§ Major EDMONDSON
(in the uniform of the Honourable Artillery Company, Royal Horse Artillery): I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN,We, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern 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.10 The honour which has fallen to me to-day and which confers so great a distinction upon my constituency, reminds me that some men are born great while others have greatness thrust upon them; and while I, for a few brief moments, discard the more humble role of the stage hand for that of the Prologue, I trust, that like the chameleon, I have assumed such a cloak of protective colouration that when I revert once more to my own humble position, those who would charge me with some precocity or inefficiency will have difficulty in discovering the object of their criticism. The part of the Prologue is to touch upon some of the outstanding features of the programme, which I shall shortly proceed to do; and, when my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley (Mr. Jephcott) has seconded this Motion, and you, Sir, 'have put the Question from the Chair, the curtain will have been rung up upon the final scenes of this Parliament in which we have all played our various parts. Our cast, Sir, is an ever-changing one, and any one of us who had the opportunity that I have to-day, and who failed to say how deeply we regret the passing of a familiar figure would be lacking, not only in appreciation of length of service ungrudgingly given, but in that instinct which binds all Members of this House in a common brotherhood. The late Member for Cheltenham (Sir J. Agg-Gardner), apart from his many laudable and lovable qualities, in the assiduous performance of his Parliamentary duties and his constant attendance in this House, set a shining example to many of us who carry only half his years.
Although it is customary for the Gracious Speech to open with the familiar wordsMy relations with foreign Powers continue to be friendly,those words are only possible as a result of the successful prosecution of the most vital work upon which any Government can be engaged, and in them we perceive no empty form but the realisation of our most cherished hopes and the falsifying of our darkest fears. If other words than these were the prelude to the Gracious Speech, little else would stand out as of any importance, and no words other than these would be more conspicuous by their absence. Therefore, 11 any reference in the Gracious Speech which reinforces their meaning or which holds out further hope of the permanence of those happy relations should be welcomed, not only by all sections of this House, but by all those who have the peace of the world at heart. We find such references here to-day. The Treaty for the Renunciation of War and its signature by no less than nine great Powers is surely a long step in the right direction, and, although we may find it sometimes easy to obtain agreement on questions of principle and more difficult when questions of detailed method are involved, we must, nevertheless, congratulate all those who have been responsible for the success of this effort so far. We look forward to an early extension of the signatories and to that ultimate good which must surely crystallise out of so great a conception.
The Gracious Speech refers to the question of the evacuation of the Rhineland, and in this, as in most other matters connected with foreign policy, it must be recognised that we are only one of the many parties concerned. We have not the power, even if we had the wish, to act alone, and any step we may ultimately take in this matter must be taken with the full co-operation of all those who were parties to the original occupation. It is unthinkable that in our endeavour to create an atmosphere of confidence or conciliation with one nation, we should run the risk of impairing those cordial relations which exist between us and others. I sincerely hope that as a result of this first agreement to negotiate, a. happy issue out of all our difficulties in that matter may not be long delayed. With this question is linked up the question of Reparations. None more than the people of this country would desire to see achieved a final settlement of this problem which would react to the benefit of all the parties interested. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that Great Britain has already made many sacrifices, and it would not be reasonable, nor indeed practicable, to ask her to give up the principle embodied in the Balfour Note.
Reference is made to the Coronation of the Emperor of Japan, and the people of this country will, in view of our cordial relations with the Japanese people, 12 whole-heartedly endorse the Royal wish which has been expressed in the Gracious Speech. A great factor of world-wide importance in the question of peace is this happy relationship which has so long existed between Great Britain and Japan, and so long as these two great naval Powers remain united in their historic friendship the waters of the Pacific will be pacific indeed and a formidable barrier will be presented to any elements of discord which may seek to disturb its calm. The Coronation of the Emperor of Japan reminds us that he is a personal friend of this country, as he visited us in 1921 when he was Crown Prince, and he then evinced a very real interest in our country and in its people.
Perhaps one of the great causes for satisfaction is to be found in the steady improvement that has taken place in that vast and distressed country of China. This should be welcomed, not only in the great cause of peace, but in view of the enormous commercial interests involved, many of which reflect directly upon the industries of this country and consequently affect the question of employment. Class and civil war have rapidly abated and a central Government is being evolved from that recent mass of chaos and discord. Our country has come through her difficulties, so recently acute, with enhanced prestige, and that vast cloud of misrepresentation and mistrust in which the unscrupulous agitator enveloped the Briton and everything British is being steadily dispelled before the eyes of the Chinese people. This country stands, where she has always stood, by the Declaration of December, 1926, by which we acknowledged—nay, even encouraged—the legitimate national aspirations of the Chinese people, and subsequent events have proved that we were right, not only in our attitude to the Chinese, but in the steps that were taken to protect the lives of our own people and their properties.
No Government programme since the War has been complete unless it stated what part the League of Nations has played in the efforts of that Government to maintain peace. I firmly believe that our Government are second to none in their support of and co-operation with the League. Our Foreign Secretary, whom I hope we shall shortly see with us again with health restored, and those who 13 work with him, very faithfully reflect the attitude of the Government towards the League's work, and I doubt if in any country we should find competent critics in any number who would not ungrudgingly accord to the right hon. Gentleman the highest and most unqualified praise for his determination to make the League the greatest possible factor in our international relations. We are accustomed to hear one of our Officers of State referred to as Secretary of State for War, and, if I might presume to make a suggestion, I think a well-earned and comprehensive title for the light hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary would be that of the Secretary of State for Peace.
The activities of the League are so many and varied, and some of its functions so technical in character, that I feel certain the House will agree with me when I say that it does not fall to my lot this afternoon to enter into the many ramifications that present themselves upon this subject, but rather to leave to more able hands than mine that detailed examination which will certainly form part of the Debates in this Parliament. We have had our disappointments in the past, we shall have further difficulties, doubtless, to face in the future, and in the working of so vast and complicated a machine, that combines such a vast diversion of interests, it is inevitable that we should have to face some questions many times before they are surmounted. In these days, when we are groping for something that has hitherto throughout the ages been unattainable, the greatest hope lies, not in thatvaulting ambition, which o'er-leaps itself,but in a steady and determined will to overcome those obstacles that bar the way to confidence and peace.
§ Mr. JEPHCOTT
I beg to second the Motion.
I have a privilege conferred on me that is not accorded to many men, especially men in my own social position, and I feel a pleasure in it, because if there is anything democratic in this country, it is illustrated in the action of this House. I am a humble follower of the ideal of progress in this country, and it is a pleasure to know that men of all social positions and conditions shall be accorded the privilege of saying something in this House in relation to 14 that which affects the lives of our people in so near a manner. I entirely agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Banbury (Major Edmondson) the proposer of this Motion in what he has said. I am in sympathy with the language which he has uttered in relation to foreign affairs. I am hopeful, with him, that we shall, at any rate, have peace in our time, so that nations can settle down once more to prosperity, and so that bitterness shall be buried among the nations of the earth.
If the Government and the Opposition and the House, combined, can by their action bring peace, whether through the League of Nations or through the Government themselves, I, for one, will give them cordial support; but I want to remind even my hon. and gallant Friend who moved the Motion, as I would remind the House, that there are things at home vastly more important to us as a nation than even the settlement of the troubles of Europe. There is the social condition and position of our people. There is the looking forward to a renewal of prosperity among our workers. There is at any rate something in which all of us, to whatever political party we may belong, can join, and that is the alleviation of distress, the assisting of those who are sick, the security of those in old age, and the lifting up of our people to a higher level than they have ever attained in the past. I say, therefore, that, great and important as foreign questions are, they are not so important as the contentment and prosperity of our people at home. I say that because the Speech from the Throne relates almost more than one can imagine to the condition of our people at home.
