§ [SECOND DAY.]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [2nd February]:
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 has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Mr. Hurst.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
The Gracious Speech with which we have been favoured is likely to produce a popular wave of sympathy for His Majesty. A large number of people will regret that His Majesty's constitutional position compels him, even nominally, to be the spokesman of such a Government. The Speech is a monument of political incapacity. Outside this House, to-day there are over one million beggars for work. There are millions of other industrious people who carry on their work from day to day or week to week under the shadow of "the sack." It is as true to-day as it was when stated by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman many years ago, that the great majority of the toiling population of this country live eternally on the verge of poverty. The Speech which has been addressed to us contains more blame than hope for this worthy section of the population.
The Government seems to have abandoned entirely all serious effort to deal with the problem of unemployment. The Prime Minister yesterday intimated that even the sums which have been granted in the past to local authorities to enable them to carry on useful schemes of work are to be restricted or entirely abandoned. The necessitous areas of this country in future will be expected to live, evidently, by consuming their own tails. The Prime Minister stated that the sums that had 144 been given were really a subsidy to local government. Anyone familiar with the work of local authorities knows that the schemes in which they have been engaged have been schemes of extraordinary worth. They have been works of national improvement and development. I submit that, in work of that kind, necessitated by a problem that ought to be treated as a national problem, it is utterly unjust to throw the whole cost of this national development upon the ratepayers of the distressed areas, for whom, in another part of his speech, the Prime Minister expressed his deep sympathy. It is much better that men should be paid for doing necessary and useful work than for idling and rusting at the street corners. Why should the whole of that burden be borne by the local ratepayers? Why should the section of the community who live from investments and can afford to reside far from the sounds and smoke of industry he allowed to escape from their fair share of a national burden?
We are told in the Speech that there are signs of trade revival. But we are warned that the- signs are small and shadowy. It is stated that since the autumn these signs of revival have been nervously peering round the corner, but have been frightened off by the fear of industrial strife. No attempt at all is made to indicate the cause of this fear of industrial strife. When the question is examined it will be found that this fear is due to another fear, and that the other fear is that the already low standard of living of the working-class population is to be further reduced. If the Government are honest in their statement that the interests of the nation are of paramount importance, it would be easy for the Government to take such steps as would guarantee to these toiling multitudes during the next 12 months that their standard of living will not be attacked. If the Government took such a step, I believe that there would be no fear of industrial strife, and the fact that the Government is not prepared to take such a step indicates that a reduction of wages in the basic industries of this country is of greater importance than the national interest. There is not a day or a week that passes in which we have not rumours of reductions or actual reductions taking place.
145 The competitive system has completely failed as a means of fixing such a standard of wages as will ensure the comfort of the workers and a market for the goods they produce. In face of what is undoubtedly a critical industrial situation, this great Government, with their unquestioned and almost unprecedented power in this House and in the country, refuse to take one step towards a national organisation of wages. Instead, we are treated inside and outside the House by prominent members of the Government with appeals for conciliation: the workers are asked to disarm, to convert their fighting forces into Red Cross societies, to love, honour and trust their masters, and to relegate to obscurity their chosen representatives. This spirit, by a natural advertising sense, is described as "the spirit of Locarno." In my opinion the spirit of Locarno, properly understood, is the spirit that dominates industry to-day. The spirit of Locarno is respect for the strong and contempt for the weak. The Minister who surrendered to the representative of Mussolini is the Minister who publicly insults the Government of Moscow. The friendly hand in France is the mailed fist in Egypt. While we conciliate Germany, we bully India. Our policy in China, has been, not only disastrous to our trade, but has made us in that area the most hated of "foreign devils." As in politics, so with industry.
Reference is made in the King's Speech to the Coal Commission. Does anyone who remembers the events at the end of July last believe for a moment, that we would have had a Coal Commission, or that we would have had any assistance given to the mining industry but for the support from the working-class that was promised to the miners in their hour of need? It was the strength of the miners, it was the extent of working-class solidarity that saved this country from industrial strife in 1925. During the course of a speech yesterday the Home Secretary told us that the miners of this country are at present living on charity. Such a, statement is characteristic of the right hon. Gentleman. It shows the contempt that he has for the working-class and for the intelligence of the supporters he addressed. There is evidently a rivalry for the dictatorship between him and the Chancellor of the Ex- 146 chequer, and we are prepared to see a serious feud during the months that lie before us.
A good deal of criticism has been directed to the amount of public money that has been spent in subsidising the coal industry. Speaking for myself, I regard it as money well spent. When we consider that it has saved the miners, and probably other sections of the working class, from serious and prolonged industrial strife or a substantial reduction in wages, every thinking person must admit that the millions spent in maintaining the basic industries of this country were devoted to a better purpose than they would have been by a reduction in the Super-tax for a small section of the very rich. When we consider this subject, we have to remember, in estimating, that what we have lost on the swings we have gained on the roundabouts. Hundreds of thousands of people who are in employment to-day would have been unemployed but for the assistance given to the coal industry. The output of coal in this country has been enormously increased as a result of the subsidy. I read in a newspaper to-day that in South Wales alone the output of coal since August last has increased by 55 per cent., and that the export trade of that area has increased by 54 per cent. We were reminded yesterday by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) that the cheap coal had helped other essential industries, such as the steel industry. I submit that, when we come to make up this ledger, against the £20,000,000 or £25,000,000 to be placed on the debit side we should place the value of the increased output of coal on the credit side in order to ascertain the amount by which the country has been enriched, that we should include the amount which we would otherwise have spent in the payment of unemployment benefit to probably 250,000 miners, and that we have to include the improvement that has undoubtedly taken place as a direct result in other important industries. Whatever may be said by those who stand for pure and unadulterated competition in the fixing of wages and prices, I at any rate consider it to be good sound sense that the surplus wealth of a part of the population should be devoted, when proved necessary, to 147 the maintenance of the basic industries of the nation and the comforts of the people engaged therein.
A good deal is being made of the promised electricity scheme in the Speech from the Throne. The fact that we have to-day a Bill to aid in production, following a Bill that became an Act last year for dealing with the distribution of wealth in a small way, is an admission by the Conservative party of the failure of the competitive system in industry. In the opinion of those of us who sit on this side of the House that competitive system is now obsolete and blocks the path of national progress. In our opinion progress in this country will be made in the future only to the extent to which that competitive system is scrapped. It has ceased to supply vigour to our industries. Why, people in all parts of the House to-day must marvel that with all the knowledge of the present day, in the production and distribution of goods, we are still incapable of so organising our industries as to relieve our community from the necessity of drudgery, and what is almost the certainty of poverty. The Government think that this competitive system can be carried on for a little longer if it is given State crutches to assist it, and the proposed scheme to generate and supply electricity to the industries of this country with the assistance of the State, is one of the crutches on which they expected to shuffle forward for a little longer.
I admit that such a scheme should prove a valuable aid to production. It means we will be able to produce a given quantity of goods by the employment of less labour. There will be a substantial reduction in the amount of coal required for the production of electricity. The whole scheme, from the productive point of view, may be desirable and even magnificent, but it is certainly no step towards a solution of the problem of unemployment which confronts us to-day. There is at the moment: before the country a more pressing problem and a more pressing need. The country requires immediately a comprehensive scheme that will distribute among the working class of this country sufficient purchasing power to enable them to buy goods as rapidly as those goods can be produced. It 148 seems to me the very height of folly to think that you can go on increasing your output of goods or increasing your import of goods without granting to the people who provide the market for your goods a sufficiently large income to keep pace with the production. In our efforts to find a market for British goods, when we are baffled we are always inclined to blame it on the poverty of the people abroad. I submit for the consideration of the Government that British poverty, instead of being the result of unemployment, is the cause of unemployment; that, as I have said before, the trade pipe of this country is choked at home; that while poverty, sentimentally, was always something which we wanted to remove from this country, its removal has now become a national necessity, because poverty at the moment is our greatest national menace. Any Government, and particularly a Government blessed with all the power that the present Government has, which neglects its opportunities to deal with this pressing problem of the distribution of purchasing power among the masses of our people, is false in its declarations of patriotism, and is not one which takes a long or comprehensive view of the industrial situation, and the future of this country; and those who advocate a further reduction of wages are the greatest enemies, to-day, of the people we represent in this House.
Reference is made in His Majesty's Speech to the housing conditions of the people. We are told those housing conditions are now causing the Conservative Government very deep concern. It is characteristic of the deep concern of Tory governments that it always arrives too late. Housing conditions like the other social problems which confront us, are, in a large measure, our heritage from the Tory governments of the past. If the slums of which we are ashamed had grown up under Socialist governments, or if they had been the work of Russian Bolshevists, what perorations we should have heard in this House about the evils of Socialism, and the disastrous results of a Bolshevist Government'. But there they are, a monument to the incapacity of the Toryism of the past, just as this Speech is a monument to the political incapacity of the Tory Government of the present. When I read this Speech, and its professed sympathy with the unfortunate 149 people who are submerged in the slums, I could not help wondering what a saving there would be in human happiness, in human health, in human life, and in national financial resources if the deep concern of the Conservative party for the working class of this country would only arrive in time.
§ Sir FREDRIC WISE
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down covered practically every subject in His Majesty's Gracious Speech but he left out one subject which I feel confidently affects the unemployed as much as any of the other subjects dealt with in his speech. The subject he left out was in regard to the Italian debt. I propose to refer to the paragraph dealing with the Italian debt and to various speeches which were made on that subject last night—especially the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman is not in his place, but possibly he has good reason for not being there, and I refer to it with all due respect to him. I well remember when I was attached to the Peace Conference in Paris being sent to Berlin by the right hon. Gentleman. I remember the fantastic figures which were quoted at that time in connection with the possible transference of debt as between one country and another. I remember the late Lord Cunliffe discussing with me the possibility of claims of £26,000,000,000. By the time I came back from Berlin with my report the amount had been reduced to the still fantastic figure of £11,000,000,000. What absurd figures! I think if the statesmen of to-day had viewed what happened 110 years ago, after Waterloo, possibly the position with regard to international debts would have been more clearly understood. We were in those days a creditor nation. We advanced large sums of money for those days — up to £50,000,000, and eventually we received about £2,500,000, and we only received that amount owing to British bankers being kind enough to discount the bills of Austria, who owed us more money than any other country. Perhaps I may also refer to the war of 1870–71. That was not a world war, but simply a war between two countries, Germany and France. What happened after that war? The trade of France improved, and that of Germany went down, and I am sure that the Labour party anyhow will remember 150 the quotation of Bismarck to the effect that, if he went to war again, he would sooner pay an indemnity than receive an indemnity.
How are international debts paid? That is the main point in regard to this Italian debt; the words used in His Majesty's most Gracious Speech are that the conditions are "fair and honourable." To a certain extent this international finance is divided into many arteries of finance. Before I came into this House it was partly my bread and butter, but these arteries are very difficult to understand and most complex, and even the international financial man may not be able to understand the acceptance of a bill, and so on. But how can international debts be paid? Let me eliminate gold, because I think all will agree that there is net sufficient gold in the world to pay these large international debts. As hon. and right hon. Members may know, there is about £1,900,000,000 of gold in the world, and about half of that is in the United States of America. These international debts can be paid only in two ways: (1) by your exports being greater than your imports, which includes the invisible exports and is really the balance of overseas trade: and (2) by the creditor nation investing money in the debtor nation's property and land. Those are the only two ways in which large international debts can possibly be paid. I agree with the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs in regard to the Balfour Note. It was sound, and I contend that if it had been possible to have carried out the Balfour Note, it would have been of great advantage to the whole world. These international debts affect trade and channels of trade, and if the Balfour Note had fructified, trade would have been in a better condition than it is to-day.
But what did America do? America introduced the Fordney Tariff in 1920 or 1921, which almost prevents the import of goods into the United States. It makes international payments more difficult than ever they were before. I feel confident that the United States of America will not agree at the present time to cancel these international debts, whatever happens. I cannot help thinking that, as far as this country is concerned, we should find it very difficult to pay our external debt to the United 151 States of £34,000,000 odd if we had to pay it by goods, and we have not the surplus savings to invest very much in the United States of America. We can only keep up our payment of this debt by our Empire being the largest producer of gold in the world. In 1925 the Empire produced 70 per cent. of the gold of the world, and we sent £10,000,000 to America, and in the previous year, when conditions were not quite so good, we had to send up to £30,000,000 practically in payment of the external debt. I agree with the Prime Minister's arrangement in regard to America. He was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I feel confident that that arrangement did more good to the trade and confidence of this country than any-thing that has been done to help trade for many years past. The United States think, as anybody will see who has been reading the speeches of President Coolidge and Mr. Secretary Mellon, that they are eventually going to receive vast sums of money from all their debtors. A total of £3,000,000,000 is the amount they should receive over the 62 years of the loans. Does any hon. or right hon. Member think that this is going to be carried out, or can be carried out? I contend that any country may be willing and anxious to pay an international debt, but yet may be unable to buy the currency to keep that payment up. And unless America, with the Fordney tariff, reinvests most of that money in the countries which owe it the money, I feel confident that this large sum can never be transferred across the Atlantic Ocean.
Anybody reading the various speeches that have been made on this subject., and especially in America, will have seen that they all come down to capacity to pay—that is, the capacity of the country that owes the money. It is most important, and I feel that our Chancellor of the Exchequer, in dealing with the Italian debt, considered the question of Italy's capacity to pay. It is necessary in all countries to consider that question, but what I contend is, that so far as this country is concerned, it is even more important to consider capacity to receive. I would remind the right hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), when I refer to unemployment, that it is the capacity to receive in this country to which we need 152 to look more than the capacity to pay. Capacity to receive means if we receive goods from a foreign country which our manufacturers can make, that our manufacturers will have less work; and as he knows it would lead to more unemployment, and I hope that any Chancellor of the Exchequer who has to deal with these international debts will consider the capacity to receive, so far as this country is concerned, more than or just as much as the capacity to pay.
Now, in regard to the Italian debt, I welcome the arrangement that has been made. It is the first arrangement that we have made with our Allies, and I feel that it has been carried out in a spirit of loyalty and conciliation. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, in his speech of yesterday, said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1926; col. 39, Vol. 191.]I am very sorry I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I contend that the taxpayers are being created fairly, and supposing the larger amount had been arranged, what would have happened? It would have meant goods coming from Italy into this country, and that would have meant more unemployment. If there is one thing that we want to settle as a non-party question it is the endeavour to get less unemployment in our country. I should like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and I am sorry he is not in his place—a question in regard to the £22,000,000 of gold which we have to deliver to Italy. That is hardly a fair problem, considering all the circumstances of the case. I should like to know from him whether, if Italy be unable to keep up these payments, that £22,000,000 goes to our credit. One great point in regard to this settlement is that the amount that Italy has to pay us is fixed. Hon. Members opposite will remember that in regard to the Dawes Report, neither the sum nor the duration of the loan was fixed and I contend that for one country to make an agreement with another country where the sum is not fixed, and the duration of the loan is not fixed, is not business. Anyhow, in this Italian debt the sum is fixed, and that appears satis- 153 factory. If Germany paid two-thirds of her annuities to Italy, the amount would just cover the payment which Italy has to make to ourselves and the United States of America.
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs states that the amount is not sufficient. Well, it is 3 per cent. of the Italian Budget, and he should remember that with the lira at 121, and not on a gold basis, it means that the exchange of £4,000,000 a year is a vast amount of lire money. It is different if you take the lira at 25, which is the pre-War gold rate. The Italian adverse trade is really against that country. In pre-War days, the adverse trade of Italy to ourselves was £7,000,000. It is now £1,750,000. That is made good by invisible exports of Italy, such as the tourists, and so on. At the same time, one must realise that it will be very difficult for Italy to pay the sovereigns to make the payment. I contend that the Chancellor has made a good and a fair bargain. The right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden) in a speech at Burnley on 29th January was reported as saying:I am just about sick and tired of the British Government being magnanimous to all their foreign debtors, at the expense of the taxpayers of this country.I do not understand the late Chancellor, who, I always thought, understood these international payments, making a speech of that sort. Supposing the Italians had come here to meet the British Chancellor, and if the right hon. Member for Colne Valley had been Chancellor, would he have sent them home on the terms suggested? What would have been the position if the Italians had been sent home? Do you mean to say it would not have been against our credit in the City of London? I am sure Government stocks would have fallen. This settlement, whether hon. Members may think it good or bad, gives confidence, and it helps undoubtedly the trade of the country. No doubt the right hon. Member for Colne Valley will be replying, or speaking, on this particular subject, and I hope he will be able to explain how it is possible to transfer more money from Italy than the suggested amounts which are put in the agreement. What is our position? Our position in regard to international loans is this: Supposing France pays us £12,000,000, and supposing through the Dawes agreement 154 we receive £10,000,000 and Italy pays £4,000,000, there will be a deficit of about £11,000,000 between the total we receive and the maximum total we have to pay every year. That is a large sum, but I do contend, that although it may be a large sum, it is a happier solution than to increase the amount beyond the capacity to pay. That is all I wish to say with regard to the. Italian debt. I am sorry that neither the Chancellor nor the Financial Secretary is in his place, but I sincerely hope that if they have to deal with these loans, they will consider the capacity to receive just as much as the capacity to pay.
There is one other point I want to raise, and that is with regard to the rising Government expenditure. I would like to know whether the Government are going to issue to Members of the House of Commons the Colwyn Report with regard to defence. It is, I am sure, a most important report, and I am confident members would appreciate it. We are going to have an Economy Bill, so really I do not think it is worth while discussing anything with regard to that subject. But there is one remark I would like to make, and that is what was brought out by the Governor-General of Canada in his speech at the opening of the House of Commons at Ottawa. He said in his speech:—The consolidation of certain departments involving a reduction in the number of Ministers.I sincerely hope the Government will consider that, because the one thing we want is a reduction of Government expenditure, possibly the reduction of Government Ministers. I do not propose going further with regard to Government expenditure. I feel there will be an opportunity at some future date to deal with that, but I sincerely trust that the Government realise the gravity of this rising Government expenditure, and that they will deal with it in a right and a fair way.
§ Mr. SKELTON
In the few observations which I wish to make to the House, I should like to turn its attention once again to the agricultural proposals of the Government, and I do that for this reason above all others, that although they appear in His Majesty's Gracious Speech in various paragraphs and in some cases in a rather hypothetical tone, these 155 proposals, taken together, represent, in my view, the largest and most constructive effort that has been made on behalf of British agriculture for many a long year. I think, therefore, it would be unseemly for those of us who believe that the constructive capacity of modern Conservatism is by no means exhausted, and will not be exhausted for a long term of years, to let one of these large constructive efforts pass without warmly congratulating the Government on having undertaken this great work in the second year of their life. That great constructive effort, which is outlined in the King's Speech, and rather more closely dealt with in the White Paper which was published last night, bears, I think, in its range, features which justify me in using the phrase "a large constructive effort," for it deals with three main aspects of rural life, and it deals with them in a way which, as I understand, all practical men are in the truest sympathy with.
It is on the three different aspects with which it deals that I wish, if I may, to say a word or two, and in respect of two of them to make to the Government one or two substantive suggestions. These three main aspects are, first, the credit scheme; secondly, the scheme for the improvement of rural housing: and thirdly, the scheme for the development of small holdings. In combination, these three schemes cover almost the whole range of agricultural life. In combination, they will, I believe, if carried out earnestly and strenuously, go far to change for the better the face of the whole agricultural country of this nation.
May I say one word in regard to the credit scheme. It is agreed among all who know the present condition of agriculture that the ready acquirement of cheap credits both for the purchase of farms and for the necessary carrying on of agricultural operations is one of the first necessities. I am afraid I cannot wholly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Forfar (Sir H. Hope), who seemed yesterday afternoon to make some criticism on that aspect of the case. There is no question that, if you look wide and large over the agriculture of Western Europe, you will find it is based upon elaborate credit schemes, such as land banks, co-operative credit societies and the like, and that the present absence 156 of such an organisation in our country is, it seems to me, one of the great weaknesses of British agriculture, The Government scheme proposes to remove, and I have no doubt will succeed in removing, that defect. On that I say no more. Let me turn for a moment to the question of rural housing, which is mentioned in a more hypothetical way in His Majesty's Gracious Speech.. I hope that that hypothesis will, during the Session, become an actuality, because there is nothing more needed in our country districts, both in Scotland and in England, than assistance in regard to the improvement of rural housing. As I understand the present scheme, it is confined to assistance of the repair of cottages already in existence. That is the way to begin. But I by no means want to be taken as saying that I do not think a full inquiry is not required as to the necessity for further assistance, in the case of farm cottages and the like, for the construction of new houses as well as for the repair of the old. At all events, the first pressing and urgent necessity is for the repair of existing cottages. I am glad to think that that part of the Government scheme has been put forward. If I might for one moment have the attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland, I would beg the right hon. Gentleman, in the Cabinet and in the House, to keep before his colleagues the special needs and special characteristics of Scottish rural housing.
As he very well knows, but as his English colleagues perhaps do not know, there is no question in Scotland of it being possible to repair rural cottages through the instrumentality of the local authority. The subsidy must be given direct to land-owners, or to the owner-farmers. I for one, do not anticipate on fear, any criticism of such a method from the Scottish Members, whatever side of the House they may sit. I am confident that those Members on the Labour Benches representing Scottish constituencies have made themselves so well aware of the conditions of housing among the Scottish farm workers that they will not waste their criticism on the actual direction in which the subsidy should go. They will agree with me, I hope, in saying that, as long as the houses are improved, the actual method is a matter of comparative unimportance. 157 I do beg the Secretary of State for Scotland not to forget that the farm cottages in Scotland require special treatment. There is no part of this country where the rural labourers more deserve, and where their conditions more demand, the careful repair of the houses in which they live.
Let me turn next to the other limb of this large constructive policy, the development of further smallholdings in this country. I cannot but think that this is an essential part of any rural scheme. The facts are so well known and so alarming of the decline of our country population that they absolutely demand that any Government shall make an effort to reconstruct and recall the country population that is leaving the countryside. May I add that in my opinion the question of the success of smallholdings has now gone entirely beyond the experimental stage. Failures there may have been. Failures there are. Failures there will be, as in every other business. But nobody can read the Report on Land Settlement since the War, recently published by the Ministry of Agriculture, without coming to the conclusion that as a whole, and for England and Wales, with which the Report alone deals, the policy of setting up smallholdings has been a success both socially and economically. It is unquestionable that this has added to the country population, and also—which is of not less importance—it has added to the stock carried and the wealth produced on the fields. Therefore I say to the House that the policy of smallholdings is now out of the experimental stage, and the time, has come when the Government may now proceed boldly and courageously with the development of the scheme. Might I also ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if on that branch of the topic he will say, as I hope is the case, whether he is proposing to introduce this year a Scottish Bill equivalent to the proposals outlined in the White Paper?
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir John Gilmour)
§ Mr. SKELTON
I am glad to note the assent of the right hon. Gentleman, because the phraseology of the King's 158 Speech led me to suppose that the only scheme to be put forward related to England and Wales. Therefore, we may take it that there will be a complete scheme both in regard to England anti Scotland?
§ Mr. SKELTON
May I on that topic say one other word. I earnestly beg the Government, in view of the very considerable degree of success which post-War smallholdings have now reached, to consider the relation between the question of unemployment and the settlement of men on the land. This is a topic upon which a great many foolish things have been said. It is a topic on which a great many hopeless promises have been held out. It is, however, impossible to read the Report on Land Settlement, to which I have referred, without seeing that there is in it data to show that there has been, in particular cases, remarkable successes by small holders, who have come, not with agricultural experience, but with urban experience. I do not say that the evidence is sufficiently wide to allow us to come to a definite conclusion, but if hon. Members will look at the Report, and particularly, the second part of it, which deals with certain specially-successful cases, they will find more than one case of a small holder going direct from urban employment and making a success of his smallholding.
I draw no deduction from these facts. I do venture to urge the Government that there should be a far closer inquiry into the possiblity of selecting, even from the towns, certain people in order to see whether it is not possible, after a small period of training, to restore them to the land. On this aspect I do not venture to be categorical. I think, however, enough has been shown to make it clear that there should on this topic be close inquiry by the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Labour. That view is borne out by facts with which Members from Wales will be much more familiar than I am, and about which, if I am wrong, I hope that they will correct me. I understand that in the North of Wales there are certain districts where mining operations are carried on practically by part-time miners, who for part of their 159 time cultivate small holdings. If I am wrong, I shall be delighted if I can hear so at once. But I gather that in certain districts of Wales you have a semi-rural mining population, and that seems to me to give a clue to the topic. That fact, combined with the data in the Land Settlement Report, gives ground for urging that the Ministers of Labour and Agriculture should closely consult as to the possibility of the question of the unemployed being to any extent mitigated by land settlement. It is not a question of positive or categorical statement, but I believe it is certainly one for close and anxious inquiry by the Government.
Scottish Members are grateful that the White Paper issued last night specifically alludes to the admirable and valuable results obtained by the Scottish Agricultural Conference and to the value which that Conference has been to the Government in framing that comprehensive scheme of policy which it has now put before the country. I am delighted that that reference should have been made. The Scottish Conference was a body of great value. They came together, thanks largely to the courage and the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, when the English Conference failed. The Conference did its work admirably; it represented every class in the agricultural world, and, as the Member for the Perth Division, I cannot refrain from expressing my thanks that two of the farm servants who sat on that Conference came from my Division, and my pleasure in knowing, as I have heard from the Chairman of the Sub-Committee on which they sat, of the admirable, work which they did on that Committee. The work of that Conference was admirable as a whole. It expresses the view of Scottish agriculture unanimously and universally, and it is a matter of real congratulation to Scottish agriculturists, whether political or economic, that the Government in the White Paper have seen fit to point out that to the Scottish Conference it is largely indebted for the very valuable suggestions that have been given. So far as the policy mapped out is put in hypothetical and somewhat doubtful terms in the. Gracious Speech, I trust that this 160 Session will show that it has been turned into a material fact, because it is of real importance that the agricultural policy of the Government should be put before the country and carried out as a whole in one Session, for thus only will the country realise the vast importance of the agricultural topic with which that policy deals.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
I think that in the Debate, so far it has gone, very few of my colleagues on this side of the House can avoid drawing a contrast or a comparison between the attitude of hon. Members on the opposite side of the House to-day with regard to this Speech and their attitude towards the Government of 1924 when they sat on this side of the House. On that occasion, the Government of the day were not in possession of a majority of the Members of this House, and they had been in office only a very short time when hon. Members opposite, and, indeed, right hon. Gentlemen, availed themselves of the opportunity to develop a very hearty attack upon the Government because of their failure to adumbrate proposals concerning various items of social reform. To-day we have the privilege of knowing what is the mind of the present Government with regard to our present discontents, and, if we are to judge from what is contained it the Gracious Speech from the Throne, then I think it is a fair and legitimate conclusion to draw that the Government have very little indeed to say except to commiserate with each other upon the existence of our present discontents. The Gracious Speech begins with a sentence which, I venture to think, is not entirely justified by the facts. It says:My relations with- foreign Powers continue to be friendly.Up to a point I presume that statement may be justified, and indeed one would be very glad if it could be applied to our relations with all foreign Powers without any distinction whatsoever; but one is bound to ask as to what precisely the Government mean by the word "friendly" when it is used in this connection. For instance, one wants to know what is the present attitude of the Government in regard to its relations with Russia. Of course, to hon. Members 161 opposite this is very much like King Charles' head appearing in all our speeches, much, I dare say, to their discomfort. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] But the time has come when we ought to know from the Government what their attitude towards this great nation really is, for so long as the discussion of this problem is postponed, so long will certain sections of our community be condemned to continued poverty and unemployment. We have had it stated from time to time by hon. Members on this side of the House that they represent areas which before the War used to depend very considerably, not to put it higher than that, upon the creation of a market as between their constituencies and Russia. Take, for instance, the question of coal in which my own constituency happens to be interested. In the days before the War, according to a return which I have here, I find that there was exported to Russia alone—speaking of Russia in the present-day sense and not in the pre-War sense at all—in coal, coke, and manufactured fuel something like 6,111,274 tons, and I observe that in 1924 there were exported of those commodities only 37,650 tons. Obviously, it is up to us, whatever our particular political convictions may be, to consider in these days of heavy unemployment whether something cannot be done to restore to our own coalfields this very considerable market which has been lost. Really we are not entitled to use the word "friendly" and to say that our relations with these countries abroad are friendly, if we have reservations concerning huge sections of Europe such as are represented by Russia at the present day.
