§ [SECOND DAY.]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [10th November,]
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."—[Mr. G. Lloyd.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
In rising to continue the discussion on the Address, I shall bear in mind the words which you, Mr. Speaker, used on your re-election to the Chair. I shall endeavour to be brief, especially as you suggested that Members who rose from the Front Benches were the chief offenders in taking up too much Parliamentary time. I shall be aided in that by the fact that the speech from the Throne contains so very little on which one can comment. Indeed, one might comment more, perhaps, on the startling omissions from the Speech than on those things which are contained in it. It is a very unusual document in many respects. I cannot remember a King's Speech that went at such great length into what occurred at the last Election, with references to the nation doing this and the nation doing that and to an emphatic mandate. As a rule, in the discussion on the King's Speech one would not think of referring to the Election, and I should not do so unless this Speech had talked of the Election and talked of an emphatic mandate.
But there is one point with regard to the method by which that emphatic mandate was obtained that I should like to deal with for a few minutes. I was once Postmaster-General, and in that capacity I was in charge of the machinery that collects the money put by the people in the Post Office Savings Bank. Statements have been made up and down the country with regard to the safety of the savings of the people, and it is 120 time that it was made clear exactly what is the position with regard to Savings Bank money. Undoubtedly, one of the factors in piling up the large majority for hon. Members opposite was the use of the statement about the danger to Post Office savings.
Let us just see what are the facts. The statement was originally made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. He said that in April and in August—not connected with the immediate financial crisis—Savings Bank moneys were in jeopardy because they had been invested in the Unemployment Insurance Fund. That statement was endorsed afterwards by Mr. Snowden, and by the Prime Minister. What are the facts? Actually, of course, the Savings Bank moneys are invested by the National Debt Commissioners. They are invested in Government securities of one sort and another. The practice of investing some of them in the Unemployment Insurance Fund was started, I think, in the time of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was continued by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) and by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). It was also continued by Mr. Snowden, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. They were never accused of doing anything improper in that, which was the ordinary method of investment. But what was said at the last Election? It was said that these moneys were being put into a bankrupt fund, and the implication was that unless that fund was squared Savings Bank deposits would disappear and the people would lose their savings.
It must have been perfectly well known to all the eminent statesmen who endorsed that statement that Savings Bank deposits rest on the credit of the whole country, that they could not go down unless Consols and every other investment went down. One of the reasons why there is such a low return on Post Office investments, and why the State makes some £4,000,000 a year out of them, is that they are safe, because they rest on the credit of the community. To frighten poor people into the belief that they would lose their savings unless a particular action was taken with regard 121 to a particular fund, to my mind was an atrocious thing to do. One could understand the statement had it been made by some irresponsible political supporter in a particular constituency. One might even say that the statement made by the President of the Board of Trade could be taken as a mere general remark. But that statement was endorsed by the Prime Minister. No one knows better than the Prime Minister what lies can do at election time when they are passed round. The statement was taken up by the "Daily Mail." It was used with effect, and many hon. Members opposite who do not quite know why they got their majorities will be able to trace them to the use made of that statement. It takes away something from the mandate, and it takes away something from the position of those Members of the National Government who are prepared to endorse a statement of that kind. It is entirely unfair to the millions who invest their little money in the Post Office that they should be subject to irresponsible remarks of that kind.
I do not intend to deal any further with Election points, but as the Election is stressed in the King's Speech, and as I was at the Post Office I thought it right that it should be made perfectly clear that the investment of the Post Office funds is not a matter for the Postmaster-General or for any individual Member of the Government, but that it is done by Commissioners, and has been done regularly right away through. The money is invested sometimes in British funds and sometimes in foreign funds. I do not know what the position of the foreign funds is, but as a matter of fact the statement referred to was endorsed by the man who was responsible for the investment, Mr. Snowden.
I want to come now to the remarkable omissions from the King's Speech. I have listened to a number of King's Speeches in this House, but this is the first King's Speech in which I have seen no reference whatever to unemployment. Not because there is no unemployment, for unemployment is greater than ever before. But in this Speech there is no suggestion whatever made about unemployment, not even "the passing tribute of a sigh." The subject was not mentioned even in the Prime Minister's speech of yesterday, except in one very 122 curious passage. The right hon. Gentleman did not deal with unemployment generally, but he did advert to it when dealing with what he considered to be one of the hopeful signs of the situation, and that was the rise in the price of primary products. The right hon. Gentleman said: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 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 hut of world trade, shows itself in an increase in the price of these things."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1931; cols. 64 and 65, Vol. 259.]4.0 p.m.
That is the only reference to unemployment in the Prime Minister's speech, and it is a striking one. The Prime Minister is hoping that there will be a rise in the price of wheat and other stable commodities. If that should occur, what becomes of his argument in the last Parliament that the unemployed would be no worse off because of the cuts in benefit owing to the fall that had occurred in prices? Many Members will remember the argument about the 10 per cent. I want to ask whoever is going to reply, as it was based on that assumption, are the Government going to restore the cuts when this desirable rise in the price of commodities takes place? I think we ought to know, because if they are not going to be restored, it simply means that the argument that was used on behalf of the Government in the last Parliament was entirely fallacious, and was an entire deception. There is no mention of the social services in the King's Speech. One looks at the Speech and tries hard to see whether one can read any connected policy in it, but it is silent on so many points. It is reticent on points which are just touched upon, so that one cannot get any connected idea of what are the intentions of this Government. I hope that before this Debate is over someone is going to tell us what is the attitude of this National Government towards the social services. Are we going to have any word about the housing situation? I do not know of any King's Speech before in which housing has not 123 been mentioned. Members are fresh back from their constituencies, and have had an opportunity of seeing whether the housing question is settled. I am certain they know it is not settled. We want to know what is the policy of the Government with regard to housing. There is no word with regard to health. There is no word with regard to education.
In fact, from beginning to end of the King's Speech, there is nothing that can bring the slightest comfort to anybody in this country. There is no allusion whatever to anything that touches the lives of the people of this country. It is concerned merely with finance. There is no mention of agriculture. That, again, is something rather novel. It is curious, after we were told that the great need is to have a favourable balance of trade, that we have no mention of the question as to whether anything is to be done for agriculture. There is no mention of policy from beginning to end of the Speech, and yet the King's Speech should indicate the lines of policy of the Government, and should give the principal Measures which they propose to bring forward. I would like to say one word on agriculture, because there, again, we have been living in a crisis for the last few years—so we have been told. We had a number of Measures passed in the last Parliament. I hope that the Minister of Agriculture is going to press on with agricultural reconstruction. I notice that the farmers are beginning to realise that the legislation of the last Parliament can be used and made the basis for reconstruction. I hope that the Minister of Agriculture is not going to allow that to be all thrown on one side. I hope that we are going to have something done for the countryside. I trust that the Minister of Agriculture is not going to allow every possible scheme for agriculture to be cut down by the Treasury.
Let us try to find something in the King's Speech which indicates what the Government are going to do. There is mention that they are goingto re-establish confidence in our financial stability.I hope that we shall learn something of what that means. First, I would like to ask, what is "confidence in our financial stability"? Is it the confidence of the capitalist? Is it the confidence of 124 the whole people of this country Is it the confidence of the rentier? Is it the confidence of the industrialist; or is it, perhaps, the confidence of foreign bankers only which they are anxious to re-establish? Does it only mean balancing the Budget, or does it mean dealing with the urgent questions which affect the financial stability of this country? Are we to remain at the mercy of the City of London? The last crisis was produced, as everybody knows, by the City overlending abroad. Are we going to have any action taken with regard to that? Are we going to have any action taken on the Macmillan Report? I do not know whether that is included under "confidence in our financial stability," because it is sometimes assumed that the only bar to confidence in our financial stability was the existence of a Labour Government. It is going to be set all right now that you have got a National Government. The investor will be quite happy now that he has got a National Government.
Let me mention one or two other factors which must be looked into. First of all, what about Hatry? What about Sir Arthur Wheeler? What about Lord Kylsant? What about the statements in the Macmillan Report of the companies that were launched in 1928, and £50,000,000 has entirely disappeared in three years? Are we quite sure that our financial machinery in this country is such as to give confidence to the investor? Are the Government prepared to take any steps in regard to that, or are they quite happy in the financial machinery? I find that many industrialists are not happy either in the policy of the banks or of the financial machinery of the City of London, and the National Government should take steps to see that there is a clean sweep made of some of the practices in the City of London.
There is a further question. There is no indication in His Majesty's Speech, or in the speech of the Prime Minister, as to what is the attitude of the Government with regard to the Gold Standard. Are they going to work for the return to the Gold Standard, or are they going to allow the pound to find its own level, or are they going to try to fix parity at some point? It is a very important matter in regard to the confidence of traders. We have no indication in the 125 King's Speech. We have no indication in the Prime Minister's speech, except that they are going to keep their eye on it; but you do not protect the Gold Standard by keeping your eye on it. You cannot protect national trade by a policy of merely watching it. If you really want the restoration of the trade position in this country, you must let the people know the attitude of the Government, and nobody knows in the least what their attitude is towards the crisis or towards the Gold Standard, whether they are deflationists, inflationists or anything else.
That is really the complaint with regard to the Speech altogether. There was never a King's Speech before the House of Commons that gave the House so little light on what was passing through the minds of the Government. I dare say it might have been rather a kaleidoscopic sort of Speech if it could have shown what was passing through all the minds of the Members of the Government. I have been trying to pick up from various parts of the Speech what is their main principle. I notice, first of all, that they are going todo their utmost in co-operation with other Governments, and in the spirit of mutual helpfulness, to find ways for restoring the volume of international trade.I am quite sure that that passage cheered the heart of Mr. Snowden. I think that it probably cheered the hearts of two Members, who, I do not know quite why, were described in the "Observer" of last Sunday as arcades ambo —the Home Secretary and the Minister of Education. I cannot quite see why Mr. Garvin described them in that way. Therefore, we have, apparently, the Free Trade point of view. But it was not only Mr. Snowden who won the Election. Lord Beaverbrook claimed to have won it quite as much. So a little further down we have a glance at Empire Free Trade, just a touch of encouragement with regard to the meeting at Ottawa. There, again, we get [something very hazy. I am sure we shall have questions soon from some of those returned on a full-blown policy of Empire Free Trade as to what the Government really mean about it. I do not know how many were returned with the assistance of Lord Beaverbrook. My own opponent had his assistance. But we have a, glance here at Empire Free Trade. Further down we come to the question of 126 tariffs and dumping. They are only just glanced at in the question of ensuring a favourable balance of trade. I cannot think that the Prime Minister was very much more happy when he tried to deal with it in a little more detail. I noticed a smile on the faces of experienced Members like the right hon. Member for Oxford University (Lord H. Cecil) and the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, who remember a Prime Minister in times gone by dealing with this question of dumping and getting rather tied up. It certainly did not seem to satisfy the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft).
But those three policies are different policies. You can have a policy on which you decide that you are going to cooperate with the world to get the freest flow of goods, services and exchange throughout the world. You can have a policy of ring-fenced Imperial Free Trade under the Beaverbrook plan, or you can have a straight Protectionist plan, but you cannot run them all together. I thought that we got the authentic note yesterday in the very admirable speech by the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Lloyd). I think we got the authentic Birmingham touch there. It was "His Master's Voice" record, and a very good one. But what was demanded, at all events from Birmingham, was a full Protectionist Measure. Altogether, these things are to be considered. I suppose that the Government will keep their eye on them. But what emerges is that nothing has been decided. It is really a very remarkable thing, because there seems to have been a great deal of discussion about it for three weeks or so in the last Parliament. We waited with bated breath while Members of the Government tried to find a formula. Rumours went round the Lobby now and again that they had found one, and that then they had lost it again, and the Government went to the country without a programme and without a policy, and they got returned without a programme and without a policy.
I agree that they have not had a very long time to decide on the policy, but I cannot understand why they met the House of Commons without a policy. I should have thought that they might have waited until they got one before summoning the House, because the only thing that is absolutely certain is that 127 they have not decided. They are still in the state of inquiry. I gather from young men in a hurry like the hon. Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) that they are not going to get much lime; they must get a move on, and they have to decide soon. The serious thing about the programme set out here is that there is really no programme. There is no plan, no connected idea in the whole of it. In these circumstances, with a Government supported by masses of Members, on the one side, without a plan, and a very small Opposition on the other who have a policy and a plan it is quite obviously up to us to respond to the appeal made by the Prime Minister yesterday that we should come to his assistance. We shall put forward our policy and our plan in due course, but I do not propose to-day to do more than outline our attitude towards these problems.
In the first place, I would say that a National Government, if it is to be in any sense a real National Government, should try to see things as a whole. They should try to have some conception of the economic future of this country and the economic future of the world. The trouble about this King's Speech is that it does not seem to have any general conception at all. It merely says "We will try to get a favourable balance of trade." Well, you have had a favourable balance of trade, and at the same time you have had enormous unemployment. You have had a favourable balance of trade and great distress in this country. You have had a favourable balance of trade and a low standard of life. We, on this side, believe that the time has come when laissez faire is entirely out of date in world economic affairs. We believe that it is entirely out of date when you are dealing with the affairs of this country. We believe that what is needed for the world is co-ordinated economic planning. We believe that what is needed here for this country is a plan which will fit in with world conditions and which is going to produce the highest possible standard of life for our people here. That is a point entirely omitted from all the statements I have seen from the other side. Our essential task, after all, is to get the highest possible standard of life for our citizens. We may differ as to the means which are proposed—I differ from hon. Members 128 opposite—but I hope that there are Members opposite who recognise that this is a crisis in the history of this nation and that a crisis cannot be met by a policy of drift.
Just look at what has happened to our industry during the past few years. I am glad to hear that so many young men, and young women too, have come into the House, because I think we have been dominated by out-of-date views on our economic policy. A great deal of our time has been taken up in sitting by the death-beds of dying industries, or the sick beds of sick industries, because we have all along been thinking that somehow or other we have to get back to the same kind and order of production as that which we had in pre-War days. I think that that is an entire mistake. I do not believe that we are ever going to get back to a position in which this country will hold precisely the same relationship to the rest of the world as that which it held in pre-War days. I think that you have to reorganise your industry and that you have to take steps to see that it is reorganised, instead of thinking that you can leave it to private adventure and individual initiative. I hold that during the last 10 years millions of pounds of the taxpayers' money has been wasted in doles to industry. We hear a great deal about doles to the unemployed, but we do not hear so much about doles to industries. There was the £55,000,000 which went in trade facilities; there is the £25,000,000 a year or more which goes in derating, there is the £23,000,000 of coal subsidy. These were all doles given to industry, but the industrialists were not compelled to go before a public assistance committee and to say what sort of characters they had, whether they worked well or not, whether they were idle or not, whether they had been wasteful or not.
I say that if that money had been used, under conditions imposed upon industry, your industry would not be in the state that it is in to-day. I say that you have to organise collectively in a world movement towards collective business. I hold that a National Government would organise our export trade and would organise our import trade. I cannot attempt at the present time to work that out in more detail. There will be many other opportunities of doing so, but I 129 wish to deal with one other point before I conclude. I claim that if we want to get the best out of the country we have not only to plan our industry, but we have to plan the localisation of our industries. One of the most serious things in this country to-day is the way in which we are repeating the mistake made at the beginning of the 19th century, in letting industry spread unregulated all over the country and leaving huge derelict industrial areas. I believe that a real National Government would take that subject in hand. I believe that it would plan the industrial life of our country just as in town planning we are now trying to plan the amenities. That is the kind of work which a National Government would do if a National Government were out for planning this country in the interests of the whole people. Of course, any Government which tries to do that will be up against vested interests. Any Government which tries to do it will have to go a great deal further. It will have to consider the balance of our economic life in this community. It will have to consider the balance between working for export and working for home consumption. It will have to consider the balance between agriculture and manufactures, and, above all, it will have to consider what sort of population it wants to support in this country. It will have to face the question of whether this country can afford such a large rentier class. I hold that that is one of the burdens on this country to-day.
I do not propose, as I have said, to go in detail into these matters. We shall have many opportunities of doing so, but in the absence of any policy or plan, what I want to emphasise to-day is that this Government will fail, unless it not only examines the statistics of individual trades and suggests a tariff here or a tariff there, but views things as a whole and forms some conception of what this country might be and what it ought to be. If it would do that, a National Government might be a great success, but a Government formed as this Government has been formed, a Government which has obtained its mandate as this Government has obtained its mandate, a Government representing as this Government does, mainly a reaction from all the ideals of a higher standard of life 130 for the masses and representing a return to mere cold capitalism—such a Government is, I fear, only too likely to fail. What emerges from the King's Speech is that it is quite likely that the Government will fail, not from any positive thing which it does, but because its Members cannot agree on doing anything at all.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I do not think that I need quarrel with the temper of the speech which has just been delivered from the Front Opposition Bench by one of its surviving occupants, and, in so far as I refer to it at all, it must be to confirm the general accuracy of the statement which he made to us about the Savings Bank. It is perfectly true that under legislation which goes back, I believe, to 1861 but which was renewed in 1921, there is power to draw upon Savings Bank deposits for national and other funds, the whole, of course, being based upon the security of the Consolidated Fund and, as a matter of fact every Chancellor in the last 10 years, I myself included, used such methods. When the late Chancellor of the Exchequer adopted this process last year— I admit to a much larger extent than it had previously been adopted—the matter was raised in the Public Accounts Committee of which my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel) was chairman, and the proceedings were approved by the Public Accounts Committee. I am bound to confirm that statement, as it has been made and as the Leader of the Opposition specially appealed to me upon the subject. I do not believe that it played the remotest part in determining the decision of the electorate, but still the facts are as I have stated.
I should like, before embarking upon serious argument, to explain briefly my personal position in relation to His Majesty's Government and to the new triumvirate which rules over our fortunes. I had to sever myself from my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council in the last Parliament on the question of India—on the question of holding out hopes of Dominion status to India, and responsible government at the centre and, generally the policy of the Gandhi-Irwin Pact. I made my differences public and they still continue. The Prime Minister at the Election went out of his way to attack me and my finance although of course the 131 Government of the day, which contained many of those who are now his principal colleagues was collectively responsible with me for it. I had some acrimonious correspondence with the Prime Minister upon the subject. Lastly, there was the Home Secretary, who, when he was quite sure that the Conservative voters in Darwen were going to play the game, sent, on the eve of the poll, a message urging that my opponent should be elected and that I should be excluded from this House. I am not making much of this because I have got through. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] Here we both are, but I do say that all these matters which were before my constituents at the time when they voted, entitle me to claim an attitude of perfect independence so far as the triumvirate is concerned. However, I am glad to be able to announce to the House that, if I may without disrespect borrow a phrase from the Gracious Speech:My relations with foreign Powers continue to be friendly.I shall not withhold from my right hon. Friends my advice and counsel. My attitude will be one of discriminating benevolence, but I shall not fail to warn them, in good time and quite plainly, upon any occasion when I see them falling short, either by neglect or by action, of the course which is appointed for them. I shall do my best in that way to contribute to what we all hope will be their successful conduct of affairs.
I must say that, coming into this House after having sat in previous Parliaments, one sees many strange sights and many surprises. Little did I expect to see the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) the Leader of the Labour party in this House. I do not throw any reflection upon his ability or his good fellowship, which entitle him to that office, but I thought he was too low down in the hierarchy. However, there is at any rate one Front Bench from which "the old gang" has been cleared off, so young blood has its turn. But, Mr. Speaker, it is not inappropriate that the right hon. Gentleman should lead what is left of the Parliamentary representation of the Labour party. More than anyone else he has, I think, stood for the policy of what I would call the dole, the whole dole, and 132 nothing but the dole. He has, with perfect sincerity and with many agreeable turns of phrase and fancy, held up to us always that dim Utopia which would reduce our civilisation to one vast national soup kitchen, surrounded by innumerable municipal bathing pools. But the working-classes of this country wanted more than that. They wanted to see capital and credit, science and organisation, devoted to the elevation of the material welfare of their class and of the Commonwealth as a whole, and they have voted as we have seen. Therefore, it is not unfitting that the right hon. Gentleman should now be left to champion as well as he can the cause of Socialism amid ruins which are very largely of his own creation.
I now come to my right hon. Friend the Lord President, and there also I can find great matter for surprise. During the years when I worked so closely with the right hon. Gentleman—almost a pair of brothers working together—I always was alert to catch his inspiration and to profit by the sterling qualities for which he is renowned, and, if there was one doctrine that my right hon. Friend inculcated upon me more than any other, it was his abhorrence of coalitions. Why, Sir, he even spoke in public rebuking some of the younger Members of this House, warning them of the dangers of hunting with other packs beside their own, and therefore it is certainly surprising to find him now the champion coalitionist, though doubtless for a very good reason. I am sure no one is more aware of the dangers of such a course than my right hon. Friend, and I am sure he will be reminded of those dangers whenever he should chance to walk across the portals of the Carlton Club.
Lastly, I come to the Prime Minister. I am sorry he is not here, because I would rather say what I have to say in his presence, but I quite understand the work he has to do outside. It is less than nine months ago that I listened to the Prime Minister, standing at that Box, urging us all to vote for a Bill re-legalising the general strike and re-imposing the political levy, and I remember that on that occasion I was so indiscreet, as it now turns out, as to describe him as "the boneless wonder." It is surprising now to see that he has become the main, if not the sole, prop of our harassed State, to 133 see him the saviour of the Gold Standard—no, I beg pardon, of the pound sterling—to see him at the head of a Ministry of all the talents—well, I suppose I ought to say "nearly all the talents," as I want to be respectful to my right hon. Friends behind me—and to see him leading a House which contains the largest majority of Conservatives and of Protectionists which has ever sat here.
I pay my tribute to the inestimable service which the country has received at the hands of the Prime Minister. All my life I have opposed the growth of Socialism. He has done more to check it, and for the time being to destroy it, than any other man could have done. I have seen the Socialist party in this House grow from its smallest beginnings. A group of miners' Members and a handful of so-called intellectuals were all there were a few years ago, and from that it rose till it was a party which afforded a foundation for Government and finally became the largest party in this House. The wheel has turned full circle, and there is the Labour party back where it started from 20 years ago.
I cannot pretend to be sorry. In all that period they have done no good; they have devoured the Liberal party and supplanted it, and have shown themselves the feeblest champions of the democracy they claim to represent; they have misled the trade unions into party politics; they have not contributed a single helpful scheme, they have set no great Measure, produced no great policy, which has been serviceable to the Commonwealth or even to those whose interests they claim specially to represent. I cannot help feeling that they led the country to the verge of a catastrophe, and for my part I am exceedingly glad to see that the Prime Minister has had the courage to set aside his life's work and to free our country at this critical time, for a long spell of years at any rate, from the incubus and dangers which have brought us so much evil.
All these matters belong to the past. They form a theme for satire, the material for history, but they belong to the past. "The tumult and the shouting" of the Election have died away; the excitements of the formation or the re-formation of the Government are over. 134 All that the people can give with their votes has been given; all that the newspapers can give with their powerful articles and headlines has been given. That phase is over, and the Prime Minister and those associated with him are fairly and squarely up against the job, the task which is before them, a task superlatively difficult, grim and grave, not only because it is difficult, but because also of the expectations aroused, but a task splendid, inspiring, in the rewards which would attend its successful discharge, a task which carries with it in its accomplishment the wishes of everyone who cares about this country.
