to the interest on the cost of equipping that small holding. Practically speaking, the land costs nothing at all, and so it is, that in regard to moot of the small farms of this country the rent paid is nothing but a small return upon the capital expenditure on buildings and equipment generally.
The purchase of the holding is one which the farmer ought to be encouraged to make and if the operation of the Agricultural Credit Act:. which at present is confined to transactions within a very limited period—I think, from 1919 to 1921—were extended and if these matters were carried through more quickly than they are to-day, the farmer would derive much assistance. To-day he goes to the bank; he comes upon hard times and finds himself owing, perhaps, £2,000 or £3,000 to the bank. He is called into the bank parlour; it worries him exceedingly and prevents him giving his attention to farming operations. If he knows he has a certain amount to pay every quarter covering principal and interest and that he is paying it to the Government, who have a safe security for their advance, he knows where he is and what expenses he has to meet. The smallholder can, and does to-day, become a farmer. Make the path easy for him and you will help forward agriculture immensely. Let this process go forward, along with agricultural education and agricultural research work and, above all, co-operation, but do not imagine that you have an easy task before you in dealing with agricultural co-operation, because you have not. You have a most difficult path to tread and if any co-operative system of marketing is to be helpful to the agriculturists, the Government should see that they get the very best business advice that it is possible to obtain. Great harm has been done to the co-operative movement in agriculture by the failure of agricultural societies which the farmers them selves have started. Very often these 21 failures have almost ruined farmers who have put their money into the societies. That has been brought about because the farmer's training is not a business training and his whole life differs from that of a business man or an industrialist. Co-operative marketing is concerned with business and ought to be managed by business people. In that way I am certain a real step can be made to assist the agriculturist—a step which he will appreciate and with which he will fall in and, above all, one which does not involve administrative expense or interference by committees and officials.
I am sure when my hon. and learned Friend the Mover referred to what was running through the Gracious Speech and what was running through the whole policy of the Government, namely, that there should be goodwill and friendship between all classes, he was only echoing the feelings of all of us. Undoubtedly without that goodwill, we cannot solve the difficult problems which are in front of us. We learned that lesson in the War. It was then ground into the hearts of many of us that we cannot serve our country and our people without giving ourselves as a service and a sacrifice to their good. Are we prepared to do that in peace. Are we prepared to do that from the top to the bottom? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad to hear the approbation of my hon. Friends opposite. Let us carry out that idea in practice, and whether we are on one side or on the other, conduct all our dealings and negotiations in that spirit and in accordance with the divine truth—without which we shall get nowhere—that though we may have wisdom and wealth, though we may have power and strength, they are as nothing unless we have the great virtue of charity.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I am certain I express the united feeling of the House when I offer to the two hon. Members who have just spoken our hearty congratulations on their complete success in a task which is always difficult and is frequently embarrassing. If I refer, first, to the Seconder of the Address, it is not, of course, in order to make any invidious distinction, but I would specially like to say that I think the hon. and gallant Member has acquitted himself with very great skill, has shown great earnestness and warmth of nature in what he had to 22 say and has exhibited a good deal of courage in his references to economy—in view of the constituency with which he is associated. My hon. and learned Friend the Mover, who shares with me part of the representation of Manchester—he represents the Moss Side Division and I represent the Platting Division—has had perhaps more training and more opportunities of acquainting himself with the conditions of the House and therefore the ease and pungency with which he addressed it were in no sense surprising. I share with him the hope and expectation of some good fruit from legislation which is indicated in the Speech from the Throne in reference to the cotton industry, with which we are both associated, and I was glad that in referring to the two pests in that connection he was frank enough to mention the financial pest—the financial speculator. I doubt whether the hon. and learned Member altogether lived up to his ideal of being non-controversial and non-polemical in the course of his speech. When he said we all came from a common stock and pressed his appeal for fellowship and goodwill, I wondered what kind of stock he meant. If he referred to the physical stock—yes. If he referred to the financial stock—no. There is a great deal of distance and difference between classes and between sections and perhaps our Debates in the course of this week will make some contribution towards the reconciliation of those differences.
In the absence of the Leader of the Opposition, who for a few days yet is not to be with us, I desire to offer a few general observations on some aspects of and some points in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. Those in this country who do not desire any change, who are not seeking any alteration at all, will be extremely satisfied with the Government's prospectus of the business of the Session before us, but millions who not merely want change, but are in real need of it, will be intensely disappointed when they read this Speech to-morrow morning. Any value there is in the Speech, can be detected only in its minor points and items. This is the second Session of a new Parliament in which there is a Government backed by an almost unprecedented majority. According to common experience this is the Session in which such a Government might be expected to 23 attempt the biggest things of its Parliamentary life. No trace of any such endeavour or ambition can be found in the Speech before us. It fails completely to appreciate the stage which we are reaching in regard to the supreme social and economic issues confronting us.
The Speech tells us something about Iraq. Into the general aspect of foreign and international policy I am not going to enter, but it tells us only of things which now have been virtually settled. We are supposed to be living in an age of democratic government but we are drifting towards government not by Parliaments and not even by Cabinets. Individual Ministers appear to take upon themselves the settlement of great issues, confident in the assurance that they need only report their decisions later to the House of Commons in order to receive formal sanction. We had some instances of what I have in mind before the House rose last year when great questions of finance relating to debts affecting various countries and even greater questions of policy were settled upon this basis of journeys of Ministers to other countries and of some formal report later to the House of Commons. In this speech the League of Nations is just mentioned. We say from this side of the House that the League of Nations must be something more than a mere register of British responsibilities. Our attachment to the League is inspired solely by our anxiety for peace and is not in any way the result of class or party considerations. In our judgment, the decisions of the League should never be made a party affair and never should be hurried through by mechanical or merely Parliamentary majorities. The League cannot work well in rendering its great service to humanity unless it carries with it the general assent of the public of the various countries. I am glad that in this speech we have a reference to the subject of disarmament, however limited and however qualified. We would like to ask whether that reference to disarmament indicates a genuine lead to be reinforced by example. Progress in this difficult and complex problem depends not only upon diplomatic honesty but upon a conviction that peace can be found less in the shadow of the sword than in an agreement not to resort to war for the settlement of international 24 differences. Nations cannot disarm unless they show a complete earnestness in the acceptance of methods of arbitration and heartily welcome judicial decisions to determine conflicts as they may arise between countries. If we measure our relative military strength and assume the national importance by those measurements, it can mean only the continuance of policies which have produced the troubles from which already we suffer. It would be fatal, for the purposes of disarmament conferences, to enter into them in any spirit other than that of regarding the future of mankind as being vested equally in the different countries, and not according to their relative strength, as I have said.
The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whom I see on the bench opposite, was perhaps more than any other man in this House deeply interested in the references in this Speech to economy, and I have no doubt that by this time he has found that economy is impossible with any retention or development of the military spirit. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend in his position in the Government fills that particular post in which he might be able to do most good; I do think he fills that particular post in which he is able to do least harm. What national economies, for instance, have we been able so far to derive from the sinking of the German Fleet? Have we been able yet to get a great distance from the idea that we must keep well armed on land and sea because of fears in other countries and armaments abroad? Our largest single item of national expenditure is the War Loans, amounting to more than £300,000,000 a year, a debt which I fear will not be effaced or settled until several generations after this have gone. Our next item is expenditure on armaments, amounting to something roundly in the neighbourhood of £120,000,000 a year. I have before me the figures showing, for instance, what is spent, on the one hand, on national education and, on the other hand, on armaments. I think we cannot too often emphasise and present these comparisons. In some four years, taking the years as inclusive from 1922 to 1926, the figures show a total expenditure on armaments exceeding £452,000,000, being nearly three times as much as, in the same 25 period, the State has spent upon education. These are the facts which present to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the most baffling aspect of this problem of economy.
The Speech from the Throne mentions the question of unemployment, but not with any idea of suggesting a solution, not in order to adumbrate a scheme or to refer even to an idea of a remedy, not to say a Bill. Public bodies have in the past few months been very seriously agitated, not because of what it was thought the Government might do in framing schemes or passing legislation to deal with the problem, but because of what the Government have already done in restraining and restricting regulations which further hamper the local authorities in their efforts to deal with this problem. I may take my own area of Manchester, only as illustrating the general local authority difficulty throughout the country. In Manchester, the Work for the Unemployed Committee, a Committee attached to the Corporation, has decided to ask the City Council to pass a resolution protesting against the new requirement of the Government, as indicated in a recent circular, that the Unemployment Grants Committee shall satisfy themselves, before approving any scheme, that the work is one which would not otherwise be undertaken for a considerable period, and urging that this condition should be withdrawn, as unemployment in the city is still extremely serious. It is to be feared that the effect of this new condition will be to reduce approved schemes to a very small number, and might tend even to wind up the work of the Unemployment Grants Committee altogether.
Although this great problem of the unemployed is not touched upon in the Speech from the Throne in any sense of suggesting remedies, let me pursue it and draw specially the attention of the Prime Minister to his personal commitments and the express promises of the Government as to what they would do in relation to this question. For I recall that in the Prime Minister's speech at Brighton some few months ago, he seemed to exhibit some astonishment at the statement that any pledges had been broken by the Government on this problem, and declared, in effect, that his party had never been a party 26 to make promises. Finding themselves confronted with the charge that they have broken pledges, their answer apparently is that they have made none. Then I go back to the manifesto of the Conservative party on the eve of the last election, and I find that it was there expressly declared that the Unionist party would treat the task of grappling with unemployment as its primary obligation. I press that upon the Prime Minister, as an honourable man, as being the most express declaration of purpose that a party could make on the eve of an election, that they would regard as a primary task the task of grappling with the unemployment problem, that it should be a first obligation. I allege that that promise has been flagrantly broken and that in the whole of last Session, from the time when the promise was made until now, at no time have we had any step taken by the Government, either by legislative proposals or by administrative acts, in any way to conform with that solemn promise that was made. Coming to the beginning of the Session of last year, let me show the Prime Minister how that promise was repeated and emphasised, for in the Speech from the Throne that was read when the new Parliament assembled, it was declared that the House wouldbe asked to make provision for the continuance and extension of all such measures as are likely to alleviate the present distresses.I repeat that Measures were not introduced, and that no attempt was made to relieve the distresses in conformity with the promise made in that Speech from the Throne. Then we travel on to the middle of last year, and again I quote the solemn pledge of the Prime Minister, for in the summer of that year, in June, 1925, speaking in this House, he said that the Government were going to make a great and special effort this winter. Well, we have passed through the winter, or very nearly through, and I say that the only special effort that the Government has made has been, not an effort to find work for the unemployed or relief for the distressed, but an effort to knock men off the roll entitling them to benefit and to make it impossible for them to receive payment. Ministers of all ranks and positions make excuses and explana- 27 tions, but they make no proposals, and if the Minister for Labour were here I would put this view to him, that an analysis would show that more men who continue to be unemployed have been struck off the list for unemployment benefit by Government action that the number of men who have been found work in connection with any of the unemployment schemes.
Before I leave this point, may I again draw the attention of the Prime Minister to the great con-cern of the local authorities on this issue? I observe that a letter has been sent to the Prime Minister, a copy of which I believe every Member of this House has received, from the Association of Municipal Corporations, pointing out that such works as would relieve the unemployed cannot be provided or undertaken without adequate financial assistance from the State, and averring that the conditions imposed in The recent Circular of the Unemployment Grants Committee of the nth December make it practically impossible for the authorities to obtain such assistance. "it we cannot have the goodwill and the co-operation and united support of the local authorities in the handling of this problem, Heaven help the unemployed! This body asks the Prime Minister whether he will receive a deputation, and if he has not already reached a decision on that point, I would like here to reinforce the appeal of the Municipal Corporations Association, and express the hope that that very important and influential body will be able to meet him on this subject.
There is a reference in this Speech from the Throne to the coal situation, and there is the declaration, which no doubt all of us can accept, that in such matters as this the interests of the nation are paramount. But in relation to that paramount interest, I take leave to ask: Will justice to the coal producer have first place in the fixing of that interest? I put it seriously to the Prime Minister that a miner's wages, his life conditions, must not be subordinate and must not be regarded as a secondary consideration, for where would the nation be in regard to its great coal industry if it were not for 28 the daily and risky service of the hundreds of thousands of miners who are serving the country? Later on, the House, I am sure, will have to go into this matter in fuller detail than is possible in the course of this Debate. We are anxious on this side of the House that the millions of money being spent by the nation should not be spent without purpose and should not be spent without securing industrial peace, and, therefore, I think that nothing should be said to engender the feeling that conflict is inevitable as between the mineowners and the miners. On the other hand, I say it is most regrettable that so many employers have declared already in favour of reduced wages and longer hours as the only solution for the troubles in the coal industry. The wage reduction policy entered into more than four years ago and carried through in the most cruel way in the case of many millions of workers in this country has not rescued British trade from its troubles, has not solved the unemployment problem, has not opened out the markets of foreign countries as we were told that it would do, and, indeed, it has done nothing to help to increase the purchasing power of British home consumers, who, in this Speech from the Throne, have been invited to buy British goods, with money, of course., which they have not got at all.
This Speech from the Throne is remarkable for its lack clear meaning in two or three very distinct particulars. What is meant by the statement that a number of Governments are to be invited to a Conference to consider the possibility of securing agreement for regulating hours of labour? It may be a reference to what we call the Washington Convention decision, or it may be something else. As it is not clearly stated, I would like to ask the Prime Minister to let us know what the Government have in mind? Then, whit is in the Government's mind on the question of better credit facilities to Assist agriculture? Are we to have some new provisions for loans or some extension of existing pravisions? Into the general condition of British agriculture I will not now enter, but I do say the meaning of the Government on several of the matters appears to be mast cunningly concealed, if we judge by the language of the Speech 29 from the Throne itself. That, indeed, might be the case in regard to what is in the Government's mind on the question of Poor Law reform. Is the motive just for the purpose of reducing the amount of Poor Law relief? On this matter, I do not think the House has yet exhibited the whole measure of sympathy to which the poor necessitous areas of this country are entitled. The plight of the poorest areas is more than perplexing to the municipal authorities. Their position has not received, as I have said, sufficient sympathy in the terrible difficulties which many of them have to encounter. Scorn and satire have been poured in the Press in many cases, instead of the help to which they have a right to expect. It is not too much to say, in view of the suspicion consequent upon the plight of many of these centres, that guardians have stood as a bulwark between the country and real tumult, and, in many instances, have done their level best to compose differences and allay rising trouble.
There are things not in this Speech from the Throne which I would like to see in, and I would wish, therefore, to put to the Prime Minister two or three questions on matters of omission. One of the great lines of hopefulness raised by the Prime Minister's speech just before the last General Election related to the question of food and food prices. The Prime Minister will recall that he went the length of pledging definitely the appointment of a Commission. It has been appointed. That Commission, operating without powers, and with scarcely any moral authority derived from the pronouncements of Ministers themselves, has been absolutely ineffective, and I say that food prices are higher now than they were before the Commission was formed. I trust the Prime Minister will take note of that fact. It may be seen in the tables that food prices are higher now than before the Food Commission was appointed. I rather think that there is some little mystery, at any rate some matter about which I would like this House to receive information, with regard to the services of Mr. Coller. I know it is rare to mention these matters in House of Commons Debates; but here is a question on which a most important Committee is working. Mr. Coller, who served in the Board of Trade, following his long service at the 30 Ministry of Food, is a man of unrivalled experience, and of very great ability, and the public has had no information as to why his qualities were not retained for public use on questions which he had completely mastered.
I have said that this Commission has been working without powers, and the Prime Minister has referred to that subject in one of his recent speeches, in which he said:While we wish to avoid any possible form of legislation or control, yet if at anytime the work of the Food Council suffered by absence of such powers, we should never hesitate to go to Parliament to ask for them.I, therefore, put to the Prime Minister definitely this question, in view of the increase in the cost of living and the cost of food since the Commission began its work, does he not think the time has arrived when some power might be effectively exercised through that Commission by legislative action?
Another matter not referred to in this Speech is one which has excited a good deal of public controversy in the last month or two. I refer to the assumed designs of the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon that fund known to us as the Road Fund. Recently a deputation of representatives of local authorities met the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I have been interested in reading the official report issued of that deputation. We are well acquainted with the dialectical skill of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As a rule he, does not suffer on the side of making himself quite clearly understood. This is what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said to the deputation:Who has ever suggested that there would be any diminution of the funds available for the maintenance of roads? There must be no diminution, and there must be an increase.The Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke of "the maintenance and upkeep of the roads." I interpret those terms to mean the same thing, but I do not find that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said anything about the construction of new roads, a matter of supreme importance, in view of the ever-increasing weight of vehicles and of the great development of our newer systems of transport. What, then, clearly is meant? Does the Chancellor intend to divert for other purposes 31 than the purposes originally intended any share of that Road Fund in which this House is most deeply interested? If a deputation cannot be frankly told what is in the Chancellor's mind, I hope be will not deny to this House the fullest information of his intentions in that regard.
Another question of very great interest is this. There has been a good deal of Press discussion on the sailing of vessels, many of which are now at sea, without efficient wireless operators. I am not going into the merits of the dispute. I am not going to argue as to who is right or wrong, but I want definitely, upon a constitutional point, and upon a matter of law, to put a question which, I think, ought to be answered. Under what Act of Parliament has power been given by the Government or by any Department of State for the sailing of ships without wireless operators? Have the Law Officers of the Crown been consulted with respect to the purely legal aspects of this question? It is, indeed, a little more serious than some may think, for I understand that nearly 1,000 vessels have been put to sea without these wireless operators, and, in view of the great risk to life and of the constitutional proceeding which all of us are obliged to follow in this matter, I think we are entitled to answers.
There is one phrase in the Speech from the Throne which, in our judgment, deserves special attention on the part of the country. It is the admission that at the time the Labour Government were leaving office in 1924, there was every prospect of a great improvement in trade. We would welcome a revival of trade prosperity, though we know by this time the fallacy of the old gag, that there was always good trade and plenty of work when there was a Tory Government in power in this country. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and many other right hon. Gentlemen have recently expressed themselves in the most open terms. I can only say for ourselves that we trust the silver lining will really appear, and that it win not once more turn out to be no more than a mere flimsy bit of stage scenery. There is one absolutely inaccurate point in this Speech to which, finally, I want to refer. 32 The first sentence in this Speech is not true:My relations with foreign Powers continue to be friendly.What is the Government's attitude in respect to Russia, if that be true? This is not the moment for debating the merits of the point I have just raised, but I think there ought to be some words added to make it absolutely truthful, and that it should read:My relations with foreign Powers continue to be friendly, but that in respect to Russia some of my Ministers pursue Russian representatives with the most malignant abuse.If I were to close with any Labour summary of the Government's position, that would, no doubt, be regarded as a prejudiced and one-sided piece of evidence, and I am therefore not going to cite any testimony other than that recently adduced by the latest recruit of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond), I think his transference was quite natural, though his send-off has been rather mixed from the side which he left, and the welcome of the side to which he has gone has not been, perhaps, quite as hearty as he might have expected. But at Portsmouth, in October last, the right hon. Gentleman referred in these words to the Government or the party which he has now joined:He did not think it would be doubted in any section of British or foreign political thought, that the present Conservative Government had been one of the greatest failures and disappointments in our political history.I have only one criticism to offer upon that opinion. I would not say that this Government is one of the greatest failures; it is the greatest failure. It got its mandate by forgery, and it keeps its place by breaches of the promises which it made to the electorate.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I should like to join my right hon. Friend who has just sat down in felicitating the Mover and Seconder of the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech from the Throne, for the admirable way in which they have discharged a very delicate and difficult task. The Mover did it, if I may say so as an old Parliamentarian, with a felicity of expression and a sincerity which has very rarely been equalled in my experience, and I should also like to congratulate my 33 fellow-countryman upon the way in which he discharged his function, rendered all the more difficult by the skill with which the Mover had already done his part of the work. I am sorry to detract anything from his glory, but I cannot quite accept his statement that he is the first Welshman who has been chosen for that task. [HON. MEMBERS: "Conservative."] Then, that is all I have to say. I thought he was referring to the last few years. I sincerely congratulate him upon the sincerity and quality of his speech.
I come now to the document itself. First of all, I should like to say a few words upon the things with which I am in general agreement, and about which I am very satisfied.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
If my hon. Friend will be a little patient with me he can judge for himself. There is always in the worst of these documents some grains of comfort, and I am going to pick those out first of all. Of course, it is always easier to begin with the things with which you disagree and then glide by the others in the reverse process. Let me say, first of all, a word with regard to the paragraph on Iraq. I am glad that there are negotiations, but I view them with a little anxiety. I hope the Government are not going to give way too much. I congratulate the Colonial Secretary upon refusing to be either bluffed or bullied when he came to conduct the negotiations at Geneva. I am frankly glad of it. I was not here when there was a Debate in the House of Commons in December. Had I been here, I should have, said so. Since I was unable to be present, I took the trouble to write making it quite plain the line that I should have taken had I been present. This is not the time to discuss this question. I understand that papers are to be laid on the Table of the House of Commons, and we shall have full time to discuss the Treaty itself. Therefore, I will say only this. There is an obligation of honour on our part—in a treaty we entered into in 1915—a solemn obligation which we incurred to the Arabs, who, on the strength of it, rendered us very effective assistance in the War. It was an obligation that we would set up, and uphold, an Arab State. We cannot treat these matters as though they were merely 34 scraps of paper. At this, stage, I will only say that I sincerely trust that, when the negotiations are conducted, they will be conducted in the same spirit the Colonial Secretary displayed when he had the very difficult task of representing the interests of this country and her honour in the discussions at Geneva.
I now come to the second topic on which I wish to congratulate the Government, and that is their reference to Locarno. I have already expressed my mind very freely about it. I frankly rejoice in the arrangement which has been entered into by my right hon. Friend, and in the way in which he conducted the negotiations, but I ventured to say last December that Locarno is no use unless he presses for disarmament. That is the real crux; that is the real test. The Treaty of Locarno, without disarmament, is simply a steel trap with very tricky springs which may any day snap with crushing teeth.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
We can discuss that in due course—I have never shirked it—but at the present time we are discussing the Treaty of Locarno. Therefore, let me say this at once. I am really delighted to see the right hon. Gentleman pressing forward with what really matters, the sequel to Locarno. He has lost no time; he is pressing it forward, so far as I can see, with great earnestness, with great energy, and with considerable skill. May I say how glad I am that he has recovered his health, and that, having done so, that very moment he addresses himself to this all important task for the peace of Europe.