We are told in that Speech that the Government recognise it, that there is a condition operating that, if left alone, may prevent even unemployment benefit being paid to our people, and the Government are coming along with a proposal by which there shall be a large measure of borrowing powers, so that no standstill shat operate in relation to our people who are unemployed. May I put before the House the necessity of a measure of that description? That fund at present is £28,000,000 in debt. None of us, no matter where we sit, want to see that fund exhausted and the men and women thrown on the streets, and if the Government will make a larger provision for the 15 time of emergency—and I know the Opposition will support the idea—I say that if the Government only did that, and was a recipient, I should think they had done a great deal. At any rate, they have recognised in that sense their responsibility to the people who are, unfortunately for themselves, dependent on out-of-work pay for their livelihood.
But that is not all. That will not relieve the problem of unemployment. [Interruption.] I have tightened my belt as well as some hon. Members opposite have, and in a period of time when there was no unemployment benefit, so that I do appreciate the national recognition of responsibility towards those who are unemployed. No one can look around and have a feeling of contentment with the position in which the miners are and in which my own trade is, or with the position generally of the basic trades of this country. It is not a party question, it is a social question; and when we look around and see, on the one hand, that the lesser trades and industries of the country are prosperous, and that the basic trades are in distress and want, surely the Government are called upon not to do something by charity, but something by which the lifting to a firmer position of the industries that are affected can be achieved. If that be so, then I claim that the Government's de-rating proposals—I want to warn my hon. Friends opposite, for they are my friends, that those proposals are not going to bring a new heaven and a now earth in a minute—if honourably carried out, have in them the possibility of recovery for the basic industries of this country.
If we can relieve industry by relieving the rates that press so heavily on industry—and we have to deal with rates, because certain gentlemen—I am among them, though I am not a gentleman[Interruption.]—How readily some of my hon. Friends can think of externals and not the real meaning. Still, there is this position to be faced, that the nation as such has not recognised, and will not for a period at any rate recognise, certain proposals that have been made in the past for the recovery of industry. If they will not recognise and put into operation such proposals, they must look forward to something else, and the Government are justified and wise in endeavouring to 16 meet the difficult industrial situation as we find it by relieving those industries of a large measure of their rates. Hon. Members know as well as I knew that rates are more important to-day than even rents, and if by that relief, whether only to agriculture or partially to our manufacturing industries, we can bring back, not the skill of the workmen, because it is there, not the energy of our commercial men, because that is there, but the opportunity of doing trade by which our workmen can be employed and our commercial life can be prosperous, I do not care personally in what form it is done if it is honourably done. I consider more the contentment and prosperity of the people than the way in which it is done; and if the Government in their de-rating proposals are going to bring a new life, a new energy, a new movement into these basic industries, I for one can confidently appeal to my fellow-workmen at any rate not to damn them, but to give a fair opportunity of seeing whether there is any value in them.
I recognise that the de-rating proposals that will relieve various areas of local government will make it difficult in the future for those local governments to function. I recognise that in the small areas, not rich in themselves, but which may have one large industry or factory or mine operating, for that industry or factory or mine to be relieved of its rates brings a position of burden on that area. I recognise likewise that the 40 years during which local government has been operating have at any rate brought out great weaknesses and that the modern trend and the modern necessity are not to keep small areas in existence, not to keep poor areas operating by the side of richer, but to link them all together, and to make self-contained areas in different parts of the country, so that the poor area shall not bear the burden by itself, but that the rich shall bear its responsibility; and the linking of these two together in the proposals of the Government with regard to local government reform has in it, I say, a real possibility of linking together the varying elements that comprise our local government as a means of strength and as a means, at any rate, of great progression.
If we have the local government foreshadowed by the Government and 17 abolish boards of guardians, we shall not abolish the opportunity of giving assistance to the poor, of helping the sick when they are in hospital, and of seeing to the aged and those who are decrepit. I say unhesitatingly that the linking-up of the work of the small areas with that of the larger areas of the Kingdom, whether county or borough, has in it the possibility, not of lessening the value of local government, but of enlarging its scope and promising a brighter outlook for those who come under its influence and under its work. I am old enough to remember the great outcry m the country when the school boards were abolished. We were told that the local voluntary services—and I joined in the outcry—which were rendered by school boards would be scrapped if the boards were handed over to the county or borough councils. Since that time have been a member of an education committee and I have seen the fears of those who thought that the voluntary services would be scrapped dissolved, and I have known of voluntary service rendered by numberless people in this country, even under the Education Act; they rendered wonderfully progressive service, and even if you abolish the small boards of guardians, the services which they render will still be rendered through the district councils that will be put in their place. I would like to recall and to repeat the words of Macaulay who said:Then none was for a party;Then all were for the State.If, as citizens and as members of all parties, we remember that that should be the basis of our work it will be agreed that, much as they may provoke opposition, the present Government and their work will go down—[Interruption]—they will go down, not unhonoured and unsung, as some people think; the Government will go down to history as having rendered a service in their day that was not little, and a duty that was of some value; and, if you and I were free from party politics and joined in a desire to benefit the interest of my fellow workmen and yours, we should do an immense amount of good in allaying trouble to some extent, and in uplifting to a higher life, not only my friends here, but my friends on the other side.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MacDONALD
Once again the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech have given me the opportunity of a very easy and a very pleasant opening to my remarks. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Banbury (Major Edmondson), who moved the Address, may be assured that, in whatever garb he may appear in this House, we shall always recognise the charm' of his manner and the graciousness of his speech. I am very sorry that the Seconder has delivered, according to the newspapers, something like a swan song. I regret that the newspapers have announced that he is to retire. One felt at times, as he went on with his very candid and most delightful speech, that he had been bottling up for the considerable time that he has been in this House a great many controversial speeches which he had never sought an opportunity to deliver. There was not only delight, but, if he will allow me to say so, a great deal of truth and more than truth in his half-finished sentence than there was in the full one. However, it gives me very great pleasure indeed to congratulate both our colleagues on the way in which they have done their duty, a very difficult and not to be envied duty, this afternoon. Before passing on, I would like just to dwell for an instant upon the memory that was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Banbury. We shall search these corridors this Session for a very familiar and a very friendly figure, and we shall not find him. The whole House is exceedingly indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for just pulling us up for a moment that we might all forget our party differences and the conflicts in which we are to engage this Session and remember our old and departed colleague.
Perhaps I might take the opportunity of asking the Prime Minister this point, as it might be difficult to fit it in anywhere else: if he can tell us what designs he has upon the rights of private Members in this House? I understand that he has sonic act of wild constitutional piracy up his sleeve; that he is going to come down to-morrow, and in one fell swoop annex the property of private Members without any compensation; and that these constitutional rights, which the private Member has enshrined in sacred Standing Orders and which ought to receive the unquestioning respect of the 19 Tory party, are going to be taken away by the brutal application of a majority of 200 Members of this House. Will the Prime Minister be good enough in the course of his remarks to tell us what his piratical designs are?
