§ Mr. GEOFFREY LLOYD
(in Court dress): I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and 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.First of all, I must crave the indulgence that the House usually grants to those addressing it for the first time, and particularly on an occasion such as this, which is governed somewhat strictly by Parliamentary tradition. I do so with the more courage when I think of the exceptionally large number of new Members, who are bound to hear my appeal with a peculiarly personal interest. And I would assure you, Sir, that I am acutely aware of the fact that I am the first Member to address the House since your own kindly admonition in regard to the length of speeches.
I have been entrusted with the, honourable duty of moving this Address as the representative of the Ladywood Division of the great industrial city of Birmingham. It is indeed a privilege to be able to sound a small note of prelude in a Parliament that must be historic, by reason of the great crises which brought it into being, of the tremendous determination of the national will that it expresses—and, let us hope, of the deeds that it will do.
The Gracious Speech refers to that great mandate received by the National Government, and divides it into two parts which, as I believe, correspond with two separate impulses in the intention of the electorate. In the first place, the Speech from the Throne records thatthe nation …. endorsed …. measures for securing economy and balancing the national Budget;and later declares that the country has also empowered Ministersto pursue a policy designed fully to reestablish confidenceandto frame plans for ensuring a favourable balance of trade.48 Experience in the Midlands would seem to show that the older people had most in mind the first and more negative point, believing that this must be maintained to save the nation from utter disaster. But I think the younger generation paid more attention to the positive promise of action mentioned in the later paragraph. Certainly they played their part in the election with a will and in many ways. As National candidates, they fought and won many difficult constituencies; as volunteer pilots they assisted in the aerial transport of the Prime Minister; and they voted in their millions. The Right Hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) must indeed reflect with special satisfaction on the behaviour of the large class of young women enfranchised by his Government. Some said they were irresponsible. Others said that democracy was bound to wreck itself by voting always for the course that seemed easiest at the moment. But the whole House knows what in fact happened. There was a tremendous uprising of the British nation, and, as I believe, a kindling of the ancient political tradition of our race. Unemployed men, themselves suffering cuts, voted and worked for the National Government. And in those ways this stupendous national majority came into being. What a responsibility upon the Government and upon Parliament! Every hon. Member knows that millions of our people are looking to this House with anxiety and hope.
A very large number of them, especially in the Midlands, are expecting that this House will establish a system of protective tariffs, because they are convinced it will help to get them work. Hon Members, of course, realise that we are faced with an entirely abnormal situation dominated by the fact that the pound is no longer fixed in terms of gold. That profoundly affects nearly every aspect of economic policy. It is therefore only reasonable that there should be an inquiry, which I think most of us await with confidence. But there is undoubtedly a great anxiety in this House and in the country lest the policy which may ultimately be adopted should he deeply prejudiced in advance by large forestalling importations in anticipation of a tariff. I have no doubt that this is one of the problems engaging the serious 49 attention of His Majestys Government. Of one thing I am certain—that if they decide to take emergency measures they will have the overwhelming support of the country.
There are two statements in the Gracious Speech which will be particularly gratifying to the supporters of the National Government, especially the younger portion of them. I refer first to the warm welcome extended to the invitation from the Canadian Government that the Economic Conference should meet at Ottawa as soon as possible. It is difficult to exaggerate the relief and enthusiasm that many of us feel at the prospect of that meeting. At last a British Government can go with an absolutely free hand to discuss plans for the benefit of ourselves and of the whole Commonwealth with all the Dominions. We feel that this marks the opening of a new epoch in Imperial history. We know also that the position of British agriculture is closely linked with Imperial trade questions. And again, we can reflect with a deep satisfaction that at last also we have won a mandate from the great towns for the assistance of agriculture. We have thus before us the possibility of achieving a great Imperial trade system, and a more balanced national economy in Britain.
The Government's supporters will also read with the liveliest satisfaction the passage in the Gracious Speech indicating thatthe important problems involved are already under detailed examinationandDecisions will be taken and applied with the least possible delay.I hope that right hon. Gentlemen will not think me presumptuous if, with respect, I address to them a plea on behalf of their younger supporters in the country. I know that, unfortunately, well-balanced opinion must at present be inclined to distrust any statements by the younger generation because of the wild outbursts by super youth-enthusiasts that we have heard so much of lately. To some of these young gentlemen indeed it is a terrible offence that any head with more than 30 years' experience should adorn the Treasury Bench. But the National Government's supporters are not of this type, and, indeed, they resent these wild exaggerations as being certain 50 to bring the young men of England into ridicule. They want rather to play their part as hard-working apprentices under the guidance of the experienced mastermen. But they feel the classic impulses of youth, and within the due limits of prudence, for which they rely upon their leaders, they would, I know, wish to put forward a plea for boldness. I would therefore venture to hope that Hit Majesty's Government will continue in the prompt spirit in which they have begun. There was, after all, no hesitation about the decision that the country itself gave in the Election. If the Government follow that example, they would err, if they must, on the side of vigour rather than of caution. They would act perhaps too quickly, but at any rate not too slowly. They would probably sometimes be over-strong, but they would avoid weakness. In this situation, the nation wants to feel the hand of the ruler and will warm to the support of the Government if it sees the marks of drive and determination.
In conclusion, I would say that all of us, irrespective of politics, realise the extraordinary gravity of the trade position and the uphill task the nation and the Government have before them. But I would point out one general hopeful consequence of that "clear and emphatic mandate" mentioned in the Gracious Speech. His Majesty's Government today can speak for the nation with a far stronger title than any previous Administration. They can represent Britain abroad with unparalleled authority; and let us not forget that their moral authority at home is of equal power. Quite apart from their own executive acts, they can give a lead to the whole country. They can point out that no Government alone can save the nation, but that every class, profession and institution must join in a united national effort. That is what we need. For indeed, beyond even the sense of immediate danger, we all feel, in one way or another, that our country is now moving in earnest into the characteristic epoch of the Twentieth Century. Britain will have to brace and change herself to face that new world, and we all want to play our due parts in seeing that she does so with honour and success.
§ Mr. FLINT
I beg to second the Motion which has been so ably moved 51 by the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Lloyd).
I am not equipped with any experience in this House which enables a Member to pay sufficient tribute to the Gracious Speech from the Throne, and it is particularly difficult when I remember that this maiden speech is being made in the presence of so many new Members far more able than I am, and especially in view of the fact that, of the 17,000 who cast their votes in one direction, there are no two who cannot say honestly that the responsibility is theirs. I most humbly desire to express my thanks for the honour and privilege which has been conferred upon my constituency by allowing one of the youngest Members of this House, and the one who had the smallest majority, to perform this duty.
The whole world must welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the League of Nations and the Disarmament Conference, for, just as we, being one nation, can sink our differences, forget our quarrels, and unite together for the common good, surely it is possible for humanity itself to cease from war and to remember that we are all sprung from the same stock. Just as the good of the individual depends upon the welfare of the nation, so the good of the nation depends upon the peace and prosperity of the world. With the growth of the world's population, and the ever-increasing need for interchange of commodities, this interdependence must increase, and it is only by mutual trust and confidence that suitable agreements can come about. It is tragic that those agreements have deen delayed so long. I find that in February, 1910, the then hon. Member for Shipley, in proposing the Address in reply to the Gracious Speech, used these words:It is to be most profoundly hoped that no legitimate opportunity will be missed to arrive at an understanding…with a view to lessening the crushing burden of armaments, which is scattering to the four winds of heaven the growing needs of social reform, depressing industry and credit, and which is rapidly threatening to sink the civilised nations of the world in the sea of bankruptcy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1910; cols. 36–7, Vol. 14.]He then went on to refer to the warmth of his welcome at the Inter-Parliamentary Congress at Berlin, and assured this House of the good will and friendship of 52 the German people. That was 20 years ago. It is not for me to comment upon that or upon what happened afterwards, but I reiterate that there never was a time in the history of the world when suitable agreements were more imperative.
The whole of the British Empire must welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the Statute of Westminster. The Dominions are grown to manhood, and, as men, will be free, with their freedom recognised by law. Britain is the parent of a healthy family—a parent somewhat aged, perhaps, but, notwithstanding temporary ailments, sound in heart and limb; and, like many parents, it has been difficult for her in the past to recognise that her children have grown to manhood. She gave them the latchkey, but she reserved the right to bolt the door, and, although that right was never exercised, she does better to give them complete liberty. In that new spirit of freedom the Economic Conference is to meet again, and we may hope that in that spirit new ties will be formed, for their loyalty is undoubted.
May I be allowed to make a personal reference? I spent four years in hard physical work on a New Zealand farm. They were happy years, not because of the climate or of the work, but because the people made them so. When I first learned to drive a six-horse team along the furrow, my Colonial-born instructor would often talk to me of home, and, though he had never been here, home to him was Britain. That is so with all of them. Home is dear as the land whence came their ancestors. They find it difficult sometimes to appreciate why we have taken so few practical steps to facilitate mutual trading. We may, perhaps, excuse them when we remember that no economic ghosts trail their rusty chains through the corridors of the Antipodes; it is a long way from Wellington to Manchester.