I am not expecting the Government, as the hon. Gentleman opposite rather complained, to confront us at this juncture with a cut-and-dried solution of all the great national issues which are pending. I should think that was most unreasonable. They are themselves exhausted by the Election, which was most strenuous. They have only just come together. I do not believe they have ever yet sat as a Cabinet in their new form, and it would be absurd to expect them and unfair to press them to come forward with plain, clear-cut decisions on these grave and thorny issues. But there are, I think, three questions on which I invite the House this afternoon to ask for some further and better particulars.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition asked whether we could be given more information about India, either by a speech or in some other way, and of course it rests with him to ask for the facilities of Debate. The handful of gentlemen there who hold the official authority are almost the only channel by which, so far as I know at present, the arrangements of Debate can be made. But I am not sure whether a Debate on India at this juncture would necessarily be very opportune, and if whoever speaks for the Government can give us a reasonable assurance that no far-reaching commitments or treaties will be entered into or made without this House having in the first instance had an opportunity of understanding the issues involved, and of discussing them, I for one shall be quite content that this matter of India shall stand over for the present.
Then the Prime Minister referred, in his speech at the Guildhall, to the stabilisation of sterling. His words were 135 judiciously vague on this matter, but still they had a quality of definiteness about them which I believe was un-designed. I did not gather that the Government have taken the decision to stabilise sterling at any fixed parity or at any fixed date. Our plight and the world plight is due to many adverse factors, to high tariffs, which have obstructed the free flow of trade between nations, to Asiatic disorder, to wild speculation, to War debts and reparations; and there are some who say that we are still living beyond our means. All these are adverse factors, but one fact stands forth, in my opinion, more clear-cut and precise and obvious than any of these. I mean the fact that one-third of the whole gold supply of the world—that is to say, I suppose, 15 years of the annual gold production—has been impounded and buried and sterilised in the last two or three years and is, for all intents and purposes, entirely removed from any part in our affairs.
There may be other things. You may say that all our troubles should not be put on to that, but I do not seek to do so; I do not put the whole of our troubles on to the sequestration of gold. There may be other matters, but here is a perfectly definite point to make for, and I trust and hope that the Government will take international action by means of a conference and use the whole influence that we possess to induce the countries which have hoarded gold to make it again serviceable for its function as a standard of value. [An HON. MEMBER: "HOW?"] There are many ways. If that cannot be done, they should endeavour to establish what I venture to call a kind of Esperanto currency on the basis of sterling with the friends of sterling. I agree very much with what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hill-head (Sir R. Horne) in the speech which he made out of doors the other day, in which he urged that the inconvenience of a non-fixed pound sterling should be faced for some time longer until we have had the opportunity of negotiating in international conference with those other countries and know where we are about the hoarded stores of gold.
There is a third matter which, like the working classes, must not be overlooked —Protection and this controversy about whether we shall go on being Free Trade 136 or shall become a Protectionist country. Quite a lot of candidates at the Election were very excited about it as far as I could see—Conservative candidates—and I believe that judging from the state of the House, quite a large number have survived and are here. I hope that His Majesty's Government are going to be sensible about Protection. In my view, this Parliament has the fullest mandate to apply any measure of Protection which it deems wise. The circumstances of the General Election were such that they do not leave the Prime Minister and the two party leaders associated with him the sole or final judges of what the nation voted for. The House, too, shares the free hand for which they appealed. The Election, as it proceeded, largely shaped itself and took its own irresistible course. Every Member of this House knows what his declarations were to his constituents and what his answers to questions were. He knows what he put in his election address; he knows what his relations with his constituency became and were during the course of the Election, and what constitutes good faith as between him and his constituents. Every Member, therefore, in my submission to the House, is a judge of the mandate which he has individually received, and the sum of those individual mandates constitutes the effective mandate of the House of Commons.
I do not presume to speak for anybody but myself. I am sure that the overwhelming wish and intention of the electorate was that we should now definitely abandon our Free Trade system and make a substantial and scientific experiment in general Protection. Others may hold a different view, but my belief is that a very large majority of the House would feel fully authorised by their constituents to give a decision upon the matter of a decisive and fundamental change in our fiscal policy. The country expects it; the world expects it; and a Parliament has assembled which in its lifetime will assuredly enforce it. I cannot see the need for an inquiry into the principles of Protection and Free Trade. We have been debating this topic for the best part of a hundred years. It is not a matter which requires consideration, because every politician must have been considering it all his life. I, for one, accept the 137 fact that the nation has decided in favour of a real and great change in our fiscal policy.
I hope that the Prime Minister will not fall into the error of adopting inquiries as a means of delay. Those of my colleagues who were present in the last House of Commons will remember the lamentable story of the inquiries into the dole scandal. There were three successive inquiries, not because the Government did not know about the scandal and what ought to be done to put it right; they knew perfectly well; the inquiries were to put off the evil day of having to decide something. The Government waited about in the hope that something would turn up, and in the end it did turn up with a vengeance. I cannot see the necessity of an inquiry as to whether we should have Free Trade or Protection, and it would in the nature of things be absurd.
There is, however, a series of inquiries which could indeed absorb all the attention of His Majesty's Government, inquiries not into the principle of Protection, but how to apply that principle to the vastly complicated industrial system of these islands, and to the industries which have grown up tier upon tier during a century of Free Trade, which have grown up on the basis of free imports, buying them from wherever they can regardless of whether they are dumped or not. To apply Protection to that system is certainly a matter which requires delicate handling and planning. The application of such a system, also, must be considered in relation to our shipping and our vital export trade. All this is a subject for inquiry. Lastly, you have, of course, to consider the application of this principle in regard to the special circumstances of the time, such as the devaluation of the pound sterling. We all agree that these matters must engage the attention of the Government. These are not inquiries of a formal character; they are only part of the ordinary work and duty of the Ministers of the day. They are not inquiries from which any reports would emerge; we do not expect them to present us with reports; we expect them to present us with legislation.
Then there is the case of agriculture. When I went about the country at the 138 last Election, I found a universal feeling among urban dwellers that we are far too dependent upon foreign food. It is necessary that we should be dependent upon overseas staple foods because without overseas supplies of cereals and meat we could never have produced or maintained the population of a first-class Power. We are, however, dependent to an extent which is injurious upon foreign fruit, vegetables, bacon and dairy produce, which could be grown quite as well here if satisfactory organisation were made, and which would be an enormous source of help and employment to the people of this country. How to organise this so that abundant supplies of home produce will be available step by step in proportion as the foreign produce is restricted or excluded, is indeed a subject which should absorb the attention, not only of the Minister of Agriculture, but of his principal colleagues. If the purpose is achieved, I do not expect that the House will quarrel as to the methods; the end is what we have in view. That the nation contemplates a profound regeneration of its agriculture, I have no doubt, and, as the Mover of the Address in his most charming speech yesterday pointed out, the town populations have given their assent to the favourable consideration of this problem.
No post in the Government is more important than the one held by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. It is a key position. It is, I believe, well known that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), whose absence we all deplore, or ought to deplore, said that if he had joined the first National Government, he would himself have asked for the post of Minister of Agriculture. That is certainly an indication of the immense significance and importance attached to that position. I earnestly hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be sustained and supported by his colleagues in organising the whole of this vast business, and that he will at an early date, not give us his plans—that we do not expect—but show us the direction in which he is advancing and convince us of the resolution which inspires him.
No one will grudge the necessary time to prepare these projects. The matter is in one respect, however, very urgent 139 indeed. This mighty country, living by exports and by world connections, cannot afford to remain long in uncertainty about what its fiscal policy is to be. Nations have prospered under Free Trade and nations have prospered under Protection, but no great complicated community has or ever could prosper standing about marking time in No Man's Land, unable to declare whether it is proceeding under the Free Trade or the Protectionist hypothesis because difficulties have arisen which prevent a coherent view from being expressed. There are endless arguments on either side and both Free Trade and Protection have their advantages and disadvantages, but to go on halting between two opinions will be to combine the disadvantages of both and the benefits of neither. All British industry is waiting tip toe at the present time to know under what conditions it is to carry on its work. A thousand enterprises hang poised upon the Government's signal. We dare not allow the whole main block of British industry to be left needlessly —I recognise the necessity for a period of delay—in the same position of harassing uncertainty, of cruel wanton uncertainty in which the safeguarded industries were left during the whole of the last Parliament, when they became the object of the formidable hatred of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. Above all, I hope that our fiscal system will not become the sport of personal differences, however conscientious, within the organism of the Government. We must have a theme in its integrity. A tariff which is a result of careful and patient adjustment of personal differences may have some merits as an historical document, but it is probably quite unrelated to our fiscal requirements at any point. I have been a Free Trader all my life, but I have been forced during recent years to abandon that system, and I am very grateful to constituents and colleagues who have put no pressure upon me to go faster at any stage than I felt personally inclined to go, and to go in mental comfort. As I have been forced to abandon that position, all the more do I desire, now that one great scheme of thought has been discarded, that we should adopt the other in its integrity, give it a fair chance, and bring 140 it into operation in accordance with all that modern experience and modern industry can show us on the subject. If a National Government means anything, it should be capable of solutions like that, solutions which, as I say, arise from the cold and scientific study of the actual facts and figures of the case. We admit that there may be delay during preparation, but in the course of this Debate we hope to hear other Ministers explaining further the statement of the Prime Minister that the general position will not be prejudiced at all during the period of delay.
The Prime Minister spoke yesterday about dumping. He said it was a tendentious expression. I never knew there was any great doubt about what we mean by dumping. I always understood that dumping was the sale in this country of articles at a price below either the price at which they are sold or the cost of production in the country of origin, whichever is the greater. That has always been the definition upon which Free Traders and Protectionists have been agreed. But I rather gathered, though perhaps I may be corrected later, that the Prime Minister was not contemplating preventing that kind of dumping in the interval, but was only contemplating the limiting of imports during this period when he is preparing his plans to what those imports were in the corresponding months of last year, that there was to be a kind of quota, which was not to be exceeded. Well, I should like to know what is the purpose of the Government, because last year there was a great deal of dumping, and of Russian dumping, far below the cost of production or the price in the country of origin, and great injury was done; and, if we admit that injury was done, surely we ought not to insist that a similar measure of injury should be done again in the interval to which I have referred.
I thank the House for having given me so much attention, but let me say that I do not envy the Ministers their office. I have held high office for nearly a quarter of a century, and I know how many thorns there are to all those brilliant roses. Moreover, in this Government many have taken offices lower than those to which their rank and position in politics might justly have 141 entitled them, and have made sacrifices in that way. I doubt if there is anybody—the number would be very few—who has not made heavy pecuniary sacrifices and sacrifices of leisure to undertake his duty. I do not envy them at all; I respect them. I do not envy them their offices, but I do envy them their opportunities. Those may be envied by anyone, wherever he sits.
But if their opportunity is great so is their responsibility. It is only one step from the sublime to the ridiculous. The question which we have to ask ourselves continually is this: Is the National Government going to be above party Government or below party Government? The nation voted for a National Government believing that it was some form of Government which would provide a superior solution of our problems, lift our affairs to a higher plane, and that is still their hope. Have we found, or are we going to find, those superior advantages, or have we merely transferred the ordinary party Debates which in bygone days have blown themselves out harmlessly in the proper place, the debating chamber, to the secret, vital, inmost recesses of the executive councils. If that were the case, as I hope it is not, then I think we should have lost more than we have gained.
The Government must have a soul—even a party soul is better than no soul at all—and paralysis which invaded the supreme centre of action would leave us with rulers who, with every credential and all the power in their hands, found themselves without a message, without a theme, without a plan. If the National Government were to lead to national impotence there would be a terrible disappointment, with a terrible reckoning to follow. But, happily, to-day we are not called upon to lend ourselves to such sombre alternatives or possibilities. We have every right to believe that when the Government have got together they will choose together, and that from their speedy and early action a definite coherent policy will emerge. If the National Government can lift our affairs to a higher plane of efficiency and action, if they can revive our prosperity, if they can raise again our fame and power throughout the world, then those who have taken part in creating it will have a shining page in British history. As 142 they march forward on that path they are entitled to the support of every one of us here, and all and everyone, where-ever they sit, will wish them heartily Godspeed.
§ Mr. TINKER
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) told us that he had been a Free Trader for a long time but had turned over to Protection. He also told us that he is an opponent of Socialism, and so I may assume that some day we may see him as a Socialist. We are not without hope in that direction. The right hon. Gentleman has occupied many positions in his time, and one is not without hope that at some time or other he may come over to this side and see what he can do with us. It may not be to our advantage if he does come, but the course is open whenever he cares to come. Now I want to turn to the King's Speech. There are certain paragraphs in it that are worthy of attention. We are told in that Speech that the country gave a mandate to the National Government. During the Election one had the feeling that the people who voted for the National Government thought the country was in danger, and that a body of men should be chosen for the purpose of saving the country. If I had felt the country to be in danger, I should have been among the foremost to stand with the people who took that view. In my opinion, however, the issues put before the people were false, and certainly without foundation.
A right hon. Gentleman on this side spoke about certain things that have happened, but said he was not quarrelling over them because he had not lost his seat. I am not quarrelling either, because I, too, have been returned; but near to my constituency there are a certain number of collieries, and I would like the House to know what happened there during the Election and of the methods adopted to get the people to give votes to the National candidate. The deputies, or firemen, the men who are just below the rank of managers and under-managers, went round those collieries asking for subscriptions, for the Tory candidate or the National candidate. They themselves had had to give 5s. each. They went to the men asking them to subscribe.
143 The opponent of the Tory candidate there was a representative from the Miners' Federation. We have a political fund to back up the miners' representatives, and the men who had contributed to that political fund were asked by the management to subscribe to the Tory candidate. [Interruption.] An hon. Member says, "Quite right!" Yes, if it is done under proper conditions, but when you go around in the working places, using the authority of the management to ask subscriptions from men, I claim it is intimidation. If it had been done openly in the market place, in the way that Communists or Socialists do, no one could have objected to it, but it is wrong to go round the working places in the pits asking for subscriptions in such a way that men would know that they must give or, if they did not, it would be a question of their jobs going. This really happened. When I was told about it I made inquiries in order to be quite certain that I was getting the right information, and I saw men who had been asked to subscribe on that particular occasion. If they were asked to vote for the National candidate on the sole ground of saving the country, then that kind of thing ought to be left on one side. It is wrong to intimidate the men by that means in trying to get them to return a certain candidate.
That is not the only kind of thing that happens. At most places letters were sent from the heads of firms to the workpeople instructing them to vote for the national candidate, saying that if they did not there was a likelihood of the works closing down. That, again, I claim is a wrong thing at election time; it is certainly unfair. In 1926 or 1927 the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) stood at that Box to ask the House to alter the Trade Disputes Act. He claimed that intimidation was used to get men to pay the political levy and asked power from the House to get that state of things altered. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to stop the kind of thing that happened in the last Election—this going round and intimidating men and trying to get them to vote in a certain way.
I will leave that point and deal with one or two other matters which are mentioned in the King's Speech. First of 144 all, I want to deal with what the Prime Minister said to the effect that anything coming from this side which would help to improve matters he would be willing to consider, and see if something could be done to make things better. I want the Prime Minister to pay some attention to an undoubted anomaly which occurs in the administration of the Workmen's Compensation Act. I have spoken to several hon. Members opposite on this subject, and they say that they are quite in agreement with me. In the last Act dealing with injured workmen and compensation, we managed to get the House of Commons to revise its former decision, but the Act only covered cases as far back as 1924, because it was thought that to go back further than than would be overdoing it. That Act has done a vast amount of good to the cases under review back to the year 1924, but there are a few cases further back than 1924, and the workmen cannot understand why a certain section of their fellow-workmen should not be entitled to compensation in similar circumstances.
The decision to which I have referred alters the position altogether, and excludes those men who were injured before 1924, although when the Act was passed there was a strong opinion that they should have been included. They are cases of men who have lost their legs or arms and who have, in some cases, lost their sight, and all those cases are cut out if the accidents to those men happened before 1924. In fairness to those men, and in view of what has happened, we thought that it would not be unfair to ask the House of Commons to amend the Workmen's Compensation Act so as to bring in pre-1924 cases. I do not think that we shall get anything done just yet, but next year I hope that the Government will consider this point, and if hon. Members on this side bring forward a Bill, I trust that the Government will help us to include all the cases I have mentioned.
There is another matter in regard to the Workmen's Compensation Act of which I do not think hon. Members are fully aware. Recently, owing to a number of colliery firms failing, and going into liquidation, they have not been able to pay the compensation which was due to their injured workmen. I can quote a number of such cases. There 145 are the Ashton Moss Colliery Company, the Bickerstaffe Colliery Company and the Ellerbeck Colliery Company, which are in this position, and I could quote a number of other cases. There are certain firms in Lancashire which have paid the compensation which was due, but several other companies in Lancashire have failed to do so, and there are a number of workmen who have not had compensation because the firms who employed them have no assets.
There is the case of another colliery company where 30 of these injured men are concerned, and it has been proved that they are entitled to £7,000 compensation, but, owing to the company having failed, there is nothing for those men. In order to deal fairly with these cases we want compulsory insurance, and every company liably to pay compensation to the workmen should be made to insure against any loss under the Workmen's Compensation Act. That would mean that any company failing through bad trade or bad management would be insured to pay compensation to their injured workmen. If that alteration of the law is made then the House of Commons will be carrying out what was intended when the Workmen's Compensation Act was passed. The intention ever since 1896 has been that injured workmen should be able to recover compensation.
It is any intention this afternoon to call the attention of hon. Members to some of these cases. I know of one man who lost his leg, and the Courts decided that he was entitled to £450 compensation; but there is nothing for him because the company employing him has failed. In another case a man lost an eye, and £500 compensation was awarded to him. I could quote a whole series of cases of that kind, and there is nothing for them. The Workmen's Compensation Act was never intended to leave workmen in that helpless position. Now that hon. Members have obtained a knowledge of what is taking place in these cases, I hope something will be done to meet them. I hope that these are points which the Prime Minister had in mind when he appealed to hon. Members on this side to let him know what they wanted and promised that if our case was one of substance he would do what he could to help us.
146 I trust that the Government will not lose sight of the points I have put forward. The present Government have been returned with a majority never before equalled in the history of Parliament. All sections of the community have supported the Government, including these injured workmen, and they are looking forward to hon. Members opposite dealing fairly and openly with cases of the kind which I have mentioned, which ought to receive their attention. If hon. Members think the question I have brought forward ought to be dealt with, I trust that, later on, when we make proposals to deal with this subject, we shall get the help of hon. Members opposite in order to put matters right.
§ Sir FREDERICK MILLS
As a new Member, I claim the indulgence of the House in case I should contravene any of the Rules. I am one who, all my life, has been what is called an industrialist, and in recent years I have wondered what has happened to the industry with which I have been connected for so many years. I belong to the iron and steel industry, and two and a-half years ago that industry suddenly came almost to a full stop. When I was contemplating exactly what had happened, not only to me, but to a great many of my workmen, I wondered what was happening inside the walls of this House. Later I sought a seat in Parliament and, like many other hon. Members, I was somewhat surprised to find myself here so quickly. But being here one is apt to ask what can be done by this Parliament in order to put things right? In the first place, it is necessary to consider exactly what has gone wrong. All my life I have been what may be called a Protectionist. I have seen the great industry with which I am connected gradually going from bad to worse during the last 30 years, and more particularly during the last two and a-half years, during which that industry has almost come to an end. I have never understood why people are so afraid of Protection, because, if you analyse the subject, you find that the principal cost of every commodity is labour; in fact almost 95 per cent. is labour.
One hears or reads of economists who tell us that 50 per cent. of the cost of production is labour. If you analyse this subject, not necessarily by going into de- 147 tails and figures, but taking a common-sense point of view, it stands to reason that the whole cost of almost every article of production must of necessity be labour. Take the article with which I am most acquainted—pig-iron. I suppose there is no commodity which has so low a direct cost for labour as pig-iron. Take, for example, the pre-War period, when pig-iron was sold at 50s. per ton. At that time, the cost for labour was 1s. 9d. or 2s. per ton, which is a very small proportion of direct labour. If you analyse the subject, and take the origin of pig-iron, and consider what it is made from, you will find that nearly the whole of that cost is made up of labour. In the first place, you require coke and coal, and it takes three tons of coal to make a ton of steel. That coal originally costs nothing because it is lying perdu in the earth, but the moment you begin to get it out of the ground you incur labour costs, and capital, which is merely deferred labour, is required in order to get that coal out of the ground for the manufacture of iron and steel. That is the case throughout the whole of our manufactures, and whether we are dealing with iron or steel, or any other commodity, if the matter is thought out from a common sense point of view one must come to the conclusion that the cost of every product in this country is labour to the extent of at least 95 per cent., and it does not matter whether you are dealing with pig-iron, steel, the manufacture of tables, telephones or postage stamps. If that be so—if anybody is sufficiently interested to take out the details they will find them worked out in the Presidential Address which I gave to the members of the Iron and Steel Institute in 1925, and the statements I made there have never been contradicted—I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone should want to import from any foreign country any article of manufacture or produce if it can be obtained in this country. Therefore, I say without any hesitation whatever that the proper policy for us to pursue in this country is to employ our own people in making our own goods. Mr. Andrew Carnegie once said to me, paraphrasing the Bible, "Seek ye first the home market, and all others shall be added unto you."
148 My reason for intervening in this Debate so soon after being elected to this House, and so early in the course of the Debate, is that I want to call special attention to the iron and steel trades of this country, and to say that there is no need whatever for any more inquiries as to the necessity for protecting those industries. The late Government had a Cabinet Committee which investigated the matter to its fullest degree. The Government before it had a Cabinet Committee which did the like. The Balfour Committee investigated the matter. There is nothing left to investigate; the time has come for action. We know from the programme of the Labour party that one of their methods of putting things right was the formation of public utility companies, and I mention that because, so far as I am aware, only one industry has been singled out by the party for detailed investigation and inquiry, namely, the industry about which I am now speaking—the iron and steel industry; and the workpeoples' organisation in that industry has gone so far as to print a plan showing how that industry would be worked under a public utility company. If any of us has 2d. left, I would invite him to buy the pamphlet in which that is all set out in detail. On page 18 of it, however, it will be found that the authors of the programme do not intend to have their industry interfered with by foreign competition; they ask for protection for that industry.
Therefore, various authorities in this country have now decided that there must be protection for the great iron and steel industry, which, as hon. Members will recollect, Richard Cobden called the mother of all industries—an industry upon which many others are dependent. If the amount of steel imported into this country last year, namely, 3.000,000 tons, had been made in this country instead of abroad, 9,000,000 or 10,000,000 tons of coal would have been produced in this country for its manufacture. These authorities have determined that this industry must be protected, but there is one other set of authorities, namely, the importers and receivers of iron and steel at the present moment. I find that into the two great importing centres of Llanelly and Newport, during the month of August, 43,000 tons of steel were imported, during Sep- 149 tember 53,000 tons, and during October no less than 83,000 tons, indicating that the foreign manufacturers and the home receivers have come to the conclusion that this industry is going to be protected. My sole reason for intervening in this Debate is to beg the Prime Minister and his Government to set up no more committees of inquiry, but to get to work at once and see that this industry is set on its feet, so that peace and prosperity may be brought once more to one of the greatest industries that this country has ever seen.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I desire to congratulate the hon. Member for East Leyton (Sir F. Mills) on the very lucid and sincere way in which he has expressed his aims and desires to the House. I have a particular interest in the industry of which he speaks, because my father was a member of the iron and steel industry, and carried on that work for a period of 35 years. I am sure the hon. Member must agree that the depression and paralysis in that industry means a very depressed state of mind for the workers and employers in it, and I think the House will realise that something ought to be done at least to protect in some-form an industry of that character. Whether the remedies which are suggested will bring industry back to prosperity may be a debatable question, but at least something is required in order to stimulate industry at the present moment. I am delighted at having this opportunity of addressing the House for a few moments, the first that I have had since June of this year, when I emerged from the House in rather a disordered state, after a rather exciting and unruly experience. To those who removed me from the House I owe no grudge. Some say that I owe them an apology, but apologies and grudges will die as the last Government and Parliament have died, and we begin a new life.