This is a queer King's Speech. It makes a great departure. The Prime Minister, or whoever is responsible for it., has used words in this Speech with a meaning that has hitherto not been attached to them. For instance, when he and his Government have been doing their best to destroy the meaning of the Kellogg Pact, they describe that action as the signing of a pactin the form proposed by the Government of the United States";when they have been doing their best to crib, cabin, and confine the activities and the development of the League of Nations, they describe that asco-operating in all its current activities";and, when they have been doing their best to put every obstacle in the way of the Preparatory Commission inquiring into the problem of disarmament and security, they describe that as doing something to assistthe League to formulate plans for a general reduction of armaments.The Prime Minister must really place some hounds to his revolutionary tendencies. Let us take the first paragraph on foreign affairs. The Government claim that they actually signed that Treaty in the form proposed by the Government of the -United States. Are they so much ashamed of their reservations that they refused to mention them or to think about them at all? Are the Government not aware that everybody who really has been trying to use that Treaty as an instrument for the outlawry of war has declared that the British Government's reservations have destroyed, not the form of the Treaty, but the substance of the Treaty? I would far rather change a form and retain the substance than retain the form and completely alter the substance. Take, for instance, what Doctor Morrison, one of the leaders of the campaign that has produced this Treaty, has said about us. He said:It is beginning to be evident that the British reservation is sabotaging the pact, that it leaves a huge gap in the renunciation of war—indeed, for Britain the gap is bigger than the renunciation.20 He went on:But this British reservation has confused the issue. It has introduced 'ifs' and 'ands'. Thus our Senate has been provided with a smoke-screen behind which it can completely emasculate the Treaty, if not reject it altogether—and in terms which make it difficult for us to hold them to account before the bar of our public opinion.That is the record of the Government fluent on the Kellogg Pact. A very distinguished jurist, Professor Borchard, of Yale, says:The Treaty now qualified by the French and British reservations constitutes no renunciation or outlawry of war, but in fact and in law a solemn sanction for all wars mentioned in the exceptions and qualifications.That, is the effect of the reservation of the British Government, the signature of which is put to this Pactin the form proposed by the Government of the United States.Take the second paragraph going on to deal with the League of Nations.They are co-operating in all its current activities.4.0 p.m.
How? Have the Government forgotten—has this House forgotten—that the last great activity of the British Government in Geneva was in those Budget Committees, and every representative the Government had at Geneva on those Committees, in some cases absolutely alone, without the support of any other European Power, opposed extensions and the necessary money to make extensions in League work and League activities, until at last, almost shamefacedly, they had to with-draw from the discussion and content themselves by carrying out the instructions the Government gave them to vote alone against the proposals made at Geneva? As far as assisting the League to promote disarmament is concerned, again what is the story? It is no such thing. Where is the assistance to promote disarmament? Let us remind the Government of what has happened. There was, first of all, the last meeting of the Preparatory Commission. What happened then? There was, in the first the instance, a universal agreement that naval building tonnage should be limited. That was common to every country. Then within that agreement we proposed certain categories, to limit certain sections, certain parts of naval building. The French did not agree with us. The French 21 proposed a compromise. We could not agree with the compromise. Italy refused categories altogether, and the meeting was abortive in consequence. Then with regard to land forces: The French refused any limit upon trained reserves. Germany would agree to nothing that did not contain a limitation of such reserves. We urged limitation which the French would not accept, and our limitation was urged without any regard for Continental conditions created by the fact that the Continental armies were conscript armies. An agreement could not be come to on that section.
Then we proceed to Geneva, and what is commonly represented as the Anglo-American Conference. Here, again, what was the position? America was in favour of limitation of the total tonnage, and, in addition to that, of certain categories, especially the 10,000 ton cruiser category. We were in favour of no limitation of light 6,000 ton cruisers, and America's need of defence in the event of war breaking out being totally different from our need of defence in the event of war breaking out, and the Government being unwilling to meet them, the Conference broke down and there was no result from it. Then we come to the next stage—what is known as the Anglo-French Agreement. Again, we came to an agreement which provides that there shall be no limitation of light cruisers and no limitation of 600 ton submarines, and also no limitation of trained reserves of land forces. I cannot believe that those who negotiated that agreement were unaware of the fact that there was riot a single new point in the agreement, but that every point on which we met France had already been rejected by America, by Italy or by Germany. It was an agreement not to limit armaments. It was like trying to confine armaments within an area, and putting up walls on three sides of that area, leaving the fourth side open for any sort of action in which individual States might care to indulge, and the programme of free building, the very kind of arm which was left subject to International competition, was the arm that would have struck us most of all in the event of a war breaking out. They sacrificed in that agreement the most elementary consideration of the safety of Great Britain, except upon one consideration only, that there should always be a pool of our own Government and the neighbouring country across the Channel, 22 and upon that assumption so much mistake, so much false suspicion has been spread throughout the world, and for that we are solely responsible.
This was not only a failure to agree to limit armaments, That was not the only significance of this Agreement. It also meant this. By the way it was announced, first in this way, first this part and then the next part, the leakage in newspapers and so on, it upset the whole confidence of the Nations of Europe. No one could have been on the Continent at the time without seeing what a tremendous damage it had done to the calmness of the European mind. How could we do it? The excuse of the Government has been that all this was done in continuation of certain suggestions made by the Chairman and others of the Preparatory Commission. That is not the case. Whoever suggested, or whoever would have thought of suggesting that France and ourselves alone coming together, could possibly have produced a scheme that could be accepted by the nations of Europe and America? Two nations coming together in secret., devising means of an agreement, leaving America out, leaving Italy out, leaving out the other nations which had already disagreed, we two coming together and making up our minds, and then publishing in tie awkward and fumbling way the Agreement, could do nothing but damage the peace and security of Europe.
That is not all. When it did come out, what sort of candour did we exercise? If hon. Members will turn to the White Paper which has been issued, they will find on page 27 the telegram communicating the Agreement to Washington, to Tokio and to Rome, and that telegram made no reference whatever to the land side of the Agreement. You would think from that telegram that the question of trained reserves had never been mentioned. You would think that not a word had passed or had eventuated in any agreement or understanding of any kind between our representatives and the French representatives upon that matter, and the first notice of that comes from an alarmist telegram sent by our representative in Berlin. Sir Horace Rumbold says:German Government seem somewhat disconcerted by news of Franco-British naval compromise, and fear it may imply some concession on the part of His Majesty's 23 Government in regard to the question of the limitation of land forces.That is the first way it comes out. The German Government suspect it, and are very disturbed about it. Was the reply an absolutely straightforward statement of what happened? Not at all. The reply from the Foreign Secretary, sent on 5th August, is as follows:The text of the compromise itself refers exclusively to naval limitation, but there is an understanding with the French Government, made before the text of the compromise was actually drawn up, that if they could meet His Majesty's Government on the question of naval limitation the latter would be prepared to withdraw their opposition to the views of the French and most other Governments on the question of trained reserves. … We have already informed the United States Chargé d'Affaires of the above.There is no further record of that in this White Paper until five days after that a telegram was sent to Sir Horace Rum-bold. Never mind. The question want to put to the Prime Minister is this: Was that reserve agreement after the agreement, or was it not? He will have a little difficulty in answering, because both answers, either if he says Yea or Nay, are contained in the official papers issued by the Foreign Office. If he will turn to page 31 he will find that. in the long explanatory telegram from Lord Cushendun, after everybody's ears had been hearing and everybody's tongue had been set wagging, Lord Cushendun had to send a long explanatory telegram, apologetic in some sentences and phrases, to Washington, and this is what he says about the land agreement:It has been stated in press telegrams that this naval agreement with the French represents a bargain, one part of which is that His Majesty's Government agree to support the contention of the French Government in the matter of military reserves. Here, again, there is some misapprehension. His Majesty's Government have reluctantly reached the conclusion that it will be impossible to move the French and the majority of other European Governments from the attitude which they have reached and consistently adopted on this question and that, in present conditions, no further progress in regard to land disarmament will be possible as long as this stumbling-block remains in the way.What is the impression there? Lord Cushendun tries—I must use the word; his language fully justifies it—Lord 24 Cushendun tries to persuade the United States Government that when the French were negotiating with us this naval compromise we did not have in our minds any agreement with France regarding land forces, especially regarding reserves. Is that so? That is not true, because if the Prime Minister will turn to page 24 he will find the translation of M. Briand's Note from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in France to the British Embassy. The very first paragraph recites the gist of the bargain and the offer in the Note which Lord Crewe had previously communicated to him. In the recital of that, he says—"he" is our Ambassador at Paris—If the French Government shared these views"—that is, on the Naval Agreement—the British Government for their part would waive their opposition to the French standpoint in regard to the question of trained reserves.'I put it perfectly straight and pointedly to the Prime Minister: Is M. Briand right, or is Lord Cushendun right? Did we give the French to understand that if they would accept our naval proposals we would waive our objection to their proposals regarding trained reserves? The House knows perfectly well that when in any disarmament agreement we come to, the question of the number of trained and armed men is left out of the agreement, if no notice be taken of the number of men in a conscription country who are in civil life but have gone through an army training, the disarmament agreement will then not be worth the paper on which it is written.