In conclusion, may I be allowed to say this: I know that, in performing this duty, I should be guided by the traditions and customs of this House. If I have stumbled, I crave the indulgence of the House, and I beg that they will remember my inexperience. On behalf of many of the young and inexperienced Members in the House, may I say that 53 we feel that not only has the nation Bent us to this House to study its traditions, but that we have been sent as a token of the trust which the nation places in the great statesmen who have stood together united for the economic salvation of the country, and, finally, that we come here with an added injunction to study those leaders and profit by their example.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
It is my pleasing duty to congratulate very heartily both the Mover and the Seconder of this Address, and I can do that quite cheerfully and whole-heartedly, although they represent a point of view with which I thoroughly disagree. It was nice to hear from the Mover his generous words with regard to age. I think it is a good thing that that the House of Commons should have so many younger people in it to-day, though I should also like to say that, as someone else once said, or is said to have said, on behalf of himself, you grow out of youth and you gain your experience as the years go by. He was answering a gibe against himself. But the one thing that both youth and age always have to remember is that what matters with all of us is our minds, and that these can be preserved young if we keep them open to all the experiences and influences of our time. I should like to say also that, although there is a sort of unwritten tradition that on these occasions we should not be too controversial, I think that both the Mover and the Seconder were so to some extent, and that is inevitable in dealing with a crisis such as this. They will not expect me to agree that the nation has done exactly as they both imagine it has done. If they had been in this House, or if they had—as perhaps they may have done; I may be doing them an injustice—if they had taken any part in political life and in the political doings at the end of the year 1918, they would remember that very similar speeches to those which they have made to-day were made on that occasion, when we were told that there had been a great victory for national righteousness and for the stability and well-being of the nation. On that occasion, the country came through, in my judgment, one of the most vile electoral campaigns that has ever been conducted, with the possible exception of the "Chinese labour" campaign; and when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was chided 54 with regard to the lies that were told, he repudiated with scorn that any lies had been told, and designated them as "terminological inexactitudes." On that occasion, as the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary will remember, and as I think other Members in this House will bear in mind, the position was the exact reverse of the present position. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), whose absence we all regret, was the triumphant victor, and his party, or what remained of it, was scattered; and everyone knows that on that occasion the Prime Minister was chased through this country in a very similar manner to that in which we have been chased during this Election. Our every word has been distorted; we have been denounced as traitors; we have been denounced as people who loved every country but our own. The right hon. Gentleman was treated in the same way while right hon. Gentlemen were winning a national victory and telling the people to hang the Kaiser and squeeze the German nation till the pips squeaked.
I call attention to this because to-day we are reaping the fruits of that victory. This Gracious Speech tells us of some of them. But no one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman that, had the policy which the despised Labour party, led by himself, been adopted in the year 1919–20, neither Europe nor this country would be in the condition in which they are to-day. It was not the Labour party who imposed the reparations and indemnities; it was not Labour experts who defined again and again what Germany could pay, but the experts chosen by the Coalition Government in conjunction with other Governments. They have failed again and again to settle that problem, and, therefore, we are entitled to-day to say that it is just a little too soon to be quite sure that you so thoroughly represent the nation and that you so entirely represent what is patriotic and right. It may very well be that on another occasion there will be someone else sitting there and that the nation will have discovered that, just as we have now discovered that they were wrong in 1918, they have been wrong in 1931. The facts about that are clear and indisputable and can be proved from their own King's Speech.
55 I was told the other day that one of the younger Members opposite claimed that this was the Parliament of the Cavaliers. It was rather an unfortunate reference, because the Cavaliers went down very thoroughly before the yeomanry and the common people of the country and everyone who fought for the Parliament. When you reflect that in this election both the historic parties, with two or three of our sometime leaders, united to crush the Labour party, it is something to remember that 6,750,000 of the population refused to be stampeded. You may claim that you represent the nation, but, according to the electors, you only represent two-thirds of the nation. We are not so stupid as to deny that you have an overwhelming number of Members here, but, were the Home Secretary standing here instead of me, he would be claiming that, instead of having 50 Members, we should at least have 180. If that is the case, that should give those of you who are claiming that our small number represents our standing in the country something to think about, because the fact is that under the electoral system the number of seats that we have here to-day is out of all proportion to the number of electors whom we represent. But I am not a Liberal, and, therefore, I do not want to whine or cry about the political machine. I am going to read a statement that has been made, not by a blatant Socialist, but by a very respectable newspaper in the North of England. This is what the "Manchester Guardian" says. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) wants to know what I say. If I may read what the "Guardian" has said, he may take it that that is what I really think.The shortest, the strangest, most fraudulent election campaign of our time. The electorate has been swept away by panic and fear. By the side of the scare about the pound, the cry of "Hang the Kaiser" and the Red Letter appear almost respectable, The display of worthless German marks, one of Mr. MacDonald's theatrical gestures, the scare about the Post Office Savings Bank deposits, the solemn warnings of leaders like Mr. Baldwin, and prelates like the Bishop of London, that within a few hours, if Labour came in, British money would be worthless, will seem as foolish in the days to come as the wise utterance of the politicians who vowed to squeeze the Germans until the pips squeaked.56 I read that because I could not have done it better myself. I do not profess to be a rhetorician or a master of words, and, therefore, when I find something better than I could produce myself, I do not mind using it. On the question of the Post Office, I hope some right hon. Gentleman on those benches—perhaps I might appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping will reassure the poor people who have money in the Post Office Savings Bank that, when a Chancellor of the Exchequer uses that money, he is only doing what every banker does. When a person deposits money with a bank, the bank does not dig a hole and drop it in and leave it there. It uses it, and makes a little out of using it for itself and for its shareholders. It is perfectly true that, if the whole of the currency went, everything connected with the currency would go, but it was a foul untruth to broadcast to the country that under the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was himself in charge of the finances of the country, money deposited in the Post Office Savings Bank was endangered. Nothing could be more wicked. I hope during the Debate the President of the Board of Trade will stand up in his place and will tell the country exactly what he meant, and will also make it perfectly clear that there never was on any occasion any question that the Post Office Savings Bank money, because it was lent to the Unemployment Fund, was in any danger. He knows perfectly well that it might have been used by the Government to pay wages, or to build dreadnoughts, but he also knows perfectly well that, while ever there was a penny in the country, the poor peoples savings would be safe. To use that as a stick to beat the Labour party was stooping so the very lowest depths.
There is another thing. We are told that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to his appointed place in the gilded Chamber, where I suppose he will have as his chief companion the greatest reactionary of my time, anyhow, Lord Banbury. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer out-Heroded even the right hon. Gentleman. He talked of the policy of the Labour party as Bolshevism run mad. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am very glad to get that cheer, because he himself, the auther and the writer of 57 the policy of the Labour party, is now a leader of the National party. Whatever of Bolshevism there is in "Labour and the Nation" or in the Labour party's manifesto, the right hon. Gentleman is as much responsible for as any man in the country. As for Philip Snowden—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"]. He is no longer a Member of this House, and he is not a member of the other, either. That degradation awaits him.
§ Mr. HANNON
On a point of Order. Is the right hon. Gentleman in order in making a reflection on another place?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I did not use that adjective about the House of Lords at all. I think in the circumstances it is a personal degradation to Philip Snowden, but I had no intention—after all, I must be judged by my intentions—of saying anything derogatory either to this House or to another place. That statement as to Bolshevism run mad had particular reference to the financial policy of the Labour party. No one in the country knows better than the Prime Minister that Philip Snowden had more to do with drawing up the scheme for dealing with banks than any other member of the Labour party. It may very well be that he has changed his mind—and that is something that is quite intelligible and understandable—but he has no right to denounce colleagues, two-and-a-half years after they have adopted the policy which he himself framed, as Bolshevist or accuse them of doing anything which he thinks would inflame the passions of the people against the Government. He would have been the first at this Box to have contested that his scheme for dealing with panics was "Bolshevism" or anything of a violent character at all. He used that word definitely and distinctly to inflame passions against his opponents.
What are we to think of a statesman who in less than three years, upon a great matter of public policy, turns round and says exactly the opposite of that which he said three years before on a matter that was not hurriedly settled? It took nearly a year of very patient discussion on the part of committee after committee, of which Mr. Snowden was 58 the chairman, to formulate that policy, and when I look back and think over the election, and the methods and the means by which it was won, I marvel that any of us remain to tell the tale. We are very comforted by the thought. We are. quite certain that an election won in this fashion can only bring evil, and we are strengthened in that belief by this kind of innocuous document called the King's Speech. There has never before been a document such as this put before Parliament. It is full of the east wind of emptiness. There is, from beginning to end, no concrete proposal about anything of any worth. They are still going to consider. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) has gone out of the Chamber. I remember on the occasion of the King's Speech of the late Government the right hon. Gentleman said, "We are going to think," and on these benches there was great hilarity at the thought that the Labour Government was really going to be a Government that thought about thinking. Now, apparently after eight or nine weeks' of wondering about things, the National Government are still going to think and still going to inquire.
When we went out of office we were warned that in an hour, or two hours at most, disaster would follow, and we thought that when the National Government of individuals was formed they were going to bring forward some great scheme by which the difficulties, which are by no manner of means, as the Prime Minister told the country last night, at an end, were to be dealt with. Why is it that we had a General Election when it was quite unnecessary? I am perfectly certain that any sane outsider will agree with me, that had there been agreement among the men who were at the head of the last Government, had there been any measure of agreement between them, they had great power in this House to carry through whatever they pleased. About that there is no question. Why is it that this document, which is full of nothingness, is put before us? Why? Because they agree about nothing.
In the days when the father of the right hon. Gentleman opposite launched the campaign, which, we are told, has triumphed in this Election, I remember 59 that people were not quite sure where the late Lord Balfour, then Mr. Balfour, stood, and I recollect that there were people who were called "little piggers" and "whole hoggers." I suppose that some on those benches are "whole hoggers" and some are "little piggers." The whole hoggers, I should say, are led by the Secretary of State for the Colonies (Sir P. Cunliffe-Lister). He is probably one of the full-blooded "whole hoggers." The "little pigger" probably is the gentleman who is now at the Board of Trade. He has told us that he is in favour of a little bit of Protection. "Just let us have a little of it on luxuries." He wants to do the maximum of evil to our Allies in France for the minimum of advantage here. Then we have the Home Secretary. I do not know where we shall find him. I have heard him speaking below the Gangway as if he would die in the last ditch before ever a tariff should be dreamt of. I have often said that God makes various kinds of people and mixes them up in a very varied manner. I am afraid that He has mixed up such a varied lot on that bench that there will be an unholy mess shortly.