I realise that the National Government, so-called, has been returned by the overwhelming vote of the people of this country, and I regard that vote of the people, employers and workers on every hand, as indicating a desire that something should be done speedily to ease the position of poverty and depression from which this country has suffered. I know that many people have voted for the National Government on this occasion believing in the policy and programme of 150 the Labour party, but believing that Socialism is something for the dim and distant future. They believed that the National Government, with its policy of Protection or Empire Free Trade, would bring employment to the workers, and, in a last despairing effort, they voted for the National Government in order to bring back employment to those people who are out of work. For that I cannot blame the working class of this country, because, when a man is unemployed, the first thing that he desires in life, if he is a sincere and honest artisan, is employment, rather than doles of any kind.
I hope that the National Government in this country will be able to arrange their differences in the Cabinet and to carry out the pledges and the promises which they made to the people during the past election. I am one of the Scottish survivors, one of the orphans of the storm that swept over this country; and I believe it was rather a shock to a large number of people that I managed to survive that storm. But I survived it, in my own estimation, because I put clearly before the working class of my Division what was being done and attempted by the various sections of the National Government of this country. I had to meet Liberal, Tory and Labour oppositions, and I "whacked" them all; and I come to this House with a clear and emphatic mandate from the working class of that Division to stand here and express their discontent with the actions that have been taken by the Government to depress and pauperise the great working-class community of this country.
I desire at the very outset to state that I regard this Government as not being in the position of requiring to set up further committees or further inquiries in order to carry out any programme or policy in which they believe. I know that they have as a Prime Minister one of the champion shufflers of this country —a man who has continually, in my estimation, bought time and opportunity by postponing, as the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said, the evil day. He managed very successfully for two years and three months to delude even those Members of the Opposition who are now condemning him. He managed to delude them into the belief that continual retreat was the way to make progress. He has led the Opposition to disaster. 151 and, if the Tory party are not very careful, he will lead them to disaster also. I say frankly that I look for about six months of Parliamentary life until a change in the Premiership takes place in this country, and I hope that something is going to be done to ease the position of the working class of this country.
We are moving into a deplorable state of poverty and discontent, and I would warn the National Government and those who represent it on the Front Bench not to imagine for a single moment that the fact that they received such an overwhelming majority at the recent Election means that the people are prepared to go on suffering in their poverty, pestilence and disease while the Government are making inquiries. They are, no doubt, prepared to have a certain amount of patience, but, although I do not attempt to deny that this overwhelming majority, committed, if they like, to a measure of Protection, committed to Empire Free Trade, has been given to the Government by the people in order that they may do anything they desire that will ease the situation and bring employment to the working class, I believe that they are bound to fail, in view of the development of society.
We hear from time to time from the exponents of Empire Free Trade and Protection that what is desirable in this country is that we should satisfy the complete needs of our community—that we should go on producing everything and should cut off imports of every kind. But, supposing that every nation adopted that policy, it would mean that they would all produce for themselves and would have no imports of any kind, and this country would be bound to be further depressed by a policy of that description. I agree that at one time this country was the workshop of the world, but people fail to realise why it has ceased to be the workshop of the world. They live as living dead men in surroundings that are completely changing, and they take no notice whatever of the development which has actually taken place. If, for the purposes of giving an analogy of what really takes place, we were to reduce the nations of the world to five, we should discover that at one time Great Britain produced the ships, the coal, the engines, 152 the cotton goods, the shoes, everything that was required for the other countries that were in an undeveloped state. But, as No. 2 develops on the same basis, and begins to sink its coal mines, to build its ships, railway rolling-stock and engines, to manufacture its boots and clothes, No. 2 is lost to No. I as a customer, and enters into a competitive struggle with No. 1 for the three remaining markets of the world. After a time, No. 3 develops in the same way, and No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 compete for the two remaining markets; and we gradually arrive at the stage when every country in the world develops on an industrial basis, and all are looking for the markets that have been wiped out by that development which has taken place under a capitalistic society.
In addition to that development, something else has taken place which has helped on the paralysis of industry. We find scientific production being adopted, we find speeding up taking place. We find that the baker of 20 years ago, who could produce enough bread to satisfy 40 families, has now a machine which, in an eight-hour day, can produce from 27,000 to 35,000 loaves of bread. While we see that development taking place in industry, there has been no corresponding result for the working class who have been producing more throughout that period. We find that, instead of the old argument of payment by results, of giving to the worker a greater share in what he produces, the argument is that as he produces more he must be given less for the production of those goods. It adds to unemployment and throws workpeople out into the street. If the capitalist system had to maintain itself, we were bound to have, with that development, world agreement for a reduction of hours. We have never had any serious attempt to get world agreement for a reduction of hours of the working-classes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said yesterday, instead of reducing hours, we are actually now using depression and unemployment to increase hours and to reduce wages. We have come to the stage where the National Government say: "We are in a state of depression, we are going through a very trying period, the world is glutted with goods." As the "Sunday Express" said five or 153 six weeks ago, we have too much of everything. Coffee beans were being burned by the ton in Brazil, sugar was stored from floor to ceiling in the factories, and wheat was being stocked in America. The National Government say to the working class: "We are suffering from a glut and, in order that you should buy more, we will give you less."
If that is not a policy of lunacy, I do not know what is. If any of us was to go home after our discussion to-night and say to the wife, "Here I am, old girl, I am home for my supper," and she said, "My good man, there is no supper for you, because there is too much food in the house," you would naturally think she was a fit subject for a lunatic asylum. But you are telling the working class that the reason why there is poverty, hardship and suffering is that the world is glutted with goods and, on the other hand, you say we have got to produce more. We could understand a famine in the old days when you had not the means of communicating between country and country and people were bound to suffer before famine could be relieved, but today we can sail through the air, we can communicate with every part of the land in a few moments, we have absolutely conquered space and time by the scientific development of mankind. Then you say to the working class, "Although you can produce 50 times more, with the aid of scientific invention, this country can only be saved by your going down into a greater stage of poverty and despair." I refuse to accept it. That policy has been accepted by all the political parties in this House as being essential to the development of this State. If the basis of our civilisation was such that the State could be saved only by the further suffering and poverty of the mass of the people, I would say the sooner the State was destroyed the better. We have even got to the stage when we are not able to protest against the added poverty and suffering of the people. I am awaiting trial on the horrible crime of inducing people to come into the street and parade their poverty, hunger and nakedness and to demand from the National Government that these dole cuts and wage cuts and the means test shall not be applied to the family life of the people.
My experience is that not 5 per cent. of the Members of Parliament realise 154 exactly what was imposed by the hurried legislation of the National administration. In six weeks they did what no Government have ever done in the history of the country. They reduced the spending power and the capacity of the working class. They applied the means test. The Prime Minister telephoned during the Election, it was stated, to the head of a Department to ask if it was true that under the means test they were going to take account of disability pensions, and he said he could assure his hearers that such was not the case. I knew immediately that statement was made that it was either the statement of a man who knew nothing about the means test or it was a brazen lie in an attempt to get out of a difficult situation and to mislead the people. Under the means test in Glasgow a man with a disability pension of £1 a week is to have 15s. taken from his allowance for himself and wife, and he is to lose 25 per cent. of the disability pension. Under the means test we are going to have what my hon. Friend described as a very successful breaking up of the family home.
I should like to draw the attention of the Leader of the House to this case. A man with a wife and six children under 14 years of age, on the Employment Exchange, was drawing 33s. 3d. They have a son 21 years of age who was earning 45s. a week. Under the means test, they give 33s. 3d. plus 10s. for the boy— 43s. 3d.—so that the father, mother and six young children under 14 have to depend on 43s. 3d., which is 1s. 9d. less than the wage of the son, for rent, light, heat, food, clothing, insurance, church money and everything else. We know what is bound to happen unless the son is extremely dutiful. He will leave the home, and there will be family tics broken by the National Government. That family will have a reduction of 36s. a week by the action of the National Government, who are concerned with the balancing of the national Budget but not the budget of the working-class home.
Let me give another typical example of two families living in one house. You are going to reduce the grants under the housing scheme. The grant to a man and wife is reduced from 26s. to 23s. 3d. by the National Government. Living in a room in the house are another man and wife. They had 26s., which is reduced to 23s. 3d. The rent of the house is 8s. 155 a week. The Poor Law authority say, "We are not paying rent to two families in one house. We are taking 8s. from your 23s. 3d. because you are tenants, and we are going to pay you 15s. a week." Therefore, we are reducing that family, because they happen to be tenants in that house, from 23s. 3d. to 15s. 3d. under the means test. Then you say, as the Prime Minister said, "We will still look after the conditions of the poor." I do not only condemn those who are associated with the National Government who agreed to that means test. I condemn the present Opposition, who were prepared to buy a further lease of power by agreeing to a system of that character which is going to depress the state of the working class. Because I protested against that, because I encouraged 100,000 people to come out into the street and protest against it in an orderly and constitutional manner, I was thrown into a police cell and I await a charge of inciting to not and disorder. In the Navy there was a first-class mutiny over the wage cuts, and the men at Invergordon compelled the great National Government to cut the cuts that had already been agreed upon. The teachers got consideration. Every section got consideration except those at the very bottom of the social ladder, those who are being crushed down into the gutter, whose children are being destroyed for want of food and nourishment. The National Government are guilty, if they carry on that policy, of the mass murder of working-class children throughout the length and breadth of the country.
I came into the street to protest against that. I certainly will never apologise to any person or court for my action. I protest strongly in this House against that system of cruelty and barbarism which is taking place under the means test and under the dole cuts. If that is the only way you can maintain the safety of your Empire and your State, I should welcome the destruction to-morrow of that Empire and that State which stand for vicious inequality of that character. I ask that the Leader of the House should convey to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet the protest of a section of the working class against what is taking place. No wonder the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping said, "We had better get the 156 election over quickly. If we wait for three or six months it will not be the late Opposition, but the National Government which will be in the dock." In six months time, after the application of the means test, if an election took place, the sweep would be the other way, when the people realised their folly and realised what they were up against. The means test comes into operation to-morrow, 12th November. It should have been to-day, National Remembrance Day, so that we could connect the sacrifices of the dead with the sacrifices of the living. You should sleep uneasy in your beds because of the hardship and the wanton attack you have made on working-class life. I protest in the name of the working class in my division and in the country, as strongly as one man can, against the National Government carrying out that policy of the means test, and I plead with them in the name of humanity and in the name of the workers to suspend it before it plays havoc with the entire working class.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. D. MASON
I do not know whether I can claim any indulgence from the House. I am not a new Member. I was in the House some 13 years ago, so I suppose I may be regarded as an old Member. Nevertheless, I should like to appeal to the House for its indulgence. I do not propose to follow the hon. Member who has just spoken, except to say that what he has said as to the suffering of the working class, and all classes, under the heavy cuts which we have all experienced will certainly appeal to everyone. I listened very carefully to his speech, and I was disappointed to find that he offered nothing of a constructive character as to how we can get this country out of the terrible mess we are in, both financially and economically. I, for one, most heartily sympathise with him. My humble effort will be to try to see if we cannot improve matters, both financially and economically, and then, when we are in a better position in those respects, I am sure that any Government will be prepared to consider sympathetically such an appeal as he has made. I hope that the hon. Member will pardon me, therefore, for passing from his appeal, while appreciating the sincerity of it, to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. 157 Churchill), who, I am sorry to say, is not in his place. He made reference to a subject which was also referred to by the Prime Minister and which appeals very particularly to me, as I have de voted a considerable amount of time to a study of the problem, namely, the steps to be taken for restoring the credit of this country. I would say to my hon. Friend opposite that if we can do something to accomplish it, it will bring us nearer to the position when we shall be able, I hope, perhaps to restore some of those very severe cuts or to reconsider the position, as has been said by many Ministers of the Crown.
The right hon. Member for Epping spoke of the hoarding of gold, of the two-thirds held by the United States of America and France, and he seemed to believe that it was some sinister design on their part, and that it was for some special purpose, as it were, that they accumulated this enormous hoarding of gold. The right hon. Gentleman will always have a niche of fame among many of those who have studied the question in that he was responsible for bringing this country back to specie payments and to solvency, and I do not think that he for one moment meant to indicate that he had gone back upon the decision he took in 1925. But he seemed rather to sympathise with some remarks made, I think, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne), who seemed to be doubtful as to whether we should restore the pound to the old parity. I should like to offer one or two observations with regard to the right hon. Gentleman's assertion that there was some sinister design on the part of the United States and of France. There is no such design. It is a perfectly natural process. Under the mechanism of what is called opening your Mints for the receipt of gold, both the United States and France were bound to take that gold at a certain price.
One of the principal reasons why the enormous hoard has been accumulating in the United States was due to the fact that during the War Europe entered into a regime of paper money, and gold was exported from countries that indulged in those paper issues. The gold actually flowed to the United States, and also later has gone to France for a similar reason. We have not been increasing 158 our exports, and when we are not increasing our exports and the exchange is unfavourable, it becomes profitable for any bullion dealer or banker—I am referring to the time when we had the Gold Standard—to take gold bullion and ship it over to France at a profit. There is nothing sinister on the part of France. As long as the Bank of France is prepared to purchase gold at a certain figure, this must take place. It is a natural action. There is no conspiracy on their part. Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman suggests that we should have some conferences with the other Powers, with the object of getting the United States and France to part with their gold, he really—and I have a great admiration for his many qualities—shows very little knowledge of what constitutes the causes which led to the ebb and flow of the precious metal.
I should like to refer to what the Prime Minister said with regard to the possibility of a resumption of the Gold Standard. This is very important because here again the working classes, if I may appeal to my hon. Friends opposite, are more interested in this problem than almost any other classes. They are in receipt of fixed wages, and one of the principal causes of the enormous majority of the present Government was unquestionably due—there may have been exaggerations, I do not deny, in some quarters with regard to what would happen if a Socialist Government were returned to power—to the very reasonable doubt that their wages might further be depreciated owing to the fall in the value of the pound if a Socialist Government were returned to power. Can one wonder at that when we know that the late Financial Secretary to the Treasury and many other Members of the late Socialist Government actually proposed, as a practical policy for restoring the pound, that we should use our savings, the savings of all Members of this House and the savings of the working classes, the insurance companies and the banks artificially to support the pound? Of course that, like a palliative, would have given some relief temporarily, but everyone knows— and responsible leaders of the Socialist party subscribed to such a policy—that when one gets into debt and borrows or obtains another loan, it gives only temporary relief. If this country had pur- 159 sued that policy, we should have had temporary relief for six or seven months, and then wages would have gone down along with the savings and wealth of every other class of the community. I wish to emphasise the supreme importance of adopting, as soon as practicable, the policy of His Majesty's Government with regard to the restoration of the pound.
The Minister of Health delivered a speech the other day in which, in very vague language, he seemed to be quite of a different opinion. In fact it looks as if His Majesty's Government have no very definite ideas with regard to the matter. [Interruption.] I do not suggest that generally. I only suggest it with regard to this particular question. The Minister of Health said:Before stability is attained we must find a cure for the excess of imports.He went on to say:When the currency is stabilised, the next step will be to anchor it afresh to some fixed standard. Will the anchor again be a gold one?I suggest to the Prime Minister, with all respect, that while he himself seems to hold out hope that you can restore the currency to the old anchorage, he should try to ensure that his colleague should, if possible, say the same thing, because such discrepancies tend to interfere with the confidence we wish to generate. To restore the pound to its old level is not a difficult matter. It does not depend upon other countries at all. It largely depends upon ourselves. I will go over briefly what happened when we went off the Gold Standard, and then we shall get a better understanding of how we can again restore the pound. The principal reason for our going off the Gold Standard was largely due to the profligate finance of the Socialist Government. The fact that the late Government went out of office leaving us with a deficit of over £120,000,000, and the fact that their Insurance Scheme was bankrupt, obviously led to a large increase of imports, with no exports going out to pay for them. The exchange then fell and the Bank of England applied to the Socialist Government for an increase of the fiduciary issue to which the late Chancellor of the Exchequer agreed, and further continued when he came into office as Chan- 160 cellor of the Exchequer of the National Government. The rate fell still further, and, of course, when the rate falls to a certain point, naturally gold is withdrawn by bullion dealers and bankers. France took enormous sums. That led to a lack of confidence, and foreign bankers withdrew their balances. The National Government later tried to bolster up the pound by borrowing. We borrowed something like £130,000,000. We might as well have poured it into the sand. You cannot restore your credit by such methods.
To the horror of individuals like myself and others who have followed these happenings day by day, we were brought to this pitch unknown in the history of this great Empire, namely, that both the United States and France refused to lend us money. I do not blame any one party alone for this state of affairs, because if we look back over the past 10 years, I think that all of us have forgotten that while some may have profiteered things would have been different if we had pursued a policy of drastic economy. I submit, with every wish to deal faithfully and impartially in this matter, that the late Socialist Government were the worst sinners in this respect. A great deal has been said lately as to correcting the fall in the pound by taking action in regard to what is called the balancing of trade. There is continual talk about the balance of trade affecting the pound. The balance of trade has no effect upon the pound; it is the balance of payments between countries. I see in front of me an hon. Friend who, I remember well, in former days was one of the most brilliant exponents of Tariff Reform. We may differ on Tariff Reform and Protection, but do let us clear our minds and not confuse the issue by imagining that by introducing a crowbar into the mechanism of international exchange, it would help the pound. If we were to prohibit imports or we had a tariff to restrict imports, it would obviously restrict our exports and reduce our aggregate. If our aggregate fell, the pound would fall further. Many hon. Members, like myself, are Free Traders, and my hon. Friend opposite is a Tariff Reformer, but let us discuss the question as to whether it is advisable to have a Safeguarding Duty or a tariff or to adhere to Free Trade; 161 do not let us confuse the idea by imagining that you will improve the pound by such a crude method as that. I ask hon. Members to disabuse their minds of such an argument, and try to restore the argument relative to the question as to whether it is a good thing or a bad thing to have Free Trade or Tariff Reform. After a long period of severance from this House I appreciate very much your allowing me, Mr. Speaker, this opportunity of addressing the House, and I thank you and the House for having listened to me.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The House always likes to see back an old Member who has been long absent, but I do not think that they are particularly pleased to find him advancing precisely the same views as of old. I have often heard the speech which the hon. Member has made to-day, and there is not the slightest doubt that I shall often hear it again. As the hon. Member repeats that speech during this Parliament, this long Parliament of perhaps five years, I think he will gradually become less sure of what the Prime Minister thinks. I have spent my whole life trying to understand what the Prime Minister advocates. I have made a desperate, honest attempt to understand it, always hoping, always optimistic, but I have never succeeded. Yesterday, I thought that I need bother no more about that pursuit, because I saw that the rest of the House were trying to make out what the Prime Minister meant. Now, the responsibility which used to lie upon me is upon the rest of the House, and I wish them joy of it.
The next time my hon. Friend speaks on the restoration of the Gold Standard I do not think that he will be quite so certain that the Prime Minister intends to put the pound back to 20s. I do not know whether any hon. Member would say that he wants the pound back at 20s. During the Election I believe the hon. Member for the City of London was in favour of restoring the pound to 20s., and I think the hon. and learned Member for Rusholme (Sir B. Merriman) was even more anxious for the same thing, but they found out their mistake and they do not put that suggestion forward now. The fact of the matter is that the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. D. Mason) stands almost alone in a desperate attempt—
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The hon. Member stands almost alone in a desperate attempt to restore sterling to its pristine value. Why? No one knows better than the hon. Member that in those dim and dismal days of August, when we were slipping over the precipice, the entire Press of this country and the whole soul of the National Government were directed towards saving the pound. On the Sunday it went, like a flash, and on the Monday we found that the Press of the country and the entire soul of the National Government were devoted to saying what a jolly good thing it was that we had gone off the Gold Standard. It was the most rapid and the most extraordinary transformation. If the hon. Member for East Edinburgh had been a Member of the House at that time he would have found it passing from adulation of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) into denunciation of him for having inflicted upon us for five years the losses and disasters due to the Gold Standard. In that the right hon. Gentleman made a fatal mistake. It was not Gallipoli, it was not Antwerp, but it was the going back on to the Gold Standard that was the fatal mistake. Now that this country has been bumped off the Gold Standard, the right hon. Gentleman has been put "on the spot," and the pound is down.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The right hon. Gentleman borrowed money from the Road Fund, he juggled with the finances of the country, in cold blood, and he put us back on to the Gold Standard. That was the right hon. Gentleman in his un-regenerate days. While he was nominally a Free Trader he was actually a spendthrift, and he prepared the way for destroying his own financial schemes. I remember the eloquent way in which the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer prepared the way to support the schemes. A good many people have indulged in self-congratulation. If I were inclined to do that, I might say that I and the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Gillett) were the only people who in 1925 opposed the lamentable return to the Gold Standard. The hon. Member for East Edinburgh does not 163 seem to understand what has happened since we went off the Gold Standard. Trade is improving. Perhaps he may think that it is because of his return to this House that it is improving, or because the present Government have been returned. What is the reason? It is because the fall in the value of the pound from 20s. to 16s. amounts to a 25 per cent. bounty on the goods exported from this country. Speaking as an exporter, I prefer a system which puts me on a fair basis for competing with other exporters in other countries. I get that with the pound at its normal value to-day. We get an export bounty. The iron and steel trades are looking up. Cotton mills are opening, the heavy woollen industries in Yorkshire are working overtime, and unemployment in the coal trade is going down. That is because the pound has fallen. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) will tell us that the salvation of this country is not the restoration of the Gold Standard—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I should be pleased to hear the right hon. and gallant Member. The Chair, I would remind him, is at this end of the Chamber.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I apologise. It is because the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth is sitting behind me. The hon. and gallant Member will put forward exactly the same speech that he Las made before. He will speak of the necessity for adopting Tariff Reform in order to save the country, but I would point out that the whole of his position has changed owing to the fall in the value of the pound. He is better off than the hon. Member for East Edinburgh. He has been watching the Prime Minister in this House. He has been playing the great game of trying to solve the Mac-Donald cross-word puzzle. He must realise that the position is not quite what it was so far as tariffs are concerned since we came off the Gold Standard. A great deal was made at the Election of the folly of a large number of my unfortunate colleagues of the Labour party who held up their hands in favour of tariffs. But that was before we came off the Gold Standard. A great many of us, finding ourselves in the desperate position we were in before we came off gold, might well have held up our hands for 164 tariffs. J. M. Keynes was one of them. He was almost with the Protectionists before we came off gold. He was in favour of a 10 per cent. tariff. It is true that he earmarked the proceeds of that tariff for a bonus to the export trade, so that the export trade should not suffer. [Interruption.] Yes, the money to be raised by that tariff was to be given to the export trade, as is being done in South Africa at the present time.
§ Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT
Surely, Professor Keynes' declaration was that it was for revenue purposes that he was prepared to put on a tariff on all imports, including foodstuffs.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
That is so, to the extent of 10 per cent., but the money was to be used as a bonus for export. I am only mentioning this point as an illustration of what was thought before we went off gold. There was a reasonable case made out for that. We had got to such a pass that cither costs had to come down or prices had to go up. We did not think then that it was possible to cut wages in order to bring costs down. Therefore, the alternative was to put prices up. Professor J. M. Keynes is no longer advocating such a tariff. The Labour leaders are no longer advocating tariffs. Why? Because we have now an automatic tariff brought about by the fall in the value of the pound.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
Perhaps the hon. Member would like prices to be higher? The only drawback to our going off gold is that it must have the effect of an increase in the cost of living in this country. I do not know what hon. Members want if they do not want higher prices. They have got what they want in that respect, and they are likely to get more. The case for tariffs has completely altered. We have a 25 per cent. tariff on every article coming into this country, from France at any rate. The French do not like it. I remember the late Chancellor of the Exchequer saying, with a broken voice, from that bench, that he had tried to borrow from the French and that they would not lend him any more money and that, therefore, he could not save the pound. 165 Immediately afterwards, when the French saw what it meant our going off gold, they proferred money with both hands, and said: "For God's sake, borrow from us and put the pound back, so that we can get our goods into England." It is a bad thing for everything that comes from France, but I can look upon it with a certain amount of equanimity. Your champagne will cost you more. Your early vegetables will cost you more. Your flowers for the wedding will cost you more. Your perfumes, your lipstick and all that sort of thing will cost you more. I understand that we have begun to manufacture lipstick in this country. Your silk stockings will cost you more. Your trip to Paris will not come off, because you cannot afford it.