Then there is another point about this, and a very serious one. In the document from which I have quoted, the French Foreign Office reply to Lord Crewe, the reply which enabled our Foreign Secretary to close the bargain, this is the final sentence. I hope the House will notice this, because it is a sentence about which a great deal of controversy is still going on, and which ought to be settled one way or another. This final sentence is paragraphed out, so that there will be no hiding it up.Whatever the result"—says M. Briand—that is, the result of the negotiations—and even should this hope prove illusory—25 that is, the hope of an agreement—the two Governments would, none the less, be under the urgent obligation to concert either to ensure success by other means or to adopt a common policy so as to deal with the difficulties which would inevitably arise from a check to the work of the Preparatory Commission.What does that mean? Is it a mere meaningless tale? As the Prime Minister must know, it is upon this that all the suspicions have arisen that behind this there is something more, and it is not in our interest, and it certainly is not in the interest of France, that those suspicions should be granted a longer life than is possible. Does this mean that we are forming, as A were, a sub-committee upon the Geneva Committee? Does it mean that the round table idea in which each nation, quite honestly, quite candidly and quite untramelled by any secret agreement, is doing his level best to produce not an agreement merely between A and B, not an agreement between one nation and another, but an agreement which will cover and encompass the whole of the European nations so that disarmament may be an accomplished fact in reality as well as in words has been abandoned? So long as that sentence remains, this desirable end cannot be consummated. The effect of the whole is summed up in the dispatch of the American Government that the case might be left there, but this is the key sentence in that United States dispatch:The American Government feels, furthermore, that the terms of the Anglo-French Draft Agreement, in leaving unlimited so large a tonnage and so many types of vessels, would actually tend to defeat the primary objective of any disarmament for the reduction or the limitation of armaments, in that it would not eliminate competition in naval armaments and would not effect economy. For all these reasons the Government of the United States feels that no useful purpose would be served by accepting as a basis of discussion the Anglo-French proposal.Never was a proposal made by one Government to another, or by two Governments to another, rejected so summarily, so bluntly and for such admirable reasons as this agreement has been rejected by the American Government. I want to know, and I put these questions quite specifically to the Prime Minister: What does that last paragraph of the French official dispatch mean—the paragraph I have read? Secondly, have we uncondi- 26 tionally withdrawn opposition to the trained reserves, so that when the question comes up again in the Preparatory Commission we are not even able to make new suggestions for limiting the number of those reserves and putting a limitation, say by Budgets, or by length of training, or by the number of men to be taken up year by year under conscription schemes—there are various proposals made for dealing with what is undoubtedly the most difficult and one of the most intricate problems, that of these trained reserves—hut are now in this position, that we cannot make any alternative proposal in handling that question? Have we absolutely bound ourselves that when this question comes up again before the Preparatory Commission we have got to consent to the French proposal for leaving it outside the scope of the Agreement? The third question is—and this, again, is also an important one, because we had better know exactly where we stand—what is now the position of the. Agreement? Is it still alive, or has it dropped completely? Further, have we entered into further communication with America? Has any reply been sent to the American Note, or are conversations or negotiations of any kind on foot paving the way for a reply to the American Government? Finally, have any further communications been had with France on the subject of this Agreement? If communications have been had with France, might I ask the Prime Minister if they could possibly be published, because the publication of those communications would, I think, tend further to pacify public opinion?
Although the hon. Member who seconded the Address said that domestic affairs were more important than foreign affairs, I think at the moment it is desirable that we should be quite as alive to foreign affairs as to domestic affairs. I am not sure if I detected in his mind a desire to separate them, but I am one of those who feel that they cannot be separated, and that we cannot have national prosperity unless we have the nations feeling a real sense of security. Both have to be worked together by different departments, probably by men of different frames of mind, it may he by men of different interests; but, nevertheless, whatever the differences may be, these problems must he worked by men 27 who are marching step by step and side by side, as the one cannot possibly get on without the other.
On domestic affairs an Amendment will be moved, and it is unnecessary for me to anticipate what will happen then. However, one reads rather grimly the reference to the mining population. I do not know whether the Prime Minister is an extravagant man or not, but I know he is extravagant in one thing, and that is in time. What opportunities he has had! Is this reference put in because this is his swan song? Is this put in for the Election? He may think that that is hard and unfair. Whether he does or not, I do not want him to think so. Let him put himself, say, in my position and look back, as he sits there this afternoon, over the four years since he sat there for the first time, and view how this situation has been growing steadily, how it has been growing from bad to worse all the time, how there has not been a single crisis in that industry but has been foreseen for months before it came; and how at last, every person who has a heart to feel and eyes to see—irrespective of class or party—who has gone down to the mining areas in. South Wales or to the mining areas of Durham, comes away feeling absolutely outraged in his conscience that such a state of things should have been allowed to develop in this country. All the Prime Minister says is—transmigration, migration. I venture to hope this, that any further schemes of migration he may put his hand to will he far better prepared, will show more forethought and foresight, and more anticipation, than that experiment in migration part of which I saw with my own eyes in the Canadian field. There is nothing that is moving the country more to censure than the neglect of the social conditions of our people, and particularly of our people in the mining areas.
Take the question of the unemployment pledges. The very first thing the Government did to-day after the new Session was open was to get the Minister of Labour to stand up and say "I am going to introduce a Bill which admits that everything I said last year on the unemployment question was wrong and that everything that the Opposition said was right." We are very much obliged 28 to the Government for giving its case away in such an innocent but certainly a magnificent way. But take the question of the borrowing for the Unemployment Fund. What have they been saying for years every time that this question was raised? They have been telling us: "Business is going to get better and better; we are not going to provide for any continuation of this terrible distress in which we now are with 1,200,000 unemployed, or 1,250,000, or 1,300,000, or 1,500,000; we are going to make no provision for that at all, because under our benign influence those figures are going down, down, down and the Fund is going to be self-supporting." Now, at the beginning of the last Session of this Parliament, they tell us that the Fund is almost bankrupt and has reached its legal limits, and in order that the whole thing may be kept going, the Government have promised to introduce legislation to extend the borrowing powers of those authorities. If that criticism had come from hon. Members of this side of the House, we should have found the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health telling us that we were always pessimists and that they were optimists right through. Therefore, we accept the self-condemnation of the Government on this question.
The other Measures referred to in the King's Speech have been well thrashed out in a preliminary way, but I think the Prime Minister is standing upon rather peculiar grounds, because he must know perfectly well that there is not a party in the State which has failed to observe the great deficiencies in the present rating system of this country. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the Labour party has always been urging that the time has come for a reconsideration and a reorganisation of our system of local government, a system which has grown up piecemeal and has been patched up here and there by having services added. For many years the whole system has not been considered as a unified problem. When the local government proposals are presented I am not sure how far we shall be able to agree with them, but I can assure the Prime Minister that he will be addressing himself to a real problem.