Now I come to refer to one or two other topics at the beginning of the King's Speech. I am very delighted also with the announcement made with regard to the loan to East Africa. The terms the House of Commons will discuss when they are submitted to us, but I am glad that a further effort is being made to develop the great asset of the Empire in Africa. I had the privilege, when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Asquith Government, of piloting through the House of Commons one of the first loans for cotton growing. I think it was in Sudan. Well, it has turned out to be a gigantic success. It has produced admirable cotton. It is a very risky position 35 to be dependent entirely upon the United States of America for our cotton, and we shall not be safe with one of our greatest, if not the greatest, of our manufacturing interests until we are able to grow a sufficiency of cotton within the Empire, so that we need not be dependent in the least upon what happens in any other country. Therefore, I am frankly glad the Government have announced their intention to bring in a Bill for that purpose. But I hope they will remember that the Empire begins at home, and that they will be prepared to spend money upon the development of the neglected parts of these islands as well. Upon that I shall have something to say later on.
With regard to the reference to hours of labour, I am in exactly the same perplexity as my right hon. Friend. I do not know to what it refers, unless it means the Washington Treaty. But perhaps we may have an explanation from the Prime Minister with regard to that matter. I am also pleased that the Government propose to do something with regard to the slums, although I cannot conceive how they can do it without legislation. I agree with my right hon. Friend that roads are an essential part of any real action with regard to slums and housing, and how that is to be done without legislation I do not know. Perhaps we shall find out whether the Government propose to introduce a Bill to deal with that part of the King's Speech which refers to housing. Then, with regard to economy, we shall have to wait upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer in order to hear what he proposes. It is a very difficult business as anybody who has been inside the Government knows perfectly well.
I frankly regret that education should be brought into the ambit of these efforts for reductions. I should like to ask a question. I see that the President of the Board of Education in, shall I call it, the famous Circular which he issued last year, said that legislation would be introduced with a view to substituting block grants for percentage grants. I can see no reference to any such legislation in the King's Speech. Is it intended to persevere with that proposal? I should like to ask the Prime Minister definitely. There was a Debate—it was one of the most damaging Debates I have ever heard 36 in this House—in which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education was assailed by a very powerful criticism from his own side. On the whole, I should say that that. Circular received as rough treatment in its passage through this House as any proposal that has ever been submitted by a Government. I should like to ask the Prime Minister whether he proposes to introduce legislation on the lines indicated by the Minister of Education. If so, why was it omitted from the King's Speech, because that is a matter upon which the House of Commons, I have no doubt, will have a good deal to say. With regard to the agriculture proposals, it is not very clear the line which it is intended to take, but I observe the words which are used:Discussions are proceeding with a view to the formulation of clef rite proposals on the subject."'As far as I can see, that means that the Government have not come to any conclusions with regard to the proposals that they mean to submit to the House of Commons on agriculture. The discussions are proceeding at the present time Therefore, I cannot understand the confidence with which the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Price) sketched how the proceedings were going to save the poor farmer from the bank parlour. As far as I can understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he is in that parlour at the present time discussing these proposals. At any rate, he is not out of the parlour. One would like to know whether the Government have got any proposals, or whether they are merely in the state of discussing them. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has also indicated that we are going to have a Measure which is going to set up peasant proprietors. I shall await with interest that proposal and the terms which are to be offered, first of all, to the landlords, the terms upon which the money is to be raised, and the charge which is to be passed on to the tenants. I shall also be very anxious to knew what proposals are to be made to the labourers.
Now I must come to the proposals on which I am afraid I shall not qualify for the transit which my hon. Friend suggested. They are two points on which I must submit criticisms. The first is in regard to Inter-Allied Debts, and the other is in regard to the coal industry. Take the question of the Inter-Allied 37 Debts and the agreement with Italy. The Government have congratulated themselves upon the result of that transaction. But if there is one thing in common it is this: that the action of the Prime Minister has undoubtedly, in both cases, made it difficult for the Government to deal with either one or the other. Take the Inter-Allied Debts. When I had something to do with the matter it was not merely my opinion, but that of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the best method of dealing with all these debts was to wipe them out altogether—to cancel them. That was the general opinion. We were perfectly prepared to do so. We were prepared to wipe out all the debts which were due to us, whether from France, whether from Italy, Rumania, Serbia, the Belgians, and even Germany. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, all of them—provided that America was prepared to give us similar treatment; to have a clean sheet. That substantially was the idea. That was the proposal. It was submitted in the famous Balfour Declaration. It was a thoroughly sound policy. If France would not press Germany for a certain sum of money to enable her to repair her damaged territory, we were prepared to forego the whole of our claims against all the other countries, provided America was prepared to do the same thing for us. That was the proposal. It was a sound one. It was a proposal which, I think, if we had, to use the American phrase, "Stood pat," would have gone through. That is my firm opinion. I do not believe they would have pressed us, and in a very short time the proposal made by the Earl of Balfour that we should have a conference of the Allied nations, debtors and creditors—and we were both—would have been adopted. We owed a debt of £1,000,000,000. Other nations owed us £3,000,000,000. We were, therefore, in a perfect position. [An HON. MEMBER: "Two thousand millions!"] With the Germans, £3,000,000,000, and our arrangement would have extended to Germany if we had been forgiven our trespasses. There you have it. We were in a better position, first of all because they owed us £3 for every £1 we owed. We were in a better position because we were the only country paying 38 interest on our debt. Therefore we could go and say, "Let us have a talk and let us wipe them out." However, it is no good talking about that now. The American debt has been funded for 63 years. It is something to be dealt with on the Stock Exchange, something which is bought and sold. It has passed out of the Government's hands. Therefore, there is a complication which makes it almost impossible, whatever America's feeling may be on the subject in future, to deal with it. We were to proceed in our dealings with Italy and with France upon the assumption that we had to pay every year until 1933 £34,000,000 annually, and then after that year we have to pay £38,000,000.
Let us examine the matter. What has happened in regard to the Italian debt from that point of view? So far as I am able to follow the figures, Italy owes us something under £600,000,000. France owes us something similar. There is very little, in it between the two. That is the money in respect to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to budget to pay the interest on the advances made by this country to France and to Italy. It costs us 1s. in the £ on the Income Tax. What is the settlement? The settlement is that this year—and that is what we are congratulating ourselves upon!—that this first year we will get from Italy something equivalent to an amount between one farthing and one halfpenny in the £. We are paying 6d. I do not know for how long Italy will pay; perhaps 60 years. But it will never climb to the sublime altitude of 1d. We shall be paying 6d. in the in respect of that very transaction, and we get one farthing. That does not include anything for amortisation of the capital sum.
How about France? Honestly, although I have made every effort to find out what is the settlement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with France, I have failed. I should like to know what it is. Does anyone in this House know what it is? [An HON. MEMBER: "Ask Sir Alfred Mond!"] All I know is this, the account given by M. Caillaux of the transaction is a different one to the one given by my right hon. Friend. What is the amount? According to M. Cailloux, for the first five years it is not going to be £12,000,000 something short of that. What is the 39 amount to be paid in the first year? With Italy it is £2000,000, I think. That we know. What is it going to be from France? Is there any agreement at all? This is what was said on the Italian settlement by "Le Temps":The solidarity of French and British diplomacy is too strong in the international sphere for political argument not to work London as favourably for us as for Italy.Work London! A very good phrase! There will be no employment for London so far as that is concerned. I ask the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is it we are going to get from France? If we were to ask France and Italy to pay on the basis that we are paying America, what would they pay? They would be paying for the Italian settlement, on the basis of our settlement with America till 1933, £16,800,000. Italy is going to pay us £2,000,000, it will subsequently become £4,000,000, or perhaps £5,000,000. If we had the same settlement from Italy as the Prime Minister got with America for us, the payment from Italy would be £16,800,000, and after 1933 she would pay us £19,000,000. Exactly the same thing would happen with France.
I do not think that the taxpayers of this country are being treated fairly. I would have preferred that all these debts had been wiped out. It would have been much better. We have been put in a position by the settlement of the Prime Minister that that is impossible—quite impossible. Why should they pay less? France is a very prosperous country. There is no unemployment there. Her exports have gone up. Her exports are higher than before the War. That is not the case with us. Take Italy. Italy is prosperous. She is forging ahead. She has more than doubled her electrical energy. She is building factories and railways. She is competing with us in our textile industry, and in our shipping. She is building ships, I have found, with Government subsidies to trade with and to take away trade which used to be ours. That is their business. But then they ought to pay us our debts before they begin to subsidise shipping to take away our trade.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I proposed that nobody should pay. I made the proposal—I stand by it to-day—that none of these debts should have been demanded; that, on the contrary, the whole of them should be wiped out, and we should have a clean sheet. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Certainly! That was put into definite form and agreed to by the right hon. Gentleman and submitted to these Governments. It is not something I am suggesting today. So much for that. I, therefore, would like to know from the Prime Minister what is the payment which France has promised for tins year?
I come now to the mining subsidy. In the King's Speech there are very admirable paragraphs about the importance of conciliation. Without it, of course, it is impossible to settle any dispute. That goes without saying. But there are practical difficulties here, and we must face them. I ask the Prime Minister what the Government propose to do? Have they any notion as to the position which has been created by the subsidy? It has gone up since the first month, by more than double. The first month the subsidy was £1,610,000. In December it was £3,450,000, more than double. I am told by those who know what is going on in the mining areas that there is no doubt it is going up again, and that by the month of May the gap will be something like 5s. a ton. It is increasing. Let us see just exactly what that means. It, means that at the present moment—take the month of December—we are actually paying 27 per cent. of the wage bill out of a Government subsidy. If the subsidy goes on increasing month by month, as it is now, we shall be paying 30 or 40 per cent. But supposing it does not—we will leave it at 27 percent.—bow is that to be regularised in the month of May without a subsidy? Does anyone imagine that between now and May there is going to be such an improvement in trade, such an increase in prosperity, that the Government can take this jack from under the machine? They will take it away, without the wheel being put on, and it will come crash.
What is the effect on other trades? The effect on the coal export trade everybody knows. It is a direct-subsidy to exports by enabling this country to cut 41 down the cost of coal and, therefore, to compete with other countries. It is a subsidised industry. Take iron and steel. I am told that it means about 3s. per ton upon the coal consumed in those industries, is the equivalent of a subsidy of 8 per cent, on pig iron—no, very nearly 9 per cent, on pig iron—and 8.3 per cent. on ship plates. I ask the Prime Minister how he visualises the effort to bring this to an end? No amount of conciliation and good fellowship is going to put these industries, in May, in the position where they can do without these subsidies. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer rather mocked at the figure which I gave. I ask the Prime Minister, does he really think, whatever arrangements he makes, that he will be able to take this subsidy away? If he does, who is going to fill up that 27 per cent. gap with wages? What is going to happen to the other industries that are being subsidised by the Government at the present moment? I see that the other day the Federation of British Industries quite frankly admitted that their industries were being subsidised, that the kind of little flicker of prosperity which had come within the last few weeks was very largely attributable to that. Does he really think that in the month of May he is going to be able to come down to the House of Commons and say: "I am making an arrangement with the miners for a reduction of their wages by 27 per cent., and I am going to take away that 3s."—or 4s. as it will be then—"from the steel of Sheffield and the Clyde and the rest"? One thing is clear; the Government did not realise what the subsidy meant when they first incurred the obligation. It is more than double already. In amount they miscalculated and in duration they have miscalculated, and they have miscalculated completely as to the effect it was going to have. It is a serious tangle, and I would like to ask the Government what their view is with regard to what will happen in May. It is increasing the difficulties all round.
I am very glad to see what the Government say about the gradual improvement in trade, but it is gradual and it is best that it should be gradual. The best thing that can happen to British industries is steady, slow recovery, rather than there should be leaps like a temperature 42 chart—up and then down, showing a febrile condition of trade. It is the steady improvement, 1921, 1922, 1923 and 1924—that is the thing that gave the greatest hope that in the end we might get through. But there are only three or four months before the month of May. Do they anticipate an improvement of 27 per cent. by then? The very Bills they are bringing in—and I am glad to see those Bills—will have the effect of diminishing the quantity of coal which is being consumed. Notice has been given by an hon. Gentleman of a Bill dealing with electricity. The more power we derive from electricity the more we save coal. [Interruption.] Yes, that has always been the lesson. In regard to the manufacture of iron, where they have processes of coal-saving they are able to do with 2½ tons of coal what in many cases required four tons with the old blast furnaces. Every improvement introduced, whether it is electricity or any other, saves coal; and that is right; but all that is going to leave the Government confronted with a problem where they have got 300,000 men out of work, and where the quantity of coal consumed goes down. I think we are entitled to ask the Government what their view is in regard to the prospects, first of all, with regard to Allied debts, secondly, with regard to the mines. The third question I put to them is as to what they propose to do with the Bill they threatened us with last year to abolish the percentage grants. I would also like to know what they propose to do with regard to housing.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
I do not think that I remember any occasion on which we have roamed ever wider fields in our first day's Debate than we have to-day. I will do my best, so far as I am able, to deal at any rate with the majority of the questions that have been raised. I would like first of all, as is customary, but I do it in no conventional spirit, to express my thanks to my hon. and gallant Friends behind me for having justified my selection of them as the Mover and the Seconder of the Address, and, secondly; to congratulate them on the way in which they have performed that extraordinarily difficult function, one which, I am only too glad to think, never fell to my lot. It must be the most 43 terrifying experience that can come to a young Member, such as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembrokeshire (Major Price), to stand up on this occasion to make or to Second the Motion for the Address. I congratulate them both most warmly not only on the matter but on the spirit of their remarks.
There was some ground that was common to the Leaders of the two Oppositions, and each had a little patch of his own. With regard to the first point that the Leader of the Opposition made, the question of the League of Nations and their decisions and the ratification of them, I listened with great attention, as I ought, to what he said, but, to my great regret and contrary to my usual experience, I was not able to extract a wholly clear meaning from what he said. He said something about not treating, I was not quite sure whether he meant the decisions of the League, as party decisions in this country; and he spoke of the League as registering our decisions in a manner that, I regret., I was unable quite to follow. I would like to say, hoping it may meet his objection, that ever since we came into office we have tried to work with and to utilise in every way the League of Nations. While, of course, it may be that a Government find that a line of policy they are working on obtains, after discussion, the support of the League of Nations yet that does not in any way convert the League of Nations into a party organisation. The matter will have to come up and be discussed in this House, and, of course, the reason why this Government, as his own Government would do, if faced with a similar situation, support the decisions of the League of Nations, is because we realise that for a young body of that kind to have their decisions thrown back by the democratic component parts of the League when these get back into their own legislatures, might not only set back the work of the League for years but might, possibly, bring its useful work to an end before it had begun to function.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I hope the record will show that what I said was clear. What I said was that the League of Nations ought not to become a mere register of our obligations, and I drew attention to the tendency to discuss and settle in foreign countries questions relating to 44 debts and our commitments, and then report to the House of Commons afterwards.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Oh, I see. Yes. I do not think the question of inter-allied indebtedness has been dealt with in that way, and, of course, debates there must be conducted by and with the responsibility of the Governments in each country for ths time being. It is no individual Minister that goes larking around at Geneva. He goes after full consultation with and under instructions from the Cabinet, and keeps the Cabinet in close and full touch with all that proceeds at Geneva.
I was very glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) what he said with reference to Iraq. We were sorry he was unable to be here at the end of last session when the matter was under discussion, and I do not propose to say anythin; about the question this afternoon, because the moment papers are ready, and I hope that may be certainly within the next week or two, papers up to date on that subject will be laid before the Howe and the House will be asked, ae we said at the end of last Session, to discuss and, if it thinks fit, to ratify the Iraq Treaty, which will give ample opportunity for debate and discussion on the whole subject and on its implications.
With regard to what was said about disarmament, since that paragraph was inserted in the King's Speech we have had a communication to the effect that no loss than five Governments have asked for a short delay for various reasons that seemed good to them, and they have asked that the melting to consider the proceedings on disarmament should be held after the Council in March, between that date and May. We are obliged, therefore, to assent to the desire of the majority. But I would like to add—and this perhaps may give some satisfaction to the Front bench opposite—that Russia has teen invited to attend this Conference, and it is hoped that the delay which has been secured now will give her time to think over the matter and make up her mind to join in the Conference. One of the greatest practical difficulties in approaching the subject is that it would be almost imprac- 45 ticable for the West of Europe to make any progress in disarmament without the East of Europe.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether America has agreed to participate in a conference, and where are the five Governaments that have asked for delay?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
America is going to participate. I cannot remember all the five Governments, but France, Japan, and Czechoslovakia are three of them.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us if they are taking into account the objection that Russia has to the Conference taking place in Switzerland?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Another country that asked for delay was Italy. I have often found my hon. Friends opposite well informed in these matters as to what Russia will or will not do. I am not so well acquainted with that point, but I have no doubt the delay of which I am speaking will enable any matter of that kind, if it be a matter of substance, to be dealt with. I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said, and I intended to say it myself, perhaps not so clearly, that disarmament without the will to disarm will never make progress. After all, this is going to be a meeting of nations who are determined, and whose Governments are determined, to see what common ground there is, and what progress can be made, and we are going into it with a whole-hearted endeavour to carry out the undertakings and the intentions in those undertakings that were put into the Covenant at the time of the Treaty of Versailles.
I think, perhaps, I might say one word of warning against the comparison which the right hon. Gentleman made, and which is very often made, but it is of two dissimilars which are really not comparable. When you talk about money to be spent on armaments and the money to be spent on education, one has to remember that all the money spent on armaments appears in the finances of the country, but the money spent on education is spent by the local authorities. It is extraordinarily difficult to get a real comparison, and what we have to do is to remember this: Surely with arma- 46 ments the question is, spend the least that you are obliged to spend on grounds of national safety. What those grounds are every responsible Government in its turn must decide on the best advice it can get, and we cannot carry out those proposals without the support of this House. In education I say spend all that you can afford, and what you can afford again must be decided with due consideration by the responsible Government, and it is for this House to tell that Government whether they are spending more than the country can afford, and generally to criticise, and I hope, in the matter of education, to help them.
There was a point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes), the question of food prices and the Food Board. I think he was a little hard on the Food Council. I think the Food Council has done some very good work, and while I thought that it might have been necessary to give them compulsory powers with regard to making their inquiries I am glad to say that they have had from the first no difficulty as yet in getting all the information they require. The moment they have difficulties we are prepared to help them by legislation to get those difficulties out of the way. They have explored with a good deal of success the relation, the ratio and the constituent parts of bread stuffs, and they are helping to form in this country an instructed public opinion, which is acting with the weight of public opinion on bread prices. Of course no Food Council ever could be set up to control world prices. The existence of Government control or any form of control you like will not prevent prices going up if there are shortages.
One of the main reasons for wheat prices going up this autumn was a statement that emanated from Russia that enormous quantities of wheat were ready for export. People stopped. Buying, and then it was found that a miscalculation had been made, and that there was none practically to export, and the country found itself short of wheat and therefore the prices went up I do not think there is any need to propose to this House any action by legislation with regard to the prices or retailing of food stuffs, but the Government are watching the matter and the work of the Food Council with the greatest possible interest. They have not been working long enough yet to get all 47 the information we desire, and which the public require, but I do repeat that if at any time, with full knowledge, we are convinced that any form of action is necessary, we shall take the form that we think necessary, whatever legislation it may involve.
With regard to the resignation of a very distinguished civil servant, that official tendered his resignation, and it was accepted, but if he feels for any reason that this matter should be ventilated in this House, an opportunity will arise on the Board of Trade Vote when my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, who is responsible for that Department, will be pleased to give all the information that may be desired. In the same way, with regard to the Road Fund, my right hon. Friend will doubtless take a suitable opportunity of describing in full what he proposes to do when he has matured his final plans, and there, again, the House will have ample opportunities to criticise, reject, or accept them.
Upon the question of ships going to sea without wireless, I cannot give my right hon. Friend a legal opinion, but we have followed the precedents set by the Government in 1920 and 1922 in the steps we took in allowing ships to go to sea without wireless. As was stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) who was President of the Board of Trade in 1920,The reason for the action taken by me was that while wireless is a valuable additional assistance in calling help if a ship is in danger, it is not an essential to the sea-worthiness of a ship or to the safety of those on board, and I took the view in these circumstances that to hold up the shipping of this country would have the effect of inflicting untold hardships on the whole community which is dependent on overseas supplies, and would be unjustifiable.If exception be taken in this House, the conduct of the President of the Board of Trade can be challenged on the Vote for his Department.
There are two important questions which were raised by the right hon. Gentleman: First, the work of unemployment schemes. Those schemes have been a matter of some difficulty to every Government that has been in power since 48 this period of unemployment began, and assistance was given by successive Governments to the local authorities in order to get on with work in anticipation of the time when that work would be put in hand, and that was made a justification for the Government assistance that was given. We came to the conclusion that we had very nearly, if not quite, reached the point when all the work that you could call anticipatory work had been completed, and it really was a question which the Government felt now was ceasing to become it those particulars a subsidy to unemployment, and was becoming a very different thing, namely, a subsidy to local governments. The matter undoubtedly is one which is exercising local authorities when they find the position which they are in, and unquestionably any representation which may be made by the local authorities will be listened to respectfully and carefully by the member of the Government to whom they are addressed.
The question of the conference proposed to be held on the matter of hours of labour arose in this way. I was glad both right hon. Gentlemen opposite touched upon this matter, because it is one on which I have felt very keenly for some time past. The House will remember the Washington Conference and the Regulation as to hours in the Convention. I have always felt, and I know many hon. Members on this side of the House have felt, that one of the most valuable methods in which we may be able to help and maintain our standards of labour in this country is to get more and more uniformity among the principal manufacturing countries, at least in regard to hours. It has always been a very simple matter to say that in this or in that country you have 61, 50 or 40 hours, or any number of hours per week that you like, but you have to be sure in concluding agreements in which many countries speaking many longues are joined together in ratification that you all mean the same thing by what you say; otherwise, you will find, owing to the exceptions allowed and different interpretations of words and so forth, that you may have at the end of 12 months a completely different standard in each of those countries, and your last stage will be worse than the first.