Those are the bad sides of a tariff. On the other hand, I am pleased to say that the rest of the Empire has come off gold with us, except South Africa, which is stumbling on the edge of the precipice. Therefore, we have a more automatic preference with the Empire, as well as the other advantages brought about by outgoing off the Gold Standard. Denmark has gone off the Gold Standard. The Danes are not really foreigners. Most of us have Danish blood in our veins. When we have passed the Statute of Westminster they will be just as much within the Empire as Australia and Canada. I do not think that the people who have been advocating Tariff Reform have quite appreciated the fact that we have now a 25 per cent. tariff in our favour because we have gone off gold. Of course, they say that that is not enough. It never is enough. I want a 200 per cent. tariff on crockery coming into this country. I should prefer prohibition in that respect. Still, a 25 per cent. tariff is something. I do hope that we shall not stabilise the pound too early. We do not want to repeat the fiasco of borrowing £130,000,000 and seeing it run through the hands of the Bank of England inside three weeks, with the result that we have to pay it back in gold in about nine months time.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I understand that it will cost us much less to repay if we get back to parity, but does anyone 166 imagine that we are likely to get back to parity within nine months? Not even a National Government can do that. The thing to avoid is a repetition of that fiasco. Even to-day sterling is still propped up by the Government, it has not yet arrived at its proper level, and before any attempt is made to stabilise sterling at 15s. or 16s.—that is really the proposal before us—we should first of all get rid of these Government props. First of all, there is the prohibition in dealings in foreign bonds and stocks and currencies. Then there is the embargo on foreign loans, which I hope the hon. Member agrees hits the export trade. There is also the embargo on forward purchases of sterling, but by far the worst of the Government props is the artificially high Bank Bate, at present 6 per cent. I do not know whether the Bank Rate can be dropped, but I am certain that it would be wrong to stabilise sterling before the Bank Rate in this country is as low as the Bank Rate in Paris, where it is 2½ per cent., as against 6 per cent. here.
How is industry in this country to recover with a 6 per cent. Bank Rate? Every industry is supported by the banks and has to work on an overdraft, upon which they pay 7 per cent. They are unable to develop and extend their industries, much less give credit. At a time when we want to recover those neutral markets which we lost owing to the Gold Standard during the last five years, they are hampered by this 6 per cent. Bank Rate which has no real relation whatever to present conditions, but is a mere figment of the Bank of England. In ordinary times the Bank Rate must go up if our stocks of gold go down, and must come down as our stocks of gold go up. But now we are off the Cold Standard, and it is only a question of the level at which sterling will crystalise. That level will only be reached when the Bank Bate drops to normal. When I am told that the proposals of the Labour party for dealing with the banks amount to Bolshevist finance, I ask, who introduced Bolshevist finance? Surely it was the late Chancellor of the Exchequer who tried to avoid coming off the Gold Standard and who gambled, perhaps the first time in his life, on the principle of heads I lose, tails you win. He was bound to lose. It was Bolshevist finance to leave the banks of this country to 167 decide the Bank Rate without consulting both vitally interested parties—those who borrow and those who lend. If you leave the banks uncontrolled, if you leave the Bank of England to say what the Bank Rate is to be, you will have all the trouble we have gone through over again.
At the present time sterling is being propped up by the Government and the industries of this country are suffering. The interests of the people who use money, those who have to have overdrafts at the bank and who are being strangled by the high Bank Rate, must be considered just as much as the bankers. [An HON. MEMBER: "The banks' depositors first."] They get 1 per cent. below the Bank Rate, if they are lucky. If you are going to consider the interests of the money-lender first, that is what a bank depositor is, you are quite right to back the Bank of England against the country, but if you consider not only the interests of those who lend money but also the interests of those who have to borrow money, and who at present are quite unable to pay the interest on the capital, you will agree with the Labour party that there should be some control over the banks in the matter of fixing the Bank Rate.
The question of the currency is the real question before this Government and the country to-day. The talk about tariffs has nothing whatever to do with the immediate and practical question. The immediate question is, at what price are we going to stabilise the pound; how can we get back the balance of trade? The fact of bringing the pound down has helped that balance of trade; but here I desire to utter a word of warning. The Prime Minister in his speech foresaw the same problem. We can stabilise our currency at a reasonable level in six months and put back our trade into those neutral markets. It may be that the pound will have to fall still further, but we could get our trade balance if it were not for the fear of what is going to happen in February next. May I point out to the Government the dangers which may occur in February next? Germany owes money on reparations to France and thousands of millions of dollars, advanced in dollars, by the United States for loans to municipalities and industries. Ger- 168 many also owes this country credits which are to be met in February next. Everyone has noticed the rise of the Nazis party, and by February next you may have another national Government in Germany. Nobody who has studied what is happening believes that Germany can pay these three creditors, and I hope that we shall not be left to "carry the baby." I notice M. Laval in New York and Berlin making his arrangements for the payment of French reparations. The Americans are in a position to lend more money to Germany, and I can see arrangements being made to continue to pay interest on the loans on municipal bonds and industrial stock which America has placed there. I want to be certain that our national Government, while thinking about questions of currency and tariffs, will also give their attention to seeing that in February next we shall have as good a chance as anybody else of getting payment. Our money was advanced specially to save Germany from bankruptcy last July, and we have a better claim for repayment than the French have for reparations seeing that they did not accept the Hoover moratorium.
That is the danger I see in February next, and the important thing is to stabilise the pound not at 20s. but at its true value, whatever it may be, as soon as it is ascertained and after the artificial props have been withdrawn. After that the duty of a National Government is to see that the social services are no longer hampered and that the working classes, whose wages are penalised by the rising cost of living, shall not pay for ever, for the re-establishment of the finance and credit of the country.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The right hon. and gallant Member for Neweastle-under-Lyne (Colonel Wedgwood) will forgive one if I do not follow him in his very interesting argument. I have risen for one purpose, and that is to raise the question of agriculture which has not been discussed in this House since last July, but which must be present to the mind of almost every Member, certainly to the mind of every Member who represents a country constituency. I should like in the first place to tender my hearty congratulations to my right hon. Friend on his accession to office and to 169 give him a warm welcome, which I am sure the House wishes to accord him in his difficult task. I hope we shall have the pleasure of hearing a statement from him to-night. We cannot expect, nor would it be reasonable to expect, a detailed statement of policy, but I hope he will tell us as much as he can and give the House some indication, at any rate, as to when the full agricultural policy of the Government may be announced. I am not going to weary the House with a statement of the terrible plight of the farming community, especially in eastern and southern counties at the present moment. Hon. Members know the conditions perfectly well, and the Minister of Agriculture is only too painfully aware of them, but may I say this, that the agricultural problem is really only a part of the industrial problem. One of the principal reasons for our adverse balance of trade has been the neglect of agriculture in the past, and there is no prospect of permanently redressing that adverse balance unless we produce a great deal more food in this country. Therefore, the agricultural problem and the industrial problem are really two sides of the same problem. I hope that the Government will handle them, as such, in a broad national spirit, and that hon. Members of all parties will be prepared to face the new agricultural problem from an agricultural and industrial point of view rather than from a party point of view.
I believe that agriculture can be restored to prosperity and that we can get substantial increase in agricultural production only along two lines. In the first place, there must undoubtedly be a certain measure of Protection. In the second place, there must surely also be organised marketing. Before we consider that, I would say this to the Minister: In a great part of the country already the camel's back has been broken, and, whatever the Minister's policy, if he is to get increased agricultural production during the next 12 months one of the first things he will have to do is to help the farmers to get credits that will carry them over to the next harvest. The late Minister of Agriculture told the House last July that there were 55,000 agricultural labourers out of work. I believe the figure to be very much nearer 170 100,000 to-day. They are 100,000 of the most highly skilled artisans in the country, and the worst paid, and they have no unemployment insurance. The great bulk of them have been turned out of work simply because their employers have not got the cash to employ them; farmers simply have not got the cash in great tracts of the country to carry on until the next harvest unless they are given increased credit facilities. I believe that the banks would be perfectly willing and able to give these credit facilities, provided the agricultural policy of the Government satisfied them that their known clients, good farmers, would be able to earn a profit on their farms during the next year.
I would put forward one or two suggestions for the consideration of the Minister, as to how he can best help agriculture. One of the first things to which I would like to see him devoting his attention is what I would call luxury agricultural imports into this country. We shall all be agreed that from the point of view of the exchange, apart from any agricultural question, it is desirable to limit and reduce imports of luxuries from abroad at the present juncture. There is quite a substantial figure of luxury imports of an agricultural nature. I refer to things like early potatoes, poultry, cream, tinned fruit and vegetables. Between £25,000,000 and £30,000,000 worth of such imports come into this country now. The Government could put a duty on such articles without causing the slightest hardship to any section of the community, and that would at once give a certain limited help to a large section of farmers, smallholders and market gardeners in this country. But then we come to the great question of wheat. I agree with the Home Secretary and those who think with him that this country could never hope to become a great wheat producing country, and that the way of agricultural revival is not in that direction at all. Nor do we want to grow an enormous wheat acreage. If we could only get back to something like what we were a few years ago, namely, in the neighbourhood of 2,000,000 acres, that I think would be about the limit of what this country could usefully grow in wheat.
But, while agreeing that the future of farming in this country lies more in 171 animal products than in cereal products, I do say that the Government must face the facts as they are to-day. It is no earthly use telling the bankrupt farmer in the Eastern counties that he must switch over to pigs or poultry. You have to get farming into a healthy condition again before those particular lines of farming can be adequately and quickly dealt with. I do not think I am disagreeing with many hon. Members opposite. The late Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Addison, frankly admitted what I have stated, and the Labour Government gave a solemn undertaking in August, 1930, that cereal growing would be put on an economic foundation. Therefore I think there is no disagreement between the two parties as to the absolute necessity of having a cereal policy. I am bound to say that I welcome most heartily the pledge given by the Leader of the Conservative party, the Lord President of the Council, just before the General Election, when he said:The position of agriculture is one which in my judgment is so desperate as to call for immediate and far-reaching measures of relief. To this end the first 6tep should be the assistance to cereal farming. We have in no way changed our view that the best form of assistance is by means of a quota and guaranteed price for wheat.I believe that some such step is absolutely necessary before we can get agriculture into that healthy condition from which we can step off to real progress and development. But that is in the nature of a glass of brandy to a sick man. The same may be said of a duty on malting barley, a prohibition or duty on dumped oats, whether they come from Russia or other countries, the increased consumption of British beef by the Crown Forces, and the scheme which late Governments have had for developing sugar beet in this country. I believe all those things to be necessary at the present time, but they are in the nature of a stimulus to an industry which is in a very sick condition and requires some further stimulus before it can revive and expand as the needs of the nation demand that it should.
It seems to me that the policy to which this Parliament should devote its mind is to make Britain self-supporting in those agricultural products in which it can be self-supporting or nearly so. I sug- 172 gest that this must be done by a combination of Protection and marketing organisation, a combination of the Conservative agricultural policy and the Labour agricultural policy. When in the last Session of the late Government we discussed the Marketing Bill, I and many other Conservative Members, though not all, took the view that the Bill would be useless as long as this country adhered to Free Trade, but that if a system of tariffs were introduced the Bill would be of the utmost benefit to agriculture. I would like to see the principle established that where the agricultural industry can organise itself and guarantee the supply of a particular product in sufficient quantities and at a fair price, the Government should undertake to keep out foreign produce.
Let me tell the House exactly what I mean. I admit it cannot be done in every product. It cannot be done immediately even in the case of products for which there is a bright future, such as the production of bacon, because at the moment we have not the organisation for producing the right type of bacon which the public requires at a cheap price. That bacon problem should be dealt with differently, and it will take more time to solve. But if you take a crop like potatoes you can give to the farmers of this country a guarantee which would make all the difference to them between prosperity and impoverishment, and at the same time you could give the public a guarantee against profiteering. I would like to see the potato growers, organised under a marketing organisation, undertake to supply the retail trade at a price which the Minister might defend in Parliament, let us say £5 or £6 a ton. That price would be known publicly, and it would be known that any retailer who charged more than, say, a penny a pound for potatoes—that is £9 a ton—was making an unfair profit.
So long as the marketing board which had control of the whole potato crop was in a position to give such an undertaking, I would like to see the Government keep every foreign potato out of this country. In a time of potato shortage you would have to lift your duty, and in a time of glut the marketing board could instruct its members to remove 10 or 20 per cent. of their crop by passing it through a riddle and feeding it to stock or selling it to farina factories or factories making 173 some other product. At the present moment what is happening to the potato crop? I take potatoes as an example, but the same thing is true of other crops. You had here a glut, like that of 1929, when farmers grew huge crops and incurred huge losses by selling potatoes at 20s. or 30s. a ton. You get a year of shortage like this year when there has not been sufficient acreage of potatoes sown and there has been a bad crop on the acreage. The result is that there is a short crop and foreign potatoes are now coming in. I want to see a position arrived at by which farmers and the public can be sure of a fair price. It can be done on the principle that you should have the industry organised and quoting a firm price to the trade and the Government, on the other hand, keeping out foreign potatoes. Then we should grow the requisite acreage each year, and the farmers would be assured against any very heavy loss.
The principle is applicable to a number of other crops; black currants, plums, and various kinds of fruits and vegetables. In no product is it more important than in milk. At present, there is a milk glut which is depressing the milk industry terribly. We are importing 100,000,000 gallons of milk in the form of tinned milk every year, to say nothing of 50,000,000 gallons of milk imported in the form of cheese made in foreign countries. The milk problem could be solved on the same principle, if you had your organisation, your milk board, which could quote to the milk trade for the requisite amount of liquid milk at a fair price. It could quote to your canning factories for the amount of milk they require at a fair price, and it could make the same quotation to the cheese factories. If the Minister of Agriculture were satisfied that it was a fair price, which he could defend in Parliament, then he would come to the House of Commons and ask for a duty to keep out every ounce of tinned milk corning from abroad. In that way, you can get all the milk produced in this country absorbed at once at fair prices, prices with which Parliament would be satisfied and which the industrialist would be prepared to pay, because he recognises now as never before that the revival of agriculture is absolutely necessary to the revival of industry.
174 I ask hon. Members opposite, who have made a great contribution to this question by bringing forward the question of organisation, to look sympathetically on a national policy of agricultural reconstruction, based on the twin pillars of organisation and Protection. You need organisation to ensure that there is no waste and no profiteering and that the public get the article at a fair price; you need Protection because it is no use trying to stabilise the home market if the foreign produce can come in uncontrolled. Therefore, I would appeal, not only to the Government, but to hon. Members opposite to seize this unique opportunity, when the country as a whole is ready to listen to the claims of agriculture in a manner that it has never been ready to listen to them before, and to embark on a bold and vigorous agricultural policy, one which is not partisan but national, one in which we can all combine and co-operate, not only for the assistance of the agriculturist, not only to rescue those 100,000 agricultural labourers now faced with the workhouse, not only to render more possible the extension of allotments and smallholdings and every other form of agricultural activity in this country, but as part and parcel of our industrial policy by which we may grow everything we can for ourselves and develop a home market which will be of benefit to the town as well as to the country.
§ Sir H. CROFT
I desire to offer a few comments on some of the speeches which have gone before and more particularly to remind hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Labour benches that there are a great many of us in this House who are of opinion that we would never have got into these great difficulties, that we would never have had a flight from the pound, that we would never have had a bankrupt. Unemployment Fund, and that we would never have had this great increase in unemployment, if they and their Government had listened to the urgent representations of the Members of my party in the last Parliament, who pointed out again and again the growing menace and the grave difficulty. We have had figures brought before us recently of the £130,000,000 which the Government had to borrow in a great hurry, and we have heard the figure of £100,000,000 which may have to be considered in February. When the House is considering these compara- 175 tively small figures, it must be remembered that we have paid for unnecessary imports and manufactured goods during the last 10 years no less than £2,000,000,000. When that fact is realised, it must persuade even the hon. Gentlemen on those benches that they have been barking up the wrong tree and that, if they had been a little more insistent in trying to carry out to the full the ideals of trade unionism and had tried to protect the products of labour as well as labour itself, we should be in a very different position in this country at the present time.
It is 2½ years since some of us in this House called the attention of the Socialist Government to the fact that we were approaching a very dangerous position with regard to the balance of trade. I remember saying that within two years, unless action were taken, we would be faced with a dangerous crisis. To some of us who have taken an interest in this question it has been an alarming nightmare. It was like the experience of those in support trenches who saw the enemy drum fire coming towards us. It has been a terror to those concerned as to the future of their country to see this happening and to see so few steps taken by the Government in spite of the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in February. Even the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who very rarely takes an interest in the imports of foreign goods into this country, made a, speech in which he emphasised that we were approaching the danger point. All this distress, this humiliation, this nightmare of the last few months, in the opinion of a large number, if not the majority, of my colleagues in the Conservative party, might have been avoided if action had been taken.
I wish to point that out, because we are not suddenly facing an entirely new situation. This process has been going forward all the time and the thunder clouds have been perfectly clear to those who have taken the trouble to see what was happening. Early in July, with 214 of my hon. Friends in the Conservative party, we tabled a Motion which had more signatures to it than any other Resolution that parliamentarians can remember. That Resolution commenced with these words, which show that my 176 hon. Friends at least realised the urgency of the question:This House, realising the grave and progressive depression in industry, agriculture and employment in Great Britain and in all the countries of the British Empire, is of opinion that there is imperative need for action…I need not read the remainder of the Resolution. We tried to sound the warning note then and we asked the present Prime Minister, then leading the Labour party, which refrained from taking any action, whether he would give any time to consider the Resolution. As the House knows, while Rome was burning, the hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway were busy with their Electoral Reform Bill and with their Land Tax Bill, which they knew could not bring in any revenue for two years and which would not find any employment for the people of this country. Those are the facts of the last two years. If statesmen have to be put into the dock, the verdict of the country will be that the hon. Gentlemen on those benches made no effort whatever to solve this growing tragedy until they absolutely had to leave the ship in the most watertight lifeboat they could find while the passengers were drowning.
I come now to the present position. Not a Member in this House will deny that the primary question, which above all others loomed up at the time of the recent General Election, was the fact that the Government were asking for an immediate mandate to correct the adverse balance of trade. That is indisputable, and no one will doubt it in any section of the House. The nation voted, believing that there was a grave emergency on that very subject. It gave the most dramatic mandate we have ever had in the history of our country. It has given Parliament an immense trust and immense powers to act quickly. There is one thing and one only that could cause any sort of reaction, and that would be failure to act and delay in acting. There is no doubt whatever that all the supporters of the National Government did impress upon the people what we believed to be the real urgency of the situation. If we want to commit suicide or to destroy this marvellous vote of confidence, let us go into winter quarters, assume the habits of the dormouse until the spring comes, and give the country to understand that we were not in earnest.
177 Hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway need not be too hopeful. His Majesty's Government are taking time to consider how to act. They were only formed the day before yesterday, and they are not going to follow the example of the hon. Gentlemen and act precipitately without giving any consideration to the question. Our mandate was so clear that it would be impossible for anyone supporting the National Government to ignore it. I would remind the House of the words of the Prime Minister in his speech in this House on 8th September, when he said:There is a third issue which must be met, and that very quickly, if we are not to get into a crisis from a different point of view altogether. The figures of our trade balance are not favourable, and we must be careful lest we are put into a position of paying for our imports by capital or by printed paper. This, again, must be dealt with without delav."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th September, 1931; col. 15, Vol. 256.]I think we are entitled to remind the Prime Minister that a little more than two months have now gone by. In the election address of my leader the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council he described this danger in these words:The paramount question at homo is that of the adverse balance of trade, the redress of which is essential to secure our financial stability.I need not quote from the dramatic and courageous speech made in this House by the President of the Board of Trade, who was even more emphatic. The right hon. Gentleman whom we all congratulate on his appointment as Minister of Health also made a speech which won the appreciation of the whole country when he pointed out that he realised that we had only about six months if we were to save our bacon. Even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), whom I am sorry is not in his place, pointed out that the adverse balance of trade was something which was very much on his mind. In his wireless address he said:There is a new problem now before this country—the problem of the unfavourable balance of trade. It is a real problem. I say that it is new. It has never been discussed during the long debate which has now been proceeding for 30 years between the advocates of Protection and Free Trade. Only now has the situation arisen. The problem must be discussed on its merits. I suggest that Free Traders must not put it aside as being inconvenient, because it 178 might possibly be found to require some modification if only for the time being, in the application of their ideas.There are a great many words in the right hon. Gentleman's statement but it really means that even he realises the adverse balance of trade. But he could not find any solution of this question. There was no Darwenian theory which he could bring forward, instead of tariffs, with a view to settling this question. But I would remind him that in our party we have been concerned about this question for some time. I remember calling attention to it on 27th April, 1926, in this House. Again at the Scarborough Conference on 8th October, 1926, which some hon. Gentleman will remember, the actual resolution which was carried unanimously stated:This Conference views the adverse balance of trade with serious concern.The speeches on that subject at the Conference were on similar lines. We are all agreed that the adverse balance of trade is really the problem which we are here to solve. We have balanced our Budget and we have now to go on to deal with that question. The leaders of all the parties comprised in the National Government have told us so. There is one distinguished journal in this country which has been recently trying to point out—I am glad to see that it has modified that view in the last few days—that there was no such mandate and that those who held that there was such a mandate had really misinterpreted the national will. During the short period of the Election I spoke in 15 constituencies, as well as my own, and if ever I knew of a mandate being given in a quarter of a century of political life, it was given on this occasion.
Among the people in the industrial north we had marvellous meetings, with great crowds outside, and tremendous enthusiasm for this one cause which the people there believe is the only hope of re-establishing this country. If there are some who try to make out that there was no mandate on this question I must reply that our opponents made it the issue even if we failed to do so. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen and the party which he controls actually contested 81 seats where there were also Conservative candidates. I am not complaining of that. I rather rejoice at it because they made things quite clear and 179 out of those 81 contests, where Liberals fought Conservatives, only six Liberals have survived and some of them only survived because they got aid from very unexpected quarters.
In these 81 constituencies, this question was the supreme issue. These constituencies were chosen because they were regarded as the most favourable to Free Trade and what was the result? What was the total of the vote3 cast for the Liberals in those 81 constituencies? I am speaking of the Samuel Liberals, if I may so describe them without offence in order to differentiate them from the senior or rather the majority party of Liberals in this House. I hope that the phrase is not offensive to any of my Liberal friends. The votes cast in those constituencies totalled, for Liberals, 833,000 and, for Conservatives, 1,630,000. Was there a mandate? Was there ever a more decisive vote given in constituencies where this issue was raised?