I want to know what the Prime Minister is going to propose. I am 29 afraid that he does not know himself, and I feel sure that if I had asked this question three weeks ago he would not have known. Probably if the right hon. Gentleman had told me earlier what was going to be proposed, he would by this time have sent me a letter of apology saying that he had changed his mind. He has had what is known as a trade show. In a trade show the picture is thrown on the screen in order that certain experts may have a look at it, and, if the experts do not like it, then the picture is withdrawn or touched up. Up to the present time the rating scheme put forward by the Government has been a complete failure. I have been watching the newspapers very closely and I have not found a single municipal county or rating authority which has not condemned this scheme. If the Prime Minister has any cause for self-congratulation it lies in the fact that his right hon. and gallant Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is not present, has been condemned more vociferously in regard to the scheme, than the right hon. Gentleman himself.
In my recreative moments I, like the Home Secretary, sometimes read the reports of ecclesiastical bodies. The other day I came across a newspaper published in 'Scotland, and I found what seemed to be a most interesting report of a conference of clergymen and ministers in Scotland, and I read it. I found that the first part of the business at that conference was a wholesale condemnation of the proposals of the Secretary of State for Scotland with regard to local government. Another thing I should like to refer to relates to an omission. Why has the Prime Minister broken all his pledges in regard to the Factories Bill? In 1926 the Home Secretary was bold enough on a Friday afternoon to tell us in this House what a Factories Bill ought to contain, and what he mentioned did not consist of a lot of trivial things, because he convinced the House—as much on his own side as upon ours—that the time had come for a very comprehensive Factories Bill to be introduced and passed through.
The right hon. Gentleman told us that he was going to consolidate the law on this subject, but I would like to ask hon. Members if they think the confusion of 30 the law on this question is any less now than it was in 1926. The Home Secretary told us that the division between textile and non-textile factories was bad, and he said that he intended to wipe that out. Why has he not done so? The right hon. Gentleman told us that the divisions between factories and workshops were going to be abolished. He also told us that the problem of cleanliness was an important one, and that he intended to make a great contribution towards that problem. The Home Secretary further told us that he was going to deal with overcrowding, sanitary conditions, lighting and temperature, and that he was going to introduce an improved medical supervision to deal with the liability to sickness and disease, which was very necessary. The right hon. Gentleman said some nice things about accidents and gave us to understand that, although a great many accidents were clearly acts of God in the sense that they could not be foreseen or prevented, there was a heavy toll exacted from those engaged in factory work by accidents. The Home Secretary contended that it was the duty of any Government to try and reduce the number of accidents by energetic and wise efforts, and he said that he believed they could be reduced. At that time, the right hon. Gentleman was trying to convince some of his own supporters who had rather revolted against him. It was one of those very mild revolts which we see occasionally in the House, but which we never see in the Lobbies. On that occasion, the Home Secretary found himself in a rather difficult position, but he was more eloquent than I have known him to be for a long time, and showed a genuine desire to do something in the present Parliament in order to deal with this question. The right hon. Gentleman was not only anxious to prove that he was all right, but, fearing that some hon. Members entertained suspicions in regard to the Prime Minister, he gave a further pledge which is to be found in the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Debate on the Second Reading of the Factories Bill on 26th March, 1926, as follows:I am, therefore, authorised by the Prime Minister and the Government to say that I will introduce the Factories Bill during this current Session of Parliament for the purposes of consideration and discussion.31 The Home Secretary made it perfectly clear that that Measure was not going to be carried in 1926, but he was going to introduce it in order to have it considered and discussed. The Home Secretary went on to say:That Bill will be one of the principal Government measures of next year and we will do our utmost, and ask the House to pass it into law.In order to be still more emphatic upon this point, the Home Secretary continued:That is a categorical statement which I have been authorised to make in regard to this ma tter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th March, 1926; col. 1568, 103.]Does the Prime Minister deny that statement? I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that there are hundreds of thousands of people whose health depends upon that Measure and whose liability to disease depends upon it. This subject was mentioned in the King's Speech in 1924 and again in 1925. We were promised that it would be dealt with in 1926, and it is a remarkable fact that the King's Speech which has just been introduced does not mention this question. The Home Secretary told us that this subject was going to be part and parcel of the work of this Session, and I would like to ask whether a pledge of that kind is of an exchange value equal to a deteriorated Russian rouble. [Interruption.] I think the Home Secretary is too modest for that, because nobody knows more about roubles, or imagines he knows more about them, than the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure he will understand the deadly effect of that simile.
I think the present Government have the worst record of broken promises that any party can show, and there is nothing to justify it except pressure upon the Government by certain vital interests. And so we ring up the curtain on the last act of the very sorry drama which has been played by this Government for the last four years. [An HON. MEMBER "It is a tragedy!"] The gallery is getting very restive, and it wants the actors to go and take a rest; and even the stalls are getting out of hand. The Prime Minister is finding that the small confidence which the people had in his Government is ebbing and ebbing away. The Prime Minister's record is that he has deepened the poverty of the country affecting hundreds and thousands of 32 people; he has broken the pledges which he gave to thousands and thousands of the factory population of this country. The Home Secretary has admitted that years ago legislation for the protection of factory workers ought to have been passed, and yet the Prime Minister has broken that pledge. The Government have lost golden opportunity after golden opportunity of giving the nations of Europe security in order that they might, whole-heartedly join in a common arrangement for disarmament., and embark wholeheartedly upon peace. We are very anxious that the Prime Minister should hurry as fast as he can to that great assize of the country, and get the verdict passed upon him which will be passed before next summer is ended.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
I cannot refrain from cordially endorsing the closing words of the right hon. Gentleman, but there are one or two observations which I must make at this stage of the proceedings, as it is customary for the Leader of the House to do, with reference to the Business of the Session and certain proposals of the Government. I would like, before I begin, again in accordance with custom, to bear my testimony to the manner in which the Mover and Seconder of the Address have dealt with their most difficult task. There are no questions which are more difficult to discuss in this House by the thoughtful and responsible Member than the question of foreign relations. It is always the thinnest of thin ice. Some word may be twisted and distorted which may cause harm across the world. Some word may be misunderstood. But I have never seen skating at the same time more confident and, may I add, more graceful, than that indulged in by my hon. Friends this afternoon. The hon. Member for Yardley (Mr. Jephcott) spoke, as all who know him would expect him to speak, with that fervent sympathy for his fellow men which has been characteristic of his career from the first days in which he worked in a Birmingham factory.
I should like to say one word, after what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Banbury (Major Edmondson) and by the Leader of the Opposition, with regard to the loss which we have all sustained in the death of our old friend the late Member for Chelten- 33 ham (Sir J. Agg-Gardner). There is not a man in this House who will not miss that shy, shrinking, hurrying figure as it went with head bent down through the Lobbies, or seated at a table immersed in correspondence, or seated at a little table, quite close to where I sit, in the Members' dining-room, always ready to intervene on behalf of any Member who wanted advice or help in connection with the business for which he was responsible. I think it is a remarkable tribute, both to him and to the House of Commons, the way in which a private Member who had never sought publicity, was little known outside his native town and this House, who rarely spoke in this House, who was never at any pains to court his fellow Members, but, by merely living among them on and off for half a century, passes away with the esteem,. I might almost say the love, of his fellow Members of all parties.
There are one or two Bills of which I think I should advise the House—Bills of importance, but not considered of sufficient importance to be mentioned in the Gracious Speech. There will, of course, be during the Session one or two hardy annuals which have been left over from last summer, such as the Expiring Laws and Public Works Loans Bills; but there will also be a Bill, which hon. Members will expect, to give effect to certain arrangements which were contained in the Imperial Cable and Wireless Conference; and there will have to be legislation, in what form I cannot say at this moment, concerning the services in the Western Highlands and Islands, arising, of course, from the result of the Committee which sat during last Session. But the whole work of this Session is very much complicated by the mass of legislation which it will be necessary to get through in connection with Poor Law reform. It is absolutely necessary, if the de-rating scheme is to come in on the appointed and desired day, that this legislation should get through, because it is wrapped up indissolubly with the finance that will play such an important part in this scheme.