The only other thing I wish to say generally is that we shall take our stand definitely and without any reservation that this is not a National Government, and that it is a Government that has won office by chicanery and fraud, by the abuse of broadcasting, and by raising a panic for which each Member of it knew there was not the least justification. But we shall not leave matters there. We propose in this House, as you, Mr. Speaker, and the Rules of the House give us opportunity—not because it is the duty of the Opposition to find a policy for the Government—to put our proposals before the House for dealing with this crisis, and we shall try to do so in such a manner that the nation, or whoever reads the reports of the House will be able to judge between what we actually propose and the grotesque distortions and misrepresentations put before them by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. We shall do that at the earliest possible moment. [An HON. MEMBER: "Then run away."] It really does not matter about the gibe that we ran away. Anyhow, we ran away from salaries that most of us would have been very glad to have main- 60 tained. We ran away from a position that most of us cared to occupy, and it is never an easy matter for any man to give up a position. Anyhow, a large number of our men have now to go and seek work. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] That is an exhibition of the generosity and gentlemanly feeling of one set of men towards another set who have fallen in the fight. You sometimes hear that we preach the class war. That cheer was the greatest example of class hatred. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is proposed—there is nothing in this document here; we do not know what may be done—to go on with the London Passenger Transport Bill and when, and whether he can tell us what is to become of the National Health Insurance (Prolongation of Insurance) Act. I am told that if that Measure expires at the end of this year 100,000 unemployed workers will lose both their Health Insurance rights and their pension rights. I should think that even a national party would want to prevent that from happening. I hope that the Prime Minister will be able to tell me what he proposes to do.
I should like also to ask him whether it will be possible to tell the country something about Manchuria and the happenings there. We think that it is of some importance, seeing that this country is a member of the League of Nations and that China and Japan are both members of the League of Nations, that the House of Commons should be told plainly and distinctly what steps, in conjunction with other nations, our own Government are taking in order to bring that dispute to an end without any more bloodshed. I should like to ask him whether it will be possible for the Secretary of State for India to give us one of those statements that were made periodically by his predecessor, Mr. Wedgwood Benn, when Secretary of State, as to the condition of affairs in India at the present time, and also whether there is any statement which he can make in regard to the Round Table Conference. Finally, I wish to say that I have been, I know, controversial and probably—[An HON. MEMBER: "Oh, no!"] Yes, I intended to be. I make no apology at all for that. I have said what I think, and I meant every word of it, and I should repeat it if I had the opportunity. [Interruption.] Yes, that 61 may be, but I want finally to say that the events that followed 1918 were based on a policy of revenge. It is often said that morals and that sort of thing do not count in politics, but there is a sentence which says:Vengeance is mine; I will repay.4.0 p.m.
Those hon. Members who have flooded the benches opposite and part of this side, at the end of 1918 cheerfully wanted to squeeze out of Germany and of Central Europe all that they felt they could possibly squeeze out of those countries. Vengeance was in the air. A peace was made which was no peace; a peace which imposed upon the German people the statement that they were responsible for the Great War, and they alone. Everybody knows now that the German people were no more responsible for the War than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University, and now that we have been able to read the diaries and glance through the lives of the statesmen who made the War and who made the peace, is it not time, when considering what shall be done about Reparations and indemnities, that the Prime Minister should put before his colleagues and the world the policy of the Labour movement, the policy which said, "Wipe out all memories of the War, wipe out all thought of indemnities and all thought of reparations, and let us start fair"? I believe that if we do that, we shall as inevitably reap what we sow as we are reaping today what was sown in 1919–20.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)
I never more heartily and sincerely joined in the congratulations which are habitual to the Mover and the Seconder of the Address than I do this afternoon. They were both bracing in their youthful vigour and enthusiasm. I hope they will not be too much depressed in that respect by the almost equally youthful and bracing utterance of my right hon. Friend opposite who, until the end of the chapter, will always remain to all of us the embodiment of a man bearing heavy years but an extraordinarily youthful mind. They showed a modesty which was very becoming and a touch which was most effective, but, above all, a confidence, perfectly proper, which gives great promise of their own future, and ought to make this House 62 proud of the younger men who have come in to carry on its traditions and its life.
I heard with great interest the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman towards the conclusion of his speech. He said that he is not going to regard us as a National Government. As far as I am concerned, I have no interests in adjectives whatever. There we are. What gave me much more interest was that in a somewhat threatening but, to me, most encouraging voice, he announced boldly that he is going to make his position clear. I shall wait for that with great pleasure. I shall welcome those proposals which he has to make, and I assure him beforehand that we shall approach those proposals in a truly national spirit, in the sense that whatever is good in them we shall adopt, and whatever is bad in them we shall reject. He has some grievance about a statement made by Mr. Snowden regarding the banking programme which was introduced by the Labour Opposition—the section of the Labour party in Opposition—after the Election started. They knew perfectly well that, as long as they had responsibility for facing the crisis which their own leader admitted to have existed—they knew perfectly well that as long as they had to share responsibility for that, not a single item in that programme was ever mentioned as a cure for the crisis, and the only reference that my right hon. Friend made—the reference about which complaint has been lodged—was as to those proposals as a contribution to the solution of the national crisis of the time. Hon. Members opposite can say what they like and do what they like, but nobody knows it better than they, and certainly than the Front Bench opposite, that if those proposals had been put forth by them when they were in the Government, they would have intensified the crisis and brought it right smash upon our heads.
I will leave my right hon. Friend's reminiscences of the Election for his further consideration. I must say that he does appear, however, this afternoon in a somewhat innocent garb. I, too, have recollections of the Election. I, too, have recollections of statements made which, if I pause to characterise them, I would borrow his adjectives in order to impart them to the House. But there it is. This House is back after that Election. The nation appreciated 63 the issue. For the right hon. Gentleman to say that the result of the Election was an indication of how nothing but baseness and falsehood can operate upon the minds of the people of this country may be a very good debating point in this House, but to my mind it is an insult to the intelligence and common sense of the electorate. The attitude of the late Government compelled the Election. It compelled, first of all, the formation of the first National Government, and when the right hon. Gentleman says now, in his innocent tone of voice, that the Election was quite unnecessary, I ask hon. Members who were here in the last Parliament to remember the denunciation passed upon the Government from the Box opposite, the demands made, for instance, by Mr. Greenwood in one of his perfervid orations in this House, that before we were two days in office we ought to go to the country because we had no authority to continue. The situation was such that, if there were any doubt in the mind either of this country or of the nations of the world as to the authority of the Government, then that Government could not perform its work, and the recent Election was absolutely necessary in order to convince not only this country, not only the Opposition, not only cliques within parties, but everybody concerned in this country and the whole world that the Government who were going to see this country through its financial crisis had the authority of the country, and, in asking for that authority and that mandate, we went to the country, and we are back in the proportions in which we now are.
The work of the Government will follow precisely the lines of the Manifesto upon which they won the Election. The Government stated the problems which had to be faced. There was the currency problem and there was the credit problem. There was the balance of trade problem, and there was the balancing of the Budget problem. The Government said, "We ask for an open mandate from the country to enable us, not as a party Government but as a Government containing representatives of all the parties, to face those problems, to produce proposals for their solution and to carry them into effect," and that 64 is what we are proposing to do. That is the position. The balancing of the Budget has been affected by sterling going off gold. Nevertheless, the House may take it, and the nation may take it, that that aim which the last Government placed before it and took the first steps to secure, will be pursued by this Government, and that at the end of the year the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be in the happy position of declaring that the Budget has been balanced, and that we are no longer living on our capital or upon borrowing. The industrial position is also showing very hopeful signs of improvement. There is no doubt at all that sterling going off gold gave certain advantages to our exports. But those advantages may well be temporary. They are advantages only in so far as they are special and peculiar to this country. They may be met by counteraction on the part of the importing foreign countries, or they may be met by similar currency movements either of will, of design, or perforce on the part of foreign countries trading with us. Therefore, they are not a sufficient answer to the problem of how to balance our national credit.
There is a great danger to the people of this country that these changes in currency value may be used for the purpose of profiteering. The Government will keep their eye upon that. The Government have already taken power to deal with it, and if in the evolution of these transactions the Government should find that that power is inadequate, is cither not drastic enough or not wide enough in its application, the Government will have no hesitation whatever in coming back to this House to ask for further power and amend that which is already passed. But there is one thing for which, at first sight, we have, perhaps, to apologise, though, as a matter of fact, it may be, if properly controlled, one of the most essential conditions for a reviving world trade; that is, the rise in the price of primary commodities. On that there is no party in the country that has written more and written more wisely than the party opposite that when the price of primary products, like wheat and like agricultural products, goes down and down and down until the power of the economic demand possessed 65 by agriculturists and others has become so small that the industrial populations cannot be kept in employment, then the first sign of a real revival not of national trade only but of world trade shows itself in an increase in the price of these things, and the recent increase really ought to be a sign of encouragement rather than a source of depression in our minds. Of course, one has to be very careful—and so long as this Government is composed as it is it will be careful—so long as the present Government is in power it will be careful—that these increases of prices in the primary products, in wheat for instance, will not be reflected in an exaggerated way in the cost of products. For example, the cost of bread if it is to go slightly up—as has been advocated by the other side so often—shall not go up one farthing above the economic limit which is necessary in order to revive world trade by raising the price of primary products.
What is happening in our own case at the moment by our increased productivity is that we are getting a bigger share in the world's trade than we have had recently, but the unsatisfactory position is this, that, although our nation may be getting a larger proportion of the world's trade, the volume of the world's trade itself is not as yet going up in a satisfactory way. That, therefore, brings us to the next task which the Government have before them and which, as a matter of fact, they have begun. My right hon. Friend referred to what I said about reparations, War debts, and so on. I say that now. Standing as I stand here to-day, responsible for my part, at any rate, in the work to which we have put our hands, I am consistent. I say here, as I have said on the benches opposite, and outside this House, that so long as the will of man forces upon the world an unnatural economic adjustment the world will never succeed and it will never prosper. You cannot decree by your will that certain blocks of gold—for it comes ultimately down to that when you have high tariff walls preventing imports—shall be transferred from one nation to another. That economy is crazy, and it is bound to result not only in the impoverishment of the nation that hands out the gold, but ultimately, if not immediately, in the impoverishment of the nation which re- 66 ceives it. Therefore, I am perfectly consistent in that respect. What has to be done is to get at once—it is already in hand—in contact, first of all, with the nations primarily concerned, so that arrangements may be made to extricate ourselves from this absurd economic entanglement which we have got into. But we have to be very careful about it, if we are to succeed and not to fail. That is the difference between succeeding and bungling—the amount of care and clear thought which are given to preparation.