Then there was the siren voice of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. When the then Leader of the Opposition paid his visit to Churt and joined the stream or procession of visitors who went down there, it will be remembered that suddenly the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs urged all Liberals to vote Socialist if the Socialist candidate was a good Free Trader, and, all though the Socialists a few days previously had been declaring through their leader that tariffs were worthy of consideration, they suddenly became ardent Free Traders. I have studied the election addresses of practically every Socialist candidate. I do not know whether there was any money in it or not. I am speaking, of course, from a political, party point of view. I do not know whether there was anything in it which was helpful, or what it may have been, but at any rate Socialist candidates from that moment became ardent champions of Free Trade hoping, I presume, to get the votes of Liberals. There is no doubt about that. Their own leader made the thing quite clear because speaking in Burnley in October he said:I am standing in this Election as an unqualified Free Trader.He is thus reported in the "Manchester Guardian" which is always truthful in 180 these matters. Again at Halifax, on 23rd October, he said:Labour is definitely against tariffs and has its alternative policy and is prepared to stand by it.The issue was thus made perfectly clear from the point of view of the Opposition. Could there be more decisive evidence as to what is the mandate? And is anybody going to suggest that if the issue was raised by the Socialists and the Liberals, my hon. Friends here were backward in the matter? I have taken the opportunity of studying their election addresses also and I can assure the House that the vast majority of them stood definitely for two main items—first, the defeat of Socialism and the restoration of the stability of finance and, second, for a constructive policy, for taking immediate steps to correct the adverse balance of trade and for giving a free hand to the Government to protect industry and agriculture and promote the economic unity of the Empire. I believe I am right in saying that all the National Liberals gave the Prime Minister a completely free hand and even the junior Liberal party—that with the smaller representation—I believe mostly used the phrase "free hand" in this connection.
I want to make it perfectly clear that we are unanimous on this subject on the back benches in our party. We do not expect the Government suddenly to produce a complete and final tariff scheme. We do not believe that they have had an opportunity of working out such a scheme in full and scientific detail. We do not believe that they can produce a complete agricultural policy to-day or an Empire policy this week. All we say is that the mandate of the country was for the ultimate carrying of those great causes into effect, and we beg the Government not to allow that policy to be stultified for perhaps two years owing to an enormous inflow of manufactured goods and commodities into this country. There is definite evidence that in certain industries this importation is most alarming. A friend of mine, who, incidentally, was ruined after the glove duty was taken off, has been making a profound study of this question and has been watching the import of fabric gloves and he tells me that in five days Germany imported into this country 181 sufficient fabric gloves to supply all our wants for six months. That is terribly serious.
Just before the rising of the House last Session a Member of the Liberal party begged of me to come downstairs in order to see some ready-made suitings from Poland. I was shown suitings at 8s. 10d. for a most perfect overcoat and there were pants, or shall I call them trousers, at 1s. 10d. a pair—prices at which it is absolutely impossible to compete. The people who tried to interest the hon. Member, as he then was, in this matter had discharged 300 men in the previous week and had closed their works. In the case of iron and steel what is happening is really tragic. A number of my hon. Friends have been for several years desperately anxious to see our iron and steel given a chance in this country. The position was bad enough before but the House will realise how serious it is now when I tell them that according to the "Western Mail"—the only way in which you can get the latest figures is locally—a fortnight ago no less than 30,237 tons of iron and steel were brought into South Wales, or more than double the normal weekly total, whereas in the past week it was further increased to 38,353 tons, or nearly 200 per cent. more than was being landed a year ago. I could go through the various categories of iron and steel but I refrain from doing so.
I am sure that I speak the minds of all my hon. Friends when I beg of the Government to consider this question, and not only the question of the last two or three weeks because this abnormal importation has been going on steadily for the last seven years. If one were to go through all the various articles and commodities one would find in cases such as bricks or illuminated glass or other materials increases of importation in the seven years amounting to very high percentages. In the case of woollen and worsted piece goods for instance the increase has been 61 per cent. and in cotton piece goods 103 per cent. So, one could go through a whole list.
I am grateful that I have had the opportunity of saying these words to the House and may I add that I believe that the whole country is looking for action. I believe that we have an opportunity 182 of getting back to truth and realities in politics. I believe that we need not see that kind of compromise on principle which so unfortunately happened in the last Parliament between two parties. You can once more come to the verities of your creed and your faith and I believe that that will be healthy for England. We have a great opportunity of restoring the fair name of politicians in this country and making the name of statesmanship once more honoured by our people. But we are not going to do it by wobbling and waiting and hesitating. If we can convince our countrymen that we are really out to help Britain to save herself in this grave hour I believe that we are going to see a wonderful change in the spirit of the people of our country. The Prime Minister may be perfectly certain that if he is going to act up to the verdict of the people he is going to have wonderfully loyal support from all those who sit around him. I only beg of him to act while the tide is with him and not to wait until the reaction of the disaster of dumping takes place. I beg of him to draw his sword and lead, and he will find that none of those who sit around him will be slow to follow.
§ Mr. COCKS
The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) has made a very brilliant speech, and he occupies a very powerful position in this House—one of the most powerful in the House. The hon. and gallant Member has said that he is the high priest of Protection, and I only wish that not only the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), but the Prime Minister himself, had been here, in order to ascertain, after listening to that speech, whether he himself is going to be an acolyte in the hon. and gallant Member's service or whether he is to be expelled from the Church for heresy. I had a great deal of sympathy, as I think we all had, with the concluding words of the hon. and gallant Member, when he said it was time to get away from compromise and to come back to our creed, whatever that creed may be. It is true that, if we do that, this House will stand higher in the opinion of the country than it did in the last Parliament, but when we do come back to that creed, and when that faith of the hon. and gallant Member is really acted 183 upon in this House, what a St. Bartholomew's Eve there will be. Many hasty converts will be made, and others will get executed and disappear in the darkness.
I could not help looking opposite, while the hon. and gallant Member was speaking, to where the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was then sitting. I am sorry that he has gone out. I doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman has ever played a part with such joy and such service to the State as the part he is preparing to play for the future, and that is the part of Lord High Executioner. As executioner, he has to get in a little practice, and it is only right that this afternoon he should have made certain passes and sweeping movements with his axe, always sharp and bright as it is. I do not think I should be very far wrong if I said that before this Parliament is many months old we shall find the right hon. Member for Epping, supported by his friends from Bournemouth and Birmingham, making a change in the appearance of the Government Front Bench.
I did not rise to indulge in any special praise of the present Government. I rose to make a few observations on the subject of how the Government secured their majority, about the future of the Government and the country, and about the future of Europe in general. The Government which was formed in August was formed as a result of certain economic factors which have been described to-day by various hon. Members. We were told, for example, that the Government was formed because the country was faced by a great crisis, comparable only to that of August, 1914, when the nations of the world were plunged into war. Just as in August, 1914, we were not told the full truth, and perhaps were not able then to ascertain it, about the origin of the War, so in the last few weeks and months we have not been told the whole truth about the particular crisis which led to the formation of this so-called National Government.
The Government was not formed merely because of the failure of a bank in Vienna, which set up a chain of economic circumstances which led to a run on the Bank of England. It was 184 formed as a result of circumstances which went far deeper than that. Just as the late War was brought about by the action of the militarists in all countries, so the crisis which has come over this country, and Europe, and the whole world has been due to the action of the bankers and the moneylenders, the money changers, in every country of the world. For the last 10 years the bankers, who, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) once said, have always been in the wrong, have been indulging in drastic deflation. We know that a very difficult situation has been created by the existence of reparations and of high tariff walls in America and elsewhere, which have caused a big influx of gold instead of goods into that country, but besides reparations and tariffs there is a more important form of the problem of deflation. As a result of that process in the last 10 years, industry has been strangled, millions of people have been thrown out of work, whole countries and indeed continents have been devastated, and the rentier class, the bondholding class, have been largely increased. Sir Henry Strakosch has estimated that in this country alone their income has been increased, as a result of deflation, by from £200,000,000 to £300,000,000 a year, and, what is more important than all, the burden of the National Debt has been enormously increased, a burden which has led directly to the present crisis.
In the Middle Ages there was a form of torture known as pressing to death. The unfortunate victim was stretched out in a cell, and heavy burdens of iron were placed on his chest. Every day another weight was placed upon him, and then he was given occasionally, in order to keep him alive, a drink of stagnant water, to which we might compare the speech yesterday of the Prime Minister. Finally, the weights pressed upon him to such an extent that the victim was crushed to death. Recently, we have seen this process at work in this country, except that the weights have not been weights of iron, but weights of gold. Every day, or every week anyhow, the bankers have been increasing the weight of the debt by increasing the value of gold, and as a result of that not only have enormous hoards of gold been kept in Paris and New York, but our industrial body has been almost crushed out of existence, our 185 burden of taxation has become automatically heavier, and about 3,000,000 people have been thrown out of work.
We have been told over and over again that deflation is the only possible thing that can happen and that if we reverse this process, tremendous disasters will occur. We have had people coming to this House or on to platforms and, like the Prime Minister, showing envelopes with stamps upon them valued at a nominal sum of an enormous number of millions of marks, and we have been told that just as the mark went down and there were Frenchmen sent to the Ruhr, therefore, if we do anything to alter the bankers' policy of deflation, there will be a similar catastrophe in this country. In fact, we have been told that the only alternative before us is either to be crushed to death by deflation or to be burst asunder by inflation—a very unpleasant alternative and, I would suggest, a very unnecessary one also.
May I take as an analogy the case of a deep-sea diver walking about on the floor of the ocean? We know that he is put to enormous atmospheric pressure and that, if he was suddenly brought up to the surface of the sea, he would be gravely injured and might die. That is no reason why he should walk about on the floor of the sea for ever. In that case he should be brought gradually to the surface, where human beings live and move and have their being, and I suggest, not that he should be, as the supporters of deflation suggest, brought rapidly to the surface, placed in the car of a balloon, and soared up into the empyrean to burst amid the stars, but that, by a gradual process, scientifically, under fixed Government control and supervision, his level, the price level, the currency level, should be slowly adjusted to a level where not only will the burden of debt be lighter than it is now, but where industry and those who produce the raw materials of the world and who are profiting by cheap markets will have a fair reward for their labour.
The bankers, who have such power in this country and in the world generally, oppose this. They have been working for a long time for a reduction of wages. [Laughter.] I do not know why the hon. Member behind me laughs, because they admit it themselves. Mr. Montagu Norman, the Governor of the Bank of England has told us that ho has been 186 working for a reduction in wages for a long time, and not only so, but his chief assistant, Dr. Sprague, in a statement frequently quoted in this House, has openly said at a meeting of the Royal Statistical Society that the great central banks refused to advance credit to industry until wages came down, and they said they would do that not only here, but in America; in other words, they said that the bankers would keep a stranglehold on industry until the workers made the sacrifice of their wages,, and having done that and got the world-level down, the bankers then said they would be pleased to extend credit and prices would go up.
The worker, the wage earner, in those circumstances would be hit both ways, first by a reduction of his wages, which is now going on, and secondly by an increase in the cost of living, which is already beginning. Anybody knows also that one of the great factors which keep up the level of wages is the existence of unemployment benefit. We know that if there were no such thing as unemployment insurance, wages would rapidly fall almost to starvation or subsistence level, and that any decrease in unemployment benefit must help employers generally, under the advice of the bankers, to re-duce wages. That is why, when this crisis, which was brought about entirely, in my view, by the bankers themselves, came—it was a financial and an economic crisis and nothing else—the first attack made was on unemployment benefit. The Labour movement, the trade union movement, have always stood against the reduction of wages, and therefore when that critical moment came the bankers saw their opportunity, they struck down the Leader of the Government on which so many hopes were based, and they placed in power what looks like being, though I hope it will not result in being, one of the most reactionary Governments that have existed in this country for a hundred years. That is a policy which has been entirely brought about by the bankers.
It has been difficult to know to those not right inside, and sometimes to those who were, what exactly has happened in these critical days, but it is generally admitted that the Government were placed in this position and were told they had to get a loan and could only get it 187 on certain terms. In order to get that loan, the conditions were that they should cut down the benefits of the unemployed. It had to do that. It was bound to do that, and therefore I should like to know whether the Government are still bound to cuts in unemployment benefit. It is clear that at the dictation of the bankers, not English bankers at all, but foreign bankers, the Government have deliberately altered to their detriment the conditions of nearly 3,000,000 British subjects. These subjects have lost benefit as a result of the dictation of bankers in New York. For example, in Nottinghamshire there was a man who fought very courageously in the War and won the Victoria Cross for valour. Three or four weeks ago 1s. 9d. was taken from his unemployment benefit at the dictation of some banker in New York. [Laughter.] What is there to laugh at in that? It happened not only to him but to other people. A Government that actually does that and causes 3,000,000 British subjects to suffer because of some financier abroad, has no right to be called a National Government. It is one of the most unpatriotic, anti-national and pusillanimous Governments that has ever disgraced this country.
We were told that there was a crisis and a flight from the pound. Undoubtedly there was a crisis and a flight from the pound. We 'must remember, however, as the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said, that these things can easily be arranged. I do not say that it was arranged in this case, but it was stimulated by what the "Daily Express" called the action of the financial renegades in this country who were transferring their capital from this country to America and other places abroad. It was also assisted by the action of international financial houses with their offices in London and branch offices in Vienna, Paris and New York. That is not quite the point, however. The point is that the banks saw their opportunity and came to the Government and said: "You require a credit, but we cannot get that credit except on certain terms." I think history will agree with me that that was one of the biggest bluffs in history, and it was a bluff that the Government should have called. I cannot imagine great statesmen like Chatham, Pitt, Disraeli or Joseph Chamberlain 188 agreeing to conditions of that sort. I cannot imagine them allowing this great country to be treated as if it were some bankrupt South American State. What they would have done—and what the Prime Minister should have done—would have been to answer in the old Roman fashion that England does not accept conditions; it grants them. What the Government should have done as a deliberate act of State policy, and what they had to do three weeks later in a moment of panic, was to place an immediate embargo on the export of gold. That would have saved the situation and saved this country the £30,000,000 which we have to pay. All that was required was courage, and a stout heart, but we had the hysterical surrender of a vague and vacillating mind.
Now the Government have got their majority. The people have admittedly given an interim report on its position. I do not know whether the whole of the prospectus has been revealed to them; people very often put money into a company on a false prospectus. However, they have given an interim report. The final report will come a few years later, and when it comes it may well be that Members opposite will find themselves again among the unemployed who have been totally ignored in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. We are told by our leader, whom we are proud to follow, that the Government have got their majority by dubious methods as the result of what the "Manchester Guardian" said was the most fraudulent election campaign of our times.
It is very distasteful to me to go into the various mendacities which were uttered over the ether or printed in the newspapers during the Election campaign, and I do not propose to do so. I noticed that the Prime Minister yesterday very lightly waived them aside as things that do not matter. I want, however, to mention the chief offender in this matter, namely, the present Lord Privy Seal. One has a special right to mention this case because, although he is not now a Member of the House of Commons, he is not merely a private citizen but a Member of the Government, and therefore we, as Members of the Opposition, are entitled to criticise him if he needs criticism. The Lord Privy Seal, whom we used to know as Mr. Snowden, according to the "Manchester Guardian," carefully selected half- 189 truths and poured out venom in a way that was repellent. I believe that if hon. Members would say what was in their hearts there would be many more people who would agree with this than the few Members who are sitting on the Labour benches now.
The case of Mr. Snowden is a rather sad one, because it is largely pathological. It appears to me that he has got into a condition which has affected his memory and his sense of veracity, which was never, as hon. Members opposite will remember, extremely prominent. I remember very well a committee which was formed last year. It was a joint committee representing various parties in this House to deal with the question of unemployment benefit. Members of that committee were in honour bound not to disclose what went on in the committee. Mr. Snowden knew that; yet in this House he accused the Conservative Members of the committee with not making any contribution whatever to the deliberations of the committee that were of the slightest use. I know that the Minister of Labour and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will agree that that statement was untrue, but they are bound in honour to remain silent.
The same sort of thing happened during the Election in regard to the secrets of the Cabinet. Everyone knows that members of the Cabinet are in honour bound not to disclose what goes on within the Cabinet; yet we have a Cabinet Minister mentioning what the "Manchester Guardian" calls carefully selected half-truths, and giving biased accounts of what went on inside the Cabinet meetings when he knew perfectly well that other members of the Cabinet were in honour bound not to reply, and making statements which were denied in this House over and over again. When the Prime Minister was challenged to produce the documents to prove which side was right, he refused. I do not wish to go into the various statements which were made at that time. It is rather distasteful, but really what are we to think of a statesman, of a member of the National Government, who says that he had never read the Labour party policy although part of it was in his writing. He also stated that his colleagues had run away from this crisis 190 when he himself had never faced it, although he said that he saw it coming, and when he himself has run away from his party and his principles and from the House of Commons itself to take refuge in another Chamber which he has spent his whole life in denouncing.
In the course of one of those statements which he made during the Election, Mr. Snowden said that he had been an advocate of a sane evolutionary Socialism for 40 years. Yet in the "Strand Magazine" last January there appeared an interview with the right hon. Gentleman in which he said that "Socialism in our time" was impossible; Socialism in a thousand years, perhaps, but even that was not certain. It is a pity that he concealed these views until he obtained office and its rewards in a Socialist Government. It is a great pity that he did not resign long ago to spend the remaining years of his life listening over the wireless which has almost become a family concern to the strains of the opera which he has subsidised. Now he is going to another place under the title perhaps of Viscount Aceldama.
The Prime Minister stated yesterday that he was very proud of his majority. He has a great majority, and we want to know what his policy is; what is more important, what his majority is going to do about that policy. The Prime Minister's views are very often clear and distinct, but in this case—I listened to it very carefully, and read it in the OFFICIAL REPORT—it seems very much like the Gracious Speech from the Throne, akin to those pale phantoms which one sees, I understand, at a spiritualist meeting. I have never been to one, but I am told that you sit in a circle in a dim light; religious music is played, and hymns like "Lead, kindly light," which is one of the Prime Minister's favourites, are sung; and then you see a pale phantom like, it may be, Cobden, or ectoplasm, or, as I saw mentioned in a case recently, a semi-digested bath towel. When one is in doubt about things like that, it is time to turn up the light to see what the Prime Minister's policy is. I am not at all surprised, when the Prime Minister's policy is so vague, that he wants to get rid of this House as quickly as possible, and that he wants to have a very short sitting, because by making the Sessions very short it will not only stifle the 191 minority and those of us who want to voice the claims of the unemployed and their sufferings during this terrible winter, but it will stifle his majority, which is perhaps what is in his mind.
I think that there will be a change. I would prefer to see an honest Conservative, protectionist Government facing me, based upon a majority which the country has given with certainty, a Government such as I could attack, than this Neopolitan ice of a Government, three-coloured but of a very insipid taste. In the position in which this country, and, indeed, the whole world finds itself, I doubt whether even a Protectionist Government—supposing their theories to be correct—can do much to save the situation. I think they can do very little. What is happening now has been prophesied for many years, only it seems to be coming about more quickly than was expected. We are seeing the breakdown of the capitalist system. In this country our powers of production are giving us goods far more rapidly than people can buy them, because they have not the money. In every city in every country there are marvellous machines turning out goods a thousand-fold faster than it was possible to make them 100 or even 50 years ago, and in the same cities skilled artisans and mechanics are standing idle. It is not a question of Free Trade or Tariff Reform, because the same thing is happening in America and in Germany as is happening in England. We have people perishing in the midst of wealth. It is not a tragedy of poverty. We are not living in a country like the Sahara, where the sands are incapable of growing anything, a country with only oases where there are a few date palms and not enough dates to go round.
We are living in a country of abounding riches, whose productive capacity is far greater than it has ever been, and yet people are perishing. We hear of harvests in America which are unsold, of corn being burnt. An authority in America has been advising the cotton growers in the Southern States to plough in one-third of the cotton crop. In Brazil they are taking coffee and pressing it into bricks with the object of burning it as fuel. Perhaps the most striking 192 example of all, from a picturesque point of view, although it is not very picturesque for the people concerned, is that in New York men are dropping dead in the streets from starvation while only a few yards away the vaults of the banks are bursting with half, or more than half, the gold of the world. People are perishing of starvation amidst wealth. Surely a system which permits that kind of thing cannot continue! It is breaking down. In saying that I am not simply quoting the words of a Socialist orator or Socialist writer, I am quoting the words of Mr. Montagu Norman, the Governor of the Bank of England. In this House last session a statement was quoted from a letter written by Mr. Montagu Norman to the Governor of the Bank of France in which he said: "I want to tell you this, that in my opinion, unless something drastic is done, the whole capitalist system throughout the world will crash within a year. I would like you to file this statement for future reference." We may think he was in a panic and he probably was. He was in a panic last August, and so were the Government and the Prime Minister. Otherwise, the Government would not have done the foolish things they have since done.
The capitalist system is in a very bad way. The view of us on these benches is that if the capitalist system is passing away a new system must be substituted, and we believe that the only alternative is Socialism. This temporary mandate, the drastic steps which Mr. Montagu Norman advocates to deal with the present crisis, can only bolster up the system for a year or so longer under a process of dictatorship imposing upon an impoverished people a further and further reduction of their wages. We believe that all these attempts will fail because economic circumstances will prove to be too strong for the Government. Whatever determination, ability or good will they may show, I do not think they can deal with the economic situation which has developed so rapidly. They may stave things off a little longer, but the time will come when economic circumstances will be too strong for them, and then the people will turn again to the Labour party; and in that election—it may be the next election, or the one after—they will give us a mandate, not to patch up the 193 system any longer but to establish Socialism—not in a thousand years' time but here and now. They will give us a mandate to socialise and to save the State.
§ Mr. PIKE
In craving the indulgence which this House always gives to a new Member making his maiden speech I wish to assure hon. Members that I propose to follow the advice of Mr. Speaker and be very brief in what I have to say. The point which has appealed to me most in the Gracious Speech from the Throne is the reference to the Disarmament Conference, and I wish to call attention to what I consider to be a very serious position. We are assured in the Gracious Speech that the Government are giving close attention to the preparations for an approaching Disarmament Conferencethe successful result of which would, I am convinced, produce great and universal benefit.The vast majority of people throughout this country, and, indeed, throughout the whole world, who remember the last great war and its sorrowful effects will be at one in agreeing with those words. None of us wants to see another war. Coming from a constituency where the largest proportion of the industrialists are engaged upon the production of armaments I would specially appeal that the issue there should be brought to a successful conclusion with the least possible burdensome effect upon the industrial workers in areas where they are largely dependent for their livelihood upon the production of armaments. Whether or not the forthcoming conference will result in complete world-wide disarmament is a matter far too controversial for me to raise at this stage, but I am convinced in my own mind that we as a nation are pursuing now, as we have been pursuing for a number of years, a policy which, apart from the desire for peace and disarmament, has rather imperilled the industrial position of our own armament workers and those great industries which most essentially depend upon armaments. In making that observation, I do not suggest that armament factories should be put into immediate activity for the production of further armaments, but I do nevertheless suggest that the Government might consider very seriously the effect which this 194 continuous disarmament policy, as applied by the British Government, is having upon those communities. In my Division of Attercliffe, Sheffield, there were 42,000 electors on the register, and it may interest hon. Members to know that of that total no less than 20,000 were unemployed at the beginning of the Election, divorced from the means of subsistence and existence. They were unemployed for two main reasons. First, in my humble opinion, because of our great natural desire and national tendency to keep our faith with the rest of the world in regard to armaments; and, secondly, by virtue of unfair foreign competition which is felt there more, probably, than in any other industrial area.
I wish to ask the Government, when they are dealing with this problem, whether they are satisfied that the country has yet reached the limit of its disarmament programme, whether they propose any further disarmament, and, if they have proposed such further disarmament, whether they have considered the increased hardships they will bring upon areas dependent for their existence upon the production of armaments. If they have considered these things it is incumbent upon them to let the House know their view at the earliest available moment, so that those of us who represent these great Divisions can either bring new happiness and new life into the hearts of the people or can give them a definite line of thought as to future action, especially in relation to their industrial outlook. If the Government have not arrived at any conclusion as to the future disarmament programme, may I point out that it is necessary that they should do so at the earliest moment, because of the thousands of skilled men who are wondering whether or not they will get their jobs back?