I took some encouragement from the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, that he wants to get on with the business and go to the country. Of course it is perfectly obvious, as has been said twice already, 34 that the curtain is rising to-day on the final act. The right hon. Gentleman, apparently did not very much enjoy the drama that has been played, but I followed with interest the simile which was put to the House a moment before the right hon. Gentleman came in; and when we meet again to discuss the King's Speech, there will undoubtedly be a good many changes, and I hope they may be to the satisfaction of the majority of this House. There was one point upon which the right hon. Gentleman touched, and I confess that it is a tender point with me and he got right there. That is the Factories Bill. I will tell him why it is a tender point with me. It is because it is a Bill on which I personally have been very keen for the last two or three years. I had hoped and had promised, and, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, I did give an undertaking, that that Bill should become law, and it was my intention that at any rate it should become law in this Session. When the right hon. Gentleman becomes the Leader of the House for a long period, he will know, as I am sure he can realise, what the difficulty is in getting through all the legislation that you want to do, sometimes that you have promised to do.
This legislation with regard to Poor Law reform we have had to go on with. So far as we visualised the situation, it was the urgent necessity of embarking on these reforms for the assistance of industry that made us put it before everything else that we had to do. That, we felt, must be completed before the five years of this Parliament's life had elapsed, and there is literally no time for any other important legislation except the legislation that we are already providing for. There is no truth whatever that there is the pressure of any kind of interest in regard to this Bill. [Interruption.] I did not expect certain hon. Members to believe that, and they can take it as they like; that is the fact, and I still hope to see such a Bill go through under the present Government. Another thing arises from the length and complication of the Poor Law Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman asked me a, question about it. We cannot get this legislation through, without encroaching to some extent upon private Members' time; a Motion will be put down on the Paper, and there will be no Ballot for Motions or private Mem- 35 bers' Bills to-morrow. It is customary, as the House knows, on the part of every Government, although naturally opposed in turn by any Opposition, to take the time up to Christmas; but hon. Members will remember that it is only necessary for Governments to do that because the Standing Orders are left in a rather equivocal condition, and it is really not quite clear whether private Members have rights in the Autumn or whether they have not. In any case, every Government—[An HON. MEMBER: "We will remember that when you are in Opposition."]—that will not tax you very much—every Government takes that step, but we shall have to take it rather longer than that; we shall propose to take it until Easter, and the reasons for that I shall give in due course when I speak upon the Motion, which I think will he taken to-morrow. There was just one other point upon which I wish to say a word. The Leader of the Opposition complained about the use of English in the paragraph dealing with our relations with foreign Powers. I shall be perfectly prepared to justify the use of my own tongue in the Gracious Speech at length and in detail, but I understand that Amendments are going to be moved to the Address on the very subjects which were covered by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, although I am not certain from which benches the Amendments will come. In any case, the attack on the action of the Government has been so general from the Opposition during the last few months—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I shall be glad to have instances of that when the occasion arises. We are not immune from forming hasty judgments. But the attack has been so general that it- will be impossible for us to reply until we hear the fullness of the case. We have heard the case from the Leader of the Opposition, but we have not yet heard the case from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). It would be a discourtesy to the Liberal party to attempt to deal with it piecemeal, but, from whichever party it comes, we shall do our best to reply to it. There are no other points on which I have to detain the House to-day. The most grave ques- 36 tion upon which the right hon. Gentleman said a few words—the question of the unemployment in certain areas in this country—[An HON. MEMBER: "In all areas "]—will be discussed on an Amendment put down officially by the Opposition on the first day of Amend-merits. That, for this afternoon, is all that I have to say on the Business of the House.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
Before the right hon. Gentleman resumes his seat, may ask whether the Government have no statement at all to make upon the question of foreign affairs—the Anglo-French Agreement—irrespective of what we may say? Have they no statement to make which will make their own position perfectly clear, independently of what either my right hon. Friend or myself may say with regard to it?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I would say this to the right hon. Gentleman, that we have published a full White Paper. We know that we are going to be censured on this matter, and that is the occasion on which the Government will state their case.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he has gone into any precedents in this matter, and whether it has not always been considered that the Prime Minister's opening statement, out of courtesy to the House if for nothing else, should be a full statement of the questions raised in the King's Speech?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
No, Sir; I have not gone into precedents; but I consider that, when the Government are going to be censured on a matter of importance, that is the right occasion.
§ Mr. MacDONALD
How does the right hon. Gentleman know that either from these benches or those an Amendment is going to be put down sufficiently wide to enable him to answer the questions which have been put to-day? Must we now take it that the Prime Minister knows that later in the Session something is going to he raised, and is he going to use that as a screen for saying nothing at the moment about it?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It is not part of the Debate on the Address. This occasion is always taken for censuring the Government on important matters of policy.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I wish to express my deep disappointment and dissatisfaction at the attitude the right hon. Gentleman has adopted in response the very incisive analysis by the Leader of the Opposition of the case presented in the White Paper. I have taken pains to go through the statement concerning the negotiations, and the points which have been elaborated and emphasised by the Leader of the Opposition are just those which, I maintain, are bound to cause very grave anxiety in the minds of any who give special attention to our foreign relations. The Seconder of the Address said the question of foreign affairs was subsidiary to that of our social conditions. I have some dubiety, to say the least of it, about that line of argument. From all I can read concerning our foreign relations, with special bearing upon this arrangement made with France, t here is undoubtedly a special reason why the Prime Minister ought at the very first opportunity to have relieved our minds of any anxiety on this score. The American reply not only summarily rejects the proposal, but also gives some indication of what is undoubtedly prevalent throughout America, that we are not playing a straight game with that great country. I had it in mind to take part in this Debate later on, and I am somewhat at a disadvantage as regards the actual wording of an utterance by the right hon. Gentleman the. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) to Colonel House, whose diary has just been published, with reference to peace negotiations, but the right hon. Gentleman put it plainly to the American representative that this country would spend its last guinea and exhaust all its resources in order to he stronger on the seas than the United States. The colonel strongly advised our country not to pursue that course, but rather to adopt plain and reasonable negotiations, and, unless that were done, America had the money and had the resources, and she would pit her strength fully against ours.
When I read that statement I felt keenly antagonistic to the audacity of any representative of this country making such a proposal to a country like the United States, or to any other country for that matter. It is appalling to reflect that, at the very time when we 38 were trying to get that great war brought to a settlement, the right hon. Gentleman was capable of lighting a conflagration, which is now also being accelerated by the present Government. The statement in the White Paper, which the Prime Minister ought to have explained, was that we had been negotiating concerning a purely naval arrangement. Now we find, as the Leader of the Opposition has very definitely pressed home, that a specific arrangement has beers made giving France full scope in regard to her land forces, while we get a concession to suit our purposes on the seas, but on such lines as make our proposal decidedly objectionable to the United States. From a reading of that White Paper, I am gravely concerned about the drifting policy of our Government. We are actually moving on towards war, as same leading authorities in the Press are making clear. The "New Statesman" and the "Nation" are laying it down clearly that the gravest danger is being incurred by the policy followed by our Government in these negotiations. When we discussed this Peace Pact in the House I very strongly urged that such was the position that the reservations were really taking away the strength of the whole case, and it was somewhat disappointing to find afterwards that the Front Bench representative of the Opposition was inclined to say, "Do not let us lay emphasis on the reservations; let us take the purpose of the Pact as the reason for our congratulations." Now we find, from the authorities quoted by the Leader of the Opposition, that in truth, instead of being a peace pact, those reservations all go in the direction of practically insuring war in certain quarters of the world where we have insisted upon our right of declaring ourselves irrespective of the views held by any other nationality.