I want to ask another question. What precisely is happening in regard to China and our relations with that country just now? We have heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) that the deplorable condition of affairs as between ourselves and China has already mulcted our own market in very considerable losses indeed, and it is desirable, right, and proper before this Debate is brought to a close that we should have from some responsible spokesman of the Government some accurate statement as to how far we may look forward with confidence to a resumption of completely harmonious relations between ourselves and China. The question of the Italian debt has already been discussed by other Members 162 on this side of the House, and, personally, I have nothing to say in regard to the matter, except that it does seem to me, if we are going to be asked, as we are asked in succeeding paragraphs of the Gracious Speech from the Throne, to embark on a period of economy, a little unfair to be inviting our own people to undergo a period of economy in the matter of social services while at the same time making the most prodigal gestures towards nations such as Italy.
There is one special paragraph regarding our international relationships in regard to which I would like to say one particular word. It concerns the subject of disarmament. For my part, I rejoice in what was done at Locarno in so far as Locarno makes possible international agreements and the application of the method of international discussions as opposed to war for the settlement of international disputes. But it is utterly impossible for us to contemplate with anything like satisfaction any possibility of disarmament in Europe until we have brought Russia into the comity of European nations. How in the world can we expect, say, a nation like Poland, or any other nation that is contiguous to the Russian border, to undertake disarmament, even in conjunction with the bigger nations of Europe, so long as they have a feeling that there is a larger or a smaller Red Army assembled on the other side of the Russian border? Consequently, it is obvious, in the interests of international peace, in the interests, if you like, of the ultimate success of Locarno itself, that Russia should be brought in, so that disarmament in Europe should be applied to the whole of Europe rather than merely to a portion of it.
My next question relates to the reference to the loan to East Africa. Quite a number of my hon. Friends on this side of the House have been watching with a good deal, shall I say, of disquietude the operations of a certain number of people in East Africa in recent years. Indeed, I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that there have been episodes in connection with the development of certain portions of East Africa which constitute as dark a chapter in our colonial expansion as can be found in the whole of our history. I am not going to say that applies to the whole of our African Dependencies, far from it. There are 163 portions where the work of our representatives and indeed of our own industrialists has been free from anything of the nature that pertains to Kenya and places like that. But it is desirable, if we are going to be asked to agree to a policy of guaranteeing a loan of many millions of pounds for the development of East Africa, that we should know whether these loans are to be guaranteed in order to help the operations of a number of private speculators or financial pests, to which the Mover of the Address referred yesterday, whether those are the people who are going to get the major benefit or whether the loans are going to be primarily intended to benefit the natives of the areas for which they are made.
We really must make it clear in our minds whether we propose to adopt for our African dependencies the policy which is called "The African policy" or the policy which is call "The European policy." Are we embarking upon the development of those areas primarily in the interests of the natives, or primarily in the interests of the concessionaires who happen to be operating there? If we are assured that this loan is not to be used for the prosecution of the European policy, but is to be used primarily in the interests of the natives, I, for ray part, will be heartily in favour of such procedure.
I come next to the references to economy which I find in His Majesty's Gracious Speech. They fill me with a great deal of apprehension, because I observe that economy is to be directed chiefly at the expense of the vital services of the country, and in particular, I understand, education is to be subject to attention in this direction. I would like to direct the attention of the House for a moment to a Report which was presented by the Committee of the Privy Council for Scientific and Industrial Research for 1924–25. On page 10 the Committee say, referring to a visit of a deputation sent to the United States of America.:A two months' visit was obviously too short to allow of more than a general impression being formed of the trend of events in the Eastern States, and, to a less extent, of the Middle West. But the deputation was greatly impressed by the abounding scientific initiative manifest in many of the industries, especially those of more recent foundation, the widespread popular interest in all scientific questions, and the large 164 number of students in universities and technical colleges who are preparing for scientific and technical careers.If any hon. Member is curious enough to read the Report of the Delegation sent to the United States of America by the Federation of British Industries during last summer, he wi11 find that after they had observed the remarkable development of industry generally they asked themselves this question: "To what is this remarkable industrial efficiency due?" The first reason they give for that industrial efficiency is the remarkable attention devoted to educational development in America. This is a most vital subject for our country. Here we are, one of the leading nations of the world—we have been, anyhow, and doubtless in some respects still are—one of the most wealthy nations of the world, one of the most highly efficient commercially and industrially, and yet in our country at this moment we present a picture of poverty the like of which no other nation can equal. If we are to compete with nations which are highly efficient in every sense, such as the United States of America, it is obvious that such competition can only be adequately maintained by us if our young people—our young engineers, our young students—are sufficiently equipped for that new rivally in business and commerce.
It seems to me this is the most vital subject the House will be called upon to discuss, because if, at this juncture, on account of a transient condition—let us hope it is transient—of poverty and unemployment we are going to lop off, as it were, the very tree of knowledge itself, then surely, in days not far distant, we shall find our own people handicapped in the great race between nations. I beg the Government earnestly to reconsider whether they ought not to abandon their declared policy of cutting down expenditure on education. If we are to economise, surely there are other directions in which we might economise with safety. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has been making speeches up and down the country calling attention to the necessity for economy here and economy there. I would mention one direction in which the right hon. Gentleman himself might set an example to his colleagues. He is spending a good deal of public money at this moment on a service that is referred to as O.M.S. Suppose he 165 saved that money, to begin with. Suppose he assured us that the O.M.S. and secret services of various kinds were being abandoned, and the money thus saved devoted to relieving the nation of the disgraceful stigma of stealing from the children in the elementary schools their copybooks so that others may have their warships and their secret services.
Another matter which I regret very much has not been touched upon in His Majesty's Speech is the terrible burdens borne by various local authorities up and down the country, and particularly in my own part of the country, South Wales. I have in my hand a return showing the rates imposed by local authorities in various parts of South Wales, and it proves how very distressing is the situation in those areas. There is in my neighbourhood a district council which has the questionable honour of levying the highest rate in the whole of South Wales. The rates there do not range at the modest figure of 10s., 11s. or 12s. in the £ the rates in my district—in one portion, at any rate—stand at the colossal figure of 28s. 2d. in the £. If the proposals of the Government are put into operation, then, by reason of the economy on education, by reason of the new proposals of the Ministry of Health in regard to unemployment, by reason of the attempt to foist upon Poor Law guardians burdens which the national taxes ought to bear, that colossal figure of 28s. 2d. may very soon rise to 29s., and even to 30s. in the £. Not only will the rates in those distressed areas rise to a colossal figure, worse consequences will inevitably follow. When the local authorities there desire to embark upon some necessary public service, and go into the finance market inviting financiers to lend money to them, they are told, "What is the use of lending these people money? We cannot give people a loan whose rates are 30s. or 28s. in the £. They are already overburdened with debt." In order to get loans these areas have to pay an exorbitant rate of interest. For instance, one board of guardians have actually had to pay 7¼ per cent. interest for money which they have had to spend in order to cope with problems which the Government ought to have shouldered. It is a cruel injustice and a wicked wrong to allow these areas, which 166 are bearing burdens not of their own creation—if they were I should have said nothing at all, but they are not of their own creation—but burdens foisted upon them by reason of the national unemployment. National unemployment is here because of national politics rather than because of local politics; and I repeat that it is a wicked injustice to allow these people to flounder in a morass of debt, shouldering alone burdens with which the Government ought to have assisted them.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) directed the attention of the House to a fact as to which most of those on this side of the House will cordially agree. He pointed out that there is in the King's Speech no plan, no constructive suggestion, for dealing with the modern problems of unemployment and poverty. I am not surprised. I do not expect from the Tory party anything other than mere Toryism. Toryism never did offer anything in the direction of reconstruction. It cannot be denied that our present housing problem existed in some measure, though not to the present aggravated degree, long before the War, and this in spite of a long period of political power enjoyed by the party opposite.
§ Mr. JONES
The Tory party had at least 15 to 20 years of power before the Liberals even saw office. No one can deny that this housing problem is one of long standing and is with us because of the neglect of previous Governments in pre-war days. Similarly, we found the old policy of laissez faire followed by the Liberals, below the Gangway. To us, from the standpoint of the reconstruction of society as we desire it to be reconstructed, Toryism and Liberalism are pretty well the same and are equally ineffective. Hon. Members below the Gangway would urge that Liberalism has to its credit a good deal of valuable social reform, and I would, perhaps, cordially agree; but, after all, we cannot turn the mill with the water that has passed. Liberalism and Toryism have had their day. Twentieth century problems must be met with twentieth century methods. Our criticism of the King's Speech, as, indeed, of the whole policy of modern Toryism, is that it is trying to meet 167 twentieth century problems with the antiquated Methods of private capitalism. For these reasons on these benches we deplore the absence of constructive proposals so far as the King's Speech is concerned. We oppose those who desire to allow our poor in various parts of the country to fend for themselves, and do the best they can in spite of the awful handicap which the modern capitalist system imposes upon them. Just as in the 19th century we tried to remove some of the evils of capitalism by organising the social conscience of the nation, so we ask that in the 20th century this House should organise the social will and conscience of the nation in order to lay down the foundations of a better and finer co-operative commonwealth.
§ Mr. WARDLAW-MILNE
The hon. Member who has just spoken has ranged in his speech, not only all round the world, as, of course, he was quite entitled to do, but also around the different political parties in this country, and although there is naturally in what he said a good deal with which I do not agree, I would like to say at once that there is one matter in which I find myself entirely in agreement with him, and that matter is the necessity for not unduly cutting down, and possibly not cutting down at all, the expenditure of the Government on education, and more especially on technical education. The hon. Member who has just spoken asked a number of questions to which, in my opinion, he could have supplied the answers himself without much trouble. He asked whether the £10,000,000 loan for East Africa was intended for the benefit of the natives or for the benefit of capitalists and concessionnaires in this country. Surely it is evident that the first object of the loan is for the development of the territories for which this country is now responsible in East Africa. As a result of that development the consequent and one of the most important things from our point of view is that there will be an immediate demand for machinery and goods, which will benefit the trade of this country. Naturally, with this development of their land, there is:bound to be a benefit to the natives themselves if we assume, as presumably we must, that the development of a country and bringing about better conditions of life must necessarily benefit the 168 people of it. It may be said that it is arguable whether it is a benefit to lift certain races from a state of savagery to a state of civilisation, but, if the advantages are admitted, then I cannot help thinking that even the hon. Member opposite will agree that this expenditure will help the natives as well as the people at home.
The hon. Member for Glamorgan (Mr. Morgan Jones) said that Russia was a question which had come before the consideration of the Labour party, and admitted that in fact it had become almost like King Charles' head to them. The reason why the hon. Member does not get the amount of information about Russia which he seems to think the number of references deserve is not because the Conservative party does not wish to see more trade transacted with Russia, but because there is really nothing new to say about the possibility of developments in that direction. It has been very clearly stated by the Prime Minister only a few months ago that this country would welcome as cordially as any other people the day when Russia becomes a member of the League of Nations.
It has been further stated that there is very little possibility of a material improvement in our trade with Russia under the conditions now laid down and existing in regard to that country. The real difficulty of a closer relationship in trade and friendliness with Russia is not in any way caused by this country, but by the simple fact that no one will remain on friendly terms with Russia until she conducts herself in the world in the same way as other nations: that is to say, until Russia ceases to interfere with the affairs of other countries and allows them to manage their own affairs in their own way, just as they are willing and anxious to allow Russia to manage her own affairs in her own way. When that day comes there will be no difficulty about Russia entering the League of Nations and resuming cordial relationships with the other nations of the world. I would not have referred to this subject had not the point been raised, but I have listened so often to this Russian question that I think it is necessary to answer it once more. It is perfectly true that we used to export 6,000,000 tons of coal to Russia before the War, but in 1913 the total 169 amount of exports from this country to Russia was only something like £13,000,000.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
The 6,000,000 tons mentioned by me refers to our trade with Russia at the present day.
§ Mr. WARDLAW-MILNE
I was quite willing to accept the hon. Member's figures, but in 1913 the total trade to Russia was something like £13,000,000. I would like to see this country doing £13,000,000 worth of trade with Russia or with any other country, but on this side of the House we feel that there is far too much tenderness shown towards Russia by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and very little consideration shown for the far larger amount of trade which we might develop within our own Empire. Hon. Members opposite surely realise that in considering trade values every man, woman and child living in our Dominions is worth between £6 10s. and £7 per annum to us as a customer for our goods, while every man, woman and child in Russia is worth just 2d., and, under these circumstances, it is not difficult to see where our principal interest in the development of our trade lies. We do not wish to exaggerate the state of things in Russia, or underestimate the value of trading there, but it is necessary for us to secure a very much greater volume of trade, for this is the basis of our future existence and prosperity, and the real outlet lies in increased inter-Empire trade.
I have been rather led away from what I wanted to talk about, but I must make one reference to the unfortunate remarks with which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) reopened the Debate this afternoon. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying that I am beginning to associate him with a bitter tongue behind a smiling face. When the right hon. Gentleman makes such alarming statements about China and India I think it would be wiser if he told us upon what foundation he bases his statements. The right hon. Gentleman went on to deal with the necessity for increasing and improving the standard of living in this country, and in that I am entirely in agreement with him, and so is every hon. Member of this House. One of the finest things that could happen is to improve our home trade as well as our 170 export trade, and that can only be done by an improved standard of living, and in everything that the right hon. Gentleman said about improving the buying power of the people of this country I heartily agree with him.
It must, however, be quite evident to him that to improve the standard of living here means one of two things. We are faced with the position that we can reduce our standard of living in order to compete with the countries of Europe in which the hours of labour and the standard of living are lower, or we can improve our standard by protecting our trade and our labour by increased output as other countries have been doing. I entirely agree that the only solution of our troubles is to increase our standard of living by increasing our output, which means using the finest and most up-to-date machinery, the most skilled labour, and the most competent management, we can possibly get. The right hon. Gentleman spoke as if he still believed in the old-fashioned idea that you can keep up home purchasing power by working away with old machinery and by adopting old-fashioned selling ideas. I can hardly believe that he really meant that, but the solution of the problem is to get a higher output, and to do that we must have the finest machinery and organisation we can possibly get. The right hon. Gentleman further stated that the electricity scheme suggested by the Government is not a remedy for unemployment. Nobody would say it was, but by the provision of cheaper power it is undoubtedly a factor in making for a solution of the problem, and tending in the end towards less unemployment in this country.
I think the. House on all sides is indebted to the hon. Member for Ilford (Sir F. Wise) for his speech this afternoon, because he drew attention to a point which is not always readily understood. I do not know what the opinion of American experts is with regard to the possibility of securing payment in gold for the sums due to them, but I cannot see that they will get those sums paid in gold, and I would like to say that the only way in which this country, or, indeed, Europe, can pay these enormous debts, while the present tariff system of America lasts, in gold, is by the finding in other parts of the world, and for our sake we would hope within our Empire, of 171 a large amount of new gold. When the hon. Member for Ilford described the Italian debt settlement as one which was entirely satisfactory, I am afraid I do not go the whole length with him. I agree and appreciate fully the statement that a settlement of any kind is of immense value to trade, and I agree that even a poor settlement is better than no settlement at all. I cannot quite understand, however, why the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not put our position with Europe before America, and our position with America before Europe quite clearly and openly. I am not suggesting that these things were not done in private conversations.
What is our position? Ever since the date of the Balfour Declaration we have in fact been debt collectors for America. We took up the attitude that we would be satisfied by receiving, in the shape of reparation payments, or by direct repayment of loans from our debtors in Europe, an amount sufficient to pay our debt to America. Now we have gone further than that because, as was pointed out to some extent by the hon. Member for Ilford, if we get—and it is very doubtful judging by what appeared in this morning's papers—from France anything like the £12,000,000 she is supposed to be going to pay, and if we get £9,000,000 as reparations, and sundry other moneys from smaller nations, we are still going to be £7,000,000 or £8,000,000 short of the position we took up under the Balfour Note. As a fact, on present reports it would appear that some calculations now being made will end in our owing France money and not her owing anything to us. I cannot say I find that a very satisfactory position, and I am bound to say I feel rather like that famous gentleman who, passing by a churchyard and seeing on a tombstone the inscription that Mary Ann Smith had gone from this world to rest on Abraham's bosom, said, "It's all very well for Mary Ann, but it's mighty hard on Abraham."
That is exactly like the present position; it is all very well for Italy, but it is extremely hard on the British taxpayer. Not only have we come to a position when we are not going to receive a payment from those who owe us money equal to that which we have to make to 172 America, but we are now going to have to bear a burden of certainly £8,000,000, and it may be £18,000,000 or more a year, and America makes no move to help us out of the difficulty. I do not want to suggest for a moment that we should have gone cap in hand to the United States and have said to them, "Let us off our debts"; far from it; and I entirely agree with everything that has been said as to the advantage to our trade from the settlement which the Prime Minister made with the United States Government. It gave a tremendous filip to our trade; it gave confidence; it helped us in many ways, and is helping us to-day. No, I do not in the least suggest that we should have gone cap in hand to the United States, but I do suggest that we should have said to the people of America, who are as highly idealistic as any people in the world, "The position of Great Britain is merely that we are your debt collectors. It is up to you to say how much we are to collect; and we venture to suggest to you that it is not to your interest"—and it really is not to their interest, and they know it—"to press your debtors on the Continent of Europe too hard." It may be said that that is an attitude which no Government could take up, but I am not so sure that it could not have been put, and that the two parties could not have been brought closer together and some round-table conference suggested, before we deliberately took up an attitude that is undoubtedly going to lard the British taxpayer in a payment of something like £10,000,000 a year.
I very much welcome the reference in the Speech from the Throne to the subject of economy, because I think it will be agreed that there is, perhaps, no subject of equal importance before the country at the present time. It is not only a question of economy in Government Departments, but a question of tow and to what extent we are going to be able to relieve the industries of this country of the taxation which is now bearing so hardly upon them. The present situation really comes to this, that not only are our industries paying, as they must in the end pay, practically all the rational taxation of the country in one form or another, but they are paying to an enormous extent local taxation in the form of rates on a scale unparalleled before the War. That is 173 having the result that a large number of people who would ordinarily engage in industry, and would ordinarily hope to become that dreadful person the capitalist, will not engage in new enterprises while the Government is taking 25 per cent. of their profits, if they make any, and paying no share of their losses, if, as is more likely at the present time, they make losses. In fact, they would have the Government, to the extent of 25 per cent., a sleeping partner taking no risks. That is not a position which makes for enterprise or for the industrial supremacy of this country. Therefore, the question to what extent our industries will expand is a very serious one unless we can relieve them of their present burden. If we are to do that, it is essential that we should get in this country a continually widening interest on the part of those engaged in industry, however humbly, in the management and control of the industries themselves. The only disagreement between the one side of this House and the other on this point is not as to the object to be achieved, but as to the manner of achieving it. I think that, if there were a wider realisation on the part of those engaged in industry of the importance of these questions of Empire trade, emigration, international debts, and so on, in regard to the finances of the country, and, therefore, in regard to the success of their own industries, we should hear less of strikes and have less difficulty in dealing with difficult industrial situations as they arise.
I hope the Government will take their courage in both hands in connection with two other matters. The first is in connection with the extension of Imperial preference to develop Empire trade, when such extensions are desirable and necessary. I think it is very essential that we should have the fullest information from our Dominions and Colonies as to what extension of Imperial preference, if any, ought now to be made to bring about an extension of inter-Empire trade. The other is in connection with home industries. I rather regret that there is no reference in His Majesty's Speech to the question of further safeguarding. The Conservative party at the last election made their position absolutely clear, namely, that not only were they entitled, but that they intended, to safeguard the essential industries of this country, if 174 efficiently managed, by means of the Safeguarding of Industries Act or by any other analogous measure. I venture to suggest that the present procedure of the Board of Trade is too cumbrous and too long, and makes it almost impossible for small industries to go through the tremendous amount of investigation which is necessary to enable them to bring their case before the country. I think the procedure ought to be simplified, and I think the Government should face the position. There is no question of their pledges at all; their position was made perfectly clear at the last election. There are several industries that are at any rate on the verge of requiring safeguarding, and I think that the simpler the procedure is made and the quicker these matters come before this House the better.
§ Mr. SPENCER
I am not going to roam over the whole field of this Address, but wish to confine myself entirely to one paragraph. While I endorse to the fullest possible extent the words in the Gracious Speech which refer to avoiding any action which would again postpone the return of good trade, I want to say that I think at the present time the Government themselves are in danger of not preventing a stoppage through their own action in permitting unlimited reduction of coal prices. I am alarmed at the situation, and I was in no sense satisfied with the answer—short and to the point it may have been, but it was in my opinion incomplete—given by the Prime Minister yesterday to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs directed attention to the growing amount of the coal subsidy, and the serious situation that was likely to arise when May came round. He pointed out how difficult it was going to be to get rid of the subsidy, and that difficulty, in my opinion, is being accentuated every month, because the Government have taken no steps to limit the amount of subsidy that is to be given month by month. I have no hesitation in saying that the subsidy has resulted in intensifying competition between the respective districts and that, because there is no check upon the amount that each district 175 is entitled to draw from the Treasury, the first concern is not how much can be saved, but to what extent they can draw upon the subsidy to foster their own trade in their own separate districts.
I would like to draw the attention of the House, in the first place, to the state of the export trade, and to demonstrate to the House that the subsidy is not having the effect of increasing the quantity of coal that is being sold, but that the money is being used to intensify competition, as I have already said, and that all the advantage of the subsidy is going either to merchants or to foreign consumers of coal. In the first six months of 1925, we sold to foreign countries 25,848,443 tons of coal, bringing in £26,912,336, or, in round figures, £1 0s. 9d. per ton. During the last six months, since we have had the subsidy and it has been used for the purpose of stimulating trade, it has not had the effect that one might have expected. It has been laid down as an almost infallible economic law that the more you can reduce prices the more you can stimulate trade. I venture to submit to the House that, if ever that doctrine has been falsified, it has been falsified by the trade of the last six months, since the subsidy was introduced, because the lowering of prices has not had the effect of stimulating trade. Instead of trade being stimulated, we are actually doing less trade to-day at reduced prices than we were when the employers were left to themselves.
During the last six months of 1925, instead of doing 25¾ million tons of trade, we did 24,968,675 tons, and for that we got £23,564,875, or, in other words, we got 18s. a ton. Therefore, we have this fact, that while, in the first six months, when the price of coal was £1 0s. 9d. a ton, we did a monthly trade of 4.30 million tons, we have done, since the price of coal has been reduced to 18s. a ton, a trade of 4.16 million tons monthly. That points to the fact that, once you get a market gorged with any commodity, it does not matter how much further you reduce your prices, you cannot stimulate your trade. If this sort of thing goes on, and if there is going to be this progressive decline in price, I am wondering what is going to be the position when May comes round, and 176 whether, through unbridled competition, with one district fed out of the Treasury competing with another and reducing prices to cover the trade on a less market, the state of things in May next is going to be such that neither masters nor men will be in a position to relieve us of the desperate situation. Therefore, the answer which the Prime Minister gave yesterday to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was not at all a satisfactory answer.
To this unbridled competition, this constant reduction of price, which is being balanced by grants from the Treasury, a halt should be called. Those who are responsible for the final sale of coal should be told they cannot go on reducing the price of coal and competing with each other and then coming to the Treasury to have the balance made up. It is putting the coal trade in an impossible position. The same thing is happening internally. The same facts are revealed in the quarterly returns which are issued by the Mines Department. For the quarter ending June, the quantity of coal that was disposed of was 50,087,000 tons, in round figures at 17s. 5d. per ton. That was for the whole of Great Britain. For the quarter ending September it was 50,180,000 at 16s. 4d. per ton. For the quarter ending December, the returns are not out, but judging from the eastern area, we shall find that the price of coal has been reduced since the subsidy was given, commensurately with the amount of subsidy that has been given in each district. The economic fact, therefore, is this: The coalowners, owing to competition, probably cannot help themselves, and will not help themselves as long as they know perfectly well that no condition is imposed on any of them by the Treasury, and this decline in prices will go on until May arrives and then as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said, if the jack were immediately taken out there would be a collapse. I say to the representatives of the Government, "You should put a stop now to this constant decline in prices, which are balanced out of grants made by the Treasury every month." I do not say the subsidy was wrong in the circumstances, 177 but I do say that such conditions should have been imposed that the districts would have known that it was not left to them to be constantly reducing their prices so that the trade in its last state would be worse than its first.
I welcome very much indeed the reference to goodwill and conciliation. No men will do more in the coal trade, or have attempted to do more, to avoid any source of friction than myself and the Members of my own county, and we shall continue to do that. But if we are to have goodwill and fellowship in the industry, then the first condition, from a negative point of view, is the absence of mutual recrimination. It is not a bit of use either in the coal industry or in any other industry for the owners to be charging the men with being "ca' canny." There must be definite evidence of that before any charge is made. So far as the mining industry is concerned, speaking for my own district, I challenge any man to prove that there is any evidence or any proof whatever of any "ca' canny" among the men in my district.