49 Without casting any reflection on other countries I will say with regard to our country that when we make an agreement of that kind we do our best to fulfil it literally. Therefore, it is all the more important that the literalness of the word should be understood. The House knows the difficulties which arise between large organisations of labour and employers, difficulties which arise in interpretation between two bodies of men who trust each other—difficulties that arise about the interpretation of words on either side, sometimes of a single word or the meaning of a phrase. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) will remember, as I do, when we made our first steps in conciliation boards in 1911 on the Great Western Railway, the amount of time that was consumed in getting at the exact meaning of the Clauses of that long agreement. If that is the case with the English language alone, how infinitely more difficult will it be when you come to half-a-dozen languages. So the Minister of Labour is inviting the Ministers of Labour of the principal manufacturing countries, together with M. Thomas of the International Labour Office in Geneva, to meet in London and to come if possible to an agreement as to the terms employed in the limitation of hours, the forty-eight hours' week, and to have a careful examination of the exceptions that have been made, are being made, or are being suggested and to get complete agreement between those concerned.
It is an extremely difficult task. I do not know whether we shall be successful. We shall do our utmost to secure complete agreement and understanding. If that agreement is reached the ratification of the Washington Convention by the participating countries will then he possible and we shall proceed to ratify, but we are not going to ratify until we are convinced that we all mean the same thing. Even if we do not come to a definite agreement, or an agreement so definite that we may be able to effect that particular ratification, yet I have every hope that we may usefully come to some agreement and get to make some real and substantial step forward in bringing about a unification, between the principal manufacturing countries, of hours of labour. I think it would be invaluable for all of us.
50 Something was said, and very naturally, about education. I do not propose to say much in a short and rather hasty summary of this nature. I will say this, that I adhere to what I have said lately at a public meeting, that I do think it is necessary for a country from time to time to have a stocktaking in expenditure, and it really was most refreshing to me to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) getting up and slashing about this evening upon education, when I remember the strength he gave to that massive arm the Geddes axe. Half of my difficulties have arisen from some of the gashes that the Geddes axe made in regard to education. He knows as well as I do that you have to take stock of your expenditure to make sure from time to time that you are getting the utmost for what you spend. The difficulty has been with education, as with regard to one or two other things, that. So much of the money that is spent is not under the control of this House. I do not say that we are always perfect in our control. We are not. Let us try and impress on local authorities the need, not only for economy and making your money go as far as you can in national matters, but also in local matters, because, after all, rates press just as much as taxes and probably snore, because rates are paid whether you are making any profits or not. The cumulative effect of the two is a matter of the utmost gravity for this country. The local authorities asked my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education that the introduction of block grants should be suspended for a year. We are at present examining what would be the cost of continuing the present system through this year, and until my right hon. Friend has concluded his examination, he will not be in a position to discuss the matter further with the Cabinet. The only thing I would say here, and opportunities will arise before Easter for further discussion, is that we are proposing to go to the system of block grants at the earliest moment possible. Whether it would be possible to do it this year or not, it is impossible yet to say.
With regard to agriculture, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture hopes to place a White Paper in the Vote Office this evening which will give a 51 reasoned summary of the various proposals he is to put forward. I do not think he is yet in a position to deal finally with the only matter touched on seriously this afternoon, that of credits. That is a matter, as everyone knows, of infinite difficulty. We have been examining it for a long time past, and we are, I hope and believe, approaching a solution. The moment we have approached the solution that also will be made public.
I have quite forgiven my right hon. Friend the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) for his concluding words, which roused such cheers from the party behind him. It may have been very comforting a year ago to believe that we had got in by what he called a forgery, but he can hardly make such an excuse now.
I am pleased to find general support in the House for our proposals with regard to the development of East Africa. I may tell the House that it is not money the Government is proposing to find. It is merely that they will guarantee loans to be raised by East Africa in our markets, as and when the money is required, up to a sum of ten millions. I hope that will be used very largely for railway development and it will have the double effect, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembroke (Major Price) said, of providing orders for industries that sorely need orders at this time and of enabling cotton growing to be proceeded with at increased speed in East Africa.
As regards the other points raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, undoubtedly a Bill will have to be introduced dealing with slums, when my right hon. Friend the Minister and the Cabinet have completed the investigations which are now going on. I hope it will be possible this year. I say, "I hope," in the same way that similar words are used in the Gracious Speech. Because it is quite obvious From what my right hon. Friend said himself, that with the problems facing us this spring it is impossible yet to say what time we may or may not have for such legislation as we should like to bring in.
With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said, I am sure he will not 52 expect me to follow him to-day. My right hon. Friend made a very clear and full statement when he brought in the estimates just before Christmas on the coal subsidy. He has told the House that December, according to the best information we have, represents the peak and that we may expect the amount to fall considerably now and I hope right away on till May. That does not for a moment mean that the problem does not exist, or in that particular direction does not do so in as grave a form as the right hon. Gentleman suggested. It exists and it is one of the gravest problems which we have to consider, but this is not the time on which I could usefully add anything on that matter.
As regards debts, I am very glad this question was raised. I hoped we might have had the advantage of hearing the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, who I believe holds very strong views on the matter.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
May I ask whether it is proposed to lay the agreement before the House; and will an opportunity be provided to discuss it, for it is most unsatisfactory to do it in a perfunctory way?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
There shall be nothing perfunctory about me this afternoon. It is perfectly obvious that in this Debate you cannot have the time for the discussion that you would like. My right hon. Friend will lay papers. It is obvious that it is a matter which must be discussed but I cannot say at this moment what form the papers will take. I will merely say this in answer to what my right hon. Friend said, that I agree with some of the things he said and I do not agree with others. I agree with him, and I was always in favour of it but I had a very still, small, voice in those days on the universal cancellation of debts. But when my right hon. Friend talks about the debt settlement, which I was instrumental in making, having put an end to those hopes, he is committing an anachronism. It became impossible two years before that to do anything of the kind in the matter. He may shake his head and I have no doubt that he knows America well. I think I do and we must agree to differ on that. I am as certain as I can be of anything 53 that no arrangement of that kind could have been made and that they would never have entertained any proposal of the kind. With regard to Italy's debt, I would only say this, and I will leave the discussion of the question to a special occasion which we must try to find. I will only say that if my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs desires to have some information about the present position in regard to the French debt, my right hon. Friend will be glad to make him a statement in the course of the Debate on the Address, when there may be art opportunity of speaking on it. With regard to the Italian debt I would merely express my own opinion, and that of the Government's, that having regard to the capacity of Italy to pay and having regard to what Italy is paying America and to our friendship with Italy, I consider that the settlement is an equitable one and satisfactory. I am the more encouraged in that belief by an interview which I read in the "Tribunes," of Rome, on the 15th January of this yearWe of the Labour party were always in favour of the general cancellation of war debts. That was not possible, and it is not our fault.Nothing ever is.This admitted, it is almost superfluous to add that we desire a settlement with Italy to be the most favourable possible for you.That is said to the Italians.We shall never find it too favourable, and we shall not be the people to criticise it.I felt uncomfortable when I read that.If it meets with your desires"—that is, the Italian desire—and 'we,' as you know, signifies the official opposition, which is the only opposition which counts. The policy rests entirely in the hands of the Conservative party.Those are the words of a member of the late Cabinet, and, knowing—[HON. MEMBERS: "Name!"]—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb), the late President of the Board of Trade.[Interruption.] I have secured a copy of his words, and I understand that it is a perfectly correct version of what took place. Knowing, as I have said, the unity that exists in the Opposition, I think the settlement my right hon. Friend has made will, when the time comes, receive practically the unanimous support of this House.
§ Mr. THURTLE
Most honest men in this House will agree that the Speech which we have heard from the Throne to-day is a more or less colourless document, and is, indeed, a most disappointing document, considering the conditions obtaining in this country at the present time. It will disappoint all sorts of people, but it will not disappoint any people more than those people who voted for the Conservative Government at the last General Election. Many of them, poor misguided souls, imagined that, in voting for the Conservative Government, they were going to bring about improved conditions for themselves and their fellow men and women. Looking at this Speech, I think we may say, with the poet:The hungry sheep look up and are not fed.It looks as though, so long as this Government continues in office, they are going to remain unfed. There are, however, various points in the Speech with which I should like to deal. I hope not to do so at great length, but I think they need a few observations.
First of all, I will deal with that part of the Speech which is concerned with foreign affairs, and I will take first the paragraph dealing with the question of Iraq and the relations with the Turkish Government. I am very glad to see that the Speech says that His Majesty's Government desire the friendliest relations with Turkey. I am very glad to note that, but I must say the Government have taken a very strange method indeed of trying to establish those friendly relations. Whatever may be said by the right hon. Gentleman and by the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Mr. Hurst), who moved the Address this afternoon, I think that, if the view of the people of this country could really be ascertained, the great bulk of the people are strongly opposed to our continuation of the Mandate in Iraq. It is said that the portion of the Press which tried to dissuade the Government from agreeing to a continuance of the Mandate was not representative of the people. I have no kind of wish to exalt that Press to any particular position of authority, but in my view, on this particular occasion at any rate, the Press which was opposing the continuance of the Iraq Mandate was really expressing the desires of the great mass of the people of this country.
55 There is no desire on our part to incur any more of these Imperialistic obligations, and even the military experts themselves admit the very great hazards and perils that exist for this country in the continuance of our position in Iraq. As for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), I am not a hit surprised at his giving the Mandate his blessing. He has got a great deal on his conscience. It was he who was mainly responsible for inciting the Greeks, some long time since, into that foolhardy adventure which took place at Smyrna, and all along he has been doing all he could to exacerbate the feelings of the Turks and make a friendly settlement between them and ourselves impossible. I would like to refer here to the extraordinary propaganda which is being carried on in connection with the Iraq Christians. In my opinion, the way in which the story of the sufferings of the Iraq Christians is being vamped up at the present time is reminiscent of the very worst type of war propaganda and misrepresentation. If it were not for the fact that this country desires to remain in Iraq, and the motives which prompt that desire—I could deal with them if I had time, and I will do so on another occasion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Now!"] if it were not for that fact, you would not find the Press of this country, you would not find the Archbishops and Bishops in this country expatiating at such great length on the sufferings of the Assyrian Christians.
My hon. Friends here desire that I should deal now with the motives which inspire the Government in its desire to remain in Iraq, and, in deference to their wishes, I will deal very briefly with those motives. I believe it is undoubted that it is the question of oil which rests at the bottom of our policy in connection with Iraq, and here is a point which ought to be brought to the notice of this House. The Civil Commissioner in Iraq at the time of the Armistice, who was the political adviser of the military authorities, advised the advance, from the line which was held at the time of the Armistice, first of all to Mosul, and then 100 miles beyond Mosul; and the curious fact is that that person, who was then the acting Civil Commissioner and the political adviser of the military, is now, you 56 will find, the representative for Persia and all that area of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. I do not wish to make any deduction from that, but I think it is pretty obvious that there is the possibility of some kind of unpleasant connection between these two factors.
I will pass on from Iraq, and deal with the question of Locarno. I heard the right hon. Gentleman give his blessing to the Locarno Treaty, and I have heard the Prime Minister do the same thing, and I believe there are Members on my own side of the House, amongst my own colleagues, who are inclined to give a qualified blessing to the Locarno Treaty. For my part, I would say that, if the Locarno Treaty really would bring about peace and stability Europe, and would lead to complete international peace the world over, no one could be more ready or more eager to welcome that Treaty than myself. But I am bound to say that, looking at that Treaty, looking at the way in which it has been interpreted by the various signatories to it, there is not the least ground for assuming that it is going to lead to peace in Europe or in the world
It has been said that the acid test of Locarno is disarmament. What is the attitude of France towards disarmament? You have only to read the scornful references made from time to time in the French Press icy French politicians in regard to our hypocrisy on the question of disarmament, to realise that, in France, at any rate, it is not seriously believed that any real disarming is going to follow from Locarno. Look, again, at Italy. Only the other day there was a most cynical reference to the Locarno Treaty by Signor Mussolini. He talked about Locarno as though it was something that was all very well in its way, but the thing which Italy had to rely upon was armed force: and that is the attitude all round, even in this country.
I will not test the sincerity of the Conservative Government by the big question of general disarmament. I will not apply so hard a test as that; let me apply a much simpler test. There is a project which is being fought hard for in this House by many Members, for a tunnel between this country and France—the Channel Tunnel scheme. The merits of that scheme are generally acknowledged. It would help intercourse 57 between this country and Europe tremendously. It would have great commercial advantages and great social advantages, and from that point of view it commands general assent. In the past, the reason why that scheme has not been permitted has been because it would involve us in serious military risks. About two years ago the Committee of Imperial Defence—a body which seems to have arrogated to itself altogether too much power—said that we could not agree to the construction of a Channel Tunnel because of the military risks involved. If there were any military risks involved, it must have been because we anticipated that, either in the near future or in the remote future, we should be having trouble with France, and should be having military operations against France.
I submit that, if there is anything in the spirit of Locarno, if we really mean business when we say we have entered into a pact of peace between France and ourselves—if we really mean that, we ought entirely to rule out of our consideration the possibility of any war taking place between ourselves and France. If that be the case, if we are sincere in that, surely, on this comparatively small measure—nothing so complicated as general disarmament—we ought to be prepared to say here and now that, so far as we are concerned, we have no military objections whatsoever to a Channel Tunnel being constructed, and it can be started next week, or as soon as the plans are ready. In these days, when we are crying out for useful schemes for national employment, it surely would be worth the while of the Government to put the Committee of Imperial Defence in ifs proper place and say that this Channel Tunnel scheme shall be authorised.
I am going to make one reference to the debt settlement with Italy. I am not going to say whether I think the terms are too generous or not; it is not from that angle that I am going to look at the question, but there is another way in which I would like to discuss it. The debt of Italy, amounting to something over £600,000,000, has been settled, with the strong approval of the Government, on the basis of annual payments of £4,500,000 over a period of something like 60 years. We have debts outstanding 58 with another country, namely, Russia. Russia owes this country a considerable sum of money. Taking the pre-War debt and the War debt itself, plus the municipal loans, Russia owes this country only about another £14,000,000 more than Italy owed us. I would like now, if the Government are convinced that they have made a satisfactory settlement with Italy on this basis, to ask if they would approach the Russian Government and see if it is possible for them to come to the same kind of settlement, on the same generous terms, as regards the Russian debt. Only about two years ago the Russian Government, impoverished though it was, made an offer to this country which was equivalent to a settlement of the debt on a 50 per cent. basis. If to-day the Government will offer Russia the opportunity of settling its debt on anything like the basis on which the Italian debt has been settled, there is a very good chance, indeed, of that difficulty with Russia being got over. We have settled with Italy on the basis of her capacity to pay. According to hon. Members opposite, Russia is in a much more parlous, poverty-stricken condition than Italy, so if we would only settle with Russia on the basis of her capacity to pay, on the assumption that the facts of hon. Members opposite are correct, we could give Russia even better terms than we have offered to Italy.
The next subject I wish to deal with is economy. It is very good that the Government is thinking seriously about economy because, in so far as sound economy is concerned, I am sure they will have the support of all Members on this side of the House, but I cannot help thinking the Government cuts a ludicrous, indeed an ignominious figure in its attitude towards this subject of economy. When we look at the national expenditure we find that there are two great blocks which permit of drastic economy. There is one, amounting to about £300,000,000, that is being paid by way of interest on War Loan, which affords an excellent opportunity for a very large piece of economy, and there is the other block representing the expenditure on the fighting services of some £120,000,000 annually. I leave out of consideration the question of cutting down the annual charge in respect of 59 interest on War Loan and confine myself to this question of the £120,000,000 that is being expended on armaments. What is the contemptible attitude of the Government in regard to this? I think that is not too strong a word. They want to economise. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says whenever he tries to economise he is met with fixed bayonets, and although he thinks economies ought to be effected in connection with the Navy, the Army and the Air Force, the Government have not the courage to make the heads of those Departments agree to economise. You find in the Press these days inspired propaganda from the Admiralty, the Air Ministry and the War Office all pointing out in the most grave terms that they have cut down their expenditure to the bare bone and cannot economise further to any real extent.
The Government have not the courage to fight against that, so they adopt an almost unprecedented procedure. They introduce a general economy measure. In effect the Prime Minister says, "I am nominally the head of the Government. Nominally, these Departments are under my control. Nominally I should be able to say to them, I want to cut down your expenditure by this or by that.'" That is all quite true, but he has not the courage to do it. So he comes to the House and says, "These people are too strong for me. The Admiralty, the War Office and the Air Force are too powerful. I have not the courage to stand out against them, with all their great social and political influence. So I come to you Members of the House of Commons, and ask you to pass this general economy measure in order to stiffen my back for me." What an ignominious position for a Prime Minister to be put in! The people in the fighting services who are resisting economy say that if we cut down our expenditure on the fighting services any more we are going to imperil national security. These people, when they are talking about national security, really do not know from which quarter national security is menaced. The menace to national security is not from the outside, but from the inside. The menace to national security comes from the great mass of poverty and suffering that exists amongst the masses of the people, and if 60 they wanted to remove that menace they would take a large amount of this £120,000,000 from war expenditure and use it in improving the lot of the great mass of the people.
I am glad to see the Speech says the housing problem is being dealt with but something more remains to be done, and I should like to assure the Government in case they are tempted to adopt an attitude of complacency, that a great deal more does want to be done. My friends from Glasgow probably know that more than I do so far as the Last End of London is concerned. In spite of all that has been done so far in regard to housing, at any rate in the East End of London the position of the people is positively tragic. The Minister of Health himself told me about six weeks ago that in this great city of London, according to the latest figures, even now there are over 19,000 rooms in which four or more people are living, that is to say these rooms represent the homes of these families of four or more. That is just sufficient to show the Government that the housing conditions are still a disgrace to civilisation. I am thinking of this not merely from a party point of view, but in terms of human misery and suffering as I see it every time I wander about the streets of my constituency. I appeal to the Government not for a moment to rest satisfied with the efforts they are making in this direction, but to use all their energies and to take just as much money as is necessary to get this housing problem dealt with at the earliest possible moment, and to get these poor people out of the pig-sties in which so many of them are living at present.
The only other point I am going to weary the House with is that of the coal dispute and the coal subsidy. I am not a miner, and I do not pretend to speak in any sense as an expert, but there is going to be an acute situation, possibly at the end of April, if the subsidy is withdrawn. There may then come a clear clash between the interests of the great mass of the miners and their families and those of the coal owners and the royalty owners. When that time comes I hope the Government will bear in mind the sentence in the King's Speech that the interests of the nation are paramount. I subscribe to that entirely. If there comes an issue in which the decision is between the property rights of the coalowners and 61 the royalty owners and the human rights of the great mass of the miners and their families, I hope there will be no hesitation whatever on the part of the Government in coming down on the side of the miners, because the interests of the nation are paramount, and so far as the rights of property are concerned in questions like this they have to be subservient and subordinate to the interests of the nation as a whole.
The interests of the nation are paramount. That is no new principle that I am laying down. It is laid down, of course, in connection with Income Tax, where no man is entitled to all that he earns. The State has a prior claim to take part of his income. So with Super-tax and with Death Duties. There is no inherent unqualified right to property. The right to property is always subordinate to the rights and the interests of the nation as a whole, and if there is any question, of doubt whether we should be entitled to deal with the property of the coal owners in a drastic fashion, I invite the House—it is an old story, but worth repeating—to carry its mind back to the day when this House by an overwhelming majority passed the first Conscription Act. Implicit in that Act was the principle that the interests of the State are paramount. If the interests of the State demand it, not only could we take property, not only could we take mining royalties and things of that sort, but we could take something much more valuable and precious. We could take human life itself in the interest of the State, because the interests of the State are paramount. If that is the case—and it is not denied, and the principle is laid down in the Statute Book of the country—let there be no talk about the rights of property if it comes to a very serious clash at the end of April.
This attempt to force down the conditions of the miners is part and parcel of an attempt, which I fear is being aided and abetted by the Government, to forge down the standard of living of the general mass of the workers, and it is justified on the ground that the state of industry is such that there must be a lowering of wages and a lowering of the standard in order that we may maintain ourselves in the competitive markets of the world. This contention has no real justification in fact. Hon. Members op- 62 posite are business men. I see a business man on the Treasury Bench. They know the "Economist" newspaper. It is read by business man. It is accepted as being a very sound, well-balanced paper. There is not a tinge of pink about it even. This paper, about two weeks ago, published a remarkable analysis of the results of over 1,400 industrial undertakings. These were taken over the whole field of industry, and were not specially selected. The "Economist" showed that year after year for the last four years dividends had been steadily going up, until in 1925 they reached a point that was almost level with the figures of the boom period. All this time these companies had put aside, in addition to paying these extra dividends, some £34,000,000 to reserve. In face of facts like these it cannot seriously be contended that there is any necessity at present to force down the standard of the workers lower than the appallingly low standard at which they have to exist to-day. At the time these increases of dividend have been taking place, and all these millions of pounds have been put to reserve, hundreds of millions of pounds have been taken off the wages of the working classes. Therefore, when we are told that it is for economic reasons and because of the necessity of cutting down the cost of production that this lowering of standard must take place, we say that the facts do not support it.
I have dealt with a number of points in connection with the King's Speech, and I will conclude as I began by saying that if any people when they voted for this Conservative Government had any kind of hope or belief that it was going to do something to better their conditions, by this time they must be thoroughly disillusioned. In spite of one or two bye-elections which have taken place, it will be found that when the people next get the opportunity of recording their verdict on the work of this Government, they will say something like this: "We sent you into office and power to look after the interests of the great mass of the people and to fight for their well-being and happiness. Instead of that, from the very day that you assumed office, you have been steadily acting on behalf of and fighting in the interests of a comparatively small section of the community, 63 the wealthy. Because of that, because you have failed us, because you belie the trust we put in you, we will see to it that you do not get back to power for a very long time.