The White Paper gives us reason to believe that the League of Nations is not being utilised in the sense that its sponsors would earnestly seek to impress upon the public mind. The leading exponents of the League of Nations are pursuing a course which is certainly derogatory to the interests of the peace of the world. Preparations are being made in the study of gases by the Professors of our Universities, one of whom has declared that we must of necessity be paramount in the air, we must also of neces- 39 sity be the strongest in the power of utilising these deadly gases and, further, we must have something more than chivalry, something more than bravery, we must have the grace of God. I would say to bodies of professors who go putting their hands to this business, that it is an impossibility to associate the grace of God with any schemes whereby we are going to obliterate humanity. The Prime Minister's failure to meet the case, and the very fact that the White Paper concludes without an answer to the -United States Government's statement of the case, is significant. The intimation is given that the answer will be sent some time later. Even to-day the Prime. Minister is not in a position to lay down the situation as it ought to be submitted. I feel that in the midst of the conditions that are prevalent to-day perhaps the biggest thing that is taking place is this weakness on the part of the Foreign Office in the handling of these affairs with a view to complete unity, not simply in the matter of negotiating either the total tonnage in the matter of armaments on the sea or in the matter of arranging categories in such a way as our own Government have insisted upon, but that we should have the deliberate purpose of making that Peace Pact a realisable pact in the knowledge of the nations of the world.
At the present time the social conditions of the country are appalling, and there is no excuse whatever for the position that the Prime Minister has taken in defence of the Factories Bill not being introduced. The proposals which are now being submitted or will be submitted, as stated in the Gracious Speech, appertaining to local government and de-rating afford no excuse whatever for the failure to produce the promised Factories Bill, a promise which has been made repeatedly for years. The Prime Minister has said that there has been no pressure put upon him. He has also said that he, as well as the Home Secretary, was thoroughly agreed and definitely set upon the introduction and the passing of such a Bill. If there has been no pressure to keep back the Bill, what is the explanation? The de-rating scheme is practically a new concern. No member of the Ministry is going to tell us that the proposed de-rating scheme and the upheaval of 40 rating reform were on the tapis and were being considered by the Government when these repeated promises were being made concerning the Factories Bill. The de-rating scheme and the upheaval of our local government, this scheme, as the Leader of the Opposition has well said, as far as Scotland in particular is concerned, is damned from the beginning. The Secretary of State for Scotland has had a remarkably unhappy time in his pilgrimage during the Recess in regard to this very question.
It gives me special concern that we should be leaving the House to-day without the Prime Minister having said one word about the serious import of that White Paper, which I have gone through carefully. I submit that there are grave risks and serious responsibilities resting upon the Ministry as a whole if we are going to drift into trouble with America. I am not for one moment minimising the fact that America has her failures and weaknesses to contend with, but we are not dealing straightforwardly with that Power. America is now in the position in which Germany was as our former enemy. That is my reading of the situation. America is now strong commercially. She is the strongest of the nations of the world. She controls the gold power of the world, and there is not a shadow of doubt that, appalling as it is, the gamesters are playing ducks and drakes with the interests of millions of our people. The Prime Minister standing at that Box, after the thing has been examined from beginning to end by the Leader of the Opposition, has had nothing to say about it. He has left it alone; let it drift. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has not been able to be present through indisposition, which we all regret, and the Prime Minister, in the absence of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, or some responsible representative of the Government, ought to have given answers to these serious points. One of the points referred to by the Leader of the Opposition was contained in a sentence which very clearly indicates that France and Britain will act together even irrespective of the position of the United States of America. That in itself is deeply significant, and I certainly could not allow the day to pass without expressing my deep-seated indignation and ventilat- 41 ing my condemnation of the drifting policy of the Government concerning our foreign affairs.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Scrymgeour) has mentioned a point that naturally comes home to all of us who are keen on the health of the nation. It is the question of the Factories Bill. I think we are bound to consider that we are dealing with it on non-party lines because of the encouraging words which we have heard from the Prime Minister, who, definitely recognising the fact that he had made a pledge and acknowledging it with all that straightforwardness that we are accustomed to expect from him, points out at once the fact that he has not been able to find time for the Bill. I cannot help still hoping that, by the help of all those well-wishers of factory and workshop legislation on both sides of the House, the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister, who from the very bottom of their souls are keen on getting this legislation through, may yet be able to find time for this much-needed Measure before the end of the present Session. Hon. Members on the opposite Benches, no doubt, recognise that a great deal of the congestion of business depends naturally enough upon the amount of congestion which is caused by the Opposition. Although one does not want to rub it in too strongly, I am sure that hon. Members must recognise that the whole of the programme of social legislation during this Parliament has been upset by the days of the coal stoppage and the general strike, which put back the hands of the clock as regards time for years and years and, as regards money, the recovery and financial possibilities of this country, for an indefinite time. It may have been necessary for hon. Members on the opposite side of the House to take the line which they took in support of the general strike at one time and of the coal stoppage at another, but they must recognise that their attitude proved to be one of the strongest obstacles in the way of helping social reform in Parliament that any Government has had to encounter.
I am quite certain that hon. Members opposite are sincere in their wish to help housing reform, but I want them to recognise the equal sincerity which exists 42 on this side. From that point of view, I want to mention two or three points that occur necessarily to anyone who is in the position that I am of being Chairman of the Medical Committee of this House with regard to the position created by the Gracious Speech to-day. We have had in the Gracious Speech no reference to matters of health and no references to housing. It is proposed in the Gracious Speech that the Measures to be introduced for local government will enable better provisions to be made for the health of the people. This is not an encouraging feature to those who are keen on this or that particular measure of progress, still less as there is no mention of the question of housing. Therefore, I hope that I may deal briefly with the position, especially as it has been amplified by the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister in his statement just now. The Prime Minister referred in a passing sentence, of which, no doubt, some hon. Members took notice, to the fact that we should have to deal with the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. That Bill includes provision far the continuance or non-continuance of the position of rent restriction. Rent restriction goes to the very bottom of our difficulty in connection with slum property and slum treatment. It was recognised as being such a serious impediment to progress at one time that in 1923 the Government appointed a Departmental Committee, and, on the Report of that Committee, acted there and then, with the result that the Act of 1923 was put on the Statute Book. That has been postponed again and again, although the Act of 1923 was a very moderate Measure resulting from a study of the conditions of the time. It proposed that straight away there should be a certain change and that, as soon as you get rent decontrol, there should be a further period of five years of modified control.
Now what is the position? Year after year, because of the difficulties, because of the objections of one side or another, this matter has been postponed. What is happening with regard to houses? Development of estates is being delayed because of the exceptional instances of control in the hands of people, whom even the hon. Member who laughs would have no excuse whatever in defending. The present state of affairs is causing in- 43 equalities to owners and it is causing unjust profiteering on the part of tenants against sub-tenants. The Departmental Committee that dealt with this matter represented the Labour party as well as the other parties in the House, and the Report, if hon. Members will refer to it, recognised—even if hon. Members over there do not yet recognise—the inequalities of rent restriction and control and the need of decontrol. The minority of the Committee pleaded for a longer continuance of control than did the majority Report and they proposed that the control should last until 1930. 1930 is approaching us. I am going to ask for the concurrence of the different parties in this House in getting back to normality, which must be gradual, in the matter of housing and estate development; in the matter of decontrol on one side and desubsidising on the other, and in dealing with the slums in the third place. I believe that we have a consensus of opinion on all these matters, which obviously have to be carried out gradually.