The calculation made with regard to output per man is not a fair calculation when you say that the output to-day, probably, is 17½, 18½ or 19½ cwts. per day. You must first, if you want a real method of calculation, take into account what the men who get the coal are actually getting, and not lump them all together, when you have had to have more surface men and more workers on the road who have nothing at all to do with the coal. If you are dealing with the problem of coal, deal with the men who are getting the coal. As far as my particular area is concerned, we are getting to-day for the whole area: 20½ cwts. per day. But that means that at the coal face the men are getting, not 21 cwts., but two tons, 15 cuts. When we are dealing with this question, whether it is the men or the masters, let us get down to the real facts and state the facts. I say again, if there is going to be good-will and fellowship among us, let us end this recrimination, whether we are guilty of it or whether the masters are guilty of it. It is no use whatever, and performs no useful service as far as the industry is concerned. Recrimination, mistrust and suspicion are the worst elements that you can have in any industry and between any body of men.
178 Then on the positive side, I quite agree with those who say we need co-operation, mutual responsibility, and a disposition to understand and recognise each other's point of view. But what do these things involve? We are not going to get co-operation if we keep financial secrecy in the industry. We are not going to get co-operation if we can have no say at any time in the direction of the industry. I believe it is possible for the employers to bring in the best brains on the workmen's side, to consult them, to work with them, and to put the owners point of view to them, so that the workmen may be able to apprehend and understand the difficulties, financial and commercial, which they are up against. The more knowledge men get of that character, the more you will find that it will be possible to get them to co-operate with you.
A remarkable letter has appeared in the provincial newspapers and in some of the London newspapers from one of the chief general managers of a group of collieries in the county of Nottingham. A suggestion has been made in that letter showing the trend of events among the most enlightened owners. A suggestion has been made that it is essential for the industry that selling agencies should be set up. There is another condition attached, I admit, namely, eight hours, but I do not want to deal with that at all for the moment. The point I want to make is this, that here at least you have got one general manager belonging to a large firm who dares to go outside the ordinary compartment of secrecy with regard to finance and direction of industry, and to make a suggestion that the men should be admitted to that selling board and should have some right with the employers in fixing what the price of coal should be in that district. I use that to make this point, that this is an indication that among the enlightened section of the coal areas there is a disposition to take the men into their confidence and to win their co-operation. If that spirit is stimulated among the rest of the owners, then, as far as I am concerned, I have not the least doubt that, when the time comes to get down to concrete facts, they will find there is a disposition on the part of the great and overwhelming body of workers to avoid as far as possible a stoppage and strife in the coal mines. I say again, the Government must play their part 179 with regard to this particular question. They cannot allow things to drift as they are drifting now, and then suddenly pull us up in May and say that all assistance is going to be withdrawn. Though I admit that, while the Commission is drawing up its Report, and the thing is, so to speak, sub judice, it would be impolitic on the part of the Government to make any pronouncement, I do think as soon as ever the Report has been given and the Government have had time to give it due consideration—as early as possible after that they ought to make known to both sides what their intentions are. If they do that, I feel certain that they will at least give to both sides the definite knowledge that the Government are disposed as early as possible to settle the question and to settle it upon amicable lines.
I want to refer to just one other point, and here I express some surprise that more has not been done than has been done even by enlightened coalowners. I am going to refer for a moment to the question of nystagmus in the mines. A Circular has been sent out by the Home Secretary, who, I find, is not in the House at the present time. To my mind, this Circular starts entirely with a misconception of the general position. It is true that it seeks to formulate a scheme for the treatment of the disease. What we want is not so much to understand the general character of the disease more or to treat it better—those are two important things and I do not dismiss them as of no consequence, for they are of great consequence—but it is far more important that we should prevent the disease. That is the first consideration that should be given to this disease, which is eating into the very vitals of the mining community. Members who have no knowledge of mining conditions would be alarmed to know the extent to which this disease has laid hold of the sight of the mining community. Twenty-five per cent. of the men working at the coal face to-day with safety lamps are suffering from miner's nystagmus in some form or other. This disease is growing. I believe there are no fewer than 7,000 men drawing workmen's compensation suffering from nystagmus. The amounts paid are increasing by leaps and bounds. One could tolerate such a position if it was inevit- 180 able, but medical testimony, which has given due consideration to the matter, has definitely stated that the primary cause of nystagmus is defective standards of illumination. You get a man going into a pit with a candle-power of perhaps 1¼ or 1½. In time the glass is smoked and the candle-power is about a half. On the other hand you have the black surface of the coal absorbing 50 per cent. of the little light there is. The miner is expected to use his eyesight to get coal under such circumstances. The result is that cases are multiplying.
The Committee which has been set up to consider the situation says that if you provide the miner with a lamp of 2½ candle-power nystagmus will be an unknown disease. That Report was presented in 1922. Little or nothing has been done to raise the candle-power of the miner's lamp. I am not going to say the owners have not had difficulty. I am not going to say if they were assured of an effective lamp upon the market they would not purchase it. I know a good many of them have been waiting because the invention is in a state of transition. They do not think they have got to the peak of perfection yet. In my opinion they will not get to the peak of perfection for many a day, and if we are going to wait to get the lamp of perfection we are going to wait many years before we check the ravages of this disease. Why do not the Government now compel the employers to put in a light of a minimum standard, which the medical fraternity say would do away with the disease? It is no use sending round Circulars stating you are going to provide treatment and to learn more about the character of the disease, because already you have the fact that, once a man has had the disease, even if he gets better, no one wants to employ him. My hon. Friend from a constituency contiguous to mine knows that the greatest problem he has from the point of view of unemployment is the man who has been afflicted with nystagmus. No one wants him. He may be healthy and strong, so far as his limbs are concerned, but his eyesight has gone, and it is known perfectly well that if he goes back, once having had the disease, in 12 or 18 months he will have it again as badly as at first. Men with nystagmus go dizzy, and in its worst stages, when they get neurotic, they are taken to the 181 asylum. If we can do anything to stop the ravages of a disease of that kind by providing a better light, it is the duty of the Government to enforce such Regulations as will make it impossible for conditions to exist which contribute to the disease.
§ Major COHEN
I apologise to the House for taking hon. Members from the subject just debated on to another question, which is of vital interest to a very great number of men in this country. I refer to the case of the War pensioners. I remember that sympathy was once expressed with Members who come to the House with speeches in their pockets and have to go home with the speeches undelivered. I think that sympathy ought to go out a little more to a Member who is expecting to be called in some three or four days' time and is suddenly called upon at a moment's notice. I had hoped to move an Amendment to the Address, asking the Government to set up a Select Committee. I understand that Amendment is not likely to be reached, and I am, therefore, very much obliged to you, Sir, for giving me the opportunity, at any rate, of making some of the points I should have made in moving the Amendment. Although it cannot be moved, the need for the setting up of a Select Committee does not seem to me to be any less, We have asked for it, repeatedly in the last few years in any way we possibly could. A Petition was drawn up, signed by something like 800,000 people, asking not exactly for a Select Committee but for questions with which a Select Committee would deal to be dealt with. It is a very difficult thing under our system of government for this House really to show its power. The present Government has a tremendous majority, and I do not think it has any more loyal supporter than I am. But immediately one gets into a difficulty. If one wants to criticise the Government in any way one has to go over to the Opposition, and if it comes to moving anything on which a Division is to be taken, one either has to vote against the Government one is pledged to support, and which one is anxious to support on every other question, or else one has to support the Government and vote against one's principles. Perhaps, for that reason, I am rather glad this question cannot 182 come to a Division, because, while there is no question of any attempt to force the Government, perhaps the Minister of his own free will will agree to the setting up of this Committee, which I am convinced, if it were not for the Whips, not a single Member of the House would vote against.
There are four points I wish to make and I will give an illustration of each. The first is about the seven years' limit. I have raised this question very often here, but I do not think it can be raised too often. No man is entitled to a pension unless he puts in a claim within seven years of the date of his discharge from hospital. The Minister has admitted that in certain cases there may be extenuating circumstances which he is willing to consider, and he told a deputation of the British Legion a short time ago that he was willing to consider individual cases. That seemed to me to admit that there is something wrong when, individual cases have to be considered in such a manner. We have always contended that there ought to be some statutory right. At any rate the final decision ought not to rest with the Minister but with the final appeal tribunal or an independent appeal tribunal outside. That is my main case. The pensioner, I do not say rightly, but naturally, thinks the Ministry of Pensions is against him, and he has implicit faith in an independent body outside. I think the success—and it is a success—of the appeal tribunals is an illustration of that fact. Each area officer, when a man has put in a claim after date, writes back and tells him his claim is out of date, and he does not say anything more about it. Unless that man writes to his Member of Parliament or goes to the British Legion or some such organisation which is willing to take up his case, or may know more about things than the pensioner himself, the pensioner is likely to say, "The chief area officer has told me I cannot do any more," and he does not get his case considered. If other people can take it up it is quite likely the Minister will consider it is an individual case to which special attention ought to be given.
I have often wondered what there is sacrosanct about the figure 7. We shall be told, I think with truth, that in giving seven years we are more generous than 183 any other nation. I am willing to admit that, but I do not admit that generosity is necessarily justice. Men, when they enlisted at the outbreak of the War, enlisted for three years or for the duration of the War. If they are wounded or suffer from disease caused by the War, they ought to be looked after for three years or the duration of their disability. There is no earthly reason why you should stop at seven years. I think a good deal of medical opinion agree with me that certain diseases will not necessarily develop within seven years. There is one case I should like to read out. This was a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery who, up to the end of December, 1925, was an inmate of Netherne Mental Hospital. He was discharged on 20th March, 1918. He was receiving a pension for a gunshot wound in the jaw, gas poisoning and facial paralysis. He had an abnormal amount of treatment and operations. He was wounded and gassed on 16th October, 1917, and operated on for a gunshot wound in 1918. There was another operation in 1919, not successful, and a second for removal of plates. There was a mastoid operation in 1920, which left him with facial paralysis and deafness. He had operations in 1921 and 1922, and was subsequently treated electrically for facial paralysis. In July, 1925, he was removed from Roehampton to Ewell, and subsequently to Netherne, suffering from mental trouble. The claim for mental trouble was rejected owing to the seven years' time limit. It would seem to me not unreasonable, after having all these operations and gone through what he had gone through, that mental trouble should arise, yet because the mental trouble did not develop until after seven years he is disqualified. Whether an outside tribunal might have taken a different view or not, there is no doubt that most of us would feel more satisfied with an outside tribunal.
I come now to the question of the seven years' limit as it affects widows. The Minister can give a maximum pension to a widow in certain cases if the husband has died from wounds arising wholly out of the War. He can also give a modified pension in respect of a man if at his death the man was in receipt of a pension of over 40 per cent. Again, this decision rests with the Minister, and 184 again we should be more satisfied with an outside tribunal. There is a case which illustrates my point. It is the case of a man who was a company sergeant-major in the Royal Engineers. He was in receipt of a pension at the rate of 100 per cent. for bronchitis at the time of his death. He died from cerebral hæmorrhage. Two medical men supported the appeal. One said:In my opinion the cause of death primarily might have been due to the original condition, namely, bronchitis, and the cerebral hæmorrhage a secondary result.The second medical man said:I am of opinion the invaliding disability was a material factor in the cause of death.The maximum pension was refused to the widow because the fatal disability was not wholly and solely due to conditions of War service. A modified pension was refused because the Ministry state that death was not connected with the pensioned disability. There are many other cases which might be quoted.
If the Minister does award a pension to a widow she is barred from any other benefits to which she would have been entitled if the pension had been awarded within seven years. She is not allowed the mourning grant of £5. She is not entitled to any benefit from the Special Grants Committee which would help her in the case of her children having sickness and so forth. She is equally not entitled to an alternative pension. I have a case in point, which I will not read, of a widow who spent a great deal of money on her husband. She took him abroad when he was suffering from tuberculosis, and managed to prolong his life by stinting herself for three years. Had she left him to die two years earlier she would have been entitled to full pension, but because she managed to prolong his life by her devoted care and by stinting herself she is debarred from getting full pension.
Since 1st January, 1922, to the end of 1925, four years, 550,00 final awards have been declared, of which 250,000 were permanent pensions and 300,000 final weekly allowances, varying from 18 to 156 weeks, because the assessment was fixed at less than 20 per cent. The British Legion Members of Parliament have received scores and thousands of complaints respecting men who have received these 185 final awards and whose health has since tone worse. It is one of the most difficult things with which we have to contend that a man can become worse after having had a final award. The Minister always tells us that the ex-servicemen asked for final awards. We did ask for final pensions, but we did not ask for final grants. There is a great deal of difference between a man getting a pension all his life, even though it is not necessarily enough, and a man getting a certain award for a certain number of weeks and then being wiped entirely off the books.
As a result of representations to the Minister of Pensions, the right hon. Gentleman has set up what is called a Correction of Errors Board. This is established at the headquarters of the Ministry, and considers cases referred to it by the Ministry's medical staff, who, during a course of treatment, have observed from the man's condition that a serious ender-estimation of his final degree of disability when the final award was declared. This Correction of Errors Board has the power to decide whether cases shall be reopened or not. Out of 2,095 cases already referred to it, 1,110 have been reopened. To a degree that is satisfactory, but in another degree it seems to me very unsatisfactory, because all these cases have to be considered by the Ministry's own medical officers, and not outsiders. When the Ministry's own medical officers, after observing men under treatment for a month or more, have reported 2,095 cases as suitable for reopening, and when, in spite of that advice from the Ministry's own medical officers, the Correction of Errors Board has only decided to reopen 1,110 cases, it seems to me that if the remaining 900 cases could have gone to an independent tribunal, it is not unreasonable to think that, a very large proportion of them would have been reopened.
This Correction of Errors Board only considers cases referred to it by the Ministry of Pensions' own medical officers of men who have beer under treatment in the Ministry's hospitals. Consequently, if a man applies for treatment and he is not, taken to a Ministry of Pensions hospital, he cannot get the report which is necessary. It is frequently the case that a man may apply for treatment and he is told to go and get treatment from 186 his panel doctor. When he has received treatment from the panel doctor the Ministry of Pensions will not accept the opinion of the panel doctor as entitling the man to go before the Correction of Errors Board.
I should like to say a few words about the War orphans. There are 330,000 orphans from the War; 18,000 of whom have lost, both parents. To these orphans the Ministry is supposed to stand in the position of a parent. That was the country's desire and the country's intention, and yet beyond paying a standard allowance up to a certain age, and extending the age in very few cases up to 18 or 21, the Ministry has practically no plans for the future welfare of these children. I will quote one case which seems a very bad case. It is the case of a girl who is now 16 years of age. Her father was killed in the War and her mother is a most undesirable character. The case came before the Court, and the Court took the girl away from the mother and gave her to the charge of the Ministry of Pensions. The girl is learning the trade of a French polisher and receiving the regular pay of 12s. 6d. per week. Immediately she started to receive 12s. 6d. per week wages her pension of 12s. per week was discontinued. Her maintenance costs 14s. a week. At the present time she is getting in addition to her pay a grant of 5s. per week from the Special Grants Committee, but that is only for a matter of weeks, and will not long continue. Her wage of 12s. 6d. and her grant of 5s. only amount to 17s. 6d., and as her maintenance costs 14s., she is left with 3s. 6d. for her fares, clothing, &c. Obviously, that girl will not be able to continue under such conditions, and she will be forced to go back to her mother, which obviously must be undesirable. If the Ministry of Pensions had not been given charge of this girl the Court would have given her to the charge of the guardians, and I am prepared to say that any guardians would have treated her better. I do not mean what are called Poplar guardians, but any guardians would have treated her better than the Ministry of Pensions.
There is a great deal to be said for the setting up of a Select Committee. None of the questions I have raised are questions of policy: none of them are party political questions. All of them arise from a sincere desire to help the ex- 187 service man, a desire which I am certain is shared by every Member of this House. The Minister of Pensions, I am afraid, thinks that the Select Committee would do a lot of harm by tearing up the warrants. I do not think they would. Members of this House are supposed to be intelligent men, and they would not tear up a warrant unless it were necessary, and if necessary it ought to be done either by them or by somebody else. I do not know whether the Minister will reconsider what he said last year, but I have every hope that he will. I assure him that I do not wish to embarass him or the Government in any way. I do hope that, if he can, he will see his way to assent to my suggestion and to give the ex-service men the great satisfaction of knowing that there is a Select Committee of this House going into all their troubles.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
The House has listened with very great sympathy to the hon. and gallant Member for Fairfield (Major Cohen) and hon. Members will look forward with interest to the Minister's reply. I am sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not hear the speech of the hon. Member for Ilford (Sir F. Wise), to whom I apologise for my absence during part of that speech, because I was called out of the House. I listen to the hon. Member for Ilford whenever I can, because it is a pleasure; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to listen to him as a duty, and it ought to be a pleasure to him also. I very much doubt whether the speech of the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Wardlaw-Milne) would have given pleasure to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I should like to support what has been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Fairfield respecting the appointment of a Select Committee to look into pensions cases. There are far too many of these administrative cases, and the Minister must realise that. We always get proper attention when we bring forward any cases, but hon. Members must agree with me that there are hundreds of cases that the Minister cannot possibly know about. That shows that there must be something wrong in the administrative details of his department.
In common with a good many hon. Members I am very disappointed with the declaration of the Government in many 188 respects, particularly their attitude of insensibility to the unemployment problem. They have a huge and a very docile majority, but they do not produce any new measures for dealing with this growing evil. It is a growing evil, apart from the numbers of people who are unemployed, and the longer it lasts the more demoralising must be the effect, especially upon the younger generation. I cannot understand how Ministers can be so complacent, when they know that every week hundreds of boys and girls leave school and at once join the ranks of the unemployed, to share in the moral and social results which follow.
The only measure that the Government talk about that can do anything to relieve unemployment—I am not speaking about small holdings—is the proper organisation and development of the electric supply of the country. That is long overdue, and ought to have been dealt with when the former Conservative Government, under the present Prime Minister, was in office. I am informed, on very good authority, that if we had a trade revival at the present time we have not enough electrical power for the factories that would then be required. There is not enough electrical power available if we had our pre-war trade restored, and our trade increased proportionately to what it was in 1914. Under those circumstances we should not have the electrical power that would be required to enable us to carry on.
Much the same thing applies to our means of transport. In some of the East coast ports they can only just handle the trade that exists, while in regard to railways and wagon facilities they would not be sufficient if the country was restored to normal production and we had normal export trade. That is a very scandalous state of affairs. During this time of unemployment we should have taken these schemes of development in hand. I am sorry to say that successive Governments appear to have become hardened to this problem. They keep on waiting for something to turn up, and nothing turns up. We are told in the King's Speech that there are only very slight signs of trade revival, and yet they are going on with their policy of drift and hope.
I come now to the question of Inter-Allied debts. I believe the country has been shocked by the arrangement come to with the Italian Government. That 189 arrangement has given a severe blow to the confidence of the business community and of thinking men and women. We have been badly let down; it is no use mincing words. I cannot help thinking that there must be something behind it, that there is some political force at work which has caused this extraordinary arrangement to be come to with Italy. It will not stop with Italy. The French, apparently, are now going to ask us for reconsideration of the very generous preliminary arrangement made with them. Small blame to them! They may just as well say, "If you give these terms to Italy, why do you expect a higher rate of payment from us, who entered the War earlier than Italy?" So it will be with the other smaller Allies who are our debtors.
What was behind this arrangement with Italy? Was there any political concession given as part of the price for these very easy terms? If there was no secret political concession, why did the Chancellor of the Exchequer not ask for some trading concession from Italy? If the Italians could make out a case for not paying more than a certain amount, why did the right hon. Gentleman not say, "If you cannot pay us more than the equivalent of three farthings in the £ on our Income Tax, cannot you meet us by lowering your tariff barriers against us?" Hon. Gentlemen opposite always say that if only we had the bargaining power of tariffs we could force our neighbours to lower their tariff walls against us. Very well. They have a much more powerful bargaining weapon, in the debts owed to us, than any tariffs would give them. Tariff-protected countries are not very successful in inducing their neighbours to lower their tariffs. But in this debt question we could legitimately have asked for concessions from Italy in the way of lower tariffs.
I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will dwell on that point if he comes in for a few minutes to speak. I suspect that there is some secret political force at work. I do not think that any Socialist Government would have got the terms that the Fascisti Government has managed to extract from our Treasury. I have always supported the present Prime Minister in the action that he took in America. I do not think he could have got better terms from America at the 190 time, and I have always defended his policy in that matter. Therefore, I am entitled to make a strong complaint of the way in which we have been betrayed in the Italian settlement, unless there have been very valuable concessions given to us, of which we know nothing, so far.
I hope that when the Government are considering measures of economy they will consider seriously, in framing the forthcoming Budget, the question of taxing certain luxuries that are exempt in this country. They are things which are taxed in America and they ought to be taxed here. Some hon. Members opposite, including the Prime Minister, deplore unnecessary display by the wealthy in this country because it has bad social reactions. Why do not the Government tax articles of luxury and display? Why is there not a tax on jewellery imported? You could have an Excise duty also inside the country. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite seem very delighted with the suggestion. I made it last year. There ought to be a tax on jewellery, on feathers and on furs. All these things could well stand an import tax and an Excise duty inside the country. It would discourage the use of these articles of luxury, or else it would bring revenue to the Exchequer. I understand that the matter has been considered. The Chancellor of the Exchequer promised to do so last year, and I understand he has been looking into the question since. I hope that a workable scheme will be introduced into the Budget.
Everyone, of course, has a pet method of economising, and there are certain ways which always offend sections of the House. I, therefore, rather hesitate to hope that economy will not be carried too far in a certain direction. I notice that reports are being circulated with regard to reduction of expenditure on armaments. That is very well and good, for there is great room for economy in the fighting Services, without a doubt. I hope, however, that the agreed programme of aerial expansion is not to be interfered with. It was introduced by the former Conservative Government. It passed this House without serious criticism, except that it was too small. It was adopted by the Labour Government, who undertook not to interfere 191 apprentice. The hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Greene), speaking last Thursday, said there would be one apprentice to 20 workmen. I wish he had gone closer into it, because he would have found there was a reason why there is one apprentice in the glove trade at Worcester. It is because those engaged in it have such a fear of having additional apprentices that they have been prevented from having these young people in the industry at this particular time.
We were told, with regard to Italian gloves, that other countries have 67 per cent. of the trade, while we have but 32 or 33 per cent. Is the suggestion from the Government that this 33⅓ per cent. is going to help us to that 67 per cent. that is held by people in other countries? If so, I would like them to show us how that is going to take place. We find that the gloves that we make in Somersetshire and in Oxfordshire, when they are placed on sale in London, are
|Division No. 466.]||AYES.||[10.55 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Charterls, Brigadier-General J.||Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Christie, J. A.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Glyn, Major R. G. C.|
|Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)||Clarry, Reginald George||Gower, Sir Robert|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Clayton, G. C.||Grace, John|
|Apsley, Lord||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Grant, J. A.|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Greene, W. P. Crawford|
|Atkinson, C.||Conway, Sir W. Martin||Gretton, Colonel John|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Cooper, A. Duff||Grotrian, H. Brent|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Couper, J. B.||Gunston, Captain D. W.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Courthope, Lieut.-Col. Sir George L.||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Craig, Capt. Rt. Hon. C. C. (Antrim)||Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.)|
|Barnston, Major Sir Harry||Craig, Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Hammersley, S. S.|
|Beckett, Sir Gervase (Leeds, N.)||Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Hanbury, C.|
|Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake)||Crook, C. W.||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry|
|Bennett, A. J.||Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||Harland, A.|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry Cavendish-||Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent)|
|Bethell, A.||Crookshank, Col. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Harrison, G. J. C.|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Curzon, Captain Viscount||Hartington, Marquess of|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Davidson, J. (Hertf'd, Hemet Hempst'a)||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)|
|Blades, Sir George Rowland||Davidson, Major-General Sir John H.||Haslam, Henry C.|
|Blundell, F. N.||Davies, Dr. Vernon||Hawke, John Anthony|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M.|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Dean, Arthur Wellesley||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Dixey, A. C.||Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle)|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Eden, Captain Anthony||Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P.|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Edmondson, Major A. J.||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Elliot, Walter E.||Herbert, S. (York, N. R., Scar, & Wh'by)|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. J.||Elveden, Viscount||Hoare, Lt.-Col, Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Everard, W. Lindsay||Hegg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Falle, Sir Bertram G.||Holt, Capt. H. P.|
|Bullock, Captain M.||Fanshawe, Commander G. D.||Hope, Sir Harry (Forfar)|
|Burgoyne, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Alan||Fielden, E. B.||Hopkins, J. W. W.|
|Burman, J. B.||Fleming, D. P.||Horlick, Lieut.-Colonel J. N.|
|Burton, Colonel H. W.||Forestier-Walker, Sir L.||Howard, Capt. Hon. D. (Cumb., N.)|
|Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Foster, Sir Harry S.||Hume, Sir G. H.|
|Butt, Sir Alfred||Foxcroft, Captain C. T.||Huntingfield, Lord|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Fraser, Captain Ian||Hurst, Gerald B.|
|Caine, Gordon Hall||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||Hutchison, G. A. Clark (Midl'n & P'bl's)|
|Campbell, E. T.||Galbraith, J. F. W.||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt, R. (Prismth, S.)||Ganzoni, Sir John||Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.|
|Cazalet, Captain Victor A.||Gates, Percy||Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton||Jacob, A. E.|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Gee, Captain R.||Jephcott, A. R.|
§ sold at twice the price that we sell them for in Yeovil, in Oxfordshire, or in any other part of the county. It is not a tariff that you require; you want to bring these gloves down to a reasonable price for the people to purchase them. You need to tackle the retailers who have done so well out of the sale of gloves during these last few years. As in cutlery, so in gloves. The people it the glove industry believe that your promises for greater trade are going to come true. I believe they are not going to come true at all, and that this is not the way out of the difficulty. If it is unemployment that the Government is thinking of, it ought to tackle unemployment, and not fool with it in the way it is fooling with it by this tariff proposal.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Resolution."
§ The House divided: Ayes. 253: Noes, 127.193
§ days deprived him entirely of his liberty. In the next place, the native enjoys our protection and the assistance of our science. When we are talking of a loan or a guarantee for the development of East Africa, I want hon. Members to understand that the needs of East Africa are not limited to £10,000,000 and to railway development alone. There might be a false impression drawn from the words of the Prime Minister when he said "principally railways." There are many things other than railways. For instance, there are tropical diseases—the setting up of adequate sources of advice for the native in combating disease and illness—and there is the necessity for education of all sorts. Of course, the native has no desire for the luxuries or what we call the necessities, of civilisation. He wears few clothes and is quite content with few clothes. I do not argue now whether that is good or bad, but if we are to develop Africa for the benefit of the native and of ourselves, we must educate him to improve his housing and his clothing, and then we shall be able to export things to him.
§ 6.0. P.M.