§ Mr. PENNY
I am very pleased with the references made in the Gracious Speech from the Throne with respect to housing, and the statement that proposals were being examined for promoting better conditions. There is no doubt that all hon. Members on this side of the House are extremely proud of the achievements of the Minister of Health and his associates in the Ministry in regard to what they have done for housing. We know full well the difficulties with which he has had to contend. First of all, there was the shortage of houses, brought about by the land values taxation introduced by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). This was accentuated to a very great degree by no building being undertaken during the War. Then we had trouble through obstructions from building unions and employers. Further more, rings forced up the price of materials.
In face of all these difficulties, the Minister of Health and his very able lieutenant have established a record in 1925 in providing houses which were so necessary. I agree with the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle) when he says that there is still much to be done. He says he looks at it from the humanitarian point of view. I sincerely hope that in saying this he is voicing the views of the whole of his party, because this should not be a party question at all. It is, to the fullest extent, a national question, and must be viewed from this standpoint alone. With the huge majority we have at the present time supporting the Government, I feel that if we do not tackle this question with energy and decision we shall always he liable to be held up to scorn by the nation at large. But I am quite sure that our Government will not allow any such thing to take place, and that they are going to pursue the problem with energy. What we have to face at the present time is an extraordinary condition of things. We have a great shortage of houses, a shortage of bricklayers and plasterers—
§ Mr. PENNY
—and we have a large volume of unemployment. If we look at the question in a conciliatory way and with goodwill, we can overcome the difficulty. I would suggest, as I did in a question last Session, that in conjunction and in co-operation with trade unions, the Government should set up training centres where unemployment is acute, and there is a housing shortage. In those centres plasterers and bricklayers should be trained for a stated period, say, three or six months, making the stipulation that any house receiving a State subsidy while it is being built must have a certain percentage of trainees employed upon that work. When I put my question to the Minister in November last he informed me that he intended to submit the proposal for the observations of the Building Industry Committee, which is representative of employers and employed in the building industry. I should like to know from the Minister whether they have favourably reported or not upon the proposal. I understand that the Government have started centres such as I suggest for training handymen at Birmingham and on the Tyne, and that about 400 men are employed at each centre. I should like to know how the scheme is working. I understand that it is working extremely well there, and, if so, why should it net work successfully at other places?
There is no use barking facts. We are up against a stiff proposition, and it is only by conciliation and goodwill that we can overcome it. I do ask and implore the Prime Minister to appeal to hon. Members to give ibis scheme a chance. Do not look at it from the sectional point of view. Look at it from a broad national outlook and I am sure something can be done. The Conservative party have no wish to take all the credit for the scheme. They want the nation at large to know that all parties hive subscribed to its success. It has been said that if you train these men, a time will arrive when we shall have overtaken the shortage, and there will be too many bricklayers and plasterers. Surely, "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." It is far better that men should be employed than that they should be unemployed. If they are unemployed they get work-shy, they 65 get frightened of work, and the time comes when they are not prepared to adapt themselves to altered conditions.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The hon. Member is not going to lecture me. I was simply laughing, and he started lecturing me as though he were something superior.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I would suggest that the hon. Member for Kingston (Mr. Penny) should be careful always to address me. We cannot have personal observations. Address the Chair always.
§ Mr. PENNY
I was saying that employment is far better than idleness. This scheme will give work to our men and make them more adaptable to cope with the difficulties with which they are faced. The provision of more houses would reflect favourably upon other trades. Under better environment there would be an improved standard of demand for furniture, curtains, linoleums and other goods for the furnishing of the houses, and that would have a good effect upon employment. The sooner we erect these houses the quicker shall we be able 66 to deal with the clearance of slum areas. I do feel that if the builders' unions obstruct any effort that the Government put forward to bring about such a scheme, the women of this country, whether wives of trade unionists or no, and who form no unimportant part of the community, will have a great deal to say. They will support the Government through thick and thin. Therefore, I hope sincerely that the Minister of Health will press forward and examine the proposals mentioned, and see what can be done, for the position is that more houses are required, and that very urgently.
I should like to deal a little further with the question of unemployment. I was speaking the other day to several employers and they said that if, they were approached by the Government to help in any scheme whereby the wheat could be sifted from the chaff, that is, the employable from the unemployable, the men who are really anxious to work and those who will never work, they would be quite prepared to absorb a number of men, on conditions, for a stated period. During the time of their employment, for that period, the men would receive the same amount of unemployment benefit that they were receiving when they were unemployed, plus any augmentation that any particular trade felt that it could give to them for any benefit accruing from their work. If the Government were to do a thing like that, we could get some data whereby we could find out who are the men really anxious to work and who are the men who are not That, would help very considerably the Minister of Labour in tightening up the administration of unemployment benefit, which is wanted very badly, because it practically means that men who will not work are living on the labours of those who do.
§ Mr. PENNY
We want to get all possible use out of industry. What is the use of spending all these millions upon the education of the children if we are to turn the youth of the nation out with no path of employment open to them, and allowing them to drift outside the occupations of life? I ask the Minister of 67 Labour to consider the project suggested by the employers I have mentioned, and see what can be done. There would certainly have to be a measure of control over the employers, because it would not do for bad employers to be able to turn off men who are employed at trade union wages, so as to get the advantage of cheaper men That precaution could be provided by making the employers give a return to the Government of every dismissal, and the cause for it. Many employers have said that there is far too great a burden upon industry at the present time. I would say, why did not these employers put their house in order when their industry was good? Why did not they provide a provident fund for their employees at that time, which would have done away with the necessity of the Government having to come forward to promote legislation for additional old age pensions, and so forth? That is the answer I would give to them. It would do a tremendous amount of good if we were to find out exactly who are the men who wish to work and who are those who do not wish to work, and never will work. The sooner we are able to tighten up the administration of unemployment benefit, the sooner the rest of the population of this country will be pleased, and will wish every success to the Minister of Labour in any effort directed towards this end.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
The hon. Member who has just spoken has referred to two questions which are uppermost, no doubt, in the minds of the people of the country. Those of us who have been among our constituents know that the burning question of unemployment and housing figure more largely in their minds than in the minds of the Government, if we are to judge by the King's Speech. The colourless references in the Speech to unemployment will be read with great disappointment. With regard to housing, may I draw the attention of the Minister to the very qualified way in which the matter is mentioned? It is admitted that the conditions under which people are compelled to live still occasion deep concern, but the Speech says merely that "if time permits" measures will be submitted to remedy that state of things. Immediately above, in the Speech, there is a paragraph pro- 68 mising a Measure dealing with Merchandise Marks. I submit that a Measure dealing with housing is infinitely more important than any Measure dealing with merchandise marks, and that if time can be found it would be very much better to devote it to a housing Measure.
I hope that the Government will be encouraged to pursue their inquiries on this question of housing. They will have the support of the great majority of the House in making Lane to deal with the problem. We all know that the slum question has been before us for generations. Before the War we had a tremendous number of decrepit worn-out houses. During the War building was held up, and since the War very little has been done to remedy the unsatisfactory and insanitary dwellings of the country. Delay is dangerous, and I hope the Minister will realise that he has the support of all sections of the House if he brings forward a Measure for dealing with this social sore. It was my privilege about 22 years ago to be elected a member a local authority. At that time the burning question was that of slums. I am sorry to say that owing to what, has taken place since, particularly the delay caused by the War and the shortage of houses, these slums are still in existence. That is only typical of what has happened throughout the country-. Humbly I would encourage the Government to press on with their schemes for slum clearances. In answer to a quest ion that I put at the end of last Session the Minister showed that a comparatively small number of local authorities had attempted to deal with slum clearance, and the total number of houses abolished was a little over a 1,000. That figure is indicative of the want of drive among local authorities in dealing with the question.
On the question of unemployment the House will have read with disappointment the colourless refrences to what the Government propose, and will have listened to the Prime Minister's supplementary remarks with even greater disappointment. He was asked by the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) to say something about the cutting down of unemployment grants, which is foreshadowed in the Circular of 15th December. The Association of Municipal Corporations, as has been said, has appointed 69 a deputation to wait upon the Prime Minister, in order to point out the serious effect of this Circular, which is calculated to stop practically entirely the operations of local authorities in dealing with unemployment relief work. The Prime Minister said that these grants were to be stopped because it was now not a question so much of subsidising unemployment as of subsidising local authorities. Surely that is hardly putting the case quite fairly. You may be subsidising local authorities, but at the same time you are subsidising unemployment work, and to stop the one means stopping the other.
Unemployment is still over 11 per cent. throughout the country, and in some parts of the country it is as much as 37 percent in the marine engineering trades of the north-east coast, and 50 per cent. in the shipbuilding industry on the north-east coast. Surely this is no time to curtail the unemployment grants. Local authorities are already bearing a burden which is far greater than they ought to carry. This is shown by the disparity in local rates. Whereas in some parts of the country local rates are 8s. or 9s. in the—they are up to 20s. and more in other parts of the country. The question should be viewed from the national and not from the local standpoint. The Minister of Education knows that in his Department there is a formula which gives to necessitous areas a bigger grant than to other areas. What is good for necessitous areas in education is surely good for necessitous areas with regard to unemployment. These local authorities should not be left to carry their burden unaided. It is not their particular fault or that of the employers or workers in a district that there is a rate of 50 per cent. of unemployment. Such unemployment is a direct aftermath of the War and should be met from national sources as a War charge.
I hope that the Prime Minister will reconsider the application that has been made to him to receive a deputation on the subject. It is not a departmental matter; it is a big public issue, and the Prime Minister should be seized of the seriousness of the position. He knows the need of assisting local authorities. In the Debate on unemployment last June he suggested that the House should consider whether some form of subsidy was not possible in order to stimulate 70 those industries which were particularly badly hit, and he went on to suggest that it might be by means of subsidies in specially distressed districts in aid of rates that help could be given. Economy is necessary as much in rates as in taxes—perhaps more necessary in rates, because they are a first charge on industry whether or not profits are made. This act of the Government in cutting down the assistance will inevitably increase local rates, for if work be not provided for the unemployed the men will be thrown on the Poor Law guardians. While the Government proposal may save the Treasury it will add tremendously to the burden of the local authorities.
I appear to the Government to reconsider the policy of cutting down the unemployment grants. Surely it is better that work should be put in hand and men be employed, than that they should be drawing benefit without yielding any service whatever. Sometimes it is suggested that this is relief work and is not necessary work. As a matter of fact, the great majority of the undertakings for which these grants are made represent work of a valuable character from a national as well as a local point of view. There are, for instance, the maintenance and improvements of roads, the reconditioning of roads which add tremendously to local amenities. Then there are schemes of sewerage, of afforestation, of harbours and docks. All that kind of work is of a really useful character. The Government themselves ought to put in hand large national schemes. If they have not the facilities or the vision for doing so themselves, they should at any rate not stand in the way of local authorities which wish to do it. Instead of cutting down unemployment grants the Government should increase the amount of them.
§ Sir HARRY HOPE
I think the Government are to be congratulated on placing agriculture in the foremost position in their programme. We all recognise that agriculture has often suffered by neglect in the past. In the Gracious Speech, however, we see that this Session the Government intend to do something for the agricultural industry. I need not say much to show how important the agricultural industry is to our national wealth. We know that by the agricultural 71 industry we can obtain a large amount of food from our land. Not only can we get benefit in that way, but by the prosperity of the agricultural industry we can keep a maximum number of people living in our country districts amid healthy surroundings. It will be understood by most people that the farmers themselves are the main factors in the situation. I think it is by the individual efforts of our farmers that the most can be made of the land of this country. While we recognise that, it is only right that we should remove any unfair impediment which stands in their way.
Farmers are faced with world-wide competition. In some cases it comes from virgin soil, in other cases from countries where there is cheaper transport by a system of canals. When this foreign produce comes here, in many cases it is sold in our markets as of British origin. Therefore, the introduction of a Merchandise Marks Bill will be of more benefit to the agricultural industry of this country than any other single Measure of which we could think. Not only will it result in home produce being sold to the consumer as home produce without having foreign articles mixed with it and palmed off as of home origin but the foreign produce will be kept apart and sold to the public as foreign produce. We can then encourage new methods of sale. Hitherto we have been backward in establishing co-operative selling agencies. I am perfectly sure that if the foreign article is prevented from being sold as a home-produced article co-operative selling will be adopted to a far greater extent thereby providing a cheaper method of bringing our own produce to the consumer.
I have said so much in order to bring to the notice of the House the advantages which would result from a Merchandise Marks measure, but when we come to the proposal to give Government money to assist farmers to buy their land, I am not sure that this will be an unmixed benefit. Personally, I think any man who buys land with borrowed money is buying trouble. He is going into a risky experiment and therefore, advancing money to tenants to buy their land is a proposition which requires very careful consideration. If tenants receive Government money to buy their land, there may 72 follow a measure of Government control. After all, if Government money has been granted there is an argument for Government control, and I do not look with too much satisfaction on the suggestion that much Government money should be advanced in this way. I do not think it is needed. I think the farmers of this country are quite cable to carry on the industry in the best possible manner, to produce the maximum quantity of foodstuffs from the land and to keep the maximum number of people working on it, without any factitious assistance of this sort. While saying so, I recognise that anything we can do which will lead to the building of more houses in the country districts is of the utmost importance. If we had more houses and better houses in the country districts we would have more of our people living in healthy surroundings, and the necessary labour for the land would come from these cottages instead of coming in the shape of migratory Irish labour. The Government's attempt to increase the number of cottages in rural areas will be heartily welcomed in the country. I trust that the Merchandise Marks Bill when introduced will receive the support of this House. After all, the producers of food in this country ask only for fair play so that they may face the competition of the world with success, and I am perfectly sure they would be able to do so if such a Measure were passed.
§ Mr. TINKER
I desire to touch upon one point in the King's Speech which has been discussed on previous occasions, but which might be discussed once more. I refer to the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1923. When this Measure was passed we were told that it was in the nature of an experiment, and that after a period of working seine change would take place. I have been examining the figures in the latest returns—those for 1924—and I find that this Measure has made a serious difference to the workers concerned. Formerly, compensation for disablement dated from the first day of injury if it lasted two weeks. Under this last amendment of the law compensation is not payable in respect of the first three days unless the incapacity lasts for a month. I find that there have been, according to the returns, over 400,000 accidents, and that 62 per cent. of these involved disability of less 73 than a month, with the result that 62 out of every 100 workmen who were injured have been deprived of three days' compensation. Under the old Act only 6½ per cent. were paid less than the fortnight's compensation which was there provided for, which means that we have now 62 per cent. of deprivations as against 13 per cent. under the old system.
This is a serious matter, having regard to the fact that over 480,000 persons have been injured in industry. If we are to have goodwill and peace in industry, some regard must be paid to the case of the workman during the period of injury. That is the time of all times when he requires assistance. If the workman realises that a Government which is professedly out to improve legislation, have passed a Measure making things so much worse for him it will be hard to induce him to realise that the Government mean goodwill to all. The Home Secretary, who has charge of this matter, ought to realise that, if he desires to secure goodwill, this is a thing to be put right at once. We talk a good deal about foreign policy, but we fail to realise the need which exists at home for closer attention to subjects of this kind. I am sorry that I have to call the attention of the House of Commons to a point which should be obvious to the Government, namely, that they are making matters worse for the worker in this particular respect. I hope the Prime Minister, if he has the opportunity—and he can make the opportunity—will bring in an amending Bill to restore to the workman the status which he had before. An injured man should be paid compensation from the date of injury right through, and there should be no question of having to wait a month. After all, if a man is getting 30s. compensation, it means that you are depriving him of 15s., and to take anything at all from him in the circumstances is to make things very hard for him. That is the one point which I desired to raise. As regards the situation in the mining industry, after what the Prime Minister has said, I think it would be better to let that matter remain over until the Commission's Report has been published, and then we can discuss it. Therefore, I content myself with directing attention to the position under the Workmen's Compensation Act in the 74 hope that the Government will bear it in mind.
§ Mr. DENNIS HERBERT
May I take the opportunity, now that the Prime Minister is in his place, of referring to the electricity proposals of the Government? The proposals have been received by those best competent to judge them, namely, the great users of electricity in this country, with a considerable measure of caution, and there has been, I think, a general, though perhaps a cautious, approval of them by the members of the right hon. Gentleman's party in the House of Commons. I go back for one moment to the consideration of the electricity proposals made under the Coalition Government in 1919 which, like many other proposals then made, were based upon an erroneous forecast. The then Prime Minister gave as his reason for the Coalition Government's electricity proposals the fact that for years to come not one penny could be raised from ordinary private sources for electricity. The exact contrary has proved to be the case. The electricity proposals then put forward were found to be practically impossible, and during the intervening years millions have been found by private undertakings for the development of electricity.
I readily admit that in electricity you cannot allow private enterprise to have its own way, absolutely and entirely. There must be a certain amount of State regulation or, if I may use a word which is, perhaps, rather discredited, co-ordination. Some assistance is wanted from the Government. Many of us sincerely hope that the Government will be successful in the difficult task of so imposing a modified measure of Government control or Government organisation in regard to electricity, that they will prevent the danger of haphazard development by private enterprise, but will, on the other hand, avoid what I may call the blight of Government control. The Prime Minister, in a speech not long ago, regarding the coal industry, traced the present unfortunate position in that industry very largely to Government interference over a long period of years, and I think hon. Members in all parts of the House agreed with that view. The same kind of thing happened during the War in circumstances which could not be avoided with regard to the control of 75 railways—an extra control far beyond the ordinary control of the statutory railway companies. I hope the Government will be very careful in their electricity proposals to bring forward a scheme which will allow scope for the brains and enterprise of those who have made and are making a study of that subject about which comparatively little is known even now—this great power of electricity—and that they will bring forward a scheme which will not interfere with that development which we may expect from the encouragement of those who are really interested in the subject.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Platting Division (Mr. Clynes) criticised the Government for what he suggested was it habit, which seemed to be grossing up, of governing by Ministers rather than by Parliament. He suggested that Ministers were inclined to do things on their own account without consulting Parliament, and merely to report their action to Parliament afterwards. I refer to that passage in the right hon. Gentleman's speech because I think it shows a wrong tendency, which has been evident in the House of Commons of late years—and in all quarters of the House—with regard to the duties of the House. It may be well to consider a proposition, with which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman if he were here would agree, namely, that the House of Commons—that Parliament,—cannot be the executive. It is far too large. We must have an executive government which will do the work. We set up an executive government whose business it is to do things when you put them in power. They are responsible to us. They have to report to us, and, although I am not suggesting for one moment that the House of Commons, or Parliament, should not be consulted so far as possible as to the intentions of the Government, and should not be given the fullest possible information, I do venture to suggest that over and over again in the last few years there has been a tendency on the part of the House of Commons to try and usurp to some extent the functions of the executive government.
To turn to another question, one cannot help thinking that perhaps the most outstanding passage in the gracious Speech from the Throne which has caused most 76 thought has been the reference to the dangers of industrial strife. If one takes the legislative programme set out in the Speech, I think it is quite right to say that there is practically not a single item in that programme on which there is a real difference of opinion dividing the House in regard to the object. No doubt these measures may be opposed and criticised in a very hostile way, and hon. Members of the Opposition parties may object to the Government's methods of trying to attain their objects, but I think it will be agreed that, generally speaking the programme is one the objects of which are agreed in principle by the House. May I express the hope that with the very great responsibility which the House is likely to have during this present Session, opposition and criticism should as far as possible be made helpful not in order to take away any legitimate opportunities from the Opposition, but in order to give the opportunity which the Opposition as well as the Government's supporters, wish to use, to the very utmost, to get through thei difficult times of the present year. With regard to the suggested danger of industrial strife. I may be an optimist, bat I am one who believes that we shall get through without it. It is the hope, I know, of every Member of this House, and the fact that every Member of this House hopes and wishes that we may get through without trouble, is the best guarantee that we shall do so.
We were on the brink of very serious trouble when this coalmining question arose some six months ago, and it was staved off for the moment. During the time which has elapsed since then I think everybody connected with the mining industry, on whatever side they may be or whatever their par: in the industry may be, has learned to recognise a number of very awkward and unfortunate facts. If we want the country to prosper, and if we want the industry to prosper, it is no use blinking those facts. If we are up against the fact that a number of coalmines are not paying propositions, no Government can make them into paying propositions, and I devoutedly hope, as there is apparently no prospect of the Opposition getting that chance which they, at any rate, must profess to be waiting for, of another appeal to the country during this Session, at any rate, there should be without giving up 77 any of the legitimate opportunities for criticism and opposition, a general attempt to try and help this old country through its difficulties, just at the time when, in spite of those dangers that we foresee, prosperity is beginning to show some slight sign of returning to trade and industry in this country.
There is one other matter which I. want to refer to, and which I hope some representative of the Government on the Treasury Bench will be good enough to bring to the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Financial Secretary. I have on previous occasions suggested, I think generally at the end of the Debates on the Budget or the Finance Bill, that whenever the Chancellor was likely to have a little money in hand, or a little money that he could use for the benefit of the taxpayer, he should try and set aside a certain amount in order to meet those many legitimate grievances of the taxpayer, small perhaps, but irritating, which are brought up year after year on finance Bills, and where the answer always has to be that, excellent as the proposal may be, the Chancellor has not got the money to do it. I am afraid this year, it, is almost too much, if we are going, as I hope we are, to do our very best to support the general programme of economy, to ask the Chancellor to set money aside to meet grievances of that kind.
But there is one matter on which he certainly will be pressed very closely, and to which I hope he will give his consideration before the time comes. I do not think it is a case in which one is asking him to give up any profits of taxation. The matter is one which, I believe, has hitherto brought in no money to the national exchequer, or at any rate only a negligible amount. That particular matter is the taxation of what has been called the profits of the public schools under the decision lately given by the House of Lords in the case of Brighton College. I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer will find that, although no doubt the learned lords were perfectly right in law in their judgment, their judgment was probably a result of legislation which was never intended by Parliament; and, further than that, that the so-called profits on which it is pro- 78 posed to levy the tax are not profits at all, and do not exist.