We have heard nothing to-day with regard to the question of the removal of the subsidy. It is vital to the housing movement to economise our resources, and there is no question about it that a great deal of the subsidy on houses let at over £1 1s. a week is being thrown away at the present time. There is an abundant reason why the subsidy should be further knocked off houses of higher rateable value. I have asked that we should see to it that decontrol and desubsidising should march simultaneously. Keep your subsidy for houses of, say, 15s. a week rental, but above that level we should not waste our money and should not keep on control. If we did this there would be a considerable amount of money set free to be used for purposes for which it is wanted. By relieving the subsidy on the more expensive houses, which are being adequately provided by private enterprise, there would be set free more money with which we should be able to subsidise slum clearance and to embark upon schemes for providing cheaper houses.
We have had this promise again and again—no reference to it is made in the Gracious Speech—to deal with slum clearance. It is a pledge and a promise upon which we have been relying. The 44 Prime Minister said in December, 1924, within a month of this Parliament being elected, that we have to get rid of two things—the shortage of houses and the disgrace of the slums. That is a perfectly genuine feeling on his part and on the part of right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House and of hon. Members in other parts of the House, and yet the solution tarries. I believe that we can have a solution of these matters if we will keep together these measures of decontrol and desubsidising, and if we realise that along with these measures we must get down to the actual building of houses for the people for whom they are wanted.
There are two other matters which have been left over until this last Session of Parliament for which we have been asking for legislation and for which legislation is urgently required. The Report of the Lunacy Commission which came out, I think, three or four years ago, dealt with a system which is insufferably hard upon a large number of mental cases. Many of us have intimate knowledge of the unfortunate cases which require to be dealt with. The subject was dealt with thoroughly in the Report of the Royal Commission and I believe there is no question as regards the kind of provision required to be made. It is requisite that we should be allowed to treat the early cases of mental illness like other cases of illness, without the necessity of certifying them for ever as lunatics. On that point I hope that we may find time for legislation in this Session or, at any rate, that we shall be pledged to do it before another Parliament carries it through.
There is one further point. I do not think hon. Members realise sufficiently, and therefore it is our duty to remind them of the fact, that the country is suffering at the present time from a vast outbreak of a preventable disease which could be prevented at any time and which, according to law, should be prevented but which has not been prevented—a disease which may at any time land us in disaster. I refer to the exceptional outbreak of smallpox at the present time. Owing to one factor or another the outbreak has been of a very mild kind and we are banking on the idea that it is a mild type of the disease and that it is not going to flare up into anything serious, like the small pox outbreaks of 45 the past. But we of the medical profession can give no such assurance. We as a community are sitting on a volcano which may flare up at any time. The matter in its technical aspect was referred to a Committee which reported early this year, but the result of the Committee's findings necessitated further research and investigation, and still we are sitting on the volcano, waiting. I am afraid that it has been the history of many diseases in past times that people have laughed and smiled and did not realise the seriousness of the situation. When the volcano bursts they turn upon us and say: "Why did not you tell us in time?" We tell you now.
Before we can be sure of what action is to be taken I am glad to say that the powers that be are consulting in the widest possible way, as should be the ease, under the aegis of the health organisation of the League of Nations. A Committee has been formed to study this matter internationally. This country, which generally prides itself on its pre-eminence in the matter of health, is damned as regards smallpox. We are, of the chief civilised countries in the world, at the present time one of the countries most infected with smallpox. Other countries know that we are most behindhand in the application of vaccination and in that they recognise disaster for themselves and the necessity of keeping up thir quarantine measures against us. I hope that we may be able to find them some proper solution of this matter very soon. I am not one of those who believe in compelling people to take measures that are good for themselves unless they definitely refuse to look into the evidence and accept it, and do what is necessary. The public have to be considered.
In this connection, I think we have reason to be encouraged by the proposals that have been foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech with regard to local government reform. Up to the present time, due to a strange anomaly, the matter of vaccination has been left in the hands of the Poor Law Guardians and that of small-pox in the hands of the sanitary authorities. In future, under the proposed reform of local government, vaccination will fall into the hands of the larger authorities, the county and county borough councils who, I hope, w ill be able 46 to look at the matter in a fresh light and possibly find some means of getting over the trouble. That it will require legislation is a certainty, and that is one of the necessary pieces of legislation which we hope to see carried through before the end of this Parliament. I hope that this measure of local government reform which is foreshadowed may be, as it should be, of immense value in improving the machinery of our public health organisation. Amongst the difficulties foreseen, however, is that by the abolition of the Boards of Guardians we may be losing an immense number of persons whose experience and good will has been invaluable in the past and may still be and should be invaluable in the future. I hope that in the Measures which are to be passed we shall retain all that is of great value in the present Poor Law Guardian system and that at the same time we shall help forward that co-ordination of the machinery which has been long delayed and is most vital for the efficient working of the machinery for improving the housing of the people.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
The House has been put into such an impossible and unprecedented position by the speech of the Prime Minister this afternoon that we see very little use continuing fie, discussion to-day, if the Government are either unwilling or unable to give a reply to any indictment that may be made upon their policy. I am quite sure that the Prime Minister might search in vain through the records of proceedings en an occasion like this to find a case where the House has been treated with so much disrespect as it was treated by him this afternoon. The Prime Minister, by way of excusing his conduct, said that he understood that certain Amendments to the Address were to be put upon the Paper. The right hon Gentleman had no right to make such an assumption as that. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition put a case, particularly upon the question of foreign policy and the recent conduct of the Government in regard to these matters, which demanded an immediate, answer and it was the duty of the Prime Minister to supply that answer.
If there has been any intention of putting down an Amendment to the Address raising this matter, that might 47 have been made unnecessary if the Prime Minister this afternoon had been able to give a satisfactory reply to the indictment made by my right hon. Friend. I cannot understand why the Prime Minister, who, certainly, is not usually discourteous to the House of Commons, should have adopted this unparalelled attitude this afternoon. Is it because he has no reply? It is no use going on with the discussion if we make our case and then the Government will not give a reply and will not defend themselves. We are going to give them an opportunity of preparing a reply. I move, therefore, that the Debate be now adjourned, and I hope that the Prime Minister and his colleagues in the Government will spend the hours between now and the time when the Debate is resumed to-morrow afternoon in seeing whether it is possible for them to find anything at all to say in reply to the indictment which has been made against them.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The right hon. Gentleman has put his case with perfect courtesy, and I propose to reply with equal courtesy. My conduct is not as unreasonable as he supposes nor, I think, is it wanting in respect to the House. In accordance with a custom which goes back for many years—the right hon. Gentleman will remember it, because he has been a Member of this House for a longer time than I have—the Debate has nearly always been of a general nature on the first day, and very often it has terminated with very few speeches after the Mover and Seconder have sat down. In the old days, before the last very few years, the House in- 48 variably rose before dinner on the first day. With regard to the particular matter referred to by the right hon. Gentleman I think he is misinformed. I am informed that an Amendment has actually been put down by his party on the subject. I was shown a copy of it when the House met. I was assured that an Amendment might come from the Liberal Benches if one was not put down from the benches opposite. The Government have been subjected to a great deal of criticism, and very hard things have been said of them in the country by the right hon. Gentleman and his friends and by Members of the Liberal party.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The Government desire to see, when what is equivalent to a Vote of Censure is moved, whether the same things will be said in this House that have been said outside, and they have a perfect right to reserve their reply until that occasion. In the circumstances, I can only congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon going back to the old practice of moving the adjournment of the Debate at an early hour, and I have great pleasure in accepting it.
§ Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.