§ Nothing struck me more when I journeyed through East Africa than the contentment of the natives. If the face is to be taken as a reflection of the mind, I found the natives there very happy and contented. They all saluted the passing traveller as he went through their fields, and there was no sign of slavery or brutality or anything of that sort. As far as Kenya is concerned, there is recruiting of labour, and men go to work there under contracts to stay for certain periods, but I found there universal testimony that the bad master did not get the labour. There was no question of slavery or compulsion. A man simply worked under a contract, and, just as in any other part of the world, there might be cases where a master would not treat his servants as well as they should be treated. But in such cases the inevitable effect was that the servants left, that particular farmer could not get any labour, and he was practically ruined. The white settler knows that it is no use adopting the old methods of, shall we say, the slave trade of 100 years ago. The natives are intelligent. They want education, but they are human beings with natural abilities, and they have a great idea of 194 justice. If a master treats his servants well, he gets good service, and when he gets good service he can make a profit.
§ Some people seem to think it a crime that men should adventure into our Colonies and develop our Empire and at the same time make a profit, and such men are sometimes referred to as speculators. Of course, they are speculators. A man goes out and speculates with his own labour, and after the War a great many ex-service men went out to these countries to help in developing them. I do not mean to say that the whole of East Africa is suitable as a white man's country. It is, however, very largely a country in which the white man can direct black labour. There is such a thing as climate, and a white man cannot live under the Equator and do the work with his hands of which a native is capable. A great deal of that country is quite unsuitable for white men to join in tilling the soil, but they have the natives, and the natives will till it for them. So far as the native is concerned, he has at the present time a very small wage, we admit, but that wage is sufficient for him. He will find it insufficient as we further educate him, and the two things will go hand in hand. We shall get better methods of production, and the native will demand more of the products of civilisation, and so it is for the mutual advantage of both parties. I have seen them there working with little hoes, and making little furrows, when they ought to have ploughs and tractors. At present, they produce only in small quantities and receive civilised products in exchange only in small quantities, but, having gone through this country, I have the greatest hope for its development, and I hope that the policy of guaranteeing loans for our new countries will be persisted in. I am certain that these guarantees are well given and well used.
§ I do not pretend to answer for the whole of East Africa, but only for those portions of it which I visited, and my experience shows that it is very well adapted by climate, by the virgin nature of the soil, and by other conditions for the white man to direct the operations of the black, and I saw no signs that this direction by the white man had been other than beneficial to the black man. It is easy to pick up daily papers here, and to find that some horrible atrocity has been committed. Unfortunately, we 195 have such cases everywhere in this world. I went to Africa in order to learn for myself, and so far as I can make out the cases of abuse are remarkably rare. If a man does in fact get a flogging, it is very likely that he has deserved it, but I found that such things were scarcely known. We must remember that it is possible for a man to walk through the streets of London and to be hit on the head, and that there are burglars and ruffians to be found in all parts of the world, but the white settler in East Africa is not a ruffian. He is a Briton, and a man with a great sense of justice. He is a man with the adventurous and colonising spirit, and it is to the advantage of this country that such men should exist and should go out to these countries and do such work.
§ I do not wish to go into details of the products of East Africa, but I think we ought to protest strongly against those who have not been there making statements in this House which might have applied 20 years ago, but which certainly do not apply to-day. These people little know the enormous developments which have taken place in Africa. Places which were hardly known to exist 20 years ago are to-day flourishing towns. The things of which we read in the works of Living-stone and Stanley as having happened 20, 30 or 40 years ago, have no relation to the position to-day. If any hon. Member would like to see the photographs which I took during my journey through Africa I should be very glad to show them. I took many dozens of photographs of the natives as they are to-day, living in a condition of material welfare which the negro never had before. For that, they have to thank the white men, and I trust the Government will persevere in this effort and will continue to guarantee loans and to assist our colonists in the good work which they have been and are now doing.
§ Mr. BROMLEY
I desire to address myself to the subject of the King's Speech, but I should be less than human if I did not first refer to some of the remarks of the hon. Member who has just sat down. I am not now going to challenge what seems to be the accepted belief in this country, that the Almighty ordained that the black man should work for the white man. I disagree with that 196 view, but that does not prove that it is wrong. At any rate, the opinion appears to be held very strongly that Ham must work for his lighter-skinned brethren. The statement of the hon. Member, however, is based on a misconception of what some of us believe the Almighty desired for humanity as a whole, irrespective of colour. To say there is no compulsion and no slavery in Kenya or Uganda traverses the statements in a Paper recently distributed by the Government, in which there is from the representative of the Government an admission of the use of forced labour to build railways. What becomes of the hon. Member's statement that he found the natives quite contented when he adds that he is anxious to exploit them by British capital in order to make them happy? They cannot be more happy—if they are contented—whether they have masses of clothes, or whether they run about as they are now apparently doing.
What of the well-authenticated statement that when Britain went to this country in order to encourage this lower class of humanity to work for us, we tore up their coffee plants so that they should help us to build railways? Was not that compulsion? What of the statement that it is to the benefit of speculators and capitalists to take the money earned by the workers of this country in order to exploit the slave nations of the world? We have listened to eloquent pleas on behalf of ex-service men who were crippled and disfigured in the War, and of their womenfolk who were left widows, and of their children who were left desolate. We have not the money to do them justice. We have heard about the sufferings of the miners and about the suffering of our unemployed—whose numbers are not diminishing, despite the figures of the Minister of Labour. We have no money to help them. Where then does the wealth go which has been created by the workers of the country? Its surplus value, under the capitalist system, is taken into the hands of a few. It is not put aside, as it would be in a sane community, for a rainy day so as to help the aged, the suffering, and the weak, but it is taken to the slave nations of the world to exploit them and to gain greater wealth for those people who live by exploiting other human beings, both black and white. I regret that a gentleman of the eminence of the hon. Member 197 who has just spoken should lose his way towards the rejuvenation of humanity in the devious labyrinths of an unholy capitalism. Some day these words may be spoken with greater firmness than we are now able to speak them on the Floor of this House.
I have no intention of going all over the King's Speech, but I have read it carefully, and many of its sentences remind me of the speeches of politicians—not necessarily Tory politicians, but all sorts of politicians—who start a sentence apparently going to get somewhere, and end by getting nowhere. It appears to be a case of "much cry and little wool." The speech refers to Bills which are to be laid before this House for the rating of railways. I can conceive of some readjustment of the rating of railways to provide roads for their competitors, and I can have some sympathy with it, but I suggest to the Government that if such a Bill be introduced they should take cognisance of other things which are happening on the railways. Apparently proof is being given that the same medicine might be applied here to us as that which is being applied in Kenya, only that our skins are white, and that possibly we would not stand it. In 1921 an Act was passed for the reorganisation of our railway services, which was to make for economy, better service, and an improved lot for the railway employé. Having passed that Act, the Government appear willing to let things slide, but, instead of making for betterment, improvement, and safety, there are happenings which are making for discontent, and, when that discontent comes to a head, some of us will be blamed because we cannot control it or bludgeon it out of existence.
These happenings are also making for a certain amount of danger to the travelling public, and probably that argument will have more effect than any consideration as to the welfare of the workpeople. The railway companies to-day—apparently unchecked—are increasing the possibilities of danger to those they carry, and are adding to our unemployment problem. I refer to the dismissal of thousands of engine-cleaners, who are going into the unemployed pool, and some of whom are getting no unemployment benefit. I asked a question on this matter at the end of last Session, and the Minister of 198 Transport replied that cases brought to his notice would receive attention. That, if I may say so with respect, was an inept and unsatisfactory answer. I understood the Minister had power to take cognisance of happenings on the railways generally. If he desires me to keep sending him hundreds of cases, day after day, of long hours worked by engine-men and firemen, which make possible the dismissal of engine-cleaners, his Department will be occupied with nothing else. To me it seems so nonsensical that the question cannot be approached and examined without individual cases being poured in in this way.
While the Government are preparing to consider the rating of railways, I want to ask them also to consider the question of safety on railways, the hours worked by the most important of the railway staff, and the dismissal of young railwaymen, which adds to the nation's difficulties of unemployment. It is all right to assist the railway companies, and, as I have said, I have no particular objection to assisting them, in having reasonable, fair, and equitable rating, but before assisting the railway companies as great capitalist concerns, I want the human element to be considered also. What is happening is this: Engines are running about the railways of this country to-day that are not cleaned, not only for days, but not cleaned for weeks. The oil, with its glutinous nature taking the dust both from the engines themselves and from the permanent way, gets a coating on all the working parts of the engine almost similar to the thick paint which is put on the metal of a ship below the water-line inside, until it is absolutely impossible for the most skilled engine driver in the world to discover a flaw. It is not necessary, surely, for me to remind the House of the number of accidents of a particular nature which have happened during recent years. I refer to the breaking of the great connecting rod of the engine, that piece of mechanism which is attached to the piston head at the one end and to the crank shaft which drives the engine wheels at the other. When this breaks, as it does, the loose end flies round and cuts through the copper fire box like a hot knife through butter, and the men on the footplate are both burnt and scalded to death in a few moments. You had one just out here only a week or two ago, close 199 to Acton, on the Great Western Railway, where a young man was in that way, in a burst of boiling or more than boiling water, steam, and fire, driven into eternity.
These things have happened on many occasions, but, fortunately, it has not involved a great disaster to a passenger train. If it does at any time, I shall remember that I have drawn the attention of the Government to it, both by questions and on the Floor of this House. It may not be serious when it is only a driver or fireman. There are plenty of them, and they are cheap, but when it comes—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—I am speaking with my book, and I know how much the employers and the public value the lives of one or two workmen. I have seen railway disasters reported in the Press with the statement that no one was injured except the driver and fireman. The driver and fireman, to us, are just as important as anyone else, because they are human beings. By these thousands of engine cleaners who have been sacked, for the purpose of economy first of all and last of all, possibly, they have increased the difficulty of the nation in adding to the pool of unemployment. Many of them have been dismissed after seven or eight or ten years' service, and they get no benefit except what our union is doing for them in seeing that they do not go on the rocks after being dismissed. On account of their dismissal the engines are in this state, and accidents are happening. I suggest that, while it may be good for the Government to mention in the King's Speech that they are going to consider the rating of railways, they might also very legitimately and fairly consider the position of the railwaymen and the travelling public.
Just one other point. How is it made possible that these young, training engine-drivers and firemen can be dismissed as redundant after so many years of permanent regular service? It is because, although we have supposedly an eight-hours day in operation, the men on the footplates of our engines to-day are working, not eight hours, but 10, 12, and even 16 hours. That is another seriously contributory cause of the railway accidents that happen. I remember something of the good old days, when, if you had not 200 been on above 16 or 17 hours, you were thought to have got off very lightly, and I remember—and I have never been a weakling—the strain and the stress and the weariness, not only from the hours of labour, but from the absence of food. When a man takes out food for a certain day's work and finds that he works twice as long, the normal human being hag eaten that food. There is no chance of getting any more, because you must not leave the engine, and so there is the weariness of long hours, there is the weariness from lack of food, there is the physical disability from the irregular turns and times of duty, both night and day. You have got to-day about the finest railway passenger service in the world. There is no doubt about it. You have got heavy engines and great trains running at very high speeds, and passengers carried with very great safety. But I suggest that the lengthening of hours, with the engines and trains which the men have to handle to-day, is a particularly serious and unwise thing to do. I cannot for the life of me understand the psychology of the railway managers in thinking, apparently, that it can be cheaper or more economical in any sense to keep on men long hours, for which they have to pay time and a quarter overtime, and yet, at the other end, to dismiss the lowest paid men, whose work the other men are doing.
I think it is almost unfair for any Member to intervene in a Debate on the Address or on any wide subject in this House with a particular form of complaint, and I do not like to do it. I am not habitually on my feet taking part in the Debates in this House, because I do not believe in getting up merely to air personal views, to draw attention to small things, or to speak for the purpose of speaking. I always try—it may not have been with great Success—to add in the Debates in this House, to its knowledge of things that matter, and it is only with that end in view that I have risen on this occasion. I repeat that I trust the Government and the Minister of Transport will take serious notice, when this Bill having to do with the rating of railways is introduced, and before that, of the fact of the long hours worked by our drivers and firemen, who are making cleaners redundant for the lack of promotion to positions that they are capable of and should be filling, and 201 also of the dismissal of men while engines are uncleaned, when, because of this thick accumulation of grease and dirt which I have indicated, flaws cannot possibly be discovered until they make themselves manifest in a very serious way.
We have tried, by argument and by presenting the story to those responsible, to obtain an improvement. I have raised the question, and now I have spoken on the Floor of this House with regard to it. If it be impossible to improve it by this conciliatory spirit that we are always asked to bring in—we hear a great deal about talking things over round a table, and we are ever so willing to do it, but our unfortunate experience is that it leads nowhere. It is a regrettable thing to admit, but my experience in the trade union world is that the only argument we ever get anything for is force. It is, as I say, regrettable, but I close with this, that I sincerely trust that the Government, in considering this rating of railways, will also consider the points to which I have, possibly lamely, but, I can assure them, very earnestly, drawn their attention. If this dismissal of young men goes on, when they are required for the safety of their mates who are left and of the public, and if long hours are to be worked by the men, with the stress and strain of the labour which they perform, and no appeal, either to Ministers or to the railway companies, has its effect, then I think we shall be driven to say that it will not be done, because our duty at least is to save the men from damage to themselves and from the possibility of having to answer for serious damage to the public, and we shall do our duty to them if we cannot prevail upon those whose first duty it is to do it as they should.
§ Captain GUNSTON
I am sure we have all listened with great interest to the last speaker, the hon. Member for Barrow (Mr. Bromley), and perhaps he will forgive me if I say that if he had turned his abilities to ascertaining the conditions in Africa as he has in regard to conditions on the railways, he would no doubt have changed his views about that country. I want for a few minutes to refer to the question of electricity, which is mentioned in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull 202 (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) told us that the effect of a boom in this country would be that we should not have enough electricity. I was fortunate last summer in going over to the United States of America and travelling through that country and through Canada, and I think that anybody who did that trip must have been enormously struck with the tremendous electrical development of Canada and the United States. Right out in the country districts of Canada you find that every little cottage practically has got electricity. [An HON. MEMBER: "And cheap."] Yes, and cheap. I was fortunate enough to go over a great electrical works in Philadelphia, where they have got five generating stations, and I was informed that one generating station alone in Philadelphia last year sold more electricity than we sell in the whole of London, while Philadelphia has a population of only two millions. Further than that, they are now adding another station, not instead, but in addition, which will be capable in time of doubling their present output. This, I think, gives all of us very seriously to think. The head of the undertaking very kindly showed us many books and costs, and the interesting part of it is that if you allow the capital outlay, even in the United States, it is not very greatly more expensive to produce electricity from coal than from water.
There was a report, I think in "Country Life" this week, which showed that electricity could be bought in the Newcastle district of England considerably cheaper than in Ontario, where the electricity is got from Niagara. I think that gives us some encouragement, to feel that if we develop our latent resources, we may do something to help the mining situation. I know the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) pointed out yesterday that it is owing to the great electrical development that we do not use so much coal. That may be true at the beginning, but it was just hat kind of argument that was used a hundred years ago, when labour-saving devices were first introduced. I would like to refer to the Prime Minister's speech at Birmingham, When he laid down, in regard to electricity, the necessity of a good business organisation for selling. It is much easier to sell electricity in the United States than it is in 203 this country, because, as the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) said just now, owing to the great technical education of the people of the United States, they are much more ready to take on a new thing than we are, and it will be very necessary, I think, to educate the people of this country, if we can get cheap electricity, to the advantages of electricity.
May I come to electrical development in regard to agriculture, and especially in regard to the home of the agricultural labourer? We have, during the last 100 years, brought in many labour-saving devices, and in many industries workmen do not work such long hours; but the wives of the labourers have still as much work to do, and still the long hours. If you go into the country districts of Canada, you find an extraordinary application of electrical labour-saving devices in the home, and even there it took some time to educate the people. It is quite wonderful to see even large houses which are run with no servants. They have washing machines, and so on. I believe it is very vital to try to get that sort of thing in this country, and on that, I think, rather depends the development and success of the cottage-holding schemes. The cottage-holding schemes depend for their success upon whether the wife and family can help in the holding. The wife cannot possibly help in the holding if she is occupied the whole day working in the house.
Perhaps I might give an example of the advantage of cheap electricity applied to agriculture, especially in regard to poultry farms. It was stated, I think, in the "Times" the other day, that by using electricity for artificial lighting the production of eggs had been advanced by 15 per cent. I have myself experimented, but have not reached so high a percentage as 15. I have, however, got up to about 10 per cent. When you consider the value of the eggs and poultry produced in this country is as large as our wheat supply, an increase of 10 per cent. would be a great help to the food resources of the country. Those of us who have had opportunities of travelling through farms in the Tweed Valley in Scotland, especially along the Border, are struck with the great saving of labour by the use of water-power. 204 The system right along the valley is to have small stacks of corn, and when a rainy day comes, to put it into barns and thrash it so that time is not wasted. It is very difficult to do that in England. A large amount of capital would be required to have your own thrashing machine and power to run the machine. But I believe if you had this electrical development, and the Government gave easy credit for the purpose, so that advantage could be taken of rainy days to do thrashing, it would be of great value.
If this electrical development were really pushed forward, it would help the village industries. If anybody has read Lord Ernle's book no agriculture, he will have been struck by the researches into the manner in which the men spent their time in the villages 100 years ago, or, rather, before some of the Enclosure Acts, when there was not much to be done on the land in winter. Right up to that time, you had a system of village industries. Then the factories came in, where everything was concentrated, and everyone left the villages for factories. Exactly the same thing happened when railways came in. Coaches went out and the roads were neglected. Then motorcars came in, and road communication was opened up from one end of the country to the other. Therefore, I hope by electrical development we may get the village industries reopened, so that people may live and work in better surroundings and under better conditions.
§ Mr. SNELL
Perhaps the House will permit me, for a moment, to refer to a speech delivered a few minutes ago by the hon. and gallant Member for Chertsey (Sir P. Richardson). It is a great pleasure to know he has had a very pleasant and useful holiday in Kenya, and has come back wish enthusiasm for a country he has, apparently, just discovered. We on this side do not appreciate his assumption that we have not heard of the subject before. As I have paid some little attention to East African affairs, I would like at least to make one comment upon what he said. If there is no slavery in East Africa, there is, at any rate, oppressive taxation, which causes men to slave and there are other evils, to the redress of which we should apply ourselves. I have no time to go into 205 that matter at any length or, indeed, at all, to-night, but I would like to say, and ask him to believe, that we on this side of the House have even heard of Livingstone and the great travellers for whom he has come back full of enthusiasm.
It is on another matter that I desire to ask the attention of the House for a few minutes. We are all in this House impressed, and, indeed, depressed, with the great subject of unemployment, and all of us have a common obligation to try and find a remedy for that grievous state of affairs. The subject does find some small mention in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, but, practically, no remedy for it is proposed. What I am suggesting to-night is, that all of us, in whatever position of life we find ourselves, must do what we can to solve the problem. Those who employ labour have a special obligation thrust upon them to keep that labour in employment if they possibly can, and not wantonly to throw it on the street without provision for it. It is the business of the Government to set an example to private employers in that respect. We are asked to believe that there is a new fellowship operating in industry, and, as far as I can understand, the fellowship of the Government in regard to the worker consists in turning on to the streets their own servants, without in the least providing for their future. The discharge of the servants of the Government is a matter upon which I desire to ask for a few moments the most earnest attention of this House. In the constituency that I represent there are hundreds of men due for discharge, and they are being discharged at a rate amounting to almost 100 each week. The justification of the Government for this action is, of course, that of economy. We on this side of the House appreciate economy as well as anybody else, and I want to make my contribution in this Debate towards the reduction of national expense that we are all desirous to attain. If we economise, however, let it be true economy, and not false economy.
In regard to the Government's own workshops and factories in Woolwich, Enfield and elsewhere, we on this side of the House hold that it is a principle of national well being that the factories and workshops belonging to the nation should be owned and operated by the nation for 206 the preservation of its own safety, and that there are some services you cannot leave with safety to irresponsible private enterprise in the form of contractors. The distinction between the two is this: The contractor is not concerned with the safety of the nation, or with the peace of the world, but is concerned only with the profit he may make out of a given industry. He makes armaments, and wants to find a market for them. He will take steps to stimulate a market, and the finding of a market may involve serious trouble to the nation concerned. Therefore, we ask that the Government should, as a matter of national safety and principle, operate its own national yards to the fullest possible extent. In that respect we have with us the League of Nations. Indeed, we have the Government themselves, for their representative at the League of Nations, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, not very long ago, speaking in the League of Nations itself, uttered these words:One of the most vital problems to be solved by the League was the suppression of the private manufacture of arms and the control of traffic in arms. The Soviets, who were the greatest enemies of Western nations, bought their arms and munitions from Western nations. It was called business enterprise, but what a terrible reflection it was on the Western nations.From the official representative of the Government, therefore, we have it laid down that there is considerable danger to the peace of the world in the manufacture of armaments by private enterprise. The Government are doing that at the present time, and doing it on the ground of cost. I want to ask the very serious attention of the House while I make one or two statements on the question of cost. There is no single article that we produce at Woolwich Arsenal that we do not produce cheaper than the private contractor. There is none that we do not produce in better quality. We are paying prices, therefore, for the production of goods that are far inferior, while we are keeping unemployed our own machinery which cost millions to erect, and much to sustain. We are starving our own factories, while we are handing out work at higher prices, and getting an inferior quality of goods. Every lathe that is thrown out of work has to have its proportion of overhead charges carried on to the remaining lathes, or whatever they are that are kept 207 in business. The Government actually seem to be endeavouring to reduce the efficiency of their own factories, in order to make their costs equal to those of private contractors, to whom they are giving the work of the nation.
Let me give as an illustration, the production of cartridges. We at Woolwich are able to produce them £1 per 1,000 cheaper than the outside people, and as 2,000,000 a week have been produced, the saving to the Government was £104,000 a year. And yet the Government are handing out contracts for a great proportion at a higher price and of inferior quality to private firms. The same with regard to tanks. We have produced them £2,000 cheaper than outside firms, and yet outside firms get the bulk of the work, while our workmen are turned on to the streets by the hundred, as though the Government had no responsibility for them. I am not criticising the present Government specially. It is the last of a fairly long procession of Governments that have taken that particular line; but we say that it is a bad line, and in this case, where the Government are looking for economy, it is throwing money away with both hands. It seems to be the policy of the Government, as we see it, to keep these outside firms employed, no matter at what cost to the taxpayer, and no matter what the injustice is to its own employees.
A moment or two ago I said that we on this side of the House were not unmindful of the need for economy. There is, however, a direction in which considerable economy can be secured by the nation. I have been pointing out where economy can be served, where work can be done cheaper and goods made better. We have also always to remember that a big proportion of the material made outside actually has to come back into our own yards to be corrected, so that the Government and the nation have the privilege of paying the second time for that which they have already paid. I do not wish to labour that any further. I have stated what, to the best of my belief, has been true, and is, in fact, of great importance.
Before I close I desire to say a word or two on what we now call "the new spirit in industry." We have on many occasions been told in this House that our industry fails because the employer does 208 not get the good-will of the workmen behind his skill, that he somehow withholds just that quality from his work that would make it successful, and make the national industry successful. We are told that the men do not make the interests of the firm their own and that if they worked harder, as they would do if they considered the welfare of the firm, all would be well, that the firm would get more business, that the cost of production would be reduced, and that the men's wages would, naturally, increase. That, we are told, would benefit both the men themselves and the undertaking in which they were engaged.
Take the case I am dealing with as an illustration. In 1921 the Secretary of State for War of that time told the representatives of the men that if they would use every endeavour to reduce the costs of production, so that they came as low as, or lower than, they were outside, orders could be given to the national shops. As was admitted by the representatives of the Department themselves, the men co-operated loyally in the development of the efficiency of their business. Costs have been reduced to a lower rate than those of the outside firms. Yet the result of the men co-operating in this fellowship of industry has been exploited in such a way that they have to be turned off, while work is given to outside firms. There is an illustration of the lack of fellowship in industry to-day, and it is one to which wish to ask the earnest attention of the House and the Government. Here is a case where the men have been betrayed by promises and turned into the streets. How can you expect men to make every effort, or sacrifice every impulse of their own to give a firm good work unless the firm reciprocates? How can you expect, if a firm deliberately throws over its own promises, that the men should not feel aggrieved?
I do not wish to say more upon that point. There is no sense in repeating phrase after phrase which involves much the same thought. But I do wish to say a word about the particular constituency for which I speak before I finish. I do not wish to put it dramatically, but I declare that Woolwich Arsenal saved the nation in 1914, and that in its absence the nation could not have carried on! Therefore, it is certainly right that they 209 and the other yards belonging to the Government should receive consideration in these matters. It is a dreadful thing for workmen who have been engaged for very many years in the national service suddenly to be told that there is no further need for their services. It is not merely that the machinery which costs so much and which is so capable of work "rusts in," or lies idle; it is throwing out of work highly-skilled men who in time of necessity have very urgent duties to perform. For any man to be thrown out of work is a disaster. I do, therefore, hope that this matter will somehow or other be reconsidered by the Government, and that the Government will do their best to meet a very dangerous and desperate state of affairs in this particular area.
I want to address the House for a very few moments on a subject which, I feel, is of the utmost importance—as important as any before the House at the present time, or which is likely to be before us before the end of the Session. I refer to the situation in the coalfield. In referring to this, I must, of course, also refer to the subsidy. It seems to me that the shadow of this situation is hanging over us all. We can feel it—those of us who are engaged in industry—and the shadow of it is over the whole of the wording in His Majesty's Speech from the Throne. If a crisis arises—as we all hope will not be the case—we must see that the programme of constructive legislation put forward in the King's Speech cannot, under the circumstances, be carried out. We must also see that the economies which we hope will be effected by the Economy Bill and other Measures will no longer be able to be carried out, and that the progressive fall in the number of the unemployed will not only be arrested, but, on the contrary, that a rapid increase of the unemployed will result. Therefore, I think that it is a subject which may be touched upon when referring to the Gracious Speech from the Throne.
When he made his speech yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) touched upon this subject, particularly in regard to the subsidy. He criticised the grant of the subsidy by the Government. When the crisis arose in July and the 210 subsidy was granted, a great storm of criticism of the Government arose from all quarters. It was not, perhaps, so large inside here as it was outside, and outside it was expressed by certain newspapers who were against the action of the Government. There was one thing I noticed, which must have appeared very obvious to other Members of the House. Practically nobody who criticised the subsidy had any alternative scheme to put forward. They all said that a general stoppage of work would bring something like ruin to the country, and must put back things for years. They all said that, but no one had any alternative to the granting of the subsidy.
The only really constructive criticism we did hear was the criticism made by the Leader of the Opposition. He said that the inquiry should have been started earlier in order to have been finished by the time the strike was about to take place. That was constructive criticism. On the other hand, I think all of us here on these benches heard the opinion expressed that we should on all occasions possible allow employers and employed, masters and men, to find their own solution to these difficulties. I am sure that anybody, employers or men, generally speaking, would much rather that the Government did not interfere unless it was absolutely necessary. Therefore it was, I think, only when it was obvious that no solution could be found that the Government interfered.