We do not ask merely to have those exempted under the ordinary rule that money which is used for charitable purposes should be exempt from taxation, but because we believe that these old foundations never would make these profits if the calculation were made of their accounts as if they were a commercial business that is to say, that there would never have been any profits if those foundations had got to pay for the capital by which they are run. They are run on old endowments provided by patriotic and charitably-minded people for these purposes, and it is only because they have got their free buildings, and capital and educational apparatus generally, that occasionally they show something which is called profits, or is in the nature of profits beyond the actual running expenses. That is one matter which I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will bear in mind, and that he will consider very carefully whether he cannot do what we believe to be merely a rectification of in error which was made by Parliament, and which has been shown by the decision of the House of Lords.
§ Mr. SAKLATVALA
In referring to the gracious speech of His Majesty, the right hon. Gentleman the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Clynes) has already pointed out the incorrectness of the first sentence, where Ministers of the Crown take credit for friendly relations with foreign Powers. The attitude of the present Ministers towards Russia is certainly notorious, but apart from that, it is high time that we found out something about His Majesty's Government's attitude towards Mexico; as to what is the exact relationship of friendship between this country and the Mexican Government, and when the oil squabbles, and pro-British intrigues, and pro-American counter intrigues are going to cease. The other very important point at the present moment is that of His Majesty's Government's attitude towards China. There is no doubt that it is an attitude of secret plotting against the freedom and rights of the Chinese people. When there are reports of secret preparations being made for attacks upon the Chinese Government, for the simple crime of the Chinese people wanting to be as free in their country as the British desire to be 79 free in their country, the attitude of the Government is kept mysteriously unknown to the public and concealed. I think on an occasion like this, when His Majesty puts forward a new programme of work for this Parliament, it is due even to this Parliament to know what our reply is to the charges of the people of China against the good intentions of Great Britain as a whole.
Then there is this reference to the Italian war debt, over which much has been said. The Prime Minister himself assured us that there was no difference of opinion in this House with regard to the universal cancellation of these international Allied debts, that that would have been the best solution. But the Prime Minister took a different view from his opponents, that it was not a practical suggestion, and though once upon a time the Prime Minister of those days might have been hopeful, our present Prime Minister, when acting in America on behalf of this country, found it absolutely impracticable. When this cancellation of international war debts has been admitted to be the best solution, I do not yet see why the Cabinet of this country does not rise supreme to the occasion and begin to take the sensible view of the National Debt itself.
Who is standing in the way of the cancellation of our National Debt? The international debt is causing all this hubbub, because we have to, pay £27,000,000 or £28,000,000 a year collected ultimately from the poor workers of this country, against which we are scraping the sum of £8,000,000 or 10,000,000 from other places, from other workers, and the balance of £20,000,000 is causing some anxiety. There is the toll levied on the poor workers of this country to the tune of £325,000,000 for the National Debt. Who stands in the way of the cancellation of the National Debt? If the British creditors of French debtors and Italian debtors are quite willing to be magnanimous and say, "We do not want our debts," why are the British creditors so mean towards English debtors, and why do they say, "We want every ounce and the last drop of your blood, and we must have our debts paid back to us"? A far greater and far more important solution is to be sought in the cancellation of this fictitious 80 undeserved, unrighteous, National Debt. When the country rises to that pitch of financial honesty, then almost all your troubles of being over-burdened with taxes and having ruined industries, &c., will vanish.
There was a suggestion made with regard to an invitation to Belgium, France, Germany and Italy to attend a conference to consider the hours of working. While it is a move in the right direction, I would still urge the Prime Minister to consider the British position as a whole, and not merely as an insular position affecting this island country itself. The British Labour Minister will invite all those foreign Ministers, and I hope that throughout the. Conference the British representative will not forget that under the British flag human labour is openly employed for 10 hours and even more in various other parts of the British Empire. I quite realise that if the. Noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State for India was here, he would again take credit that India is the only country which has put into execution the Washington Clause. Yes, India has evidently done so, because by an utterly misleading and grossly misrepresentation at Washington England extorted from that Conference an altogether unethical condition of hours for India. It is on that account that India was in a hurry to put into execution what Washington asked them to do. This condition of affairs has got to end some time or another, and if during this Conference some arrangement can be made of giving a scale of graduation to British labour in India or in China by starting with 10 hours and reducing by half an hour every year until the hour of labour coincide with those of European labour, there will be more peace and less unjust and unrighteous rivalry between the workers of the different races.
We have been asked to be ready to hear some wonderful suggestions with regard to the housing problem. The hon. and learned Member who moved the Address explained that there is a very great need of education in the care of the house, as, there is in the care of the children. I would ask the hon. and learned Member as well as his party, to remember that education and enlightenment on this point exist, but the means of applying that knowledge to improve 81 the slum areas is not existent. Every dweller in Battersea as well as in every other constituency knows that if he could periodically repaper his house and replace broken windows, or keep the sanitation in proper order, he could improve a great deal the slum dwellings. Houses were built in olden times without a bath-room, but a room could be thrown up. The people have the knowledge that this could be done by spending 10s. or 20s. a week upon improving these old buildings, but the landlord now demands from the tenant 8s., 10s. or 20s., and it is never spent back on the slum areas. Therefore, what is required is a power in the hands of the tenant to spend his money on his own house, instead of handing it over to the landlords to spend in night clubs or in Riviera trips.
The whole position is becoming practically one of blackmail. Every health inspector in every borough council knows that there are houses which could he, and ought to be, legally declared unfit for human habitation. They refrain from declaring them unfit, because they know that if they declared them unfit, the tenants would be houseless. We know that hundreds of thousands of houses are unfit for human habitation. But, taking advantage of the scarcity of houses, the owners of those houses keep on collecting frill rent, and allow these Properties to remain in their uninhabitable condition. Drastic legislation is immediately required to enable tenants to refuse to pay any rent to the landlord whose houses are declared to be unfit for human habitation, and therefore really unfit for the collection of rents. If that were done, the owners of the houses would begin to improve their properties; but, under present, conditions, on account of the scarcity of houses, the landlords know that the tenants must continue to live in these insanitary houses, and the officials, whose duty it is to declare them unfit, dare not do so, and at the same time nothing prevents their collecting full revenue.
There is a suggestion in the Speech from the Throne with regard to loans to be granted to East Africa. The Prime Minister, perhaps for the moment unmindful of the existence of the fourth party in the House, said he was very pleased to hear there was no opposition 82 to that from any party in this House. I appeal to this House and country to be sane and sober. It is all very well to stand up and shout against Bolsheviks and Bolshevist policy, but we must now look for human welfare above everything. The suggestion in His Gracious Majesty's Speech is not very pregnant. It is very harmless and innocent, but the hon. Members who moved the Address explained the situation. It is first the railways, and no one objects but then it is to be cotton-growing. We do not object to your growing cotton anywhere, and using the cotton, but this is a deliberate scheme to get more cotton grown by backward humanity under slave wage conditions in order to pull down the higher standard of material life which the American cotton grower has established for himself. That is the sole purpose. The man who grows cotton in America claims for himself a decent house with furniture in it, and claims education for his children, medical assistance during illness, and the benefit of the pleasures, joys and comforts of life which the manufacturer in Great Britain is unwilling to pay for. He is therefore desiring to get cotton grown in other parts of the world where the people live in mud huts, demand no furniture or clothes, live on one meal a day, and ask for no education or medical assistance. That is the history of Empire cotton-growing. You talk of good-will and international peace and disarmament. This is nothing but a base conspiracy for a future attack on the standard of life of Americans.
One really does not know exactly what is intended or aimed at in the reference to unemployment, and he revival of trade, and so on. We again emphatically put it that unemployment must continue to exist in one part of the world or another as long as you follow a system, that in order that one country may have trade, another country must lose its trade. The only hope you have for the coal trade is that somebody else's trade should slow down or shut up, so that your export coal trade might revive, or that somebody's textile industry might be shut down, ruined, or partly closed, so that your textile industry might keep up. So long as we are under that system, it is bound to remain a permanent question, and I quite agree with the Prime Minister that those who desire that 83 system to continue must not hope to see unemployment end altogether at any time. It is now becoming quite clear that unemployment requires a different treatment from what this country has vainly tried during the last four or five years. We need an adjustment of the total quantity of production required by the world, the total number of workers throughout the world engaged in its industry, and a just and due apportionment to all the workers in that particular industry. It is futile and hopeless to talk of unemployment in the coal area and to say that that unemployment would be remedied if there were goodwill on either side. Once upon a time there was goodwill on both sides, and suddenly, out of employment, unemployment began to creep in, and the absence of goodwill might have followed unemployment. It was not suddenly the starting of bad feeling that created unemployment. It is the unemployment that may be creating bitterness of feeling.
A call is made by the Prime Minister or by his Party generally for a spirit of conciliation and fellowship. May I ask the Prime Minister if he includes in this call those British citizens who are to-day putting 14,000,000 tons of coal into the markets of the world, dug out by human beings who are working underground for ten hours at an average of 7d. or 8d. per day? If British citizens are taking exceptional measures to get coal to the surface in some parts of the Empire at 5s. or 6s. a ton, there is certainly no fellowship between those British citizens and the British miners. Then the demand for fellowship and the spirit of conciliation simply means this, that we have a right to exploit human beings, to get coal brought to the surface at 5s. and 6s. per ton by miners and innocent human beings who do not know how to fight for their rights, and we call upon you to show a spirit of conciliation and come down to their level if you want to preserve your work. That is neither conciliation, nor good fellowship, nor even honest business. The only care is that the Prime Minister's call may be made at once to all British citizens, of whatever colour or race or religion, in all parts of the Empire that the welfare and the lives of a large section of the British community demand that there shall be a uniformity 84 of hours and of wages and of cost of producing coal from the earth and bringing up to the surface, and when that excess payment is made to the outside miners in the British Empire, their demand for other goods which they would begin to consume would in itself go a good way towards curing unemployment.
Finally I desire to touch on two important omissions from the Speech. From my childhood upwards I have always been brought up to believe that an Englishman never forgets the brightest gem in his crown of Empire, and so on, and so on, but in His Majesty's Gracious Speech to-day, India does not exist in the geography of the world at all, and that silence is all the mere inexcusable, or requires some very clever explanation, when we remember that next month is going to see an event which only occurs in the normal course once in five years. Next month a new representative of His Majesty is going out to India. Naturally the people of this country as well as of India, will look to the Speech from the Throne to see what new advice, what new message. His Majesty is sending to India through his new messenger, but what does complete silence on this matter mean? Does it mean a return of conscience, and that you are determined not to interfere with Indians and with India any longer and to forget all about them? If so, your silence is honest and welcome but if it means that your doings in India, which are of a hideous character in many respects and a very hideous character ton, are going to be continued, if it means that you are going to continue the hideouts policy of getting hold of citizens and keening them in prison without trial and without charge holding them in bondage, ruling people under the name of civilisation and exploiting them industrially on miserable wages, which produces an infantile death rate of 600 and 800 for every 1,000 infants horn—if these conditions are to be perpetuated, and you are ashamed of announcing it publicity, but want the world to forget that India exists to-day, yon are not fulfilling your functions as responsible Ministers of the Crown. This complete absence of any mention of India or of any declaration of policy means that you have either got, no policy, which is not the truth, or that 85 you have got a policy of which, as the world progresses, you begin to feel mightily ashamed, that you dare not put it down for open discussion and open declaration, that you are afraid to show you are cowards, that the new representative of His Majesty is to go out there in secret consultation and to fumble about and find his way anyhow, and that this House, this country, this nation have no declared message which they can give out with a clear conscience.
The other matter which is not mentioned in this Speech is the policy of the present Government of using the prison house as a political argument, and we desire to know—and I believe this to be a very grave omission—whether His Majesty's Government proposes to continue to hold in prison those opponents who make it rather inconvenient for the growth of its party and its political progress in this country. Since we last met, it is not only the members of the Communist party, but the members of the Miners Federation, who have been locked up in prison, and the Government cannot be deaf to the public opinion that has been expressed. They know that the working-class organisations, which, after all, do represent the majority of this country, have expressed an almost unanimous voice to the effect that it is not the policy of this country, that it is not the tradition of this nation, as soon as you disagree with certain persons to lock them up in prison. Of course, you can always find a legal charge and a legal excuse, but it is not a constitutional policy, and I believe the Prime Minister ought to have either boldly affirmed his policy to be that he contemplates and intends to go in for these political prosecutions, or that he has thought it wiser, and has advised His Majesty, to submit to the constitutional and lawful demand of the people of this country for their own freedom, and that these prisoners shall be set free immediately.
§ Lord HUNTINGFIELD
I want to address a very few remarks in connection with the mention of agriculture in the Speech from the Throne. I very much agree with the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Sir H. Hope) in what he said with regard to the Merchandise Marks Bill, but I would not for one moment 86 criticise any Measures that the Minister of Agriculture may bring in until we hear exactly what the terms of reference are. It appears to me, in regard to the question of credits to farmers that the farming industry is already in such a bad state that credits will not do very mach towards helping the farmer. It appears to me that it is rather making it less difficult for them to get into debt than making it easier for them to get out of debt, and I feel that some constructive policy might have been put before the country whereby the farmers could sell their produce at such an economic value that they would be able to hold their own in the industry in which they are engaged.
I would like to ask the Minister of Agriculture if he will give to the House it some time a statement as regards the question of a duty on foreign malting barley. I remember so well in 1923 going to the country on a pledge by the present Prime Minister that a tax should be put on foreign malting barley, and it was a very excellent thing, as far as I was concerned, because to a great extent it won for me a seat in the House of Commons; but, when it comes to the Bury St. Edmunds by-election of 1925, there are enormous difficulties put in the way of placing this tax on foreign malting barley. I would very much like the Minister of Agriculture to tell us what has happened between 1923 and 1925 which has made it so difficult to place a tax on foreign malting barley, because I believe that a Treasury Committee has reported that such a tax is feasible, and I would like to ask him if he will publish this Report that has been mode by the Treasury Committee.
Who are the people most concerned in this question? They are the growers, the brewers, and the feeders of stock. The growers would welcome this tax. The brewers have said that they will not oppose it, because, after all, the brewers are generous people. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Of that there can be no question it is an open secret that they support, to a great extent, the party to which I belong; they strengthen all parties with their beverage; and, if any further proof of the generosity of the brewers be required, you will find a number of them in the Peerage. The brewers do not object to this tax, and then come the feeders. The feeders 87 object to it, because they say that the price of the barley which they use for feeding will go up, but I do not think for one moment that that will be possible. People said that the price of motorcars would go up if the McKenna Duties were put on, but they have not gone up. People said that the price of artificial silk stockings would go up if silk were taxed, that they would deteriorate in value, and that they would probably become shorter. I have been informed by credible persons that they are not only no more expensive, but that they are, if anything, cheaper, and they are certainly no shorter. It does not follow in the least that barley for feeding purposes will go up if a tax is put on foreign malting barley, and, therefore. I urge on the Minister of Agriculture that he will give us an answer to this question, which is agitating the farmers of the particular district in which I live, which is a great barley-growing country.
Everyone has a pet scheme, and I think my pet scheme is probably the Ruggles Brise wheat insurance scheme, which, as everbody in the House knows, is a sort of insurance scheme whereby the farmer will be compensated for the loss which he will incur in producing wheat should the cost of production be greater than the selling price at which he can sell his wheat. I have not the least doubt that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer will hold up his hands in pious horror when it comes to a question of getting some money from the Government to subsidise or rather pay the insurance on wheat, but I would ask him to look upon agriculture in very much the same light as he looks upon the Army, the Navy, or the Air Force. It is a thing of great national importance, and it is really just as vital an industry, in the true sense of the word, as is coal mining. Coal mining may be the basis of power, but agriculture is the basis of our life in this country, and I think it very important that it should be recognised by the Government that something is due to agriculture. After all, with very little trouble the Chancellor of the Exchequer is able to obtain some £20,000,000 or £30,000,000 for the coal industry, and surely he might find room to help the agricultural industry of this country. I do not make these few re- 88 marks from any desire to criticise the Government. I really bring them to the notice of the Government because farming is an industry in which I, personally, am very much interested, and, as the Member for a very large agricultural division of Suffolk, I have the interests of my constituents at heart. I, therefore, make these few remarks in the hope that the Minister of Agriculture will give us an answer to the questions that I have put.
§ Mr. SCURR
At a time when we have a considerable amount of unemployment it would appear that the King's Speech is so far right that we are all concerned with good relations in an economic sense We feel that it is necessary to have good will and a good many other things in order that we may be able to get a better condition of things for those amongst whom we live. What, then, do we find? We find that one of the great proposals of the Government at this time of serious economic stress is a proposal to replace the existing Secretary for Scotland by a Secretary of State for Scotland. We have the fact that on the Clyde there are men out of work, and men seeking houses, and we have other kinds of trouble. We have workers out of work. The reply of the Government to all this is that we are going to make the Secretary for Scotland in to the Secretary of State for Scotland Could you have any more contemptuous treatment of the great social problem than that put forward' in the Gracious Speech by His Majesty's Government the Speech which we are now considering.
In regard to this matter the hon. Member for Kingston-on-Thames (Mr. Penny), who is not now in as place, during the course of the Debase has made what appeared to me, under the guise of apparent sympathy for the unemployed, an insidious attack upon the class to which I belong. I was speaking all through his address with a view to making us believe that he had every sympathy on this question of unemployment. All the time he was speaking in that way he was suggesting that measures should be taken to bring about a classification of the people into the unemployable, and those who were really desirous of finding work. Throughout the whole of his speech he was constantly reiterating this 89 point. We want, he said, to discover really those who want work and who would work if work were found for them. That is a very nice thing to be put forward on the Floor of the House of Commons! It is a very nice thing to be said by any person who has plenty of this world's goods. I think that there are not many Members on the opposite side of the House who have any real personal knowledge of the unemployed problem. They have not at any time walked the streets of our great city trying to find work at some time or other, anxious to get work, end all the time not being able to get it because there was no employer who desired to employ their labour. People passing along the streets have looked down upon us as we passed by in our unemployed processions. They sneered about our unemployment.
I happen to be the chairman of a board of guardians in the East End of London. At the present time we have on our outrelief list 15,000 men, women, and children. The men are largely ablebodied men. They have to come to the board of guardians to seek public assistance, for a good many of them, in the first place, have now been driven out by the action of the present Minister of Labour. They find that they are not able to get what is described in an insulting way by our stunt Press as "the dole." Therefore they are compelled to come to the board of guardians to get assistance. These men are constantly stopping me in the street and begging me to try and see if I cannot get them a job of some kind or another. They are going to other members of the boards of guardians. There is nothing they detest so much as having to go to the relieving officer and ask him to inquire into their circumstances, and see whether they comply with that declaration of destitution which has been issued. They come up before men exactly like themselves. They have to submit to every kind of insulting question. I wonder how hon. Members opposite would like having these inquiries made about themselves, whether they would like to give a description of every penny that they earn and spend, what they have been doing with their time, and the rest of it, to see whether or not they are entitled to the miserable dole which is handed out to them, All that we get from the Government in reply 90 to this is the expressions in the King's Speech that they are going to deal with the position and powers of the boards of guardians.
What does that really mean? It really means that the Government themselves, and the party they represent are afraid because in a few cases in the country there have been boards of guardians that have made humanity their first consideration and allowed adequate relief! Because these boards of guardians have the power and desired to relieve the distress which is in their own area in a proper manner we have the proposals of the Government in order that they may interfere and determine the conditions under which the assistance can be given and determine the amount of the assistance to be given. They desire to determine the amount, not because of any motives or economy or anything of that kind. Oh, no! the real motive at the back of the minds of the Government at the present time, and at the back of the Minister of Health, is to try to make a further attack on the standard of life of the working classes so that the people who are receiving public assistance shall receive less in the hope that they will be driven into the labour market and so compete against the others who are employed in order to bring wages down, and to bring down the standard of life. I resent the tone of the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston-on-Thames. There is no question of unemployable in the working classes at the present time. The question is how to get work for them.
It has been admitted that there are a million people out of work at the present time. On the other hand it has been suggested that there are as many people in work at the present time as there were in 1914, or before the War. As a result of the War, and as a result of the development of machinery, productive powers have been increased to a considerable extent. The consequence is that even if we had the export trade we previously had it would not be possible to find employment for all the men that are out of work to-day. A one-time distinguished Member of this House, Sir John Norton-Griffiths once said that in his opinion there would always be a million of people out of work in this country. I should not be inclined to put the figure so high as that, but my examination of 91 the facts would lead me to think that it would be impossible to find work for 700,000 of these men in the country. That is the problem with which the Government is faced and with which we are asking the Government to deal.
What do the Government say? In the King's Speech there is no suggestion whatever. There is no proposal for the creation of any new industry. There is no proposal for the reorganisation of industry in order to absorb these men. It is all very well to talk about goodwill, but it would appear to be impossible, with all the goodwill in the world, to absorb all the 700,000 people who are out of work at the present time. There is, of course, the matter of creating a new home market in the matter of agricultural development. There is the proposal to extend small holdings and cottage holdings, but I do not know in this direction what is going to happen as a result of the proposal of the Government. Are we going to stamp eggs, or mark spinach, asparagus, and other things of the sort? These seem to me to be the only proposals that the Government have put forward in this connection.
I should like, in reference to the question of East Africa, to inquire what is likely to be done. The Mover of the Address in reply to the Speech from the Throne referred to the fact that there were proposals for the encouragement of cotton-growing, seeing that the American source of supply is no longer at our disposal, as it has been in the past, and that it was necessary for us to increase our source of supply for the Lancashire cotton industry. I agree. But I feel rather concerned at the proposals which are put forward here, especially after all that the Prime Minister has said. The right hon. Gentleman told us that the proposal actually for the development of East Africa was to guarantee a loan. The thing that matters to me in regard to these African Possessions of the Empire is that our first consideration should be given to the conditions of labour of the people who are going to produce this cotton. We may pursue one policy on one side, on the side of East Africa, under which we will take the ordinary and normal exploitation methods, in which we will utilise the labour of the natives of that country in such a way that it really 92 cannot be distinguished—no matter by what name we call it—from slavery; or we may, on the other hand, use the methods which have been pursued on the other side, in West Africa, particularly in regard to the production of cocoa. I want to know from the Prime Minister, or whoever will speak later on this particular matter, whether it is proposed in all this development in East Africa to pursue the same policy in regard to the natives as in the other case, or whether they are simply going to be handed over to exploiters in Kenya and other districts in order that these may make more profits for themselves out of the slave labour on the land.