If we came out straightaway and said that all this is to be renounced by a stroke of the pen, or by some act which amounts to a revolutionary act, what would happen? Why did not the right hon. Gentleman opposite do that two years ago? Because he knew perfectly well that that was not the way to do it. A declaration on the part of the present Government that that is what they are going to stand for—the right hon. Gentleman knew that perfectly well two years ago—would be an absurdity. It would lead to nothing but failure, and it would leave the problem in a more mixed-up position than it was before. No, we are not going to follow the right hon. Gentleman's advice in that respect, but we are going to follow this advice, that in the end, and before the world can fully recover itself, we must put completely behind us those very mistaken economic policies which we have been pursuing since 1918 or 1919. We, therefore, are getting into the necessary international conferences and negotiations. For myself, as I said last night, I place the very highest importance upon the visit of the French Prime Minister to the American President. I hope that it will lead, first of all, to an understanding between France and Germany, but in the full understanding, in the final understanding, every nation in the world must be party to the agreement. That is the policy of this Government.
As regards another aspect of the balancing of trade, as I have already said, we must consider what has been the effect on that balancing of sterling going off gold. Assuming that the effect is good in certain directions, there are other directions where counter-balancing effects have to be taken into account. Supposing the sum total was good, we shall make a profound mistake if we 67 assume that it is going to be a permanent effect. Among the various means taken to secure that end, there is the question of tariffs. So far as the Government are concerned they stick to the manifesto. [HON. MEMBERS: "What manifesto?"] The manifesto asking for power to consider the question, asking for power to investigate, asking for power to act. One of the great points made at the election was that we were committed to the taxation of food. We are not. Every consideration is to be taken into account. I am surprised at the Opposition, who themselves at the present moment are engaged in an inquiry into tariffs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] Through the Trades Union Congress. It is all very well—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
One of the greatest jokes at the Election—[An HON. MEMBER: "It was a joke!"] Yes, it was a great joke, was the incursion of a leading trade unionist into my constituency. He went through like a whirlwind, and expected to sweep everything before him. As a result, he lost his own seat. I rather regret it. All I had to do was to quote a resolution, a decision of the Trades Union Congress which leaves tariffs as an open question, requiring further investigation—a decision temporarily suspended during the Election, in order that, with the minimum amount of uprightness and honesty to satisfy the right hon. Gentleman's characteristics, they might denounce us as the intended taxers of the poorest of the poor people. Now that the Election is over, I presume that they will go back to their proper minds and their proper intentions.
At the present moment the old familiar word "dumping" is coming to the forefront of the stage once more. What is dumping? Let us drop that tendentious word. If there are excesses of imports which are to do serious and permanent damage to our trade, that is a problem. They may be sold at prices higher than our prices, they may be sold at prices the same as ours, or they may be sold at prices lower than ours. All these things have to be ascertained. This Government and this House are not going to come to conclusions and to produce Measures supposed to be cures or sup- 68 posed to be necessary simply in a blind, fumbling and unintelligent way. Figures are already in preparation, and before the House rises for this part of the Session, if the Government think it is necessary, they will report to the House, make recommendations, and ask for powers to deal with the problem which has been ascertained.
I hope that this will be a very short Session. So far as I am concerned, we will let you go as soon as you like, but in the meantime some business has to be done. First of all, I must ask—it will be done to-morrow, as is usual in these special circumstances—that Private Members' time, provided by Standing Orders, shall be given up to the Government. It is only formal, because any loss has to be made up. There are other things we must do. There is what is called the Statute of Westminster, which carries into effect agreements come to, first of all in a literal form, between the Dominions and the last Conservative Government and in a more legal form agreements on the same subject and covering precisely the same ground which the Labour Government came to with the Dominion representatives at the Imperial Conference. Therefore, we do not expect that there will be any controversy about it, because every party in the House and every section in the House stands committed to it. The Expiring Laws Continuance Bill will have to be dealt with, and there I think there will be no great difficulty. The right hon. Gentleman asked about two Bills. The London Passenger Transport Bill is at present under negotiation. I regret very much that it was quite impossible to get this Bill through during the last part of the last Session of Parliament. The Bill is still under consideration with the promoters and those concerned as to when it can be taken and whether they want it in its present form or not, or how the matter should now be dealt with.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It is not exactly a Government Measure. I am not going to quibble about words, but so far as the Government are concerned they are fully aware of the tremendous loss of time and energy and drafting and thinking if the Bill is to be dropped, and, as far as I am concerned, it is our inten- 69 tion to get the London Passenger Transport Bill, either in its present form or amended in order to smooth its passage without really striking out any of its essential provisions, through Parliament and into an Act of Parliament. With regard to the Insurance Bill, if a question is put to the Minister of Health, who has the matter in hand—it has not been overlooked at all—at the end of this week or the beginning of next the House will be informed as to what we propose to do.
§ Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT
In view of what the Prime Minister has just said, do I understand that before the House rises the Government will take action to deal with any flow of imports which are affecting this country at the present moment? May I ask him—I do not want an answer now—whether we may hear definitely from the Government before the Debate on the Address is disposed of what action will be taken?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I thought I was perfectly clear. The Government will take whatever action is necessary. If the Government discover after thorough and scientific inquiry that this is not a menace at all they will report it to the House, but the House will receive from the Government, before this part of the Session closes, their conclusions upon this subject. We must find out by inquiry what the figures are and how they are distributed over imports, and how they compare with the imports in previous seasons in previous years. But the Government must not produce their cure before they have diagnosed the disease. I assure the House that that is not the method by which the Government will proceed.
I was asked whether any information could be given with regard to the position in Manchuria. The information which has been published in the Press stating what has happened at the Council of the League in Geneva and giving the day to day movement of troops and events is practically all that we have got, I understand, at the Foreign Office, but if the right hon. Gentleman will give notice of his question and repeat it to-morrow as a Private Notice Question, the latest information will be given. With regard to the question of the Secretary of State for India making reports upon the con- 70 dition of India, I will communicate with the Secretary of State and whatever opportunity presents itself for that purpose will be taken. So far as the Round Table Conference is concerned, which I think was the final question the right hon. Gentleman put, it will go on, and I hope sufficient agreement will be reached to enable the Government to go ahead and produce their policy in the form of practical proposals for legislation. That is all I need say, because I hope that this part of the Session will be very short. What is required at this moment is administration and negotiation. The great menace, if I may use the word—I do not like it—the great problem in front of us is the financial problem of Europe.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Yes, but the storm clouds are coming from there at this moment, and they intensify our position and make it impossible for us to avoid certain things which, but for them, we could easily avoid.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
You cannot possibly deal with the financial and industrial position of this country without considering it in relation to the weaknesses abroad. Our trouble two or three months ago was not owing to the internal conditions here, but to the influence of external conditions and external psychologies upon our particular financial position. These negotiations must be put in hand at once, and the Government will take up most of its time immediately upon that.
May I put a question to the Prime Minister? I do not know whether it is in order, I do not know whether the Government is completely formed, but I should like to ask the Prime Minister whether, considering that the women did so well in the last election, he does not think that it would strengthen the National Government if he had a woman on the Front Bench.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I should be very glad not only to have one in the Administration, but half-a-dozen, and if my Noble Friend will find that there are not quite so many, or even perhaps worse than that, I, having made that statement 71 to her and given her that assurance, am perfectly certain she will not blame me for the result.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I plead guilty. I did not mean that the Noble Lady should understand it. But I promise her this, that what I have said this afternoon will enlighten her tomorrow morning when she looks up her newspaper. I have nothing further to add except to say this, that I believe the House, unique as it is, can perform a unique work for the restoration of this country. If it is not too late, and I hope it is not, I would appeal to the Opposition, while keeping its individuality perfectly distinct, to help the Government in every way on all these questions of national finance, national credit, and national confidence. Beyond that I do not go. What we want now is a breathing space so that we can adjust ourselves to the new world that has come upon us, partly by folly, partly by faith and partly by wisdom, since 1913. Unless and until we have adjusted our economics and our policy, unless and until we have adjusted our social fabric to that new world, this nation will be stagnant and uncertain, and will suffer severely and greatly from a serious lack of confidence. What I hope the whole House will do is to unite as one party in restoring the nation to that essential foundation of national strength, respect and greatness.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I wish to associate myself with the tributes that have been paid to the two hon. Members who have moved and seconded the Address. I wish to add nothing to what has been said by previous speakers with reference to the skill and capacity with which they have discharged their difficult task. I would only say this, that probably a long time will elapse before they have another opportunity of so easily catching the Speaker's eye as on this occasion. I congratulate them on having made the most of what might be a somewhat rare opportunity. In the short time that I shall address the House I do not wish to take it away from the traditional non-controversial mood which is supposed to be the proper atmosphere on King's 72 Speech day. I have this much in common with the Prime Minister, that we are both discards from the Labour party, he because he is alleged to have departed from the principles and policy of Socialism, and I and my colleagues because we have refused to do so. I think I really am in a happier position to-night than he is. He has got the numbers behind him. Presumably he has got power behind him. I hope that events will not disprove that assumption. I have nothing but a certain measure of independence and a very clear vision of the kind of country that I want this to be, and the type of life that I want our people to live. In past years I believe that his purposes and intentions were similar to mine. I am afraid that one of us must have been wrong in those days, because I cannot see any progress being made towards a Socialist ideal by—what shall I call it?—the congeries that is collected behind the present Government.
I think that proof of the Prime Minister's imprisonment is evidenced by the fact that in the whole course of his speech to-day he knew that it was quite impossible for him to mention the word Socialism or to refer to the sufferings and wrongs of the working-classes. I listened to the speech that the right hon. Gentleman made over the wireless immediately after the Election. I am not quoting precisely the words that he used, but there was a phrase like this: "The interests of the working-classes will not be over looked." That seemed to me just too, too nice to the working-classes. Considering that this Government sits here with the votes of something like 10,000,000 of the working-classes, it would seem to me just a little bit out of place to tell the 10,000,000,"Well, you have elected us. We do not need you for some considerable time, but you have our assurance that you will not be overlooked entirely. We are very much absorbed with the gold standard and the trade balance and so on, and with India and other things, but in the few intervals of leisure that we have we will see how the working-classes who voted for us are getting on." So far as I can see in the King's Speech that promise by the Prime Minister has not been fulfilled. So far as the King's Speech is concerned the interest of the working-classes has been entirely overlooked.