One word I should like to say on the subject of co-operation between men and masters, employers and employed. It struck me yesterday that whenever that subject was mentioned certain hon. Members on the benches opposite were rather inclined to jeer at it, particularly the hon. Gentleman who a little while ago sat down, the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Bromley). I know why they jeer. They jeer because they maintain that it is quite impossible for the men to get anything out of the masters, that certain masters—in fact they lump them all together—would never do anything unless forced; therefore, all thought of co-operation is wholly impossible. To myself and to a large number of Members on both sides, this subject of co-operation between employers and employed is a very real one, particularly to such as happen to be connected with industry. We realise that the only way in which 211 you really can get good work done in your business, and really keep your business going is to have real co-operation between the two. I agree that the bad master, the master who does nothing to assist his men unless he is forced to do so, is just as great a nuisance as are those people who go round the country preaching what they call "the class-war." Both of them are doing serious harm to this country. It is, however, in my opinion, only by co-operation and in the opinion of Members both of the Labour party and of the Conservative party, that we can really go forward.
As regards the coal situation as seen by the man in the street, who is not an expert either as a miner or as an employer of labour in the industry, it is very difficult for him to see what is really the case; what are really the facts. He reads his newspaper; he reads about the Coal Commission, and he sees there the one side giving their solution of the present difficulty that the wages of the men must come down and that the hours must be lengthened; but it is also said that if that were done it would not cure the evil. On the other hand, we get the miners going before the Commission and putting in a long statement about the nationalisation of the mines, and about the growth of the Socialist Commonwealth. About solving the present business they say nothing. Therefore, you have the two sides offering certain things, neither of which—they are both agreed on that—would do the slightest good whatever. One thing emerges out of it all; the only bright aspect. It would appear to be that, as both sides think that neither a strike nor a lock-out would produce any good result, we shall not have either of these. According to the evidence of both, neither of these would prove a solution.
Looking at the matter from the economic point of view, it seems to me that really the only thing you could do would be to close down all those mines which do not pay. But we realise that that to-day would be quite impossible, because the country depends to such an extent on its mines. Therefore, it must be for the Government to step in and to give its assistance. The solution must be one in which everybody must make some sort of sacrifice. The owners, be they 212 mine owners or royalty owners, will have to make a sacrifice. The men will have to make their sacrifice. The Government probably will also have to give the industry the benefit of their aid. It seems to me that only by all of them making a sacrifice in that way by pulling together will any solution be found. It is for that reason that I am making my small contribution here in begging everybody to do his utmost to really help making what is called the new spirit in industry. There never was a moment when co-operation could have better results, nor was there any moment when the preaching and carrying out of a class war could be of more disastrous consequences to the people of this country.
§ 7.0. P.M.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I do not intend to follow the argument of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I was a coal-miner for to years, and represent in this House what is paramountly a coal-mining Division. But I must confess I am not an expert on the present coal situation, and from the speech which we have just heard, I do not think the hon. Gentleman himself is very much better informed. I want, before I deal with parts of the King's Speech to which I desire to direct attention, to say that I hope the Government will take note of the very useful comments made by the hon. Gentleman representing one of the Gloucestershire Divisions as to what is transpiring in Canada and the United States of America regarding the production of electricity. I wish, however, he had carried his argument a step further, and pointed out to the Government the great difference in the price of nationalised electricity on the Canadian side of Niagara from that on the United States side. If he would take the illustration of the lighting of the international bridge connecting the United States and Canada at Niagara, and compare the price on the Canadian side of that bridge with that charged by private enterprise on the United States side, I feel sure he would find a very sound argument for Socialism.
Having said that, I desire to draw attention to one or two points that are missing, if I may put it in that way, in the Speech from the Throne. I would have been glad if the Home Secretary had been in his place to-night. I desired 213 to put some questions to him. I notice, however, that he is very busy doing propaganda work for the Tory party just now. Last week he delivered one of his many speeches, some of which I must confess were rather reckless. I wish sometimes that he possessed as much wisdom as courage. At any rate, I would like to put to the Government one or two questions on proposals that I think ought to have been included in the King's Speech. I am wondering what has happened to the Coroners Bill, for instance? It always appears to me that any Government will ultimately find itself in a difficulty unless it passes that Bill. That is not included in the present programme, and I am just wondering what is going to happen.[An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] I do not know whether that "Hear, hear!" means that we shall soon 'be called upon to hold an inquest on the Liberal party. Another item not included in the Speech is that of Workmen's Compensation. I am somewhat astonished, too, than nothing is said with regard to the Factories Bill which has been brought before this House on more than one occasion. I notice that the Home Secretary said at Leicester last night thatThe Government believed that an agreement would be arrived at which would enable them to include in their Factories Bill definite proposals regarding hours of labour which would be satisfactory to employers and workmen.I think those words must refer to that portion of the King's Speech dealing with hours of labour; and I sincerely trust that if the remarks of the Home Secretary mean anything, they mean that the Government have definitely decided to adopt the Washington Convention relative to the eight-hour day. The Home Secretary goes further, and declares that:with the full authority of the Prime Minister, that the pledges given to pass the Factories Bill within the present. Parliament were not only not going to be forgotten, but were emphasised by himself on the Premier's behalf.It is all very well to promise that we shall have a Factories Bill in this Parliament, but it is clear that we are not going to have it this Session. The Home Secretary assumes that this Government is going to last beyond this Session. I am not sure that he is assuming correctly. I am very disappointed that no mention 214 is made of a Factories Bill in the King's Speech, because there has not been for about 23 years any real alteration made in the factory laws of this country. The Bill produced in 1924 and laid on the Table of this House was a very comprehensive Measure and I very much regret indeed that a Bill dealing with factory legislation is not to be put before us this Session. Some provisions of our factory laws have been carried out in exactly the same manner for 80 years without a change; and the 1924 Bill was intended definitely to amend those and other provisions and bring them right up to date. That is all I desire to say at the moment with regard to the Factories Bill. I feel sure, however, that we shall hear more about this subject during this Session of Parliament.
I want to dwell for a moment, if I may, on the omission of any statement in the Speech with regard to workmen's compensation. Hon. Members on this side of the House and, in fact, on all sides have raised in this Debate the question of workmen's compensation in some form or other. Members have complained that the amount paid in some cases is too small. Whilst fully agreeing with them, I have no desire to enter into that aspect of the problem. What I would desire to say is, that I am sure the State is not doing its duty to the injured workpeople of this country and the widows and orphans in allowing workmen's compensation insurance to remain in the hands of private capitalist companies. I hope that some Government some day will see fit apart from any political feeling, to bring workmen's compensation into the same category as National Health Insurance. There is no incentive to profit in connection with National Health Insurance, and I protest against a situation whereby insurance companies are provided with an incentive to personal gain to profit by diseases and injuries occurring in oar industries from time to time. If there is an argument at all in favour of the nationalisation of insurance, it is in connection with this form of insurance, workmen's compensation. Let us compare the costs of administration for example. We have in this country as every Member knows, both national health and unemployment insurance under State control. These are the ratios of administrative costs in con- 215 nection with the several schemes. The administrative cost of national health insurance is about 13 per cent., that of unemployment insurance is approximately 8 per cent.; but the administrative cost of workmen's compensation by private insurance companies is approximately 50 per cent. That is to say, that out of every £1 premium paid by employers to meet claims in connection with workmen's compensation only about 10s. reaches the pockets of the injured work-people and their families. I say, therefore, that a case is already made out for nationalising the finances of workmen's compensation.
I want to touch in passing upon a very topical subject. I am glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health in his place. It is not so long ago that we were debating on the Floor of this House the benefits that would accrue to widows and their children in respect of the Act that was passed at the end of last Session. What I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary is this: We were told in the Actuary's Report, and in fact the Actuary's Report was deemed to be sacrosanct, that there were approximately 196,000 widows in respect of claims likely to be made up to 3rd January, 1926. I would like to ask how many claims have actually matured and what is the actual, or the approximate saving that will accrue to the Treasury from any difference between the estimate and the actual amount that has to be paid in this connection? There are many sad cases brought to our notice under this Act, and I am sure that a large number of people have been disillusioned in connection with the scheme. In fact, I could mention case after case. I have one case where a poor fellow was blind and had been basket-making on his own account. He died. He was never insured for any purpose whatsoever, and the widow and the two children of that man are not entitled to anything under this scheme. There are scores of cases of that kind. When we spoke on the subject here we brought such cases to the notice of the Government, but we failed to carry our Amendments. There are many cases which ought to have been included in the Bill. That, of course, is another matter but I would like to hear from the Parliamentary Secretary what 216 is the actual state of affairs in relation to the scheme and the actual cost to the Treasury by comparison with the Report setting out the Actuary's calculations.
I would like also to ask another question of the Parliamentary Secretary. When he was on this side of the House he was a champion questioner, and I make no apology therefore for putting him these questions. The Prime Minister and several Ministers of the present Government have been speaking recently on economy. I would like to ask whether approved societies need be alarmed at all in connection with the suggestions of the Prime Minister. For illustration, the contributions to the approved society's funds in 1924 were, roughly speaking, £23,000,000, and interest about £4,000,000. The State contribution was nearly £6,000,000. What I would like to get a definite statement upon is, do the economy proposals of the Government mean that the State contribution to the funds of the approved societies for benefit purposes is to be reduced? It will be remembered that the State pays now two-ninths of the cost of benefits to approved societies. I can assure the Prime Minister and his Ministers that they will remove a sense of alarm among the administrators of approved societies if we can get to know definitely that this economy is not going to touch the State contribution to the funds of approved societies. I trust that nothing will be done on that score, because there is no doubt in my mind, as one who has a little to do with the administration of approved societies, that the State contribution in this connection has undoubtedly helped people to tide over their illnesses, and it has helped also to reduce in an indirect way the mortality figures in this country.
I have only just one or two other observations to make. The one I am now going to make touches several of the Departments, and I am not sure that I am entitled to ask ay one Minister to reply to the questions which I am about to put. Nothing at all is said in the King's Speech about other International Labour Conventions, to which every Government in this country for several years past have been a party. Something is said about a meeting of Ministers from other countries relative to the Washington Convention dealing with hours of labour, but nothing about the Maritime Conventions. Every 217 Government which has ruled this country during the last few years has been definitely a party to forming these Conventions, and getting them adopted at international labour conferences; and it is not right that a Government which has made itself a party to a Convention in that way should not take steps to adopt and ratify it in its own country. Before I run briefly through the Conventions to which no reference is made, may I mention a complaint which has constantly been made in this House, and rightly so in my view, that one country ought not to be asked to proceed too much in advance of other countries in the ratification of these Conventions. There was a time when the Government of Great Britain could really make out a good case showing that it was bringing some of these Conventions into operation faster than other countries but if we inquire now we find that that position is reversed in some respects. I believe I am right in saying that there are some important industrial countries in Europe which are in advance of this country in the adoption and ratification of these Conventions.
I will deal now with the Maritime, Conventions, and I trust the Government will take note of the facts which I am putting to them. There are three Maritime Conventions which have not yet been adopted—the Unemployment (indemnity in case of Shipwreck) Convention, the Minimum Age of Employment as Trimmers and Stokers Convention, and the Medical Examination of Young Persons under Eighteen at Sea Convention. Although this country has passed laws which in a measure affect these Conventions, it has not yet actually ratified them to the satisfaction of the International Labour Organisation. Another Convention not yet adopted deals with the age of employment of children in agriculture. It was concluded at Geneva in 1921. It may become a very important Convention indeed if the Liberal party's proposals in regard to agriculture mature. Then there is the Convention relating to facilities for finding employment for seamen, also adopted at Geneva in 1921. I trust the Ministry of Labour will look into this matter, because I think each of the predecessors of the present Minister of Labour has given some sort of promise that this Convention would be adopted. I need hardly do more than touch upon the Convention dealing with the weekly 218 rest day in industry, adopted at Geneva in 1921.
We never hear a word from the Government about these Conventions, but so long as they remain unratified I can assure the Government that Members on this side of the House will continue to call attention to them, Last, but not least, is the Convention relating to the use of white lead in paint, a subject which was dealt with in 1924, when a Bill was introduced by the Labour Government. The reasons for prohibiting the use of white lead in paint are very much, stronger to-day than they were in 1924, because the number of persons suffering from diseases caused by the use of white lead is increasing. I trust the Government will take all these Conventions into consideration, because it is neither fair, nor honourable, that a Government, which is represented at International Labour Conferences and puts its signature to these Conventions, should allow them to be forgotten.
With other Members, I regret that the Government do not seem to have made any progress at all in dealing with the supreme problem which is the finest test of statesmanship, and that is the unemployment problem. An hon. Member, who spoke earlier, talked about sacrifices being required from employers and the State and the workpeople, especially in connection with the mining industry. If he saw the poverty that I see amongst some of the miners whom I know, he would not ask them for more sacrifices. They have made sacrifices enough already. The poverty amongst some of the miners whom I represent in this House is such that, if I suffered it, or if the hon. Member suffered it, we should not talk of peace. He would demand that something should be done by other than the peaceful methods which have brought the miners to their present situation. I am not here to preach the class war or any other war, however, and all I say is that the case of the miners is such that no one ought to call upon them to make further sacrifices in order to get the industry out of its difficulties. Returning to the point upon which I wish to finish my observations, the question of unemployment, it seems to me that, faced with this test of statemanship, the Government have not succeeded in any degree. Unemployment is worse to-day. It is not fair to the 219 community to say that the figures of unemployment are declining, because all that has happened in fact is that a change of the law has brought about a supposed reduction of the numbers of people unemployed. I venture to say that in the Government Departments there is information to show that in spite of the fact that the number shown on the registers as unemployed is declining the actual number of unemployed is increasing. A Government which cannot in some measure solve the unemployment problem has failed in the task of statesmanship; and we on this side of the House will continue to press the question of unemployment until it has been settled. I can see no hope of its settlement in this or any other land on the present lines of sheer exploitation of the mass of the community by a few people. But I trust that whatever else the Government may overlook we shall at any rate get a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Health on those very important points I put to him.
§ Sir JOHN PENNEFATHER
I read with great satisfaction in the most Gracious Speech from the Throne that the Government have given earnest consideration to the increasing need for national economy. To my mind, it is one of the most vital matters we have to consider in this country at the present time, for on a wise and proper exercise of economy depends to a very large extent the solution of the problem of unemployment about which the hon. Gentleman has just spoken, and it also affects many of the other evils which we seek to ameliorate. In listening yesterday and to-day to some of the speeches from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, I wondered whether they had taken the trouble to read the report as to our balance of trade published in the "Board of Trade Journal" on 21st January. This report in itself proves how necessary it is for the Government to take into serious consideration the question of national expenditure. I believe this report is the third attempt by the officials of the Board of Trade to make our balance of trade for the year 1925 look as little depressing as possible, and yet, even when it is presented in the most optimistic manner, it is a report of intense gravity.
220 Before the War it was estimated that the visible and invisible exports from this country yielded, in favourable circumstances, a balance of something like £200,000,000 a year in our favour. This could be used for overseas investments, and, being used in that way, it created employment for people in this country, and contributed to the revenue of the country. According to this journal, that favourable balance of £200,000,000 a year before the War had fallen in 1923 to £153,000,000; in 1924 it had fallen to £63,000,000; and in 1925 it had fallen to £28,000,000. This progressive decline in the national surplus at the end of each year, even taking invisible exports into account, is a very serious matter, because if that progressive decline continues a little longer, then in a year or two we shall not be paying, either by visible or invisible exports, or by the two together, for the food and raw materials which we require to import info this country. That would mean an increase in the cost of living and a decrease of employment. It is for that reason that I am dwelling upon this as being a serious matter which should be taken in consideration not only by the Government, but also by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who do not seem, if I may respectfully say so, to appreciate the gravity of the situation.
§ Sir J. PENNEFATHER
I am dealing with hard facts and I do not intend to indulge in any persiflage on the subject, so perhaps the hon. Member opposite will allow me to get on. The point at which we have arrived in this country the present moment is not, as suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), that we are suffering on account of the reduced spending power of the general mass of the people, but that we are in danger of the country suffering through the very large expenditure per head of the mass of the people as compared with the relatively small production. The standard of living in this country to-day is undoubtedly higher than it was a short time ago, in spite of unemployment, in spite of the serious depression in many industries, and in spite of the poverty and the misery that exist here and there. Cold figures prove that the consumption of food, drink and tobacco, which may be taken as the index articles, has increased very greatly. During the two 221 years 1924 and 1925 the imports of food, drink and tobacco were £63,000,000 more than they were in 1922–1923. That tells its own tale. It can only indicate that, on the whole, and taking the average, the standard of living in this country has increased, in spite of all our drawbacks.
That is quite right, and I hope that increase in the standard of living may be maintained and if possible improved upon. I am not asking that it should be reduced, but I am endeavouring to point out that according to these figures, which are indisputable, it will be impossible to maintain even that, standard of living unless we increase our exportable production. That is a simple but a very serious fact, and when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston says that unemployment is due to the lack of spending power of the people he is saying something which is not right. I say the spending power to-day is very great, and I think that a great deal more might be spent upon our own manufactures and our own production instead of upon the manufactures and production of other countries.
The spending power of the people in this country cannot possibly be maintained at its present level unless by some means we increase production both for home consumption and for export. I think it would be much more helpful and useful to the country at large if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, instead of wasting time in abusing the capitalist system or abusing capital, were to turn their eyes in the other direction in order to see how they can best, through capital and capitalists, increase production, and in that way increase the standard of living. It would be a real contribution to our Debates if hon. Members opposite would adopt that line. I want to see the standard of living increased, but it can only be done by competing successfully in the markets of the world, and even the present standard can only be maintained in that way, and that is the only solution of the difficulty.
It is curious to reflect that we should not have even had that small surplus of a favourable trade balance which we have if it had not been for the accumulated capital of the capitalists of this country which they invested abroad in years gone by. It is that accumulated capital invested overseas which has enabled us to 222 maintain our shipping, banking, financing and our merchanting, and it has converted what would have been an unfavourable balance into a favourable one. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with the manner in which the financial and commercial business of the country has been conducted, but the weak spot is that industrial production has lagged behind consumption. Do not let us waste any more time looking in the wrong direction, but let us try to concentrate in the right direction and do what we can to increase our industrial production and our home production in this country in order that we may have to import less and be able to export more, and I am aura that, at the end of a year or two, we shall be able to show a much more favourable trade balance.
§ Mr. SHORT
The hon. Member who has just sat down has made something in the nature of a pessimistic speech, and has accused us on these benches of failing to appreciate what he terms the gravity of our industrial and economic conditions. I should hardly have thought that such a charge would have been made against any hon. Member on this side of the House. If anything, I am inclined to the opinion that we are obsessed with the poverty and destitution, the anxiety and want reflected in the homes of the working people of this country, and we are ever insistent in asking and calling upon His Majesty's Government to take steps, and immediate steps, to remedy the existing evil and come to the assistance of our languishing trades. Any observant student of our economic life cannot fail to be impressed with the seriousness of the situation. The hon. Member for the Kirkdale Division (Sir J. Pennefather) has been talking about increasing production at a time when we have a million people starving in the very shadow of abundance. Even those who are employed receive little more than a subsistence wage, and they are always waiting anxiously for Friday night in order to pick up their weekly earnings. On the other hand, we have a large army of unemployed which is fast becoming a permanent feature of our economic life, and the number of them is somewhere in the neighbourhood of one million, and little or no attempt has been made to find them employment or to absorb them into industry. Therefore, I think the 223 last speaker ought to address his challenge, not to us, but to the right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Front Bench, because they have failed to realise the gravity of this problem, and the failure of industrial developments. I observe very few references to the great question of unemployment, and those made are vague and meaningless, and bring no hope to the great masses of the community, and will not remove the anxieties existing in the homes of our working population to-day.
During the course of the last election the present Home Secretary said, "What we want is a steady and stable Government that will be in office for some time, capable of thinking out schemes to absorb the unemployed." My view is that this Government has not found work for a single unemployed man as a result of initiating any new legislation during the past 12 months. We attach vital importance to the economic conditions of the people. We see your system falling away, and we are not unmindful of the ineptitude of the great captains of industry. One only needs to read the Report of the Special Committee which inquired into the conditions prevailing in one of the great armament firms to observe that the Committee makes no reflection upon the working men employed by that firm, but it does reflect upon the incompetence of those who are declared incapable of governing so large an undertaking. Therefore, such charges as these come very badly from those in whose hands power has rested so long.
It is hon. Gentlemen opposite who have controlled the destinies of this country for so many years and have had the opportunity to remedy these things. The result of your rule has been that you have divorced the people from the land, and also divorced the people from having any share in the control and management of industry, and even to-day you refuse them the opportunity. You say, "Leave it to us and you, the State, take your hands off industry. What do you, the workers, know about mining or industry? Leave it to us, because we are the people to put things right." In that manner you pursue the even tenour of your ways at the expense and suffering of the great mass of the community. There has been 224 very little reference to the great problem of unemployment, and I should have thought the Prink Minister would have made some reference having regard to his recent visit to Sunderland to one of those great industries which has languished so long. I have no doubt- he made himself familiar with the distresses in that great shipbuilding area. I expected the Government would have mentioned and announced some policy in reference to shipbuilding and the iron and steel industry. There are so many others dependent on the successful development of shipbuilding, especially those smaller trades which are carried on in the Midlands and in the constituency which I have the honour to represent.
There seems to be a lack of appreciation on the Government side of the House of the state of things in the shipbuilding industry. The year 1925 was one of the worst years associated with the shipbuilding industry, particularly in reference to the output of tonnage launched during the year. If we compare 1925 with the prospects for the current year, and try to estimate them in human terms, it would appear that we shall have to measure them by closing yards and increased unemployment in those great necessitous areas. There was a big fall in the output of tonnage last year as compared with 1924. I do not say, however, that that had anything to do with the existence of a Labour Government, but it is very strange that there was greater prosperity in the shipyards in the year 1924 than in 1925. Whereas we produced 1,440,000 tons of shipping in 1924, in 1925 the tonnage was 1,079,000 tons or a decrease of 360,000 tons.
The hon. Member for the Kirkdale Division referred to increased production. We have the highest productive plant and skill, but production in the shipbuilding industry last year was only equal to anything between 35 per cent. or 45 per cent. of the productive capacity of our shipyards. There is another serious factor in connection with this industry, and that is that our share of the world's production was less during 1925 than during 1924. Whereas it was 66 per cent. in 1924, it fell to 50 per cent. in 1925, while, on the other hand, in certain foreign yards the productivity in 225 shipping was increased to our detriment. If 1925 was bad, the prospects for 1926 are, as I have indicated, equally bad, for the tonnage under construction at, the end of 1925 was less than it was during 1924. At the end of November last we had 885,000 tons under construction, while in 1924 we had 1,297,000 tons. It is a very serious matter for the great shipbuilding areas, where the average unemployment is 37.6 per cent., and I am told that in many areas it is much above that, namely, anything from 50 to 60 per cent. of the people usually employed in the industry.
I do not claim to be an authority upon finance, but, while we refuse to give financial assistance to the languishing shipbuilding industry of our own country, and while we are maintaining the mass of poverty in those great areas, with its consequent ill effects upon industry throughout the country, we can, apparently, if we accept the opinion of some of the financial experts in this House, afford to give assistance to Italy, where shipyards are being developed, and where the tonnage under construction increased from 155,000 tons at the end of 1924 to 310,000 tons at the beginning of 1926, so that Italy is apparently becoming a serious competitor, or, at any rate, is building for herself what we used to produce for her. It is true that the industry is possibly suffering from an excess of tonnage as compared with pre-War. I have no doubt that that is the case, but, on the other hand, we have to remember that much of this tonnage is obsolete and only fit for the scrap-yard and the breaker-up, and it is time it was broken up and destroyed. I would appeal to our industrial captains, if my voice can reach them, to seek to maintain this national asset, that is, if they desire to keep it in their own hands, if they desire private enterprise to succeed and to continue in possession of that industry. The shipbuilding industry is a national asset, and it is essential, in the interests of the trade of our country, that we should come to its aid in some measure. Experts say that we are not likely to get ships built at a cheaper rate, and we are also told that there are not likely to be any great changes either in machinery or in design. If that be so, if they have any orders to give out, ship-owners have no reason to delay upon that score.
226 One of the serious features in connection with this industry is not only its poverty—that is to say, the poverty of the people—but the fact that many of our skilled craftsmen are leaving the country whenever they can. Another sad feature is that young men are not being brought into the industry as apprentices because, of course, the wages are so low, the conditions are so poor, and the prospects for the future are equally poor so far as these boys are concerned. There is neither continuous employment nor security of employment in the industry. I think we are entitled to ask the Government to do something. This industry has been hit heavily in consequence of the policy of the Government arising out of the War. A large number of ships under the German reparation scheme have been sold in this country. We have received £20,000,000 from the sale of these German ships though this figure is not final or complete so far as the revenue is concerned. The Government up to now have refused to give a subsidy to the industry. We have appealed to them, the great trade unions have appealed to them to give a subsidy, but they have refused. They repudiate anything in the nature of nationalisation or State control of the shipping industry, and, consequently, it means that the industry is to be left to "paddle its own canoe," and is to be left in the hands of the same people who have hitherto managed it.
There is another thing from which the industry suffers, and that is due to another national policy—the question of disarmament. One of the peculiar features of our economic life is the development of our great shipbuilding centres for the purpose of producing armaments. When you change your political policy—I am in favour of the change, because I believe in peace; I am an opponent of war; I do not believe that force is a permanent factor in the development of civilisation—when you change your political policy, you can bring economic destruction to many of your communities, and, when the new policy is followed by a dislocation of the economic life of any given community, we are entitled to ask the State to come to the rescue of that industry which is so heavily hit, and to put something in its way, so 227 that its skilled craftsmen and their families may not unduly suffer in consequence of these changes in our national policy.
I was very interested to read an article by an eminent captain of industry, associated, I think, with the Fairfield Shipbuilding Company, of Glasgow, in which he said that wages had been reduced to a very low point, and that no industry had been more heavily hit in the direction of wage reductions. There is no hope for further reductions in this industry; there is no hope for a policy of increasing the hours of labour. You have ruled out a subsidy; you have ruled out State control; you have thrown it back upon the employers; you have ruled out the employment of the skill and knowledge of the workers in the industry from a managerial standpoint, and the control rests in the hands of those who claim to be the captains of industry. The same applies to coal, and to the great iron and steel industry. If this be so why do not these great captains in all these industries come together and see if they cannot mould a policy for themselves? They repudiate every other proposal, and, if they refuse to do that, they must not be surprised if we on these benches, realising the gravity of our economic and industrial conditions, and faced, as we are, with a possible increase in unemployment, press more insistently in the future for some measure of State action and control to enable the workers, not Merely to secure a more adequate return for their labour power, but also a share in controlling and shaping the destiny of their own economic and social life.