Reference is made in the King's Speech to improvement in trade. I want to submit that you are not going to get very much improvement in trade until our financiers and capitalists generally learn to put their own house in order. One of the great evils from which we are suffering at the present time in regard to industry is the great over-capitalisation which exists. We have seen statements of late in the newspapers to the effect that the dividends which were being returned are higher and higher and are nearly equivalent to what they were in certain previous years. But these dividends are dividends to a very large extent on watered capital. They are dividends from over-capitalised industries. The result of that over-capitalisation means that the overhead charges are very considerable. The result is that our manufacturers are not as able to compete in foreign markets as they would be if their industries were honestly capitalised. It is to be regretted that a Government of business men, as hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite claim to be, put nothing forward in regard to this very important matter. It is quite evident that the more we go through other phrases of the Speech, that whatever talk there is about the interests of the nation being paramount, it is not so, but it is really the interests of a particular class which is paramount in the minds and actions of His Majesty's Ministers. So far as the Gracious Speech is concerned, it will not be one of those which will live in the history of the country. In every sense it is a mediocre document, produced by a mediocre body of Ministers who really do not understand the 93 problems with which they are faced, and who have no methods by which they can deal with them.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. ELLIS DAVIES
I must express my regret that there is no reference in the King's Speech to any attempt on the part of the Government to deal with the question of pensions, either pre-war pensions or, in particular, the pensions granted since the war. All Members of the House must be aware, as I am, of the very grave injustice which is being perpetrated at the present moment. I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Pensions will answer that he is unable to deal with these matters because of the statutory limitations of his power: but may I give one or two cases which have been brought to my notice in the last few weeks? One is the case of a man who has developed neurasthenia. He was suffering from it at the time of the final award, and suffering to such an extent that he was unable to give notice of appeal. I have called the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the matter, and he states that he is quite unable to reopen it. Then there is a still more serious case where the final court of appeal awarded a pension limited to 70 weeks. I am quite sure that in a private case no medical man would dare to assess the incapacity of his patient in anticipation for 71 weeks he attempted to do so, I have no doubt that his professional services would cease. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should seriously consider the wards which are being made limiting for definite time in future the rights of pensioners. With all respect to the medical profession, and with a very wide experience of the medical profession under the Workmen's Compensation Act, I say without any hesitation that it is utterly impossible for any medical board to anticipate what the state of the applicant may be in 50 or 70 weeks.
Another matter referred to in the King's Speech is the agricultural policy of the Government. First, there is the reference to credit—that will be a very interesting thing An hon. Member has mentioned that what the farmers require is not a method of getting credit but means by which they can save themselves from getting into debt. There is one very short remedy for that—a reduction 94 in rents. Hon. Members on the other side, who are very critical of the proposals made by some Members of the party to which I belong, forget that during the last 100 years agricultural rents in this country have gone up 100 per cent. In a large number of cases rents have gone up from 40 to 60 per cent. during the last 10 years, and it is no wonder that farmers find themselves in a serious financial difficulty. In addition, the King's Speech refers to extending small holdings and providing cottage holdings. So far as cottage holdings are concerned, it has been one of my favourite appeals to this House that cottage holdings should be provided in this country as they are provided in Ireland. For 30 years the Irish farm labourer has been provided with a cottage and anything from half-an-acre to three acres of land at a very small rent, generally from 9d. to 2s. 6d. per week, and I have never understood why that which was extended so generously to Irish labourers has been denied to English and Welsh farm labourers. I say nothing as to Scotland, because I understand that the Scotch Members have been more fortunate in their appeals. The question of supplying cottages and cottage holdings has a real bearing on the question of unemployment. When I was addressing my constituents last month, I was assured by a farmer that no fewer than 120 cottages had disappeared from one district in 60 years. The disappearance of those cottages connotes not only the disappearance of the families from the district but also an addition to the poverty in the towns and an addition to the number of unemployed.
The Speech from the Throne goes on to say that the Government to deal with the question of small holdings. I should have thought the experience of the last three, or four years would have debarred any Government from talking much more about small holdings. If I remember aright, we have lost at, least £8,000,000 on the attempt to settle men on the land during the last three years. At the present moment two-thirds of the farms in England and Wales are under 50 acres and are within the provisions of the Small Holdings Act. While I read a good deal in the newspapers, and particularly in the "Times," about there being a very big demand on the part of tenants 95 to become owners of their land, the fact remains that since 1892–34 years ago—it has always been possible for a tenant farmer who bought his farm to acquire through the county council four-fifths of the purchase money at 3½ per cent. interest. Surely there is nothing which this Government can offer to the tenant farmer—the Act, as I say, extends to two-thirds of them—commensurate with those advantages. The real truth is, there is no desire on the part of tenants in this country to acquire their holdings, except as a last resource to secure themselves against eviction.
I am sorry the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Pembroke (Major Pricè) is not in his place, for he made a rather curious statement, and I suppose he represented the real meaning of the Government proposals. He made a reference to the agricultural value of the land and the value on which the occupier under the Small Holdings Act had to pay rent. That difference is not confined to small holdings. There is no doubt that agricultural land in this country has two values. It has its bare agricultural value, for which only the tenant ought to be asked to pay rent, and it has also another value arising out of its amenities, out of its game rights, out of the social position obtained by the owner, and out of its monopoly. I am rather surprised to learn that the Government are going to adopt the proposal contained in what is referred to as the Green Book. One of the proposals of the Green Book, so much criticised by the Government, is to provide cottage holdings, and another one is to declare that in future the tenant shall not pay for his land anything more than its agricultural value. If that be the policy of the Government, I am pleased to hear it. I am very much surprised to hear that the Government have adopted proposals so readily. I have no doubt that in the future they will accept a great many of our proposals and carry them into effect, but I shall be very much interested to hear either from the Prime Minister or the Minister of Agriculture what the Government really propose to do. Do they mean to subsidise agriculture? Do they mean to pay to the landowners the difference between the monopoly value or the market value of agricultural land and 96 the real agricultural value at which it is to let? I see an hon. Member smiling, but I shall be very glad if the Government will deal with that question, because that is dealt with in the Green Book, and I say frankly not in a manner which appeals to me, although I was in part responsible for it. But if I understand the proposals of the Government aright, it is that they are going to subsidise agriculture, that they are going to buy the land from the landowner for the purpose of cottage holdings and small holdings, and are going to pay the difference between its agricultural value and its monopoly value. If they are going to do so, I can promise the right hon. Gentleman that we shall have a very interesting discussion when the proposal comes before the House.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
It is a very well known fact that the Speech which is put into the mouth of His Majesty by the Government of the day is not of His Majesty's composition, nor does it represent His Majesty's mind. That is a very desirable state of things, particularly in view of what we have before us now, because I cannot imagine that His Majesty would gather very much credit from his subjects if they were left to believe that this Speech represented his mind in full. I cannot imagine that His Majesty would express himself in this meagre fashion with regard to the problems that vex his subjects. Take a question that is not only stressed in this Speech from the Throne, but has been dealt with in speeches by Ministers themselves in various parts of the country, the necessity for national economy. I represent a Division in which, unfortunately, probably 30 per cent. of the able-bodied men are unemployed. The great mass of my constituents are fighting a very grim fight indeed with poverty of the direst description. I cannot think that they can be brought to believe in the necessity for economy of the particular character indicated by the Government, in view of what takes place and of the description given in the papers from day to day of various functions—for instance, those that preceded the gathering of this present House of Parliament. The glittering descriptions of the pageantry that has taken place in aristocratic houses in London in the last day or two cannot dispose the people to 97 believe in the necessity for economy in the particular services applying to themselves. I suppose that if we were to turn to the matters in which we are going to economise we shall find them at the end of the Speech, where we are told that certain Bills will be laid before us for dealing with National Health insurance and Unemployment Insurance, amongst other things. If I am to judge by indications given by various Members of the Government, I should imagine that these Bills mean a cutting down of the allowance under both these Measures. If that is so, all I have to say is that it is a particularly cruel and callous method of economising, and I beg to suggest that there are other methods by which economy can be practised with a far great measure of justice and kindliness so far as the great mass of the people are concerned.
Take a question that has been raised already—that of the National Debt. Ever since I have been in this House I have protested against the amount of money we are called upon to pay every year as interest on the National Debt. I believe that a large portion of the money upon which this interest is due was raised by most questionable means during the War. I believe that a very large amount of it was obtained by the most abominable profiteering, that much of the investments in War Loan were the proceeds of the direct robbery of the people by those whose economic opportunities grew and expanded with the War itself. I should say that since the Armistice we have paid in interest alone upon this swollen National Debt somewhere in the neighbourhood of £3,000,000,000. I am one of those who have suggested upon more than one occasion that if the Government want the money to finance their various Departments, if they want economies in order to maintain their Departments, they should economise by cutting down the rate of interest on this swollen war debt.
The reduction of the rate of interest from 5 per cent. to 4 per cent. would not have created poverty amongst those people, and it would not have driven them into want because fifteen-sixteenths of this debt is held by large corporations and very rich people, and they would not have felt a reduction of that kind. I 98 remember Mr. Bonar Law declaring that by the mere process of lowering prices the rate of interest had risen from 5 per cent. to as much as 8 per cent. A reduction from 5 per cent. to 4 per cent. interest on this debt would still have given to the lucky holders of war loan a larger income than 5 per cent. gave them when prices were very much higher. If such a reduction had been made, the country would have saved £500,000,000 in the period which has elapsed since the armistice. If that were done to-day it could be carried out in the coming Budget, and we could save £70,000,000 by the reduction of this interest by 1 per cent. and this might be done without injuring anybody. If economy is really needed that is where it should begin.
Take the problem of unemployment. It is amazing that in regard to this question the Government have done so little. During the last three or four years we have had a Conservative Government in office, with the slight interlude which occurred when there was a Labour Government for a few months. I remember the present Prime Minister a year or two ago saying that the question which presented itself to him was whether unemployment was changing its character and passing from the epidemic stage to the endemic stage, and that the latter required a different method of dealing with it. Has the Prime Minister not made up his mind yet whether it is endemic or epidemic? Is it not true that all those who think for a moment on this subject know that, over 1,000,000 people are now unemployed, and that the unemployed are likely to be a permanent feature of our modern industry? If that is the opinion of those who speak with precise knowledge on this subject, all I can say is that the present proposals of the Government are of a scandalous character and meagre in the extreme, and they are making promises to the unemployed which I believe they have no intention whatever of carrying into effect.
With regard to unemployment generally, the figures improve very slowly, although the official figures of payments through Poor Law relief show that the state of things has been worsened. A well-known economic journal made the statement that for the year 1925, as compared with 1922, the profit in industry had increased by 50 per cent., and those 99 were bad years in relation to unemployment. If this economic journal is correct and if the economic writers who produce these figures are correct, I fail to see that there is that need for economy of which we are hearing so much from the Government. I find that it is possible for huge profits to be made even while so many men remain unemployed. Even during the month of January this year we have heard the bankers telling us stories of their great success in the banking world, and the great joint stock companies have been telling their delighted shareholders of the large percentages they propose to pay in dividends. Mr. Reginald McKenna has told us that the re-establishment of the gold standard has been a considerable aid to bankers in performing the miracles of the last 12 months. Talk about El Dorados, the bankers, El Dorados are to be found about Thread-needle Street, and they can produce them at their own sweet will, because they have the assistance of the Government.
The first paragraph of the King's Speech says:My relations with foreign Powers continue to be friendly.Those sitting on the Labour benches have been sneered at many times, and I am prepared to risk being sneered at again, for declaring that the relations of this country with other countries cannot be considered friendly while the attitude of this country towards Russia remains what it is to-day. Under these circumstances it is not the slightest use the Government saying that their relations with foreign Governments are friendly, while the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes the abominable statements he does with regard to the Government of Russia. No reference is made in the King's Speech to any attempt to bring about more friendly relations with Russia.
We have heard something about a conference on disarmament. May I point out that the position of Russia, both economically, geographically, and historically, make her continued enmity a bad thing for this country and for the world at large. We are approaching a conference upon disarmament, and we have heard this afternoon that the whole thing may be jeopardised if something is not done to bring Russia in to the conference. 100 There is not only the question of the influence of Russia in international affairs to be considered, but there is also her influence upon our own domestic situation. With our difficulties extending and widening day by day, I think every advantage should be taken which offers itself to improve our trade and industry, and we could certainly do a good deal in that direction by establishing better relations with Russia, and we shall continue to urge this policy no matter how members of the Government may sneer.
Upon this question of disarmament. The "Manchester Guardian" is not a scaremonger paper. It is a sober journal. It is generally very well-informed. It had a statement in its columns yesterday to the effect that Poland was being urged by the British Government to maintain an army larger than her Government desired, and that it was being pointed out in Poland that, when Poland was maintaining a large army at the behest of France, this country opposed that policy, and now France had dropped her policy and Poland was now desirous of reducing her armies because her relationships with Russia were mare friendly than they were. I happen to know—I do not know why hon. Members should smile—I happen to know that it is correct that the Russians are and have been desirous for some time of having more friendly and closer relationship with Poland than has been the case since the Polish settlement was arrived at. I am exceedingly glad to know that and I think every hon. Member ought to know it. But because of that fact, Poland is now desirous of reducing her army to bring it within more manageable limits. Poland is a poverty-stricken country. Her currency is particularly bad, and she has not recovered from the effect of the War. She has not consolidated her Government. Surely with her small population and her industries still undeveloped, every assistance should be given to Poland to bring her armament expenditure down to the lowest possible limits, not only from her own point of view but from the general point of view and the desirability of disarmament all round. I should like to know whether the "Manchester Guardian" statement is true or not It would be interesting if we could have a denial of it from the Government, and it might do some little good. I should like to know whether it correct or not, because 101 if the statement is incorrect and it is allowed to go undenied, the effect of it would at once be bad because it is inferred that the British Government has indicated that the danger to Poland comes from Russia. If that, again, is true, all the more reason why we should come to friendly relationship as quickly as possible with this Power that is growing in importance from day to day from economic and every other point of view, because before we can say that our relationships are of a friendly character, it will be necessary that, the Government should alter its point of view with regard to Russia.
We are told that there are various outstanding matters which must be settled before that can be done. At the last election, Members of the Government asked pointed questions. We were told that Russia would not pay her debts. Well, I suppose Italy will. I suppose the Government will tell us that the settlement of Italy is payment of Italy's debt. It is a curious way for paying your debts. It is a very curious method, indeed, and as a matter of fact the whole thing is too ridiculous. If that is the best that Italy can do and you can get from her, it is no use assuming that you cannot get friendship from Russia on something like the same terms, or probably even better terms. It is fair to assume that the Labour Government could have got much better terms than that from Russia had the Treaty been allowed to go through in 1924. But, at any rate, this idea of the necessity of every nation facing the debts it owes has been exploded entirely by this Italian debt settlement on such paltry terms.
These are all matters of vital importance and they are matters which the House is entitled to have a little information upon. I am not going to enter into the paean of praise which has greeted this Speech. I think that the Speech is an indication of the mental and intellectual poverty of the Government as a whole in facing the problems which they cannot solve unless they attack the swollen profits and incomes of the great mass of their supporters. I am one of those who believe that, in a country situated like this is and where, in spite of the deep poverty of the great mass of the people, profits arise and luxury is indulged in upon a most scandalous scale, to bring forward proposals of this description for 102 dealing with the problems which confront the working classes is an insult to their intelligence, and I am quite sure the Government will meet the doom they deserve for tampering and playing with questions of this magnitude. Nero fiddling while Rome burned was sanity in comparison with the Government's action.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I should like to express my sincere regret at the empty benches on both sides of the House below the Gangway. We have had one of the most important and historic documents that is ever listened to by this House, the speech of his Gracious Majesty the King. The speech of the hon. and learned Member for Moss Side (Mr. Hurst) began all right with a plea for conciliation, but I regret to say that there was a sign of its ending in cheap sneers against prominent men on this side of the House. I would compliment him if he were here on the admirable spirit of conciliation he displayed on this occasion, which is in direct contradiction to his past record. He spoke about conciliation in labour disputes, yet I may be allowed to point it out—and I sincerely hope it will be brought to his notice—he has made, in and out of season, vigorous attacks on the very machinery, namely, the trade union organisation, created for the purpose of conciliation. I leave that matter with the hope that this new conversion—whether it be a deathbed repentance or an eleventh-hour conversion, I do not know—will be more lasting than this fleeting and influential position the hon. Member occupies to-day.
One of the questions to which I want to draw special attention is the necessity, not of destroying slum areas but of restoring them, in order to overcome the difficulty of the shortage of houses. I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman on that, but if he were here I would point out to him that before he complains of the mote in other people's eyes he should remove the beam from his own. Only this week in my constituency his own Government, fortified by a barrister, three or four solicitors from London, and a heap of documents as high as the Judge's Bench, got an ejectment order against 102 persons in my own constituency in connection with the manufacture of poison gas. I always under- 103 stood the necessity for manufacturing poison gas was to destroy the enemy, but that was the plea of the Crown in the name of His Most Gracious Majesty? May I say this most respectfully, "God save the King from his legal advisers." These poor people had lived in these houses for three generations. In 1917, a poison gas factory was dumped down in a thickly-populated area, and since 1917 the people have taken the risk and lived there, because there was nowhere else to go. Every house in the district was so congested that even the neighbours could not take them in. Now the Secretary of State for War, in the name of His Most Gracious Majesty, comes down to St. Helens, having just begun to recognise that these people are in danger from poison gas, he gets an ejectment order, and to-day these people are in danger of being thrown out on to the streets, houseless, in spite of the Scriptural adageThe foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.This iniquity is being committed in the name of His Most Gracious Majesty the King. Therefore, I would advise the hon. and learned Member, before he commences to moralise on the necessity of converting slums, to look closer at home.
I have every sympathy with the idea of conciliation. No trade union leader in this country would be worth his salt if he did not search every avenue in order to prevent trade disputes. But, when we talk of peace and conciliation, surely, there should be some ground which would lead us to believe that it will be accomplished. What is the history of the present Government in that connection? We have, in his Most Gracious Majesty's Speech, promises of National Health Insurance, Unemployment Insurance, and something to do with the Poor Law. But, in my own constituency, scheme after scheme, agreed upon by the local authority, for the relief of unemployment—and in that small industrial town in Lancashire there are 5,000 men constantly out of employment—all those schemes have been turned down on the ground of economy; that is the only explanation I get. Again, what is the effect of the Government's policy with regard to widows' pensions? I have here an illuminating document which more than justi- 104 fies the criticisms from these benches as to the effects and advantages of the widows' pensions scheme. It is an unofficial document it is published from the Union offices of Whiston, Prescot, Lancashire, covering a very large area, with numerous towns. It will perhaps interest the House—or, rather, it would if they were here, but they happen at the moment to be away in some other place; anyhow, I hope it will be conveyed to them in some fashion. The effect of widows', orphans' and old age pensions upon the Poor Rate in the Union of Whiston, Prescot, as far as it can be presently ascertained, is as follows:252 widows, with 653 children, taken off the outdoor relief lists altogether, representing a reduction of £11,774 per annum.That is very nice; it is a reduction of outdoor relief; but, when we turn over the leaf, what do we find? I sincerely regret that the Minister of Labour is not here to hear this, but I shall take an opportunity of bringing it before his notice. As a set-off against thatUnemployment relief is being granted to 486 cases, with 1,031 dependants, at a cost to the union at the rate of £18,876 per annum.As compared with 179 cases, with 445 dependants, 12 months ago, relieved at the rate of 27,228 per annum.That is an increase of £11,648 per annum, due it is said, largely to disallowance of unemployment benefit under the new regulation. That is typical of every union area in the country, wherever you go. They not only lose on the swings, but they lose on the roundabouts as well. The hon. and learned Member, in support of his argument, quoted from a speech of Benjamin Disraeli in 1844. It was a capital extract, of great importance so far as it went. The Prime Minister has lately gained a distinguished recruit from a very remarkable and clever race, and I would ask the hon. and learned Member to wait and hear what he says, in view of what he said when he was on this side of the House before, to use a Dickensian illustration, he had basely deserted his pal Micawber, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George.), who was hourly and anxiously expecting something to turn up. Perhaps he will tell them from the Government side of the. House, in the spirit of another Dickensian character, Mr. Mantalini, that, unless we get cheaper 105 production and lower wages, the demnition country will go to the bow-wows,. At any rate, that was what we heard from him when he was on this side of the House, and I suppose that, like the leopard, there is no possibility of his changing his views.
I believe in conciliation, but what is the use of talking about peace when there is no peace? Economy, yes; efficiency, yes; but not to be borne by the men who went through those, horrible four years in France, Flanders and other theatres of war. I am sick and tired and weary of hearing from my constituents every day in the week on the question of ex-service men's pensions. I regret to say there is no mention in His Majesty's Speech of the urgent necessity of revising the Regulations respecting the grant of ex-service men's pensions. Let me give a typical case, which I shall bring before the Ministry of Pensions either in the full House or privately this week. Here is a man who at the beginning of the War was rejected. Later on, when the demand for men became great, he was suddenly discovered to be fit for active service. He passed the medical officer, was sent out to Flanders and went into the trenches. He was taken by the Army authorities with the knowledge that he had the germ of a disease in him which would have carried him on in his ordinary occupation for a respectable lifetime. But the stress of the trenches aggravated the disease to such an extent that he broke down. He was ultimately discharged and went back to his work, but the physical exercise brought back the irritation again. Because he was discharged he applied for a pension, but was disqualified on the ground that his Army service was not responsible because he had the germ of the disease in him when he was taken. But they took him. Peacefully inclined as I am, I am very much afraid the right hon. Gentleman will not get the conciliatory spirit he wants. He will cry "peace" where no peace exists at all.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I want to re-introduce a subject which may seem very remote from the Speech from the Throne, but which is very near the well-being of the people, particularly those engaged in 106 the mines of the country. Accidents happen in every industry, but to a much more alarming extent in the mining industry than in any other. So much so that of all the people employed, approximately 40 per cent. of the amount paid for compensation, both for temporary and permanent accidents, goes to the mine-workers of the country. Since the Compensation Act of 1923, which materially decreased any advantages that accrued to the mine-workers, one can see in almost every district in the country the abject poverty into which those who have been injured and maimed are driven as the result of the 1923 Compensation Act. It seems to me that if the Government really had any knowledge of the working conditions of the people, if they had any desire to ameliorate the lot of those who are maimed whilst doing their best for the nation, they could not help making a reference in the King's Speech to some amending legislation with regard to compensation law. It may be said the last Act was only passed in 1923, and we have scarcely had sufficient experience of its working on which to frame any new legislation. But the experience we have had during the past two years is sufficient to justify us in demanding, as early as possible, some amending legislation.