In addition to that I want to remind the. House that there are millions of pounds worth of the most efficient and perfect armament-producing machinery standing idle at the present time. In the case of industrial machinery lying idle it means the loss of the major portion of its capital value and it is only right and just that we should be able to put ourselves in the position of telling manufacturers on the one hand, and the workers on the other hand, whether the disarmament policy of the Government is to go to greater lengths, or whether the 195 Government can definitely say that the part we are playing in regard to disarmament has finished.
I would like to ask whether the Government have considered the replacing or reorganising of armament plant for the purposes of a more peaceful production. If we stop producing armaments, we must, as far as possible, concentrate on reorganising armament factories with machinery capable of producing more peaceful commodities. The Government will do well if they immediately decide to give a lead to the country in regard to their intentions in that direction. I do not believe in subsidies for business. I believe that if a business cannot stand on its own feet it should automatically go to the wall. I would like to remind the House that the great armament factories were established to meet the requirements of the nation in time of need, and that time of need comes only in the case of war. We do not want the armament industry in this country to exist for that purpose only. We want that industry to exist for the definite purpose of producing armaments that will enable us, in the event of a crisis, to stand on our own feet, and at least give us a chance in the competitive warfare of the world. I think the people employed in armament factories are entitled to have an assurance as to whether their services will be required in the future or not. I think the Government, at the earliest available moment, should make its voice heard on that subject.
With regard to the restoration of trade, the King's Speech assures us that decisions will be taken and applied with the least possible delay. I do not want to appear to be a rebel, or in any way one likely to become a rebel, within my own party ranks; but I am anxious to know, as many other hon. Members are anxious to know, whether or not the Government are yet in a position to give to the people of this country any definite statement as to the progress which they have made in dealing with this subject. I think it is possible for the Government to give us an approximate date on which their more or less detailed examination of this great catastrophe will conclude. When they can do that it should be possible to give an approximate date when we can expect legislation to deal with the 196 present condition of affairs. My view is that the suggested date of March is far too late. We have the great festive season coming on. We have over 2,000,000 unemployed who naturally look toward that season with the same outlook as every Member of this House, and it will be better for them, and a much happier outlook, if some assurance can be given before Christmas that if work is not coming their way immediately, it will definitely come early in the new year.
Hon. Members belonging to the Opposition know the true value of working-class loyalty to their leaders. The loyalty of the workers to their leaders has been as great as any leaders could wish for, and the Members of the National Government have made pledges which if they can fulfil them at the earliest possible moment will give them the right to that loyalty, and to receive it in the same ungrudging manner that the Socialist party has received it during the last two years. I think we shall be very foolish if we allow this opportunity to go by. The loyalty which has been shown by the workers requires immediate action. It has been suggested from the Opposition Benches that the National Government represent only two-thirds of the people of this country. I agree, from a proportional representation point of view, that that may be so, but there is one thing that the Leader of the Opposition cannot deny, and that is that, prior to leaving the ship on the question of the dole cuts, the Members of the late Government expected that the unemployed men and women would follow them to the bitter end, but they were sadly and sorely mistaken.
I come from a Division where practically 65 per cent. of the unemployed solidly supported me in the unemployment policy which I advocated. It is the unemployed section of the community which has given us the greatest possible chance of mending the damage which was done by our predecessors, and the sooner we can accomplish that the better it will be for everybody. We do not want to place ourselves in the unhappy position in which the Socialist party placed themselves under the last Government of going back to the country with a record of broken and unfulfilled promises. Work is wanted. The Govern-men should not only give that work by quick action, but they should produce 197 that confidence which is always necessary to secure industrial activity and prosperity.
§ Mr. MANDER
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for the Attercliffe Division of Sheffield (Mr. Pike) on the very interesting speech which he has just delivered. The hon. Member has dealt with subjects of great importance to his constituency, and to the country generally, and I am sure the House will look forward with interest to anything he may have to say on those subjects in the future. I rise to say something from the point of view of those sitting on these benches who are Liberal and Free Trade supporters of the National Government. It is a point of view that it is necessary to put forward, and I hope that other supporters of the Government, who may be in a great majority, will do nothing to make it more difficult for us in our position to support the National Government. I can assure the Government that they will have no more loyal supporters than those who sit on these benches so long as the Government remains genuinely a national one. There is one thing, however, that I should like to make clear. The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) spoke about the position of the various Liberal Members, but I am able to say that I am in this House by Liberal votes alone. I had to meet a Conservative on the right and a Labour candidate on the left, and was returned as a genuine Liberal supporter of the National Government.
I was interested to hear the speech of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), because, before the election, certain prophecies were made that this election would be really just a sham. It was suggested that there was no National Government at all, and that immediately after, or shortly after, it was over, it would be made clear that it was merely a Conservative, Protectionist ramp, and that they intended to take advantage of the national crisis to put forward their whole programme and accept no modification whatsoever. No doubt that is a view which receives a certain amount of sympathy in this House, but I hope that that statement is not true. If it is true to any extent, it means that the country has been to a large extent deceived as to the appeal being a really national one 198 —[Interruption.] I do not believe for a moment that it is true; I am just pointing out the risk that might be run by the Government. The right hon. Member for Epping used one phrase which I really do not think he was justified in using. He said that Members who had been returned to this House had been sent here with an individual mandate to interpret their action in this House just as they thought fit. Surely, however, hon. Members will recollect and appreciate that nearly everyone on these benches who was sent here to support the Government was returned on the Prime Minister's manifesto—a free hand for the Prime Minister and for the National Government, not a free hand for themselves at all; and they would not be justified in going outside the policy of the Prime Minister and the National Government. I think that the right hon. Gentleman made a false and unfair point in trying to strain the situation in favour of the more extreme view which I rather gather he supports.
I have no doubt that most of those Members who support the Government do so in the main because they have confidence in and believe in the Prime Minister and all that he stands for, but it is perfectly natural that members of the Conservative party, apart from their faith in the Prime Minister, should look to their own representative in the Government, and so long as he is there, so long as they feel that the Lord President of the Council is representing them in the inner councils of the Cabinet, they are satisfied to support the National Government. It is equally natural that many of us who sit on these benches should look, apart from the Prime Minister, to the official Leader of the Liberal party in this House, the Home Secretary, and should feel that so long as he and those who work with him are in the Government we too may have absolute trust and confidence in the Government. Certainly, so far as I am concerned, I will support the Government with the utmost loyalty every time so long as it remains constituted as it is at present constituted, whatever policy it may bring forward on fiscal or any other matters in the present grave situation. I am bound to say that at the General Election there was really no alternative but to support the National Government. I 199 was one of those who, during the last Parliament, consistently supported the Labour Government. I do not regret having done so, and certainly no charge can be made against me for having done so, when the Leader of the present Government did so and led the Government himself. But I do say that, when the crisis arose in August, the Labour party showed itself unfit to govern, and it is unfit to govern to-day, although I am quite ready to believe that, as the years go by, it may rally to a more practical point of view and in the future render very great service to the State.
For any section in this House to try to force upon the Government its extreme sectional views, whether to the right or to the left, would be a most unfair interpretation of the situation in which we find ourselves here. It will be necessary for all of us to exercise restraint. We have, in supporting the Government, many different views, and we shall have to restrain ourselves and be content with something less than that which, if we were left to ourselves, we should like to see carried out. I was rather surprised that the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth started on the very first day, in his genial way, to bully and hector the Government in an attempt to get them to make an announcement with regard to extreme Protection, food taxation, and all the rest, although the Cabinet had hardly yet had an opportunity to meet. I gather, from what the hon. and gallant Member said to-day, that he has been talked to, and is now taking a more moderate line. I think he has given them three or four days in which to formulate a policy of some kind. I hope that the National Government are not going to be intimidated by extremists on either wing. They will never satisfy the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth, and I hope that they will stand up to him, and, if necessary, let him go into opposition. Indeed, I am not sure that it would not be the best thing that could happen for this Government to be opposed on the extreme right and on the extreme left, and to go forward as the Government of this country relying on a solid central bloc who would really represent the thoughts and the mind of the people of this country, as delivered recently at the polls.
200 I was returned as a Free Trader, and I remain an unrepentant Free Trader. I cannot see that tariffs are going to be of the slightest use in getting us out of the difficulties in which we are. But I am anxious to make my contribution to the programme of the moment, and I realise that to attempt to press such views would not be reasonable in existing circumstances. Therefore, I would suggest to the Government that they should make an appeal to other nations in the world first of all. It is so difficult to get other nations out of the rut in which they have been going for so long, and one wonders to what deeper depths the world will have to sink before they really take the course which they all know is essential in the long run to international co-operation. I suggest, in view of the existing situation and of the General Election, that the Government should give a bold lead along new lines, and should immediately indicate to the other nations of the world, members of the League of Nations and others, that we expect them now, at once, to carry out the policy which was agreed to unanimously at the Economic Conference of the League of Nations in 1927 to reduce tariffs; pointing out to them that they have not carried out that policy, and that we expect them to do so in view of the serious part which, as we all know, tariffs have played in the present slump, and to make immediate and substantial reductions; and that, if they will not do so, this country is not only perfectly free, but is determined, to take action along the line of restriction of imports.
I venture to appeal to the Government, as a first step, to take action of this kind, which might to a very considerable extent have the effect of reducing tariffs against us abroad, a thing which I imagine every Member of this House, whatever his fiscal views, would like to see carried out. If we adopted a policy of that kind, we should not be working on the old lines at all—we should not be scheming to erect in this country a permanent system of general tariffs, but should be using the tariff as a special weapon for this emergency; and I am not at all sure—I am seeking to be helpful in the situation in which supporters of the National Government find themselves—that the Government might not be able to fashion out a fiscal policy 201 which would enable us to go along together. I am certain, however, that it would not satisfy the extremists on the right, whom nothing but, the carrying out of their full programme is ever likely to bring into line.
A good deal has been said about the trade balance, and I hope that before these Debates come to an end, and before any decision is arrived at as to any fiscal policy, a statement will be made by the Government as to what the adverse or favourable trade balance at the end of this year is likely to be. I know that before we went off the Gold Standard it was suggested that it might amount to £100,000,000, but we have gone off the Gold Standard, and there are eminent experts who now hold the view that the adverse balance is likely to be little if anything at all. I simply want to make sure that we get the information, and that we act, not on prejudice, but on the real, ascertained facts of the situation, which. I imagine is what the Government are doing at the present time. I urge the Government not to allow extremists of any kind in this House to dictate their policy, but to go forward in the really genuinely national spirit in which I think they were returned to this House.
Another matter to which I should like to allude is the most serious situation that exists in Manchuria. I do not know that a greater issue has arisen for the future peace of the world than what is happening between China and Japan; and the Council of the League of Nations which is sitting in Paris on Monday, which the Foreign Secretary is to attend, will have to take decisions of the utmost importance for the future happiness and, indeed, for the lives of a very large number of people in the world. It is a test question. We have to decide whether war is to be permitted, whether nations are to be permitted to break the Kellogg Pact and their obligations under the Covenant and to use force as a means of national policy, which they pledged themselves never to do again. We have the whole of the League plus America, a most powerful moral force, on the one side, and Japan on the other. I hope the Council of the League will go on and use all the moral force they possibly can to compel Japan to take a proper attitude on this matter. But, if they find that moral force is not enough, I hope they will go further, take the 202 next step, and withdraw the ambassadors of all the Powers from Tokio, and the Ministers if necessary, and use financial and economic pressure and, if that will not do, use pressure in the way of a blockade in preventing goods going into or coming out of Japan.
The alternative is to say to all the nations of the world that the League of Nations is nothing and the Covenant is nothing. We have to take a bold and courageous view and, without using any physical force—that will not be necessary —mobilise all the different methods of economic, financial, and moral pressure which are available to force Japan to realise that war is not going to be permitted to break out again. I do not know that it is possible to consider a question of this kind on a more suitable occasion than this, because there is no doubt that, if we fail in this issue, we are abandoning all the hope that arose out of the War, and the sacrifice of a million Englishmen, to say nothing of 9,000,000 others, who gave their lives for a great ideal will very largely have been in vain. I do not think we could possibly raise a nobler memorial to them than to make sure that the cause for which they gave their lives will be attained and that war will never be tolerated again.
Like all new Members making their first speeches, I crave the indulgence of the House. I have read the Gracious Speech with very keen interest. It is not so much the matter that is in the Speech as the matters that are left out which concern me very greatly. The last speaker and the hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. Pike) said that the unemployed in their constituencies voted very tenaciously for the National Government. That did not happen in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Large numbers of the unemployed were thoroughly disgusted with the cuts suggested by the National Government and resented them very strongly by voting unanimously for those who occupy the benches on this side from that part of the country.
I am sorry to see that there is no reference in the Speech to the mining industry. One would have thought that there would be some reference at least to the future outlook of that industry. Every speech that has been made from 203 the National benches would lead one to believe that we were purely dependent on tariffs on imports, and nothing at all has been said about our exports. The National Government would probably do better than they are doing now, in concentrating on tariffs on imports, by giving some consideration to our exports, and the industry on which very largely the basic industries of this large community are dependent. One would have liked to see some suggestion regarding further research in the mining industry, the possibility of dealing with the byproducts of our industry, and an intensifying of the production in our own country of the oil, fuel and petroleum that we buy from abroad. One would also have liked to see something in the Speech regarding the safety of the men who are employed in that very dangerous industry. We have had some promises from time to time that further legislation would be introduced to promote the safety of our miners, but nothing is said in that direction.
One would also like to have seen in the King's Speech some reference to our educational progress, which has been somewhat damped, and certainly retarded,, by the recent Economy Bill. I should like to make an appeal to the Minister of Education to review what has really happened in the various counties in the retarding of our educational progress by the cuts in the Economy Bill, which the National Government passed before they went to the country. I should like to draw attention to the results of the economy cuts in the education of working-class children in Yorkshire. They have resulted in the West Riding Education Committee withdrawing a scheme, which has been in operation for a good number of years, of assistance to working-class children after they have matriculated, and are going forward to universities and colleges. We are now informed that, from 1st April next, those who have been led to believe they would get this help are to be disappointed owing to the economy cuts as the result of the action of the National Government. Seeing that all those cuts, from the first to the last, were the result, as we were informed, of a definite attempt to maintain the Gold Standard, and seeing that that has now been lost, I suggest very seriously that those cuts ought 204 to be restored and the educational progress of our children not impeded in any shape or form.
The hon. Member who spoke last and suggested that he was a Liberal, led us to believe that the impression that he had, even now, in face of the speeches yesterday and to-day, was that the fiscal policy of the country was safe and that there was likely to be no change. I suggest very seriously that Members who have spoken from the Government benches, and the most important supporters of the Government, have made it very clear that they have come into this House to enforce tariffs in every form, and if he is a Liberal he is misleading himself if he believes that after those speeches there is no danger in this direction. I may tell him, when he speaks of Liberals, that in my Division, and in other Divisions, Liberals saw the red light and very largely supported Members sitting on this side of the House. As far as my constituency is concerned, Liberals not only gave me their votes, but real Free Trade Liberals were prepared to help me with my election expenses.
I wish to make reference to an observation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) when he brought us face to face with the result from which we are now suffering owing to the Reparation Treaties and the contraction of War debts. If there is any man who ought to be the last in this House to speak of the burdens which we are now carrying, it is the right hon. Member for Epping, who has been more responsible than any Minister of State for the squandering of millions of money and the giving away of millions of British money to international financiers both in relation to loans with regard to France and Italy, and also, as far as the Leader of this House is concerned, with regard to America.
While no reference at all is made to dealing with the unemployment problem or to replacing the cuts made by the National Government, which certainly ought to be replaced owing to the fact and the statements made which led the National Government to execute those cuts, I suggest that we shall see further unemployment take place in this country unless the National Government are prepared to control machinery which is dis- 205 placing workmen week in and week out, month in and month out, and year in and year out. What do we see? Every patent or machine which enters industry displaces men, and the result is that instead of machines being a glorified gift to the community as a whole, they are used for profit and personal gain, and men are displaced. The National Government may endeavour to patch up industry in any way they think fit, but ultimately we shall have to come to the only common conclusion that the machinery which is displacing men must be put under national and public control.
Our friends who are representing agriculture have made suggestions during the Debate as to how we should expect the National Government to deal with agriculture. I have heard very little said in this House except on the policy of tariffs. In one instance we are led to believe that we need not fear tariffs on foodstuffs, and in other instances we have some of the most important Conservative Members, who have not only made speeches in this House, but have made it perfectly clear during the Election, that they stand for supporting tariffs on foodstuffs. What is the position of British agriculture? I am prepared to face it in the proper light. I, along with friends, have been taking some little interest in the matter, and I thoroughly agree that something ought to be done for British agriculture. But what is the position to-day? You cannot deal with the agricultural position of this country on the lines which some hon. Members suggested from the opposite side of the House until we are free from two very great menaces that apply to British agriculture. The first is bad landlordism in many instances, and, secondly, tithe rents. We find that where agriculture is organised under public control it is paying its way and is a fair success. As an example, the West Riding County Council have under their control 114 smallholdings which came about as a result of the Act passed in 1918. I have been a member on the agricultural committee for a number of years. Every farm since the time we first began to let has remained tenanted by the original tenant. He is not growing cereals.
I agree with my right hon. Friend who made a speech on agriculture that we ought to alter our agricultural policy. 206 But there is no hope for the agricultural labourer or even the farmer under present landlordism, or tithe rents. The land of the country will have to be nationalised and brought under public control if agriculture is to be a success. Of the 114 smallholdings under the West Riding County Council, not one has been to let for the last three or four years, and if one of the holdings were to let to-morrow, we should have at least 160 applicants waiting on the list to take it. Therefore I suggest that if the National Government wish to deal with British agriculture, the first thing to do is to bring the land under public control, organise agriculture on the lines indicated as far as intensive cultivation is concerned, and then I am inclined to believe that there will be a great future for British agriculture.
There is one thing we are pleased to see in the King's Speech, and that is the desire to intensify our activities as a whole for world peace. I can. assure Members that there will be no party in the House of Commons more prepared to further that objective than the party whose Members sit on this side. No party has suffered more and no party has learnt more than the party represented by Members sitting on this side. Every human effort that can be made in that direction by members of this party will be made. We hope that the Government, by international understanding and agreement, will arrive at some common policy whereby all our international difficulties may be settled by common sense and reason rather than by war.
§ Viscount LYMINGTON
I should like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Price) upon his maiden speech. He has shown himself to be a doughty survivor of what was the great cataclysm of his party, and his speech has at least shown that not only was his success notable in the election time, but that we may hope that his future in his party in this House will be as notable in the time to come. I hope he will forgive me if I follow him no further than the last part of his speech, and as it is considered as an unwritten law in this House discourteous to make criticisms of any particular portion of it such as that relating to the landlords whom I represent, I propose also to leave that side untouched, and 207 to turn to the speech of my Noble Friend the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer), who voiced far better than I could ail the things which I particularly want to say. It is a great relief to find a Scotsman on the Front Bench, representing the industry which I find it to be my fate to follow. One can hope from a Scotsman that at least we shall get a real sense of agriculture. Those of us who are southerners find in Scotland very often far and away the best farming in the British Isles. We can look forward to the future with great hope in the knowledge that he will be able to get away from those nicely balanced inhibitions or formulas which we have all dreaded so much in the past.
The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) said a few words about the habits of the dormouse and about taking shelter for the winter while times were bad. We have heard a great deal from hon. Members opposite about the economic blizzard. In that morning and evening hate which went on between the Lord Privy Seal and his late colleagues, the economic blizzard was frequently one of the main topics of conversation. The bear, if one looks at natural history, is the animal that manages to do best in a blizzard, because he can retire into a cage and live on his own fat but, unfortunately, in this country there is no question of hibernation. We are far too lean to be able to do that, unless we wish to starve.
It is by turning to agriculture to redress our balance of trade and by producing more in this country that we shall be able to face the future. While it was obviously necessary that the Gracious Speech should not be too concise in regard to the large problems that confront us, one regrets that two subjects were not mentioned; one is agriculture and the other unemployment. Perhaps there are no two phases of our national life so intimately connected as agriculture and unemployment. My Noble Friend the Member for Aldershot frequently emphasised that. He emphasised the interdependence of industry and agriculture, and pointed out how, at last, the captains of industry —and, by the result of the Election, those who work for the captains of industry also—have realised that agriculture is one of the key positions in the 208 maintenance of our trade prosperity. We hear much of our inability to be self-supporting in agriculture. We are told that it is useless trying to talk of any form of agricultural Protection; that it is useless trying to do anything more than to give doses of brandy to give a fillip here and there, simply because we are supposed not to be able to produce our own foodstuffs. That may be perfectly true as a vague generality, but when we examine the figures in our balance of trade, and when we examine the imports of those foodstuffs in which we could be self-supporting, and we examine the figures of employment which would be given if we were self-supporting in those respects, we get a very different picture.
By an organised agricultural campaign, with the Government of this country helping the farmers to help themselves, and giving the bankers confidence to grant the credits necessary for the reorganisation of agriculture, we could have no fewer than half a million people not easily, not quickly, but in the course of time, back on the land and in a considerably better position than those who have, unfortunately, had to drift from it in the lean years. The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth spoke about our having six months to save our bacon. I would ask the Minister of Agriculture not at this stage to give us a complete declaration of agricultural policy but that he should say enough to assure us that we shall be able with confidence in the next six months to go forward to the programme of saving our bacon, and at least saving some £50,000,000 worth of imports into this country which we might otherwise have to import. The 500,000 people that might be employed directly in agriculture could by their exertions save £200,000,000 worth of our present agricultural imports, which represents over four times our present imports of wheat. It is time that we began to turn to a new future for the industry of agriculture and call it in to redress the balance of the old industries which, for lack of home markets and expanding foreign competition, have been dying in the past.
It is vital that we should not allow the agricultural position to drag on. It is necessary that the farmers should know what crops to sow. The time for the winter sowing of crops is practically past. Only the spring crops remain. It is not 209 only a question of assuring the wheat grower that he may look forward to next autumn with less misgiving and more hope than he has to any season in the past. It is not only the necessity of cutting off our luxury imports, so that the potato grower may know from his earlies to his late potatoes where his market stands, and so that the small fruit grower can be assured that he will not have a glut, at any rate due to foreign imports, and that if there is a glut otherwise there will be canneries to deal with his surplus stock. It is not only necessary to have an assurance that that side is going to be looked after, but it is necessary to turn to the reorganisation of agriculture which lies in the production of livestock in this country. We want an assurance that we can buy our breeding stock and that we can set to work with confidence that the expenses which we incur and the credits which we drag out from our reluctant bankers will not be incurred simply for the sake of bankruptcy in the end. Take one instance, pigs.
There can be no doubt that the quickest fillip that we could give to the cereal position is a wheat quota and a tax on malting barley. What I would prefer to see would be a very substantial rebate to the brewers who brew entirely British home-grown beer, because not only would that mean a real market for our home-grown stuff, which would eliminate some of the competing stuff, but it would mean that, for once, the honest working man would get his beverage a little cheaper. Those two things would help the arable farmer to stave off disaster, but no more. They would not put arable agriculture in the permanent position of being able not only to keep its head above water but to swim strongly.
The pig industry, besides being able if it was properly developed to give direct employment to from 68,000 to 70,000 men on the land, would also create a market for the barley and wheat which we now so vainly try to grow at a remunerative price. It would thus afford far better and more immediate help than any help in the shape of a quota. Even at present prices, if you work it out, an economic pig breeder in this country can turn his wheat, for which two months ago he could only get 18s. per quarter, 210 into pork for which he can get over 45s. per quarter. When it is realised that this avenue presents itself in pigs and poultry, and in the dairying industry, as an outlet for the crops of the cereal farmer it will be realised that it is the keystone of a policy which we must pursue. But unless we pursue it soon, and know that we are going to pursue it, our opponents and competitors are going to get there first. In Canada, in the United States and in the Argentine, vast surpluses of grain are being turned more and more into livestock which will flood, indeed have already commenced to flood, this country. If haste is necessary in that matter it is even more necessary in a firm declaration of policy and in carrying it out against the vested interests which we shall have to fight if we are to carry agriculture in this country, especially in the home counties, through.