§ Mr. RAMSDEN
I should like, first of all, to refer to a speech which was made yesterday by the hon. Member for West. Willesden (Mr. Viant). In that speech, which I have read in the OFFICIAL REPORT, the hon. Member made a statement giving an impression which I am sure he does not wish to convey. He referred to an article that had appeared in the "Journal of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce," in which the chairman of that chamber pointed out that in his own factory it had been possible for him to increase production by 33⅓ per cent. without increasing the amount of labour 228 employed, and then the hon. Member went on to say:But they had, in spite of that, taken a yard out of the roll of dress material, and one of the customers to whom they were supplying this material had thought it advisable, in view of the fact that they had a yard less in the roll of material, to change the design of dresses."—[OFFICAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1926; col. 122, Vol. 191.]I am afraid that the hon. Member has rather mistaken the case. As a matter of fact, neither this particular manufacturer nor any other has taken a yard, or any other measure, out of the piece of cloth which he manufactures. What really happened was that this manufacturer was selling a certain cloth to, I think, a costume manufacturer, and at this time last year, when the price of wool was very much higher than it is now, he had to ask for an increase of price. The costume manufacturer replied that, if the cost of the cloth was to be increased, it would mean that, in future models that he matte, he would have to use a less quantity of material. In fact, he suggested that probably he would have to use a quarter of a yard less, and not one yard, as stated in the hon. Member's speech yesterday. I just wanted to make that quite clear, because neither in Bradford nor in any other part of England have manufacturers been taking out any material from pieces of cloth, as was suggested.
§ Mr. VIANT
May I say that I have corrected that to-day? I did not make the position quite as clear as I intended, and the result was that I confused the increased production resulting from better organisation, management and output in the factory, with the fact that the price was increased and that the costumier changed the designs, thereby economising to the extent of a quarter of a yard on each garment made, so as to enable him to compensate himself for the increased price. I have corrected that.
§ Mr. RAMSDEN
I am very much obliged. I felt sure that the hon. Member had rather misunderstood the case, and I am glad to hear his explanation. With regard to the Gracious Speech I should like to say, first of all, that I agree most emphatically with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for the Kirkdale 229 Division of Liverpool (Sir J. Pennefather). I agree with him that economy is essential if we are to maintain the export trade of this country, and I do hope it will be possible for the Government to give effect to such measures as will produce this economy. At the same time, however, we must remember that there is a difference between true economy and false economy, and I hope that, in attempting to effect these savings, we shall not neglect anything which can be productive in the future. I was very glad to read the paragraph in the Gracious Speech which refers to the guarantee of the loan for East Africa. I hope that this loan is the beginning of a very large scheme of development, not only in East Africa, but in all our Colonies, because through such a scheme we can certainly bring about many of the results that we are so desirous of obtaining in this country. This sum of £10,000,000 which is suggested is really only a very small one indeed compared with what will be wanted if we are going to carry on development on a large scale. I hope that next year we shall hear that the Government, instead of talking about £10,000,000, are prepared to guarantee instead a sum of £100,000,000, on development, not only in East, Africa, but in every other Colony where we could successfully develop the country. This question of the development of the Crown Colonies and Protectorates is one which is very important indeed, and I hope we are not going to neglect the opportunity which we have at the present time of finding new markets for those manufactures which we are wanting to sell and which will find employment for our own people.
The spirit of economy, too, is one which I hope will be followed by local authorities in this country. It is just as necessary that the local authorities should economise as it is that the national Government should effect these economies. In fact, in some ways it is more important still. For instance, a great part of the national revenue is derived from the Income Tax. That is a tax paid by the men or women who are fortunate enough to possess an income, but the local rates are paid by manufacturers, for instance, whether they are making a profit or not, 230 and this local taxation, which is so heavy in very many districts, is undoubtedly a very great burden upon trade and commerce in this country.
There is just one other point in the King's Speech to which I should like to refer: that there is no reference to a Bankruptcy Bill. The commercial community of this country have been pressing for some time the necessity of a revision of our bankruptcy laws. Such a Measure is very much overdue. During the past few years there has been, I believe, a loss of somewhere about £20,000,000 due to fraudulent bankruptcy, and it is high time that the honest dealers in this country, those who are carrying on their trade in spite of very great difficulties, should receive all the protection they can from the State, and I do hope that the Government will find time to introduce a Bankruptcy Bill during the present Session.
There is just one more thing I would like to say before I sit down, and that is in connection with the development of the Empire. I do hope that the Government will be able to give some assistance to what is known as the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture. We are all agreed on the necessity of this development and we have in this college a really practicable means of helping to achieve this end. I had the pleasure last year of visiting, when I was in Trinidad, the college, which is situated just outside the Port of Spain, and I am convinced that if the British Government are prepared to back it up with only a small sum of money, we can have trained there not only Government officials but men who will be able to go to the different Colonies and Protectorates and carry on the work of development by really scientific and up-to-date methods. We have, in the past, rather been trying to develop the Crown Colonies by rule-of-thumb methods, but these are of no use. We certainly can, through the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture, get men versed in the subject who will do this work in a practical and businesslike way and I hope the Government will support it.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
The hon. Member for North Bradford (Mr. 231 Ramsden) has displayed great solicitude for bankruptcy. I think it was an attitude which will become very appropriate to the present Government when the results of their finances are seen. I want to deal very briefly with the question of the settlement of the Italian debt to this country. The hon. Member for Ilford (Sir F. Wise) is a great expert on these matters, therefore many of us would not have the termerity to attempt to answer his economic arguments. But there is one thing about an expert—if you cannot refute him yourself, you can invariably find other experts to refute him for you. The hon. Member had not, resumed his seat for more than a few moments when a Member from his own side got up to attempt to refute the arguments which he himself had put forward. He devoted great time to explaining that capacity to pay was not such an important aspect of international debts as the capacity to receive. That is rather a novel idea. There may be a great deal in it economically or there may not, but I would like to draw attention to two factors in connection with it.
If our capacity to receive is so low as £4,000,000 in the case of Italy and £12,000,000 in the case of France, why was it that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his original demand so much higher than that, for surely he had the experts of the Treasury to guide him, and he was advised how much the taxpayers of this country were capable of receiving. I should like the hon. Member for Ilford to go to his own constituency, and tell the hard-pressed taxpayers there, "You have not the capacity to receive more than a few million pounds from Italy, and a few million pounds from France." He would find it would be a very unpopular theory to advance to people who are being squeezed of the last penny for taxation to-day.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
Well, we expect when experts come to discuss questions, that they will deal with them impartially. If the hon. Member were merely an apologist for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we could have excused him, but while he was dealing with the subject, why did not he say a word about 232 the benefits of reduced taxation which would follow from an equitable settlement of these debts He allowed that to go by default.
§ Sir F. WISE
If I may interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman, he does not understand quite what I meant. What I said was that the transference of money was so difficult that you could not transfer it from one country to another except in small amounts—anyhow not the gigantic amounts suggested connection with these international debts.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
That is exactly what I understood him to have said. If my criticism of it is not fair, or is ill-informed, I am quite willing to accept that position. He said that our capacity to receive it not sufficient to enable us to receive more than the settlements made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the case of Italy and France. I understood him to say that and I do not see any difference between that and the correction which he has made. In the case of France, we originally allowed all their propagandists over a period of four or five years, in every newspaper in this country, and through every agency with which they had any influence, gradually to whittle down the claims which we had against them, until in the end it is little wonder that, when they came to London to bargain with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had very few answers that he could give them. That attitude is proceeding still, and when he comes to claim from France this payment of £12,500,000—it was only a contingent settlement—he will find he will not get £12,500,000 or half that sum.
I wish to draw the attention of the House for a moment to a meeting held in France, not among irresponsible French financiers, but amongst ex-Ministers. M. Klotz, a former Minister of Finance, carried the argument a stage further. This was at a private meeting held in Paris. It had already been argued by a previous authoritative French speaker that we were owed nothing by France because we had made so much from taxation out of people who had been supplying goods to France during the War that that ought to be off-set against what they owed to us. But M. Klotz carried the argument a stage further. He said that France's capital debt to Great Britain 233 amounted to £1,200,000,000 and France had already repaid £840,000,000. That was by the taxation which we recovered during the War from goods exported to France. Therefore, putting interest aside, he pointed out that this was less than 30 per cent. of the total debt which M. Pietre considered might be credited to France. The conclusion was that France owed Great Britain nothing at all. If anything, Britain was more than £40,000,000 in France's debt. Care was taken to add, because these were statements made by responsible ex-French Ministers in close touch with the French Government.
These views are, of course, unofficial, but it is probable that they will find some place in the French arguments when the next Franco-British debt negotiations take place. I think that is a farcical situation in which to find ourselves. The French financial papers, have given it away as to what it is. It is called "working London." London has already been "worked" to a disgraceful extent. The process is not finished, and when the French statesmen come to this country, if they ever do come again, they will merely start on the basis of £12,500,000, and where they will finish up it is very difficult to foresee.
Before I sit down I should like to say a few words about the Italian Debt settlement. I will quote from an organ which carries great influence with hon. Members opposite and which, I may say, has never displayed a more fulsome partisan enthusiasm for any Government in its past creditable history than for the present Government. I refer to the "Times." It says the following about the Italian debt settlement:Reduced to simple mathematical terms, the agreement represents the cancellation of approximately six-sevenths of Italy's war debt to this country.That, of course, is on the interest scale and not on the capital scale. But that is not all. We had taken the sum of £22,000,000 in gold as security for this debt. Not content with letting them off this large capital sum, we have actually undertaken to restore the small sum, which we have taken in gold as security, but which we have already been compelled to export to the United States. 234 Another very defective term in the settlement is, that whereas we agreed in the case of Italy that if we receive more than £10,000,000 under the Dawes Scheme we shall make a corresponding diminution in the amount we shall claim from Italy, there is no provision under which if we receive less under the Dawes Scheme we shall make a corresponding increase in our claim on the Italian Government. It may appear at first sight that that is not the case. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Ilford reputes it or not, but the sentence reads as follows:On the other hand, any deficit shall be made good by an increase in the payment next due by Italy up to a similar proportion of such deficit within the limit of the total amount of the credit already allowed to Italy under this article.That is, if we have diminished our claim of a greater payment under the Dawes Scheme, only to that extent will we increase our claim if we receive less payment subsequently under the Dawes Scheme.
These are the "fair and honourable terms," as they are described in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. I have always thought that in that document it was politic and becoming to abstain from obviously partisan statements. To describe the settlement of our debt with Italy as fair and honourable—words fail me to say what I think about it, and I believe millions of people in this country think the same. I wish the Chancellor of the Exchequer were here to say whether this is really the case or not. We have been here all day hoping he would favour us with his presence or, failing him, his deputy, the Financial Secretary. I have been here all the afternoon hoping some responsible Minister would come in. From every part of the House Members possessing far greater authority than I, and having expert knowledge on their own particular subjects, have raised topic after topic, and except for a moment in the case of the Minister of Pensions, no Minister of front rank has deigned to hear their criticisms. A short time ago I saw that Macaulay described the Kings' Speech asthat most elaborately evasive and unmeaning of human documents.I did not agree with that description, but when I see Ministers absenting them 235 selves for hours on end on only the second day it is being discussed I am inclined to think Macaulay was rigat. In my opinion this debt has been settled by political and not financial considerations. I am strengthened in that belief by a statement which appeared in the. "Times" newspaper the day before yesterday. I believe it is the Foreign Secretary who has been responsible for the settlement of this debt and not the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This is an important fact which ought to be brought to the knowledge of the House. This is from the Rome correspondent of the "Times."One point of interest emerges from the interviews granted to the Italian Press since the conclusion of the negotiation in London. Signor Grandi, on his way through Paris, informed the correspondent of the 'Tribuna' that, contrary, it may be recalled, to what was stated at the time—' at the Italian meeting between Signor Mussolini and Sir Austen Chamberlain, at which the negotiations (for the funding of the debt) were in effect begun, the plan of the conference was laid down and the terms of the problem were settled.'Has this debt been settled by the Foreign Secretary, governed by political considerations, or by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, governed by financial considerations, and if political considerations, have entered into it we are entitled to know what they were.
I want to read one further cutting from the "Times":It is announced to-night that while the first instalment due to the United States was raised by a voluntary subscription, no such course will he adopted for the first payment due to Great Britain.I ask hon. Members to picture the position. We made a claim on Italy which is alleged to be up to the full limit of her capacity to pay, and alleged to be up to the limit of our capacity to receive. The Italian negotiators go back to Rome. A few days later official Italians take the hat round and in a short time the whole amount is raised by voluntary contributions. The Italian negotiators come to London and get their terms from our Chancellor of the Exchequer. They go back to Rome and begin to take the hat round, and they would have collected the whole of the first instalment in a few minutes, but Signor Mussolini, having a greater regard for the decencies of international 236 finance than our Chancellor of the Exchequer, was compelled to stop them, and said, "You shall not settle this by voluntary contribution. It looks too bad. We must pay it through the ordinary channels." The truth is that these foreign Governments and foreign treasuries are laughing at this country. We do not go up in their estimation. They think we are fools. They are working London, and they are making it much more difficult for our hard-pressed ratepayers and taxpayers to meet the obligations which rest so heavily upon them.
§ Mr. BLUNDELL
I do not propose to follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman in his very interesting and pleasantly chatty speech. His intimate knowledge of Signor Mussolini and the financial experts of France has enabled him to impart a great deal of useful information. I wish to refer to a matter which, I regret, has not been referred to in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, namely, the disabilities which are still pressing on the Catholic subjects As of His Majesty. There are still remaining on the Statute Book a number of the remains of old penal Statutes which have long called for repeal and which indeed, I believe, have only not been repealed because the majority of the people of the country believe them to be entirely dead letters. In calling attention to this matter I do not wish to make any reflection upon the present Government, or the late Government. I introduced a Bill when the Labour Government were in office, and I introduced it again last year, and I did not succeed on either occasion in obtaining any official support, not, I am sure, from any lack of good will, but no doubt through Parliamentary exigencies. I was told last year that the subject matter of the Bill raised issues of such importance that they could not be allowed to go through as a Private Member's Bill without a Second Reading Debate. It is impossible for a private Member to secure a Second Leaching Debate unless he obtains facilities from the Government. I therefore ventilate the matter on this occasion in the hope that if anyone has any objections to the Bill we may be able to hear what they are. I do not believe it has any enemies. I think it has a good many warm friends and a very large number of lukewarm friends, but I do not believe it has any enemies.
237 There is really no reason why it should have any enemies, because it does not injuriously affect any subject of the Crown at all. It removes certain disabilities from Roman Catholics which they alone, suffer under, and it does not inflict any burden or injury upon anyone else whatever.
A number of Statutes, which I believe anyone who reads them will agree ought to be repealed, are of an entirely futile nature. They date back to the time when a party that had a momentary ascendancy inflicted pinpricks on their opponents. I refer to such a Statute as that of 3 and 4 Edward VI, cap. 10, by which no books of Catholic ritual are allowed to be kept in the country, and 31 George III, cap. 32, which excludes from the benefit of the Catholic Relief Act of that date any priest who officiates in any place of worship with a bell and steeple. Surely no one treats these matters seriously nowadays, and I do not think Catholics would worry much about having them repealed except for this reason, that there is a certain humiliation in being singled out from the rest of the population and having certain disabilities imposed upon you even if they are quite futile and are of no account and are not enforced. But those are not the only Statutes which we wish to repeal. There is the Statute 1 Elizabeth, cap. 24, which characterises religious orders as superstitious and in consequence of that renders all bequests of members to such orders null and void, as for a "superstitious use." That Statute has been reenacted over and over again, and notably in the Catholic Emancipation Act, 1829.
The fact that bequests to members of religious orders are declared to be superstitious, and therefore null and void, has for many years passed occasioned inconvenience to members of religious orders and to persons who wish to assist members of those orders; but it is only quite recently that the matter has become of considerable importance. Under the Finance Act, 1921, Section 31 (a), certain rebates from Income Tax are given to charitable institutions, but it has recently been held by the Inland Revenue authorities that if a charitable institution happens to be administered by a religious order, the rebate cannot be allowed, because a religious order is void as an illegal organization Therefore Catholic 238 charitable institutions which are administered or looked after by religious orders cannot obtain the same advantage as other charitable institutions. That takes the grievance from the academic sphere into the practical sphere, and it means that resulting from these comparatively ancient Statutes practical disabilities are being imposed upon the Catholic population. I feel certain that the House would not desire to discriminate between different citizens of this country on the ground of their religious convictions.
In a further section of the Catholic Emancipation Act there are a number of statutory offences which can be enforced at the will of a common informer. It is bad enough that there should be still statutory disabilities which can be put into force by a Government against Catholics, but when there are disabilities that can be put into force at the instance of a common informer, a creature who is despised and loathed by everybody, it makes the position worse. As recently as 1923, a common informer attempted to put into force Section 26 of the Catholic Emancipation Act, which provides that if any priest exercises any rites of the Roman Catholic religion or wears the habits of his Order, save at the usual place of worship of the Roman Catholic religion, he shall forfeit £50 for each offence. In a case which happened in Scotland during the time of the Labour Government, a common informer laid an information before the police that a procession was going to take place, and the police informed the priest who was going to conduct the procession that, if he did so, this Statute would be put into force against him, and that he and the others who took part in it would be liable to be fined £50 at least. The procession was, therefore, stopped. At this time of day, I think, the House will agree that a common informer should not be able to cause such action to be brought about. I feel certain that when the House hears of such things being in existence, they will then wish to have them ended.
I can only imagine that the reason why these statutes were orginally put on the Statute Book was because there was an idea that the Catholic body was not a loyal body. That is not true at the present day, and never has been true. Hon. Members who read the "Times" two or three days ago will have seen a very interesting article about the English 239 College in Rome. There is an entry in the books of the college in 1594 by the visitor, who was an Italian Cardinal, which states:All of them"—the English students—openly show their joy at the mishaps of the Spaniards as lately at Cadiz, and grieve ever their successes as lately at Calais.All these students were being trained and prepared to come over to England to be hung, drawn and quartered in defence of the faith which they and their fathers had held, and the fact that men who had been trained to come over here, where their lives were not worth one moment's purchase, should retain such patriotism, and quite rightly, as to show such joy at the mishaps of the enemies of their country shows that the Catholic population even at that time was an entirely loyal population. In the same entry in the visitor's book at the college, it was said by another cardinal thatThey"—the students—could not bear the sight of the Spaniards, and actually would not take off their hats to the Spanish Ambassador.At the present day I do not believe that anybody would suggest that the Catholic body in England are not an entirely loyal body, and entirely good citizens. I had the honour of being educated at a school where before the end of 1915 some 87 per cent. of the boys of military age were serving in His Majesty's Forces. Though I do not claim that other schools had not an equally good record, I am certain that no school have a better record. The same thing can be said of many other Catholic schools.
I do appeal to the House to give their support to this Bill when it is introduced as a Private Member's Bill, and to do what they can to induce the Government to give facilities for its passage into law. There is only one disadvantage that I can suggest attaches to the Bill, and that is that possibly some windfalls that have in the past accrued to the Government may not accrue to them in the future. Hon. Members may not know the history of the Marble Arch. That really belongs to the Irish Jesuits. They had a house in Paris. During one of the communes this house was burned by a Paris mob. In due course our Foreign 240 Office pressed the new French Government that succeeded the Commune for compensation, and recovered £40,000. The matter was then referred to the Law Officers of the Crown in order to decide in what way the £40,000 should be handed over to the Irish Jesuits. The Law Officers, after careful consideration, decided that., as the Irish Jesuits were an illegal organisation,;he money could not be handed over to them, and they therefore adopted the doctrine of cy près and built the Marble Arch with the money. Even for such advantages as the Marble Arch, I feel sure the House would not desire to continue these ancient penalties, which are dead letters for the purpose for which they were intended, which are absolutely contrary to the sense of justice of the people of this country, which always were undeserved, and never more so than at the present time.
§ Sir HENRY SLESSER
Before I make certain general observations in regard to the Gracious Speech, I should like to follow up what has been said by the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Blundell), and to press upon the Government the real need for doing away with these obsolete, cruel and unnecessary Statutes. The real difficulty about this Bill and all similar Bills is not that the Government are opposed to the Bill in principle, but that through negligence or indifference years pass and the only satisfaction which is obtained is the printing of a Private Member's Bill. If we face the reality of the situation we know that unless the Government are prefaced to give facilities for a Bill of this kind, we shall not get the grievances remedied. I have a particular concern for this Bill because in my constituency there is a very large number of Catholics. It is not merely a question of the ancient Statutes. And apart from the practical questions to which the hon. Member has drawn our attention there is the real indignity of a certain section of the community, a religious and honourable section of the community, being subjected to limitation of rights and being chosen out for a special mark of social disfavour, because this sort of legislation really means that, on account of their faith. I should not have thought that faith in religious matters was so ardent and so prosperous nowadays that the community can afford to penalise people who have a faith so vigorous. Therefore, 241 I hope that the Government will do something in this matter, and speedily.
I read in the newspapers this morning that there was no Opposition in this House. Looking at the benches opposite, and with every respect to the hon. Members who are temporarily there, I am almost disposed to say that there is no Government either. Though I am a comparatively new Member of this House, I cannot believe it is treating the House with respect, when a subject is being discussed, that no Minister of the Crown should be present, that Ministers should be absent, not only for a few minutes, but for very considerable periods of time. I am informed that exactly the same thing occurred last night. What is the good of my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk making appeals to the Government if there is no responsible Minister present to listen to him? It will be agreed on all sides that from the point of view of the House as a whole, we are entitled to have some responsible Minister present to deal with these matters. It is not treating the House with respect that we should not have someone present to pay some attention to what we are saying.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
I doubt if it is in order to describe the three Ministers now on the Reach as irresponsible persons.
§ Sir H. SLESSER
I am not suggesting that the hon. Gentlemen now on the Government Bench are in any sense irresponsible, but they are not directly responsible for the conduct of their Departments, and in any event, assuming that he three are responsible for their Departments there are many matters of departmental administration and legislation mentioned in the King's Speech which they are not called upon to answer. If we are asked to take this House and Parliamentary government seriously, it is sanely important that some Minister should be here to show that the Government take the matter at least as seriously as we do.
There are two ways in which the Gracious Speech can be approached. Either on the assumption that we of the Opposition take a different view from that of the Government on many important questions, we may criticise the Government because they do not take our 242 view, or we may make the more reasonable assumption that we do not expect certain results from the Government, and try to put ourselves in their position and criticise them on the basis of their own inadequacy in the light of their own principles. It is that second method which I wish to employ in the first instance.
There are notable omissions from the Speech from that point of view. In the first place there is a complete absence of what I understood was definitely promised for this year—namely, a reference to factory legislation. Demands have come up and have probably reached all Members of the House for a new factory law. Factory legislation in one form or another has been for some time before the Home Office and this House. It was introduced by the Labour Government, and I understood that the present Home Secretary promised that this year we should have a Factory Bill introduced and passed. Since 1901 we have had no factory legislation, with the exception of some minor proposals dealing with laundries. Everyone knows that in the last quarter of a century the whole industrial system of the country has changed, that new dangers have arisen, that new complexities have to be dealt with, and that the proof of the necessity of factory legislation is the appalling loss of life and limb which is continuing to-day almost as badly as if none of these new precautions and devices had been discovered.
Therefore, those of us who are concerned with social reform and decency, are entitled to ask why the Government have abstained from dealing with this legislation, and by their failure have probably allowed a number of preventable injuries, and, possibly, even deaths, to arise during this year. I see that the Home Secretary said outside this House that the reason why the Government did not introduce factory legislation was that this was not a time to put a new burden on industry. I do not wish to use exaggerated language, but, in dealing with actual physical losses and disability, to weigh on the one hand the possible prevention of that disability by factory legislation, and on the other hand to say that you cannot do it because of the burden it is placing on industry, is to show the extraordinarily material con- 243 siderations which move the Government in deciding in what way they will legislate and in what way they will not.
Secondly, there is missing from the Gracious Speech any recognition of the fact, known to every employer and every employed person, that the recent revisions of workmen's compensation law are utterly inadequate. Another thing which I understood a promise was made in this House by the Prime Minister was that there would be proposals introduced for the legalising of adoption. Last Session it was pointed out that, particularly since the War, a great many children whose parents had been killed in the War and who had been left destitute, had been adopted and were without any proper legal status. A Committee has been sitting under Mr. Justice Tomlin, which made a report recommending that the English law be brought into line with the law of practically every other country in the world and allow legalised adoption. That was not the crack-brained idea of a Socialist, but the recommendation of a Judge of the High Court, and of that side of the High Court which has to deal with these matters—the Chancery Division. I think it was the right hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir Geoffrey Butler) who raised the question last year. We were then promised a Bill. That matter is missing from the King's Speech.
A Measure which is promised in the King's Speech, which we know a section of the Press is supporting, is a Measure for curtailing the powers of boards of guardians. We wish to know just what is proposed. During the past year there have been attempts made to interfere with the rights of borough councils and boards of guardians by using the power of the district auditor to make surcharges in a manner which was never intended by statute or by law. The absurd position has arisen that, whereas the Courts have decided that in the matter of accepting tenders the local authorities are entitled not to take the lowest tender or not to be bound by the views of the district auditor—that has been decided by the Court of Appeal—yet when the question for the local authority relates to wages and not materials they are to be bound by the arbitrary opinion of the district auditor. What is happening? The whole tendency 244 of modern administration by this Government is to take burdens off the central authority and to put them on to the local authority. For example, we know that the reduction of the unemployment benefit has resulted in an increase of the number of persons who seek relief from the guardians. In many other ways the Government are seeking to make their Budget balance by putting the burdens of the National Exchequer on the local authorities. The same attempt has been made with regard to education.
That being so, surely it is absurd to complain of guardians' extravagance. There, is a certain amount either of ignorance or of hypocrisy in the criticism. Everybody knows by this time that in the London area, so far from the whole area bearing the whole burden, even with the small allocations which are made, the poor districts, with their great mass of unemployed, have to bear the burden of maintaining the poor people. With that fact known to everybody who has any understanding of public affairs, these very districts—which under our present absurd system of making the poor carry their own poor on their backs—are the districts which are accused of being extravagant and reckless. That is a circular argument which cannot carry conviction. If the Minister of Health is to be given power by legislation to limit the amount of money which can be given by way of outdoor relief, and at the same time unemployment benefit is to be cut down, the only thing which can result is that the people are going to be forced back into the workhouses. They will not be able to get unemployment benefit; they will be forbidden by this new legislation to get adequate outdoor relief, and the only thing that can happen is an attempt to restore the workhouse. I cannot believe that in these days there is anyone in the House who believes that the old system of compelling the poor, through insufficiency of means, to go into the workhouses, is a wise, a humane or a useful system.