Take, for instance, the individual who is suffering from that cruel disease nystagmus. He may be unemployed for one, two, or even three years. There is no material improvement in his condition. His nerves are racked. The maximum amount of compensation that he can receive during the whole of the period, whether he happens to have one child or 10, is 30s. a week. At the end of the period, when the employers feel that they ought to be contesting the man's power to receive even this 30s. a week he is called before a medical referee, who invariably declares that the oscillation in the eyeball has ceased, that nystagmus has gone, and that the man is suffering from a consequential disease which may have been there before nystagmus itself was contracted, with the result that not only does the man lose his 30s. a week compensation, but his previous employers refuse to find him any sort of employment at all. He is thrown upon the scrap heap, and there is little or no possibility of his securing employment 107 either at the colliery where he worked prior to contracting the disease, or at any other colliery within a radius of many miles around. It would be quite an easy thing for the Home Secretary, if he is not prepared to amend the Act with regard to the financial payments, at least to make this consequential disease upon miners' nystagmus a disease within the terms of the compensation law. In almost every mining district in South Yorkshire, where the mines are very deep, reaching to 1,000 yards, the number of cases of nystagmus have produced at least one or two men who have been driven to the asylum as the result of the treatment meted out to them. I think every Miners' Association is inundated with applications from men for whom they can do absolutely nothing because of the Compensation Act as it exists to-day.
We are often spoken to and even lectured from the benches opposite on the combination of the Empire. I want to cite a part of the Empire as evidence of what can be done to improve compensation law, without costing the employers a single penny piece. The maximum compensation that an injured workman can receive in this country is 30s. a week, whatever his wage is, while he can receive as little as 15s. In Ontario they have a Government-organised compensation scheme where the employers are charged according to the number of employeés they have in the light of the experience of the Compensation Court for the previous year. The amount of compensation an injured workman can receive is 66⅔ per cent. of his average earnings, up to a maximum of five guineas a week, and he cannot receive less than £2 1s. 8d. Take an identical case where death has intervened and a widow and children are left. Here, the maximum that a widow can receive is £300, no matter what the husband's earnings may have been. In Ontario, the widow receives £2 1s. 8d. per week, not for six years, five years or four years, but for the rest of her life, unless she should enter the matrimonial state again, when she receives two years' compensation as a gratuity. Will hon. Members note the difference? In Ontario, £2 1s. 8d. per week for life and anything from £200 to £300 in this country. Whilst 108 a child of the British worker who gives his life in industry can receive a maximum of 6s. a week and a minimum of 3s. a week when the father is no longer here to work for him, a child in Ontario, under the Government controlled compensation scheme, receives a minimum of 10s. 5d. a week until he reaches the age of 16, compared with 15 years in this country. Where the widow of the husband who has been killed dies shortly afterwards, leaving the children orphans, the children receive not less than 15s. a week until they mach the age of 16.
How is it that these extra benefits can be paid in Ontario? Simply because they have organised their compensation business under the Government scheme where profit plays no part whatsoever. According to a report issued for 1923, of every hundred dollars paid by the employers in Ontario 98 dollars goes to the injured workman or the dependants of those who are killed. What do we find in Great Britain? Of £8,000,000 paid in premiums insuring against accident, somewhere about three millions go to those who are injured or to the dependants of those who are killed. Without costing the employers of this country one single penny over and above what they are now paying, we could amend our compensation law and give a far greater measure of justice to the injured workman and the dependants of those who are killed than we are doing at the present time. If the Government are really serious when they appeal for good will to hon. Members on these benches and to the trade unionists outside the House, they would not fail to notice these injustices, which ought never to exist and for which there is no need. I spoke to an employer yesterday who has received a form from a Government Department calling upon him to make a declaration of the number of employés he has for compensation purposes. On the back of the form there were the names of various insurance companies who cater for compensation. The names of no fewer than 179 insurance companies are down on that Government form—companies catering for compensation. These companies are in business for profit and not for the service which they can render to the employers or the justice and the service that they mete out to the workmen. We should undertake to do the business ourselves and let the injured 109 people and the dependants of those who are killed have a far greater share of the premiums that are paid.
I wish to refer to an interesting document which the Minister of Agriculture has issued this evening. In the Speech from the Throne, certain statements are made with regard to economy and agriculture. It says:The condition of agriculture has received the earnest consideration of My Ministers. The question of the provision of better credit facilities for the industry is receiving special attention and discussions are proceeding with a view to the formulation of definite proposals on the subject. A Bill will be presented to enable County Councils to continue and extend the provision of small holdings and cottage holdings, both for owner occupiers and for tenants.Notwithstanding the declaration made by the Conservative Government in 1924, after 14 months' consideration they have as yet failed to provide an agricultural policy. It is true that they invited, shall I say, an unholy trinity of landowners, farmers and land-workers into a general conference, where they could arrange for a joint scheme in which the Government would give effect, if the three parties had combined and agreed upon a particular policy. The workers readily understood that as the employers and the landowners, who were opposed to their interests, were both interested in any sums of money they could secure from the Government, they would be bound to vote the workers down in case votes were taken. They realised that unless very great care was taken they would be involved in some sort of co-operative proposals which they might have regretted later. Naturally, they refused to be led into that trap.
The Government explain in the White Paper which has been issued by the Minister of Agriculture that they have examined various schemes but have failed to discover one scheme submitted by any party or individual which is likely to win their approval. They say:Increased production and greater employment would be secured by a larger increase in the arable area, but it is clear that at the present level of corn prices no such increase can be secured without (1) the imposition of protective duties on imported corn, which would be contrary to the pledges of the Government and to the policy of the other political parties, or (2) the payment of some form of subsidy.110 We cannot agree with the statement that there is no possibility of increasing the production of food without further protective duties or the payment of sonic sort of subsidy. We cannot agree that those are the only two means available. We are not satisfied that the best use of the land is being made to-day. Apart altogether from the general methods employed by our agriculturists, I think the Noble Lord the President of the Board of Education, who represents the Government at the moment on the Front Bench opposite, will agree that while we may have some of the best farmers in the world we have also seine of the most indifferent farmers, and some very bad farmers, indeed, because of that fact, we are satisfied that the best use is not being made of the land for the production of the maximum quantity of food. I ask the Noble Lord the President of the Board of Education, who, possibly, will convey to his right, hon. Friend any observations that we make, whether or not the Government have given any serious consideration to what is the most important factor in the price movements in this country. It is often said, and is repeated in this document, that the farmer never knows what price he will get for his wheat, because of the price of imported wheat. We are told, and there is a great deal of truth in the statement, that in the wheat pit of Chicago and in Winnipeg the price is more or less determined for this country.
Has the Minister of Agriculture or the Government considered the possibility of giving effect to what the Prime Minister advocated in a more or less nebulous form in 1924, namely, the importation in bulk of food that is purchased from other countries? Are the Government considering the advisability of snaking long-dated contracts for purchases in other countries, so as definitely to fix-prices in accordance with the past year's experience? Following that, are they considering the possibility of giving some sort of guarantee, based upon past experience, to British producers of food, thereby saving a large sum of money on the imported food and losing nothing on the food that is produced in our own land? If that proposal were seriously examined in the light of evidence that is already in the possession of the Ministry of Agriculture, there is a third alternative which will not cost this nation a penny piece, 111 and will always ensure a much better supply in place of the uncertainty from which we are now suffering.
The Prime Minister said to-day that the price of the 4 lb. loaf, or the price of wheat, was due to some statements' which were made in some country not having been fulfilled. For a Prime Minister to make a statement of that kind is an indication that the nation is not certain at any given moment whether it will be fed or not I do not think that state of affairs ought to exist in this or any country. The bulk purchase proposals, which can be applied without a great deal of dislocation in any direction, would be beneficial from the point of view of the consumer in this country, beneficial to the agricultural community, and they would not involve either subsidies or protective duties.
I have gone very carefully through this White Paper, and it seems to me that the only proposals which the Government have to make—they are more or less vague—are that direct and indirect subsidies are not going to be helpful at all. They say that we must encourage agriculture to help itself; that if it cannot make a profit out of wheat, we must encourage them to work on economic lines and to produce more meat and a greater quantity of milk. That is tantamount to telling the farmers that the land is there, their particular preserve for the moment, that they are to use it to the best economic advantage so far as they are concerned, but so far as the food supply of the nation is concerned they are not to worry about that very minor matter. It is true the Government say that, with regard to credit facilities, they are studying the problem and that they may have something to say to the nation at a later date, but since they are not prepared to give direct or indirect subsidies, and credit facilities already exist, both short and long-dated, for the purchase of implements, for the setting up of co-operative factories and so forth, I think we ought to be told by the Government during this Debate what these credit facilities are to be. Are we going to give to agriculture cheap credit, and by that means give them some sort of indirect subsidy? We have a right to know.
112 I want to refer next to the question of small holdings. We are told by the Government that productive employment on the land can be increased by the development of small holdings on sound lines. Can the Minister of Education, who is in charge at the moment, tell us of any small holdings that are on sound lines We shall all welcome the development of anything that appears to be successful, but I happen to be a Member of the Estimates Committee of this House, and last year we went through the Agricultural Estimates. We discovered that from 1917 to the end of 1923 approximately £16,000,000 was expended in providing small holdings, and that approximately the same sum of money had been lost as a result of the various factors that enter into the purchase and setting up of small holdings. I think there were 30,000 small holdings. A re-valuation is taking place now and that will settle exactly the loss to the State. If we lose such a sum of money in a short space of time in setting up comparatively few small holders, we ought to be told much more about the small holdings that are referred to in this White Paper.
Unless we are given some clear indication of improvements on past legislation, so as to make small holdings a success or at least to give them a chance, we shall have to conclude that the Government are not serious and are merely tampering with the whole question. I have been examining to-day the figures as to the number of small holdings and their area. I find that of 349,060 holdings, at least 227,000, or 62 per cent., are under 50 acres. Yet in every newspaper that we pick up we find that there is agricultural depression, that agriculture is more or less "down and out." They will all be seeking some sort of assistance, and if they cannot pay their way now what are the Government going to propose for the future? Are they going to propose that County Councils have the privilege of finding small holdings, and that any loss which may accrue shall be borne by the ratepayers instead of by the taxpayers, as was the case from 1917 onwards? At least we are entitled to know.
On the question of marketing I find that the Government, are prepared to consider sympathetically any sound schemes of organisation, and that in this connection they propose to include home 113 produce in any assistance that may be given to schemes for the marketing of Empire produce. So far as I remember no statement has been made as to how they are going to market Empire produce or how they are going to expend the £1,000,000 which is supposed to be set apart for that purpose. Unless we know how they are going to expend that money and what improvements they are going to make in the marketing of Empire produce, we cannot judge the effect which the proposal is likely to have on the producers of food here in the marketing of their own products on their own doorstep. Here again we are entitled to know something more definite.
As regards the Merchandise Marks Bill, which is to be introduced this Session, I wonder what effect it is likely to have on agriculture. If we compel the marking of imported eggs, is it going to compel the British people to purchase more eggs? I notice that in 1922, the eggs produced in this country represented a value of £16,000,000, and in 1923 the value had fallen to £13,500,000. The value of the eggs imported in 1924 was over £15,500,000. It seems to me we have a ready market for any increase that may take place in the production of eggs in this country. To suggest to the agricultural community that the passage of a Bill to compel the marking of imported eggs is likely to prove a remedy for agricultural depression is merely toying with the problem. There is a market for wheat, for eggs and for other agricultural produce, and these proposals are not likely to have any real effect on the situation. The Government, in effect, say: "The best thing to do with agriculture is to encourage agriculturists to work on more economic lines. We will give them some sort of facilities, but will not explain what the terms are likely to be. As to small holdings we do not know yet, but possibly we will be able to tell you something about them later on." Then they say they are going to think about the question of how best to increase the number of houses in rural districts.
In fairness I should make a reference to what is possibly the only real good point in this White Paper, namely that the Government agree to set apart £1,000,000 for draining land which may 114 be made available for agricultural purposes. But here again it is proposed to spend £1,000,000 of the taxpayers' money on the improvement of, land which, incidentally, will make that land more profitable or more useful to the landowner. I think we should know something more about the expenditure of that £1,000,000 before we permit the proposal to pass through this House. At all events we welcome the idea of increasing the amount of land which is available for Ole production of food. On the whole I am bound to confess that the Speech from the Throne is conspicuous not so much for what it contains as for the real and useful proposals which it omits. From our point of view, remembering that profits are constantly going up, and wealth is being concentrated more and more in the hands of a few people and that poverty is universal in the midst of plenty, many things could have been suggested here for securing a more equitable distribution of what we do produce, and for bringing about a general improvement in the standards of life and comfort among the people. On the basis of doing what is really necessary, we could produce that good will which will never be produced so long as we continue merely to preach sermons without effecting anything of a useful character.
§ Mr. REMER
It is not my intention to detain the House long for the very good reason that hon. Members opposite seem to delight in occupying 45 minutes each, and that does not seem to me to be of advantage to the House. My object is not to refer, as I have done on other occasions, to the policy of the Opposition, but to mention a point upon which I am, to a certain extent in disagreement with my own party's Front Bench. It would be a matter of regret to me at any time to strike a discordant note, and especially so on the first night of a new Session, but I desire to recall that on the last night of the previous Session the Prime Minister announced that he was not prepared to grant an inquiry into the position of the steel industry under the Safeguarding of Industries Act. It seems to me that the Prime Minister gave two pledges at the last General Election—one, that in no circumstances would he introduce a general tariff, and another, that he was prepared to safeguard efficient 115 industries suffering from unfair foreign competition. It is possible that these two pledges may, in some way, at some point Of contact, be regarded as contrary to each other, but my complaint—which is shared by some of my friends below the Gangway—is that the Government are taking too broad a view of the pledge which was given on the general tariff and too narrow a view of the pledge which was given as regards the safeguarding of industries.
The Government have turned down certain industries which applied under the Safeguarding Act and have refused even to grant an inquiry on the ground that the industries in question were not sufficiently substantial. In the case of the steel industry however, as I understood the reply of the Prime Minister to the question which I put to him at the close of last Session, the view taken is that that industry is too substantial. I am not going to discuss the question at length to-night. Some of my friends and I have put down an Amendment to the Address dealing with this subject, and I rise now, not to discuss the merits, but to ask the Government, when they are considering the business of the House, to give a day for the consideration of that particular Amendment. In our opinion it is of vital moment at the present time. I have heard hon. Members opposite who have on numerous occasions mentioned the difficulties of the coal industry, and we know the effect the prosperity of the steel industry has on the coal industry. It is quite conceivable that, if the steel industry were put right—in that it takes 4½ tons of coal to make one ton of steel—it might have a very considerable effect in putting our coal industry right also. It is for these reasons that I Lave risen to-night, and it is for these reasons that I would ask my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Lord Stanley) to make representations that several Members on this side of the House feel very deeply on this subject, and that we feel that this Amendment should be discussed before the Address is voted.
§ Mr. KELLY
One would have thought from the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Address that this Speech contained a great many items that would have an effect upon the lives of the general mass of the people. The Mover 116 told us that there breathed in it the spirit of fellowship, and in his quotation as to the building of a new Jerusalem he held out some hope that we were going to be greatly advantaged by the items in this Speech. I have looked through it, and I cannot find any item in it which would give any hope or justification for language such as was used in placing the Address before us. I suggest that, little as we secured from the King's Speech last year, this holds out even less hope. We are asked to realise that this is a time for conciliation and fellowship, for goodwill and friendship. I am ready to echo that, but I would ask the Government how they can expect to have goodwill from any of those who are engaged in the industries of the country when we find that in no industry is there a wage paid that is adequate for anything approaching a reasonable standard of life. Not only in those industries that are run under so-called private enterprise, but even the industries that are run by His Majesty's Government, we find conditions insecure and wages that mean something approaching semi-starvation so far as the families of those engaged in them are concerned.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Reiner) has left the House, because a moment ago he suggested to the Government that they might have an inquiry into the steel industry for the purpose of safeguarding it. I am sorry that we are still troubled with the suggestion of safeguarding, and the suggestions that bring us into discussion on the question of Free Trade and Protection and so forth I would like the hon. Member for Macelesfield to put that suggestion before the shipbuilding industry of this country at this time. He would find that at this moment the shipbuilding industry is troubled, not about the safeguarding of steel, but about the prices that they have to pay for steel. The suggestion hinted al to-night by the hon. Member for Macclesfield is that there should be further safeguarding despite the experience he has had already of what has happened in the lace industry of this country where, with all the safeguarding, unemployment is worse to-day than it was prior to the operation of the proposal he has suggested.
We are ready from these benches to join in this matter of good will. The men 117 in industry to-day show that good will, despite the hardships they have to undergo. You have examples of it day by day, not only in the sacrifices made by the men in the mining world, not only in the sacrifices made by those engaged in industry, but you had a glorious example of it from the men on the Godrevy Lighthouse during the Christmas period, men who were not properly paid for the work they undertook, men who are asking for alterations in their conditions, men who are asking their employers to show good will. Yet they make those sacrifices, and continue to make them, rather than do what is suggested is done by our people, so far as Press statements go. The good will, so far as our people are concerned, is here. There must be good will coming from another quarter, and it is for the other side to show the good will they are asking us to show.
There are a great many omissions from the Speech. Twelve months ago we were told that unemployment was to be dealt with. We were told that the Government would go into the question of the hardships inflicted upon the juveniles of the country. For almost 12 months the Government never lifted a finger to help in the matter of juveniles being placed into employment that was suitable, and only towards the end of the year did we have a Commission set up to investigate the problem of juvenile employment. If that be their method of dealing with the unemployment problem, then this Speech holds out no hope to the unemployed at this time. I am fearful of what they intend to do under this heading of unemployment insurance. We have the recollection of what took place last year, when they asked that they should deal with unemployment, and that it should give them a discretion—a discretion which has been used for the purpose of taking benefit away from people who had paid for it.
We were told in this House that they were having the contributory scheme of unemployment insurance because people should understand that, having paid a contribution, they would be quite sure of their benefit, without any of the prying investigation which would take place if no contribution were paid. Yet they are investigating into the domestic circumstances of these families, and in one case, of which I heard a couple of months 118 ago, they asked if there was a bank book in the house, and if these people had at any time saved any money. They had a bank note produced, and the benefit was taken away from the man. There is certainly no inducement to these people to accept the advice of those hon. Members on the other side of the House who suggest they should be thrifty. One would have hoped that, with the short experience they have had of the widows' pensions, there would have been a suggestion to remedy some of the problems that they have already discovered under this particular widows' pension scheme. Why it was ever tacked on to National Health Insurance is something that is difficult to understand, and to-day we find that many widows, whose husbands were unable to come under the umbrella of health insurance, are denied pensions under the scheme which is now in operation. Surely the Government might have said in this King's Speech something that would have helped to remedy that defect in their contributory scheme introduced and carried last year.
There is one part of the King's Speech which is a little difficult to understand. It is that part where it is stated that the improvement in trade and industry at the end of 1924 was of some hopefulness, and that it was unfortunately checked by the widespread depression in the coal mining industry. I would ask, in the reply which is to be given, whether the Government are of opinion that the depression in our industries—in engineering, in shipbuilding, and many other industries in the country—it is claimed that the depression is consequent upon the mining industry being depressed at this time and during last year. Certainly there are no employers, none of the federations in those industries, who suggest that the depression in their trade is due to what is happening in the coal mining industry.
If this King's Speech is the best that can come from the party strong in numbers on the other side of the House, then there is not much hopefulness for this country getting out of the difficulties with which it is faced and borne down at this time. There is not a hopeful note in it for any one of the industries. There is not a hopeful note or suggestion that is going to help agriculture. There is not a hopeful note for those who are 119 demanding houses, and there is little prospect of this country and these industries being set on their feet in a way that is going to help the people through these difficult times. Even the suggestions with regard to foreign policy do not give us the hope of that peace which industry is asking for, so that commerce may run between the countries, and I am hoping the country will now recognise the mistake it made at the last election when it placed into power such a Government as we now have, which is not able to help us out of the problems with which we are borne down at this moment.
§ Lord FERMOY
As the representative of a large agricultural industry, I would like to associate myself with what my hon. Friends have said this afternoon with regard to the encouragement which we hope the industry will receive from His Majesty's most Gracious Speech. I think I am right in saying that in no civilised country to-day is the outlook of agriculture poorer. That is due entirely to the high cost of production and the slump in prices. What is the position of the industry to-day? We have on one side control of wages, and on the other side no control at all. I hope now that we have a new Minister we shall start the year with a policy which will confront all the situations with which we have to deal. There is no question that it is the biggest industry we have. There is no question that we must take care of all those men who have taken land since the War, and are trying to make it a paying matter. I am one of those who believe we do not want subsidies, but we want a careful investigation into the question of rates and taxes, and also into the question of railway rates that are crippling the industry. I am glad to see that we: are to lave State grants. I hope they will be for long terms, and that interest will be very low, so that men can pay them off in easy payments. We have every confidence that the industry has seen its worst, and that now it can look forward to better times. For that reason, I hope the matter which is contained in His Majesty's Gracious Speech will help the industry in tackling the problems which so badly needed tackling.