73 I do not know what is the period that the King's Speech is supposed to cover. Is it for the few weeks that elapse before the Christmas Recess or is it for 12 months? Or, as it has been on previous occasions, is it for a longer term? If we assume that it is for the period of a year as a minimum, this must be absolutely the first King's Speech within the memory of the oldest Member of this House when there has been no reference to some measure of social amelioration, however small that measure might be. I used to say frequently in the last House that there was no real crisis in this country except the crisis in the homes of the people. It used to be said by the Prime Minister and others opposite that if we restored the finances of the country and the trade balance, then incidentally the workers would partake in the resulting prosperity. Presumably that is the argument, that if you restore trade, restore money, restore the trade balance, then incidentally the workers will get their share of the new prosperity. But that has never been true at any time under the capitalist system.
There have been years of high capitalist prosperity in this country. There have been years and years when the industrialists and the captains of industry in this country were making millions, sending them abroad for investment and hoarding up surplus wealth at a great rate, and when budgets were small and easily balanced. The trade balance was all our way up to a year ago. It represented hundreds of millions to us. Even last year it was to some extent a favourable balance to this nation. Will anyone tell me that at any time, prosperous or non-prosperous, the working classes of this country were not poor? At the time of highest prosperity, at the time when British trade was triumphant over the whole world, when we could really claim to be the workshop of the world, children were dying in the slums, while the workers were being sweated for long hours in the factories, and general starvation or want was the lot of the whole working class.
If the Labour Opposition responds to the appeal made by the Prime Minister, to sink and sacrifice everything for the sake of restoring business and financial prosperity, what guarantee have we that 74 the new promise of capitalism is going to bring any more of the workers into prosperity than previous promises. Personally I have no faith in the ability of the Government to solve this crisis. I hope I may be wrong. I hope it may be true that this collection of men now called the National Government have developed ideas and character and capacity for action, when huddled together on one bench and collected from various parties—I hope that in their corporate capacity they will develop qualities and ideas that they never had when in separate parties. For the problem has been going on for 12 years. During all that time we have seen a steady deterioration of the national position, so far as trade, industry and finance were concerned. Each group in turn had its opportunities on the Government Benches—Liberal, Conservative, Labour, Conservative and Labour again. All the minds that have been available in this House during the last 12 years are the minds that are available to the National Government now. The nation went from bad to worse, till they came to us and said, "The ship of State is on the rocks. We are the captains who ran it on the rocks. Give us the power to sail it off."
I do not believe that the ideas or the capacity for self-sacrifice present either in the individuals concerned or in the political philosophies that have been contributed to the National Government, can do anything else but take this nation, not from crisis into prosperity, but from crisis into catastrophe. I could read between the lines of the speech of the Prime Minister last night, that he realised all the dangerous elements that there are in the situation. He has displayed it in his attitude to-day and in the speeches that he has made since the Election. He knows that the mere formation of a National Government, the mere getting together of three or four diverse elements in one party, does not, take this nation one step nearer to the solution of its difficulties. Nor does it establish that confidence, either here or abroad, which has been asserted by all parties to be absolutely essential to a solution of our difficulties.
Let us notice that the thing that caused the Government to come into being at all was the absolutely imperative neces- 75 sity of preventing the nation from going off the Gold Standard. That was the one thing which at all costs had to be prevented. It is the one thing that happened, and it is the one thing that the Prime Minister cited to-day as being a contributory factor in easing the situation. The going on the Gold Standard was a 10 years' process. For 10 years we struggled manfully to get on the Gold Standard and to get prices down. That was the great aim and object of successive Governments. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) struggled like a hero towards the Gold Standard. Another right hon. Gentleman, Mr. Philip Snowden, also struggled like a hero to keep on the Gold Standard. They both fought like maniacs to keep the nation from slipping off. Now that we are off they are all shouting "Hooray." It is 10 years' work wasted.
If it is true, as the Prime Minister suggested to-day, that this keeping of lumps of gold is no use at all, let us remember that our financial policy, the policy that was pursued by successive Governments on the advice of their experts at the Treasury and at the Bank of England, was to get as much gold as possible into this country and to relate our currency to it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Aye, aye. Now that we are off the Gold Standard and most of the gold is in America and France, we say, "Sour grapes. It was not gold at all. We were just chaffing you during those years, just playing with you and toying with you. Gold is no use to you at all. We have to get another standard." I agree, but all the elements in the National Government helped to propagate, in their own time and season, the myth of the Gold Standard and I am quite certain that they have not departed from it yet. Therefore, I say that any efforts that may be made by the present Government, whether in the direction of further economy, or in the direction of trade restrictions, or in the direction of trying to stabilise the monetary system of this country—all these methods in my opinion will make a bad situation infinitely worse until real catastrophe has to be faced, and when that occasion has arisen, then, for the first time, there may be a serious appreciation of the type of job which we are supposed to do in this House.
76 To-day I can only feel on one side a spirit of gloating over defeated opponents and I can only hear from the other side wailing about defeat. That is the spirit abroad in this House. On the one side, "We have won; woe to the vanquished," and on the other side, "We have been defeated but you did it in a dirty way." But wait! You will need a different spirit from that. You will need first, a definite recognition of the fact that the nation has to assume a definite and practical responsibility for the organisation and direction of our industrial life. You claim to have been elected in order to get some national control over foreign trade and exports. That is one of your mandates. You cannot do that unless you are going to control our internal industrial life; unless you are going to plan it out; unless you are going to decide what the nation wants to produce and what it has to import; unless you are going to decide where that is going to be produced and who is going to produce it, and under what conditions it is going to be produced.
There has been a great appeal for sacrifice. We tell the unemployed man to be a patriot and to tighten his belt and to live on 15s. 3d. a week, for the nation's good. But that is trivial stuff. That is childish, besides being mean and low and dirty. It is merely playing with a serious situation. You are imposing sacrifices on the man whose whole life is a sacrifice. But the Government will have to come along, as the Mussolinis have had to do, aye and as the Lenins and the Pilsudskis and the Spanish dictators have had to do, and say to the captains of industry, to the masters of money, to the chieftains of commerce "Look here, we cannot allow you to run your show to suit yourselves. You have to run it as the nation directs, and for the general national welfare." That is what this Government will have to do, among other things, if it is going to deal with the situation. Is it going to do that? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] Are its supporters game to support it in the doing of that?
Furthermore, you are facing a world crisis which arises not through scarcity, not through failure of crops, not through lack of raw materials, not through scarcity of labour, not through famine. You are facing a crisis which arises from a superabundance of material things and, behind that, a superabundant power to 77 produce more. In such circumstances, when you are facing a crisis which arises out of superabundance, it is the height of madness to say that the way out of the crisis is by compelling the mass of your own people to consume less than they are consuming to-day. But that is what we have said already. Already, employers are lengthening hours. Imagine lengthening the hours of employed workers when there are 3,000,000 workers who you cannot employ. But you say to the employed people "You have to work longer."
I was shocked to discover that now, when the nation is under the leadership of the Prime Minister, a factory in my constituency puts cotton operatives back to the early morning start at 6 o'clock and a working week of nearly 60 hours. That is since the National Government came into office. [Interruption.] An hon. Member who is too young to know that it is out of order to interrupt from below the Bar, says that they are getting paid for it. He is one of the Prime Minister's supporters, presumably. They are getting paid exactly the same for the lengthened working week as they were getting paid for the former working week. Is that the way to meet a situation which arises from superabundance? That only intensifies your crisis. You will have to get down to it, and devise ways and means of making it possible for your working people, now, to consume more of the material things of life.
That is a problem of statesmanship I admit. It requires a little more courage than knocking 2s. 9d. or 1s. 9d. a week off an unemployed man. You can do that in five minutes and damn the consequences, but it takes some brains and planning to establish a system that will guarantee to every human being in our nation the ability to maintain a decent standard of life and make himself an effective customer for the nation's products. That requires statesmanship. Will your Conservatives and Liberals and Simon Liberals and Samuel Liberals stand by the Socialist or ex-Socialist Prime Minister in establishing, for the first time in the history of this nation, an opportunity for the mass of the common people to live with some sense of security with some comfort for more than a week on end? Will they stand by that? 78 Not a sound from one of them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] You are too late now. If you meant it, if you were genuine, the response would have been immediate.
I wish to put it to the Prime Minister that there are two or three things which he can do and which he ought to do. I also ask his colleagues the Minister of Labour, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Education to bend their attention to these things, because they have had some association with the development of our social services. I ask the Prime Minister, in the first place, not to proceed further to put into operation that very dastardly Anomalies Measure in connection with Unemployment Insurance. The Prime Minister knows that it is no answer to me to point to the Opposition. I was absolutely consistent in my opposition to that Measure—
§ Mr. MAXTON
Now that I see it in operation, I realise more fully than I did previously, how wicked it is in its effects, and how evil are its social consequences, and I am sure that hon. Members on this side above the Gangway who supported that Measure when it was being put through by the Labour Government, now realise that it was a wicked and indefensible thing.
§ Mr. MAXTON
And you have got the worst as well. You have got both. I also ask the Prime Minister not to proceed with the abominable means test which creates a most horrible situation in our big cities. There are three model lodging houses in my division and I visited them in the course of the election. Many of the inmates of a model lodging house of that kind are unfortunate men. Some are men who have deserted wives; some have deserted youngsters, some have deserted aged parents but every man living in that lodging house, because his earnings do not form part of a family income, is entitled on the means test to draw his full unemployment benefit. And yet in my constituency there are men who are doing their best to keep aged parents. There are men trying to maintain disabled ex-service brothers. There 79 are men who have youngsters—one of whom perhaps will run round with newspapers earning a shilling or two in that way. But if these men go to get unemployment benefit the aged mother's old age pension is taken into account, the disabled soldiers pension is taken into account, the two or three shillings a week which the wee boy gets from selling newspapers—all that is taken into account and because that man is doing his family duty as a husband, as a father or as a brother he is not to get his full allowance but something less and perhaps nothing at all. That is abominable. We used to be gibed at by people who said that we were out to destroy home life and to break up the family, to set father against son and wife against husband. I cannot conceive any measure for doing that more effectively than by this proposal if it is put into operation now.