I do not want in be unfair or to criticise in advance legislation which is going to be proposed and I always draw an assumption in favour of the Government notwithstanding the sentiments expressed in some newspapers. I always believe that the Government are not so 245 bad as the newspapers would represent them to be and I am not going to assume that the Government is going to behave in a manner some of the cheaper newspapers would have them behave, but it arouses suspicion and nervousness when one finds in the Speech from the Throne a suggestion that the Government are going to deal with this question of the regulation of the Poor Law.
We have heard a great deal about the necessity for goodwill in industry and I do not complain of that at all. I speak neither as an employer nor as an employed person—except, in so far as I maybe said, as a barrister, to be employed by my clerk and in that sense perhaps I could call myself an employed person. I feel there is a grave danger in the use of a phrase unless we are quite clear what we mean, and in my view one of the necessities for producing good-will or good relations between employers and employed is to give the employed person a proper dignity and status in the community. So long as the mass of employed persons are merely "hands" to be taken on or put off, according to whether a profit can be obtained from them or not, they cannot be in a position to bargain with the employers so that proper good relations can be secured. It is absolutely, essential, if the Prime Minister is sincere—as I believe he is—in wishing to restore better conditions between employers and employed, that the employed person should be given a definite share and control and status in the industry in which he is engaged. You will never get good relations in the present state of affairs, when the workers as a whole are better educated and are making greater demands than in the past, until they are raised up from the position of being merely employed persons to that of being responsible participants in industry.
It is because I see no recognition of that fact in the speeches of the Prime Minister or of hon. and right hon. Members opposite that, though I do not doubt their sincerity, I do not know whether at bottom what they are saying conies to more than a phrase. Good wages and fair treatment and all these things require, as a real sign and earnest of confidence in the workers, that the workers should be given responsibility. The real trouble is that the workers are 246 continually becoming better educated and, on the other hand, there is a constant decay in the education, prestige and culture of the rich. I am not necessarily advocating the old system of government by the landed squires, but, at any rate, the old rich believed in the patronage of art, learning and culture, and had some personal relations with their employed persons. To-day, on the one hand, we are getting an increasing mass of highly-educated and responsible workers and, on the other, I regret to say, a large number of immensely wealthy persons of a rather vulgar and uncultured kind. It is a clash between the rising workers on the one side and the increasing power of an irresponsible plutocracy on the other.
That is the problem which the Prime Minister and the Government have to solve. One of the difficulties in solving it is that the party opposite is a coalition of those two elements. As I have pointed out in this House before, they are not and never were a Conservative party. There is a small and, possibly, a declining Conservative section. There is a large and powerful plutocratic section who are concerned more with money than with traditions or welfare or prestige or even patriotism. So far from being a united party they are a discordant coalition. There is a section who are firmly and sincerely desirous of social reform and of being patriotic in a good sense, hut, there is this large monied interest which is merely concerned with dividends and low wages. The cleavage of the future is probably not coming from this side of the House. I am not sure that this great Government will not come to an end by a kind of civil war within their own ranks, but I do not know. I am not a prophet. At any rate, I hope the Prime. Minister, if he does not agree with us, will at least stand with the real Tories in his, party and not with the plutocrats, the stockbrokers and the financiers. If he does so, I believe he will be coming a great cleat nearer to us, and, indeed, who knows but that another coalition may be formed between the old high Tories and the Labour movement from which the financiers will be excluded altogether?
I rise to speak not with reference to the sins of omission, but rather with reference to a few of the sins of commission which have 247 been alleged in reference to the Gracious Speech from the Throne, and I refer in the first instance to the part which deals with slum clearances. I think all will agree it is desirable that action should be taken in that direction, and I trust I may be allowed to mention the Debate on the Adjournment on 18th December, when my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott) referred to the action which the Liverpool Corporation were about to take in regard to existing buildings and the provision of temporary accommodation. That proposal was criticised perhaps rather severely by the hon. Member for West Newcastle (Mr. Palin), who said that people would not have any German barracks or any edifices of that description. I rise with some temerity as an engineer who has been responsible during a good many years of my Army service for work in connection with the erection of barracks, to say that perhaps that is not quite the case. In the Army we had an almost unrivalled opportunity of dealing with the reconstruction and reconditioning of existing buildings and providing temporary accommodation, and the subject is one which interests me particularly. I think one cannot rule out the idea of the large blocks, because there are people who not only owing to limited incomes, but for other reasons do not desire to be housed otherwise, and these buildings serve a useful purpose. The great point is that we must recondition them, and that can only be done by temporarily vacating them and providing temporary accommodation.
I trust hon. Members opposite will not look upon that as entirely out of the question. It may interest them to know that when I was serving in London about 20 years ago one of the worst slums at that time—I am glad to say I had a good deal to do with putting it right—was Wellington Barracks and also the Guards' Barrack in Buckingham Palace. The accommodation' was about as bad as it could be, but the War Office always brought forward such buildings and reconditioned them. If the same had been done with ordinary buildings, we should have had a better state of affairs to-day, but that was rendered quite impossible by the existing 248 legislation. The Gracious Speech indicates that Amendments will be made to the 1925 Act, and Part II, Section 46, at all events, will require remodelling in order to enable any comprehensive scheme of reconstruction to be carried out.
With the present stringent economy which will be necessary it will surely be better to spend the lesser amount necessary in order to recondition existing buildings than to spend money entirely on new works, however much new works may be required. The same treatment applies equally to rural buildings, which are also referred to in the Speech from the Throne. We have very fine buildings in Scotland, as a rule, well-built stone structures, and they merely require additions, and wooden floors, and maybe a water supply and, I trust now, electric light, as indicated by the new Electricity Bill. I think we must congratulate the Government on their intentions in that respect as indicated in the Gracious Speech. No doubt we should all like to visualise the state of affairs that was indicated in "The Future" by speakers just after the War, when all Ministers had very Utopian schemes to propound, but which the finances of the country have prevented being carried into effect.
The Electricity Bill that is indicated will bring a great deal of comfort in housing, and when that matter is being considered I trust that some action may be possible in regard to rating. I have had cases put to me already where people wished to improve their houses by having electric light fitted, an improvement which costs a good deal, and is promptly followed by the rates being put up. I believe there is no help for it—I have looked into it rather carefully—because the rental value is supposed to be increased, I trust the Government, in bringing in their electricity proposals, will take that matter into consideration.
I turn from that to a point referred to in the agricultural portion of the King's Speech, and that is in regard to the Road Fund. A good deal of alarm has undoubtedly been caused by the idea of that fund being raided, and as such I think that alarm is justified. I think, however, we have all read with satisfaction the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject of expenditure on the roads and that he was preparing 249 to do more for rural roads. I am glad to see that the rural roads have been singled out for that purpose, because I think that will help the roads generally, as undoubtedly they are not in a state to carry the traffic now required, particularly from the rural point of view. There is a large amount of farm produce which, instead of being handled on the railways, is now kept on the roads. At the same time, I think there is a risk of overdoing the arterial roads of this country. I do not say that in any sense to criticise the distinguished officer who controls that branch.
We all know the work he did in France, but it is very different on the Continent and in America, where there are vast distances to cover, and these large routes nationales or highways can be made without doing much harm, but in a limited country like ours, with a crowded population, they tend rather to sear the landscape unduly, as we are seeing already. In any case, I think they must be reconsidered and taken in conjunction with the railways and canals. At the present time there is undue competition going on between these three forms of transport, which is very undersirable and also unnecessary. If the canals are not being used as much as they might be, there is no reason that I can see why they should not be drained and the beds used to form highways for heavy industrial traffic between the industrial centres. It is quite a reasonable proposition, and it would clear the roads, at all events, of a lot of very heavy traffic. I trust that those points may be considered by the Government. In conclusion, I think the White Paper will bring a good deal of satisfaction to all those who are interested in agriculture, and I, personally, as representing a Scottish constituency, recognise with gratitude the reference to the Scottish Conference on Agricultural Policy. The Chairman happens to be in my constituency, and I may tell hon. Members that I was pressed on the matter, and I am sure that all will be glad to see that Report referred to in the White Paper and to know that these questions are going to be so thoroughly gone into. We are all grateful for the efforts of the Government in that respect.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
The Speech from the Throne makes reference to the Government's intention to introduce proposals dealing with electricity. It looks to me from the Speech from the Throne altogether, as if the Government need an electric shock. It is a pitiful production from beginning to end. Without expressing any partisanship at all for the body of people who are coming, I expect, to every Member of the House of Commons pleading for their personal assistance and energetic effort to deal, for instance, with the question of unemployment, I think I can say that in the heart of every man and woman of us there must be a feeling of deep-seated disappointment that we are able to give no satisfaction whatever to any of those people who are in that sorrowful condition. It is not for lack of brains that this Government are not applying, or any of the Governments that have been dealing with the handling of our national affairs have not applied, themselves to this appalling condition of our working people. We actually have, on the contrary, indications from the Government in regard to the Ministry of Labour that still further reductions are to be made upon those people who are now receiving relief in that connection, and it is undoubtedly a dastardly position to take up. We have had the conviction of men in the Courts because of taking or proposing to take lines of an illegal character, and at the close of our last gathering before the Autumn Recess that subject was discussed at considerable length.
I am assured that, in regard to these intensified conditions, which the Speech from the Throne admits, instead of betterment having taken place, the situation is still more serious, and that on that account those conditions are fostering the feeling that the situation is hopeless for the masses of the people. Complaint has been made from our Front Bench, and also from other quarters of the House, that responsible Members of the Government have not been present to give any attention whatever to the arguments in this Debate. Undoubtedly, one of the arguments utilised by those who are working upon those conditions to bring up multitudes of the toilers to a state of aggressive action, is that this House is a futile institution. I am not of that opinion, for the reason that, 251 constitutionally, if the whole body of the workers exercise fully their franchise rights, and apply themselves to the situation as it confronts them, for instance, in the attitude adopted at the present time by the Government, it is perfectly possible—and it may happen before long—we earnestly hope it will happen—that the mass of the workers will return to power a political force that will take possession of these seats, and provide definite announcements through His Majesty's Speech of a nature that will give evidence to the sufferers that business is at last to be done in the interest of those who most deserve attention.
On that ground, I say I do not believe that this is a futile institution. But the argument is being employed, and many a time there is much to be said for it. At any rate, so far as its feasibility and practicability as an institution are concerned, there is one proposal that has often been put before this House in years gone by, to enable Scotland to take her proper position as a nationality and an independent force. If that were given assent to by the Government and the country, this House would be free from very much of that which now has to be dealt with here, although limited to such a very meagre portion of the time of the Session, that indeed it is rather farcical to talk about Scotland having any particular rights here at all. In the Speech from the Throne there is a reference to the status of the Secretary for Scotland, which is to be raised, and, apparently, the salary is to move in a similar direction. That may or may not happen, but undoubtedly there remains the situation of Scotland, with its capacity for handling the business of the country, for the Members who have come from Scotland to this House have given proof of a driving power, which is sometimes not very much appreciated, but, nevertheless, is acknowledged as a driving power. It certainly is not given to sleeping propensities. There is some punch in the business.
We can certainly picture a representative body of men and women in Edinburgh as the national Parliament of Scotland concentrating entirely upon our own national affairs, and with the force that they already have at their back, and the body of the working people, free from the very heavy drag of old- 252 fashioned Toryism that is prevalent in England. [An HON. MEMBER: "What is to happen to poor old England? "] I quite agree there is some difficulty with poor old England. English people must be impressed by the spectacle of English representatives sleeping here or possibly playing chess in another room, putting in no appearance here except for Divisions.
The hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton) referred to the agricultural aspect of our affairs. It is very remarkable that even those who are particularly responsible as representatives of the agricultural interest have not shown concern at the situation in which the Government are subsidising to a very considerable extent the emigration of workers from Scotland to Canada. It is a very anomalous situation, insofar as the agricultural industry requires all those who are now available.
There is no actual unemployment in the agricultural industry. Yet the best of the workers are being invited, and, indeed, incited, to leave Scotland and to go to Canada, thus depriving our own country of some of our best workers, without in any way affecting the question of unemployment in our own country. It is one of the samples of the superficial handling of our national questions. We recollect well, and cannot possibly forget, the Prime Minister's statement that his own personal desire was to cut through the vested interests. I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman is still in the sorry plight of being unable to tackle the job. Forces are against him, and I find, for the second time, he is speaking about the hope that ere long he may be again resorting to his home in the country and enjoying his pastoral activities in the feeding of pigs and the reading of "T.P.'s Weekly." I quite understand the difficulties of a man trying to occupy the position of a statesman, and finding himself completely overwhelmed by the forces against him. But whatever he wishes to be as a man, he must persist in being a statesman. And this is the result!
No reference is made in the Speech from the Throne to the matter of pensions, although have no doubt hon. Members on the other side, like ourselves, are being inundated with demands from widows, even widows with children under 253 14 years of age, who are unable to get what was termed the benefits of this wonderful Pensions Act which was carried last Session. That is another of the samples of making a pretence of something that is to be done. When it comes to be examined by the people who were led to believe they were in for something, they find they have only been lifted up theoretically to be dropped down practically.
Reference has been made to economy. The possibility is that we shall have some drastic efforts made in the direction of Economy. We can already well gather the direction in which we shall find these economies to be effected. Where the Government can possibly lay their hands upon wages and salary, deductions, and on education, they will apparently do so, but they will determinedly refrain from tackling glaring evidences of wastefulness. This, I say, is the course which will be adopted. If there is to be a real attack on the bases of national economy why should it not be from the very highest running down all through—an honourable, fair and square handling of the business right from top to bottom, down to the grades beyond which they really cannot go? What about our spending in regard to Royalty? You insist upon still further reducing the miserable provision for people who are exasperated beyond measure to keep the comparative few in the fashion that we saw in the exhibition which was renewed at the other end of this building during the present week. We read of it this morning in the newspapers, descriptions of the reception that was given to the Ministers and the leading members of the party whom they represent, most glowing descriptions and a most fluent use of language to show the elaborate profusion and display of wealth flaunted over the heads of the many people throughout the country. You are only in this insulting the sufferers who are now coming about you from day to day. There is not a man or woman belonging either to the Labour or the Liberal party but in whose case it comes down to the simple question of humane consideration when we know there is gross, and glaring, and scandalous treatment of suffering at the present time.
I have stood here to contend, and I will contend, that those who in any direction whatever suggest the breaking of law and the cutting through 254 of constitutional principles should not do so. I am bound, however, to acknowledge on the Floor of this House that I am beset, and hon. Members are beset, with the unquestionable, the harrowing, the insulting, and the awful conditions of the people who are asking us: "What are you going to do? Are you making any effort at all by way of relief? What sort of push are you making? Are you expressing your mind about it?" I know, of course, what is said—and it is perfectly true—that the back-bench man does not count. We cannot help that. What, however, we can help is not to utilise our seats to pour out insults, or to hold aloof. The conditions of this House I know are such that we are liable to get side-tracked, however earnest a man may be. We must not forget the conditions outside, however much the alurement may be to settle down. We meet with men in the House, kindly, courteous—
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
But I cannot see how it is possible for a body of men to lose sight of their obligations—according to their party lights I know—I am allowing for that—of the solemn obligations upon them to face these conditions. It is not difficult for a politician to go and address a meeting in the country and to give the impression that every effort: is being made, and so on. But we cannot get away from those obligations resting upon us, and they contribute in some measure to emphasise the point that there is ability in the House, that there are brains in the House, that there is driving power in the House, but that somehow or other the one special thing that, keeps us back from handling these conditions are the vested interests to which the Prime Minister referred.
The King's Speech makes reference to various matters. An allusion was made to industry and trade. There has been a very important question left out. We all know what is commonly called "The Trade." Why is no reference made in the King's Speech to that? I am alluding to it simply and solely on the basis of 255 what the Speech says in relation to economy. Is there any man or woman in any quarter of the House prepared to deny that, apart from anything else, you have your biggest wastage in the sending of money into a concern which from two standpoints alone makes the smallest demand upon the Unemployment Exchange for labour and gives the poorest return in wages for the money invested in it? Hon. Members may smile because of this reference. I do not ask them to take my opinion, but the opinion of Sir George Paish, who is an authority on the subject. He put forward a plan which has been reported all over the country. He said:Give me control of that money and I shall guarantee that within six months I can assure the country that every man and woman now unemployed will be provided with work.Personally, I am not satisfied. I would not care to make that statement on my own responsibility. But the point I am emphasising is this: There is no shadow of doubt about it, that the United States are retaining trade, and it will not be able to be disputed, that some of their one-time brewing and distilling companies are now producing legitimate commodities for the State, and in these companies not fewer than four men are now employed where formerly one man was employed. Again, we have found, on the question of the taxation of the United States of America, that they have already been in receipt of more money from motor taxation alone than ever received from liquor. If you talk about cultivating our own markets, here is the transposing of the channels through which money is to go. If that money proceeds aright, you are giving an incentive to putting a direct premium upon every legitimate industry. Every legitimate business in this country will receive a great impetus, a great lift forward, by the complete stoppage of this concern, simply from the point of view, at the moment, of what is called economy in the matter of money, economy in the matter of providing work. But taking the thing from the all-round standpoint: I want to specially urge that we have got to apply ourselves to the matter—whatever may be the way we cannot dictate; that lies with the Government.
256 The Government make a strong point about law and order. You are giving encouragement to the breaking of law and order by producing a Speech like this from His Majesty the King. You are even contemplating, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is contemplating making a raid upon the Road Fund, whereas the Government ought to be encouraging and subsidising local authorities to go on with additional undertakings in order to insure many of these workpeople getting a start! So that you are not even offering them stones. How callous it is, so frequently for us to hear from people representative of society, that this dole is something that ought never to have been in existence, and that it only makes people not want to work. It is so petty, and so hard a thing so say of bodies of people, while the great body of the men and women who are receiving that allowance at the Employment Exchange are feeling saddened beyond measure that they have to go and accept such a provision. The great mass of them, just as much as any one of us in this House, want an avocation in which they can have some self-respect, some satisfaction of being able to make their own way in life and having some prospect. You are depressing them, and saddling them with the conception that there is no outlook for them at all. The younger men, to whom the Ministry of Labour intended to direct their attention in order to reduce their allowance, are feeling that this old country has no hope for them at all.
I know we are not allowed to make reference to His Majesty the King, but I was trying to think of His Majesty as just one of ourselves, and I was going to try to think what he thinks within himself of this Speech. You and I have the power, and not only the power but the special responsibility that each shall stand at the Bar of God. This wealthy country has every possibility of providing for its manhood, womanhood and childhood. God Almighty has made everything for the upbuilding of human comfort and for the safeguarding of the human family and every provision, and yet you and I know that it is still true that a comparatively small section of our people are not only controlling the wealth, but are brassfaced and are flaunting their wealth. Still the Government come forward and say: "We must 257 be exacting about this, that and the other thing," and Debate after Debate takes place on the question of a mere matter of a few shillings for a man, woman or a child. I submit it is humiliating for our country. It is degrading to the House of Commons and to the House of Lords as well.
It is a terrible thing to recollect what we read in what are known as the society papers and the pictorial papers about those who are likely to be coming out and ore likely to be debutantes for society; and then you see the realistic scenes from the mining centres, the tragedy of people going down into the bowels of the earth, the tragedy of struggles for wages on railways, struggles for wages of the men engaged in the wireless service and the dangers of life. At the present time, all is concentrated upon the one special struggle of how to keep down the men or women who in reality are the real strength of the nation. I do implore the Prime Minister and the Members of the Government and the members of their party as well, every man or woman in this House, to act in this matter. We may smile and think it is only an effusion and a passing record. Not so. Whatever is expressed here by any man from his heart, there is a Recorder who will hear, and who will not be kept off, and He is in our presence, whether we dismiss the Press or otherwise. He stands when we shut the door. You have the power and the knowledge, as you have the wealth and the facilities to help the struggles of this mass of people, and I earnestly urge you to face them in the most straightforward fashion that you can command.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Sir Kingsley Wood)
I am sure the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken will forgive me if I do not follow his speech, which I am sure the whole House recognises as expressed with the greatest sincerity on his part. I rise, as I undertook to do, to offer a reply to one or two questions which have been put to me by the hon. Gentleman the Member for West-houghton (Mr. Rhys Davies). The House may remember that earlier in the day the hon. Gentleman, who, as we fully recognise, is interested in all these questions, put, I think, two questions, in one of which was expressed some fear in con- 258 nection with national insurance and its relation to economy. Well, he knows as well as I do, that it is, of course, impossible for any Minister to-night to anticipate the provisions of any Bill, of which due notice has been given. The same observation applies to the questions which, I understand, were put by the late Solicitor-General in respect to any proposals in relation to the Poor Law. I want to-night, just for a few minutes, to reply to the important questions which the hon. Gentleman has put in reference to the administration of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act.
I hope the House will appreciate and will have some interest in the figures which I am about to give in response to the questions which the hon. Gentleman' has put. He has asked me generally as to the position of the scheme—the number of claims that have, been received and the number of awards that have been made and kindred matters. I have to tell him that up, I think, to 21st January—the latest figures which I have been able to get at very short notice to-night and which we may be able to amplify further in answer to a question to-morrow—the number of widows' pensions awarded was 86,872. I cannot to-night, give the exact figures with reference to orphans' allowances, because a very large number of applications are being postponed by the great orphanages of the country. During the next few weeks we shall be, able to deal with their claims, and nothing will be lost by their being deferred. I understand it is for their convenience and that of the Department that those claims are not being presented at the present moment. As regards widows' pensions, we have in a very short time examined and granted to 86,872 existing widows, namely, those widows and orphans who will receive their pensions as a free gift, that is, without any contribution at all.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I will deal with that in a minute. The claims under investigation, or in progress at various stages, number 21,383. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has addressed certain letters to me on various matters, says, "What about the estimate and how 259 does that compare with the figures given?" My first answer to that is that all applications have not yet been received. It is very interesting to note, for instance, that on the 16th January we were receiving what I call pre-Act claims at the rate of 4,840 a week, and, on the 23rd January last we received no fewer than 2,536 claims in England alone. I may say, for the information of Scottish Members, that our experience in Scotland and Wales is that we get a much higher proportion of claims there than in this country.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The people in Scotland know that a good thing exists, and as we should expect, they are pushing their claims much more vigorously than people in this country do. It is early days yet to say how far the numbers approach the number which was put before the House in the estimate given by Sir Alfred Watson. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer knows, because he examined this matter very fully, I believe, when he occupied that very important position, that in a matter of this kind one can only give an estimate, and I suppose most actuaries, like most Chancellors of the Exchequer, generally err on the safe side. At any rate, we have already made a large number of awards.
I want now to go a little further into details as to the position of the scheme. It is true there are 21,383 claims still under investigation. The reason for that is that it has been the determination of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, so far as we can within the limits of the Act and the legal obligations upon us, to deal with these claims sympathetically and with as little red tape as possible. Many applications received have had all the particulars required well filled in, but a good many more, a very large number, were accompanied by forms which were not complete, and in order to give justice and fair play we have made further inquiries of the people themselves and at the same time have communicated with our officials with a view to obtaining the further necessary particulars. I want Members of the House, all of whom, I know, are interested in seeing that everybody who is entitled 260 to a pension receives it, to know that we are at all times ready to receive any additional evidence which they think will help an applicant with a claim. If additional evidence is produced and it justifies the application we shall, of course, immediately make an award.
The House will understand that in administering an Act of this kind for the first time there must be a certain amount of delay in getting everyone to give the necessary particulars. Both my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health and I have received a large number of letters from members on this subject. A certain number of claims, as will have been anticipated, have had to be refused. The difficulties have largely arisen through the fact that the applicant has not been able to comply with the conditions of the Act, and in a number of cases we have had to return forms owing to the absence of records. As the late Chancellor of the Exchequer knows, in a large number of these cases we have had to go back to an examination of the terms of employment of a deceased husband as far back as the year 1910. Whilst recognising the anxiety of my Department to deal promptly with these cases, the House will, I hope, realise that a proper investigation has to be made, and that that accounts for a certain amount of delay which, I may say, is all in the interest of the applicants. It is interesting to note that, notwithstanding the very large number of awards already given, the appeals up to date number only 500. I daresay the House will remember that it was announced before we rose last Session that boards of referees had been appointed to examine these claims. Those boards are sitting now and dealing with them.
I want to express the indebtedness of my Department to the Ministry of Pensions Service Departments, to the Board of Trade and to the Ministry of Labour for the great assistance which they have given in connection with the administration of this scheme; and in reference to the remarks of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) I also desire to thank the approved societies, who have undoubtedly helped us a great deal in connection with the administration. So far as payments at post offices are concerned, I am glad to be able to report that the Post Office is paying pensions satisfactorily; and we 261 have also been able to make reciprocal arrangements with the Government of Northern Ireland in connection with the administration of the scheme. I remember very well that in the Debate before the Bill became an Act of Parliament a certain amount of doubt was expressed about the increased contributions that would have to come into operation if the scheme was to be actuarily safe and sound. We have taken a great many steps to carry out the obligations imposed by this Act. I am very glad to tell the House that the scheme has worked so far with much smoothness, and I am able to say to-night that for the arrangements which have been made we are greatly indebted to the officials of my own Department, who have worked Very hard indeed. So far as my Department is conceraed there have been practically no complaints about the increased contributions which this Act has entailed. We have in very many ways expressed our indebtedness to employers all over the country in this connection.
Hon. Members will recollect that there was a matter which every portion of the House desired to see carried out if possible in a greater degree, and that was in connection with voluntary insurance. There was a provision in the Act by which people could take advantage of an opportunity which gave them very considerable benefit, not by compulsion but by voluntary insurance. In connection with National Health Insurance voluntary insurance was, practically, a failure. There is now, however, a very different state of affairs so far as this new scheme is concerned, because I can tell the House that there has been a considerable demand for voluntary insurance, and it is not unlikely that the estimate of the Government Actuary of the number of new voluntary contributors will be exceeded. Already some hundreds of inquiries are being received by the Minister of Health every week, and we are very gratified that there should be this evidence of a very widespread desire to take advantage of the voluntary provisions of the scheme.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I have not the figures at the moment, but if the hon. Member 262 will put down a question, I will give him that information. I was anxious to give these figures, which I know are of interest to all parties, and, so far as the administration of the scheme is concerned and the claims for pensions, we have endeavoured to deal with these matters fairly and to avoid technicalities, and to give everyone an opportunity of receiving the benefits of the Act.