The gathering opposition is getting stronger and stronger. The dear food cry, which we all heard in our constituencies during the last election, was most cleverly pushed by big importers and some foreign firms who, having investments abroad, thought they had much to lose if we started doing for ourselves and produced those things in which their money was invested abroad. We have this opposition to fight, and it is most desirable that we should know quickly and early where we stand. Nobody can suppose that Denmark, which the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) considers is part of the British Empire, is going to lose £55.000.000 of trade with us—she only takes £13,000,000 from us—without putting up a most bitter and violent fight. We must be assured that we are going to have protection against all the vested interests which we shall have to fight, not only in this House of Commons but in the country as well.
In the past the party to which I have the honour to belong has seemed to me to forget very often its oldest and greatest tradition, that of being the party of the producer, the men and women, the captains of industry. We have apparently forgotten the tradition that we are the party which is out to help the country by helping those upon whom the well 211 being of the country depends—the producers and the workers. We have forgotten this tradition in the old Liberal swamp of finance and Free Trade. The time has come when we can no longer claim to be a National Government, or claim the support of the country, if we do not turn from the old policy of bolstering up the middleman once more to the producer and the worker. I can assure the Minister of Agriculture that if he will give us this lead he will find us behind him willing to fight in any circumstances, willing to sit through Christmas, or as long as he likes. We are ready to give him all the support in our power to give a Christmas present of hope and assurance for the future to those who live on the land and also to those who in the last desperate years have been driven from it by the tragic circumstances of the past few years.
§ Mr. ENTWISTLE
It is so many years since I made a speech in this House that it seems as though I am making a maiden effort to-night. I want to add my word to the pressure which is being put on the Government to take some immediate measures to check imports, so necessary in order to redress our balance of trade. Too much emphasis cannot be put on the urgency of immediate measures. We have been told by the Prime Minister that he will make an announcement of some kind before the House rises, but I hope also that we shall have some measure introduced which will enable the Government by Orders in Council to take action during the time Parliament is not sitting. A great deal has been said in the Debate as to what was the mandate of the country on the question of tariffs. I certainly agree with the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) that there is no shadow of doubt that the mandate of the country was overwhelmingly for some system of tariffs being introduced. It is true that at the last election a great deal was made of the open mind, and I, with other Conservative candidates who supported the National Government, agreed with the words used by the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin), that he would keep an open mind and give careful consideration to any other 212 measures which were suggested for dealing with the balance of trade, other than tariffs.
It is surely time that we heard of any alternative method, other than tariffs. It is no use saying that there has not been time for consideration; that is a most ridiculous suggestion. Everyone has been devoting his mind to this subject, and to nothing else, for months. The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) was anxious to preserve an open mind throughout his contest, and I read with eagerness any statement he made for any suggestion of an alternative which he might propose for dealing with the menace of increased imports, and redressing the balance of trade. It is surely time that there was some mention of an alternative if it is to be an excuse for not taking immediate action, or very nearly immediate action, to deal with this growing menace. The only alternative which I have ever heard suggested to some measure of tariffs or prohibition, is that the present depreciated pound, or rather the unstabilised pound, would automatically redress the balance of trade by restricting imports through the increased cost of them in sterling, and by stimulating exports by the so-called bonus of the depreciated pound in our export markets. That is supposed to work so automatically that without any other measure you would be quite sure ultimately to get your balance of trade. I do not want to use strong language about that suggestion, which has been made, I think, in some responsible quarters, but to suggest that a pound unanchored to gold and unstabilised and depreciated will automatically bring about the redress of an adverse balance of trade is the most arrant nonsense.
The same argument was used with regard to the working of the Gold Standard —that the normal working of the Gold Standard would mean that no country could get an excess of gold. We know that argument quite well. We know the various stages by which it is argued by all political economists, that the Gold Standard would automatically redress any excesses of gold in one country. It was supposed that when an influx of gold came into one country you thereby expanded your credit, and that with that expansion of credit there was a tendency for the internal price level of the country into which the gold was going to rise, 213 and with prices at a higher level in that country it was supposed to be a good country in which to sell goods. That stimulated imports into that country. And it was also supposed to restrict exports by adding to the price at which those goods could be sold. It was on that theory that the Gold Standard was supposed to work normally and to prevent any undue accumulation of gold in one country. Has that happened? Nothing of the sort has happened.
I think it was the right hon. Member for Epping who said that one-third of the gold of the world was sterilised. That is one-third in the possession of two countries, who have nearly two-thirds of the total gold reserves of the world. Why has not the Gold Standard worked there? Why was it that when there were further influxes of gold, as there have been year after year, things did not redress themselves? We know why. It has not worked automatically, first of all, because of the high tariffs which they impose to prevent any normal working of imports and exports, and, secondly, because by artificial means they have deliberately sterilised or immobilised their gold. That is why the Gold Standard did not automatically produce its own level. For very similar reasons the pound sterling unanchored to gold and unstabilised also would not bring about this so-called level and balance between imports and exports. How can we expect the exports to find their own level in the teeth of all the experience we have had? If you sell your goods, if you are able to sell them a bit cheaper, to a foreign country, the first thing that country does is to raise its tariff wall against you; foreign countries are determined in their own markets to encourage their own manufactures as far as possible. You have the tariff wall of the foreigner to prevent this balance of trade operating in the case of an unstabilised pound.
You have other factors. You have first of all the fact that the tariff walls of the foreigner will prevent the exports going. You have also the fact that your imports will be costing you more in the depreciated pound, and that in itself is going to tend towards an inflation of our own currency. It is all very well saying that if you have an unstabilised pound, if the imports tend to rise and 214 so produce an adverse balance, you will get the result by your pound depreciating. Those imports cost you more. Outside manufactured imports you have to buy food and raw materials. If you are going to rely on your depreciated pound to check the imports you are going to have food and raw materials rising so rapidly that you will not be able to avoid an increase in the cost of living, and with that you will not be able to resist an increase in wages throughout industry. Once you have that you have unbalanced your Budget, and there will be no remedy, if you rely on the depreciated pound, other than the inflation of which so much was made in the election.
So that the only alternative suggestion for dealing with the adverse balance of trade is to rely on a depreciated and unstabilised pound. We can see that it would not operate, for obvious reasons, in producing that automatic level which it is supposed to do, and in addition it will mean that this country would be involved on the slippery slope of inflation. If that is so, if that is the only alternative suggestion, surely it ought to be admitted now by all parties, whether they are Liberal-National or Samuel-Liberals or whatever their category, that some form of prohibition or tariffs is the only method that has been suggested for redressing this adverse balance of trade.
Then we have the undoubted evidence that the problem is an urgent one. There is no question about stocks accumulating at the docks through imports being rushed in. I have experience of various industries in which there is not the slightest doubt that excessive importing is going on now. Every increase in the amount of imports is going to make it still more difficult to redress the balance of trade later on. It is certainly a problem which cannot be neglected. I suggest that there is one immediate practical measure which could be adopted for checking these imports until there had been time to devise the scientific tariff of which we have heard so much.
I never quite know what is meant by a "full-blooded Protectionist." I know that certain ardent members of the party to which I belong are supposed to be more Protectionist than others. If to be a full-blooded Protectionist means that you are in favour of a sort of all-round high flat-rate tariff, independent of what 215 goods it is being levied on, then I am not a full-blooded Protectionist. But I do not believe there is anybody in the House who is one; no one is. But if not to be a "full-blooded Protectionist" is to be in favour of a scientific tariff, the position is different. I understand a scientific tariff, according to the pledge which was given by the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council, to be one where the detailed imposition of each particular tariff is determined by a tariff commission, an independent tribunal which is not subject to political influence. Certainly, the right hon. Gentleman during the election repeated that pledge on behalf of his party.
I cannot conceive that it will not be argued that some measure of tariffs must be imposed as soon as possible, and the detailed consideration of what these tariffs should be is surely a matter to be determined by a tariff commission. Therefore, I ask the Government whether they propose to set up that tariff commission before the House rises? That would be a practical machinery which would be available for getting on with the scientific tariff when this House is not sitting. I suggest that is one of the immediate measures which can be adopted straight away. I do not know how far there has to be a Debate in the Cabinet on the principle of whether any tariff is to be imposed at all. If it means that no measures whatever can be taken until the principle of some measure of tariffs has been adopted or whether absolute Free Trade is to be retained, I do suggest that before the Prime Minister gave office to such right hon. Members as the Home Secretary and the Minister of Education, some sort of assurance ought surely to have been given by them that they would accept any immediate measures in the way of tariffs which are required to deal with the situation.
There is one immediate measure which has often been mentioned in a general form, but which I should like to put rather more concretely. We have heard that there must be some form of quota imposed in the interregnum before a scientific tariff is established. It would surely be perfectly simple to get some ready measure of this quota by taking the imports week by week and com- 216 paring them with he corresponding weeks of the previous year and only-allowing goods to be imported amounting in the aggregate to two-thirds of the amount imported in the corresponding week of the previous year. I refer only to mainly manufactured goods. The total amount of manufactured goods is round about £300,000,000 per annum, or was last year. We are told it is estimated that the adverse balance for this year will be £100,000,000. If you import week by week only two-thirds of the manufactured goods which were imported last year you will bring about automatically the necessary proportionate reduction to deal with the estimated adverse balance of trade. If there are Treaty obligations which do not allow of that quota being adopted, I suggest that some high emergency tariff be imposed in the meantime on manufactured goods to deal with the situation. I do impress on the Government that if they are going to put on an emergency tariff to deal with excessive imports at the present moment, they should not put on a light tariff, because nothing could be worse than that, for it would only emphasise the present dumping. Whenever the foreigner anticipates that there is going to be a larger tariff later on, and a smaller one is now imposed, that is a mere encouragement to the dumper.
Before sitting down I want to mention three particular instances which have come to my own personal knowledge, where I suggest some immediate measure should be taken in the direction of checking imports and so helping to redress the adverse balance of trade. Take first of all the cotton industry. I have the honour to represent a constituency that is one of the most important cotton industry constituencies in the country. It is true that before the full benefits to the cotton industry under an alteration in our fiscal system car be fully obtained, we should want a development of Empire markets. I agree that is something ultimate, which will take time to establish, but there is one immediate measure which could be adopted in regard to the cotton industry. I do not know the precise figure, for I have not had an opportunity of checking it, but I believe that the manufactured cotton piece goods and yarns which were imported into this country last year amounted, if my 217 memory serves me aright, to about £11,000,000. Nobody can possibly dispute that the Lancashire cotton industry is able to make cotton goods as well as anyone else in the world. Surely it could be no disadvantage to the country as a whole if quite a high tariff were put on imported cotton piece goods? They do not bear a very large proportion to the total trade of the cotton industry, but if you ask the cotton manufacturers whether they would not be pleased to have an order representing £11,000,000 immediately, you would find that they would be very glad to have that assistance. Incidentally, that would be £11,000,000, or part of it, towards redressing the adverse balance of trade. That is one instance where, I suggest, there is no need for any investigation at all, and where an immediate measure could be adopted.
Take the silk goods industry. There is one point in regard to that which I should like to bring to the attention of the House, and that is the duty on raw silk, which is a duty on the weight of raw silk imported; it is a flat rate of so much per pound. On the other hand, for manufactured silk goods it is an ad valorem duty. With the general fall in prices which has occurred in primary products, raw silk has suffered as much as any of them, and you have the price of raw silk to-day lower than it has been for over 100 years. You can quite see that the duty on the weight of raw silk, with the fall in the price of silk, bears very heavily on our home manufacturers who have to import raw silk to make silk goods. It, merely encourages the foreigner to make up his goods into finished articles and not to send raw silk over here, because with the falling price the ad valorem duty is proportionately reduced in its burden. If you have a flat rate duty on raw silk, which is the raw material of our home manufacturers, surely it would be a good thing to have a flat rate duty on the foreign goods in their manufactured condition which are imported into this country? That measure alone would do an enormous amount of good to the hosiery trade in this country and to many other forms of manufactured silk goods. That is an immediate remedy which also does not need much investigation and which is available to the Government.
218 The last instance I want to mention is an industry with which I am not now, as a Member, directly concerned, but I was formerly a member representing one of the largest fishing ports in this country. I refer to the fishing industry. Whatever can be said of other industries, nobody can deny that the British fishing industry is as efficient as any in the world. No other country has got as good trawlers or better methods of fishing or fishing grounds, nor are the costs of production and the running of trawlers in any way higher than those of other countries. Yet we have to-day fish being dumped in foreign trawlers from foreign countries, which dumping has nothing to do with economic reasons at all, but merely occurs because they must get rid of the fish at all costs. It. is dumped without in any way benefiting anyone in this country. I have seen fish landed at St. Andrew's Dock in Hull, and the trawler owner has been paid 1d. per lb. for first class fish, whereas the same fish is retailed in Hull at 1s. per lb. Can anyone say that the cheap foreign fish which is dumped now is going to affect retail prices or in any way help the British consumer of fish? Nothing of the sort. If there is one thing which this country can do without, it is this dumped fish. It would do no one the least harm, and incidentally it would do the fishing industry a great deal of good, to prevent absolutely the dumping of any foreign fish. We do not want it; there is not the slightest necessity for it. I mention these three particular instances within my own personal knowledge where immediate measures are available which would substantially help in reducing our adverse trade balance. Finally, I urge as strongly as I can that whatever is done or whatever is decided upon, some measure should be immediately adopted by this Government, and by "immediately" I mean within the next week or two, to deal with this urgent question. We did think when we supported this Government and got our constituents to vote for it, that above everything we were going to have a Government of action.
§ Mr. McENTEE
May I congratulate the Conservative party on the number of prisoners taken by them in the recent Election and on the character of the prisoners. I congratulate them, first, on having captured so many of the generals 219 from my own party and on having, not only captured them, but also having by some means induced them to do the dirty work of the Conservative party. Then, I congratulate them on having captured so many prisoners from the Liberal party. In fact, that party are practically all prisoners at present. I noticed that when two previous speakers were on their feet the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. I. Foot) who was on the Front Bench did not appear to like what was being said. Finally, he could not stand it any longer and went outside. I can. imagine what the hon. Member would have said had similar speeches been made six or eight months ago. Another branch of the Liberal party I am afraid are not prisoners but are just deserters. They have gone over—the whole regiment of them—to the other side. I heard a previous speaker refer to the Liberals as Simonites and Samuelites. The Samuelites apparently are prisoners, the Simonites are deserters. [An HON. MEMBER: "What are you?"] I came back here on precisely the same programme as that which I have advocated in my constituency during the 35 years I have lived there.
In regard to the methods used in the Election may I say, in passing, that I doubt very much whether, if the Election had been fought on a clear issue of tariffs versus Free Trade, there would have been a majority in this House at all for tariffs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I expected that interruption and I got it but I say that the majority in this House was obtained by the present National Government by fraud, such as never was practised in any Election in my experience. [HON. MEMBERS: "By whom?"] By those responsible for the National Government—by Mr. Snowden. [Laughter.] You can laugh at him now but you did not laugh at him a week ago. You used him a week ago, and, frankly, I should not be sorry if you did laugh at him now. He certainly deserved it. He was a party to that deliberate fraud imposed on the public in this country in reference to the Post Office. He knew it to be a lie. The gentleman—I forget what his office is in the new Government, but I think he is at the Board of Trade—who uttered it, did so knowing it to be a lie and the 220 late Chancellor of the Exchequer endorsed it knowing it to be a lie.
Further than that, I have in my possession a number of pay dockets and pay envelopes issued to men in London and elsewhere threatening them that if the National Government was not returned with a substantial majority they would be discharged. I have at least 25 or 30 of them in my possession. I have also a number of pay dockets issued in London by one of the largest firm of builders in the country, in which is inserted a loose slip notifying their workmen that if the Socialist Government was returned, the pound which they got in their wages would only purchase about 12s. 6d. worth or even 10s. worth of goods. That also you know to be a lie. I have also in my possession a free ticket for a football "sweep."[An HON. MEMBER: "You are lucky!"] If the hon. Member had any luck with it I had not. On the other side of this leaflet there is a statement informing the people to whom it was given that, unless a National Government was returned there would be nothing but disaster in this country.
Now we have a National Government, or at least a Government calling itself national, and we have a right to ask them, as I notice their own back benchers are already asking them, just what they are going to do. The King's Speech does not indicate what is going to be done to remedy the present position. I ask that some indication should be given by the Government of what action they are going to take in regard to the Macmillan Report. I draw their special attention to those pages in the report dealing with that practice of bankers in this country to-day which is deliberately fraudulent and is certified to be fraudulent by the members of the Macmillan Committee. I refer to the practice of transferring balances from one bank to another on different days in the week so that the same money may be shown to the public as if it was possessed by each of those banks. It is a deliberately false balance sheet, and everybody knows that it is so. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] At any rate the Macmillan Report definitely stated that it was so. If it is not a fraud for a bank to put into its balance sheet money which it does not possess—to borrow money for the purpose of the balance sheet and, having shown it as 221 being in their possession and as being their property, to pass it on, immediately, at the end of that day, to another bank, so that it should be used by the second bank in the same way, and for the second bank to pass it on to a third and the third to a fourth so that the same money can be shown in balance sheets four times in one week—if that is not fraud, I would like to know what is.
The Macmillan Report definitely states that it is a dishonest practice. It states further that the principal bankers in this country have been guilty of it for a considerable number of years past and that it ought to be stopped immediately. I think this House has a right to know, as the Government were so anxious to deal quickly with the report in regard to unemployed men, why the Macmillan Report is not dealt with in the same way, and, if it is to be dealt with, in what way it is to be done. Are these people who were responsible for issuing fraudulent balance sheets to be put into the dock, where they ought to be, and, if not, why is it that this House, which is so scrupulous in regard to honesty in other industries, allows the bankers to continue that fraudulent method that has been exposed by the Macmillan Report?
I would like to know also what really constructive policy the National Government have in mind. I am interested in the housing industry. I have worked in it for a great number of years and am familiar with all its branches. In quite recent months I had the opportunity of seeing definite quotations of prices for a number of houses computed to be 10,000, and I have seen that by building on a large scale, by what we call mass production and by standardisation, you can reduce the present prices, issued from month to month by the Ministry of Health, by 15 per cent. I can produce to anybody who desires to see them definite tenders from the largest manufacturers in this country showing a 15 per cent. reduction on the materials used in house building, based on 10,000 houses a year.
In the last Parliament Sir Tudor Walters, who was then a Member of this House, and who has had very considerable experience in house building, informed me and others—he informed the House, in fact—that if they could see the costs that could be saved by mass pro- 222 duction in house building, it would amaze them. I am telling the House now that I have in my possession—I do not say here, but they can be produced— definite tenders for everything that goes into the making of a house, showing a reduction of 15 per cent. on the last prices issued by the Ministry of Health. [An HON. MEMBER: "Foreign doors?"] No, they are British doors. Everything with the exception of the tiles is British; I am not saying English, but coming from the British Empire.
As a matter of fact, you cannot get doors in this country or any part of the joinery to-day to compete with Empire prices overseas. You cannot get doors or produce them at present, and you have not been able to produce them at any time during my lifetime, or at any rate during the last 20 or 25 years, to compete with places within your own Empire where wages are considerably higher than you are paying to those manufacturing doors and other joinery in this country. [Initerruption.] If it were Protection, it would apply to all countries. Somebody has mentioned Russia, and somebody may mention Sweden or Norway. You can get doors from any of these countries or from your own Empire, from Canada, infinitely cheaper than you can buy them here. If the House can be satisfied that by organisation we can produce houses cheaper than they are produced at present, surely it is worth the consideration of the House and of the Government.
If you take the motor industry, the cost of a motor-car to-day is roughly half what it was before the War, and the cost of a house is double what it was before the War. There must be a reason. Tariffs will not explain it. Even if one were to admit, which I do not, that there is some advantage to be gained from tariffs or any form of Protection, it docs not account and cannot account for the difference that I have mentioned between the motor trade and the building industry. There are many thousands of men out of work in the building industry to-day, and there is no need for any form of Protection. You can reduce the cost of houses in this country to-day. You can employ your men, you have the land, you have the money, and there is no earthly reason why they should not be employed, except one, and that is the tack of organisation in the industry itself. If it is possible to organise the motor industry, 223 which is the best organised industry in this country, you can make all the allowances you like for Protection, but it does not and cannot explain the big difference between those two industries.
I would like to ask the Government to consider seriously whether it is not possible for them as a National Government, having full control and power, to go particularly into the question of housing and to see if it is not possible to get mass production introduced, and standardisation, or at least in a large degree standardisation, and to reduce costs. I am interested in the industry because I know that in my own trade, which is that of carpenter and joiner, there are many thousands of men out of work who could be working. There are many thousands in the other trades in the building industry out of work; and I know, because I have tested it and can produce figures that will satisfy anybody —they have been produced to the officials of the Ministry of Health—that you can get reductions by organisation in the building industry that will employ probably a couple of hundred thousand men, and it can be done within a year.
I think we have a right to ask the National Government what they are going to do in regard to the housing question— [An HON. MEMBER: "What about your Government?"] I am asking this Government. Every one of the speeches which I have heard to-day from the followers of the Government has asked the Government what they are going to do in regard to many things, particularly agriculture, and surely if their own Members are pressing them as to what they will do in regard to tariffs, it is not unreasonable for me to ask them what is going to be done for those hundreds of thousands of people who are badly housed to-day, who are living in slums, who are seeking houses and needing houses, and for whom houses could be provided if reasonable care and attention and some measure of control were exercised over one of the worst organised industries in the country at the present time, namely, the building industry.
I submit that if that were done, for every 100,000 houses that you put up, you could employ at least 150,000 men, and there is a need for, not 100,000, but perhaps some millions of houses at the 224 present time. I personally wrote with my own hand over 500 letters during the past year to men in the two constituencies comprising Walthamstow, East and West, who wrote to me begging of me to get them an opportunity to live in a decent house, and I know that if it were possible to put up many thousands of houses by some means during the night, within a week every one of them would be occupied by tenants who are now needing them. I beg the Government to give some consideration to this question, which is one of the most important questions we can consider. I am interested in foreign affairs perhaps as much as anybody else, but we have heard very little, with the exception of agriculture, as to what ought to be done in regard to our own people in our own country who are unemployed at the present time.
I make this suggestion in all earnestness, that if attention is given to the building industry, and if it is gone into with any reasonable measure of thoroughness, it can be proved that for every 100,000 houses put up, you can employ 150,000 or perhaps 200,000 men, if you take in the other trades associated with the building industry, within a very short time. That, at least, would be some measure of satisfaction to the large and increasing number of people who are wholly unemployed at the present time. I know that the Prime Minister quoted figures to show that the number of unemployed is going down, but he knows perfectly well that although the number of partially unemployed may be going down or up from week to week, the number of permanently unemployed is steadily going higher. In view of that. I make an appeal that the Government shall give serious consideration to the question of housing as a means of meeting two needs that are pressing to-day, that is, to satisfy the people who desire houses and need them very bady, and at the same time to make some contribution towards lowering the number of unemployed.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Sir John Gilmour)
I propose only to intervene for a few minutes in this very interesting Debate. A number of new Members have taken part, and we are very glad to hear their views. The Debate has ranged, of course, over a considerable field, but in so far as the Mem- 225 bers have been interested in what the National Government may decide to do with regard to dumping, I would say to them that the Government are anxious that the fullest expression of views should take place in this House, and to assure them that in the final stages of this discussion on the Gracious Speech the President of the Board of Trade will no doubt intervene and give the views of the Government. I am grateful to those Members who raised the problem of agriculture, and all the more grateful for their kindly references to myself. I can assure them of my own personal interest in the problem with which I have been concerned practically all my life. It is true that I know it best in Scotland, but it has been my great pleasure to study it across the Border.