There is one other thing which I would ask the Prime Minister to do. In reply to a deputation he gave a not unfriendly reply on this, and to questions put by my Friend the late Member for Camlachie on the same point he did not return a complete negative. That is the question of rents. We urge that, having regard to reductions which have taken place in prices and costs generally, now is the time to carry through a great reduction in Tents. All the reasons for giving house owners the right to the increase of 40 per cent. have now gone completely. The arguments of rising costs, expensive labour, expensive repairs, have all vanished. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] I do not want to get into any hair-splitting on that point.
§ Lieut.-Colonel FREMANTLE
May I refer the hon. Member to the report of the Departmental Committee on Rent Restrictions on which there were five members of the Labour party and a Labour chairman? If he refers to that report I think he will find that what he is saying now is not true.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I thought that the hon. and gallant Gentleman knew me a little better and knew my attitude in this House and in politics generally too well to think that reports of Royal Commissions—
§ Mr. MAXTON
That is the measure of the hon. and gallant Member's mind, if he thinks that there is any essential difference. I might be prepared to pay a certain tribute of respect to a Royal Commission, but none whatever to a Departmental Committee. It is a matter of common knowledge that wages, and the prices of bread, butter, tea and sugar—it is part of the great Conservative defence of the system—have all come down since the Increase of Rent Act was passed 10 or 11 years ago. Therefore, I urge the Government to take the necessary steps in that matter. Already I see the difficulties which are likely to be encountered in that matter, from the interruption of the hon. and gallant Member for St. Albans (Lieut.-Colonel Fremantle), but I ask the Government to take the necessary steps to reduce the rents of all houses to the pre-War level.
I ask them in the midst of their other absorptions, in their attempt to save the finance and industry of this country—in which I am certain they are bound to fail—to do two or three things which may alleviate the lot of the masses of the people of this country. For Heaven's sake, do not say, "Wait until this other trouble is over and then we shall deal with your case." That is always what is said to the workers—wait! They have waited patiently. They have shown to Ministers and to parties in this country a toleration and a patience beyond all understanding. I, for one, hope that that patience has now been exhausted. I hope, unless results are forthcoming and forthcoming very speedily, in the concrete experience of prosperity in the homes of the people, that they will not be disturbed by the comparatively small size of the Opposition in this House, that they will realise that the resources of the working class are not exhausted when a Parliamentary Opposition raises their grievances on the Floor of this House. I hope that the long-suffering working class will give definite evidence to those who have owned and controlled and run this country from the beginning of time, that they are not tolerating it any longer, and that we shall get for the first time in this country an opportunity to build a decent State, on a decent foundation, and that, having swept away all this superstructure of wealth and power and influence, of which the Noble Lady is 81 such an outstanding example, having swept all that out of the road, they can start to build up a new social order on foundations of human decency, fair play and common justice.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I should not have ventured to ask the ear of the House on the first day of a new Parliament were it not that there are some circumstances which have an important bearing on questions of trade and finance and that these questions are of importance and urgency to the nation at the present time. The circumstances to which I wish to draw attention are circumstances to which I think very insufficient public attention has been given. The Prime Minister has spoken of the question whether we have an excess of imports and, if so, whether those imports are underselling home products or not. I do not wish to go into that question, but I would respectfully say to him that the question whether there are agricultural products coming into this country of many different kinds which are underselling, obviously and cruelly, our home products is a question to which the rural constituencies of this country would give an immediate and identical answer.
I am here representing a rural constituency that has no doubt at all about that matter, but I do not wish to enter into that side of the question as to whether or not there is going on in this country what is commonly referred to as dumping. I desire rather to call the attention of the House to the peculiar form of competition, as I believe, dumping competition, to which this country and other countries of the world are being exposed owing to Soviet Russia's Five-Years Plan. That is a plan to which I think no exception could have been taken by other countries had the rulers of Soviet Russia given their great country sufficient time to develop their plan, but because they have been determined to carry through the reconstruction of the agriculture of the country and the building up of many new industries in an impossibly short time, they have done two things. They have subjected their people, on the one hand, to an intolerable strain, and they have subjected other countries to an excessive and also, as I think, intolerable strain from the competitive exports which they have sent them.
82 I wish to draw attention to the Russian side of the question, namely, to the terrible strain on the people of Russia to which the export policy of that country has subjected them. When a country has to suffer the form of competition known as dumping—and I believe we are suffering from that particular form of competition from other countries as well as from Soviet Russia—at least that competition from other countries comes to us from the manufacturers of those countries after they have satisfied the needs of their own people. After they have satisfied those needs, they send us their surplus and dispose of their surplus as best they can below the cost of production or below the cost at which we could produce, but we cannot be too clear that the dumping from Soviet Russia is of an entirely unparalleled nature, because Soviet Russia is not sending her country's surplus exports after she has satisfied the needs of her people; she is sending to other countries, and notably and primarily to this country, agricultural products of which her own people stand in the direst need. Therefore, the dumping of agricultural products from Soviet Russia to this end is something absolutely exceptional and unparalleled. I believe it to be something of which the world has never known the like.
Members of the last Parliament may remember that in January last on one and the same day we were given instances of the prices at which the main articles of food were being sold in Soviet Russia, on the one hand in the co-operative stores at prices fixed by the Government, and on the other hand on the free market. We were told that, for instance, wheat flour was being sold at Government fixed prices from 19s. a cwt. upwards, and on the free market, where, of course, price corresponds to supply, at no less than from £32 to £37 15s. a cwt. Another reply on the same day told us that Russian wheat was coming into this country at a price that averaged out over 1930 at no more than 6s. 1d. a cwt. There you had in two answers the whole of the terrible situation, of the agricultural products so badly needed by the people of Russia being supplied to them in such meagre quantities that there was that tremendous difference between the home, unregulated price, the natural price, and 83 the price at which the Government was exporting them.
The first of these same replies gave the prices for Russian butter, eggs, and poultry on the home market, which, when compared with the average prices at which those commodities came into this country, showed exactly the same tremendous and tragic difference. The same process is going on. A few weeks ago poultry were being sold in this country from Soviet Russia, I am told, at about 1s. 2d. or 1s. 6d. each, where they could command £2 2s. at least in their own country. Only lately I have been shown a letter written in October by a Russian scientist, saying that the food situation there now is much worse. The replies to which I have alluded were given last January, but this letter written in October says the food situation now is much worse. It states that sugar and bread of very poor quality can only be obtained on ration cards, the cards which limit the workers of Russia as to the amount of the necessaries of life that they can buy each month at a fixed price. It goes on to say that the non-manual worker can get no fats, no groats, no milk or dairy products. The latter are available only for children. There had been no meat in the co-operative shops for long, and throughout the summer fish had only been seen once.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I cannot quote the name of the professor at this moment, but I can quote the name of the newspaper in which it was published.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I cannot give the name at the moment, but it was a Russian scientist, and it appeared in the Russian paper "Dni" on 31st October. Readers of home newspapers will have heard lately of the prosecution that the Russian Government have conducted of the chairman and directors of the State Sugar Trust for having endeavoured to purchase direct from the peasants supplies for their own workers; and why have the directors done that? Simply because so often workers leave their jobs, 84 in spite of the dire penalties to which the Government subject them if they do leave their jobs, because of the insufficiency of food supplies in the restaurants in which they have to buy them. Therefore, the directors of the Sugar Trust thought that they would endeavour to secure supplies of a food for their own workers, and for the crime of interference with the system of centralised supplies, the chairman and directors have been prosecuted and punished. I only quote that as an indication that the scarcity of food, which was so obvious from those Parliamentary replies last January, is still very serious.
Because there is this terrible scarcity of food, the Government are able to conscript the work of workers all over the Soviet Union, men, women and children, for whatever work the Government desire them to do; and because a refusal of any work to which a worker is detailed may bring about loss of the precious ration card that alone enables him to purchase any food at a fixed and reasonable price, the Government have practical power to compel all the people of Russia to take whatever work they are detailed to do. Therefore, to-day we have a spectacle, such as the world has never seen, of a population of 160,000,000, men, and women, and even children from the age of 12 upwards, being set to work in factories, mines, timber camps or forests. They are made to work for an unlimited period anywhere in the vast area of the Soviet Union, and—
I am not concerned with what the Government of Russia do, but I think we want as far as possible to tell the truth about the general mass of the Russian people. When one went there one found that the Russians know nothing about our conditions whatever, and we know very little about their conditions in Russia, but I must say that I never saw children of 12 years old in factories, and I saw the tremendous effort of the Russian people to educate their children—far greater than ever before in the history of Russia.
Duchess of ATHOLL
If the Noble Lady will devote a little time to studying the blue book on the Labour laws of Russia published by the late Government early this year, she will realise the system of increasing conscription under which the Russian people, men, women and children, have been living for the last 18 months, and I shall be very happy on another occasion, privately, to give her evidence of children from the age of 12 at work in the forests. She will find the decrees in the Blue Book if she will take the trouble to go to the Vote Office.
I am not defending the things which go on in Russia, but I do not think it helps the situation here at home for us to interfere with the kind of Government that they have in Russia. I am far more interested in the condition of working children and working people here in England than in Russia—far more.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I think the House will observe that the Noble Lady has raised a point that I did not raise. I am entirely at one with her that the question of the form of government in Russia is no concern of ours. It is only when a country enters into trade relations with us and, as I hold, exports goods to us under conditions which very seriously affect our trade, that I think we are bound to look into those conditions and, as I think, too few people have studied those conditions. If the Noble Lady will study them, I am sure that she will see that forced labour is going on now in Russia. We are concerned with this, that by the admission of the ruler of the Soviet Union the Five-Years Plan cannot continue without a regular system of conscription, and the Noble Lady realises that that is going on.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I am sorry if I am to understand that she approves of it. It is entirely contradictory of the best and finest traditions of this country.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I will pass to another feature of work in Soviet Russia, that is, the increasing use of prison 86 labour on a commercial basis. Hon. Members may not have seen the figures published recently. An estimate was made by a Commissar of Justice, and the director of the Institute of Research on War, of what will be the net profit on prison labour in 1931. The estimate is that the net profit on prison labour in factories, mines, and various undertakings will be nearly 50,000,000 roubles, or £5,000,000 after meeting an estimated expenditure on prisons, various detention centres and so on, a figure which is put at £4,600,000. The figures therefore show an estimated gross output of prison labour of a value of £9,500,000. There again we have something that no civilised country of the world has ever seen, something that is very terrible indeed, which constitutes an entirely new factor in international trade relations. I ask the Government to look into this question very carefully in any examination that they may make. It is not enough to look into trade figures or prices. A grave responsibility rests on the Government to examine closely this question of general forced labour and of prison labour on a commercial basis. If they make that examination, I think that they will find that what I have said is justified, and they may then well ask themselves whether it is consistent with some of the finest traditions of this country to continue to trade with a country that uses its labour in that way.