§ Mr. STEPHEN WALSH
I am sure hon. Members have heard with much satisfaction the very interesting statement which has been made by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, for he has given us information which all of us desired to have, and I am sure it will be of much interest to the people outside the House. With regard to the Speech from the Throne, I do not think any hon. Member will recollect hearing a more placid, not to say humdrum, message, considering the condition of the country at the present time. In my view it does not reflect very much credit upon the responsible Government. There is a particular passage in the King's Speech to which I would like to draw the attention of the House for a very few minutes. It is a passage which says: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 coalmining.Then the Speech goes on to say:But the interests of the nation are paramount, and, I appeal to all parties to face the future in a spirit of conciliation and fellowship.The studied reserve of this paragraph forms a striking contrast to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in August last, and in that sense everyone who is interested in maintaining conciliation and goodwill will be grateful to the. Government. What was it the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated? He spoke of the miners having menaced the safety of the community. Inasmuch as the miners are the central figures in this paragraph it is very desirable even now to ask the House to consider the essential facts of the case, and I do so with all the more seriousness because I have heard hon. Members speak as though the miners had been the attackers of the community and indeed this afternoon an hon. Member the 263 studied moderation of whose speech could not be too highly commended spoke of the necessity for both sides in the coal mining industry making an equality of sacrifice. There is even now among Members of this House, composed as it is of men of the world with great business qualities, intelligence, and commercial capacity, a dominant feeling that it was the miners attacking the community in the dispute of August, 1925. The miners have never made any attack whatever upon the community at any time, and they have in every case since July, 1921, been the attacked, and not a single attack has been made by them. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking with an authority which cannot, of course, attach to any other member of the Cabinet except the Prime Minister himself, said that the miners were attacking the community, that the miners were menacing the well-being of the State, he could not have been guilty of a graver distortion of the truth, or of a statement more widely apart from the actual facts.
Let me briefly state what has actually happened since 1921. Since July, 1921, the Wages of 70 per cent. of those engaged in the mines have been reduced by more than 50 per cent. I am not going to trouble the House with the figures, but it is a central fact that never in the history of industry, never in the whole history of Labour, has there been a more consistent, wholesale reduction of wages than has taken place in the mining industry since July, 1921. Wages went down by more than 50 per cent. until the end of 1924, and it was only when the employers again, in July, 1925, threatened a further reduction of a, complete 25 per cent. of the existing wages—which then represented impoverishment and degradation—with a constant reduction every following month, that the miners said, "Thus far and no farther." Can anyone, can any Member of this House, taking those facts into consideration, say that the miners were menacing the well-being of the State? I remember perfectly well the late Prime Minister, Mr. Bonar Law, saying in 1922 that the conditions of the miners were terrible. The present Prime Minister, for whose good will and desire for conciliation no one has a higher respect than Members on these benches, 264 himself said, when he was President of the Board of Trade, that the miners had undergone a sacrifice which set an example to all those engaged in other industries. And yet, having made these unexampled sacrifices, and being called upon again to submit to the most terrible reductions that have ever been enunciated by any body of employers, we are told that we are the people who are attacking the State. No self-respecting body of men in any industry could have taken any other attitude and preserved their self-respect.
From 1921, month after month—September, October, November, December—and then in the following year, in January, February, March, April and May, wages all over the country, North, South, East and West, were being pressed down, until in eight months they had reached a minimum which it is a positive shame to any nation to allow a body of men and women to live upon, A minimum wage was reached which, in 1922, compelled what is known as a subsistence allowance. Many hon. Members are well educated, and they know the meaning of "subsistence"—a state of existence admittedly below the normal; and that has been the condition in all the mining districts for four years. I was reminded, when the right hon. Gentleman was describing how menacing the miners had become, that there is a legend that in the French Zoolgical Gardens there is an animal over whose den the notice is posted:This animals very ferocious; when attacked it will defend itself.10.0 P.M.
I suppose that that is the kind of ferocity the miners have evinced in the past. No one desires the preservation of conciliation and goodwill to a greater degree than the miners. No body of men on earth has given more constant evidence of it. No body of men volunteered in greater numbers or with greater zeal to fight the battle of their nation when they were told that their nation was in peril. But now we have bun told, "Ah, there is the economic factor. After all, if we cannot make the necessary profits, you will have to work for lower wages. We really must preserve our export trade; we must preserve our profits. We are not in this business for our health, and the economic basis is the only basis upon which this 265 industry can be preserved; and we must really undersell the Germans." It was understood that the Germans lost the War, and we were told that never again after the War was ever, after the Armistice was signed, should the workpeople who had volunteered to save their nation be permitted to go back into the squalid conditions of the past. Now we are asked to submit and we are told that we are menacing the State if we do not submit, to infinitely worse conditions than existed before the War broke out. The Speech goes on to say:The interests of the nation are paramount"—this paragraph is very carefully phrased—and I appeal to all parties to face the future in a spirit of conciliation and fellowship.How are 70 per cent. of the workmen, with wives and families to maintain on wages that are so low now as to make it utterly impossible to maintain people in conditions of decency—how are they to show a feeling of fellowship and conciliation towards employers who say, "These are the only conditions upon which the industry can be maintained"—conditions which, as I have said, involve, in addition to the 50 per cent. reduction already made at the very beginning, a further reduction of 25 per cent. and a constant rearrangement on a downward grade for an indefinite period?
If the Speech means anything—I do not know whether it does or does not—if it does mean anything, I suppose it would mean that both sides, because it says:I appeal to all parties,and the reference, therefore, is to employers and workmen, and it is entirely to those engaged in coal mining, either as employers or workmen—I suppose it means that the workmen should again submit to further reductions in order to carry out what has been described by the hon. Member, to whose speech I have already referred, as "equality of sacrifice." Because of the spirit of the hon. Member's speech, because of the studied moderation of his remarks, and because I myself felt that there was in his mind a real and, if he will take it from an old Member of this House, a genuine desire to help in a position of great difficulty, I felt quite satisfied that, when he spoke about equality of sacrifice, he was not fully aware of what had gone 266 before in the history of this matter. The coalowners of Great Britain, up to the end of 1924, in3½ years, made profits amounting to £56,500,000. They made, according to their own statement, in these 3½ years, a return of at least 9 per cent. on every penny of capital invested every year—not in one year, not 9 per cent. over 3½ years, but 9½ each year, sometimes a little more, sometimes substantially more and sometimes a little less, but in the 3½ years up to the end of 31st December, 1924, these people, with whom we are appealed to to make equality of sacrifice—and we agreed to a 50 per cent. reduction in wages—have made 56½ millions on a capital investment which even the most fervid advocates of the colliery owners do not put higher than £180,000,000. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke in very similar terms but with a far different spirit, appealing to both: sides for equality of sacrifice, I felt, out of Christian charity, that even the Chancellor did not know the facts.
The Commission that has been appointed has yet to report. The whole situation is so comprehensive, so wide spreading, and the results of the Commission's findings may be so far-reaching that is would be invidious for me to ask the Prime Minister to hurry the Commission up in its findings. A heavy responsibility rests on the Commissioners and will fall upon all those whose duty it is to carry out the findings; therefore it would be invidious for me on behalf of our party to ask that the Commission should be in any way hurried in its Report. But I do beg the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, but particularly himself, to remember these essential facts, that our people have now got down to the bed-rock below which the cannot exist, and it is no good appealing for conciliation, for goodwill and co-operation to a people, who are already degraded and impoverished, on lines which involve further sacrifices. To appeal on lines which involve further sacrifice from a people already impoverished is simply futile.
The peace, for which the Prime Minister invoked a higher power than himself two years ago, can never follow on the lines submitted by the colliery owners only a few months ago. The policy of the subsidy is a matter for the Government. I am not qualified to speak, but I do know, as the Prime Minister knows, and as all 267 commercial men know, that the subsidy has had very many indirect beneficial effects. There is no doubt about that. As to what may be the policy of the Government in the future, it is premature for me to judge. They have the responsibility, but I am quite sure that it will be the desire—at least I hope most earnestly it will be—of the Government, to do all that lies in their power to maintain peace in the industry upon lines which are honourable to both sides and which do not involve further impoverishment or degradation.
There are one or two words I should like to say in respect of the Workmen's Compensation Act. The Prime Minister himself knows, for he was a member of the Coalition Government in 1922, that a very fine Committee reported, namely the Holman Gregory Committee. They went most extensively into all the ramifications of the Workmen's Compensation laws and they reported on lines which have been sadly deflected since the Report. Two or three points will show really how desirable it is that there should be an early amendment in an upward degree of the present provisions. I am not going to speak about the legal meshes. The present Measure, passed in 1923, was, after all, a hotch-potch of legislation that does not reflect an atom of credit on anybody engaged in its composition. But the point I wish to urge is that the Holman Gregory Committee recommended a maximum payment of £3 a week in the event of accident.
The previous Measure, the Act of 1897, which was endorsed in 1906, contained £1 a week, as from 1897 to now. The pound only represents a purchasing power of 8s., and in order to make the £1 of 1897 equal in value, the compensation to-day ought to be at least 50s. It is 30s. Let anybody follow the rise in prices from 1897 to now and they will see that it takes 50s. of present-day value to equal the purchasing power of £1, 29 years ago. To-day, instead of 50s. being the maximum figure, or £3 as recommended by the Holman Gregory Committee, we have 30s., and 30s. is equal in purchasing power to 12s. of 29 years ago. Therefore the workman injured to-day who has a wife and family to maintain, receiving his maximum payment, is receiving in actual fact considerably less than the workman of 29 years 268 ago. The same thing takes place with widows' commutations. As high a figure as £800 was recommended, subject to certain allocations by the Holman Gregory Committee. I am speaking in the presence of the Solicitor-General, who has a very confident recollection of what the Committee reported. We were first offered £500, and by a little gentle give and take, the present Government—at least, a great many members of the present Government were members of the 1923 Government—gave us £600.
That £600 is only equal in purchasing value to £240 29 years ago. The maximum then was £300. In the old workmen's compensation law an accident lasting two weeks was paid from the first moment. An accident has now to last a month before it is paid. I have never belittled the title of the Conservative party, and particularly Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, to that magnificent piece of social legislation passed in 1897, but to-day that great code of social legislation gives us worse conditions relatively than those that existed 29 years ago. Under those circumstances, are we putting any unfair plea forward in saying it would be well and it would, I think, redound very much to the credit of the Government if they would take an early opportunity of amending the workmen's compensation law and making the values to the injured and disabled people and to the dependants of those who are killed in accidents, at least equal to what they would have been had they kept pace with the lessened value of money during the course of 29 years.
One more word and I have done. It was my good fortune to be a Member of the Labour Government and to have charge of the War Office for the time being. We were continually pestered—I do not use the word in any offensive sense, but we were continually being challenged as to the dismissals that were about to take place at Woolwich and other establishments under the control of the War Department. As a matter of fact, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) is, aware, and as the hon. Member for Woolwich can also state, we were not only careful about dismissals but we so utilised the resources of the State as to prevent any dismissals, and we carried that out to such a degree that, while conserving the expenditure 269 well within the limits of the Estimates set out twelve months earlier, we were able to show an appreciably greater number of people engaged in the service of the State at a substantially higher wage during our nine months of office than there were employed at the beginning. We were brought into touch with the scientific possibilities of development, not on the fighting side but on the peaceful side, and a good many people were engaged upon what might be called the peaceful possibilities within the Department, and we believe that could be done now.
It is surely one of the very worst things that could be done to dismiss men from the service of the State if their services can be utilised in other directions, in the avenues of peace, and I think they can. It may be said, I think it is being said, that at present the dismissals are necessary because the State establishments are falling below competitive prices. That is to say they cannot compete with the private competitor on contracts. If that is being said, and it is being put forward as a fact, I can only say it is a statement differing very greatly from the facts as submitted to me and to the Financial Secretary which we went into most carefully during our term of office. It was proved beyond a doubt that many Departments of the War Office were competing successfully and doing the work quite as effectively and more cheaply than private competitors. Under such circumstances, I am quite sure the chemical and scientific resources in the Department are so great that they could usefully and quickly turn many of these people who are now being subject to dismissal on to these peaceful lines of development and reconstruction which took place in a modified degree during our term of office, and I certainly think if that could be done it would not only show that the Government was alive to its responsibilities to the people in its service but it would be one added proof of the power and value of State administration as compared with private enterprise.
§ Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE
We have listened with great interest to a moving and eloquent speech from the right hon. Member for Ince (Mr. Walsh). I do not propose to pursue the subject, beyond saying that every member of this House hopes that a satisfactory settle- 270 ment in the coal trade will be arrived at, and that permanent peace will be assured. As the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the services, of the miners during the War, I might add that in the Division in which I had the honour to serve we had a great many miners, and a finer and more patriotic lot of men could not be found anywhere. I saw them going into action and coming out of action. No one could wish for better soldiers. They are not the sort of men who would turn against their country, whatever some of their leaders may think.
I should like to say how pleased I am that a prominent place has been given in the Gracious Speech to the subject of agriculture. We are all agreed that agriculture is one of our most important industries, if not our most important industry. It is not doing too well at the present time, and it is a very difficult industry to help. It is difficult to help, because the conditions vary so much in various parts of the country. If you called together 12 agriculturists from 12 different districts, you would probably find that they would ask the Government to do 12 different things. Therefore, it is difficult to help the industry. We shall not help the industry by making an alteration of land tenure and putting the unfortunate farmer under the committees and various officials which some people wish to set up. I think the Government are on the right lines in encouraging small holdings and cottage holdings and in providing facilities for agricultural credits. The farmers want credit given to them for long terms, at a low rate of interest. It is very necessary that they should have such facilities.
I believe that small holdings and cottage holdings will be a great advantage. They will help to keep people on the land and to increase the production of food. I hope that every effort will be made to ensure that all those who occupy these holdings are able to become the owners. That will be very good for the country and for agriculture. I welcome the statement of agricultural policy which has been issued in the White Paper. Some people may perhaps be disappointed that a scheme such as is known as the Ruggles-Brise insurance scheme or some other scheme of that sort, which would help arable agriculture, has not been brought in. But we all realise that 271 it will be impossible for the Government to introduce subsidies and drastic schemes. We shall know where we are, and farmers will know that they have to farm their land in an economic manner.
I am glad that reference has been made in the White Paper to the subject of rural housing. The rural district councils have felt that their interests have been sacrificed for those of the town and that everything has been done for the towns and nothing for them. I hope that in future that feeling will be removed and that we shall see a very great advance and very great improvements in the housing in rural districts. We have slums in the rural districts, as well as slums in the towns. A village may have only half a dozen slum dwellings compared with hundreds in a town, but they require to be dealt with just as much as the larger number.
I attach especial importance to the Merchandise Marks Bill which is to be introduced. It is long overdue, and I hope it will be introduced without any further delay. Such a Measure will be of great assistance to agriculture, and I do not see why anyone should oppose it. It is only fair that the consumer should know what he is buying. If he is paying for British-grown produce he ought to be sure that he is getting British-grown produce. Therefore, I hope there will be no opposition to this Bill being brought in and passed through Parliament. I am also glad to see that agriculture is sharing in the benefits of the £1,000,000 a year which is being voted to help with the marketing of Empire-grown produce. It is only fair that agriculture should share in this sum. There are two points to which I would like to draw attention in regard to agriculture.
One of the things which agriculture wants more than anything else is a reduction in rates. The Road Fund can do a great deal to help. We all know that the expense of the upkeep of unclassified roads has increased very much in the last few years. We get something from the Road Fund to help to improve these roads, but we get nothing towards their upkeep. It is all very well for the Road Fund to spend large sums of money on the building of trunk roads out of big towns and tracks for racing motors. This ought not to be a first demand on their money. I 272 would urge the Government to grant some help for the maintenance of the unclassified roads so as to relieve rates in agricultural districts. A flat rate of so many pounds per mile on unclassified roads would be a most excellent thing.
Another Department which might give considerable help to farmers and to those who live in the country generally is that, of the Postmaster-General. A great deal needs to be done to improve telephone facilities in rural areas. We all remember that a sum of £1,000,000 a month was to be devoted to telephone improvements in this country. I feel sure it will be of great interest to Members of the House if the Postmaster-General would tell us how this money is being spent. As far as I can see, it is not being spent in rural districts, certainly not in my own constituency. A large part of it might be spent in setting up new exchanges in the villages. It is very difficult at present to get an exchange placed in a village. It is necessary to guarantee eight sub-scribers, and that is a difficulty. If part of this development money could be spent in providing exchanges where a smaller number of guarantors could be obtained, it would be a great advantage, and it would be worth while, because the fact that you are supplying an exchange and telephone facilities in a village always produces a demand. As soon as people see their neighbours have telephones at a reasonable charge, they want a telephone themselves, and a great many more people apply to be added to the exchange.
There is still great delay in supplying a service of telephones. It seems as if the authorities responsible did not look far enough ahead, but lived entirely from hand to mouth. It is necessary that telephone communications at a reasonable rate should be supplied in out-of-the-way districts, so that people who live in those districts may be able to get into communication with the towns, in case of such emergencies as the need of a doctor or the outbreak of a fire. I had a case the other day where a telephone was required, and a party line was offered which for three people would cost £69. Of course, that was prohibitive. The only way to get a telephone supply at reasonable rates in country districts is by creating more exchanges, and that can be done only by the help of the Development Fund. The Postmaster-General 273 has said that he wishes to do all that he can to develop the use of the telephone in rural areas. I hope he will be able to tell us what he is doing, and that there is to be a much more rapid increase in the number of exchanges and a more rapid development of telephones in rural areas than we have at present. I am sure that if the Minister of Transport and the Postmaster-General can adopt the suggestions which I have made, they will receive the gratitude of all who live in country districts.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
I have great pleasure in supporting the Motion in reply to the Address and, though I should like to say a great deal about economy, perhaps it would be more appropriate if I confined myself to the proposal to guarantee £10,000,000 for the development of the British dependencies in East Africa and the mandated territories. I think it is more appropriate that I should do so because of all the members of the House, I do not think any one has had more dealings with natives than I have had. I have spent twenty-one years in the tropics, originally as a tobacco planter in a very humble position, living in a hut of dried grass, later in another colony of the Dutch East Indies as a merchant, and finally in the rank of His Britannic Majesty's representative. I am pleased that the Government have agreed to this guarantee, because I believe it to be for the good not only of this country, but of the natives that these countries should be opened up. I propose to say something to-night of my personal experience in the Dutch Colonies. Although I have a high opinion of the Dutch administration, yet, from my knowledge of the British Colonies, I believe we are still better than they are in that respect.
When I first went to Sumatra, I saw natives who were little better than savages. In the days of the Achi War, the Dutch sent out soldiers regularly year after year. The war lasted something like 40 years, and it was a splendid place for the training of the Dutch soldiers, but the natives were the sufferers. There is no longer any war there. The natives are prosperous, and getting on so well that in some of the Dutch colonies they are not coolies in the rubber plantations, but are the owners of rubber plantations 274 and are driving about in big cars. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad to hear hon. Members' approval, and I hope they will remember it later. We had in the office of the firm with which I was connected many hundreds of natives. I found that the natives there knew the Tuan just as the natives of India know the Sahib, and if he did not treat them properly he did not get people to work for him.
I have no doubt the natives suffered a great deal of harsh treatment in the old days, but now they have their own rights just as poorer people in this country have, and nobody can object to the exercise of those rights so long as it is properly done. But there has to be give-and-take. I have always believed in a fair wage, and I believe in it to-day, but one must ask in return for fair and steady work. Just prior to the War we were anxious to build a sugar factory out there capable of making 1,000 tons per day. We did our utmost to place the order in this country, but could not do so because the Derbyshire firm who tendered told us they were not sure from day to day what their wages bill would be. In 1920 we wanted to build a store capable of holding 60,000 tons of sugar, and we met with the self-same difficulty. The firm who tendered were unable to say definitely when they could deliver the goods, because though they were in touch with a good firm in this country, that firm could not guarantee shipments on account of the possibility of strikes.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
A British firm did the job, because we were willing to sacrifice a year rather than give it to a Dutch firm.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
We made a profit, of course. A man does not go out to the East just for the- sake of his health. I want particularly to emphasise the necessities. We have heard a great deal to-night about the spirit of give-and-take in industry. I believe that the working-class people should realise—and I do not say that what is called the capitalist class must not do exactly the same—that when a person does business for a year ahead, as we have to do, when one makes a 275 contract for a year ahead, when one buys 10,000 tons of this, that, or the other, one can arrange the freight and insurance and other things, but one cannot always arrange time of delivery or the wages, and that is a very important factor.
In these days, when there is a sort of cloud hanging over this country, there are firms who are a little doubtful as to the advisability of doing business at any distant date; and one of the finest things for the factories in this country which want to produce goods to sell abroad, whether in East Africa, or in any other of our possessions, or in foreign countries, is to be able to feel that the business is safe. It is to the interests of everybody that that should be borne in mind, not only, as I say, by the capitalists, but also by the working men, because, after all, whether they like it or not, there is no doubt that if a, business is a failure owing to a strike, they in any case are no better off than they were beforehand.
Therefore, I should like to emphasise such things as the opening up of our East African possessions by loans and guarantees, such as these, which are not, as has been said by more than one speaker to-night, for the mere exploitation of the natives. The natives, through this opening up of the country by the white man, profit to a, very great extent indeed, and let nobody think that the man who goes out as a youngster to the Far East, or to East Africa, or, as I did, to Sumatra, goes out and does not do any work. We may be pretty hard worked here sometimes, and I did pretty hard work as an apprentice in a Scottish office before I went out East, but I have never worked so hard as I did out in the East, and that is the usual thing. You get out there in the tobacco lands, or the tea lands, or the rubber lands, young Scotsmen who have been taught to work; they do work, and they are helping the natives, and in a very short while we shall see that many of these natives are capable of running the show themselves.
I will end with one little episode of interest to the House, which occurred before I came away. My partner, a Mr. Stewart, was away for the week-end, and he told his chauffeur to report himself to me, and I would tell him when he was going to be due back. In a short while a man was shown in with a fez hat on, a 276 collar and tie, and a pair of patent boots, and I called the chief native and said: "Look here, is this gentleman a native or a European, because he cannot be both? If he is a European, let him come into my room with his hat off, and if he is a native, let him come into my room with his boots off." I was only emphasising that, because they have got past the stage of walking about with just a sarong round them. They are now many of them gentlemen, and they have become gentlemen owing to the influence of the Europeans and of European capital.
§ Mr. GEOFFREY PETO
In the speech which we have just heard it was sometimes a little difficult to trace the application to His Majesty's Gracious Speech, but, I take it, the hon. Member does not support the reference to the international agreement for the regulation of hours of labour, and that happens to be the first point upon which I want to touch. I am very glad to see it in the Gracious Speech, because I think by levelling up the conditions of service on the Continent we shall, at any rate, prevent our conditions of service being dragged down. But there is one point I should like to make, and that is that the hours of labour should be fixed at a maximum for the week and not a maximum for the day. I suggest that the daily maximum is far too rigid, and it is a very great obstacle in such an industry as the coal industry to-day. If anything goes wrong with the machinery, it is impossible to work an extra half hour or extra hour to complete that shift's work, and the result is a considerable loss in the efficiency of that particular mine. It operates against the use of coal-cutting machinery, and re-acts against the men. When they want to take time off to attend a football match or something of that sort, it is impossible for them to work a little bit longer on other days to maintain their earnings. I believe that a 42-hour week instead of a seven-hour day would be a great advantage.
The next point upon which I should like to touch is economy. I want to take this opportunity of welcoming the announcement of the Government that they are going to take steps for economy and welcome them the more gladly because I do not know yet what they are. I am sure that when the measure of economy 277 is announced, there will be an outburst of opposition all over the country from particular interests in every constituency. We are told that charity ought to begin at home, and I am sure economy ought to begin at home, though I am very much afraid economy will be for the next constituency as a general rule. There is one form of economy which I do hope the Government will consider, if they have not already considered it and that is economy on the Front Government Bench—I mean economy of numbers. It is pathetic to anybody sitting behind, as I do, to see the congestion on that bench at Question Time on many a day. We see even the Chancellor of the Exchequer of this great country seated on the steps of your Chair, Sir, like Lazarus. I cannot help thinking that some Members of that Front Bench will be prepared to play the part of Jonah, and come and join us on the back benches. There would be nothing more popular in the country than a reduction of Government offices, and we know the enthusiastic reception which a prodigal son always receives when he comes back to his country.
I venture to hope that some of the Government offices will be abolished. Perhaps I might suggest one or two, because it is no good merely generalising. But before I suggest any, I should like to say I am perfectly convinced that these offices are to-day filled by the most efficient people possible; they could not be better. But I am sure we do not want to keep offices merely for the sake of keeping efficient people occupied. There are plenty of other occupations for them. I will take, first, the Ministry of Transport. I consider that a post-War Ministry which we are not justified in maintaining to-day. If these vast motor roads are necessary from the point of view of giving employment then that money should be administered by the Ministry of Labour, and not indirectly through the Road Fund and Ministry of Transport. I should like to see the Road Fund used to relieve our rates and taxes. I am glad to see the declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in that direction. Then the Ministry of Mines might cease to exist after our present difficulties are removed, which I think will be before the end of the year. Politics are not good 278 for mining, and have done a great deal of harm in the industry. I hope as a result of the negotiations there will be success, and that we shall then get rid of the Minster of Mines. I am not satisfied that we need an Air Minister, because it seems to me that the airmen have a very difficult future ahead of them. A man can only fly for a comparatively short time, and after that it is extremely difficult to find a suitable place for him. If he went through the Army or the Navy, as used to be the case, his promotion and future would be assured. At the same time we would get economy for the nation.
I put these suggestions forward and I would add to them one more, and that is the Department of Overseas Trade. That should be given to the Board of Trade, and matters there should be investigated by business men who should advise the action to be taken. I have very grave doubt whether we ought to indulge in a Minister of Overseas Trade. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the Scottish Officers? "] The Chancellor of the Exchequer will act, I suppose, as Lord High Executioner in this matter, and I trust he has got these various offices on his list. If not, I hope he will carefully consider them.
The only other point to which I wish to refer is unemployment, the subject which has been running all through this Debate, as it has through a good many before. We hear endless reiteration of the difficulty of finding employment, but we do not get practical suggestions. The ex-Solicitor-General, as I understood it, advocated profit-sharing. I do not gather that the trade unions are strongly in favour of that. I do not think it has been a great success in the mining industry. Some other hon. Members suggested nationalisation. I think it was the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Short). In almost the same breath he mentioned a great armaments firm which had lost several million pounds. He held that up as an example of the inefficiency of modern employers. He suggested that the loss as to a large portion of it was due to the vastness of the enterprise.
I could not help wondering what would happen if the State had that enterprise transferred to them. In the one case the loss falls upon the shareholders; in the 279 second place it would fall upon the nation at large. We should all have felt the loss, and probably it would have been so involved in the Government accounts, unlike the profit and loss account and balance sheet of a business firm, that we should not have known where the money had gone to. That is, I think, a reason why nationalisation would not help industry to-day. What would help industry without a doubt, as is pointed out in the Gracious Speech, is good will on the part of everybody concerned in it. I know a great deal has been done by certain hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to promote that good will. If everybody on these benches would use their great power with the trade unions and through-280 out the country to try to advocate not strife in industry, which can only end in disaster under whatever system of proprietorship, but good will, which will help the country to recover and make employment better, it would be to the good of all.
§ Ordered, That the Debate be now adjourned.—[Mr. T. Kennedy.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.