There can be no doubt in the mind of any hon. Member, to whatever party he may belong, that the conditions of agriculture are acute. Whatever solution various parties or Members may think right, one thing is abundantly clear; that is the continually decreasing arable acreage in this country and the constantly declining number of people employed in the industry. The fact that there was a decrease last year in the number of those employed of 30,000, and a decrease of something like 130,000 workers in the last JO years, makes it clear that, whatever else is certain, this problem presents one of very great gravity and urgency. I was glad to hear that I was not expected to-night to bring a detailed policy to the House, but it was hoped that I would give some evidence of the interest and determination which I as the responsible Minister for the Department and the Government as a whole feel in dealing with this matter. I would say at once that anyone who tries to deal with this problem from one single point of view is bound to fail. It is a problem of great complexity and covers a very wide field. The eastern counties of England and some of those abutting upon them have their peculiar problem of cereal production. There are other parts in the south and west of England where milk and animal production is of vast importance. As there are so many varying interests, it is certain that there must be varying remedies, but I think that the House will agree that in viewing this problem the one essential thing is that we must re- 226 tain a proper balance between the various branches of the industry in order not to damage them. It is for that reason that I think it is a key point that unless we can increase the production of arable farming we are leaving an unfair competition with milk production and the other branches of the industry.
I will not say more about the arable problem to-night than that I am examining every avenue to deal with it. I believe in a large measure that that side of the question will be found to be most effectively solved by a quota, but it ought to be remembered that in dealing with a problem of this kind we should not endeavour, whatever steps we take, to encourage people to attempt to grow wheat or barley upon land which is not suited for it. Therefore, in examining this question, the possibility of extending enormously this branch ought to be dismissed from the minds of hon. Members. All the same, when it is realised that only a few years ago there was an arable cultivation of something approaching 2,000,000 acres, and that that has fallen to something like 1,000,000, it will be seen that there is obviously room for expansion. I trust that before very long I may be able to submit to the Government more detailed plans. I recognise that the winter sowing and ploughing operations going on at the present moment are, perhaps, too far advanced for a very definite statement of encouragement to be of fundamental value in respect of them, but, on the other hand, there is, I hope, the prospect of a statement being made before the spring period which will be effective and give assurance in the quarters where assurance undoubtedly must if possible be given.
I agree with the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) that to get the fullest advantage of some of this reorganisation we must have a great measure of co-operation from the farming industry in the proper and improved marketing of their goods. The Noble Lord and others on our side in the last Parliament supported some portions of the Measure for the improvement of marketing introduced by the then Labour Minister of Agriculture, and we must look at this problem with an open mind, and I trust that, concurrently with some of the other proposals, we shall be able to utilise effectively some part of that Measure which is ready to our hands. 227 The difficulties are very great no doubt, all the greater in the case of the agricultural industry, since any alteration or diversion of that industry is bound to take time; but when one thinks of the vegetables, fruit, eggs, bacon and other things, produce which could be grown in this country one realises what an enormous field there is for expansion. What is essential is that all, whether farmers or workers, shall have confidence when investing their capital in the development of this industry that they will be given a fair deal.
I have been only a short time in the Ministry, but I have appointed a committee to investigate the amount of luxury produce imported into this country. Of course, it is a difficult matter to be quite certain where luxury begins and ends, but we have legislated for agriculture in the matter of prohibiting people eating plovers' eggs and what greater step would it be if we were to prohibit people eating the newest potatoes at a period when they might well do without them? Those potatoes come into this country at a time when they can take the cream of the market. The same observation applies to other vegetables and fruit; many industries which imply the smallholder, the smaller farmer and the more intensive form of agriculture can be developed immensely. These are the things to which, I venture to say to those who are interested in agriculture, we must turn our eyes.
All I would say to the House to-night is that I am confident that we can restore a great part of the vitality to this industry by a policy thought out after a careful examination of the problem. There are some things we can do fairly quickly, and there are others which will represent the longer policy. I would beg those who are interested to realise that we are pressing forward with the investigation of these problems, and that, while agriculture has not been specifically mentioned in the Gracious Speech, in my view it is right that it should be considered as part of the bigger problem of the balance of trade of this country. It would have been the greatest disservice to agriculture to dissociate it from that problem. I make no apology for that part of the Gracious Speech, because I think it is essential that agriculture must be looked at as a problem of the balance 228 of trade. These are matters which will be interlocked with the Board of Trade. There are other problems which will be considered, no doubt, when we come to the Ottawa Conference with the Dominions. I believe we can do much for our own home position without reference to the Dominions, but, on the other hand, it is right, as I think will be the view of agriculturists in this country as a body, that we should in addition consider cooperation with those who produce what we require within the bounds of the Dominions rather than with those who are outside.
I will say only one word on the fishery branch. Agriculture and fisheries are very closely linked. They promote the employment of a class of men whom this country ought to do everything to encourage. I trust that in the administration of this work we shall be able to have the co-operation, as the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) truly said, of those who speak not only for the country districts but of those who speak and live in the urban districts. Nothing can afford a greater measure of security to the worker in the industrial centres than clean food of guaranteed quality, and all who can further the use of the National Mark in the case of the products of the soil and of the sea, who can induce a wider interest in "buying British" and "buying quality," whether the products of these islands or of the Dominions will be doing something which will assist the balance of trade. I trust that at no distant time this Government may permit me to bring to this House Measures with which we shall achieve something for the industry.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
It has been my privilege to be a. Member of this House for a number of years and to listen to a large number of Debates on various subjects, but I cannot recall any occasion on which the Debate has taken the course which this Debate has taken. I want the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) to take note of what I am going to say. My complaint is that we have not been favoured during to-day's Debate with the attendance of the Prime Minister, or any of his colleagues who call themselves Labour Members of the Government, or at any rate we have only been favoured with the 229 passing visits of Cabinet Ministers. My hon. Friend the Deputy-Leader of this party opened the Debate this afternoon, and in the course of the observations which have been made by the Minister of Agriculture there has not been a single reference to any single remark or argument which was addressed to the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Lime-house (Mr. Attlee). I also wish to point out that there has not been any attempt made even to refer to any of the arguments which have been put forward by the official Opposition. I would like to point out that there is a constitutional issue involved in this matter which hon. Members opposite will do well to observe. We are entitled, as an Opposition, to proper courtesies. We have been elected by the same authority as hon. Members opposite, and we ask that in future Debates the Opposition shall receive from the Government the same measure of courtesy as we have given to them in the past.
§ The LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL (Mr. Baldwin)
I entirely agree with what has just been said by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones), but may I point out to him that this is one of the days set apart for a general discussion during the Debate on the Address. There are many points which have been raised from the benches opposite which would naturally belong to the Debate which is to take place to-morrow, and they will certainly be dealt with on that occasion. For these reasons, I ask the hon. Member for Caerphilly to dismiss from his mind any idea of discourtesy. We fully recognise the position of the Opposition, and we intend to treat them with the same respect and courtesy whether they number 50 or 200.
§ Mr. JONES
I most cordially accept the assurances of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley. The final remarks of the Minister of Agriculture were devoted to the subject of agriculture, which has been brought before the House by various Members on both sides of the House. I think it was only fair that the right hon. Gentleman should make a general statement, because at this early stage of the Session obviously it would be too much to expect a statement in detail of the agricultural policy of the Government. I think it will be appropriate 230 therefore that I should say one or two general words on what the Minister of Agriculture has said. I agree that the subject of agriculture is of fundamental importance to the well-being of the nation. On this side of the House we have always recognised that fact, and the fact that last Session we devoted a great deal of time to the subject of agriculture shows that we regard it as one concerning the future well-being of the State.
Of course there are, as the right hon. Gentleman admitted, various aspects of this problem which deserve examination and further discussion. For instance, there is the question raised by the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer)—and I was very glad to hear him raise it, because we were closely associated with that side of the problem ourselves when we were in office—namely, the question of marketing. I was extremely glad to hear the Noble Lord speak so cordially of the marketing proposals of my right hon. Friend the ex-Member for Swindon. Then there is the question of transport—the question of bringing the producer into closer contact with the consumer. That is a very large and comprehensive question, and one which must sooner or later be settled if agriculture is to be put on its feet. There is the question of security of tenure—a very important question in many parts of the country—the question of the remuneration of the agricultural labourer, which is equally important, and the question of quotas and matters of that sort, upon which I do not now pronounce any judgment. All these questions are involved in the vast and complicated problems which are included in the connotation of the word "agriculture."
With regard to the last observation of the right hon. Gentleman, on the subject of the limitation of the importation of potatoes, I should like to direct his attention to a report which I saw only last night of a speech of M. Tardieu, the French Minister of Agriculture. The substantial point is this: M. Tardieu was referring to the British decree forbidding, on and after the 15th March, the entrance into Britain of potatoes from France coming from places within a certain radius of any area affected by the Colorado beetle, and he said that, if the order was not withdrawn or modified, steps would be taken to ensure that British coal, tea and whisky would be 231 barred from France from the same date. The point that I wish to make—I do not labour it—is simply that these proposals for the limitation of imports, either by way of prohibition or by way of protective duties, must be considered in relation to the possibility of retaliatory measures by the States that may be affected. That is all that I propose to say on the matter. I would invite hon. Members to keep clearly in mind the fact that this whole problem of Protection, dumping, and all the rest of it, raises other issues concerning action which may be taken by foreign countries. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the Colorado beetle?"] I hope I have made my point quite clear to hon. Gentlemen opposite. There is an hon. Member on the other side who has made it his business during the whole evening to make somewhat irrelevant remarks. May I tell him, for his information, that it is the custom in this House to listen to other people's speeches when they are making them?
I turn now to a discussion of the subject which is engaging our attention. I think most people will agree with me that this Parliament presents a remarkable series of paradoxes. Take, for instance, the leadership of the Government at this moment. It is led by a right hon. Gentleman who for many years was the acknowledged head of the Labour and Socialist movement in this country. Those of my hon. Friends in this House who have studied his writings will, I think, accept this proposition as being fairly accurate, that he has been all these years the one consistent advocate of what we call political democracy in the land. And yet I venture to make a prophecy that the right hon. Gentleman himself, the present head of this Government, will in due time be held responsible, through the medium of what he has recently done, for having given a new lease of life temporarily to the Communist forces. Take another paradox. There sat on the benches opposite Mr. Philip Snowden for a number of years. He was the high priest, as it were, of Free Trade, and yet he is responsible mainly for the return of a Protectionist majority to this House. There never could be a more remarkable or more striking paradox in politics than that.
232 I wonder if hon. Members opposite will forgive me if I say, without any offence, on looking round the House, that I regard it as something in the nature of a political aviary. There are a large number of migratory birds here. There are some here whom the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) once designated as penguins and a number of gentlemen, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), eagles waiting to devour their prey wherever they can. There are a few robin redbreasts on this side, very cheerful birds to see in this wintry weather, and there are at this moment or there ought to be, on that Treasury Bench a number of political cuckoos. They are ensconced for the moment in the Ministerial nest. I wonder how long they will be there. It has been apparent throughout this day that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping derides them and that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) —he has not said anything, but he has almost been speaking with his looks—obviously despises them, and the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) positively detests them.
I wonder how this curious assortment of birds were assembled in this political aviary of ours. I am sorry to refer to it, but we must do it in order to get the matter quite clear. Most Members will agree that there was during the Election the most formidable amalgamation of forces arrayed against this party that British politics has ever known. Not only was the legitimate platform used against us—I do not complain of that at all—but the official broadcast was used in a way that was totally unfair. Cinemas were used, the pulpit was used, Archbishops and Bishops inviting the unemployed to tighten their belts. On every hand we had a formidable attack made upon this party with the intention of crushing it out. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping congratulated the Prime Minister upon this fact,, that he had at last succeeded in repelling the Socialist forces for a long period of years.
I happened to be in the House in 1921 when we were very few. I have seen in the course of 10 years—a very short time 233 in British politics—that party, which is not yet 30 years old as a political party, occupy the seat of Government twice. I venture to invite hon. and right hon. Gentlemen not to rely too much on the gift of political prophecy. There is some danger of finding that prophecy negated in the course of time. Much of the case against us was based upon a false foundation. The whole country was a whispering gallery against my late colleagues in the Cabinet. The rumour was circulated that in some curious way honour had departed from the corridors of Whitehall.
Let us examine this proposition for a moment, for it has relation to the coming into power of the new Government. An hon. Friend of mine was approached by an old lady some four days before the Election, and she said to him, "Mr. So-and-so, I have £4 10s. in the Savings Bank. Do you, think I ought to take it out before next Tuesday or not?" That instance was indicative and typical of thousands of cases up and down the country of persons who have been frightened almost out of their wits—[An HON. MEMBER: "By whom?"]—I will tell the hon. Member in a moment—frightened out of their wits by the rumours circulated on apparently authoritative grounds, to the effect that the savings of the poor were being appropriated by the Socialists. I wish, in proof of my proposition, to read to the House a gem of political propaganda. I do not see the hon. and gallant Gentleman in his place to-night, but it makes no difference. I dare say that there have been imitators up and down the country. This was circulated in North St. Pancras:Socialist policy threatens the value of all national savings.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I hope they will continue to cheer to the very end.This means your savings. This very morning we have the amazing disclosure that the savings of the poor in the Post Office Savings Bank were actually appropriated by the Socialists and were only rescued at the last moment by the National Government.The head of the Socialist Government was the Prime Minister. The person in charge of, or responsible to this House for, the operations of the National Debt Commissioners was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Philip Snowden, and 234 yet we are told that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Philip Snowden, and the Prime Minister stopped the late Prime Minister and the late Chancellor of the Exchequer from appropriating the Savings Bank deposits. Honour dictated the circulation of that remark, and the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, who is a good Nonconformist like myself, and who was not going to allow two Prelates of the Church of England to beat him at this job, also committed himself to a statement. It is only a whisper; only authoritative people could know it. This is the statement:I happen to know that in the months of April and August last the Labour Government were anxious over the position of Post Office Savings Bank deposits. This is what had happened. A substantial part of the assets of the Post Office Savings Bank had already been lent to the Insurance Fund that brought home to the Cabinet the difficulties with which they were to be faced if serious distrust of British credit set in. If that was not enough to open their eyes to the situation nothing would, because there is nothing in which we trust more than the inviolability of the Post Office Savings Bank.That statement was circulated by a member of the present Government, and a right hon. one at that. What are the facts? Since the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) was Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1921, there is not a single Chancellor of the Exchequer that has not been officially responsible, directly or indirectly, to this House for similar operations. In 1921, when the right hon. Member for West Birmingham was Chancellor of the Exchequer, £5,275,000 were lent from the Post Office Savings Bank. During the time that the Lord President of the Council and the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) were Chancellors of the Exchequer, £8,750,000 were lent from the Post Office Savings Bank. During the time that the right hon. Member for Epping was at the Treasury, a period of four years, £23,000,000 were lent. Up to the end of last year £43,000,000 were lent, and up to August this year there was a substantial jump to £100,000,000. [Interruption.] The question of principle is the same. The question is, was it right or was it wrong to lend money from the Post Office Savings Bank for Government purposes? If it was right for the 235 right hon. Member for West Birmingham, for the right hon. Member for Bewdley and for the right hon. Member for Epping, it was right for us. [Interruption.]
I hope that hon. Members will be fair. I am only putting a fair proposition. If it is right for one Government to do it, whatever its complexion, it is right for another Government. I have never complained of any line of arguments that my opponents put up against me politically. Controversy is inevitable and controversy is right, but I do say that the time has come when, as honourable people, we ought to abandon the vile habit of circulating rumours that we know are misleading.
§ Mr. JONES
That is a matter of argument. The question of the effect of Protection is a matter of argument, but it is not a matter of argument as to whether or not this money was appropriated by the Socialists. That is a statement of fact, but it is a vile statement to say that it was wrongfully appropriated. The right hon. Member for Epping, to his credit, repudiated the allegation concerning Savings Bank deposits, to which I have referred. Whether we are wise or unwise politically, we ask hon. Members opposite to meet our arguments, and we will try to meet theirs, but they have no right to lead the country to the conclusion that we have appropriated money that belongs to the poor of the land. I will leave that subject, although I could refer to the change made in regard to the profits of the Post Office by the right hon. Member for Epping.
I now turn to another aspect of the arguments advanced against us; and here I should like to exonerate most hon. Members who may have been led into using this argument on the assurance given by ex-Leaders of the Labour party. They were told that the Members of the late Cabinet did something which was unworthy by running away. I hold in my hand at this moment a document. [An HON. MEMBER: "From the Trade Union Congress !"] Not a Trade Union Congress manifesto, but a Labour party manifesto, signed by Mr. Philip Snowden. 236 On page after page are emendations and alterations in his own handwriting, to a document which afterwards he repudiated, and which he said some few weeks ago was Bolshevism run mad. Here it is. On the assurance that the statement made by Mr. Philip Snowden was an honest and truthful statement hon. Members opposite repeated it here and elsewhere. I do not complain of their action, but I say that the mandate accepted and obtained on this assurance was a mandate obtained by a distortion of the truth. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is it?"] It is the General Election manifesto of 1929, which Mr. Philip Snowden said was Bolshevism run mad. In it is a reference to our financial policy, and Mr. Philip Snowden, when he stood here during the last Parliament, declared to this House that he had never read a leading document issued by the party. In saying that he either told a lie or, if he had not read it, he had lived a lie for two and a-half years.
§ Mr. GEORGE BALFOUR
The hon. Member has made an attack upon the late Chancellor of the Exchequer who is not present in the House and has stated that a certain document contains allegations against statements made by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. Surely it is only right and proper that the House should be in possession of the details of that document?
§ Mr. JONES
The document was published long ago, and if the hon. Member would read the documents published by the Labour party he would have seen it. [Interruption.] All I am concerned to show is that the document which was repudiated by Mr. Philip Snowden was a document amended by him and that the alterations are in his own handwriting.
§ Mr. MARJORIBANKS
Is it in order for an hon. Member to use the word "lie" in reference to a member of the Government? Should it not be withdrawn?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If anything had been said that was out of order, I should have called the hon. Member to order.
§ Mr. JONES
If it will suit the hon. Member, I will use the expression "terminological inexactitude." There was another argument used in regard to which I can bear some testimony. The right hon. Gentleman Mr. Snowden has repeatedly said that my late colleagues were involved in certain proposals concerning unemployment benefits and their reduction. I heard the right hon. Gentleman himself at a private meeting, and I happen to have the minutes of that meeting in my hand. At that meeting not only Mr. Snowden but the Prime Minister said that they wanted to make it clear to those present that the Labour Cabinet were not committed at all to unemployment benefit cuts. If that statement is challenged I can read the passages here and now. Having said that, let me ask this question: What right have right hon. Gentlemen opposite to accuse my late colleagues of having failed in any sense to rise to the ordinary standards of honour expected from Ministers of the Crown? On whose authority are we being arraigned? By what test are we to be judged? By the statements of people who cannot judge except on the authority of those who were there. I was there and I heard what was said. It is a monstrous thing that men should have been accused in this way up and down the country of being untrue to their word, when in point of fact documents can be produced and are here produced to show that the allegations were entirely untrue.
I turn from that to the third point that I wish to make. A mandate of a sort has been received by the present Government. In the whole of the discussion to-day, so far as I can recall, not a single Member on any side of the House has offered unqualified approval of the King's Speech. Not the most ardent Protectionist—[An HON. MEMBER: "How could he?"] How could he, asks an hon. Member. Of course he could not. And not the most fervent Free Trader. There is not a soul in the place who can conscientiously say that he knows precisely what this Government stands for. There is not a single Bill promised in the King's Speech, except an entirely non-controversial Measure dealing with the Statutes of Westminster. [HON. MEMBERS: "We have had too many Bills!"] Then what in the world are we here for? I thought the whole purpose of Parliament was to 238 carry such legislation as would ultimately have some beneficial effect on the lives of the people of the country. When I say "country" I am reminded that hon. Members opposite have said that we put party before country. I do not mind that statement at all, but I want them to tell me what they mean by the country. What is the country? Does it mean the railways, the workshops—things? Surely when we speak of the country we mean the 40,000,000 to 45,000,000 living souls, and if we mean them, then, for 30, 40 years or more, the leaders of my party, thinking in terms of the well-being of the nation in that way, have urged our Socialist faith for the sake of the country, while hon. Gentlemen opposite for SO years have followed on the lines of the late Joseph Chamberlain and urged Protection for the sake of the country. They have arrogated to themselves the right to stand by their Protection and their party nostrums throughout the Election, but we, when we stand by our Socialist faith, have been accused of sacrificing the well-being of the country.
There may be a case for Protection; I believe there is a case for Socialism, and I advocate it for the sake of the country as I believe hon. Gentlemen opposite advocate Protection for the sake of the country. I advocated my party faith, creed and philosophy, just as heartily and just as conscientiously in the Election as hon. Gentlemen can advocate their Protectionist nostrums. I do not think it is fair politics or fair controversy to try to argue that one set of people have acted with a sort of arriere pensee in the matter, while other people are acting with the fullest regard to the best interests of the nation. We have been told in the course of the Debate many interesting things. Many Members supporting the Government on all sides —and they are on all sides now—have complained that there is not sufficient definiteness in the King's Speech. If hon. Gentlemen knew the Prime Minister as well as we do, they would have no delusions about him. The country has been, as we are told, in a grave state of sickness, and I can imagine the right hon. Gentleman going to the patient's bedside in his best bedside manner—and nobody can be better at that than he—and addressing the patient in this wise: "Ah, my friend, you have been suffer- 239 ing from a whole host of diseases. You are probably suffering from all the diseases known to the medical register, but, my dear friend you are in this condition because you were so shamefully treated at the Socialist hospital." If the poor patient has sufficient energy to look up he will say, "But were you not the chief doctor?" Then the right hon. Gentleman will reply: "I was the chief doctor there but having half-poisoned all the staff, they invited me over to this Tory hospital."
What does he offer the patient? A committee of inquiry—a committee on agriculture and a committee on trade. It is all his philosophy—"A committee a day keeps the crisis away. "This philosophy has an old and familiar ring to us. We know it of old and now he is teaching the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley the same philosophy. If he gives the Prime Minister long enough, I can assure him there will be as many committees set up as there are members of his party. Let me ask another question. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister says he has stood by the poor—and I agree—for some 30 years of his public life. What is there offered in this King's Speech to-day for the poor? No hope, no comfort, no solace or help. I happen to come from a Welsh constituency and if the right hon. Gentleman were here to-night I should address a word or two to him. He was once—I speak in political terms—politically hungry. We gave him bread. He was once politically thirsty. We gave him drink. He roamed like Ishmael up and down the land, and there was no place where he could lay 240 his head. We gave him shelter. We made him what he is to-day, and now when those miners and steel workers who have made him what he is are hungry, they are to take less bread; when their children cry for drink they are to take less milk. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It is true. All the social services which are mainly devoted to the interests of the poor are to be reduced, and I say this to the right hon. Gentleman: We from South Wales provide in this House an adequate answer to the treachery of which the Prime Minister has been guilty. He has built a new edifice. It has a fine, seductive frontage which hides an Augean stable. We will bring it down, brick by brick and stone by stone, and in due time we will build another of ampler design, I hope, and more worthy and more in accord with our Socialist ideals—a building of which we at least will not be ashamed. And, he who has betrayed the people, who have supported him willingly and honestly for 25 or 30 years, and those associated with him politically, will be brought down, to the vile dust from whence his organisation has sprung "unwept, unhonoured and unsung."
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. Charles Edwards.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.