It will be a terrible falling off in our ideas, close on 100 years from the time when the people of this country with less national wealth than they have today, spent over £30,000,000 to free the slaves in the West Indies, if, once we have ascertained these facts, we should be ready to go on trading with a nation that uses forced and prison labour so openly. If we do continue to trade with a country under those conditions, we shall set a terrible precedent to other countries. We not only go back on our own precedents, but open up menacing possibilities of other countries following the example of Soviet Russia, for, if we once countenance this thing in one country, we cannot object to it in another. If the Five-Years Plan, which is admittedly based on conscript and prison labour, is successful, other countries may think that it is an example they may follow with material advantage to themselves. In this matter 87 not only the traditions and the ethics of this country, but the self-preservation of this country, is at stake, because I do not believe that any system of tariffs to which the Government might bring themselves after careful consideration could effectively keep out the exports of a country so bent upon exporting and realising sales at any price as Soviet Russia appears to be under the pressure of the Five-Years Plan.
I would remind the House that there are other countries that have felt driven to take what seems a very drastic step. Canada, Rumania, Jugoslavia and Bulgaria have practically excluded Soviet goods; but they are not big purchasers and perhaps their embargo makes little difference. Belgium, however, is a bigger purchaser, and she has a system by which she imports only certain Soviet products under licence. Because we are the biggest purchaser of Soviet exports, a tremendous responsibility rests upon us in this matter, and if, after mature deliberation, the Government felt that this was a step that they were ready to take, I believe that other large purchasers of Soviet imports would inevitably be obliged to follow our example. The difficulty that has been held up hitherto has been that the Five-Years Plan has meant that Soviet Russia wished to buy machinery, and our heavy industries, in days when they were afflicted with terrible depression, grasped at any chance of securing orders from Soviet Russia, and the late Government inaugurated a system of guaranteeing credits on exports to Russia. Speaking on this subject last July, I said that I thought this was a very short-sighted policy on the part of our heavy industries, because it is clear that one of the main aims of the Five-Years Plan is to develop Russia's own heavy industries so that they will be no longer dependent on other countries. Now I regard it as risky to give any credits to Russia on orders of this kind.
If hon. Members have studied the second memorandum published by the Birmingham University Research Department into Russian economic conditions, they will have noted that from 1921 to 1930 there was an adverse balance against Russia of no less than £60,000,000. To 1929, moreover, the values of the exports represented only declared values 88 before they left Russia. They did not represent the actual sales, and the memorandum expresses the opinion that the actual sales between 1921 to 1929 were probably from 10 per cent, to 20 per cent. less than the declared values. It is further evident that these figures do not allow for freight from the Russian frontier, or for insurance and the payment of import duties at the other end. Therefore, in the opinion of men who have had experience of Soviet trading methods, the adverse trade balance of Soviet Russia was more nearly £70,000,000 or £75,000,000 than £60,000,000 to the end of last year. More recent figures as to her trade balance this year show a further very serious position. On the first six months of this year Soviet exports were £38,500,000, and imports £54,000,000, making an adverse balance of over £15,500,000, or one-sixth of the whole of Russia's trade turnover. Since these figures were published, there was, in July and August, a further adverse balance of £6,000,000, making an adverse trade balance of £21,500,000 against Soviet Russia this year, in addition to the adverse balance of some £70,000,000 for the 10 years preceding 1930.
That is a. very serious position. On the other hand, there is an article in The "Economist" of last week which seeks to show that the position is a more favourable one, but the writer of the article assumes that throughout these years Soviet Russia has been receiving credits of some two to three years, whereas the figures that were given by a very well-versed writer in the "Statist" early this year go to show that the average credits given to Russia by this country before April of this year averaged only about 12½ months, by Germany 10 to 11 months, and by the United States 7 to 8 months. Therefore, to assume that for the last 10 or 11 years Russia has been receiving credits of from two to three years in length is to assume that she is in a much more favourable financial position than more accurate figures warrant. But even the "Economist" admits that the debt incurred by Soviet Russia in all her purchases of machinery is somewhere about £100,000,000. The writer in the "Statist" has put it at £111,000,000 to 31st October last.
89 Convincing proof of Russia's financial difficulties is to be found in the fact that she has had to cut down her extension of factories and new undertakings for the Five-Years Plan. A decree was published in September very seriously restricting the number of new undertakings which might be proceeded with. That means that a good deal of the machinery which she has been purchasing will not now be utilised—that machinery has been ordered for factories that cannot be built or for which labour is not forthcoming. In view of all these facts—the adverse trade balance, the admitted debt of somewhere about £100,000,000, and the evidence afforded by the cutting down of the Five-Years Plan—it seems obvious that to make further credits to Russia must be a very risky financial operation. I therefore hope that we shall have an announcement from the Government that no more guarantees will be given of credits to Russia, and I hope that private agencies in this country, which have been making credits on a generous basis, will look very carefully into Russia's financial position before they give any further credits.
Finally, I want to mention the bearing that Russia's exports have on world trade as a whole. If hon. Members have read a report made to the United States Congress in January last, they will have seen an extremely interesting statement on this subject. That report declared that the American manganese industry had already been destroyed by imports of Soviet manganese, and that hundreds of American lumbermen and pulp workers had been driven out of work by imports of Soviet lumber and pulp. The competition of Soviet oil and wheat abroad was also being felt. It is obvious that other countries which produce the same primary products that Russia produces in so large a quantity must be feeling severely the same competition. If we look at our trade returns, we shall at once see how Canada, Australia, the United States and the Argentine have suffered from the quantities of Russian wheat that have come into this country in the last 15 months. We can see how Canada, Norway, Sweden and Finland have suffered from our purchases of Russian timber, and how the Netherlands and Belgium have suffered from our purchases of Russian flax. These 90 artificially stimulated exports from Soviet Russia, where consumption is equally artificially and very cruelly repressed, must have a very large bearing on the question of the equilibrium of consumption and production in the world as a whole.
If the nations of the world would absorb fewer of those primary products from Russia, not only would the Russian people be able to consume more of their own agricultural products to their very great advantage, but we might see a great restoration of that equilibrium of consumption and production in the rest of the world which seems to have been so seriously upset in the last year or two. It is also evident that this would be a first step towards that rise in commodity prices, in the prices of primary products of which the Prime Minister spoke this afternoon as being so very important. Therefore, I would ask the Government to examine very closely the whole question of Soviet exports, the conditions under which they are produced, the conditions under which they are exported, and their result on the trade of other countries as well as of our own. If the Government do this, I am convinced that they will see that the civilised nations of the world stand in face of a great menace not only to their trade and their finance, but to the standards of life of their workers. I hope, therefore, the Government will endeavour to secure cooperation among other countries in meeting this menace; but, should they fail to secure that co-operation, I believe that if they will have the courage to do what they feel to be in the interests of this country, and consistent with the great traditions of freedom of this country, they will be able not only to restore our trade and to assist the people of Russia but to do a great deal towards the restoration of prosperity in the world in general.
§ Mr. J. JONES
During the past 13 years I have listened to many speeches in Debates upon the Address in reply to the King's Speech, but this is the first time I have had to listen for nearly an hour to a speech about something not in the King's Speech. It contains no reference to dumping, Tariff Reform or to any other nostrum so dear to the hearts of the new Members of the House.
§ Mr. JONES
I am not troubled about that. I listened to the Prime Minister's speech this afternoon with a great deal of interest because of other speeches I have heard him deliver. The speech to which we have listened to-day is called the King's Speech, but we know that that is "all my eye and Betty Martin." It is not the King's Speech; he comes along to deliver it; his master's voice! We have a great procession to announce the fact that the King has delivered a speech to His Majesty's House of Commons and House of Lords, but everyone who has been a Member of this House for any number of years knows that the speech was prepared in the Cabinet Ministers' room. At least that has been the case up to now, so far as I understand English history; but according to what I heard on the wireless last night, this speech was not prepared in the usual way. The Prime Minister had consulted nobody, he had received no instructions, he simply delivered his thoughts. We find them to be scattered thoughts.
Nothing—with knobs on; that is the King's Speech. Therefore I want to know what all the bother of the last month has been about. We were going to save the pound. We have not saved it, we have lost it, because it is 3d. down on the international exchanges since this Government came into office. We were told we were to restore the balance of trade. Now we are told by one of the chief Members of the late Opposition that the only way to save the pound is to isolate Russia.
§ Mr. JONES
As a matter of fact, you are grumbling about giving them credits. The Noble Lady wants us to stop giving credits. Why do we give them credits? For the purpose of promoting trade. If we give them credits and they buy from us, why should it be said they do not buy from us? They have bought from us, and they are buying from us now. Some of our largest trading concerns are engaged in. trade relations with Russia. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is very little."] But every little helps in these days of depression, when all you people are going about cap in hand begging, "Please, Sir, will you buy British." As a matter of fact, you do not care whether they buy British or buy Russian, so long as you get a profit. You do not trouble your heads about where you get the money, so long as you get the profit and the interest. Now we hear this sort of stuff talked in the House of Commons, where we are supposed to be intelligent. [An HON. MEMBER: "Supposed to be!"] I gave you credit for that, I do not say you are. We are told we must refuse to trade with practically one-eighth of the population of Europe because we do not like their political complexion. I do not like Bolshevism, any more than do hon. Members opposite. I am opposed to dictators, from whatever class they come, and have fought them inside our own movement and outside. I do not believe in any kind of dictatorship. If I am told that the only way to save Europe is to isolate great bodies of people my reply is, "Do not isolate them, but try to educate them by example. Show them you are better than they are in your ideas and relationships, national and international, and you will have a better chance of doing what you want to do."