§ Mr. VIANT
I can well imagine that the general mass of the people to-morrow, 120 when reading the King's Speech, will be disappointed at the:act that within the Speech there are not remedies for unemployment which they have been led to believe the Conservative Government were prepared to apply. We were everlastingly taunted with the fact that we had not brought in our remedy for unemployment, and at the last General Election the Conservative Government made bold play with the fact that we had been in office for nine months and not applied our remedy for unemployment. The Conservative Government led the people to believe that they had a remedy for unemployment. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Oh, yes; election programmes can be produced. The safeguarding of industries, the protection of industries, were their remedies for unemployment. In the lace industry the safeguarding of industries proposal has been in operation, and the position is worse there to-day than it was before. The general mass of our people will be keenly disappointed tomorrow at the fact that this Government, in spite of their majority, have little or nothing to offer. The argument, I imagine, will be brought forward that the proposals in the King's Speech for the electrification seheme will be a means toward the solution of the unemployment problem. In all probability, with our markets becoming restricted, as they must inevitably tend to become as other nations become more industrialised, the unemployment problem will become more serious, unless we are prepared to face it in ways other than those in which we are facing it to-day.
On the 25th March last year the Minister of Labour, in a defence of his Department, stated that the productive capacity of the iron and steel industry of this country since the War had been increased by no less than 30 per cent., and he added that what could be saic of that industry could be said to a very large degree of other industries. The Minister of Labour being cognisant of those facts, one would have imagined that he would have had some influence with the Prime Minister in the preparation of the King's Speech and would have been prepared to put forward proposals for the purpose of dealing with this problem. The productive capacity of many other industries has increased by much more than 30 per cent. In many instances it has gone over 100 per cent., 121 and in some instances 250 per cent. and 300 per cent. Compare the increase in our productive capacity as a nation with the purchasing power of the mass of our people to-day. There are no proposals in this speech whereby the difference between our productive capacity and our consumptive capacity might be brought into closer relationship. We are everlastingly being told, from pulpit, Press and public platform, of the need for increased production, but by the application of the mechanical knowledge which we possess we have solved the problem of production to such an extent that we can now produce wealth like water.
The concern of the present generation is not the problem of production at all, but the problem of distribution, yet in the King's Speech we find proposals for the cutting down of expenditure on public services. A start has already been made on education, and a start is to be made by way of introducing a new Unemployment Insurance Bill, whereby the amount allowed to men, women, youths and maidens as unemployment benefit is to be decreased. That will mean in effect that the purchasing power of the mass of our people will again be reduced, which will intensify the problem and will in no sense of the word improve it. Speaking for myself, I am not concerned about increases in public expenditure, providing that expenditure its going to mean a greater consumptive capacity for the general mass of the people, but the cutting down of expenditure on public health, as is suggested, and on education means a displacement of those engaged in the teaching profession and in administering the public health of the community, which will have its reflection in increased unemployment. On every available occasion we should be directing our attention to the need for reducing the number of hours of the operatives in industry to-day, but there is nothing even said of the ratification of the Washington Convention in respect of the eight-hours day. We have given a pledge to put that measure into operation, and if there were a universal eight-hours day, it would to a certain extent mitigate our unemployment problem.
I read an article in March of last year in the Bradford Chamber of Com 122 merce Journal, by Mr. Emsley, who was the Chairman of that Chamber of Commerce, and he pointed out that in the production of dress materials the company in which he was interested had increased its productive capacity by 33⅓ per cent. with the same amount of labour, but they had, in spite of that, to increase prices. One of the customers to whom they were supplying this material had found it necessary, in view of this fact, to take a quarter of a yard out of each design of dresses. The worker gives a greater output, but, in spite of that, ultimately the consumer has to suffer by either having to have a change in the design of dresses or else having to pay even a-n increased price. Under the present system there is no advantage going to accrue to the consuming public from increased production. The only way in which we are going to benefit the community as the result of increased production is by way of increasing their purchasing power by increasing their wages, and just as America has found a way out of the unemployment problem which started to develop in that country, so we, if we are prepared to be as sensible as they, should approach the problem from the same direction.
The general mass of our people tomorrow will look at this Speech from the Throne, and they will find that it will leave them cold as far as remedies for their economic position are concerned. The proposal to stamp manufactured articles coming into this country-as being of foreign origin is very interesting, more especially in view of the fact that the Government to-day have placed a huge contract for steel houses with a firm in Scotland who are getting their steel plates for the steel houses from the Continent. We are being entreated by the Government of the day to purchase Empire-grown products and British goods in order to stimulate British trade.
The Government of the day are prepared even to give preferential treatment to a firm that is prepared to give its orders for steel plates to Belgium. Worse than that, they are prepared to go further, and give preferential treatment to a firm who are prepared to wink their eyes at the trade union clause, the Fair Wages Clause as passed by this House of Commons. They.
123 are prepared to allow that the contract for the construction of houses should go to a firm that deliberately refuses to pay trade union rates, and whilst trade union conditions are observed on a similar type of work being done by some other firms. I conclude, therefore, that there is really no consistency in the matter or the arguments which are brought forward by the Government and their appeals to the people of this country to assist those concerns which are manufacturing all-British goods as against those who are manufacturing foreign goods.
So I suggest that so far as the unemployment problem is concerned there is no hope for the position of the unemployed to-day becoming better. The tendency rather is that their condition will become worse, and that the gap between the unemployed on the one hand and the well-to-do on the other hand will become wider than it has been in the past. There is need for economies to be effected. Economy can be effected by cutting down the amount you spend on armaments on the Army, Navy, and the Air Force, rather than on cutting down on education and Poor Law relief. That is not the direction in which we are likely in the least to benefit the community. It is the direction in which the economic position will become worse and our unemployment problem too, and these various problems will become more intensified than they are at the present time.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ Mr. GILLETT
I should like in the first place to say that while most of the speeches from these benches have criticised the Speech from the Throne that there is one line in that Gracious Speech that appeals to me and that gives me a certain measure of satisfaction, although my compliment is not as strong as I should like it to be. I refer to the paragraph in the speech dealing with the question of what is known as the slum areas in our great cities. I shall be very glad if the representative of the Government on the Front Bench opposite would give a message to the Minister of Health to represent the extreme importance of the need for something being done to tackle slum property as we find it in the central districts of all our great cities. I 124 myself represent the most overcrowded district of the whole of London. The present schemes that are being carried out—I am not discussing them at the moment—are barely touching the problem as I see it in my constituency. The London County Council at the present time are building, as is well known, on large estates on the outskirts of London, and some of the borough councils are building to a small extent even inside London. In the centre of London, however, we find whole districts and whole streets of houses that were built many years ago, houses that have been in existence from the time Dickens wrote about those parts of London.
At that time, such a house as that to which I refer was occupied by one family. To-day it is crowded by a large number of people. In some of those houses the attempt may be made to keep them fairly clean. Many of them, however, are in such a condition that even after they have been cleaned up, and so forth, you cannot but be aware of the small habitants there that even whitewashing and papering does not a together remove from them. In other words, these houses to-day are quite unfit for human habitation. That is the case of the house where the landlord has made an effort to keep it decently clean.
It is needless to point out the condition of houses where nothing has been done over a number of years. A man told me only yesterday that his house had not been touched, had not been papered or whitewashed for something like six or eight years. I had a woman come to see me who spoke about her son who is dying of phthisis at the present time. She told me how she had to remove him from one room to another because the rain was coming through or to his head, and there was also the question of children disturbing the sick man. Hon. Members may have possibly noticed a case that was mentioned in the newspapers recently. It was the report of an inquest on a child who has died. The local papers showed how the mother of that child and her other six children were sleeping in one bed. She was supposed to be occupying two rooms, but one of the rooms was of no use because there was no window in it, and the rain came in.
125 These are the conditions in certain streets close to the City of London. The County Council schemes now and again take out of central London a few people who are able to pay the rent, and also attempt may be made to keep them fairly able to go out a considerable journey from the district. If you suggest to others in the slums that an effort should be made to try for other houses out on one of the Council estates at Becontree, or elsewhere, the answer is that it is no use, the rents are too high. If it happens to be a family where perhaps the father is at work and one or two boys and girls, the expense involved in taking them out from where they work is too much.
Therefore, I am pleased that the Government do recognise that, apart from the housing problem as it may have to be faced in the smaller towns, there are places in the central districts of our great cities where it is absolutely essential that the problem should be approached in quite a different way from that in which it is being done at the present time. I think I have heard remarks in the course of the Debate, of inquiry as to what the Government have in their minds, what are their plans at the present time to deal with the problem of central London and some of the similar districts? One of the proposals, I know, that was mooted some time ago, has been carried out I believe in certain other countries, and that is what is known as the zone system. Certain districts in a city are definitely allocated for the purpose of housing the people, and others are allocated for business purposes.
One of the difficulties in the borough of Finsbury is that the houses are standing upon land which is very close to the City of London, and, in the case of many of them, if only they could be pulled down—which is impossible now, because the tenants cannot clear out—the land would be valuable for business purposes. There are houses there that are literally falling down there they stand, unused for either business or housing purposes. They have been standing empty for a number of years just waiting the pleasure of the landlord—until he can get, I suppose, a financial offer that satisfies him. Yet that land would be a enormous value to the community if it were used for business purposes, and might leave other land free for housing purposes. In these dis- 126 tricts the Government ought to be prepared to make definite financial grants in order to try to meet this difficulty of the cost of land.
I would also like to ask the Government whether everything is being done that can be done to enforce the present law. It is impossible to pull down these houses, because there is nowhere else for the people to go, and public health authorities are, possibly, almost frightened to enforce the law to its full extent because it would involve turning people out. I cannot help thinking, however, that more might be done to see that the property, unsatisfactory as it is, is kept in a better condition, and I should be glad if Ministers, when they are considering these problems, would consider that particular aspect of them. I notice also that it is stated in the Gracious Speech that if time permits proposals will be submitted to the House. The necessity of dealing with the evils of slum property is recognised by all parties in the House, and if proposals of a practical character could be submitted I should think the House would be only too glad to give all the help possible to carry them through. We talk at the present time of asking for a better feeling in industry. People living under these conditions are not likely to be in a frame of mind to have a better feeling in regard to industry or anything else, and one of the greatest steps towards creating that better feeling would be the removal of these plague spots in our land.
Another matter I wish to deal with is the Clause in the speech about the coal industry. Reference is made to the volume of unemployment and the unfortunate check in its decline imposed by the widespread depression in coal-mining. I am as well aware as every other Member that the ills of the coal-mining industry are not confined to this country, but the rather casual reference to this question in the Gracious Speech would seem to indicate that the Government were not responsible for the fact that the depression in the coal trade was accentuated all of a sudden. I would suggest that it is not by any means so certain as many financial papers and other supporters of the Government wish to make out that the return to the gold standard did not have something to do 127 with the further depression in the coal industry. During the last few days we have had a remarkable speech from Mr. McKenna, the Chairman of the Midland Bank. In that speech he referred to the policy of various Governments and of the Bank of England during the last four or five years, and pointed out that industry had been affected prejudicially by the weight of taxation, the condition of the exchanges, and other things that he specially pointed out. But, he said, seeing these influences were more or less continuous, we had to look for some other explanation of the variations in unemployment which had taken place, and he had come to the conclusion that one of the reasons was the monetary policy pursued by the Governments and by the Bank of England—that the policy of deflation started a few years ago was responsible for the large amount of unemployment during the last four or five years.
Last year the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his Budget speech the return to the gold standard. At that time some of us suggested that it would have been wiser, probably, to allow the price level in America to rise so as to become on an equality with this country rather than to force the exchange. This was not agreed to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but it is a fact that very shortly after the completion of this policy we had the crisis in the coal industry. The masters certainly consider that the export trade has been prejudiced by the financial policy of the Government, and claimed in their evidence, I believe, that it had meant to foreign buyers—certainly in South America—1s a ton increase in the price of our coal, and that this had been, sufficient to lose us some of our markets in South America. This certainly coincides with the view expressed by Sir Josiah Stamp in the Report of the Committee of which he was a member dealing with the crisis in the coal industry. Therefore, it was not absolutely an accident that this crisis came about, but the Government owing, shall I say, to the too hasty return to the gold standard have to bear a share of the responsibility for it. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer is bemoaning the large subsidy, it is worth remembering 128 that he may himself be partly responsible for now having to find that large sum of money.
The Speech also expresses a hope that there may be a spirit of conciliation and fellowship. Certain fundamental things have to be recognised if we are to get industrial peace or any other kind of peace. After the Franco-Prussian War a nominal peace was made between France and Germany, but every one of us recognises that that peace was in reality no peace at all, because it left a lasting sense of injustice in the minds of the French people. I submit to the House that we shall not have an industrial peace that is of any value unless it is recognised by both parties to be a peace involving justice to both sides. Continual attacks on wages are made in the newspapers and by various bodies. It, is urged that wages should be reduced. The mine-owners had to bring into their policy for dealing with the mines the suggestion that wages upon the railways ought to be reduced, and constant appeals for a reduction in wages are made by other associations. There was an unwillingness to recognise that the whole of the evils connected with the coal crisis are not a question of wages alone.
The unwillingness of the mineowners to recognise that committees have reported that the condition of the management in the coal industry has been unsatisfactory seems to show how impossible and improbable it is that you will ever obtain the industrial peace you are-asking for. Too many people seem to think that industrial peace means that one party should cease to make any demands, and the other party should be left to do as they choose. I have no doubt that every Member of this House is in favour of industrial peace based on justice, but I am exceedingly sceptical as to whether industrial peace will be found by the methods which are being pursued by some of our newspapers to-day. The wretched housing conditions which exist and the want of adequate wages are problems which must certainly be solved before you can have industrial peace. It would be more satisfactory to talk less about industrial peace and try and remove some of the evils of which I have spoken, and there should be a greater willingness on the part of the wealthy to bear more taxation and recognise that 129 education and the general well-being of the people should be our first considerations.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
The first and only Budget speech I have heard in this House was in the month of April last, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his peroration, said that his Budget would have two main effects upon the affairs of the country. First of all, he said it would give relief to the deserving poor, and, secondly, that it would give an impetus to industry and tend to resuscitate it. The Leader of the Opposition pointed out in his speech this afternoon that those hopes had not been fulfilled, and he quoted the King's Speech in support of that contention. The passage in the Speech from the Throne which was quoted was:The improvement in trade and industry at the end of 1924, which it was then thought would result in an appreciable decrease in the volume of unemployment, was unfortunately checked early last year by the widespread depression which occurred in coal mining.The right hon. Gentleman also said that there was better employment in 1924, and we know that the figures were reduced in June of that year to 1,000,000, which is the lowest for the last four years. Whilst it says in the King's Speech that the resuscitation of employment was checked by coal mining, it leaves the matter very obscure. It is quite correct to say that in the early part of last year there was a slight set-back as far as the coal-mining industry was concerned, but that is a seasonal slackness which is experienced every year. In the month of August last a decided slump took place, and within three weeks of the restoration of the gold standard some scores of coal pits closed down in the North East coast area. It is well-known to those who are engaged in the export trade that within one month the whole of our coal export trade to the American seaboard was wiped out. My hon. Friend spoke about the shilling difference in the price of coal on the American seaboard after the restoration of the gold standard. The figures were considerably in excess of 1s. One week before the restoration took place the price of British coal on the American seaboard was 15 cents below the American price for American coal. Within three weeks of the restoration the price went up to 63 cents above 130 the American price for American coal. That was on the North American sea board. On the South American seaboard the price immediately before the restoration was 7½d. per ton below the American price and within five weeks of the restoration it was 2s. 7½d. above, in fact there was considerably over 4s. per ton difference in the price of British coal on the South American seaboard.
My main purpose in rising is to continue that phase of the Debate which was initiated by an hon. Member on my left. But before I leave the question of coal, I want to comment on the speech of an hon. Member above the Gangway on the other side. He said that we could not by shortening hours make mines pay that are not already paying. With regard to the cost of coal mining, we have had it pointed out that during the passage of the Rating Bill one Clause was put in which might be removed. When we were discussing that Bill, there was an Amendment moved to one of the Clauses from these benches, to rate ungotten minerals. I remember well one hon. Member pointing out that a crtain coal-mining concern had paid for the last 53 years £500 per year on ungotten minerals, minerals that would probably not be mined for the next 50, 60 or perhaps 100 years. That cost was actually going on to the coal that had been mined and is an overhead charge on the industry at the present time.
With regard to the mines not paying, I want to repeat and emphasise what has been said from these benches with regard to those who are getting something out of the industry and who put nothing in. We have, for instance, the Marquis of Bute drawing £115,000 per year—a gentleman who will not allow a coal shaft to be sunk on his estate. Wherever the coal is to be mined, the shaft has to be sunk on another estate. But he makes the stipulation that all the coal mined from underneath his estate must be carried over his estate and shipped from the Bute Dock. He gets wayleaves for the coal going over the land and also draws the dock dues. In all he gets £115,000 and puts nothing in. I would remind hon. Members opposite that these are the costs that need to be reduced, and not the wages of the miners.
131 On the matter of deflation, we have had, not only the pronouncement of Mr. Reginald McKenna, but also a very important contribution from one of our foremost industrialists, Sir William Petter, who has been chairman of the Engineering Association, and is now a member of the General Council of the Federation of British industries. It is thought, and, indeed, it has been stated in the newspapers, that this is the first pronouncement of Mr. McKenna with regard to the effect of deflation on employment, but four years ago, at the annual meeting of what was then the London, City and Midland Bank, and is now the Midland Bank, he had two charts, one showing the unemployment figures, from the central Labour Exchange, and the other showing the deflation figures from the Treasury; and he showed to that meeting of the shareholders of his bank that, at each quarterly drawing in of paper money, amounting to £3,000,000, the immediate effect was to send up the unemployment figures. There was a slight falling off in the figures during the quarter, and then, with another drawing in of £3,000,000, up went the figures again. That was four years ago. I see that our own leading Labour paper has not credited Mr. McKenna with making that pronouncement four years ago, but says that he has only found it out recently: but there were 5½ columns of his speech in all the London and provincial papers four years ago, and a column and a half was devoted to showing how the deflationary process was having this effect upon employment. Again, three years ago he occupied a full column of his speech in showing the same effect, and he has done so again this year. We have men like Mr. Keynes, Lord Bradbury, the hon. Member for Ilford (Sir F. Wise), and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond), who is now on the other side of the House, pointing out again and again to the Government how the deflationary process has brought about and perpetuated unemployment, but I regard the pronouncement of Sir William Petter as the most important that has been made on this subject. Sir William Petter is a very large employer of labour in the engineering trade, employing over 4,000 engineers, 132 and what does he say on this matter of the deflation of the currency! He uses very strong terms. He says:The industrial employers in this country have been the tools of the Government in forcing down the wages of their workmen, and thereby bringing disaster not only to the workmen but to employers.That is a very important pronouncement. He says that the way to resuscitate the unsheltered industries is not by forcing down the wages of those who are in what are called the sheltered industries; that way, he says, lies further disaster. He points out that 60 per cent. of our workers are normally employed on the home market, and that, by further depressing their conditions, we are not going to make employment better, but a great deal worse. To those who ask, "How are we going to meet foreign competition if you increase the workmen's wages, when we cannot compete now on the present low scale," he points out what every man knows who has supervised industry in engineering and shipbuilding, and what I know myself from my own experience in supervising production in the iron and steel trade, namely, that low wages do not mean low costs, but that, by increasing wages and bringing about contentment among the workers, you can get infinitely better results. I could show instance after instance where that has been done, and where I have done it myself.
It is perfectly true that some very important orders recently went abroad. It is quite correct that we sent the contract for five ships abroad that we could have, and ought to have, built ourselves, but not on account of the relative cost. I am not one of those who believe the industries of the country can be resuscitated by taking the work from other countries, but on the other hand, I believe certain British orders have been sent abroad which might and would have been kept in this country under normal conditions. I was at the launch of a ship in one of our yards recently, and was speaking to a gentleman I have known for 30 years about the relative cost here and in Germany. He asked me what I thought about an industry which had come to this pass, when if we gave the whole of our labour free we could not compete with the foreigner, though we had held a leading position in 133 the industry all our lives. I said: "Do you really believe they can construct ships in Germany cheaper than we can here?" He said: "I do." I said: "Supposing you had plated the shell of this ship and I had plated the shell of a sister ship in Krupp's yard at Essen. You would be paid in shillings and I should be paid in marks. Suppose you take your wages outside this yard and translate them into other values—food, clothing, and other necessities of life—and make a heap of them, and I do the same outside the yard in Germany. Which of the heaps is the biggest?" He said: "Yours, of course." I said: "That is the cost of the work. You can put anything you like down in the ledger. You can pay in any kind of paper money you like, but there is the cost of the work in translated values."
That is our condition to-day on account of the deflationary process that money has gone through. In Germany to-day and for many years past there are three values of currency. There is the nominal value, the internal value and the external value, and it is on account of the abnormal conditions which have been brought about by these fluctuations that our five British ships went to Germany, and all concerned in the industry know that it is on account of the monetary process that successive Governments have put money through that we are in this position. This is a very important aspect of the question of unemployment as contained in the King's Speech. I have made my contribution to this side of the question of the deflationary process that money has gone through as ably as I can. The remedy is a judicious inflation of the currency and a reversal of the process that has been gone through. I candidly 134 admit that the deflation policy has enormously enriched us as a nation. The latest Inland Revenue figures show that the total assessable income for Income Tax and Super-tax is £4,180,000,000 greater than it was in 1913. As a nation we have enormously increased our wealth, but all admit, Mr. J. M. Keynes admits and Sir John Bradbury admits—and he is a stalwart supporter of gold standard restoration—that its effect has been very depressing upon industry. He pointed out in his controversy with Mr. Keynes that although it has enormously enriched our country, the coal-mining industry could have carried on for quite a considerable time without any help had it not been for the final act in the deflationary policy—the restoration of the gold standard. I admit that we have enormously enriched ourselves, but at the same time we have enormously increased and perpetuated unemployment. I say seriously to the representatives of the Government that the time for a reversal of that policy has come and that by a judicious inflation of the currency along well-considered and well-defined lines we may help to resuscitate the industries of our country.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. Arthur Henderson.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.