We have had delivered to us this afternoon the result of the doctor's mandate. We have the medicine which is to be given to us. We are only a small number of patients, and so the doctor will not be very busy. I do not think his panel will pay him during the next few years. [Interruption.] His panel will not pay him if he gets only the ordinary allowance under the National Insurance Act. However, it will not be MacDonald's mandate, but Baldwin's balsam that we have to swallow, and as soon as ever the doctor begins to deliver his medicine he will get an order from the surgeon to 93 cut it, and he will get out, just as another Prime Minister got out after the War. He was told to clear out, that he was no longer wanted. We now have before us this programme of the things the Prime Minister is going to think about doing—not the things he can do, because he does not know what we can do. He has consulted nobody, he knows nothing about anything, except that he has made up his mind to ask for a free hand. It will be a free hand in the pockets of the people, if the majority of his supporters have anything to do with it. The people who will have to pay will be those who have always paid, those who have the least with which to pay.
I have been here long enough to remember other King's Speeches, and I have heard the Prime Minister himself, when he was sitting on these benches, riddle them to pieces. This time we have got the most empty document I have ever read. There is nothing in it except words; and in the speech supporting it there was nothing but words. It was a conglomeration of nothingness—and it is called a King's Speech! I call it an insult to the King to make him responsible for such garble. Some of us on these benches are not prepared to sit down quietly. There are only a small number of us, but we will put up a fight during the life of this Government, which may not last as long as some of you think. Already there are signs of disintegration; there are people looking for office who ought not to have it and there are others who have got office who ought not to have it; and they are all very eager to further their own particular ideas. The Prime Minister's policy is, "Do not do anything controversial." How long do you think that will last? Can you introduce any policy into this Parliament, or any other Parliament, which will not be controversial? Can you raise any question of tariffs that will not be controversial? I ask some of my hon. Friends who sat alongside us in the last House whether they will accept full-blooded Protection such as some of the hon. Gentlemen opposite want? Will they be prepared to stand side by side with the Prime Minister if he agrees to a mild form of Protection, after all their past records? I cannot believe it.
94 I suggest that when that time comes—and it will arise shortly, it cannot be delayed long—this Government will fall to pieces because it contains within itself the elements of its own destruction. Our time will then come. A great revulsion took place in this election as a result of a series of wireless lies, of misrepresentations and of treachery on the part of those who have been nurtured in our movement, who have been fed with our food, who have been housed in our houses, and, when they were down and out, were carried to the ambulance camp by men and women who have gone down to the grave "unwept, unhonoured and unsung." Those men who have treacherously betrayed our movement will live to rue the day. Their newfound friends will desert them. Their old comrades stood by them in the days of adversity and through many a fight, and are prepared to fight again, but not in the same company. If a man has me once it is his fault; if he has me the second time it is my fault. We have no room for them now.
I said in the Election that this National Government was a national insult. The King's Speech to-day is an insult to the King, because it contains nothing definite to guide the people towards a solution of their problems. It leaves us in a condition of insecurity. The restoration of the pound, and the restoration of the balance of trade have been referred to by the Prime Minister—and in such language! He is a master of language. I am only a master of the ordinary dockers' English. The only language I know is the language of the people among whom I live and from whom I come. What I want the House to realise is that although we are a minority party we are going to be strong enough inside and outside the House to give a proper account of ourselves when the time comes to reckon up all the issues. The King's Speech contains no real propositions, but only innuendos and suggestions as to what may happen in the dim and distant future. The Government are going to consider this, that and the other. What have they considered? Nothing.
Will any Member of the Government tell us now what propositions they can put forward to meet the situation? I can admire the honest men and women 95 opposite who say they want Protection and a full measure of it, but I cannot understand the shilly-shallying policy of some of those who have got into this House under false pretences. They are part of a National Government—a national mix-up! The Election was fought by them on no real programme and no real policy. We on this side can at least thank Heaven that we come here as the representatives of about 7,000,000 people with a definite programme and a definite policy. We stood by certain principles; we were defeated, through mass psychology, by various means; but when the final issue is raised it will be found that the 7,000,000 people who voted for Labour in this Election will gain over more than those who voted against it, and the Labour movement will be brought to a real victory. It will be a spiritual victory as well as a material one. When this House comes to an end we shall be no longer a minority, but Labour will be the dominating factor in the country both politically and industrially.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I listened with interest to the speech which was delivered by the leader of the Socialist party the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). I was glad to hear from him that he is no longer a member of the Labour party, although he calls himself a Socialist. A Socialist has been denned as a Communist without the courage of Communist convictions, whilst a Communist has been defined as a Socialist with the courage of his convictions. The hon. Member for Bridgeton seems to me to be half way between the two, and he told us that there was no measure of social reform in the King's Speech and no promise of any additional social service. It has long been my opinion that the British working man is sick to death of all this talk about social services, and he does not believe in them because he knows that, in the long run, he has to pay for them. The working man knows that our misguided free education, national health insurance, and unemployment benefit are costing him a good many shillings per week out of his own pocket, which he could expend much better himself and get better results. In the course of a few years it has been the case that almost all these so-called social 96 services resolved themselves into benefits for the people who administer them, and the real beneficiaries are almost completely forgotten.
One thing which the last election has established is that the mass of the working classes of this country, and in fact of all classes in this country, is extremely and almost fanatically honest. They do not want redistribution of wealth, or anybody's money by legislation, and they cannot understand the peculiar working of our social services. They know that the means test is the only possible test for any social service and any other test is wrong. Amongst the honest unemployed the means test is not resented. The unemployed man knows that when he has made his requisite contributions he is entitled to unemployed benefit, but he bitterly resents anyone, even were it only five per cent. of the recipients, receiving benefit to which they are not morally entitled. I have been told of the case of a man receiving £4 10s. per week who got married. He then sent his wife out to take a job and shortly after she obtained unemployment benefit. Cases of that kind make the whole community, including the rest of the unemployed, indignant and a practice of that kind spreads abroad. I believe that the great mass of working people bitterly resented the lax administration of unemployment benefit by the Labour Government, and, if all these abuses had not existed during the Administration of the Labour Government, the Unemployment Fund would not have got into such a bankrupt condition. These kind of social services originated in Germany at the hands of Bismarck who introduced them to please a somewhat unbalanced Socialist, Ferdinand Lassalle. Bismarck was an aristocrat who believed that mankind is divided into two classes, the thinkers and the workers, and that the workers should be patronised, shepherded and treated as if they were different from the others. That is an old prejudice derived from Aristotle and I believe the working men resent that kind of thing. I believe in treating the working man as the gentleman he is and not as somebody to have treatment different from myself. I am glad to see that among the working class and in fact among all classes of the community a large majority of them at the last election voted against those politicians who seemed to think that it 97 was necessary in order to obtain votes to offer bribes to the democracy. The politicians of all parties have forgotten the experience of ordinary life. In ordinary life you find that if you lend a man money you lose both your money and your friend and if you give people something which they have not earned they dislike you and some of them ask you to give them more. We all remember the kind of legislation introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) who promised the people 9d. for 4d. but I am sure that the mass of the people heartily dislike that kind of legislation and the people have now returned a Government which is going to see that any abuses arising out of such legislation will be put an end to, and lax administration will cease to bring discredit upon the nation.
The first thing which the Government have to do is to redress the balance of trade. Our trade balance has gone wrong within the last few years and the explanation is quite simple. We used to export from this country enormous quantities of coal and millions of tons of coal were exported to the East and as the ships earned freight both ways large quantities of food supplies were brought back in exchange. All that has now ceased for oil has supplanted coal and our shipping, instead of being conducted on the old lines, out of Britain and back again, is conducted by means of ships burning oil or by motor' vessels which only come back to this country for repairs. We are no longer getting the money for coal that we used to get nor the freights for shipping coal. The work of the miners producing coal used to supply us with most of our imports but that system having ceased and the use of oil having taken the place of coal has caused the destruction of the trade. The new discovery of the cheap working of motor ships has finally put an end to what was at one time our most important and lucrative foreign export business.
We have to consider now whether we cannot so arrange that our people will produce more food out of our own soil and consume more of our own food products. Within a comparatively easy distance of London you can find land which is absolutely uncultivated. We want to encourage the development and the 98 establishment of factories in our rural areas where working men can grow their own food supply thus making themselves independent of foreign markets. It is in this direction and this direction alone that we can look for any amelioration of the lot of our people. I do not believe the statement which has been made by the hon. Member for Bridgeton that great masses of our people are sinking deeper and deeper into poverty. The mass of the people who are working have had their position immensely improved since my younger days and their standard of living has gone up. We want to see great improvements but the best way to proceed is by dispersing our population over wider areas and I am glad to notice some traders and manufacturers proceeding along those lines. The policy of scattering the population over wider areas has been adopted in different parts of the American Continent, and it has already been decided by Henry Ford to scatter his works, and he has decreed that his people should undertake a certain amount of land cultivation for their own consumption. The iron ore miners of Spain go in for cultivating land because they realise that times may get harder and they may be obliged to look after themselves and they do not rely on any industrial occupation to secure their food. I think those are the lines on which we can make a permanent settlement of the difficulties caused by the fluctuation of trade. At any rate, we have to make sure that it will be impossible for other countries in the future to send over to this country their surplus goods which have the effect of keeping down prices and which tend to disorganise the work in our own factories and throw the working class out of work.
We have also to get rid of that wretched psychology that one finds so much in the Press of the other side. I notice it very often in a paper which I read regularly, and which in many respects is a clever one, namely, "Forward." There one finds held up to public odium any company that makes a profit in its trade, and some of the speeches from the benches opposite consist of nothing but references to profit and dividends, as though any company which made a success of its business or was in a position to pay a dividend was some- 99 thing to be held up to the execration of mankind. They almost deify failure and bankruptcy. I am glad to see that the masses of our working people have now completely repudiated that contention. They believe in profitable business; they believe that it is right that a factory or business should make headway; they believe in the building up of capital, which is the seed corn of industry and the mother of wages. They have vindicated that belief in this Election, and it is for the present Government not to disappoint them, but to take energetic action to protect the homes of the people by seeing that our own market is made 100 secure for our own people and our own industry. If they do that, our foreign trade will take care of itself.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. Charles Edwards.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.